teacher pointing to blackboard in class

To the Teacher of My Child With Anxiety

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I know you have a lot of stress, dealing with a classroom full of students who can be extremely difficult to manage and motivate at times. I know the expectations and demands on teachers continue to grow each year, whether from federal, state, cultural, socioeconomic or others. I also know the recognition you deserve and financial compensation you receive is grossly inadequate for the work you do every day with each of your students. I also know you may not receive consistent support from parents or guardians of the students with whom you work.

Please know not all parents are this way. Some parents want to support you as a person who will have a large amount of influence in their child’s life. With this being said, I am asking for your help in working with a student in your class who faces challenges with anxiety. I know you have every single other student in your classroom to manage, but I would like to offer you a little perspective on a child dealing with anxiety.

1. As their teacher, you may not recognize a child is experiencing anxiety.

Anxiety is when a child experiences nervousness or worry about a particular thing to the point where it interferes with the child’s ability to function, including eating, drinking, sitting or completing work. One child experiencing increased anxiety at school may start crying when he is called on to answer a question. Another child experiencing increased anxiety at school may act out or cause disruptions in class. In both instances, the child is experiencing a fight, flight or freeze response in order to cope with what is happening. Sometimes, these behaviors may seem like rebellion, defiance or just downright stubbornness. Sometimes that may be the case, but there are instances when it is not.

2. The child may not know he or she is experiencing extreme anxiety.

Unless a child is seeing a mental health professional and has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the child may not recognize what she is experiencing is an increase in anxiety to a point where it interferes with her work. Even if a child is seeing a counselor for their anxiety, she may not recognize she has been triggered when her response to your question is to stare at you and not say anything (which would be a freeze response). She is not always being disrespectful, but is simultaneously trying to slow down her heart rate, trying to quiet the thoughts in head, trying to avoid crying so her peers won’t laugh at her and a whole list of other racing thoughts in the moment.

3. You have the ability to help my child through increased anxiety or even an anxiety or panic attack.

Please know not all behavior is defiance. Sometimes my child’s anxiety becomes overwhelmingly debilitating for him. Having an open body language when communicating with him may help. Having your hands open, rather than folding your arms when talking to him, can help. Consider the tone of your voice when speaking to him and his reaction to you. Pay attention to his body language in class.

Do you see him squirming in his seat when you’re teaching? Does he fidget when having to stand up in front of the class or give an answer? These don’t always mean my child is experiencing anxiety, but they are some examples of indications my child has experienced an anxiety trigger. Using slow hand movements, taking deep breaths or even slowing down your speech may invite my child to mirror your body language and communication, which would also help him through the anxiety he is experiencing in the moment.

4. Please take a moment and speak with my child individually and let him or her know you support him.

My child sometimes feels like you’re saying he’s stupid because he doesn’t understand the work. I know you may not be saying this to my child, but please understand this is a feeling he is experiencing.

One thing you can do to help my child during these times is to validate his feelings by simply letting him know you recognize something happened in class and you want to see how you can help. He may not initially be forthcoming to you about his anxiety because of embarrassment. Please let him know you are there to support him and that he can feel free to speak to you if he needs to. I know your job is not to coddle or necessarily nurture feelings, but I do believe a few intentional steps by you may yield large success from my child in your class.

5. Would you consider develop adopting a culture of safety for your classroom?

I’m not speaking about safety in terms of fire drills or locking the doors, but rather safety regarding feelings or the mental health needs of my child and any other child. This could be something as simple as you or the school social worker/counselor discussing anxiety with the students and offering ways to manage anxiety. Educating the class about anxiety and how normal it is may actually help in decreasing anxiety for my child or another child who may experience situational anxiety. Some other ideas you might want to include: essential oils, deep breathing, mindfulness techniques and soft music.

I’m not asking you to raise my child or provide mental health treatment to him. I’m asking you to join with me, as we help my child work through any barriers that may arise and affect his ability to learn and be successful in your class. Thank you for the work you do for my child and all children you teach.

Image via Thinkstock.

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When Anxiety Hits You on a Bad Day

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It all looked like a typical day at our house: kids are screaming, throwing the cushions, demanding snacks every half an hour, and keeping me busy as usual.

But today didn’t feel like a typical day. I sat down at the table and cried — for no reason and for many reasons. I sat down to calm my anxiety and try to look all calm and coherent, but deep down I wasn’t. My body was under lockdown.

I felt like I’ve been carrying a weight on my shoulders for so long. They ached. My body was in a state of high alert, my breathing was fast, my heart was pounding in my ears, I felt dizzy and most of all, I felt like it was the end of the world.

That feeling of doom is what makes me hate those panic attacks, feeling like I’m out of control, there’s no escape, even if I’m doing nothing more than sitting on my sofa and watching my kids play.

