Here we are again, back to school and the new routines that come with a new school year. Back-to-school jitters are normal every fall. But as families prepare for the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, these common worries are colliding with uncertainties about the ongoing pandemic, leaving kids and parents more anxious than usual.
There are many different concerns that kids of all ages face going back to school including going to a new school, starting middle school, high school, preschool or kindergarten. These are big transitions at the best of times but with the pandemic there will be more stress and anxiety in kids of all ages.
With the mask mandates now for younger children they are worried about the rules around it and afraid they are not doing it right: “How am I going to keep my mask on all day? What if I want to take it off? What are the rules around it?”
In teens, there are concerns about social interactions and how to manage social dynamics in person if they have been virtual learning. Kids of all ages also have increased fear of getting sick.
These added stressors are causing increased levels of anxiety, depression and sleep problems in kids and teens.
A meta-analysis of (29 studies and 80,879 youth globally) published in JAMA Pediatrics August 2021, found that the prevalence of depression and anxiety symptoms during the pandemic have doubled compared with pre-pandemic estimates, and prevalence rates were higher later in the pandemic, in older adolescents, and in girls. Every child has suffered, but tweens and teens have suffered dearly.
Cold and flu season is upon us now as well, which adds even more concern and stress for the parents.
Tips and Supplements to Help Support the Immune System
Supporting the immune system as kids go back to school is very important.
Basic tips include: prioritizing sleep, helping them reduce stress, encouraging outside play or sports, establishing healthy eating habits, avoiding or minimizing sugars and refined foods, and promoting gut health. In fact, 70-80% of the immune system lies in the gut.
Supplements to help support immune health include: probiotics for gut health, vitamin C, zinc and Vitamin D. These supplements are available in chewable or liquid form for the younger children who cannot swallow vitamins.
Cross Talk between the Gut and the Immune System
People of all ages have some degree of dysbiosis – an imbalance in the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ gut microbes. Common causes include poor dietary choices, stress, overuse of antibiotics and other medications, and lack of pre and probiotics in the diet. Dysbiosis leads to increased gut permeability (aka leaky-gut) that allows foreign pathogens to enter the blood stream resulting in a heightened immune response and systemic inflammation. Eventually this can cause immune dysregulation and increased susceptibility to infections, and common chronic diseases.
Studies have also shown that probiotics help to modulate the stress response and reduce stress hormones. During these times of added stress, it is important to do all we can to strengthen our ability to adapt to these stressors. Supporting gut health can help reduce the negative effects of stress and support our natural immunity.
The integrity of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) is also under the control of gut microbiome. Systemic inflammation caused by a leaky-gut affects the brain via pathways involved in the gut-brain connection. Double-blind trials have shown that people treated with lactobacillus and bifidobacterium (types of probiotics) experienced improvements in psychological distress, anxiety, and depression, had decreased anger and hostility, less anxiety, and improved problem solving. The benefits provided by a healthy gut microbiome and probiotic supplements is something we could all benefit from in current times!
Probiotics and Prebiotics
Prebiotics are a type of fiber and are only found in plants or certain supplements. Foods
high in fiber include artichokes, asparagus, onions, beans, and berries. Prebiotics have been well studied and have been shown to improve gut integrity. Probiotic foods contain live bacteria or yeast that are beneficial for digestive health; they include fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, yoghurt and probiotic supplements.
The importance of prebiotic fibres and probiotics, healthy diet and exercise cannot be overemphasized when it comes to our immunity and prevention of viral infections and common mental health disorders.
Tips to Help with Stress and Anxiety
Parents are feeling the added stress in different ways than kids and many are feeling completely overwhelmed with the added demands and worries during the pandemic. Now with the back to school routine comes even more demands with extra-curricular activities for the kids, homework schedules, school lunches, arranging school drop offs and pick-ups and scrambling to find care for kids who have to be kept at home at first sound of a sniffle or sneeze.
Finding time for yourself may seem impossible due to home and work demands.
But, in order to help your kids with their worries and added stressors of the back to school time, self-care becomes even more important.
If you are feeling stressed after a day of work, before going home take time to destress: a walk or jog in a local park, deep breathing exercises, listening to calming music on the drive home, quiet meditation or prayer – basically, do whatever works for you in order to refocus and destress.
Kids are like sponges and pick up on stress of the parents. For young kids it is up to the parents to be the calm and the lighthouse in their children’s storm and for teens, parents can support them and help teach them how to become their own lighthouse in their storm.
Supplement Tips for Anxiety and Stress in Young Kids
Vitamin C – During times of stress, the body’s requirement for vitamin C can increase 10–20-fold. Chewable, gummies, and powder available.
Lavender essential oil – Drops of lavender oil can be applied under the nose or on temples to help with anxiety and relaxation.
Magnesium – Helps calm the nervous system – powder or liquid available.
Probiotics – Are beneficial in the treatment of stress related anxiety and depression. Chewable or powder are available.
Melatonin – Many younger children are having trouble sleeping. Low dose melatonin can be very helpful and is safe for younger kids.
The liquid or powdered vitamins can be easily added to morning smoothies
Supplement Tips for Anxiety and Stress Teens and Parents
In addition to supplements above, the following supplements can provide support for teens and parents:
Adaptogens – Are herbs such as Siberian ginseng, ashwagandha, or rhodiola help to regulate stress hormones and protect from negative effects of stress.
Gaba-amino-benzoic acid (GABA) – Acts like a brake in times of increased stress. Low levels of GABA have been linked to anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
L-theanine – Enhances brain’s alpha waves (relaxation), reduces stress, helps sleep and reduces anxiety.
Talk to the knowledgeable staff at the Vitamin Shop about specific formulas or products.
These are challenging times and require extra care on all levels in order to stay afloat mentally physically for people of all ages.
Karen Jensen was in clinical practice for 25 years and although she is retired, she continues to write books and educate on the naturopathic approach to wellness. She is author or co-author of seven books, her most recent is Women’s Health Matters: The Influence of Gender on Disease.