22 Phrases for When Your Child's Anxiety Is Making You Anxious

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As parents, we have a natural tendency to reach out to our children when they are anxious, scared or stressed. What none of us can anticipate is how our children’s anxiety can make us feel anxious, helpless, hopeless, angry or desperate. The next time your child is ridden with anxiety, repeat any of these phrases. You will be surprised that your child will likely mirror your reaction.

1. “This too shall pass.”

Like all emotions, anxiety will pass. Our bodies cannot physiologically maintain the heightened level of awareness caused by anxiety for very long. Chances are that waiting 10 to 15 minutes will result in a change in anxiety levels.

2. “Anxiety serves a purpose.”

Oftentimes we treat anxiety like there is something wrong with our child. In fact, anxiety serves an important biological function to keep us safe. Teaching your child to differentiate between anxiety that will help and anxiety that will hinder her/him is a valuable life skill.

3. “Breathe.”

Deep breathing actually reverses the body’s stress response. When we are anxious, we tend to take shallow breaths. Taking three conscious, deep breaths will alleviate much of our anxiety.

4. “We are on the same team.”

Have you ever watched two basketball players going for a rebound, fighting each other tooth and nail, only to realize they are on the same team? Remember, you and your child are on the same team and have the same goals.

5. “I am my child’s guide.”

Remind yourself that your role is not to control the challenges your child will face but rather to be her/his guide through the experiences.

6. “Observe. Observe. Observe.”

Instead of “doing something,” simply observe what is happening like an outsider. See if there are commonalities in your observations. By identifying triggers, you can help your child cope with them, thereby limiting your own sense of helplessness.

7. “The only way to get across this swift, deep river is to go through it.”

Allow your own feelings, even if they are dark, to arise and pass. If this experience is like a river, it means there is also a riverbank waiting for you.

8. “Stick to the routine.”

Anxious children thrive on predictability. You may not be able to do anything about the trigger, but you can reinforce the routine. Bedtime, family rituals and morning routines center our children, better preparing them for the outside world.

9. “Meditate.”

At our darkest moments, hope is rekindled simply by taking the time to be still and focus on our breath for a few moments.

10. “Help is available.”

Hopelessness usually means you have exhausted your ability to deal with your child’s anxiety. Having another set of eyes on the situation may make all the difference in the world. Whether a professional counselor, a relative or another trusted adult, turn to those in your child’s circle for help.

11. “My child’s anxiety is not a reflection of my parenting.”

Stop questioning whether you should or could have done something differently with your child. Focus rather on what you can do as their guide through their challenges.

12. “What would make my child laugh right now?”

Whether it’s a funny noise, a silly story or singing the wrong words to a favorite song, laughter is the fastest way to make you both feel better.

13. “I’m going to take a break.”

It’s OK to take five minutes of quiet time or put yourself in a place to reconnect with yourself when you are feeling angry. Not only are you modeling appropriate behavior, but you also have a chance to take a few breaths and remind yourself of a few of these phrases.

14. “I love you. I’m here for you.”

Your children will experience stress they cannot control. They will receive an injection, perform in front of an audience and face challenges. Reminding them you love them and are here for them is reassuring, not just for them but for you as well.

15. “In this moment, right now, what can I do to reboot my well-being?”

Some days it will be getting ice cream; others it will be going for a run. Whatever it is, make a long list for yourself that you can reference when you need it.

16. “She/he does not know how to deal with this.”

Frustration over our children’s anxiety can sometimes stem from forgetting they are trying to learn how to navigate a world of unknowns. Regardless whether their fear is rational, or of how many times you have been through this, ask yourself how you can be their guide.

17. “I am on a beach.”

There is a reason why guided imagery is used during labor and delivery to reduce pain. It works! Imagine yourself in a soothing, happy place before you speak.

18. “I am the adult.” 

Simply remind yourself you are the adult; you have the power to remain calm and provide heart-centered advice to de-escalate an anxious situation.

19. “My job is to help my child become a functioning adult.”

When you put it into perspective, you must teach your child how to acknowledge, reduce and wade through anxiety if she/he is to be a functioning adult. Suddenly, when your anxious child is crying about going to school, you can approach the problem as just that —a problem to be solved.

