Anxiety comes in waves

14 Jul



Anxiety Comes in Waves; Are We There Yet; The Law of Gravity As Applied to Anxiety

Anxiety can exert a vice-like grip on your child’s thinking and feeling that can make it hard for him to believe that anything can change or get better. Getting caught up in an intense pattern of anxious thinking, can make you think that things will always be that way. Moods get supersized. And then all your desperate child wants is relief. But as the often-quoted Greek philosopher Heraclitus stated, you can’t step into the same river twice, that is to say, everything changes. And that is true for feelings as well, even for every intense feelings. Despite what your child may think, worries don’t last forever. Following gravity, what goes up must come down. But children have a different experience of time than adults, as any parent who has taken her child on a long car drive can attest, with the backseat refrain of  “Are we there yet?” This different sense of time can make it harder for children to realize that if they wait, things will get better. Although it makes it easier to distract them and that can be a Godsend, the problem is that if they do not learn from the experience or we don’t help them to learn, ­it will only be temporary relief. Infants begin as creatures of the moment and over the next 20 years become less so, but it is a gradual process. The problem is that combination of out-of-sight out-of-mind, and having difficulty tolerating talking about difficult or unpleasant things.

But for children to be brave and take a leap of faith, they need to have a sense that things will be OK. Either they can become used to things or these things will change. So how do we help children on this front? Experience is obviously the best teacher. Getting back on the bicycle after the nasty fall and seeing that everything is OK is a cliché that works in this instance But with anxious children and especially children with attentional problems, we may need to highlight these experiences and provide a little help so they just don’t slip away.

First, it is important to underline the common everyday axiom that you can get used to things or slightly more technically, you can habituate to things. It is like jumping into a swimming pool. It can be really cold at first, but if the child starts swimming or playing Marco Polo, she gets used to the water and it is not so bad. Consider holding an ice cube in your hand. It is really cold and unpleasant at first, but eventually turns into water. Because we can get used to things, it is important not to give exclusive attention to our first feelings about a subject.

Second, to help the child learn from experience, it may to helpful to ask him questions geared toward helping him notice his experience, rather than leading him to the answer you already know. For example, if a child is anxious in the morning before school, afraid she might throw up, when she comes home, you might ask her, “So what happened to those worries about throwing up today?” This question will hopefully help her see and reflect on the fact that once she got involved in her school work, the feeling went away.

Having faith that things can change is a lesson not restricted to childhood. We continue to learn and remember this throughout over lives.

One Response to “Anxiety comes in waves”

  1. September 23, 2014 at 11:12 am #

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