CCT Special Edition

38 christian counseling today SPECIAL EDITION actually a kind of tumor that can cause surges of adrenaline where the indi- vidual experiences anxiety as a result, but that’s pretty rare. That is the body to the brain route. More often what we are talking about is the brain to body route. There is a little group of cells in each temporal lobe called the amygdala. The amygdala takes information from the environment and “tags” it emotionally. The cortex “interprets” the emotional tag and then it goes down through the thalamus and the body responds. To make it even more confusing, each of these areas: the amygdala, thal- amus and cortex all connect directly, as well as indirectly, to each other. My purpose of telling you all of this is to underscore for parents or caretakers who grapple with anxiety in children that it is not a simple concept. It is multifactoral. Having problems vs. being the problem. Everyone has problems— some people are overweight, some have academic problems, some aren’t athletic, and some have more anxiety than others. Yes, they have a problem, but they are not the problem. You should certainly consult a professional as there are medications that are very helpful for this particular disorder. Brain studies show certain areas of the brain that are overactive with symptoms of anxiety. Treatment is directed at getting the brain into the most normal state by either boosting some areas of functioning or toning down others. It is a gross misconception, therefore, to see anxiety exclusively as a character flaw, or to think that it can simply be “overcome” by an act of the will. Treating Anxiety Formal terms for the anxiety spectrum disorders include: Anxiety Disorder not otherwise specified, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder (with or without agoraphobia—a fear of wide open spaces that increasingly makes a person homebound) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Some of these diagnostic labels are particular to childhood, such as sepa- ration anxiety and school anxiety. If your child has been diagnosed with a disorder of any kind, be sure to ask what that means. The symptoms are far more important than the heading under which they are grouped, and you should be able to state what your child’s symptoms are and how each one is being treated. Treatment protocols. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Retraining), relaxation therapy, neurofeedback, cogni- tive therapy, medications, prayer, and a supportive environment have all been demonstration to be helpful. Anxiety disorders are often grouped in families and there is a strong genetic component. Medical illnesses, such as diabetes and thyroid abnormalities, can be accompa- nied by anxiety. Medications, caffeine, nicotine and B-12 energy drinks can cause anxiety. Food allergies and mineral and vitamin deficiencies have been clearly shown to be associated with anxiety. There are laboratory assays now available to determine vitamin, mineral and amino acid levels. This allows tailoring supple- ments to the individual rather than a trial and error approach. Christian perspectives. What do we say as Christians? The most commonly quoted Scripture is, “Be anxious for nothing.” What I feel compelled to say in response is, “Context, context, context.” We have all been spectacularly unsuccessful at applying that particular Scripture to our lives. Anxiety is generally a miserable emotion. If it was that simple, I think most people would apply the Scripture readily and not feel anxious. Anxiety is a complicated concept with many faces and many sources. In context, I believe this verse means that we bring these problems into His presence. When, how, and if they are resolved is in His hands and timing. In a larger context, we can be thankful (or if we’re honest, at least aware) because we know that God is ultimately redeeming this broken and fallen world. Christian eschatology teaches us that anxiety will cease to exist. It’s not our timetable and it’s not our route. I usually don’t like that it’s not my time- table or route at the time I am enroute. I am, however, finding myself much more “aware,” and even thankful, than I ever thought possible. So what is the takeaway value of this article? Let’s assume that the household is basically intact and the parents are emotionally functional. (I know….) n Anxiety has many faces n Anxiety can be useful n Anxiety is not a character flaw, it is a feeling n There are many ways to manage anxiety n Anxiety runs in families, but don’t let it run the family n Children need structure—too much latitude can cause anxiety n Curiosity about it is preferred over judgment against it n Ask others to describe it in their own words, and reframe to make sure you understand: “So what I hear you saying is….” n Anxiety is contagious, so be careful not to exaggerate and conflate it n Get treatment for your own anxiety disorder if you have one—lead by example n Are you doing anything that is engendering anxiety—overly critical, overt conflict, withdrawing emotionally for control? n Consider talking to a pediatrician or other professional if your child fits some of these descriptions and is out-of-control at home Glen Havens, M.D., prac- tices child and adolescent psychiatry, and is Director of the Ark Psychiatric Services in Atlanta, Georgia.