How the Body Responds to Anxiety

Now we know that our child’s brain rightly triggers their body to prepare to survive when it thinks they’re faced with danger. The amygdala sets off a hormonal response that sets off your child’s body alarm system, which results in the following symptoms:

Dilated pupils: This lets in light so that they can scan their environment for potentially dangerous details but also gives them tunnel vision. That means they can’t see what’s going on in their peripheral vision.

Rapid heartbeat: The heart is moving oxygen into the bloodstream so that the body has energy to MOVE in whatever way is most likely to guarantee survival.

Jittery limbs: Some people call it “jelly legs” but hands and bodies can shake, too. Flooded with adrenaline, your child’s body is primed to run or fight.

Cold hands: As blood rushes away from the limbs to protect the important organs, your child’s hands or feet might get cold. They may also look pale.

Nauseous or hurting belly: Stomach acid starts to churn in response to all of those stress hormones and kids might begin gulping air as their body attempts to get more oxygen. They may suddenly (and desperately) need to use the bathroom because their brain is telling the body to drop some weight so they can run that much faster if they need to escape.

Shallow breathing: The brain knows it needs oxygen so not only does it speed up the heart but it also tells the lungs to start moving faster to get more air in.

Rashes or other allergy symptoms: Yup, that strange rash your child is getting might be linked to their anxiety. Kids with lots of anxiety may be more prone to colds, too, because their body is so focused on fighting danger it doesn’t have the bandwidth to also fight infections.

Lump in the throat and headache: All of that nervous tension throughout one’s body can cause other problems, too, including headaches or a tightness in your child’s throat making it hard for them to swallow or talk.

Do you recognize any of these in your or your child’s experience of anxiety?


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