That innate feeling that tells you to run, to hide, that it’s dangerous.

I felt I needed to hide under my blanket, close the door to the surrounding world; my mind was racing with a million thoughts. It takes so much strength to calm it down.

Sadly, having chronic illness means you deal with a lot of stress in your life. Medications also sometimes causes the anxiety as a side effect.

Your mind play tricks on you, makes you think you’re “crazy,” or you’re going to die. Your mind thinks it can predict the future and that you should trust it because it wants the best for you, right?

Wrong. My mind at these situations is neither my friend nor my enemy. My mind was designed to protect me but sometimes the way it overestimates its assessment of danger.

One thing I kept telling myself: this is negative energy that needs to flow out of you. If you want to cry, go ahead, give it an outlet. If you want to scream, go ahead, let it out.

And I did cry, for no reason or all the reasons in the world.

My daughter asked me, “What’s wrong, Mommy?”

I smiled and answered, “Nothing, Mommy needs to calm down, and sometimes a tear is all I need.”

That overwhelming feeling still fills my body and mind, feeling tired and sad, feeling useless or weak, but I still fight every day through them because fighting is all I have.

Crying is not a sign of weakness, rather a sign of strength. For me it means I had a long battle, and I need to rest.

Image via Thinkstock.

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The Choices I Can Make on the Good and Bad Days With My Mental Challenges

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Although the occurrences of my battle with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder may appear comical to some (like the time I nearly bailed on an amazing weekend in California for sudden fear of taking a flight at night), the day-by-day battle is no laughing matter.
There are good days. There are bad days. And there are real choices to be made on them all.

I’m learning more each day that my choices matter far more than good and bad days, as it’s ultimately up to me to apply the strength and support I’ve gathered to every single day. For me, it’s as simple and as difficult at that.

On good days, hiking at home in Colorado is a delightful discovery of fresh trails and fantastic views. On bad days, it’s a grueling fight through erroneous fears while forgetting the beauty of why I’m toughing through it all. Even so, I get to choose to enjoy every drop of good days and push through the frustrating lies on bad days.

On good days, my naturopathic remedies are a healing balm to my soul. On bad days, no prescription or potion can sooth the worry and weakening fears beating through my blood. Nevertheless, it’s my choice to continue on in what I know versus what I feel, as I know feelings are never the last word.

On good days, practicing yoga is a beautiful, blissful process of soothing my mind and strengthening my body. On bad days, it’s a mess as stress gets the best of me, leaving far less of me at ease. Nonetheless, it’s my choice to fully embrace the solace of good days and glean from my reservoir of strength on bad days.

On good days, interpersonal relationships are a breath of fresh air as I sense no reluctance to being open to practically everyone around me. On bad days, simply responding to social interaction can be a suffocating process as I have no desire to fully communicate for dread of being deemed “crazy” considering everyday definitions of “normal.” Even still, it’s always my choice to live withdrawn or wide-open, knowing no one can ever make me feel less than unless I give them power to do so.

On good days, personal prayer and meditation overflows with gratitude and comfort as I celebrate how good life is. On bad days, folded hands are frustrated fists unto God, as I don’t grasp how divine planning “missed it” in providing me a “normal” psyche. My obvious choice: Load up on the peace and empowerment from good days, and on bad days refuse to believe a bad day equates to an overall bad life while acknowledging the blessing of blossoming through it all.

On good days, my partner is a joy as he obviously empathizes with me and encourages me so well. On bad days, his words are insensitive jabs to my soul apparently proving he has no consideration for the frustrations I’m still trying to figure out how to explain to myself much less him. My choice: Bask in the good days with a good guy I get to enjoy life with, and tap into full gratitude mode on bad days, knowing that having a partner who doesn’t pity me nor pound me in my struggles is a blessing beyond the perfect words he truly doesn’t owe me.

The more I live with the fact of the mental challenges of my psyche, the more I’m determined to live out the truth that I’m not a victim to my life’s battle. I’m a victor understanding how to embrace the good days, face the bad days, and make grateful and courageous choices through it all.

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What It’s Like to Be in Love When You Have Anxiety

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This piece was written by Jazz Crosby, a Thought Catalog contributor.

“Chill out.” “There’s nothing to worry about!” “Nothing bad is going to happen.” “You worry too much!”

We’ve all heard one of the above statements at least once throughout our lifetime. But, for someone with anxiety, the smallest things can conquer our thoughts and lead us to panic. As terrifying as it is, about 40 million people are affected by anxiety. After being disregarded many times by my own friends and family, I was almost certain I was just going “insane” and that nobody would or could deal with what I deal(t) with for many years. But then, in November of 2013, a handsome man fell deeply in love with me and changed my belief.