20. “I have control over my reaction.”

Ultimately, the only person you can control is you. Govern your feelings, control your reactions and then help your child learn to do the same. You can teach your child the art of emotional self-regulation by modeling it.

21. “Progress is never linear.” 

Coping with anxiety is not a linear process. It takes time and practice for you and your child. Don’t assume you are at square one when you experience a setback.

22. “I’m doing the best I can.”

In this moment, with the tools you have, you are doing the very best you can. Some days your reaction to your child’s anxiety may be cool, calm, collected, empathetic and thoughtful — on other days, perhaps not as much. We are all a work in progress, and you are doing the best you can.

Read more from this author at GoZen.

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The 4 Words I Tell Myself as the Mother of a Child With an Anxiety Disorder

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As an illness, I think anxiety walks a fine line between a condition one may deal with forever and one that can conceivably be “fixed,” or at least that’s what was stuck in my mind after we learned my daughter had an anxiety condition known as selective mutism.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, here’s the lowdown: Selective mutism is a childhood anxiety disorder that manifests in certain social settings where a child is completely unable to speak or communicate. Children with this condition generally speak comfortably in familiar settings and with familiar people, but then completely “freeze” and experience intense anxiety in settings outside their comfort zone.

In the case of my daughter, she’s able to speak (and act) freely in our home and in the homes of several friends and family members, but she hasn’t spoken in school in more than a year. Of course, this presents all sorts of challenges for her, including not being able to ask to go to the bathroom (this has led to bladder issues), not being able to participate in any activity requiring speech and subsequent social struggles.

She has made small improvements, but her biggest  challenge continues to be talking to adults, particularly in the school environment. This is fairly typical of her condition, but every case will present slightly differently.

My daughter’s condition first came to our attention when she started preschool, and my notion was that she was just shy and would speak “normally” once she had had a few weeks to warm up to the school thing.

I’ll spare you the details, but we tried all sorts of things to coax her into speaking at school, particularly to her teachers. However, everything we did just seemed to make it worse. As a parent, I grew more and more desperate for her to just speak so she could just get on and enjoy school as I had envisioned she would. I became quietly obsessed with “fixing” the situation, drawing her out of her shyness, thinking if I just said or did or bribed or encouraged or coaxed her in just the right way that I would draw her out of her funk.

This time wasn’t a highlight in our relationship, and that’s why I’m exceedingly thankful for a phone call I got from a school counselor who would forever change how I approached this issue with my daughter.

She called from school one Monday afternoon to discuss selective mutism and the best strategies to deal with it (specifically not bribing, coaxing or pressuring my daughter). The conversation was strictly professional, but then it strayed and she ended up tearfully telling me about her own daughter who had struggled with anxiety. “I wish we had just enjoyed her more,” she said. These words stuck with me.

I remember one time going to a birthday party with my daughter — one of those ad nauseum princess-themed parties with princess cupcakes, princess decorations, princess music, princess costumes. In short, a 5-year-old version of paradise! At one point, real live Princesses Anna and Elsa showed up for a photo op that I would never forget. The group of girls swooned while my daughter froze and turned beet red while tears welled up in her wide eyes. I all but dragged her into the group shot with the princesses.

Later, I tearfully relayed this story to my husband as I showed him the picture I had dutifully taken “It was like she was watching her dream come true, but she couldn’t participate,” I said. To me, her face was the very picture of her anxiety condition.

Later at bedtime, as is our family custom, I asked my kids what the highlight of their day was. “Meeting the princesses!” she said without a moment’s hesitation and with every ounce of enthusiasm you’d expect from a little girl who’d just met their childhood idol.

Just enjoy her more, I had to remind myself.

Later that week, my daughter ran into the house after school, pulled a princes envelope out of her backpack and ripped it open in excited haste. “Look mommy! Me and the princesses!” she said. In her hands, she proudly held the picture, the same picture I actually shed tears over just a few days earlier.

“How cool is that Genevieve!” I said as I proudly stuck the picture front and center on our fridge. Just enjoy her more, the words came back to me. As is often the case, my daughter was way ahead of me on that one.

