Student sitting at desk in classroom with head in hands

As a parent and an educator, I have sat through many meetings for other children and my own regarding anxiety. One thing I’ve learned is anxiety is a relatively new concept in the area of special needs. I’m continually surprised that most people sitting around the table truly do not understand how difficult it can be for a child to live with anxiety.

There is no judgment in this list I wrote. I believe teachers are superheroes. I also believe every child deserves an equitable educational environment. I’ve lived with anxiety my entire life, and my daughter was diagnosed with it years ago. Helping her manage her anxiety has, in turn, helped me manage mine. My girl is my biggest hero, but so much credit is due to the teachers who were honest with me about how much she was struggling. This list is my small gesture of paying it forward.

1. Anxiety is more than being nervous, worried or sensitive. It is a biochemical reaction in the body. It requires understanding, treatment and attention. If not watched, it can manifest into larger health problems.

2. Anxiety does not look like one thing. Every child with anxiety has different triggers, different levels of intensity and different coping strategies.

3. Anxiety can present itself in different ways in boys and girls. In my educational experience, boys’ reactions tend to be more behavior-driven, while girls’ reactions tend to be more internal. Both require different strategies of managing and teaching effective coping strategies.

4. Parents expressing concern about an anxious child need to be heard, even if that child has never presented anxiety in the classroom. Many children “keep it together” all day only to crumble at home.

5. Telling a child to “calm down” does nothing but potentially pour kerosene on the fire inside of them. They don’t want to be feeling the way they do, going through their anxiety and/or panic. They likely want more than anything to calm down. Telling them to do so might only bring more shame, fear, anger and frustration.

6. Approach an anxious child with a quiet, calm voice and a caring demeanor. Their insides are in massive turmoil, and just breathing can pose as a challenge.


7. Develop a relationship with an anxious child. Know their triggers. Acknowledge that they may need some help, if they are open to it, from time and time. Draft a plan together about strategies that might work when they are in the thick of an anxiety or panic attack. Being understood and not judged can make all the difference in the world.

8. For younger students, help them to understand that their anxiety is not entirely them. Assign an animal, like a cat, to the anxiety and develop a way to help them “train” the cat to calm down when it starts to act up. For example, the child can take five calming, deep breaths if they feel the cat starting to get riled up. Take the cat for a walk. Distract the cat with a funny thought.

9. Older children may not like being singled out. Have an agreed upon and laid out plan in place for when their anxiety arrives. Allow them to take a two-minute walk around the building. Come up with a secret signal so they can communicate that they are struggling and may need a break.

10. Know that anxiety, while difficult, does not define them. Anxiety is a part of them, like freckles may be for another student. It should not be looked at as a deficit or a flaw. Most anxious kids are smart, observant and creative individuals. Focus on those parts of them. Acknowledge who they are apart from their anxiety.

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Music is a huge part of my life. I’ve been brought up listening to all types of music, from The Beatles to Queen, Supertramp to Pink Floyd, Frankie Valli to del Shannon and Spice Girls to Take That. My parents and grandparents love music, and I’ve grown up loving music. I go nowhere without my earphones, and I have playlists for pretty much any mood or occasion. My friend calls me her little jukebox because I love music so much.

I have a playlist of songs I find calming and soothing when I’m in an anxious mood. Songs that can instantly make me feel better or songs that can just make me feel. So I thought I’d share some of the songs that help me through tough times.

1. “Promise” by Ben Howard

2. “Morning” by Beck

3. “5 AM” by Amber Run

4. “Dreamer” by Isbells

5. “Until We Get There” by Lucius

6. “Stay Alive” by Jose Gonzalez

7. “Cycling Trivialities” by Jose Gonzalez

8. “Roslyn” by Bon Iver &St. Vincent

9. “Under My Arrest” by Fossil Collective

10. “The Paper Kites” by St. Clarity

11. “Ours” by The Bravery

12. “A White Demon Love Song” by The Killers

13. “The Violet Hour” by Sea Wolf

14. “Goodbye Mr A” by The Hoosiers

15. “Speak Up” by POP ETC

16. “No More Lonely Night” by Paul McCartney

17. “Playing God” by Paramore

18. “Agape” by Bear’s Den

19. “Honest” by Kodaline

20. “Oceans” by Seafret

21. “Logical Song” by Supertramp

22. “Learning to Fly” by Pink Floyd

23. “Rivers Flow In You” by Yiruma

24. “Debussy” by Claire De Lune

*Also, Christmas music never fails to cheer me up!