As long as I can remember, I have dealt with anxiety. I’ve been going to therapy for over two years now, and recently started taking medication, but it’s still there and alive in my brain. I can feel its presence every day, a wave of discomfort that causes me to question everything I’ve done at the most inconvenient of times.

My anxiety doesn’t care that I’m happy, or that I’m in a very, very, happy, healthy relationship with someone who truly cares about my mental state and well-being and makes sure to tell me how grateful he is for me numerous times a day. I am very appreciative of the nights he stays up until 2 a.m. listening to me list off dozens of reasons why I’m worried about something as silly as why someone didn’t respond back to me. I am immensely thankful for all the steps he has and continues to take to discover how to better understand what I go through every day. He fills me with hope and drowns me with endless love and support when I torture myself questioning every past and future action of mine. He never fails to take care of me, and never asks for explanations. Still, I question how I got so lucky to have someone that goes miles to better understand something that many do not.

This fierce sensation of love is terrifying, because every day, I repeatedly worry that one more late night of reassurance or one more “are you sure I have nothing to worry about?” will drive him to his breaking point. I know my unreasonable, compulsive thoughts upset him, but with time, and lots of tears, I reassure him that none of this is in anyway his fault, but a result of my own catastrophe of my thoughts. Though he isn’t always convinced easily, I still try with every ounce of energy I have left. And, some nights, I’m left with a “Get some sleep. Goodnight, I love you.” text. Overall, I’m just so grateful that he’s happy to continue the long journey of my recovery with me.

Each day is a struggle of its own. I am constantly on the edge of my seat, questioning past actions and future happenings, hopping from not caring what others think, to caring too much about what others think, to wondering when he’ll decide he’s had enough. He’s very quick to remind me how far I have come in the last two years, and how proud he is, but I am just as quick to be drowned in my own thoughts. We both know that my anxiety is beyond my control to a certain point, and I need to realize; if he hasn’t given up yet, he’s in for life.

This story is brought to you by Thought Catalog and Quote Catalog.

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What You Don't See in My Favorite Vacation Picture

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This week marks 10 months of my relationship with a powerfully caring and understanding guy. And this picture is one of my absolute favorites of us.

woman and her boyfriend in laguna beach

Yes, we’re all smiles.

Yes, the scenery itself had us beaming in bliss.

Yes, we had a truly amazing time that weekend in Laguna Hills, California.

Nope, it wasn’t a perfect weekend.

It was wonderful, but it was far from perfect.

Why?

Because my very real battle with anxiety was as rampant that weekend as the waves we saw hilariously toss a couple out of a kayak one morning.

Who could be anxious about anything on a beautiful vacation in Cali?

Me.

And fight by fight, I’m understanding nothing’s abnormal about my toughing out rather normal things so many people battle — sometimes with far more secrecy than strength because of the stigma that plagues too many of us facing mental instabilities.

In fact, although everything had been prepared for me all week (he was on business there before my arrival) I almost didn’t meet him in California, as I had an all-out panic attack about taking a flight at night.

Yes, I’ve flown at night before.

Yes, the weather was great.

However, those details unfortunately matter not when anxiety screams louder than your rationale, and nerve wracking thoughts suffocate you to the point you think nothing and no one is a safe place for you.

From driving along the coast with the top down in our fun convertible, to exploring through the rock formations in Corona del Mar, I battled ridiculous fears and irrational feelings all weekend long. There was no explanation I could fully give my beau, as the internal battle of panic and anxiety seems to tie the tongue in expressing the tormenting thoughts of your mind.

Thankfully, my guy did nothing more than remind me I wasn’t alone in anything and nothing less than confirm he cared far more than my fear insisted he wouldn’t.

Because I’m aware there’s so many who don’t have consistent support and understanding in mental health battles, I can’t help but gratefully acknowledge my love, who’s not only stuck by me as I figure out how to claim more victories than defeats in this battle, but who’s also never made me feel like I’m stuck in dealing with it all alone.

Every day I pray those who are hurting in more silence than strength will find the courage to accept help from caring and committed sources.

Every day I wish those who have more opinions than compassion about what they can’t understand about mental instabilities will learn that inconsiderate opinions don’t have an impact on lives. Loving support does.

Every day I’m grateful that while there may never be one specific pill, potion, or prayer that can wipe out the feelings of toughing out mental challenges, it’s worth every bit of effort to obtain the waves of healing and help available.

Every day I hope more and more people will care less about others’ opinions of their struggle, realizing nothing matters more than living your own truth more triumphantly than you ever imagined.

Annette Funicello said it well when she stated “Life doesn’t have to be perfect in order to be wonderful.”

I get it.

Although I certainly haven’t got it all together, I get it.

