Anxiety Relief Coming Up!
One of the primary issues I address in my practice is chronic anxiety. Anxiety is different from the occasional nervousness that creeps up in response to a situation, like meeting a new person, going to a new school or having a job interview. It is an ongoing condition that for some is incapacitating. People may have a generalized anxiety disorder, which is anxiety that is present all of the time. Some people have social anxiety, which is a fear of being humiliated in social situations. Some have a specific phobia, or separation anxiety. There are other anxiety disorders as well. These are some of the most common.
Anxiety can also be a trauma response. The nervous system is stuck on flight mode, and is reacting to situations that aren't necessarily life threatening. Right now, many people who previously had symptoms of anxiety, are having more intense symptoms, and those who didn't before have developed symptoms. These symptoms may be excessive worry, feelings of helplessness, panic, irritably, the urge to hoard supplies, excessive sleepiness, low motivation, extreme boredom, loneliness and emotional numbing. There may be uncomfortable physical symptoms too. It makes sense. The world is in the middle of a global, traumatic event.
We are essentially experiencing a type of inescapable attack, which is a category of trauma. While some of us are fortunate to be able to stay in our homes and physically distance ourselves from others, some cannot. Even those who can, may worry about loved ones, their jobs, their children, the health care system, people dying, the economy, school and special events being temporarily cancelled.
It's not easy for our kids either. Their lives are just as disrupted as ours, which can make everything feel much less safe. Parents may notice behavior and emotional changes as they adjust to the changes.
Everyone is emotionally vulnerable right now, and will benefit from extra support, and healthy coping strategies. Research from Gifted Research Outreach suggests gifted, highly intelligent, individuals may be even more likely than the average person to struggle with anxiety all of the time, and especially during a crisis, because the same brain structure that makes people natural learners, also makes them more aware of threats and emotionally sensitive. Additionally, people with a higher cognitive abilities tend to have a greater awareness of their thought process, the countless possibilities of any choice or situation, and the world around them which can lead to feelings of overwhelm and panic stemming from experiencing an existential crisis.
We can do a lot to get anxiety relief and help our children to feel safer, especially when we're in the middle of a crisis. One way is addressing our thought process. Another way is addressing our physiology, like by taking deep breaths. Often it is most effective to take a multi-pronged approach.
Here are some helpful ways to calm your nervous system, reduce anxiety and help your kids to adjust:
Be aware of where you are focusing your attention. Limit the amount of negative or scary information you expose yourself and your children to on a daily basis. Choose to focus on what you can control, what is safe and who is helping in the world.
Increase positive experiences. One way to resolve anxiety and increase capacity for negative emotions is to increase positive support, recognize strengths, and engage in pleasant activities. Being able to notice how you are feeling when being supported is important to increase your capacity for positive experiences, and reduce the effects of negative emotions. Even little things can help, like fidgeting, movement, engaging the senses. Remind yourself this is temporary.
Remember, there will be social gatherings and school again. You will be able to freely walk around the store, the park and go to the movies.
Work to move from constantly complaining to having an awareness of the situation, and thinking before acting. This can progress to feeling appreciation and tolerance toward others, even the desire and momentum to help others with your personal abilities.
Be aware of what you are saying to others and spreading on social media. Are you focusing on fear? Is it true? How does it make you feel? Refocus by stating emotions, and being empathetic. Try to be present and work to keep your future bright.
Avoid indulging unhealthy habits. This will only make you feel worse.
Play with your children, even more than before. This will reduce stress for everyone, increase movement which boosts natural endorphins, and will increase positive connection with them.
Practice deep breathing. Breath deeply in through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Focus on your breath, being careful to take a longer exhale than inhale. One way of doing this is to count as you breath, and aim for a count of 7 in and 11 out. Three to six breaths may be needed to have the calming affect you are seeking.
Sit and/or walk in nature if possible. Going outside and noticing what is around you can be very calming, while walking helps to regulate your nervous system. If you are not able to go outside, looking out a window or at pictures of nature can have a similar effect.
Engage the five senses. Notice 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you smell and 1 thing you can taste. We humans are sensual creatures and our senses can be a powerful ally to calm us. If your anxiety is being triggered by an overwhelm of one of your five senses, such as the noise of a family members in another room, try engaging one of your other senses in a pleasant way to reduce your stress.
Engage in something creative. Studies have shown engaging in mindful drawing or creative writing daily can clinically reduce both anxiety and depression.
If you are the parent of a child struggling with anxiety:
Let them know you are there to help them without pressure or guilt.
Let them know they can call or text you to help them to feel safe.
Set reasonable limits without punishing. Enable your child to use their words to tell you how they are feeling, and acknowledge their feelings and talk through their fears with you.
Don’t threaten, give ultimatums or use guilt.
Help your children to focus on what helps them to feel safe. You can guide them through a visualization of a safe place in their minds. This can be fun, calming and creative for both of you. You can also talk about a time when they feel safe, or even give a hug when needed.
Engage them in a breathing, relaxation exercise with you. One exercise I recommend is tracing a square or rectangle. Take a slow, deep breath in as you trace one side with a finger, pause at the corner and hold for 3 seconds, then slowly exhale as you trace the next leg of the square. Repeat.
Help children and teens to counter distorted thoughts in a kind and realistic way after providing understanding and emotional validation. For example: Child: “I'm afraid everyone is going to die.” Possible response: “I know a lot is going on right now, and it's scary. We're doing all we can to stay safe. What helps you to feel safer?” Child: “I miss my friends. I'm never going to see them again. I'm so bored.” Possible response: “I understand how lonely you must feel. Maybe we could plan an online play date and think of some game we can play with our friends during our chat." Child: "There's nothing I can do. I don't want to get out of bed. What's the point?" Possible response: "It sounds like you feel really overwhelmed right now. Let's find something to look forward to today. There are lots of ways we can help ourselves and others. Let's come up with some ideas together."
Help kids to recognize what they have power over in their lives and help them to put their energy into things they can control to stay present, feel empowered in a tough situation and continue to work toward a positive future.
Don’t panic if your child or teen has anxiety. Do your best to stay calm, and take it seriously. If my suggestions are not enough, please seek the help of a professional in your area. Extra support can make a huge difference in helping yourself or your loved one to feel confident, looking forward to each day, and able to make the most out of the extra time you have together.
About the Author:
Christy, is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, practicing in San Diego, California, who also offers online and telephone sessions. She has over 10 years of experience working with children, teens, parents, families, couples and individual adults with complex psychological and relationship problems. She specializes in the needs of gifted, bright and high achieving people, as well as those who have suffered past trauma. Christy uses an eclectic approach, meeting the needs of whomever she is working with. Her work addresses the needs of the whole person, incorporating mind and body.