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6 Surprisingly Simple and Unique Strategies to Help your Child Cope with Anxiety

Anxiety is one of the most common forms of mental health issues amongst people of all ages. When I get a new client, anxiety is almost always one of the concerns; especially with kids, and especially after the pandemic. However, the word anxiety seems to be thrown around a lot these days. Sometimes, what is probably normal nerves, gets labeled as anxiety. I think this is because most people don’t know the proper definition of anxiety, therefore it gets mislabeled. So let me help you first by defining anxiety clearly and concisely. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders 5th edition, anxiety is “excessive worry occurring more days than not for at least 6 months, about a number of events or activities.” In addition to this definition, people experiencing anxiety must find it difficult to control the worry, and must be experiencing at least 3 of the following symptoms:

restlessness feeling keyed up feeling on edge being easily fatigued difficulty concentrating or mind going blank irritability muscle tension sleep disturbances

The key factor in determining if your anxiety or your child’s anxiety is worth seeking services for is that these symptoms cause significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning, and also that the symptoms cannot be better explained by something else.

If you find yourself in this category, it might be a good idea to seek professional services. You can call WellNest Counseling and speak to a therapist to better guide you on what type of services might be possible. If you are on the fence and not sure that you need services, but also know that you need to make a change for yourself or your child, here are eight surprisingly simple ways to cope with anxiety:

1. Recognizing what anxiety is, where it comes from, and how it feels in the body. Sometimes knowledge is power. When a person can explain what they are feeling and why they are feeling it, it doesn’t seem so scary. The first step in recognizing what worry is, aside from reading the definition above, is recognizing how it feels in your body. A lot of the time, the body has a physical symptom when the brain starts to worry before a person even realizes they are feeling anxious. This might look like a headache or a tummy ache or even exhaustion. Next time you start to feel nauseous, you’ll think, “oh! That’s worry!” You can help your kids do think by reflecting their feeling. Read here to learn more about reflecting feeling.

2. Spend less time on worry. Part of the problem with worry is over-worrying. This happens when all you can think about is your worries. And just like a habit, the more time you spend on worry, the better your brain gets at worrying. So, a neat trick to remedy this is to set a time that you allow yourself to worry. Say it’s from 4-4:15 after school every day. If you start to think of a worry at a different time, simply tell yourself, “It’s not my worry time! That’s for later.” Then at 4 pm, spend some time writing or talking about your worries. If you’re a parent teaching your kiddo this trick, you’ll need to remind them that it’s not their worry time. You can say something like, “Hey! That sounds like a worry and it’s not worry time right now. Let’s talk about that at our designated worry time.” Then during worry time make sure your child has your full attention and let him or her express all their worries to you. *Pro tip - this is not a problem solving time. Sometimes it feels better just to express worries. If your kiddo wants help solving the problem they will let you know. Or you can ask if they are open to a suggestion. But for the most part use this time to actively listen and validate your kiddo.

3. Use a worry hat. There are some worries that we can’t control, like the weather. The Worry hat is a great trick for this one. Grab a hat, put it on your head, and think all of your worries into the hat. Leave the worries in the hat for safekeeping. If you ever need them back, simply put the hat back on and think them back into your head. This provides a sense of control to kiddos. Worry often deceives people into thinking they are in control or will only succeed if they worry. So if we take away worry altogether, kids can worry even more about not being able to worry.

* A fun activity would be to decorate a worry hat together!

4. Talk back to your worry monster/bully. I really like this one. It separates the worry from the kiddo. Talk about how worry can be like a bully in your brain saying all the mean things to make a person feel bad. You can even draw a picture of what you think the worry-bully might look like and write down all the mean things it says. Then come up with phrases you can say back to your worry monster/bully. For example, maybe your worry-bully tells you your going to fail the test. You can say back to it, “No! I studied and will try my best. GO AWAY WORRY-BULLY!”

5. Get active. Worry hates activity. When you are active, you can’t worry very well. You’re too busy concentrating on moving around. Plus, when you are active your brain releases all the happy chemicals and hormones which fight back against that worry bully in your brain! So go for a walk or a bike ride or a swim! Whatever it is you like to do to get moving, do it!

6. Relax. Sometimes, we are too active and we need some time to relax. But here is the trick. Relaxing does not mean vegging out on the couch and binging Netflix. Relaxing means doing an activity that is low-key and enjoyable, not a chore. Coloring, laying on the grass in the sun for half an hour, creating an art project, talking with a friend, baking, cooking, going out to eat… whatever brings you joy.

References and Helpful Books:

Cook, J., & DuFalla, A. (2021). Wilma Jean the worry machine. National Center for Youth Issues.

O'Rourke, K., & Civati, C. (2018). There's a bully in my brain: A book to support children with anxiety. Mascot Books.

Paw Prints. (2009). What to do when you worry too much A kid's guide to overcoming anxiety.

Wilson, R. R., & Lyons, L. (2013). Anxious kids, anxious parents: 7 ways to stop the worry cycle and Raise Courageous & Independent Children. Health Communications, Inc.

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