Helping Your Child Cope with Anxiety
We're no strangers to anxiety in my family. One of my children experienced severe anxiety between the ages of 8 and 10 and now the other one is caught up in it's vicious cycle.
Although this bout of anxiety seems to have come out of nowhere, when I think back over the last few months, I realize that it's been slowly building.
It started around the holidays with her telling me how she accidentally bumped her arm or banged her head at school. She'd come home with tales of her minor daily injuries which I would listen to and assess. I'd then reassure her that she was fine. I see now that she was searching for my reaction to these stories; to see if I'd be truly worried for her safety or if I would only be mildly concerned.
The stories started to get more detailed and involve 'fantasy' ailments like being bitten by a poisonous bug at school or contracting rabies from an animal that she imagined was lurking around the campus. She'd look for my reactions to these tales, as well. No matter what I said in response, the worries began to escalate leading to physical symptoms like head and stomach aches and nonstop, looping questions.
The last month or so has been filled with tears and panic attacks; My husband and I knew that we had to mobilize and get her some help.
Here's what we've done, so far:
*Visit to the PCP: I took my daughter to the her primary care physician for the head and stomach aches and to rule out any physical problems.
*Call to our Insurance Company: I took the time to call our insurance company and find an anxiety counselor in our network. My husband and I felt that it was important that both of our children speak to a professional about their anxiety because they are trained to help our children learn and practice the tools needed to deal with anxiety.
I can't say that our insurance company was much help here but hopefully yours will be. I did find a therapist in our network but the cost is not covered. I'm not going to sugar coat it: it is expensive. There were areas in our lives that we had to cut back on in order to make her treatment more affordable and it was worth it. I looked to our phone bill, cable bill, food bill and the kids' activities. We've had to cut back in all of these areas in order to find the funds necessary to pay for her care.
*Weekly Visits to a Counselor: Once we found a mental health counselor for our daughter, we knew we needed to give it time. With our son, we had to change counselors to find the right fit. He saw his new counselor for about a year with the knowledge that he could continue visits as he needed. From that experience, we knew that it took time for a trust to build up between them. We expect the same for our daughter. She just started her visits a few weeks ago and so far, we're pleased with her progress.
*Supplemental Work at Home: With both children, we've found at home success with this workbook. The exercises are enjoyable for the kids (during a time when they can really use a few minutes of enjoyment!) and it creates an easy to understand path for them to help themselves with their anxiety. The time we spend talking about where their worries come from and what we can do about them helps them feel confident that they have the power to control their anxiety. It also includes some great tips for parents who are desperate to help their children through this tough time.
*Diet and Exercise: Avoiding their daily activities or allowing them to indulge in an excess of comfort foods will not help your children in the long run. When my kids are anxious, I limit dessert and sugary snacks and I ramp up our healthy meals. My daughter actually stopped eating lunch at school because she was afraid of the food so I knew that, at home, I had to make sure she was eating healthy breakfasts and dinners.
Her after school activities were also causing her stress as she just wanted to be at home. I did not allow her to skip her commitments; it would only make it harder for her to get back into the swing of things later on. She'd also most likely use the time to ask more anxiety questions. Avoidance is not the answer; keeping to your schedule as best you can is a better choice, as hard as it may be when your child is wrapped up in anxiety. Hang in there!
Our kids are in tune with what is going on in the adult world; they may not understand what they are hearing and seeing but they are aware that there is turmoil, disease, division and suffering. We want to protect them this, of course, but it is nearly impossible to filter it all out. What we can do is equip our children, to the best of our abilities, with the tools necessary to cope with their anxiety and learn how to manage it. For some kids, worries will come and go but for others, the start of this type of worrying is the first glimpse of a lifetime of recurring anxiety. It's important to recognize your children's anxiety, to listen to them and be aware of what they are hearing and seeing when they are with you.
If you're reading this blog or one like it, then you're already taking the steps to help your child with their worrying. Keep going. Get the help that your family needs.
I am not a doctor and I have written the above strictly from my own personal experience. If you or a loved one are experiencing anxiety or any other mental health issue, do not wait to seek the help of a professional.