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Mental Health

Aggression or anxiety? When Children’s Anger, Tantrums, or Meltdowns Are Symptoms of Anxiety

Anxiety is a skilled imposter. Children could show it as tantrums, meltdowns, and violence instead of the more usual avoidant, clinging actions. As if anxiety weren’t already a challenge enough!

Children’s behavior does not reflect a desire to test boundaries when they are affected by an anxious brain. They are frequently good kids who don’t want to make a mistake, but their brains are keeping them hyper-alert.

Their behavior would seem to make sense if we were to observe what is going on in their minds when anxiety grips them in this way. We would like to pick them up and remove them from the chaos. Obviously, that doesn’t imply that their disruptive behavior should be tolerated. It’s essential to let kids know that their upset behavior makes sense, but they are always able to make wiser decisions. 

Kids will be much closer to coming up with a better reaction if they have a deeper understanding of why they act in the way they tend to do. The adults in their daily lives will be extremely important in this situation. Anyone who has the ability to recognize and address their behavior as anxiety-driven rather than ‘bad’ behavior will be assisted in developing stronger, happier, and more useful ways to interact with the outside world. This includes parents, grandparents, teachers, and anyone else. The ability to do this is something that all children possess, but anxiety sometimes covertly diverts attention from these qualities. Let’s now put a stop to that.

Aggression or anxiety?

When the amygdala, a region of the brain, detects risk, anxiety results. When it detects a threat, whether actual or imagined, the body is flooded with hormones (which include cortisol, the stress hormone), adrenaline, and other chemicals that make the body strong, quick, and tough. The fight-or-flight reflex, which has kept us alive for countless years, is this. Powerful, brains that are healthy are designed to achieve this. 

An anxious brain is a solid, healthy brain that tends a little too much towards overprotection. It will probably detect danger and press the emergency button “just in case.” ‘Anxiety about the anxiety’ can develop when this occurs frequently. One of the worst aspects of anxiety is how it often strikes without notice and without cause, forcing an unprepared body into unnecessary fight or flight.

Any circumstance that is brand-new, uncharted, challenging, or distressing to children with anxiety ranks as a possible threat. Their bodies are immediately and automatically primed for fight or flight by the fight or flight response, which causes a surge of neurochemicals. Every physical sign of anxiety, including a racing heart, unsettled stomach, cold skin, vomiting, and trembling arms or legs, is caused by the surge in these neurochemicals. Intense exercise is how the fight-or-flight response naturally ends. They would be battling for their own safety or fleeing if the threat were serious. When there is no desire to defend oneself or run away, the neurochemicals are not burned off and instead accumulate, leading to the physical signs of anxiety.

If anxiety plays a factor in upset behavior, the indications of anxiety are still going to be present. Look for avoidant conduct, nausea, headaches, and hypersensitivity to fresh or unusual circumstances. Any of these symptoms could indicate that anxiety is at work. Keep track of when the meltdowns or eruptions occur. Is there a pattern here? Do they appear to occur more frequently in unfamiliar surroundings or circumstances that may exhaust your child’s emotional resources?

Why do some children express their anxiousness as anger?

Anxiety is frequently linked with avoidance or clinginess, however, it does not always manifest in this manner. The physiological driver is exactly the same – a brain under attack – but rather than flight, a fight is triggered. It makes no difference because there is nothing to be concerned about. When the brain believes there is a problem, it behaves as though it is true.

Consider this to be a smoke alarm. A smoke alarm doesn’t care if there is a real fire or just burnt toast; it is unable to distinguish between the two. It only seeks to keep you secure. To achieve this, it makes a loud enough noise to elicit a response. Safer to be safe than sorry. The brain operates similarly. Because the worried brain is so defensive, it will be faster to sound the alarm even when it is not necessary. This may occur in response to unfamiliar surroundings or people, playground altercations, criticism, dissatisfaction the prospect of embarrassment or failure, or any other event that might be able to cause the fear that something negative is about to occur. 

The brain’s adaptive method of providing a developing body with the physical resources it requires to cope with a circumstance that appears potentially dangerous is known as the fight response. Keep in mind that this response occurs instantly and automatically. There is no time to consciously analyze if the danger is real because it happens so quickly. 

Children frequently encounter unusual situations as they grow up, forcing them to deal with and pick up coping mechanisms for their surroundings and its citizens. They acquire the emotional and social abilities necessary to grow into strong, healthy individuals in this way. But in the meanwhile, trouble waits around every corner for a worried mind! Anxiety can be brought on by any circumstance that places demands and expectations on them that might be too much for their still-evolving resources to handle.

