50 + Ways to Manage Anxiety, for Kids and Adults
Anxiety is probably at an all-time high for the human collective. But even pre-pandemic, anxiety (and depression) were rising at an alarming rate, especially among teens and children. I see that as a sad confirmation that our cultural norms don’t support health or happiness.
Societal issues aside, I also believe anxiety—like any health and wellness issue—can be supported by all the levels of who we are, including the physical, mental / emotional, energetic and spiritual. That’s why the list below includes tips that support all the layers that make up who we are.
And I’d say the wisest investment we can make right now is cultivating resilience and growing inner peace. Even if there are external situations we can’t control, we can always tend to our inner landscape. When we can keep ourselves centered, we not only feel better, but we’re also of greater service to the people in our lives and the world in general.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
- Viktor Frankl, Austrian psychiatrist, neurologist and Holocaust survivor
What follows is 50 + ways to curb anxiety...I figured it was a good time to be fairly comprehensive, so pardon the length! Scan, take what resonates with you, and tuck the rest in the back of your mind in case you’re looking for more support later. If you find any of this helpful, please share it with friends. Note too that many things that help anxiety also help depression, as well as other neurological imbalances or conditions.
(FYI, I’m also including some resources specifically for people who are highly sensitive and who are empaths. People with these traits are much more likely to experience anxiety—pandemic or not—partly because they’re perceiving many more kinds of information and stimuli).
We’re all uniquely individual, so of course it’s best to check with a qualified health professional to get the right amounts of certain vitamins and supplements for you. Naturopathic doctors (NDs) as well as medical doctors and psychiatrists (MDs) or other providers who are trained in functional medicine or integrative medicine are well equipped to guide you with food, supplement and lifestyle supports.
Get your B vitamins. Low levels of vitamin B are linked to many mental and emotional health issues, including anxiety.
Foods high in B vitamins include wild-caught sockeye salmon, sardines, freshwater trout, leafy greens, legumes, pasture-raised eggs, pasture-raised poultry, yogurt and sunflower seeds.
Use a B12 drop daily, especially if you are a vegetarian or vegan. I like this brand for kids and adults and take it in the morning on an empty stomach. https://www.amazon.com/VeganSafe-B-12-Methylcobalamin-Adenosylcobalamin-Supplement/dp/B00RXEW7R0?th=1
For kids, consider this B complex as well. Here’s a powder form: https://www.amazon.com/MegaFood-B-Centered-Promotes-Chamomile-Gluten-Free/dp/B01A05P7RA
Older children may like the pill form: https://www.megafood.com/vitamins-supplements/herbal-supplements/kids-b-complex-W1027.html
For adults, consider this B complex in addition to the B12: https://www.megafood.com/vitamins-supplements/herbal-supplements/adult-b-centered-W1002.html
Kids and adults can try inositol, which plays a role in serotonin (our bodies’ natural “happiness” chemical). Inositol has been shown to help with anxiety and panic. https://www.amazon.com/Pure-Encapsulations-Hypoallergenic-Supplement-Emotional/dp/B002HZ5MRM
Get plenty of magnesium. Many people are low in magnesium, and low levels are linked to anxiety (and depression). There are many types. Magnesium l-threonate and magnesium glycinate may be some of the best for soothing anxiety. (Note: It’s possible to get sick from taking too much magnesium, so be mindful of your quantity).
Eat more foods high in magnesium, including avocados, cocoa (a great addition to smoothies, oatmeal and porridges...or really any food, if you ask me!), greens (such as kale, spinach, mustard greens, etc), seeds, nuts, legumes and whole grains like buckwheat.
Boost your intake of omega 3 fatty acids. Low levels are linked with anxiety. Take a fish or krill oil supplement.
Eat foods like wild-caught sockeye salmon and sardines. (Remember the salmon must be wild-caught. Factory farmed options will be nutrient poor).
Take Vitamin D. This helps with depression, and may help with anxiety too. Many people are low. (However, vitamin D can accumulate, and if your levels get too high it can be unsafe). See if your provider can keep tabs on your level. According to functional medicine (which I follow), optimal vitamin D levels should be at least 50. Ideally, find a D that also contains vitamin K. Here’s one that’s in a dropper and is easy to take: https://www.amazon.com/Thorne-Research-Dispenser-Supplement-Vitamins/dp/B0038NF8MG
Drink lemon balm tea, chamomile or passion fruit tea, which are good for anxiety and stress. Lemon balm is a great herb to grow in your yard (keep it in a pot if you don’t want it to spread). Otherwise, consider buying a case of tea. I like this brand: https://www.traditionalmedicinals.com/products/lemon-balm/
Sometimes I make a large batch of herbal tea and keep it out at room temp to encourage myself to drink more throughout the day. You could also steep a large batch and then keep it in the fridge after it reaches room temperature so you have it handy to drink after dinner to encourage good sleep. Drinking herbal tea is a great habit to get kids into—make it part of a wind-down ritual after dinner.
