Does anxiety cause physiological issues or do physiological issues cause anxiety? It’s challenging to know which comes first. It may be that both statements are correct. Anxiety shows up as many kinds of somatic symptoms, including gastrointestinal distress, headaches, sleep problems, irritability, racing thoughts, poor concentration, heart palpitations, fatigue and worrying.

Taking steps to relieve symptoms of anxiety is the key to recovering children from neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and sensory processing disorders. Easing these problems is also helpful for those with chronic disorders, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, mood disorders and autoimmune issues.

In children on the spectrum, anxiety can be caused by damage to their developing neurological systems. For example, many of these children have retained primitive reflexes such as a retained Moro reflex and/or startle reflex that leaves them in a state of permanent fight-or-flight. The Moro reflex, usually present in babies up to four-months old, is a reflex responding to excessive stimulation of the senses, such as a sudden noise, touch, loss of support or light. In addition, children with neurodevelopmental disorders,  also typically have an incorrectly functioning sensory system. Lights, sounds, tastes, smells and touch can be too little or too much. The vestibular systems of these children are usually out of kilter; they may not have proper body awareness or age-level-appropriate gross motor skills.

Tips for Reducing Anxiety

Fortunately, there are ways to promote a state of calm. One way is to ensure a good night’s sleep. Children may be going to bed later than is optimal for promoting health. We want the child’s body in sync with its circadian rhythm. For a child, this means going to bed far earlier than an adult does. A baby would have a 5:30 or 6pm bedtime while a 10-year old would have an 8pm bedtime. A child that has slept well will be full of energy in the morning and less groggy. A good night’s sleep is critical for brain repair and body detoxification. If a child isn’t sleeping well, explore gentle sleep-promoting aids such as lavender oil, magnesium and/or valerian root.

It is also important to check blood sugar levels. Low blood sugar is a common cause of night waking. If a child is eating too many processed and sugary foods and not enough protein, fat and fiber, there’s a good chance that they may be on a blood sugar rollercoaster. A child who constantly has temper tantrums, prolonged tantrums or difficulty transitioning may have also low blood sugar. An inexpensive blood sugar monitor for home use can be used to check a child’s levels. The best time for a reading is on a fasting level, so it is good to check before breakfast. The optimal blood sugar range is between 70 and 85. You should know that high blood sugar puts a lot of wear-and-tear on the adrenals and causes inflammation, both of which can cause symptoms of anxiety.

There are other ways to lower stress and anxiety but these two tips are paramount. If we were tired and cranky from a lack of quality sleep and blood-sugar problems, wouldn’t we also be more prone to anxiety?

Maria Rickert Hong, AADP, is a certified holistic health counselor and the author of the Almost Autism:  Recovering Children from Sensory Processing Disorder. She is a board member, the media director and a blogger for Epidemic Answers, a nonprofit focused on chronic illness prevention and healing. The 501(c)3 organization is also the sponsor of The Documenting Hope Project, a documentary demonstrating that recovery from chronic childhood conditions is possible. Connect at