We live in a complicated world.
One need only turn on the news to be bombarded with all the threats and dangers that hover seemingly a shadow’s distance away. For our students, the pressures of academic performance, friendships, navigation of identity issues and the spectre of parent expectation can take its toll and prompt responses of anxiety. Indeed, one of the responses highlighted in the survey was: ‘I worry too much about my schoolwork or what others think of me.’
So What Does Anxiety Look Like?
Perhaps you have a picture in your mind of a child rocking back and forth in a full blown panic attack. Anxiety, however, can take much much more innocuous forms. It could appear in the dragging of feet to get ready in the morning, the continual presentation of inexplicable physical pain, requests for you to perform tasks for them that they could be doing themselves. Perhaps it comes in the form of explosive emotions, a tendency to assume the worst possible outcome or an inability to fall (or remain) asleep without calming company.*
If these behaviours are present in your child, or they are confiding in you their own worries and anxious responses, take heart! There are strategies that can be used to help.
Accept the Worry
Dr. Srini Pillay (Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School) suggests in his article ‘Managing worry in generalized anxiety disorder’ that people who worry incessantly worrying about something do so for a specific reason. He says that ‘worrying puts your mind into a negative state, but this helps, because when something negative does happen, you don’t feel that much worse.’ For those who are ‘soft-wired’ for worry, accepting why you do this is a helpful first step because then you can go deeper and ‘discover that the negative swing is probably less negative than you think.’
Jim Kwik of Kwik Brain often points out that ‘what you resist, persists’. So don’t try to sweep the worry under the rug – get it out, examine it, get curious!
Use Strategies to Keep it Under Control
There are many approaches available to combat anxiety in the moment – from deep-breathing, to meditation, to prayer, to talking it out with a trusted friend or counsellor.
One you may not have heard of is ‘Tapping’. This surprisingly effective neuroscientific approach involves the physical tapping on the endpoints of major meridians in your body (the ‘karate chop point’ of your hand, the hollow of your chin, just below your collarbones) and bringing the anxious situation to the front of your mind. By confronting the looming fear you instantly shed it of power and the physical combination and focus allows you to turn off the ‘fight or flight’ response in your brain. Watch this video for a demonstration.
Consider Your Own Example
How are you going with your own anxiety? Do you present as ‘stressed out’ or angry to your kids? Anger is a very common masking device for fear and it might be cloaking worries that you haven’t even admitted to yourself yet. Kids are masters of picking up our non-verbal signals and our modelling can have a great impact upon them. That might be scary news, but it is also amazing – consider the impact that ‘doing your work’ will have on your entire family. The more we invest in our own mental health and actively work to deal with our problems, the greater positive inheritance we leave for our kids.
Change Your Narrative on Fear
Often we see fear as negative or bad. This isn’t the case. Akshay Nanavati, the author of ‘FEARVANA: The Revolutionary Science of How to Turn Fear into Health, Wealth and Happiness’ suggests that this labelling is ‘highly destructive because when people inevitably feel these emotions, they start to feel like there is something wrong with them. This sends them into a damaging downward spiral of negative self-talk.’ He uses a five step strategy known as ‘LMNOP’ to rewire his brain so that he transforms the fear response into something wonderful. You can listen to this podcast episode at The Unmistakable Creative for more information.
Keep the Communication Lines Open
Talking to your kids and asking them questions about their lives can be difficult, particularly if you are used to getting one-word responses. Try and invest in designated Mind, Body and Soul time with each child so that when they do need to confide in you, there is a time and a space and a foundation of trust already there. Also, remember that your kids’ teachers are a valuable resource. Communicate with them, talk about any concerns you have and ask for their perspective on your child. BHCS is a school that values the whole picture and we care deeply about how our students are going at home.
Remember, anxiety doesn’t have to be a negative story. Let’s work together to make both school and home places where our kids can feel safe to grapple with the complexities of life and ask great questions of themselves and others.
For those with younger children, check out Kathy Walker’s helpful Factsheet on Supporting Children With Anxiety.
*This article is not intended to function as a diagnostic tool, rather as a prompt for review of already evident behaviours from another perspective. If you are concerned about your child’s symptoms, please consult your GP to investigate options for helpful treatment.