Having designed and launched the range of Discovery Journals earlier in the year I’ve noticed already in a small space of time the love from parents desperately wanting to find a way to help their child who may be experiencing anxiety, depression or stress. I thought it was time to address some of these concerns and hopefully help clarify what your child may be experiencing and the best ways you can help.
I am not a parent myself but I have suffered with anxiety and OCD from an early age and I use my blog as a way to address some of the concerns I come across from friends, family and members of the public who are dealing with mental illness and feel a strong responsibilty to share what I've learnt to help mend relationships and end the stigma and confusion surrounding mental health.
I can’t tell you why my anxiety started and I can’t say I’m fully recovered, but the first and most important thing I can advise to any parent of a child who is suffering with mental illness is to not expect them to know why.
They don’t know why they feel as they do
They don’t know why they can’t go out
They don’t know why they have it
& They don’t know why it won’t get better or go away.
Its incredibly difficult to care so deeply for someone and see they are struggling and not be able to help because, how can you? If they don’t know how can you know? It’s an infuriating, complicated and confusing for both parties.
When I was a child my favourite part of the holiday was the plane ride (especially the window seat!); and yet now the idea of being confined up against the wall, having to clamber over 2 people to get out is enough to bring on a panic attack. Trying to explain that to my parents was tough since my reaction came as both a suprise to me as well as them!
I don’t know what changed and I don’t know when it did, so I understand their confusion!
Example: The best way I can hope to describe this change it is to compare it to the changing of taste buds, things you used to find delicious suddenly you can no longer stomach now you are older or that change is due to a live event like pregnancy. Our body evolves as we do and whether you can pinpoint the moment the anxiety started doesn’t mean it isn’t still there now that event is over, once its there and you have experienced it, its unlikely to ever leave you.
Unfortunately, there are moments when you feel you have let your parents down or you think they are disappointed in you because you just aren’t the same as you used to be and now you think you are a bother or frustrating to them. 9 times out of 10 the person suffering from the anxiety are bothered by themselves, they want it to go away and they want to be a different person.
The thing is…Something started it off, they don’t know what it is and nor do you, but its there and it can’t be fought against, it needs to be accepted… so what’s next…
Communication can be quite a scary thing in itself, especially if you aren’t connecting. I know when I was growing up the last thing on my mind was to share my inner most thoughts with my parents, not because I couldn’t or didn’t want to, because I was a teenager and that’s just what teenagers do (ones like me anyway!) I wrote a bit about this already in my blog "Adolescence - how you can stay in the loop!"
When I say communication, let me be clear...I’m not talking about interventions or sitting down and having a long arduous conversation, I’m talking about allowing your child to know you are a support to them in their struggle.
It took a while for my parents to come to terms with what I was going through (and they still are) and maybe that was my fault for not opening the conversation up sooner.
It sounds bizarre but taking an interest in their condition and letting them know you are is a great step forward. Learn about some of their signs and signals of when they are anxious and be able to react sincerely to them. For me touching my throat, creating conversation, fiddling with my hands are all signs I’m not feeling great and, in those moments, I need to be engaged with and distracted.
Instructions become questions when you begin to understand, asking such questions as:
“Just calm down” turns into “can I get you a glass of water?”
“Do you need anything”
“What can I do to help?”
“Can I get you something to write on?”
“Would you like to go for a walk?”
Talking about anxiety in a constructive way can really help someone who is struggling with it, it gives you a sense that someone cares and believes you even though they can not physically see the fight you are having within.
Fight or Flight
Just a little bit about what anxiety feels like for all of you who may not have been touched by the anxiety devil!
The “Fight or Flight” response is something you likely learned in school. It’s our bodies way of dealing with a high-pressured life or death situation.
Example: Imagine you are camping and in the night you are faced with a hungry, angry bear ready for you to be dinner. Your body will push all your blood into your primary muscles ready to fight or to flee, you’ll experience a sudden rush of hormones and adrenaline to prepare and protect you.