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What It's Like to Give a TEDx Talk About Anxiety as Someone With Anxiety

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As someone who experienced severe anxiety and chronic panic attacks, the idea of putting myself out there was at the top of the “Do Not Attempt” list. But if I was going to hold true to the promise I made to myself, I didn’t see any other way around it.

“Get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” I told myself. “If it scares you, you have to do it!”

These words seemed to mock me now. Personal mantras that once held so much power and positive motivation now seemed to be a cruel prison of my own making.

How could I say no when I had committed myself to saying yes to things that scared me? After all, so many wonderful things had already changed in my life by following this new idea of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. Maybe this would be the same.

I had just been asked if I would give a TEDx talk about my personal struggle with anxiety and panic attacks. My first thought was, “Who was I to do a TEDx talk?”

I wasn’t anyone special. I had no book to sell. I had no psychology degree to offer as collateral for my advice. I was just someone who struggled through some of the most painful years of my life and managed to come out the other side better than I went in.

Just the idea of standing on stage made my stomach flip.

Then I remembered that one simple question that had changed my life.

“What advice would you give your daughter if she came to you with this same problem?”

I paused and thought about it.

I would tell her that she should do it. That it could be an amazing experience. It would be something she’d always remember. And it would be a chance to possibly help someone else who was going through the same thing.

If this is what I would say to her, my only daughter, and hope that she would listen, then I had no choice but to listen to my own advice.

I heard myself say, “Sure, I’d love to talk at TEDx.”

I felt nauseous.

I had three months to figure out what I would say. In that time, I wrote at least 10 versions of my talk, each one seemed worse than the previous.

What if I have a panic attack on stage in front of everyone?

What if I embarrassed myself and let everyone down?

This is how anxiety works in the mind. Every “worst-case scenario” plays out over and over again. You convince yourself you will fail before you even try. This was a feeling I knew all too well. It was a feeling I had worked tirelessly to overcome for the past five years, but had suddenly all come rushing back.

But now I had my tools. I had my breathing exercises that helped me relax my body and mind. I had my meditation practice that helped keep me centered. I had my practice of being mindful and present, rather than worrying about the future.

I focused on writing my talk first. I’d worry about giving it later.

The group that organized the event, TEDxAmoskeagMillyard, is a great group of people. They have a process in place to help each person craft a talk that is honest, authentic and unique to the person giving it.

Each speaker is assigned a speech coach to help you write your talk. I was lucky enough that my speech coach was someone I knew already. She is a co-worker, a friend and not coincidentally, the person who nominated me to speak in the first place.

Her name is Pamme Boutsellis, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t have gotten through this talk without her.

After countless emails and cups of coffee together, she told me I didn’t need to try and solve everyone’s problems or present myself as an expert in mindfulness or meditation. I just needed to share my story.

“Trust me,” she said, “If I didn’t think you had something relatable to share, I wouldn’t have nominated you.”

She had taken a chance on me and I didn’t want to let her down. I have a great amount of respect for Pamme. If she believed in me, who was I to doubt it?

The day before the event, all the speakers got together and met for the first time. We each did a walkthrough for our talk so we could get a feel for the stage, the lights and the timing. I was surprised to find that all the speakers were nervous. For some reason, I thought I’d be the only one.

We were told the order in which we’d be speaking the next day. I held out hope that I’d go first, allowing me to relax and enjoy the rest of the days talks. I was informed that I would be closing out the event. I was the last speaker of the day.

“Sure, make the guy talking about anxiety go last!” I said, half-joking.

That next day was a blur of emotions. I sat and listened to so many amazing talks. I met so many amazing people. I was so impressed with all the speakers and all the stories that I almost forgot I still had to deliver a talk myself… almost.

As I stood on the side of the stage waiting for my name to be announced, a flood of emotions overtook me. I thought of all the friends and family that had come to support me. I thought about my wife who had to deal with the past three months of me walking around talking to myself (even more than usual). I thought about everything that I had been through over the past 42 years and how each experience had somehow culminated in me about to take the stage at a TEDx talk. And then the wait was over.

The next 18 minutes became a blur.

I very quickly realized I was not going to be able to keep my emotions contained. 42 years of anxiety, fear, hurt, pain, failure, success, love, support and determination all came out.

My voice cracked as I talked. I didn’t care.

I felt tears in my eyes. I didn’t care.

I just let go and shared my story — and it felt amazing!

When my talk was complete, I looked at the crowd and tried to capture that moment in my mind. The feeling is still hard to put into words. It was as if I’d been carrying a heavy weight around my entire life and I had finally set it down for good, in front of a crowd on that stage.

That is what you can do when you learn to face your fears and not be afraid to love who you are. You can accomplish anything.

You can watch Steve’s TEDx Talk in the video below:

If you’d like to learn more about Steve, please visit www.stevezanella.com. You can also follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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