When we think of anxiety we tend to imagine adults, typically ones with a stressful work environment or in difficult life situations. Many people assume that children and adolescents do not really face anxiety and their complaints are just imaginary. Nothing could be further from the truth. The world around us and the pace of life are changing rapidly and many children and adolescents have very real anxiety problems. Actually, anxiety disorder is one of the most common health issues facing adolescents.
Our faith in Allah alongside our lifestyle choices can help our youth to manage their anxiety.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety in the simplest definition is fear about the unknown. This is when a person focuses so intently on what could happen and what the future holds that worry and fear overtakes them.
Anxiety is an important human emotion that can signal to us when we need to push harder, study more or if some type of imminent danger is near. Anxiety is common and sometimes healthy such as when you study for a test or when you are going to meet a potential spouse, but it becomes an issue when that anxiety gets out of control and impacts your quality of life.
Is Your Child Anxious?
Anxiety symptoms vary from person to person. If you suspect that your child may be struggling with an anxiety disorder, the first step would be to ask them how they feel. This is important to actively listen to them, listen to understand not to respond. Dependent on their level of self-awareness, they may already recognize that they over worry and have symptoms occurring due to this. Armed with this information, you can do online screening. Here is a child anxiety test developed by Psychologist Dr. Tali Shenfield, this test helps identify risk factors and determine whether or not you should take your child to see a specialist.
Common Anxiety Symptoms:
- Excessive worrying and fears
- Sleep problems
- Hyper-vigilant and wary
- Withdrawn and fearful
- Overly emotional
- Frequent headaches and stomachaches
- Shaking and/or sweating in nervous situations
- Change in appetite/weight
As parents, we know our children best. When you notice significant behavioral changes in your child or adolescent, it is important to identify the problem and what possible triggers cause these changes.
Puberty can also play a role in anxiety for adolescents. Adolescents often become concerned over the way their body looks and feels with all the changes occurring. They are worried about social acceptance and fitting in as well as gaining more independence and growing up. Unfortunately, adolescents sometimes deal with this anxiety by retreating inwards and becoming antisocial or they go to the opposite extreme and act impulsively and engage in risky behaviors in an effort to be accepted.
In the Muslim youth, those that have decided to dawn hijab for the first time may feel a great sense of anxiety as they are worried how they will be perceived at school and if their peers will accept them. They may even feel anxiety around other Muslim youth as they don’t want them to think their hijab is improper or even that they are becoming “too religious”. We think that the concept of “too religious” should not be an issue for us, but unfortunately we do find some Muslim families that prefer a secular lifestyle over a lifestyle that revolves around faith.
Distortions in Perception
Another aspect of anxiety is cognitive distortions, or simply put, distortions in our perception. These alter how we perceive the world around us and that alters how we react to it. Let’s look at a few examples of distortions in perception and how this aligns with anxiety.
- Catastrophising. I like to call this making a mountain out of a molehill. A child may state “I will never get accepted to college when I grow up because I got a C in Math!”
- Magical Thinking. This is when someone thinks everything can be solved or better if they had that one magical item. An adolescent might feel like if they could just lose 20lbs they will make the school team and all of their worries will magically disappear.
- Negativity bias. Someone that notices all of the bad, but none of the good. An adolescent Muslim from a revert family might critique themselves too harshly because they struggle more than their peers in reading Arabic and reciting Quran. Instead of recognizing that such extra struggle comes with reward, they feel that they are not doing good enough.
These are just a few cognitive distortions. Ultimately it comes to showcasing that our perspective is our reality. If we alter the lens in which we view things, we alter how we perceive them.
How to Manage Child Anxiety
A variety of treatments exist and it really depends on the child’s age and severity of condition. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a common form of counseling given to people with anxiety disorders.
This is a basic cognitive model showing how thoughts and emotions impact one another and also alter our behaviors. It would seem logical that if we can change the thoughts, we change the feelings which in turn change the behavior.
Questioning themselves is another action which can be taught to adolescents and parents can do these questions with children. They should ask themselves is their fear factual or only based on emotions. What can they do to influence that fear (not control, influence).
Play therapy is another type of therapy often used with young children. A child engaging in play is more likely to let their guard down, be honest and speak more openly. Through play, the therapist can recognize the triggers and then speak with the child about the events that are causing their anxiety.
Spirituality can be used to help someone heal and take on a more positive perspective to their life. Children and adolescents sometimes feel more open to their spirituality than adults as they are not as jaded. If your family engages in spiritual activities together it can strengthen their self-awareness, alter their perception to a positive one and give them increased hope. Prayer is an excellent spiritual practice and one of the most commonly performed ones.
Family time is an essential action for any family. Set aside time to read Quran together as a family, study your faith together as a family and give the children space to ask any questions they have. Family time should also be about having fun, letting go of stress and being grateful for the blessings of having family. Even 30 minutes set aside to play a board game with your children can help to alleviate their anxiety and give them a relaxed space to speak to you freely about their emotions.
When we think about Mindfulness of Allah and taqwa, we understand that we cannot control everything and we do not know everything. We have to delegate our anxiety and fears to our creator and acknowledge that whatever is the will of Allah , will happen. We have free will and in that it means that bad choices can lead to bad outcomes, but if we do our best to make decisions which are mindful of our faith, mindful of shariah and being an overall good person, then all we can do is make duaa for the best outcome and move on.
No doubt, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured
الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَتَطْمَئِنُّ قُلُوبُهُم بِذِكْرِ اللَّهِ أَلَا بِذِكْرِ اللَّهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ
Original posted on PsychCentral. Revised here for more Islamic content.