Rapid Heart Rate
To name a few…
This is a completely normal response from our body when faced with something that is extremely scary to us; if you can’t relate to this think of your own greatest fear whether its heights, water or claustrophobia.
Now imagine that level of fear all day every day. That is what anxiety feels like.
My fear is of being physically ill in a public place. It's something that can happen at any moment in the day and something I would have no control over, so a trip to the shops or a plane flight feels the same to me as facing a bear who wants to eat me or the prospect of jumping off a skyscraper (I’m afraid of heights too!)
At my worst my body was in fight or flight mode several times in a single day. I spent most of my day in bed asleep because of the sheer work my body was having to go through to get me through the day was using all my energy. The simple task of working to work would mean a 2 hour nap afterwards due to the amount of anxiety I’d been fighting to conceal from everyone for the last 8 hours!
If you ever have a moment where you are struggling to understand what your child is experiencing or you are confused by why they can’t seem to do the simplest of things, just take a step back and imagine your facing your greatest fear in that moment, it’s not a fun prospect but it will help give you some clarity.
Help without helping
Mental illness and anxiety in particular is journey that must be taken by the person who is experiencing it.
You’re probably sick of hearing the word “support” and I know I’m sick of saying “just support them” because what does that even mean? Do something, don’t do something? It’s in our human nature to push to keep someone safe or find a way to make them better. So instead I want to put it as “navigating without taking the wheel” You are a constant in their life and by letting them know you will remain that constant for them will be a huge relief and allow them to make their own way to recovery. Just like someone who struggles with addiction, you can’t push someone to get better if they are not ready to, no matter how much they want it and you want it, it needs to be at the right time, but in saying that here are a few tips which helped me…
Listen to them – Let them express their experiences of anxiety without giving advice. It can be difficult not to jump in with “I’ve spoken to this person who can help” too many suggestions used to come across to me like I needed to be fixed and that can be a bit disheartening when you think this is something you’ll have to live with for the rest of your life and you may never be accepted with it.
A daily check in – Whether it be at the end of the day or via a text, just checking in with “how’s your day going, are you feeling alright?” can be a nice little reminder of your presence as a constant without being overbearing.
Ask questions – If you’re planning an event and you think your child will be uncomfortable, simply ask them. “Will you be alright with this?” “Can I do anything to make it a bit smoother for you?”
Accompany them – If they feel they need your company or reach out to you, try and accept if you can, they might be asking for your company because they would feel better or safer with you there.
As I’ve covered in a previous blog “How to Reduce Anxiety” there are some tools to assist those suffering with anxiety which can aid in recovery.
Journaling – Obviously having designed the Discovery Journal from my own techniques and experiences, I am a huge fan of keeping a record of your day/week or month. Being productive and doing something physical such as writing can not only take the focus away from your anxious thoughts but also a journal can act as a confidant and a place you can keep your emotions to look back on at a later date to see your personal growth. See more about how the Discovery Journal can help make sense of anxiety here or there is another option of bullet journalling for young children which you can see here.
Mindfulness – Mindfulness is a meditation technique which has become very popular in recent years as a way to slow the mind down and appreciate the smaller things in life. When everything becomes overwhelming the practice of mindfulness helps you concentrate on a particular sound, sight or feeling in a single moment. Mindfulness brings you back to present. Meditation courses can be taken in this practice as well as apps available on your smart phone. Learn more about Mindfulness here.
Colouring in- In recent years it has become very popular for all ages to use colouring in books to steady nerves and sharpen your mind. Colouring in books are now readily available in most supermarkets, online or book shops and they give you a strong sense of achievement when completed. Check out Waterstones full range of adult colouring books here.
Exercise – Suggesting an easily accomplished exercise as regularly as possible can really help with overall mental health as well general health. It doesn’t have to be a class or a gym, those environments may cause distress due to timings and crowds. A brief walk will help with anxiety by getting used to the practice of leaving the house (if that’s a particular concern) as well as serving as a great way to stimulate the mind after screen time.
I really hope you have found this blog helpful or insightful and that you know that there is full community of people to be found who will be able to help.