Use tinctures of lemon balm, chamomile or passion fruit, which can provide a faster and more concentrated dose for kids or adults. Choose one without alcohol (many use it as a preservative, but it may degrade the potency of the natural helpful chemicals in these plants). Here’s one for kids from a brand made without alcohol: https://www.herb-pharm.com/product/kids-lemon-balm-calm/
Balance your amino acids. If your levels are too high or too low, it can contribute to anxiety or panic (or depression). The previously mentioned book, “The Chemistry of Calm” can guide you on supplements that can help. Taurine, Gaba and 5-HTP, for instance, can be helpful. However, this is all very individual based on what your personal balance is, so it’s ideal if you can work with a provider who can guide you when trying amino acids. Some brands I like include “Thorne” and “Pure Encapsulations.”
Try probiotics and especially spore-based probiotics. The gut-brain connection cannot be overstated. Healing the gut is huge for healing the mind. Klaire Labs makes a probiotic specifically designed to help with mood: https://www.amazon.com/Klaire-Labs-Boosting-Probiotic-Sachets/dp/B07BB316ST
Spore-based probiotics can survive the trip through the digestive tract better than other kinds.
Remember that supplements may be needed to stay in balance, especially under prolonged stress. However, supplements won’t be as helpful if you’re not also eating a balanced diet and living a healthy lifestyle.
Be aware that blood sugar imbalances can trigger anxiety AND can be especially hard on people who are highly sensitive, which means:
Ensure you’re eating three wholesome, balanced meals a day that contain complex carbohydrates (vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains), some protein and some healthy fat.
Eat healthy snacks between meals if you’re a person who feels steadier that way. If you leave the house, always have healthy snacks in tow to avoid a drop in blood sugar.
Reduce, or ideally eliminate, refined sugar. Remember that refined sugar is hidden in all kinds of products—yogurt, bread, nearly all ketchups. Replace it with honey and maple syrup, which have beneficial attributes. (FYI, the brand Primal Kitchen is very unique in that they make ketchups, sauces, dressings and more without sugar. Kudos to them!)
Limit, and ideally eliminate, caffeine. Ease off soda or coffee by incorporating foods that have less caffeine, such as green tea or baking cocoa (with no added sugar). Eventually you can also move to herbal teas; water flavored with fresh lemon, lime or cucumber juice; kombucha, etc.
See the section on “Supplements” for ideas on eating more foods high in magnesium, omega 3 fatty acids and B vitamins.
Take care with the information you’re consuming through your eyes and ears and senses—it can be just as important as what you’re consuming through your mouth.
Cut way back on news intake. If you need to keep up with the news due to your job or so that you can be informed on decisions or actions you need to take, then consume news strategically. Avoid the inflammatory news sources. And limit your news and information intake to certain periods of the day. Sit down at those times, check what you need to check, and then be done with it. Consider a time limit for yourself, like 15 minutes or half an hour a day.
Avoid news and information first thing in the morning and before bed. That includes information from your phone, feeds and even messages from friends and family. This way you have more control over how you begin and end your day, which are really important bookends when it comes to how you feel emotionally.
Read or listen to your news, but avoid visual news, especially if you’re highly sensitive (Visual information tends to hit highly sensitive or empathic people even harder).
Set an electronics curfew. Turn off all devices at least an hour or more before bedtime.
Be mindful of news your children may see or hear. This is especially important if you have a child who is highly sensitive or an empath. Don’t have news on if kids are around, turn the radio off in the car, and keep newspapers and magazines that may have unsettling images or headlines out of view.
It’s important for children to grow up feeling safe. You can find age-appropriate ways to frame relevant news and information so they can learn and grow from it. My favorite parenting resources are from 1) Laura Markham at https://www.ahaparenting.com and 2) Kim John Payne at https://www.simplicityparenting.com
Pandemic news aside, limit screen time where possible. Increased use of screens and devices is linked with increases in anxiety and depression.
Find uplifting, inspiring and helpful things to watch and listen to instead of news.
