We all experience anxiety. It’s normal and necessary at times. However, if taken to the extreme, anxiety and other disorders of anxiety (i.e., panic, obsessive compulsive disorder) can be debilitating and impact our functioning and quality of life.
Anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental illnesses in the United States, affecting 5 million children and teens, and 40 million adults age 18 and older. Anxiety disorders are labeled “diseases of anticipation” or the “what ifs.” They range on a continuum from mild to severe. The good news is that anxiety is treatable and actually can be managed.
Anxiety is our natural internal alarm system informing us that danger is close at hand and we must be ready for it. It can be a motivator to protect, perform or prepare, and can be a coping skill—albeit an unhealthy one—used to avoid and to feel in control.
Some people are genetically vulnerable and predisposed to be more anxious. If a parent suffers from an anxiety disorder, a child is up to seven times more likely to have an anxiety disorder, as well. Children do not directly inherit an anxiety disorder. However, they may be exposed to fearful or negative thinking, and be sensitive to feeling and experiencing more frequent negative emotions.
Let’s face it, these are fearful times. In fact, finances and our children’s well-being are the biggest sources of anxiety. For children and teens, it’s about safety and security.
In order to help and support our children and teens, we must first be aware of our own way of dealing with stress and anxiety. Our kids are watching us and the energy we exude is absorbed and internalized by our children. When we model how a person can manage anxiety (rather than just explaining it), we convey that anxiety can be dealt with, and even defeated. Congruently, we, as parents, don’t want anxiety to control us and impact our steps toward wellness.
C – Catch it, challenge it, change it. This is a great skill that helps you analyze faulty thoughts or distortions, challenge the truth of those thoughts and change them to more positive or healthy thoughts. For example, catch the negative thought, challenge it by identifying that this type of thinking is distorted or irrational, and change it to a more positive and new mindset.
A – Accept. You cannot control everything. Put your worries in perspective and reframe.
L – Learn. Know your triggers and find ways to cope with them. This is encouraged not only for you, but for the family as well. Setting rules, structure and boundaries can help enhance family coping. Examine your household stress: Is the family overburdened? Is there healthy communication and connection? Are we positive in our approach to problems?
M – Mindfulness, meditation, movement. Calming the mind and body is critical and important for preventing and managing anxiety. Engage in a form of mindfulness and meditation via guided imagery, yoga, and/or spiritual nourishment. Make movement a priority as a way for the body to release stress and energy in a positive and joyful way.
Needless to say, the pressures on parents are enormous in this culture. We are pulled in countless directions and often don’t know how to negotiate everything there is to get done. We cannot do this alone. So don’t. Parents need each other for support to be calm.
By // Dr. Dena Cabrera