I help many children to understand and control their anxieties. Common ones include friendships, tests and exams, family relationships, self-image and ‘fitting in’.
Although anxious feelings are very common, I believe everyone can be helped to control and reduce anxiety so that we can feel in control and perform at our best.
Here are 5 things parents can explain:
1. Anxiety is useful.
Our brain is hard-wired to keep us safe. Just like a smoke alarm is triggered by smoke, in the same way our brain is triggered by anything that may or may not be a ‘threat’ to our well-being. Anxiety is useful (and even pleasant because we call mild anxiety anticipation and excitement) as long as we don’t let it take control.
2. Our brain frequently gets it wrong.
In the same way that a smoke alarm can be triggered by someone just burning the toast, our brain can get into the habit of triggering anxious feelings when there is actually no threat at all. Our brain is very good at finding similarities, so, if we have one bad experience we will probably feel anxious about a similar situation next time, even though this new situation is different and probably nothing to worry about at all.
3. We are in control of our ‘fight or flight’ brain, and not the other way around.
When our ‘fight or flight’ instinct takes over our rational brain ‘can’t think straight’, so we sometimes think unhelpful thoughts (e.g. “I can’t cope with this”) or do unhelpful things that might make us feel worse in the long run.
The good news is that just like a smoke alarm can be reset, so can our brains; we can learn to stay calm and in control no matter what comes our way.
4. We can always find ways to cope
The question our body is really asking when we feel anxious is “can I cope with this?” I believe the answer is always “yes” because we can always seek support from trusted family members, teachers or friends, and also, most ‘fears’ are F.E.A.R. (False Evidence Appearing Real) so 99.9% of the time they don’t happen, or even if they do, we will cope with them just fine if we believe in ourselves.
5. Strategies for staying calm
Here are my favourite strategies for keeping calm (please look these up online, see my blog or message me if you would like further free information).
a) Using a nickname e.g. if we are afraid of spiders, we can say something like “Oh Steve what are you doing inside? Let me get a cup and piece of paper and put you outside” – this helps us remember that ‘Steve the spider’ should be frightened of us, not the other way around.
b) ‘Square’ Breathing Technique c) Emotional Freedom (‘Tapping’) Technique d) Speaking like a best friend to ourselves, and not a worst enemy e.g. say “I can do this”; “I only need to do my best”; It’s okay to say how I feel”; “Everything’s going to be okay”.
e) Making a list of everything we are grateful for helps to keep worries in perspective
f) Making a list of our ‘3 P’s of happiness’ - Pleasure, Purpose and Peace e.g. Singing; Going for a walk; Helping someone else; Listening to music; Playing with a pet; Talking to a friend; Dancing; Baking; Doing a favourite hobby; Reading a book; Playing a game; Laughing.