Going through the pandemic was a trying period for adults–let alone the formative minds of children.
A report by UNICEF quotes enhanced damage due to staying indoors during COVID-19 on children’s mental health, urging a sound balance of indoor and outdoor environment to encourage healthier behaviour in children.
Health anxiety can interrupt a child’s daily functioning at home, or in school. Even though expressing fears of their health is considered normal in children’s behaviour, and often fade away as they grow older, it is helpful to follow steps that reassure the child that they are safe and well-cared for.
To start with, watch out for these 13 symptoms:
- Bringing one or more health concerns every day
- Often asking parents to test their temperature
- Frequent health complaints, even after the physician has certified that the kid is healthy and strong
- When they tend to have more knowledge about germs and diseases than a normal kid
- When he tends to worry too much that he might develop a cancer or tumours.
- Child is anxious and nervous when he meets a sick person
- Often wanting to wear a band aid
- Trying to pretend to be ill even after recovery
- Gets anxious when hearing about a disease or illness on TV or radio or by other people
- Finding a mysterious lump on the body
- Try to research on diseases that they have heard about recently
- Often coming back from school or taking leave stating that they are not feeling well
- Mysterious body pains which even the doctor cannot figure out
Causes of Health Anxiety:
There are many ways that children learn of health problems, and are exposed to it in their environments. If their mother or father is affected by an illness, anxiety can be triggered within the child. This type of fear normally vanishes within a week or a few. It may, however, become severe in cases that turn out to become traumatic–in the case of being consistently exposed to a chronic illness, or losing somebody close to cancer. The child begins to become anxious that like their parents, they would fall ill too.
It may also be that the child suffers from an illness condition themselves, such as asthma, food allergies or diabetes, and are in-and-out of hospitals or clinics. In such cases, a child experiencing health anxiety might refuse to go to the doctor, and internalise a fear of their own treatment.
Exposure to the medium of communication is another key role in shaping how information about health is experienced by a child. For example, if a news or TV channel mentions that swine flu has been making the rounds and affecting children, a child may build stories in their own mind, applying it to themselves.
Ways to overcome health anxiety:
Children often hear about illness, but are not equipped to realise that the body has miraculous ways of fighting disease and keeping itself healthy. Speaking to a child about the body’s natural defence mechanisms, taking active care of one’s health by building good habits, and how germs and viruses can be fought away are ways to offer control over their fears.
Many times, children are confused about the difference between a severe or chronic illness such as cancer, and normal illnesses that come and go. This can often heighten health anxiety in a child. Helping them understand that catching a cold, or a fever might help the body’s immune system can clarify internalised fears and even misconceptions about illness and health.
In more severe cases of health anxiety, where a child seems to display physiological symptoms of distress, such as an increased heartbeat or breathing, it is best to consult a CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) practitioner for advice and help. Through this approach, a child sits through 10-15 sessions of therapy to change their ways of thinking and develop healthier and more resilient patterns.
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