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Follow the clues

For all of the reasons I hate living with an anxiety disorder, there is one reason I’m glad for it – helping others through it. One of my children has a lot of anxiety too, and because I have lived with it for so long, I’m able to help guide him through his experience.  (Although, to be honest, sometimes it feels like the blind leading the blind!) I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for parents to help their children who do not themselves suffer from anxiety, because it is just an intricately difficult mindset to understand if you don’t already experience it.

One way I’ve been trying to help him, and this is a technique that I’ve found really helpful over the years, is to introduce the idea of being a detective. He’s just about at the age where the idea of detective work sounds so exciting. So for every anxiety-filled thought he has that causes him a lot of trouble, we “investigate” it: look at it from every angle, trying to inject as much logic as we can into it to see if the anxious thoughts will hold or if they’ll fall apart.

Most times, it works relatively quickly, but it does take some effort, particularly because his body is hyped up from the fight-or-flight response that accompanies the worries too.  (We’ve found that it’s best to wait until his body is calmer to help him take in the questions better.) We’ll try to sit down and ask questions of his worry:

  • What worry are you feeling right now?
  • Where in your body do you feel the worry?
  • What really happened? (We’re looking for objectivity here.)
  • What evidence do we have that makes your worry true?
  • What would someone else think about what happened?

And we go from there. The more we talk it out, the better.  Of course, as a parent, it gets tiresome because I don’t always feel like stopping everything I’m doing in the moment (making dinner, or cleaning up, or helping with a school assignment) to sit down and address these worries with him. More often than not, I brush off his worries with a “It’s fine” or “Don’t worry about it.” But as someone who struggles daily with anxiety and worry, I know statements like that do nothing to help the situation. It really is worth the time it takes to untangle his worry and help him back on the path to a good day and, if it can wait, some time right before bed is also helpful, when our attention can fully be focused on him and his needs.

Being a detective can also work for you! What worry do you have that keeps popping up, robbing you of your peace and your happiness? Where in your body do you feel it? What is really happening, and what evidence do you have for what you’re perceiving to be happening? What would a trusted friend think about what happened? Give yourself time to think about it, write it down/type it out in a journal, and talk to a therapist or friend if you need outside affirmation and guidance.

This is just one tool that we can find useful in our supplies to help us rise above and conquer the anxieties in our day, and can help us see more clearly as we go about our daily lives.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.