Laredo’s United Independent School District held a United Council of Parents meeting to discuss students’ mental health and anxiety

In the last United Council of Parents meeting of the school year, United ISD discussed mental health focusing on the management of anxiety.

With “Understanding and Managing Anxiety” as the topic of discussion, UISD continued its efforts to involve parents in the mental health of their children.

A counselor for now 20 years, Elda Salinas, explained to parents the specifics of anxiety and how to identify it in their children. Salinas also taught parents the difference between anxiety and stress, and she explained that prolonged stress can lead to anxiety.

“We kind of use those words interchangeably, and we think sometimes they are the same thing. They do share very similar physical and emotional characteristics or symptoms, but they are two different things,” Salinas said. “Stress is normally temporary and is something that all of us experience.”

Salinas explained that stress may help anyone accomplish things we have to do like deadlines, tasks, paying bills, doing homework, demanding jobs, etc. Also, stress is easy to identify as it is typically generated by external situations. 

“Stress is normal, stress is supposed to be temporary, short term. And usually when the stressors are removed, the stress level is expected to go down,” Salinas said. “The difference with anxiety is that it is internally. It comes from within, is recurrent and is chronic.”

More examples that Salinas provided to avoid anxiety is releasing those sources of prolonged stress, like a demanding job, an unhealthy relationship, unproductive workspace, etc. Although there is not a concrete answer as where anxiety comes from, there are ways to reduce levels of anxiety to a manageable level. 

“When there’s domestic violence, it’s very common for people to develop anxiety because there is a lot of chronic stress,” Salinas said. “There are many things that can contribute to anyone feeling anxious or depressed. Anxiety and depression tend to come together. Usually when people experience high levels of anxiety, it is very common for them to experience depression or the opposite.”

Salinas further explained the roots of anxiety listing more reasons like genes, difficult experiences and trauma. Some anxiety symptoms to look out for with students include excessive worrying — which may also show as overthinking and sleeping problems — restlessness — this can manifest as not sitting still, shaking legs, picking hair, biting nails, etc. — irritability, anger issues, constant headaches, muscular tension, nervousness, fatigue, lack of concentration and panic attacks. 

“People that have been tense or have excessive anxiety tend to experience panic attacks,” Salinas said. “It is like an episode of intense fear. It comes with a lot of force and is extremely scary. Some of the symptoms people experience while in a panic attack is heart palpitations, sweating, shaking, trembling, shortness of breath, feeling of choking, pressure on the chest, dizziness, light-headed, nauseated, chills, hot flashes and even fear of dying. What they usually express is feeling they are about to die, about to lose control or about to have a heart attack.”

Salinas informed parents of ways to detect if their children are avoiding talking about their feelings. One example is if children are dreading to exit the car and anxious to arrive where there are large groups of people. Children may also want to avoid these situations by telling their parents they feel sick to avoid groups of people. 

Exposure to the situations that make children anxious is the first step to help them face what they are fearing. Salinas suggested parents to help them expose their children rather than finding short-term solutions that can later evolve into another problem. Exercise was also mentioned by Salinas as a solution for anyone experiencing anxiety.

“When we exercise, we release all sorts of beautiful chemicals that make us feel secure and happy,” Salinas said. “Dopamine is that chemical that makes us feel pleasure, excitement and alert. Every time that you feel like you want to go to the fridge, remember your body is seeking dopamine so you can run around the block or do some jumping jacks to naturally release it.”

A balanced nutrition is healthy not only physically for children but mentally as well. Salinas encouraged parents to practice a more balanced diet to their children to provide them with the necessary nutrients, vitamins, proteins, minerals, fiber and more. These components give children the necessary tools their bodies need to properly function. 

“Not only are we not having what we need, on top of that we are adding all the processed foods, sugars, carbs and more stuff that our body was never even meant to process or break down,” Salinas said.