Anxiety is tough on kids, and it’s tough on their parents, too. It’s hard to watch them struggle, and we don’t always know what to say. Sometimes, our helplessness and frustration bubbles over and we tell our daughters to “calm down” or “stop with all the drama” or “can’t you just act happy for while?’ We’re human, too.
And remembering we’re human is the key to helping our daughters (and us) manage anxiety in more effective and helpful ways. As humans, our bodies and minds are at the heart of our physical and mental health. Anxiety is a great example, because it’s our bodies’ natural response to stress. When we encounter a stressful situation, our brains automatically sense a threat to our well-being and send out hormones to prepare us for defending ourselves or running away from that threat. We breathe more quickly, our heart speeds up, and we focus intently on that perceived threat.
Those physical responses were helpful when the threat was a wild animal that could kill us. They’re less helpful when the threat is an algebra test or a mean girl on the bus, but the body’s response is still the same. Telling your daughter not to worry isn’t going to solve the anxiety.
What will make it better is helping your daughter understand and know how to take control of that connection between our minds and our bodies. When we recognize that our brains have kicked into anxiety mode, we can do things to press the reset button and get back to feeling good. Some simple examples you can share with your daughter (and use yourself) include:
Breathing. It’s easy and powerful. When stress starts to stir things up, stop and concentrate on your breathing. Breathe deeply and slowly, holding your breath for a few seconds before exhaling. One great method is called “4 square,” in which you slowly count to 4 as you inhale, hold your breath for a count of 4, count to 4 again as you exhale slowly, and then wait for a count of 4 before taking another breath. Doing this several times will slow the heart rate.
Exercise. Taking a walk or a jog, swimming, or going to the gym not only gets you breathing and slows down your body’s production of stress hormones … it also provides a much-needed boost of endorphins, which we call the happy hormone. Exercising is also a great change of scenery. Even a 15-minute walk around the neighborhood together can do a lot to elevate your mood.
Friends. When we’re anxious and alone, anxiety can feel worse. That’s why reaching out to friends or family members can help you feel better. Encourage your daughter to spend time with people who brighten her life.
Alternatives Does your daughter like to read? Listen to music? Crochet? Clean? Doing the things you enjoy will take your mind off whatever’s provoking the anxiety. And, if you find something the two of you both enjoy, it can strengthen your bond.
Pray/meditate. Taking a few moments to pause, think about what you think about praying can help your daughter feel better. Ask God to help you change your negative thoughts and overcome your feelings.
Sometimes, the anxiety may be serious enough that your daughter may benefit from a conversation with a professional counselor. Care to Change has several professionals with specialized training in the needs of teens. Connecting your daughter with the right counselor may be the best way to help her control and overcome those feelings of anxiety.
Ginger Boyce worked in clinical research before deciding to teach trauma sensitive yoga and movement as a way to help with mental health challenges. She is available to do private sessions, group or family sessions and corporate stress reduction sessions as well.