I’m thankful to be past the point on this journey where I’m waiting on some “fix” so I can start enjoying my daughter. To that end, one might always be waiting on something or other. There is joy every single day in that little girl’s life, and no one knows that better than her.

It seems ridiculous to me now I was missing out and sobering to consider my attitude may have been influencing her otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, not a day goes by that I don’t wish her challenges would just vaporize, but in the meantime, there is no shortage of things to celebrate. So, wherever this finds you on your parenting journey, let this be your reminder to just enjoy your little people more.

Follow this journey on The Sisters Cafe.

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When You Need Academic Assistance for Classroom Anxiety

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Sometimes when I’m sitting in class, I become overwhelmed. My head starts to spin and all of these thoughts come flying at me without much warning. Trying to focus becomes like trying to pin the tail on the donkey, after your friends have spun you ’round and ’round. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on where the butt is, the furniture from across the room enters your view. As far as I know, for me at least, there’s no way to stop this besides just letting it happen. Sitting/laying down helps, but that still doesn’t stop the ceiling from twirling.

I’m getting dizzy and nauseous just thinking about it — that’s basically what having anxiety in class is like for me. Just when you start to focus on what’s being said, an intrusive thought comes bursting through the door like an uninvited party guest. Needless to say, some days I find it really hard to focus on lectures. Which is a huge problem! I’m what educators would call an auditory learner, which means that although I can also learn by reading and sometimes prefer it, in subjects like math, history and computer science, I learn by listening.

In high school, whenever I took tests in history or math, it wasn’t the board or the textbook I was remembering; it was my teachers’ voices — the way they changed as they gave their lectures and examples. This also included remembering when teachers would make jokes, make grand arm gestures and repeat concepts. That technique got me through countless exams in high school and in college.

With an increase in my mood, I’ve also been experiencing a surprising amount of anxiety. Usually my mood and anxiety have an inverse relationship: when my mood is low, my anxiety is high; when my mood is high, my anxiety is low.

What I’m trying to say is that I’ve recognized the need to get academic assistance. If I can’t focus in class, I won’t learn. There were many ways to approach this. I could increase my medication, I could increase counseling or I could go to the accessibility services at my school for help. I decided to go to accessibility service to find out my options, and with the support of my counselor we created an academic assistance plan. I was really surprised to find they had agreed that recording lectures would be beneficial. They handed me a smart pen, or Echo, and some paperwork (because there is always paperwork), and I was good to go. The smart pen will record lectures for me and upload them to an application on my computer, where the notes I take while recording will also show up.

I’m excited to see how this will affect my level of anxiety and am forever grateful the people at my school recognize how debilitating anxiety can be. But having this opportunity made me curious as to how anxiety is handled at other colleges. Sadly, it didn’t surprise me when I learned that many don’t recognize the ill effects anxiety and depression have on learning.

If you think you need academic assistance, seek it — go see a counselor or trusted advisor who knows your situation. Having a professional ready to go to bat for you will make the process a little easier. If your school refuses to give you help, your new counselor can give you tips and tricks to get you through classes and this experience. The way people perceive mental illness is changing — speak up, and help bring change to your part of the world.

Follow this journey on Adventures of Shy Girl.

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11 Superpowers of Anxious Children

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Let’s not sugarcoat it: Life can be hard for anxious kids. Even simple, everyday tasks can seem big and scary when they come with sweaty palms, a pounding heart and the feeling that something — anything, maybe even everything — is about to go horribly wrong. Anxious kids may feel like it’s their job to stop a disaster from happening, or even like they’ve done something wrong and need to fix it. That’s a lot to shoulder at any age.

But they’ve done nothing wrong; in fact, those anxious feelings have some hidden advantages. It’s kind of like having a secret superpower. Here are 11 interesting ways anxiety can actually be a good thing:

1. You are creative.

Often, the people who worry the most have great imaginations. You are able to see situations in new and inventive ways. Your imagination is like a muscle; the more you use it, the more creativity can come out of it.

2. You prepare your body to perform at its best.

Having a little bit of anxiety can actually help you perform better at all sorts of tasks, both physical and mental. It’s like having your own secret rocket fuel you can channel into highly effective action, especially if you use it to prepare beforehand.