Ben Howard is one of my favorite artists anyway. I love his music, and I recommend both his albums, “Every Kingdom” and “I Forgot Where We Were” because his music is so soothing. The song “Promise,” has the sound of rain and an instrumental at the beginning before Howard starts singing. I can have this song on repeat all day and never get sick of it. “Conrad” and “Old Pine” are two others I’d recommend listening to as they’re both just as soothing.


Beck is another musician, like Ben Howard, where I can recommend the full album. “Morning Phase” is the album I recommend. I’ll admit, I don’t know any of his other albums so I cannot comment on those, but “Morning Phase” is fantastic. There are some amazing songs on there, ones I can listen to in bed or when I’m out and about. I know these can bring my anxiety level down.

I recently bought Amber Run’s album “5AM,” and it is amazing. There isn’t a song on there that I dislike. The vocals and the songs are so good. I’ve had it on repeat for weeks now!

Bear’s Den album “Islands” came with a deal when I bought Amber Run’s album. I knew the one song “Agape” before buying it, but I now absolutely love the whole album! “Above The Clouds Of Pompeii” is a lovely song with acoustic guitars and fantastic vocals. I would recommend the album to anyone!

Bon Iver is another musician I found around the same time I found Ben Howard (around 2012). “Skinny Love” would probably be his most famous song, at least it’s the song my friends know, but “Perth” is another song I’d say has to be listened to. The beginning, before he even starts singing and just the music itself, I love it.

A lot of these songs are slower. Some are a bit more upbeat. Yet, they’re just good songs, which I think are nice to relax to. Songs I can enjoy listening to. Songs that aren’t all about sex, drugs and night clubs. Songs that don’t have 10 beats.

These songs have nice musical instruments, acoustic guitars and piano. They have softer music with vocals that aren’t all autotune. These are songs that I, personally, can relax listening to. They take me to a good place, and I love them.

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As I wake up at 6 a.m., alarm blaring through my skull after I retired to bed just nine and a half hours earlier, I try to put on my “positivity hat.” I feel more tired than when I went to bed the night before — how is that even possible?

I physically struggle to keep my eyes open as I sit up in bed, stomach churning with anxiety and whole body aching from chronic illness. I’m having a flare-up due to stress.

I think about how much I desperately desire a few more hours of sleep. And then I think about how if I did get it, it probably wouldn’t make me feel much better anyway. No amount of sleep helps to relieve my fatigue and exhaustion, and it wouldn’t help me mentally either. Not really. I’d just feel like rubbish and beat myself up for missing work. Again.

The gloomy voice of depression sets in and tells me I’m useless anyway. Why do you bother pretending you can live a regular life? I inevitably crumble at the slightest change to my routine, and my chronic illness flares up at times, catching me off guard and resulting in a worsened mental state in addition to the physical. I feel like I can’t cope.

Old friend Anxiety arrives, too. It reminds me of all the things I could do wrong today and everything I’m not yet comfortable with, that isn’t familiar or predictable to me. I feel like I’m going to be sick. I’m almost paralyzed.

I think about how easy it would be to just cower away under my duvet, or run away and never look back. Sadly, the thought of no longer existing seems the best option for a moment, as it would take away the pain I feel, the doom and gloom hanging over me and the wretched anxiety plaguing me every single minute of every day. It would put a stop to it all. It often presents as seemingly the only way out of me feeling so useless, hopeless and not capable of coping with anything. The delicate link of depression and anxiety for me is debilitating in every way possible.


It starts with anxiety, which sets in when I feel out of control, out of my comfort zone or useless — i.e. when I’m not learning something as quickly as I “should be,” when my routine has changed or when my chronic illness has flared up. This anxiety is constant for me and causes many symptoms, from nausea to diarrhea and insomnia. Having these symptoms constantly initiates more anxiety, and it’s an endless cycle. I’m anxious about being anxious. Feeling this way all the time makes me feel down, and at times I dislike existing, therefore I slip into a depressive state and another bout of depression arrives swiftly. Often, those around me notice it before even I do. Then I’m battling both anxiety and depression, and I’m sure this isn’t an unfamiliar story to many of you.