BOOKS (& STORIES)
“The Chemistry of Calm: A Powerful, Drug-Free Plan to Quiet Your Fears and Overcome Anxiety” by Henry Emmons. This is a fabulous book explaining how lifestyle choices and supplements influence what’s happening in your brain. https://www.amazon.com/Chemistry-Calm-Powerful-Drug-Free-Overcome/dp/1439129061
"How to Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety" by Ellen Hendriksen. This is an easy read that share some great tools focused on social anxiety. https://www.amazon.com/How-Be-Yourself-Critic-Anxiety/dp/1250161703
“The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You.” If you are also a highly sensitive person, I HIGHLY recommend this book: https://hsperson.com/books/the-highly-sensitive-person/
(Here’s a quick test for highly sensitive people: https://hsperson.com/test/highly-sensitive-test/)
“The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When the World Overwhelms Them.” If you may have a highly sensitive child, one of the best things you can do for him or her is read this book: https://www.amazon.com/Highly-Sensitive-Child-Children-Overwhelms/dp/0767908724
(Here’s a quick quiz to see if your child may be highly sensitive: http://hsperson.com/test/highly-sensitive-child-test/)
“The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People” by Judith Orloff. (In short, an empath senses energy and things that may be “invisible” to others). https://www.amazon.com/Empaths-Survival-Guide-Strategies-Sensitive/dp/1622036573
“Take Care: The Balance Guide” is my book with hundreds of practical tools and tips that can help you manage anxiety and grow resilience: https://www.amazon.com/Take-Care-Balance-empowering-lasting/dp/1535198303
Sparkle Stories for kids: These are fantastic audio stories for children. I can’t say enough good things about them. My kids love them as much as I do, and the stories weave in helpful life lessons, teachings and tools on self-esteem, kindness, respect, empathy, creativity, responsibility and so on. https://www.sparklestories.com
They have multiple collections, including stories for sensitive kids as well as stories for fear, overwhelm, starting school, courage, resilience and more: https://www.sparklestories.com/collections/
Sparkle Stories offers some stories free, or you can pay a monthly subscription (totally worth it) to access their full library of 1,300 + stories. You can also sign up for a free 30-day trial: https://www.sparklestories.com/signup/
Try tapping (also called Emotional Freedom Technique or EFT). This is an easy-to-use method that kids and adults alike can use. Tapping basically uses acupressure points to help untangle or dissolve stuck or intense emotions, and there’s incredible research on how effective it is for anxiety and panic.
You can learn to tap in minutes (and it’s very forgiving, you don’t have to stress about “doing it just right”), and you only have to spend a few minutes with it to experience benefits. Like all practices, it’s most effective if you practice it regularly. I’d recommend tapping on something right away in the morning or before bed (or better yet, both!).
Tapping is an empowering tool to teach children, and it’s one they can use the rest of their lives. Tap with them and you’ll both benefit from hitting the points. Search “tapping books for kids” to lay the groundwork.
The Tapping Solution also has a free app with guided programs (including for COVID-19, anxiety, stress relief and releasing fears): https://www.thetappingsolution.com/blog/tapping-solution-app/
Learn energy work. You can find simply practice to help rebalance, center yourself and release anxiety in minutes. My favorite DIY books on energy medicine are written by Donna Eden (who I am thrilled to have interviewed for my upcoming book on Movement!). Here’s one for starters: https://www.amazon.com/Energy-Medicine-Balancing-Energies-Vitality/dp/1585426504/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_14_t_0?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=QV6RWRW5J4NAWB7DJQQS
Donna also has a 5-minute daily energy routine she demonstrates on this clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Di5Ua44iuXc&list=PLmEThGRFgaFLEHp1yHq-Airrrrrzzd5PT
See a qualified practitioner for Healing Touch, Reiki and other forms of energy healing. Getting a recommendation and seeing someone you have a good feeling about is critical. Receiving healing energy is a great gift for children who are feeling anxious or for yourself.
OTHER PRACTICES AND RESOURCES
Check out HeartMath. https://www.heartmath.org. This is a research-based program that teaches innovative mind-body techniques to improve health and well-being. HeartMath is offering a lot of programs for free right now, including some for:
And humanitarian and emergency responders: https://www.heartmath.org/resources/courses/trauma/
Check out GoZen! They have programs for ages 5 - 15 to: “help kids manage anxiety as well as life skills to find meaning, purpose, and engagement in their lives.” Some of their resources are free. See https://gozen.com
See the website AT Parenting Survival, which offers support for kids of all ages and stages for anxiety and OCD. They have articles, podcasts, youtube videos, books, coaching, etc. to help toddlers through teens, https://www.anxioustoddlers.com
Create a daily meditation practice. There are tons of websites and resources that can help you get started. You can also look up and learn about specific types of meditation, such as vipassana meditation, loving kindness meditation and mindfulness-based stress reduction meditation (MBSR) practices.
Begin or deepen your spiritual practices and your connection to God (whatever that means to you). A solid faith and meaningful way to frame events and feelings can provide you with a sense of peace and feelings of acceptance, which help dissolve anxiety. My book, “Take Care: The Spirit Guide” delves into some more details on cultivating your spiritual life. https://www.amazon.com/Take-Care-Spirit-empowering-lasting/dp/1497527317/
Find a counselor who’s a good fit for you and learn cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps you learn to shift out of unhelpful patterns or reactions and learn to cope or manage situations in a more helpful way.