3. You are observant (and self-aware).

A little bit of anxiety might just save your life because it makes you more observant about your surroundings and aware of what’s going on inside yourself. You notice things that other people are more likely to take for granted.

4. You are leadership material.

You take into account the possibility of multiple outcomes when making a decision–a characteristic of a great leader.

5. You are a good friend.

When you’re anxious, the entire world can feel like a terrible, horrible, no good and very bad place to be. But we promise, it’s almost always better than you think. In fact, researchers have discovered that people almost always think better of you than you expect, and your friends value your friendship more than you can even imagine.

6. You are trustworthy.

Even if people can see you’re a little flustered sometimes, they don’t mind because it shows that you care about the people around you and what’s going on. They’re much more likely to trust you than someone who’s completely calm and composed all the time.

7. You are prudent.

Anxious youngsters are considerably less likely to be involved in a fatal accident than less anxious peers.

8. You are people smart.

By virtue of constantly scanning the environment for threats, anxiety can make you more attuned to social and emotional signals of others. You’re an ace at figuring out who you can trust, and you’re also really good at seeing the value in other people, even if they don’t see it for themselves.

9. You can see right through lies.

Speaking of reading people: If someone lies to you, you’re probably going to see right through it. And hey, if you like playing poker? Some types of anxiety make you really good at that, too.

10. You practice and prepare.

It might feel like anxiety keeps you from thinking straight — but sometimes that’s actually a good thing. If you’ve trained hard for an exam, a performance or a sports match, a little anxiety can help you get out of your own way and let that training kick in.

11. You are brave!

It’s pretty cool that anxiety comes with all these hidden benefits, but let’s face it, when the anxiety comes on strong, life can still be pretty rough. Dealing with those anxious feelings requires a lot of courage and confidence, and that makes you one of the strongest people in the room.

Read more from this author at GoZen.

Editor’s note: Not everyone experiences anxiety in the same way.

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How Anxiety Helped Shape Me Into an Awesome Mom

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I know I’m supposed to tell you about my struggles and how hard it is to parent with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). And believe me, at times, it’s so, very hard. Parts of it are ugly, tough and sometimes seemingly all consuming. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned on my journey to better understand and accept my chronic anxiety, is that it never hurts to look on the bright side. Learning how to implement small shifts in my perception have meant the absolute world to my journey with mental health, so I thought it’d be great to celebrate some of the ways my anxiety has helped shaped me into the mom I am today — an awesome one!

I’m sensitive. Even “too sensitive,” as I’ve been told! But it’s helped me connect with my children in a way I never thought possible. By being openly sensitive and not associating shame with my vast realm of feelings, I’ve made a safe, accepting space where my children feel like they can do the same. Emotions run high in our house and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We’ve learned how to be supportive through all sorts of feelings and we now know we can better navigate them together as a family.

I also talk it out a lot. It helps me to share my challenges and victories with my inner circle. And it’s also gotten my children talking, too. From the start, we’ve been using words to help them express their feelings. I knew my new found love of sharing was paying off when in the middle of an emotional meltdown my 3-year-old son was able to utter the words, “I’m just having a tough time. I need help.” It may seem tiny and obvious, but to me it was monumental. Open communication is key to my success with GAD, and open communication is key to ensuring my children can properly identify the depths of how they feel and share it with us, the people who care about their wellbeing the most. One my proudest mom moments for me thus far!

Living with chronic anxiety has given me perspective I sometimes take for granted. When you live in an ongoing battle of sorts between you and what’s going on inside your head (sometimes your body,) it reframes life and highlights the most important bits. Even in the depths of my anxiety, the most important things in life become crystal clear. Thanks to that, I truly know the value of a unconditionally loving and supportive family. My comfort, my joy, my support and my everything is my family. Living my life with those family values at the very core shows my kids just how valuable we all are to each other and I hope one day they too celebrate our family unit!