Despite waking up feeling so dreadful this morning, hounded by anxiety, depression and chronic illness, I still got up, showered, dressed, ate breakfast and made my way to work. Every single second on the train, I spent it trying to enforce some positivity: Today will be different. Today, we can do this. Today, I’ll be in control. Trying to calm the anxiety down makes me more anxious, though. But I still left the house today. And it took a lot for me to do so. More than anyone might imagine.

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Follow this journey on The Invisible Hypothyroidism.

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To my daughter,

Today, at 4 years old, you are starting on a journey you might continue your entire life. It will not necessarily be easy, although at times the inner work may be lighter to bear. You see, you, like me, have an anxiety diagnosis. You, like me, have worries that overwhelm your brain beyond your ability to cope.

I know it. I feel it too. I live with it every day.

It’s been challenging to get to this day. There have been many days where your intense spirit have made me question every choice I’ve ever made as a parent. I worried that I didn’t eat the right foods when I was pregnant and nursing, that I haven’t loved you the right way and that I haven’t provided you with the right environment. My heart has broken as I’ve watched your struggles, and I’ve felt so helpless to help you. Now, I don’t have to figure out how to help you alone.

I want you to know I have advocated for you so fiercely. I had two pediatricians discount my concerns and tell me I wasn’t parenting you correctly, or that no one will see or diagnose a child so young. One even told me I just needed lavender spray and calming music! Ha!

In my heart, I knew something more was going on, and so I switched to a third pediatrician this year and demanded an evaluation. Finally, someone listened! The evaluation took nearly three months, but here we are, on your first day of therapy. I’m so very excited for you!

In therapy, we will get to play together, you, me, your brother and your father. Once a week, we will play with the support of a kind and skilled therapist. She will help us all find a way to narrate your experience of anxiety to you and your little brother in a language you both understand. She will provide connecting activities to bring our family together, to support and understand one another.

In our family, we will not have shame and secrets about our mental health. We will talk about it openly, in therapy and at home. Even when we are camping and hiking or when we are snuggled up with blankets and books in the winter, we can talk about it. We will keep sharing our highs and our lows at bedtime, just like always, without fear.


Some nights, you may not be able to think of what made you sad that day, and some nights you may not be able to think of what made you happy. Both of those are OK. I’m going to tell you something no one told me when I was little: It is OK to not be OK.

I hope so many things for you, but today, I hope you will be able to grow knowing yourself better than I did. I hope you can grow with many skills and strong coping mechanisms. I hope you will know you are truly wonderful just the way you are, and there is nothing wrong with you.

For years, I thought something was wrong with me, that I was broken. I am not broken, and neither are you. You have a mental illness, like your mama, and you deserve love, compassionate care and support.

My sweetie pie, (“Don’t call me that!” you say. “I’m a marshmallow pie and you are a pickle!”) you are being given the sweetest gift! You are being given the chance to love and accept yourself. More than anything, I hope you will keep saying, “I love myself!” like you do because you are so loved! We tell you this every day, but I’m telling you again: We love you, all the time, no matter what.

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My anxiety has always been a part of my life, always. Usually it’s just like a dull hum, always there but easy to ignore.

I finished my first year of university at a school only an hour away from home. After getting through the year only having a few panic attacks during exam season, my only thoughts were about how excited I was for my second year.

Now, here I am, less than 30 days since I started my second year, and I’m seriously debating if this was the right choice.The last 30 days have been good. Don’t get me wrong. I love living with my friends, and I love my school.

To everyone around me, that’s all they see — the happy me. Everything externally was going so well. I was eating right, working out, being social, balancing school, but internally, it was like there was a war going on against myself.

The me no one saw was the realest me. It was the real me having panic attacks almost every day for the past 30 days. The real me was on the phone with my mom every night, in tears about how miserable I was.

Living in a state of constant anxiety is exhausting. And that’s what was happening to me. I was constantly anxious about everything and everyone. It’s not just that anxiety you get before a job interview or exam, not even close.

