Anxiety is a normal and inevitable part of our daily lives and can even be good for us. There are certain things that can make anyone feel anxious or under threat, for example being physically threatened, heights, confined spaces etc. Some anxieties are also considered to be normal at specific ages and for specific genders. Anxiety becomes a problem when it starts to significantly impact our daily functioning, for instance refusing to go to school, excessive mood swings, having difficulty concentrating etc.
Anxiety affects us in three ways. Firstly, anxiety influences mental processes or more specifically, our thoughts. These thoughts centre on a perceived threat of danger, for instance getting hurt or being embarrassed in front of others. Secondly, anxiety affects us physically. Biologically, human beings have been “wired” to protect themselves from danger to ensure their survival, a primitive response referred to as the fight or flight response.
This physical response to a perceived threat in our environment helps individuals to protect themselves from danger by either fleeing or fighting the perceived threat. Physical symptoms related to anxiety can include an increase in heart and breathing rate, heart palpitations, dizziness, headaches, sweating, nausea, etc. Our bodies can’t distinguish between a real or perceived threat, for instance distinguishing between a lion attacking you or the fear of being embarrassed in front of others and therefore it responds in the same manner. Lastly, anxiety affects our behaviour. This can include freezing, crying, procrastinating, fidgeting, avoiding people, places or things that are perceived as being potentially dangerous, eating problems, struggling to concentrate etc.
WHAT DOES ANXIETY LOOK LIKE IN CHILDREN:
- excessive worry most days of the week, for weeks on end
- trouble sleeping at night or sleepiness during the day
- restlessness or fatigue during waking hours
- trouble concentrating
- nightmares or night terrors
- bed wetting
- restless sleep
TIPS FOR COPING WITH ANXIETY:
- Take time to explore the different situations or events that might be causing or contributing to the experience of anxiety or stress in your life. It is also useful to look at how you commonly react in these situations in order to best go about changing behaviours that might be reinforcing or contributing the experience of anxiety or stress in your life.
- Don’t take it personally. You will make mistakes and there are people who aren’t going to like you. This doesn’t make you a bad or terrible person.
- What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. When things work out differently than you planned, try to see it as an opportunity for personal growth. If your own actions or choices led to the situation, reflect on them and learn from your mistakes.
- Put things into perspective, taking into account how much control you really have about situations that might lead to the experience anxiety. Change what you can and accept the things you cannot.
- Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. There are many things in life that are beyond our control. Rather than obsessing about these things, focus on the things you can control, such as your thoughts and the way you react to them.
- Challenge negative thoughts. As mentioned earlier, anxiety influences our thinking and most often these thoughts are negative in nature, e.g. “I can’t do this” or “This is too hard for me”. When we engage in silent and internal conversations with ourselves, we start to believe the things we say about ourselves, whether they are true or not, and because we are largely unaware of our automatic thoughts, we rarely stop to question our thoughts and emotions.
- Adjust your standards. Perfection is rarely possible and putting undue pressure on yourself to do everything perfectly adds to the experience of stress and can exacerbate anxiety. Instead, simply try your best and be proud of how ever close to perfection you come.
- Take medication as regularly as prescribed by your doctor.
- Regular exercise helps to alleviate anxiety and produce feel good hormones.
- Maintain a good sleep routine
- Make time to see friends and loved ones
- Practise breathing exercises. This can be done when anticipating an event which might be anxiety provoking or even in the moment. Regulating your breathing can help to prevent your body from entering the fight or flight response or help you to recover from it.
- Set out specific times to pursue your hobbies or to do things you enjoy
- Cut down on the amount of caffeine and/ or alcohol you consume
- Eat healthy, well balanced meals without skipping any meals to help keep your energy levels up.
TIPS FOR HELPING YOUR CHILD COPE WITH ANXIETY:
- Be a good role model. Become aware and manage your own anxiety and stressors. This will best enable you to understand your child and their behaviour and also serve as a good opportunity to teach them how to better manage their anxiety.
- Many children react to anxiety by trying to avoid the situation, person or event that makes them feel this way. While it is better to avoid many dangerous situations, avoiding situations where there is no real threat can prevent a person from learning to effectively deal with challenging situations in the long run. Encourage your child to become more independent and to face their fears. Be patient and consistent in your response and make sure to provide them the reassurance that they can successfully cope with the situation. Also be sure to praise your child when they take on challenging situations successfully to build their self-confidence.
- Encourage your child to talk to you about their feelings and situations that make them feel stressed or anxious. Remember to be sensitive. We do not all experience anxiety in the same way or feel anxious about the same things. Things that might seem small in the bigger picture, for instance having to do a speech in front of the class, does not mean that it is any less distressing for your child.
- Be supportive and refrain from asking too many direct questions such as “Are you anxious about your maths test tomorrow?”. Rather use open-ended questions such as “How are you feeling about your math test tomorrow?” to facilitate a discussion. When discussing their feelings use empathising statements such as “I know that this might be scary for you and that’s okay, but I’m here to help you get through this”. Acknowledging that facing their fears and anxiety might be hard for them will encourage them to be more open about their feelings.
- Discuss the appropriate ways of dealing with a challenging situation with your child beforehand.
- While it is normal to feel anxious sometimes, it should not be seen as an excuse for bad or inappropriate behaviour. Establish clear guidelines on what you expect of your child in situations that might be anxiety provoking for them as well as what the consequences are for bad behaviour. Be patient and consistent in your response.
- Have realistic expectations about how quickly your child might effectively cope with a situation or events that make them feel anxious. Telling your child not to worry is not going to make their fears disappear and when faced with challenging situations, an anxious person can feel that it is impossible for them to overcome it despite reassurance that they can. It can be useful to break up tasks into smaller, more manageable parts and to allow them enough time to work towards it at a pace they feel comfortable with. Use the successful accomplishment of one part as motivation to achieve more to reach their goals or overcome their anxiety.
- If they have been prescribed medication to treat anxiety, ensure that they take it daily or as prescribed by their doctor. If symptoms do not improve over time contact the doctor to discuss it.
- Have them follow a healthy diet and cut out caffeine from their diets
- Establish and consistently follow a good routine
- Have your child participate in sports, cultural or other activities at school
- Ensure that your child gets regular exercise
- Explore new hobbies that your child might be interested in
While anxiety is a very normal process and can even be good for us the experience of anxiety can be very challenging to cope with for some people. At the ADD Lab we offer services to aid clients to learn how to effectively cope and manage the experience of anxiety through the Tomatis method as well as Biofeedback. The Tomatis listening program can assist in coping with anxiety by stimulating the brain through sensory messages that helps to energise the brain and relax us. A study conducted at the University of Potchefstroom showed a significant reduction in anxiety in subjects who had completed the Tomatis program. In addition, a second study demonstrated that subjects continued to show a decline in anxiety levels 14 months after completing the program.
Biofeedback refers to the process of fostering a greater understanding and therefore control of the physiological processes underlying the experience of anxiety. While regulating breathing rate through breathing exercises, sensors attached to the client’s fingers monitor the stress response and provides feedback on the affect that the breathing has on the response. Through daily practise, this process becomes more established and can help to lower anxiety. At The ADD Lab, information is gathered on the resonance breathing rate (ideal breathing rate) which clients can then use to practise their breathing at home through the use of an app. We would be happy to assist in answering any questions related to these interventions as well as setting up appointments.