Understanding Anxiety: Tips For You and Your Kids
It’s no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic — including the threat of illness and death, lockdowns and isolation, social distancing and mask mandates — has taken a toll on our mental health. Just last week, the World Health Organization revealed that the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by a whooping 25 percent in the first year alone.
Unfortunately, adults are not the only ones experiencing increased levels of worry, stress, and uncertainty. Earlier this year, Goldie Hawn, actress and founder of the non-profit program MindUp, penned an op-ed for USA Today focusing specifically on the effect of the past two years on children. “Kids are afraid of people, spaces, even the air around them — a level of constant fear not seen in decades,” she writes. “In early 2021, emergency room visits in the United States for suspected suicide attempts were 51 percent higher for adolescent girls and 4 percent for adolescent boys, compared with the same time period in early 2019.”
Five Tips to Help You Cope with Anxiety
With these thoughts in mind, I want to offer five tips to help you and your kids cope with anxiety.
Remember that anxiety is okay: Anxiety is a normal and expected response to a threat or danger. We all experience it. In fact, some anxiety is necessary! It keeps us safe and motivates us to make smart choices.
Label the feelings, not the person: It’s important to remember that anxiety is a feeling, one that can come and go. Don’t call yourself or your child “an anxious person,” as this label may lead to additional struggles with self-worth. Remind your child that they may feel anxious sometimes, but they also feel happy, sad, excited, and more. Focus on the positive feelings to help them see the world (and themselves!) in a more positive light.
Reframe daily challenges: We can’t control how we feel, but we can control the thoughts attached to our feelings and thus the behavior that follows. When your child is struggling with anxiety, encourage them to ask themselves, “Am I safe?” After answering yes, they can reframe their anxious feelings and change their thoughts and actions.
Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness is a powerful tool. It improves general mood, happiness, and wellbeing. Plus, it helps to reduce anxiety by teaching you to recognize and stop negative thought patterns. Even better? It can be done anywhere, anytime! Help your child be present in the current moment by taking deep, intentional breaths together (in through the nose, out through the mouth).
Know that you’re not alone: It’s important to realize that you’re not alone in your feelings — and neither are your kids! New research from Oxford University Press supports this notion. More than 8,000 children in 85 schools across the United Kingdom picked “anxiety” as the word of the year when discussing their mental health, followed by “challenging” and “isolate.” Talk to your children about your own feelings; it will likely help both you and them feel better.
If you need additional help as you or your children cope with anxiety or other mental health challenges, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional guidance.