I thought it might be helpful if I wrote about some of the things we do at home to help our Son in his recovery from anxiety.
I understand what you’re going through, and just how helpless you can feel, but you can turn it around, and find happiness together.
I’m a big believer that if you focus on happiness, everything else will work itself out. When I really started to put D’s wellbeing and happiness first, everything started to get better. (Don’t worry it’s not about giving them everything they want and letting them run rings around you… Tried that and it didn’t work… It’s about teaching them how to make the decision, and take action to be happy themselves.)
You may never know what caused the anxiety… And it isn’t really important, as the process of trying to find out can be awful, and will potentially have no impact on their recovery. Trying to find the cause was a huge source of guilt for me, and resulted in us spending night after night in serious conversation, giving all our focused attention to the anxiety. In hindsight this was not a good idea, anxiety had all the power, and D got 100% focused attention for being anxious… So of course being anxious was paying off… And his brother noticed too. We absolutely had to stop talking about it that way. When we stopped trying to figure it out, things started to move forward. We set a goal together (to be happy going to school) and tried to stay focused on that.
We started to talk about the anxiety as separate from Him. When he is anxious, and trying to stop on the way to school I say “I’m not stopping for anxiety’. I also say things like ‘don’t let anxiety win this round’, ‘I’m angry with the anxiety’ and ‘anxiety isn’t welcome here’. It takes away any feeling of personal attack he might feel when I do get angry or upset. It also helps me to not take his anxious behaviour too personally.
‘It’s just the anxiety tricking you into feeling this way’ helps when he’s feeling stressed and starts saying he’s feeling sick, or has a sore tummy.
Learning that anxiety is a normal physiological ‘fight or flight’ response, which is just happening at inappropriate times, has helped us understand what is going on, on a physical level. In that moment they have huge amounts of adrenalin running through their bodies making their hearts beat faster, making them dizzy and giving them a sore tummy. (Their bodies are getting ready to run from, or fight a perceived danger.) These feelings are very real… irrational, but real. Sitting or standing with them and breathing together (5 seconds in 5 seconds out) until that adrenalin has calmed down, can help them move through that moment of ‘fight or flight’.
Triggers are different from the cause. Learning the triggers and taking action to help your little one move through them with minimal fuss can be very helpful. Distraction works really well for us. Changing the subject… Quite literally talking nonsense about anything we can think of, as positively as we can works wonders. Doing something like reading a funny comic, telling jokes, squeezing a stress ball, spraying essential oils and splashing cold water on the face also work for us as forms of distraction and can help prevent a full on anxiety attack. Getting outdoors can prevent an anxiety attack by having a calming effect on the mind, as well as helping burn the excess adrenalin during or after one.
When he’s not in a freeze or panic I use other types of tools to help him. Flash cards at bedtime with our positive outcomes (things we want to happen) have worked for us. Just before sleep the brain is apparently very susceptible to suggestion, so I harness this by suggesting “I am happy”, ‘”I am safe”, “I am confident”, “School is great”. We also have fun dancing, telling jokes and watching comedy together.
Because school was a huge trigger for our son we reward school attendance. I have 2 jars of activities my boys can pick from at the end of each week of full attendance. One jar has free or cheap activities for every week and one has more expensive outings for once a month. We usually reward with experiences, activities and time together rather than toys… Although the odd toy works very well too!
We have also started talking about gratitude, and try to remember something good about his day together. I do this with both the boys everyday… ‘Tell me some good news about today’… can be the beginning of a fantastic positive conversation, and helps them both focus more on what they have, rather thank what they lack. (And occasionally it’s also a non starter… You just have to roll with it)
I haven’t tried this with my son yet, but have spent years doing it for myself, and it just may work for your child. If you have a camera or phone with a camera, suggest taking some photos of beautiful things. This literally focuses the brain on what is good and right and beautiful, and helps them to start seeing themselves and their lives in a more positive light.
Finally I would say, to just ‘be there’, listen to them, and make sure that your child knows, despite your own frustration, anger and dare I say it anxiety, that their behaviour is ok and you accept and love them completely…
And, hold your nerve…
I hope this finds you well on on the path to Happiness.