Move your body as much as possible. Find a form of exercise or physical activity you enjoy, whether it’s walking, badmitten, dance, cycling, shooting hoops or anything else.
Include intensity in your movement / exercise plans to dissolve stress hormones. We are literally designed to move to eliminate the stress hormones that make us feel anxious (or angry, or depressed).
When we’re feeling stressed, our sympathetic nervous system ramps up. It pumps out stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline and tells our body to shut down certain functions and rev up others so we can effectively fight or flee.
The intense physical action of actually running or fighting burns off those stress hormones. Afterward, the parasympathetic nervous system can kick in to help us calm and restore our bodies and minds.
Today our stress is largely ongoing psychological stress, and we don’t move our bodies enough—and certainly we don’t get a lot of high-intensity movement like running for our lives or fighting a saber-toothed tiger.
Keep this in mind when exercising. Intensity in your exercise is the most efficient way to burn up and clear out stress hormones (which can otherwise circulate in your blood and linger in your body for hours and hours). Do interval work, whether you’re running, biking or swimming, where you go as hard as possible for a few minutes and then return to your regular pace for a while before going hard again. Or try martial arts, another great way to bring in some intensity.
Take up calming practices, such as yoga, Tai Chi and Qigong. These are great lifelong practices for mind and body and can calm anxiety. My brother-in-law recently introduced me to a fabulous website / app for streaming online yoga videos, and they’re offering free classes until June. You can select your level, the amount of time you want to spend and more: https://www.downdogapp.com
Encourage creative ways to keep kids moving on their own, with indoor and outdoor trampolines, pogo sticks, jump ropes, dancing, rollerblades and so on.
Get giggling. Laughter is a powerful way to dissolve anxiety and stress and bring in the natural chemicals that make your body and mind feel happy. Watch and listen to “clean humor” that will make you laugh (without degrading or disrespecting others). If the timing is right, be silly and rough house with kids to get them laughing (but never tickle unless they’re specifically asking for it—and always stop with any sign they want you to stop).
Remember that sleep is a “linchpin” for mental health, said Henry Emmons, MD, integrative psychiatrist and author of “The Chemistry of Calm” and “The Chemistry of Joy,” when I interviewed him for my book on sleep. Sleep is when your body and mind resets, heals and rebalances.
Listen to something peaceful and calming before bed. I like this website, where you can find guided meditations for a range of issues. Here’s their page for anxiety: https://www.healthjourneys.com/audio-library/anxiety-relief
And here’s their page for kids: https://www.healthjourneys.com/audio-library/kids
Drink a calming tea an hour or two before bed. (See the supplement info above). You can also try a tea specifically for sleep, such as “Nighty Night” tea by the brand Traditional Medicinals (Note this tea is not appropriate for children under 12): https://www.traditionalmedicinals.com/products/nighty-night/
Use the subtle energy techniques and breathwork during the day and / or especially before bed. See the section on subtle energy and my earlier article, “Three quick and easy ways to stay centered and calm anxiety”: http://www.takecareguide.com/news/2020/03/three-quick-and-easy-ways-to-stay-centered-and-calm-anxiety/
Journal about how you’re feeling before bed, or sometime during the day.
See my book, “Take Care: The Sleep Guide” for more tips on getting a good night’s sleep: https://www.amazon.com/Take-Care-empowering-guides-lasting/dp/1499312547
NATURE & ART
Challenge yourself to get outside at least once a day. The more the better. There’s gobs of research on how helpful nature is for anxiety (and depression). Stand with your bare feet on the ground. Work outside when you can. Eat outside when you can. Get into gardening.
Try painting, knitting, beading, drawing—ANYthing! Creative, artistic outlets can pull your mind and body out of an anxious or stressed pattern and shift your brain into a calmer state. Don’t get into negative self-talk like, “I’m not good at art” or “I’m not creative.” Instead remember the point is to enjoy yourself and engage in a positive, joyful activity. Remember that kids at a very young age can learn relaxing practices like finger knitting.
Making the materials for your creative outlet easy to access will encourage you to use them more. For example, we have a large desk in our kitchen that’s just for art. We leave the paint, brushes, colored pencils, oil pastels and paper out on the desk all the time and keep other art materials in a set of drawers next to it. This way, there’s a constant visual reminder and invitation to make art and it doesn’t require the additional step of gathering materials.
ONE LAST, VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: If you’re using alcohol or other substances to “cope” or “take the edge off,” or if you’re engaging in other addictive behaviors or are thinking about harming yourself or others, please get professional help immediately. Show yourself the love and kindness you deserve by 1) acknowledging the problem and 2) having the courage to seek help. We have to face challenges head on to truly heal and become our best version of ourselves. And we owe our best to ourselves, our loved ones and the world we all share.