We're living in a more anxious world today and it can be tough on the little people in our lives
Fight or Flight
I don’t know if I have just opened my eyes more lately, or if I am just more aware, but I am surrounded by anxiety. It is everywhere. I see it around me in many strains in friends, family, children and in me. I needed to educate myself on this beast and how to handle it, I can see it scaring the little people in our own home.
I have this far learned, there is regular anxiety, the anxiety you see right there putting the fear of God into children. They’re little faces and bodies wear it, you can tell, they are paler, more frail and meek looking, than the rest of the rosie cheeked children. I’ve seen it, I’ve dismissed it, I’ve experienced it, and today I’ve educated myself on it and my eyes are wide open to it.
Anxiety is apparently a normal part of childhood and most children will go through ‘phases’. This is regular anxiety, which is usually temporary and while upsetting, relatively harmless. Regular anxiety can usually be eased by comforting the child, but for a lot of children, and even adults, there is ‘anxiety disorder’ which is more severe and less easy to treat and live with.
Anxiety is a natural reaction for humans, it is in our fibre and serves a vital biological function. It is our ‘built in’ coping mechanism and kicks in instantly, whether we like it or not. It is necessary to prepare our body to deal with an apparent stressful or threatening situation, should it arise. The body is ‘prepared’ by a rush of adrenaline and stress hormones, and results in very real physical feelings. Heart racing, dizziness, short of breath, sweating and shaking. All of these physical happenings are a direct result of the hormones rushing around and mixing things up between your head and your body, so it is practically ‘shocked’ it into an alternative mode. This mode is the ‘fight-flight’ mode.
The problem is, because this ‘mode’ kicks in instantly, our heads are sometimes still only processing whether there is a real threat or not, while our bodies are in the throes of anxiety. This is the reality for people with anxiety disorder. Some will look at a situation and they are lucky enough to realise on time that there is no real danger, and so, it can sometimes seem absurd looking on at someone having an anxiety attack over what seems like nothing. It is not nothing to them.
Anxiety is a very real thing and can be experienced in three forms: Physically, Mentally and Behaviourally.
Physically, our little ones may not be able to describe properly what they are feeling but they know they feel sick, or not well. Anxiety can have powerful physical effects on a person including: trembling, shaking, dizziness, feelings of lumps in the throat, feeling hot & cold, nausea, headaches. Mentally, it is the thoughts that cause the anxiety. The thoughts could be about something happening at that moment or about something in the future that is playing on their mind. Anxious thoughts could include: worrying if a parent will die, if other kids don’t like them, worrying if they will be collected from school.
Behaviourally, anxious children will avoid any activities or going places unless a parent is with them. They may not want to sleep in their own bedroom or raise their hand in class. Even though there is no real danger in any of these situations, the anxious child will still sense danger, through no fault of their own.
While anxiety is a normal emotion for most, it can become a problem for others. There will be normal anxieties for children that occur at every stage of life but for others, anxiety will cause distress and interfere with the enjoyment of everyday life.
The good news is, anxiety can be successfully managed. As parent’s, we are very influential in our children’s lives. We have a vital role to play in helping our children to manage their anxiety, so as they can be equipped with the tools and skills they need to face their fears, and hopefully gain confidence.
I am going to start with my own children by doing the following:
- Listening, and really making sure my children feel like they are heard.
- Educating, myself and my children to let them know that anxiety, as horrible as it is, is normal, won’t last forever and that it is harmless.
- Normalising anxiety and letting my children know that lots of other children are in the same boat, and adults too.
- Praising my children if they make a real effort at doing something outside their comfort zone. None of us like to do things out of our comfort zone after all.
- Equipping my children with some coping skills for when they feel anxious, such as breathing techniques, which I will also be employing myself.
There is a world of advice and insight into anxiety. I for one have a lot to learn, and I think it is important for parents to be aware and accepting of anxiety as a reality, and not just something in someone’s head. It crosses or will cross all our paths at one stage or another.