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    Addressing Childhood Anxiety with Pediatric Massage

    We have all felt stress or anxiety at one time or another. Whether due to an upcoming test, an impending move, or even just being in an unfamiliar situation, stress can occur. As an adult, these stressors can be easy to understand and manage; however, children have a much more difficult time doing so.

    It is estimated that nearly one in five children living in Ontario, under the age of 19, experiences a mental, emotional or behavioural disorder that is severe enough to seriously affect their daily functioning at home, school or within the community. For children, anxiety disorders may be difficult to cope with, as they may not yet have the ability to vocalize their feelings, nor the coping skills required, to manage them.

    Stressful events such as starting school, moving, or the loss of a parent can trigger the onset of anxiety. However, a specific stressor need not be the precursor to the development of a disorder. Many believe that if left untreated, children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, have less developed social skills, and are more vulnerable to substance abuse.

    Physical Symptoms of Anxiety in Children

    • Muscle tension
    • Shaking/trembling and heart palpitations
    • Sweating/flushing or feeling very hot or cold
    • Feelings of choking
    • Feeling faint or dizzy
    • Rapid breathing, feelings of shortness of breath, or breath holding
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Restlessness
    • Being easily startled
    • Severe blushing
    • Numbness or ‘pins and needles’ in arms and legs
    • Recurring headaches, stomach aches, or backaches
    • Fatigue
    • Sleeping difficulties
    • Frequent toileting

    With proper intervention, a child’s anxiety can be tackled head on and positive changes can be seen. Numerous research studies have demonstrated that massage therapy can be an effective method of intervention in these situations.

    One study has found that “The massaged subjects were less depressed and anxious and had lower saliva cortisol levels after the massage. In addition, nurses rated the subjects as being less anxious and more cooperative on the last day of the study”.

    Massage has direct effects on the body’s biochemistry. Research has shown that it increases the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that helps to stabilize mood and quiet the brain (decreases stimulation). It also increases dopamine levels, a neurotransmitter that helps concentration and memory and decreases cortisol levels, the stress hormone released in the brain.

    Whether used on its own, or as part of a child’s individual treatment plan, massage therapy can provide much needed relief from the symptoms of anxiety. Children often cannot lay still on a massage table like an adult would. As a Massage Therapist who works with children every day, I incorporate massage techniques with deep breathing and relaxation exercises, games, toys, stickers, stories and I often teach parents how to perform massage at home for their child.

    As with any new treatment, your healthcare practitioner should be contacted prior to beginning any course of treatment.



    About Heather Alexander-Clark

    Heather grew up in Hamilton, Ontario where she studied classical ballet for 16 years. Dance became her first experience in connecting mind and body. She went on to study Kinesiology at Brock University where she focused on the science behind injury and recovery. After graduating Heather worked as a Kinesiologist in a rehabilitation clinic. A course in Cranial Sacral Therapy became a pivotal event in Heather realizing the power of body work to promote wellness. This led her to study for a post-graduate diploma in Massage Therapy at Sutherland-Chan here in Toronto. Four years ago she completed her training with CAPPA Canada as a Birth Doula as well as gaining a certification in Infant Massage and feels lucky to be able to work with families as they strive for optimal health and well-being for their children.