Though challenging, isolating and at times, terrifying — chronic anxiety has not only taught me many important life lessons, but it’s also given me a new found confidence as I learn to successfully navigate it. When we made the decision to have children, my own apprehensions about becoming a mother living with anxiety skyrocketed. I am so proud to report that with plenty of professional and social support, with a new motivation to cultivate personal growth with my GAD (something I think is important to model for my children) and with plenty of affirmation and celebration of small victories, I can truly say I’m proud of the mother I’ve become — flaws and all!

Tania hold us her baby with trees in the background.

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3 Things I Learned About Anxiety by Giving a TED Talk About Anxiety

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For the last few years, this was the talk I most feared: standing in front of a 1,000 people doing a TED Talk about my panic disorder, and exploring its relation to the domestic violence I saw in my home as a small boy.

I finally gave that talkIt was among the most difficult things I’ve ever done, and I learned something important.

First, some background. 34 years ago, at the height of a three year-long struggle with panic disorder, I sat on a brown and gold shag carpet at two in the morning and hit bottom. I saw no way out and I marked that moment by screaming a weird, breathy, nightmarish scream. Then, just a few silent minutes later, a door opened – and instead of finding a way out, I found a way in. My life took on a completely different character.

What I learned that night led me to dedicate my career to exploring the concept of psychological flexibility and to developing a form of treatment — Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) — to help teach it. You’d think a whole career’s worth of work would have made it easy for me to share this journey with the TED audience.

It was anything but easy. It was full of anxiety, but not just that. Sadness. Feeling overwhelmed.

Here is what I learned from this experience.

1. Time does not heal all things, it just covers things up.

I was determined not just to tell a story. I wanted to revisit that very moment of hitting bottom – not by talking about it, but by going there.

I had not heard that scream nor made that strange sound in 34 years …but I could hear it in my mind. There was something almost sacred about it. It was the pivot point of my entire life.

I did not want to sully the moment by practicing it as one might a performance, so when practicing the TED talk, I skipped the scream. I would do that scream one more time in my life, and one more time only. I wanted to touch that moment of hitting bottom, and having nowhere to go. 

As the time for the talk and that scream arrived it loomed over me like a Death Eater from Harry Potter. My churning insides told me in no uncertain terms this was hard, regardless of how many years had passed.

2. Underneath anxiety is something even harder, and it is not enough just to know what that something is.

About 10 minutes before I had to go backstage, I asked my wife if I could share a few private moments with her. “I think I see something important,” I said. “It’s not the anxiety of this talk that I’m afraid of.” She looked at me quizzically, since she had seen me freaking out about this talk for months. “It’s that I’m afraid I will just get up there and cry so hard I won’t be able to give the talk at all.” She hugged me tight. “Even that,” she whispered “would be OK.”

The talk tells how that moment on the carpet led me to a long-suppressed memory of hiding under the bed as a child while my parents fought violently in the other room, and deciding “I’m going to do something!” and then, wisely, retreating farther under the bed, and crying.

Now I was going to tell that story, fully and openly. Even when I rehearsed the talk alone, I cried almost every time I told this part of it. Looking out over 1,000 people who would soon be listening to me, I wondered if it was possible to walk inside that sadness with open arms, and to hug that traumatized little boy while I listen to what he has to say.

3. Turning toward pain and suffering in a loving way is a precondition to turning toward meaning and purpose.

As I walked backstage, I opened my computer and made a few quick notes, just moments before I had the “Madonna mike” put on me. Here is part what I wrote down:

This is not for you, this is for others. Let your story go out into the world. It is OK if great sadness is there. Focus on the suffering in the room and in the world; be present; bring what you have to give, and give it.

Turning toward pain and suffering as an act of loving-kindness empowers bringing love and meaning into the world. That is my life’s work. ACT is one of the most researched forms of mindfulness and acceptance-based psychotherapy, with nearly 200 randomized trials and hundreds of studies of other kinds.

That doesn’t mean it is easy. In giving this talk I relearned the basic lesson of that night on the carpet 34 years ago: Anxiety is not my enemy. What we know about suffering helps us see the suffering that is in others; and taking the time to be present with ourselves allows us to focus on what we have to give, and to do our best to give it.

All rights reserved. A version of this article originally appeared on PsychCentral.com as “What I Learned About Anxiety by Giving a Talk on Anxiety.” Reprinted here with permission.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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