A little anxiety or worry isn’t a bad thing. It’s normal to feel a little apprehensive when facing new or uncomfortable situations. Sure worry can be motivating but most of the time it slows us down or stops us completely. It can also be a signal that we’re doing too much.
How anxiety works
Worry behaviors are the brain’s way of keeping us safe. The brain responds automatically to perceived danger. But many times the things that worry us aren’t really dangerous. Our worries are more about things that are new or feel uncomfortable. When this happens our brain acts like we’re seeing a bear or a T-Rex and our fight or flight response kicks in. Worry makes small problems feel like really big problems. Negative thinking sets in and suddenly we expect only bad things will happen. This becomes “proof” that our concerns are valid. We believe the chances of something bad happening are high (in fact tend to see them as being higher than they really are.) The “what if” or “what will others think” thoughts begin. We feel sick and that makes us worry even more. Basically we are really good at scaring ourselves.
How do I know if I OR my child or teen is overly anxious?
Anxious feelings are sneaky – they come and go. Some days seem normal but on other days it just feels like nothing is going right. At times there can be more bad days than good days. Here are some of the ways anxiety impacts children or teens (and some of these are also signs of adult anxiety as well):
- Extremely uncomfortable, distressed or overwhelmed in stressful situations
- Wants excessive reassurance (have lots of “what if” concerns, nothing consoles/makes you feel better, logic doesn’t help)
- Has physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, needing to go to the bathroom, feel like throwing up, feel too sick to go to school or work
- Has difficulty falling asleep, may have frequent nightmares or difficulty sleeping alone
- Perfectionistic, self-critical, has very high standards, nothing is “good enough”
- Becomes overly-responsible, has difficulty making decisions, people pleaser; worries about upsetting others, apologizes unnecessarily
- Frequently avoids or refuses to participate in expected activities or to attend school; comes up with a lot of reasons why something can’t be done or they can’t go somewhere
- Behavior disrupts the child or teen’s life or even family life and may include not liking/difficulty with transitions and changing activities including moving from videogames to homework, going to school or to a friend’s house or running errands
- When upset, can be hard to console even in ordinary situations
- Requires excessive coaxing to do normal activities like homework, hygiene, coming to meals on time.
Anxiety kicks in when our thinking (cognitive) processes are overwhelmed. This is particularly true for kids who are still learning coping skills like frustration tolerance, flexibility or problem-solving. Lagging cognitive skills are a great source of anxiety for children. Read more about lagging skills…
How does therapy help with anxiety?
The key to managing anxiety is learning how to recognize its early signals in order to slow and calm ourselves. Calming allows us to think. When the brain is in fight or flight, it’s reacting and reactions are so fast we almost don’t know we’re doing them.
Counseling helps manage anxiety in a variety of ways. In therapy you will:
- Become familiar with the physical signs of anxiety and identify the ones specific to you
- Learn how thoughts – especially negative thoughts – impact feelings and behavior
- Gain awareness of your thoughts and learn to use a variety of coping techniques and strategies
- Identify environmental factors that are holding your worries in place.
Our primary defense against worry is to avoid it whether that’s doing everything we can to ignore feelings, avoid situations or distract ourselves. When we do this we’re actually giving worry a stronger hold over us.
I offer mindful, cognitive and play based approaches to managing anxiety. The world is a busy, stressful place. We can’t change that but we can manage worries, anxiety and stress by learning about what happens inside and ways to manage it.
3468 Mt. Diablo Blvd, #B301 (Mail: #B201)
Lafayette, CA 94549