Anxiety is something everyone experiences at some point. As a mum, some days are crazier than others – juggling house and family duties, work deadlines, planning excursions or holidays can sometimes get overwhelming (weren’t these things meant to be fun?!).
Everyone has different ways of dealing with stress and anxiety. While some anxiety-coping methods are effective, there’s no shame in admitting that sometimes anxiety takes a toll and impedes us from efficiently doing what we need/want to do. I cannot remember the number of times I’ve sat in front of my computer staring at an empty travel itinerary and not knowing how to get started planning my family holiday. Worryingly but surely, young people and kids, too, are exposed to tons of information and uncomfortable situations everyday – and this can affect them negatively. As parents, we always want the best for our children (if I could, I would protect my daughter from hurt/pain/anxiety/stress forever). We are often flooded with information on how to use this app, that breathing regime, or some diet, art and craft activity or soothing salts and lava lights (we’ve been through a bunch of these in our home) to help alleviate anxiety but what we need before that is a game plan, first steps to take on how to begin and then we are free to choose what lamp, what podcast, exercise and even food, works for us!
It's important to understand that we all need to go through some form of trial-and-error to find the perfect coping mechanism. Here are the 5 ways to deal with anxiety, for adults and kids alike. While it may work for some, don’t worry if they don’t work for you – this list is not exhaustive and you shouldn’t feel like something is wrong with you/your child if it doesn’t work!
Give your feelings a name. If you or your child are feeling anxious, stressed, sad, frustrated, acknowledging the feeling gives it a shape and form which can then be understood and dealt with. Acknowledging feelings is an important first step. Never ever dismiss any feeling you’re feeling in hopes of forgetting it; telling yourself or your child to “get over it”, or wishfully telling yourself or them that “it’ll be fine” is nothing but denial and only exacerbates the problem. My 10-year-old daughter struggles with anxiety. To help her deal with negative feelings, we keep a doodle diary and use it to draw or scribble our feelings, thoughts, worries or even events/things we are looking forward to. Sometimes, it’s as simple as what we did during the day or an accomplishment (no matter how small). This small but significant action of fearlessly acknowledging what you are feeling allows you and your child to talk about feelings without making things sound too serious. Children (and grownups) often express themselves better through creative outlets. So grab a marker and start drawing abstract things, colour them in, make shapes, patterns, designs and then talk to your child and ask them how and why what they draw is an expression of how they feel.
Give your feelings an anchor. Whenever you’re having a meltdown, take a step back, relax and calm down. When the mind is receptive again (usually at bedtime or in the bath), reflect about what triggers the negative feeling, what specific activity or upcoming plan or project is causing the anxiety, (most of the time it is obvious but at times it can be hidden even for the person feeling it). Discuss what’s going on around you or your child, be it changes in routine, new things at school (or work), and try and dig around to find what planted the seed so that together, you can start to weed it out. Even better, involve the entire family!
Give your feelings a win. Unfortunately, we cannot wish away anxiety, nervousness or confidence issues. Instead, we must walk through darkness and difficult times to emerge stronger on the other side. Of course, easier said than done, and oftentimes, the beginning is always the hardest. But take comfort in the fact that it gets easier! Begin by talking through what caused the anxiety. It’s really important to realise that these feelings are temporary and can be taken apart once we empower ourselves with the right tools. For my family, the tools include reminding ourselves why we need to do the task that’s making us anxious (motivation), figuring out what strengths we have that will help us do it (capability), knowing what exactly makes us nervous about it (weakness) and keeping our eyes on the goal of completing the task to see the result (achievement). At home, we use our own version of mindfulness (lots of fidgeting and moving around is allowed with Taylor Swift playing in the background and lots of arm and leg stretches), creative art (we make mandalas which help us channel our energy and talk through things) or exercises. We love taking quizzes or designing our own games (once you play our version of Truth or Dare you’ll know why!), dancing to the UK Top 40 or going for a run outside. Doing activities like these gets the jitteriness out of the body and gives us direction and focus. Nothing like a sense of accomplishment to make us feel more confident! Support yourself or your kids so you succeed at small things so once that feeling takes root it tends to grow bigger and faster than the anxiety.
Give your feelings a sequence. Another effective way that helps us shrink the anxiety is to try out an activity in small doses and remove the fear of the unknown and the unpredictability around it. Many times, anxiety stems from not knowing what’s coming, not knowing what to do, not knowing if you will be able to do it, not knowing the impact of your actions and how you will be judged. While these are all perfectly acceptable concerns, perhaps we need to remind ourselves to be courageous. Courage, after all, isn’t the absence of fear, but an urgent impulse to do something despite the fear. One of the fun ways to show this to little kids is to play a game of “Find The Worry Box”. The “worry box” can be any small container that you hide inside other containers, shoe boxes or layers of wrapping paper. This mimics the real-life process of ploughing through uncertainty and the lack of self-confidence: is it the correct box that they’re stripping apart? What if there’s something scary inside instead? However, when they finally uncover the “worry box”, they’ll realise that those feelings of anxiousness was nothing compared to the joy when they found the “worry box”. Parents I always find it really useful to use a fancy app or just a notepad and make a list of the things that are making you anxious right now. Then, start devising strategies for each, ticking them or scratching them out once you’ve gotten through, just so you can see that big mountain get smaller and smaller!
Give anxiety a way to get out. In all the ways we try to deal with the anxiety, we forget that these coping mechanisms aren’t meant to make it magically disappear. They are simply ways to understand it from different directions but we have to let it run its course. Even with all the strategies in place, we will continue to feel it and that’s okay! We will feel anxious just before our big task or our kid will feel the butterflies and something in their throat just before theirs, whether it’s homework or a trip to the dentist or a high-pressure deadline in our personal or professional life. This is what it’s meant to feel like when we work THROUGH our anxiety, we get the job done allowing our creativity, positivity and strengths to stand taller in the face of it!
Most importantly, don’t forget that you are NOT alone. Don’t hesitate to ask for help: join social media platforms and groups or real-life support networks through libraries and community centres. You’d be surprised at not only how supported you feel, especially in those crazy moments when everything seems to be going wrong, but also find joy in helping others who might face similar problems you have conquered!
If you think you need to try out different ways to cope with your or your child’s emotional and behavioural wellbeing, here are some of my favourite providers that you should check out: Stephanie Byrne, Brixton Dramatherapy, Seedlings Wellbeing. Or discover more child development specialists here.