The fight response is an involuntary, hardwired reaction from a brain that perceives a threat, similar to the flight response (avoidance, clinginess). That is not to say that children cannot be taught to manage it, they very certainly can, but first, they must comprehend what is taking place. 

It’s essential to be aware that a youngster who acts aggressively or disruptively may actually be worried and seeking comfort from the people in their life. Dealing with violence as negative behavior will always worsen the issue if anxiety is present. However, if they approach it as anxiety, they will receive the tools and encouragement they need to get through as well as learn critical skills that will serve them well in every aspect of their lives. 

Methods for dealing with anxiety-driven aggression.

What children should be aware of?

  •  Explain the source of your anxiety.

With the correct information, children may accomplish incredible things, and it is essential not to overestimate their capacity for comprehension. When it comes to anything that is personally important, their potential for comprehension is great. Here’s what they should know, but don’t expect it all at once. Providing them with the details in a series of tiny, inadvertent conversations will be just as effective.

The situations when you get highly angry are likely perplexing to you. I know you are afraid to do something incorrectly, so let me explain what occurs when you get upset like that. First and foremost, you should understand that everyone gets upset for a variety of reasons. Your explanation is excellent: your brain is functioning hard for you. 

The amygdala is a specific component of your brain. We’ve all got one. The amygdala’s function is to keep you secure by warning you of danger. Consider it your personal warrior, there to defend you. Yours works really hard. When it detects a threat, it floods your body with superhero fuel – oxygen, hormones, and adrenaline – to make you powerful and strong enough to cope with the threat.

This might involve anything your brain believes will injure you or cause you to feel uneasy – new people, new settings, excessive noise, or the need to do something risky. Everyone has anything that causes them nervous. We’re all the same in that way.

Your brain is unconcerned about whether or not there is anything there that could harm you. It only wants to keep you secure, so it provides nourishment for you just in case. There’s a pretty interesting term for this: fight or flight – battle the danger or flee from it. Identify which one your brain prepares you for. It’s preparing you to face the threat.

This occurs really quickly so quickly that you won’t even notice it until you’re filled with anger. Your brain is extremely fast, and it floods you with fight or flight fuel before you have even considered whether or not the risk is genuine. This happens to everyone, but it occurs more frequently in some people, especially when there is no reason for it. The human brain wants to defend you more than anything else in the world, and it works extremely hard to do so even when you aren’t really in need of it.

Here’s something you should know: the same portion of your brain that is responsible for keeping you secure and prepared to deal with problems is also in charge of your emotions. It turns on when it believes you are in danger. When it’s turned on, your feelings will be activated as well. They can be really active at times! This is the reason why you may find yourself wanting to cry or become angry.

None of this implies that you are responsible for the anger in your brain. It suggests you have a really powerful, functioning brain that works extremely hard to look after you. It wants to be in charge, but everything will operate better if you’re in control of your brain!

There’s something else you should know about brains. Brains can develop. They’re truly amazing like that. Your brain is now overprotective of you, but you may teach it such that it does not react as much when there is no risk present. It continues to safeguard you by alerting you when there is a problem and will be fantastic at preparing you to cope with it, but it will do it less frequently when it is not necessary. 

You may take control of your brain and teach it to be more relaxed by doing a few things. If there is actually risk, it will still be prepared to keep you going, but if you are in charge of your brain, you have the last say. This implies that you will be able to calm your mind far more quickly when there is no threat. Let’s discuss several approaches to doing it.

  • You probably haven’t ever breathed like this before, but take a breath!

“A worried brain (and an angry one!) will always be calmed by strong, deep breaths!” But when your brain is working overtime to keep you secure, that isn’t so easy. When it is in defensive warrior mode, taking a break to unwind is not something that it wants to do. It believes that considerable work needs to be performed to keep you secure. Let’s first discuss the benefits of taking long, deep breaths, then go on to some unique techniques for perfecting your breathing.

The prefrontal cortex, located in the front of the brain where you may calm yourself down and consider things through, is activated when you breathe deeply. Your amygdala becomes bossy and informs this area of the brain that it is not required when it perceives a threat. This is why it’s so essential that you develop the ability to master your thinking. When you’re in control, you can use your frontal lobe to make decisions about whether to fight or run.

This is quite significant. Your amygdala, which causes the fight-or-flight response and the aggressive feelings, can be effectively calmed by using the front of your brain. 7

How do you engage the frontal lobe of the brain? With a breath. Your amygdala likes to be soothed by your breathing. Realizing there is nothing to be concerned about helps. The amygdala is going to calm down as a result, and you will too. But even when you’re not upset, you still need to practice breathing. When you’re truly upset, doing new things is too difficult. With that, we all battle! Like learning a new skill, deep breathing takes practice. You’ll get better at it the more you practice.

