Have you ever experienced anxiety? Gah! Me too. It's like the annoying friend at the end of a party that can’t seem to take a hint and go home.
Anxiety in our modern lives can highjack our brains and bodies. I see children and teens in my Sacramento child therapy practice that have anxiety symptoms that can disrupt their lives. These families have one thing in common, they want it gone.
Here’s the problem with that, it’s never going to leave. Plus, (unfortunately) we need it. Well, we need a little bit of it. It helps keep us safe. It becomes a problem, however, when we experience too much anxiety and there is no real threat.
A tiny history lesson
Back in the day (like waaaaaaay back in the day, think cavepeople times) our anxiety system was awesome! It let us know when we were in danger. It’s a trigger happy system that alerts us of real and perceived danger. Our brain automatically kickstarts an internal alert system. This helps our body get ready for fight/flight/freeze. This is super helpful in cases when we were going to be eaten by a sabertooth tiger.
How it works in a nutshell
In response to the danger our brain sends out an alert to out body by shutting down unnecessary functions. In a split second our survival instinct assesses the situation and prepares to either fight off the danger, run away from the danger, or in rare cases play dead. We experience this as tightened muscles, upset stomach, tunnel vision, rapid heartbeat, sweaty armpits, change in breathing, and loss of rational thought. What an amazing and intuitive system, right!? Back in the day it was such an asset and helped keep our species alive all these years. Yay brian!
As we evolved over time our brain kept this old school alert system. As you know, our world has drastically changed since then. We have modern day stress factors like deadlines, homework, appointments, facebook, tests, traffic, sibling issues, bullies, public speaking, long Starbuck's line, mortgage payments, and on and on. These modern day issues trigger the same response system in our brains and bodies. The amygdala doesn't differentiate modern day stress from life threatening sabertooth tigers.
Our kids and teens are experiencing the same stuff. It’s part of the human condition. It’s not going to go away but we can manage it more efficiently. Here are 5 ways to get your brain back online when you or a family member is experiencing anxiety.
5 Ways To Get Your Brain & Body Back
Make some art! I am an art psychotherapist and as such, art will usually be my go to recommendation. Because art is amazing and helps to regulate our brains. You don’t need to be an “artist” or have ANY artistic training or ability. You just move color around on paper or whatever medium you have around. That's it. And it’s super calming. I like to make big lines and scribbles or if I’m feeling fancy I love zentangels. Sure, you can use your adult coloring books too, but, you could also use a bar napkin and a pencil. Don’t get to precious about it just create something.
- Phone apps. Sure, I’m pretty anti-screen time for kids… but I’m also a huge fan of go with what works. Simple and effective are nice too. There are some great apps that are super calming. I’ll list a few for the different devices. Bloom, Colorfy, Namaste - Calm Down (my fave), Healing Buddies Comfort Kit, and Breathing Bubbles. If you or your child is on the spectrum there are Autism Apps: Forge Of Neon, Fluidity, & Pocket Pond.
- Tapping. If you are new to tapping it’s going to seem a little strange. But, give it a try. Tapping is also called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). It’s tapping on an energy meridian and using cognitive affirming phrases to help you get grounded. Here is a Youtube video to get you started.
- Gratitude. You want to dramatically change your life? Start practicing gratitude. I use an app called Gratitude on iphone. I’m a visual person so I love that I can capture loveliness around me that I feel incredibly thankful for. You could journal it too. Do whatever feels good - just do it! If this is a new concept for you think small and big. Example “I’m grateful for clean drinking water” or “I’m grateful to have a roof over my head”. It can literally be anything. I would make a goal of 5ish a day. It’s a beautiful way to reflect on all the good in your life.
- Breathe. Slow down. Create points into your day for a mindfulness check. Tune into your body. Are you in fight/flight/freeze mode? You can start to transform it by slowing down your breath. Don’t discount this one because it’s so easy. This is by far the most powerful technique I have to offer.
If we take this to the most basic level: slow down and breathe. You got this! If you need extra support gimme a call 916-572-7623
To your greatness,