In these times with uncertainty in a world that is changing more rapidly than we can sometimes imagine, knowledge can be like medicine.
If you are a child or teen impacted by anxiety or you are caring for someone with anxiety, I hope this blog will provide you with some helpful information.
If anxiety is just doing its thing and keeping you away from danger, this is great. Thank anxiety for being such an amazing superpower and keep it up.
If this superpower is out of control and interfering with daily life, there are things you can do to harness its energy.
If you want to talk to someone about what’s going on or you have more questions, consider reaching out to a healthcare professional or another trusted adult. It may be a parent, family friend, coach, doctor, school counsellor, therapist, etc.
Don’t suffer alone!
Here are some ideas that might help harness the power of anxiety.
Finding a way to settle your body and mind is like adding water to a flame- it can soothe and lower your anxiety response. A lot of these ideas start with the body and are designed to kick in your parasympathetic system (rest and relax) which is the opposite of the sympathetic system that kicks in when you are anxious. Some examples of this are:
- Focused breathing
- Tense and release exercise
- Stretching and yoga movements
- Sensory exercises to bring you to the here and now (54321, rainbow spotting, hearing challenges, etc.)
- Brain gym
- Calming art or music
Often times, you might find yourself having harsh thoughts about anxiety. It can be easy to go to a place of what’s wrong with me, why can’t I control this, this is my fault etc. Self-compassion is an invitation to bring in a gentler, kinder voice (maybe like a kind friend or a great sidekick) that can offer some new possibilities in understanding and handling anxiety. Some examples of this are:
- Mindfulness exercises
- Compassion and kindness exercises
- Exploring feelings with curiosity rather than judgement
- Art to help explore
Anxiety is about your perceived sense of threat or danger, so it is not necessarily the truth of how things are but rather how you think they are. If you have ways to understand and challenge your thoughts this can be very helpful in harnessing anxiety. Some examples of this are:
- Mapping your thoughts
- Thought ladders
- Thought stopping
- Thought challenging
- Understanding thinking traps
Imagine (I know I’m really going with this superpower metaphor) anxiety is a powerful ray of light that shoots from your body uncontrollably anytime you feel you are in danger. Containment is a way to centralize and focus that beam of light to one area or to keep it locked up for a bit while you work on some other harnessing strategies. Some examples of this are:
- Worry boxes
- Worry trees
- Things I can control and things I can’t control exercises
- Container visualizations, imagery, art
Just like anything in life, if we are well rested and refreshed, we tend to show up in a much more capable way vs. when we are feeling exhausted and depleted. Considering the different habits and different hygiene practices you have can be very helpful in harnessing anxiety. Some examples of this are:
- Having consistent quality sleep
- Eating regularly and eating foods high in nutrients and vitamins
- Having routines that are supportive like around bedtime or when you first wake up
- Bringing supportive relationships closer and distancing self from harmful relationships
- Having regular self-care practices such as sport, art, exercise, spending time with friends, laughing, relaxing, etc.
- Limiting alcohol and drug use which mess with our body chemistry and can quickly make anxiety feel out of control
- There are so many different things you can do to help harness anxiety
- Don’t suffer alone, talk to someone if you are struggling with anxiety
Comment below on how you manage anxiety.
- Chantal Côté, R.Psych, Pyramid Psychology- helping older children, teens, and young adults learn how to rid themselves of unhelpful anxious, worried and negative thoughts
Chantal Côté is a Registered Psychologist in the province of Alberta and the owner of Pyramid Psychology. Pyramid Psychology's goal is for all young people to be able to discover their greatness and uniqueness and to share those gifts with the world. That means being on a mission to help older children, teens, and young adults learn how to rid themselves of unhelpful anxious, fearful, and negative thoughts and feelings. Chantal meets people in person in southeast Calgary, on-line for those living anywhere in Alberta, and outdoors for walk and talk sessions. Chantal uses a trauma informed lens and invites people to try cognitive, mindfulness, and narrative strategies, as well as the expressive arts if it fits.
You can follow Chantal on Facebook @pyramidpsychology and Instagram @therapywithchantal
I’ve chosen to see this as a gift, a true opportunity to get a pulse on what otherwise may be kept away from us most of the time. What is the gift in seeing my 12-year freak out because I asked them to turn off their video game? Or having a full out meltdown during an English assignment?