Here are some enjoyable methods to practice; stick to doing it every day and be patient as it will require some time.

Is that hot chocolate in your hand?

Assume that you’re holding a mug of cocoa that is warm. Inhale in for a few seconds via your nose, like you’re tasting the rich, chocolatey flavor. Then, for three seconds, pretend to blow it cool by blowing it out through your mouth. Repeat this several times, and you’ll begin to feel calm.

Consider yourself a breathing partner.

Place a comfy toy on your stomach. Inhale in for three counts, pause for a second and then exhale for three counts. If the toy moves, you’re breathing deeply into your abdomen, just as good breathing should be. You have it.

Keep in mind how we discussed reprogramming your brain. Each moment that you breathe through a nervous feeling, you are altering and developing your brain. You’re doing a fantastic job, and the longer you do it, the stronger you’ll get  but you must practice!’

  • Prepare your powerful thoughts.

‘When you notice yourself becoming upset, this is a chance to allow your brain to understand you’re in charge. Here’s the key: before you get upset you must figure out what is on your mind, and practice thinking about it. It will become better as you practice. After some practice, you’ll be capable of identifying your powerful idea without even thinking about it. It will, however, take practice, just like breathing. Determine your strongest thoughts. Pretend that you’re talking to your amygdala, your strong little warrior who is attempting to keep you secure. It remains available to listen to. Perform it aloud or silently in your brain. It is all up to you. ‘Don’t worry, warrior dude. Everything is fine here. You can unwind. There’s nothing here that can harm us.’ Then, continue to practice your powerful, courageous thoughts until they grow naturally, which they will.’

And there are other stuff you can do with them.

  • Mindfulness.

The body of studies on mindfulness efficacy may fill a whole library. It has been consistently shown that mindfulness has an immense ability to develop a strong body, mind, and spirit. One of its miracles is strengthening the brain against anxiety.

When the mind focuses on the future too much, anxiety results. This is where it starts to speculate on “what ifs.” Being mindful makes it easier to remain in the present. The idea is straightforward, and children absorb it brilliantly. They are already thoughtful little beings, but they will become even more powerful if they can develop this ability. Whether you’re nervous or not, it’s a good talent to have.

Being mindful is taking a step back and observing emotions and thoughts as they arise and pass, unaffected by judgment but with a calm mind. It has been proven to improve the communication between the pre-frontal cortex, which regulates emotions, and the instinctual, emotive back of the brain, which is the center of the response of fight or flight.

Children respond best to mindfulness exercises that are limited to five minutes or less, although they can practice for as much time as they wish.

  • Use a name to control it. 

The right portion of the brain is where big emotions reside. The words that explain such feelings reside on the left. There is occasionally a difference between the two. In every one of us, it is possible. When there is a disconnection there are strong emotions present, but they are confusing and feel overpowering. 

Consider it this way. ‘This is what’s occurring’ is the function of the left side of the brain. It is a concrete awareness of reality that is based on facts and real proof. ‘This is how I’m feeling about what’s happening,’ is the function of the right side of the brain. It is a more natural, emotional perception of reality. We would have excellent detail (‘this occurred and then this occurred’) if we solely used our left brain, but it would lead to a cooler, less connected response. We would have a sense of how we thought about something if we just had our right brain, and there would be lots of feelings, but more concrete comprehension would be absent. The world’s details are vital (‘this is what occurred’), but so is the larger picture (‘this represents how I’m feeling about it’). 

When a child is experiencing a strong emotion, naming the emotion is a great technique to restore peace. As Mark Brackett of the Center for Emotional Intelligence put it, ‘if you can identify it, you can manage it.’ When your kid is experiencing a strong, angry emotion, name what you perceive. ‘I can see you’re extremely upset right now.’ ‘It has irritated you that you were not permitted to run through the grocery store. I understand. It’s difficult to sit still at times, isn’t it?’

The right and left sides of their brain will become more connected after hearing the words that express their feelings. The feeling will begin to “control” when this takes place. As a result of your remarks, it will cease to feel like a trap from a large woolly feeling and begin to make sense. Be tolerant. Although it won’t happen right immediately, it will have an impact. Additionally, it will aid in increasing your child’s emotional language. Their emotional intelligence is being developed in a significant way through this, which is essential for any child as they mature.

  • Help them stand.

The negative behavior of children who exhibit tantrums or aggression on a regular basis is likely to receive a lot of attention. Raise them up by highlighting their advantages. 

And lastly…

Be alert to the fact that anxiousness may be the cause of your child’s fast attitude. The most effective strategy for overcoming any form of anxiety is to help kids understand the motivations underlying their actions. Their strengths in controlling their behaviors will be highlighted, which will assist in elevating them to full flight and strengthen them.