Anxiety is a pain. Whether we come by it genetically or situationally, it hits all of us at various times in our lives. I’ve written about my struggle with worry—as a parent of a child with a variety of medical issues, I worried about our girl a lot. I looked too far ahead and fretted about the what ifs. I couldn’t stop the catastrophizing.
When you live in the past or in the future, you miss the present, and that’s where all good stuff happens. So I did the cognitive behavioural therapy exercises and it made a world of difference. Don’t get me wrong, I still have moments where I freak the hell out, but I know how to reign it in. This whole being mindful thing is a work in progress.
Adults coping with anxiety is one thing, but what about children with anxiety? Watching your child worry is like being poked in the stomach with a sharp stick.
I’ll unabashedly tell you about my battle with my worry monster, but sharing someone else’s story is offside. But I can say that having a sibling with disabilities can create fear and anxiety for good reason. Watching your sibling choke and stop breathing, bearing witness to paramedics working to resuscitate her, hearing your parents speak in whispers about test results and adult worries…. how can these things go unnoticed and unabsorbed?
Doing nothing but observing while being poked in the stomach with a sharp stick is not an option. If you see your child struggling with worry, there are tools that will help.
And that’s the point of this post—to share what I’ve learned/am learning about how to help yourself or somebody you love cope with anxiety.
When it became clear that childhood anxiety was a topic we needed to address, I worried. Oh the irony. But from my own experience with mindful practise, I know success is a matter of attitude. Shift your mindset and positive change will come. I decided to look at this negative situation as a positive. Facing anxiety in childhood is an opportunity—a fantastic chance to develop coping mechanisms early on. Imagine the benefits of learning these skills early in life? Stress will never go away. It’s the reality of being a human. Our primitive nervous system depended on stress triggers for survival. Though we may no longer face dangers like being chased by lions, we still react with fight or flight adrenalin fuelled panic when faced with a variety of stressful situations. So we can panic or we can cope. I choose cope and thrive.
Here are some books, articles and exercises that have proven helpful for us. If you have any other suggestions, please feel free to add them to the comment section below.
Breathe. There are scads of breathing techniques out there and the trick is to find the one that works for you. The ‘Box Breathing‘ technique has a visual element that seems to work well. Start by visualizing a box with four sides. Breathe in for 4 counts up the side of the box. Hold the breath for 4 counts across the top of the box. Exhale for 4 counts down the side of the imagined box. Relax for 4 counts across the bottom of the box. Repeat. The more often you do it, the easier and more effective it becomes.
Read: 22 Calming Phrases
Self-Talk. Choose a calming and/or empowering mantra and repeat it daily. Maybe one of these?
Journal. Write it down. Make a list of worries. Draw it out. Write yourself a happy letter. Write out your mantra in big bold letters. There’s no right or wrong way to write it out.
Music. Make a happy song playlist and listen to relax.
Talk. As simple as it sounds. Talk it out. But more importantly, listen.
Meditate. Create a mindful positive mindset and learn to live in the moment…this not granola mumbo jumbo. It works. I like this video and this resource. Google “meditation” or “guided meditation” or “mindfulness” and find a you tube video or podcast that works for you.
Quickie Relaxation Technique. This is a great exercise to do before bed. Start with some Box Breathing. Then isolate and clench various muscles—feet, lower legs, glutes and up the body. Clench and hold. Then release.
Relax. Exercise, walk in the park, skip stones in the lake, paint a picture…. find what relaxes your child and helps them unwind.
Therapy. Though a cognitive behavioural therapist may not say or do anything you haven’t already read about, sometimes just talking it out with a “professional” helps send the message that people care and want to help. Also a fresh set of eyes (and ears) can make a difference. Therapy is expensive—about $200 per hour—but it is covered under many people’s extended health benefits. Ask your therapist for concrete exercises and homework and work on it together with your child. It takes work to quiet the worry but it’s so worth the effort. I can change your child’s life for the better.