I love listening to people talk about what they are passionate about. Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop that discussed childhood anxiety. The presenter was Julie-Anne Richards and her passion for her work was exhilarating.
I went in thinking I would come away with a few tools to help my children, but I came away with the knowledge that I need to change my behaviour in order to teach my children.
Anxiety is an evolved emotion, one that helps protect us and alerts us to dangers in our surrounds. It is the anticipation of something or a situation, but different from fear. Knowing this and being able to distinguish when feeling anxious is an appropriate response, can also help us recognize when steps need to be taken to reduce anxiety.
The exciting part about this is that there are clear, logical steps, that, in my mind, also promote healthy living while having the advantage of anxiety reduction. Just a few of these include eating good protein throughout the day, getting a goodnights rest, deep breathing and daily rigorous exercise. My favorite being, taking 15 minutes in the morning to jump on the mini tramp, hola hoop or skip rope. This will get your day started relaxed since exercise helps lower adrenaline and cortisol, which are at their highest levels when we wake up. Julie-Anne Richards was able to not only explain the cognitive advantages of her strategies, she also explained the physiological benefits that reinforce behaviour change.
After participating in this conference, I have begun to challenge myself to identify my emotions and then list ways that I cope with those emotions. For example, when I suddenly feel sad, while watching some heartfelt commercial, I have to acknowledge the real tears in my eyes, but ask is this an appropriate response? Is this the appropriate time? What can I do to not feel unreasonably sad? I usually take a deep breath, blink the tears out of my eyes, and have a drink of water. These small acts remind my brain that I don't need to feel that intensity of emotion, and I am able to regroup!
By making a mental list of the ways I have learned over the years how to relax, calm myself, comfort myself etc. I am creating an inventory of skills to teach to my children. My role as a parent has shifted, after hearing Julie-Anne speak. I am no longer the "protector" but instead, I need to become a teacher. This goes against my natural instinct at first, since I have wired my brain to eliminate the things that cause my children fear and anxiety. My best intentions to allieviate worry and stress, by saying things like "don't worry" or "everything will be fine" do not acknowledge the true feelings that my children have.
For example, my son will occasionally say to me before bed, "I don't want you to die!" Heavy topic of discussion, when I want him to be falling asleep! In the past I try to ease his mind by telling him we can talk about it in the morning, or that he doesn't have to worry about that for a long time! He is persistent and sensitive, so as our discussion continues, I try the best logical explanation I can think of until eventually I just tell him "I'm not going to die!" I'm his Mom, I must protect him at all costs!! Right? But what I've really done is taken his fear and emotionally distanced him from it.
So how can I give him the strength and power to fight his own fears? The next time he states "I don't want you to die" or even "I don't want to go to sleep", I will ask him what he is feeling. If he is scared, I will focus on the feeling, and be with him there. It's no longer about what makes him scared, but rather acknowledging the real emotion and giving him the opportunity to find ways to reduce his fear.
"What helps you when you are scared?"
"What else?" Then I can tap into my inventory of skills and tell him "when I feel scared, it helps me to talk in a funny voice, then what I'm afraid of just sounds silly!"
As Julie-Anne Richards says, "when treating anxiety, induce anxiety. (Yes, I do mean that.)
In order to help a child or teen overcome anxiety-related suffering, we must understand that actually “invoking” a touch of anxiety is a critical element in working effectively towards its demise.
This sounds completely counter-intuitive - I know. So, let me explain."
More information can be found on her website julieannerichards.com