It’s like the feeling you get when you’re leaning back in your chair. You go a tiny bit too far, and you’re about to fall back. You get a jolt of panic in your chest and a pit in your stomach for a few seconds. It’s that feeling but constantly.

This feeling has consumed me over the last month. I have felt like I have no control over my life and like my world is crashing down completely. Yet, I have to go about my life like everything is fine.

The feelings of anxiety soon morphed into isolation. My anxiety has kept me hostage in my bed, waking up every morning and immediately wanting to sleep all day. I began to either feel angry and frustrated or feel nothing at all. It was a terrible cycle of anger, emptiness and so much anxiety.


All this was happening at hyper speed, and I had to juggle school, living with five other people and family issues on top of it. I had no room for anxiety. I had my life to live.

I knew I wanted to be at school. I loved my friends, and every part of my wanted to be there. I was ready, and I was looking forward to the year. However, my anxiety has a different idea. My anxiety just hasn’t caught up to me yet.

Seeing as it’s only been 30 days, I have no idea what I’m going to do. Maybe I’ll stay. Maybe I’ll go, but that’s for me and my anxiety to figure out.

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On my way to pick up my son from daycare, I started getting ideas for my writing projects, and of course, I’m couldn’t write those ideas down. My anxiety started to build, but hey, I’m a pro at this by now, and I could handle this. Suddenly, like a sign from the stars who wish to cut me some slack, the school bus in front of me stopped to let off some kids, and I had a quick moment to jot my ideas down on the random Post-its I have in the center consul of my car. Thank you, Mr. or Mrs. Bus Driver, for giving me a break. You managed to settle my nerves for a whole 15 very welcomed seconds.

The thought, or rather revelation, I had was this: I have an evil twin, and her name is Anxiety. She sucks all the time. She makes me feel “crazy,” and she makes me physically nauseous. I go through moments in my life where I need to make choices, even simple choices, and she appears. She is trying to take over my life. She is trying to conquer this body I was given. I remember being one person as a kid and without notice, this second person crept up on me. It’s like the movie “The Body Snatchers.” One minute I’m my own person, and then bam! I’ve been taken over by my evil twin, and I can’t seem to shake her out. She’s made herself comfortable, and after 20-plus years, I believe she’s here for good.

I started recognizing her existence when I’d get stomach aches and feel shaky and uncomfortable for whatever reason, but I always set it aside. I’d think, “everyone must feel this way most of the time, right?” Wrong. It wasn’t for another few years that I understood what those symptoms meant and that I had an annoying visitor in my head.

Slowly, I started understanding that when I anticipated something, I’d feel anxious. I thought it was what anticipation felt like until I started experiencing that same feeling all the time in different scenarios. I refused to talk about it or tell people because I thought they’d think I was ridiculous for being that excited about going to a house party or a movie. I thought it was strange too. I didn’t get why I was so excited or nervous. I now see it wasn’t me. It was her. These were my friends. I knew them, and they knew me. She wasn’t their friend, and they didn’t know her. But that didn’t matter. She doesn’t care. It happened all the time, and I kept it quiet. As I got older, I
came to terms with those feelings and accepted that I was just constantly anxious. She has refused to move out, and now I live with functional anxiety, and let me tell you, it’s a peach!


Anxiety is constantly around, hovering over me, waiting for something else to get me all riled-up over. She never leaves me be. She’s there with her head held high taking over the most basic parts of my day: Do I get myself or my son ready first? She swoops in at the excitement that a choice needs to be made. She gets her fix, and I get the shit end of the stick. She’s choking me. Ridiculing me. Putting me in constant discomfort.

But I prevail! I continue like a soldier in war. I fight the good fight. But she’s played a trick on me, you see. She’s there even when she’s not there. She leaves behind her dandruff. She leaves behind uncertainty. She leaves me not knowing when she’s going to return. She’s sneaky and she’s vicious. I get things done, and I go about my day, ensuring my family is taken care of. We constantly fight over my mind frame, and she does have her winning moments. Sometimes I give in to her in the hopes that she’ll lay off, but she’s not that nice. She leaves when she’s ready to leave, and I’m left picking up the pieces. I’ve gotten better at taking control over the years, but I believe I will live in a constant battle with my evil twin.

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