Welcome to the first installment of the Surprising Triggers of Anxiety in Children series. When your child or student exhibits the symptoms of anxiety, you may assume that something frightening has occurred. However, anxiety can be triggered by a variety of surprising situations. This series discusses many of those triggers.
Today’s surprising trigger is hunger.
Why does hunger sometimes cause anxiety in children? Intense hunger can cause dizziness, increased heart rate, shaking, and irritability. Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can cause both psychological and physical symptoms of anxiety. Healthy humans do not experience hypoglycemia simply because they have missed a meal or waited too long to eat. Hypoglycemia is diagnosed by a doctor. If you suspect that your child suffers from hypoglycemia, contact your pediatrician.
A phenomenon called Idiopathic Postprandial Syndrome is often called hypoglycemia, but this syndrome is not actually characterized by low blood sugar. The term “idiopathic” basically means “unexplained,” and “postprandial” means after eating. Idiopathic Postprandial Syndrome is the name used to describe a pattern of feeling shaky and irritable an hour or two after eating. Idiopathic Postprandial Syndrome is fairly common, and it can definitely trigger anxiety. It may actually be related to anxiety disorders. Very little information is available about Idiopathic Postprandial Syndrome, and some of the information that is available is inaccurate or misleading. It’s possible that the symptoms of Idiopathic Postprandial Syndrome are related to sudden drops in blood sugar (as opposed to the unhealthily low blood sugar levels present in individuals experiencing hypoglycemia).
If you suspect that hunger is triggering anxiety in your child or student, suggest a healthful snack. Make sure the child eats slowly; anxiety can cause nausea. Some people believe that choosing “low glycemic index” snacks that minimize spikes in blood sugar can minimize mood instability. Unfortunately, nutrition and metabolism are both extremely complex and misunderstood sciences, so you may want to play around with different snacks or ask your pediatrician for advice. As always, make sure your child understands that anxiety and its symptoms cannot actually cause harm.