At its core, anxiety is simply thoughts – perceptions about something that occurred in the past or worry about what might occur in the future. Distorted perceptions and magnified fears result in a runaway train of anxiety.
We earn resilience by working through difficulty. In the midst of the pandemic, one of my colleagues said, “I’m glad my kids are dealing with hardship, it’s good for them.” In The Social Dilemma on Netflix, design ethicist Tristan Harris noted, “We’re training and conditioning a whole new generation of people that when we are uncomfortable or lonely or uncertain or afraid we have a digital pacifier for ourselves that is kind of atrophying our own ability to deal with that.” Adults are equally vulnerable to the insidious lure of social media manipulation and often turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with negative feelings. Numbing bad thoughts numbs joy too.
Parents should seek help with their children’s, or their own, fears and worries begin to interfere with function at home, school, or relationships. Are they persistently fearful of separation? Do they exhibit extreme fears of specific things or situations (phobias) or exhibit panic attacks? Are they afraid to go to school or other social situations? Do they tend to catastrophize or constantly ruminate that something terrible that will happen? Are they constantly irritable or angry? Do they often complain of vague physical ailments like headaches or stomach aches?
Fortunately there are many effective strategies, including cognitive behavioral therapy, nutritional strategies, art/music/dance, meditation/mindfulness/tools that activate our calming nervous system, and medications that can help us tame runaway anxiety.
Susan Wilder, M.D.
LifeScape Medical Associates
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