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Childhood Anxiety Steadily On the Rise Since the 1950s

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The bottom line: chronic anxiety takes a toll on long-term physical and mental health, Twenge says. "Anxiety can predispose to depression. Anxiety is also linked to higher incidence of physical health problems such as asthma, heart disease, gastrointestinal upsets."

To combat anxiety, she advises parents to limit children's -- and their own -- exposure to violent media. "People who watch local news perceive their neighborhoods as more dangerous," Twenge tells WebMD.

"Work on your connections with other people. Get to know your neighbors. Help your children build good relationships. Talk to friends and family about your worries and fears. Social relationships can serve as buffer against stress," she says. ... "Independence and freedom are wonderful things, but they often do mean we're not as connected with other people. It can be a trade off."

Also, examine your expectations about your life, Twenge suggests. She says that although there is currently not a lot of research to support this, "TV and movies have created higher expectations for us in terms of appearance, wealth, jobs, and relationships. That has meant that we aspire to an unreachable ideal, which can cause tremendous anxiety. I hate to say don't watch TV and go to movies, but you can remind yourself that this is an unrealistic ideal.

"You cannot change a child's genetics, but you can change the media they watch, help them with the quality of their relationships," she says. "It's difficult to change the entire society, but you can change society's impact on you and your family."

Calling Twenge's study "very good research," Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor and chief psychologist at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, tells WebMD, "it brings together information from many different studies, giving us a very comprehensive overview of this problem.

"We know that less social connectedness makes you more anxious and more afraid," she says. "Kids feel less safe and secure. And with these environmental dangers, they're frightened. The world doesn't feel like such a safe place. People don't seem as trustworthy. And if there's divorce and other problems, life inside the family may not feel as predictable or nurturing."

As adults, Kaslow says, "they're likely to become more anxious, more vulnerable to substance abuse, depressed. I think it's harder to form relationships when you're anxious; it's harder to take chances."

The point, says Kaslow, is that "parents and other adults really need to attend to kids' anxieties. They need to take extra time every day to make sure they nurture their kids, that when something distressing happens in the home or environment they spend enough time processing it with the kids, talking about their fears and anxieties, putting an emphasis on making their lives as stable and supportive and nurturing and predictable as possible. Anxiety's about unpredictability."

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