According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety affects one in eight children, and if left untreated, children who suffer from anxiety are more likely to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in destructive behaviors.
Want to know if your daughter might have anxiety? Here are some common (and not-so-common) symptoms:
- Is restless, fidgety and distracted (even without being diagnosed with ADHD)
- Starts to shake in intimidating situations
- Refuses to eat in places that aren’t at home
- Often complains of headaches or stomachaches
- Cries a lot
- Is very sensitive
- Has panic attacks
- May have frequent nightmares about losing a loved one, such as parents or younger siblings
- Refuses to work with others on school projects
- Eats or plays alone at school
- Displays destructive behaviors, and when asked why, responds with “I don’t know!”
- Has melt downs or temper tantrums
Anxiety occurs on a spectrum from mild to severe, based on the number of symptoms.
Moderate-to-severe anxiety should be treated with the help of a medical professional, such as a doctor or therapist.
But, as parents, we can help, too, by teaching our daughters healthy ways to manage their anxiety. One of the easiest in-the-moment methods that can relieve stress and anxiety is an exercise called box-breathing.
How to Box-Breathe
Box-breathing is a four-step breathing exercise that is based on the four sides of a square or box. It can be done anywhere, anytime.
Step one: Deeply inhale for 4 seconds (ideally through your nose).
Step two: Hold the breath in your lungs for 4 seconds.
Step three: Fully exhale (through the mouth) for 4 seconds.
Step four: Pause the breath at the bottom of the exhale for 2-3 seconds, but try to hang in there for 4.
Repeat this exercise at least 4 times, or until the body is calm and relaxed again. It can help to visualize a ball going around the sides of the box as you complete each step of the exercise.
Suggest your daughter try completing this exercise at least 3 times per day so she can get used to it before she feels worried, stressed or anxious.
Why It Works
Reduces physical stress symptoms in the body
When we are stressed or anxious, our bodies respond by changing our breathing from relaxed to short, shallow breaths. This change actually amplifies our nervous and anxious energy!
Box-breathing helps manually override our breathing and forces our brain and body to relax.
Increases mental clarity and focus
One of the big ways box-breathing is effective is that in order to fully complete the exercise, we have to hyper-focus on counting our breaths as they enter and leave our body.
In the midst of a panic attack, this focus is an extremely helpful distraction. And once our breath is calm, and our bodies are relaxed, we will have more clarity and energy.
Improves future reactions to stress and anxiety
With regular practice, box breathing can help your daughter react to stress and anxiety in a productive way, rather than falling into destructive habits and patterns as a way to cope.
The Best Box-Breathing Apps
If your daughter has access to a phone or tablet, an app is a great way to help them practice box-breathing and other deep breathing exercises. Here are some of the best apps available based on your daughter’s age:
- Stop, Breathe, and Think Kids. Stop, Breathe, and Think Kids is an app geared towards children aged 5-10 years old that focuses on playing mindful games and missions to help manage things like sleep, over excitement, and stress and anxiety.
- Breathe 2 Relax. Breathe 2 Relax is a stress management tool for teenagers and adults that focuses on deep breathing exercises to help your child practice Focus, Self-Control, and Self-Awareness during periods of anxiety, tension, and stress.
- Headspace. Headspace helps teach children (5 and under, 6-8, and 9-12) the basics of mindfulness through fun and engaging activities, including breathing exercises, visualizations, and even focus-based meditation.