In the first post about anxiety in our children, we learned the difference between anxious feelings and clinical anxiety. That understanding is important for us, as parents or caregivers to understand as we all live through COVID-19. Once we as adults have a firm grip on this subject, we can take the next important step-that is to teach our children about anxiety.
Regardless of the type of anxiety problem your child is struggling with, it is important that he or she understands the facts about anxiety.
Fact 1: Anxiety is a normal and adaptive system in the body that tells us when we are in danger.
Fact 2: Anxiety can become a problem when our body tells us that there is danger when there is no real danger.
As an important first step, help your child understand that all the worries and physical feelings have a name: anxiety. It’s important to help children and young adults understand that people can become anxious whenever there is uncertainty or they are unsure about something. This is why some children worry about everything. Most things in life are uncertain, especially right now living in a COVID-19 pandemic. There is a lot to worry about to be sure. Our job is to then teach our young people skills to cope.
Skills to Help with Anxiety
These skills can be helpful even for youth who do not have clinical anxiety but for whom anxious feelings are getting in the way of doing things they would like doing, such as having more friends, worrying less often, and so on. Let’s start with a skill that can help with all types of anxious feelings—not just clinical anxiety.
Psychologist and author Lynn Lyons describes a skill she calls the 3 Ex’s:
- “The 1st X is you will expect worry to show up. You would say something to yourself like, “Oh, there it is. So I’m about to take a test. I hear somebody else got into this school. You have to recognize that. That’s your worry.
- The 2nd X is you are going to externalize it. You pull it out, you give it a name, and say something like ‘Hi, Pete, nice to see you.”
- The 3rd ex is that you are going to experiment, so you do the opposite of what the worry is demanding. The worry demands attention. You decide not to get in a discussion with it and, instead, you are going to pivot. You pivot into getting started on your homework. Or if you’re falling asleep, pivot into thinking about something that is sort of mundane enough that doesn’t really matter to you.”
Building Brain Attention Skills with Mindfulness
Dr. Lyons and Dr. Ruston share a story about a young man named Chase. He is college-age and uses the App, 10% Happier to learn mindfulness skills from George Mumford, an expert who has taught these skills to many athletes, including Michael Jordan.
Dr. Lyons shared that Chase, “found 10% Happier and began using it which has really helped him. He’s had chronic pain from an accident years ago and lots of stress because of it.” Mumford has taught him mindfulness skills that have reduced Chase’s anxiety. Dr. Lyons goes on to say, “It’s all about getting more insight into one’s patterns of thinking and learning to direct attention to more helpful thoughts.”
Here are some popular Apps that teach mindfulness
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) Dr. Ruston said that DBT has many useful skills for overcoming intense feelings, including anxiety. There are many websites with many skills.
The TIPP skill is one such example. If a person is suddenly overcome by anxiety or other strong emotions, doing one of these things changes a person’s physiology, which helps stop or lower the intense emotions.
T– Temperature–the person applies ice in a bag to their face for a minute or two. Many teens also talk about how useful it is to put their faces into an ice bath of water for a few seconds. I have known many teens who find this temperature skill very helpful.
I– Intense exercise–the person takes the energy of the emotions and does some quick jumping jacks or other quick exercises.
P-Paced breathing–the person slows their breathing-such as breathing in for breathing for 5 seconds in and then 7 seconds out.
P-Paired muscle relaxation-the person breaths in and tenses a body part at the same time, such as the arms–they pay attention to the feeling of the contractions and then when they breathe out they release the contraction.
Mental Health Organizations – Resources for Teens and Parents
The following are examples of mental health organizations
This organization has information on stress and many types of anxiety conditions as well as links to find help for children, teens, and adults.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness has local branches across the country and offers support groups, online resources, programs in schools, and more.
The site has many written materials and links to awareness campaigns. My Younger Self, for example, is 30 short interviews with actors, athletes, and other celebrities who discuss their past mental health challenges.
These are free day-long courses designed to help parents learn how to understand youth mental health issues better and as a parent, things to do. On the website, you can find if there are classes near you.
This organization has affiliates across the country. The website has links to information, and they also do important work in working to increase mental health access, locally and nationally. This page on their website is helpful for the nuts and bolts of finding mental health support.
The international emotional intelligence network researches and shares tools, methods, and training to create a kinder, more positive world.
Born This Way Foundation – Started by Lady Gaga and her mother, the organization works to build a “braver, kinder world” for youth by creating safe-spaces and promoting self-care skills.
Psychology Today (link to https://www.psychologytoday.com/)
This site is very well respected as a way to find a therapist, psychiatrist, or support group in one’s area. One puts in their zip code, and any indicators, such as “adolescent” and it will list many possible providers. Then the provider can be contacted, and a short call can be set up to see if there will be a good fit.
Actions You Can Take-Especially During the COVID-19 Pandemic
- Get accurate health information from reputable sources. For health information about COVID-19, contact the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services at https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/, or your local healthcare provider.
- Consider mental health counseling. Many providers are continuing to provide counseling services during this period of partial shutdown. (Some are doing so via phone or video chat platforms.) To request behavioral health support from the Door County Department of Health and Human Services, call 920-746-7155 during business hours.
- If you or someone you know is experiencing distress or having thoughts of suicide, please call the Door County Suicide/Mental Health Crisis Hotline at 920-746-2588 or the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255.
Other Helpful Resources
- Wisconsin DHS’s COVID 19: Resilient Together, https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/covid-19/resilient.htm, provides coping tips and resources.
- CDC’s “Manage Anxiety and Stress” page provides what stress can look like and tips to manage that stress.
- Mental Health America has compiled a range of resources and information on their “Mental Health and COVID-19” page.
- SAMHSA’s “Coping With Stress During Infectious Disease Outbreaks” page outlines the signs of stress and steps you can take to alleviate stress.
Ideas for conversation starters with youth in your life:
- Clearly, there is a need for more research done around both anxious feelings and clinical anxiety of youth in this country. What type of research could you imagine doing?
- If you were to study anxious feelings as they relate to screen time, what would be some interesting questions that you could see researching?
- What strategies do you find helpful when you are feeling anxious?
- What skills mentioned here could you see ever using or telling a friend about?