A recent study from Stanford University conducted on anxious children and their response to stress concluded that it is the brains that are wired differently that make the kids anxious. And it must be the same in adults. The amygdala is way too powerful for the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex to control it.
The feeling of anxiety is the result of a great argument that happens inside our brain. It’s not an inexplicable feeling, it’s the fight between our amygdala and our dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. The emotional fear center screaming at the decision-making realm. And we all know how impossible it can become for a rational human to temperate a highly emotional one. It takes a lot of patience and time.
The Study On Anxious Children’s Brains
45 children of 10 and 11 years old were selected for the study. They were monitored with fMRI during the tasks. They were showed neutral and aversive pictures to monitor their brain activity while they were also asked to evaluate their emotions by rating them on a 1 to 10 scale.
In the next phase of the study, they were taught to use a cognitive reappraisal technique. That means they were guided to find the good outcome of the image. For instance, if they saw a picture of a crash, to see that the airbags were inflated, and people didn’t get hurt.
For the third phase of the study, they were asked to use the technique they were taught while watching new disturbing pictures. This is when the differences between anxious children and those typically developed showed. Anxious brains couldn’t fulfill the task. Their fear center responded too strongly for the decision-making area to be able to suppress it.
These children were the ones that in the first phase showed higher levels of distress while watching the pictures. Also, while trying to regulate their distress by using the reappraisal technique, they showed impulsive reactions.
Coping With Anxious Children
The action of worrying is cognitive and stress reactivity is a temperament mark. Conscious control is not going to change it. Anxious brains are going to respond differently than the typically developed ones.
Strategies such as positive thinking or mindfulness aren’t going to be enough for them. They need them both, together with coping strategies such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation. Only when they make those work, can a cognitive reappraisal technique make a difference in their response to stress.
It takes a lot of patience and time to learn to do that. Consciousness isn’t enough for them. They have to rewire a neurological pattern to get there. But for those anxious children who are lucky enough to have adults around them to guide them through this process, might even get a chance at anxiety-free adulthood.