I want to share three areas that you can focus on, as parents and supportive adults, to help your tweens and teens when emotions are running high.
Normalize and allow
Whatever you are feeling is ok!
Normalize and allow means:
- Showing empathy and compassion
- Letting your kids know it is normal to respond with all kinds of emotions about what is going on
- Saying things like "this does really sucks right now", "I know you're frustrated right now", "I'm missing __________ also"
- All feelings are ok
- This is different than all actions are ok (e.g. It’s ok to be pissed off- it’s not ok to punch a hole in the wall)
Spending more time at home with our youth has perhaps allowed us an opportunity to get the inside scoop on how they are doing emotionally
noticing and naming feelings
It can be helpful to develop your kids emotional vocabulary. This can help young people better understand their experience and express themselves. Also, this can help us as adults tune in and show our support.
Naming the emotion can simply start with "I’m feeling....". Your tween or teen may not know what they are feeling all the time. In the beginning, we can encourage our kids to start saying "I’m feeling....". This is the start of building awareness and noticing feelings.
If your tween or teen is able to practice naming their feelings or at least acknowledge that they are experiencing a feeling you can invite them to check in with themselves.
Checking in means asking:
- Where do I feel this feeling in my body?
- How big or intense is it right now?
- What sensations do I notice- tight, tense, heavy, hot, light, pulsing, empty, numb, knotted, etc.
The more our kids can connect with a feeling and bring awareness to it, the more easily it will flow in and away. There are a couple of scripted practices that you can search for such as “labelling thinking and feeling” and “noticing your emotions”. Try this with many different feelings not just negatively experienced ones.
3R's of emotional literacy- regulate, relate, reason
Dr. Siegel uses the expression of “flipping our lid” when our brain goes into fight or flight mode. When we are faced with something that is distressing or provokes big feelings, our brain detects a threat and jumps into a sympathetic state called fight or flight. What does this look like in our kids?
Well it could be yelling, shouting, tantrums, tears, meltdowns, shutdowns, self-harm, etc. Dr. Bruce Perry introduced the idea of 3R’s as 3 steps that parents can take to help support their children when they have “flipped their lids”.
- Using our senses (tuning into what we can see, hear, feel, smell, taste)
- Movement- the best is patterned and repetitive movement such as walking, running, wall pushes, dancing, butterfly taps, drumming.
- Using sensory items like putty, pounding clay or pillows, weighted blankets, hugs
- Using calming smells like aromatherapy (test beforehand!!!), or a fresh smelling article of clothing or blanket
- Using sound like noise cancelling headphones or listening to music
- Focused breathing like slowing down our breath, finger or shape breathing, 4-7-8 breath
I saw in my IG feed that said something like "we are not all in the same boat, but we are in the same storm".
- Chantal Côté, R.Psych, Pyramid Psychology- helping older children, teens, and young adults looking to rid themselves of unhelpful anxious, fearful, and negative thoughts
Chantal Côté is a Registered Psychologist in the province of Alberta and the owner of Pyramid Psychology. Pyramid Psychology's goal is for all young people to be able to discover their greatness and uniqueness and to share those gifts with the world. That means being on a mission to help older children, teens, and young adults rid themselves of unhelpful anxious, fearful, and negative thoughts. Chantal meets people in person in southeast Calgary, on-line for those living anywhere in Alberta, and outdoors for walk and talk sessions. Chantal uses a trauma informed lens and invites people to try cognitive, mindfulness, and narrative strategies, as well as the expressive arts if it fits.
You can follow Pyramid Psychology on Facebook @pyramidpsychology and Instagram @ chantal_at_pyramidpsychology
Chantal Côté is a Registered Psychologist in the province of Alberta and the owner of Pyramid Psychology. Pyramid Psychology mission is to help teen girls build Bulletproof Mindsets. Youth are full of greatness and uniqueness and it is a gift to have them share this with the world. Pyramid Psychology supports teens (and parents) that are struggling with anxious and overwhelmed thoughts and feelings. Meeting in person in Southeast Calgary, on-line for those living anywhere in Alberta, and outdoors for walk and talk sessions, Chantal uses a trauma informed lens and invites people to try thought based, mindfulness, and expressive practices to manage and weather the storms of life.
You can follow Chantal on Facebook @pyramidpsychology and Instagram @therapywithchantal