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Today’s episode is all about what it is like when a parent struggles with anxiety, as well as some options to heal from and some coping skills to get through the trying times.
My work has been greatly influenced by my work in EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing and reading books like The Body Keeps the Score by Dr Bessel Van der Kolk and Peter Levine’s Healing Trauma.
I think it’s important to begin with a discussion of what anxiety is and what it is not. Mental Health clinicians use a book to clinically diagnose Anxiety Disorder called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. At the time of this recording, we are using the 5th edition. Anxiety disorders can come in different forms. In this episode we’re going to look at symptoms and coping skills rather than a diagnosis. Anxiety can come in many different forms – Separation Anxiety Disorder (I see this most often with children and some teens) , Selective Mutism, Specific Phobia , Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia), Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia (fear of places or situations), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (what I see most commonly in my work) ,Substance/Medication-Induced Anxiety Disorder, Anxiety Disorder Due to Another Medical Condition and more.
Anxiety, like the range of emotions that we experience, are all part of the human experience. Give yourself permission to be human. It’s important not to judge them good or bad, rather look at the level of functionality that it has in your life. I listened to an episode of Marie TV with Marie Forleo, with Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat Pray Love, where she talked about the function of Fear. Fear is ultimately at the foundation of anxiety. She had a great description of how it’s like fear is riding with her in the car – she puts it in the back seat, not in the front seat, not allowing it to control the radio or adjust the mirrors or grab the steering wheel. Ultimately, a certain amount of anxiety keeps us alive, keeps us from getting into situations that can hurt us.
Doctors Peter Levine and Bessel Van der Kolk describe anxiety as the smoke alarm in the brain. It goes off when there’s danger. When people have an unhealthy level of anxiety, perhaps one of the Anxiety disorders, its like to smoke alarm goes off on super sensitive mode. There’s a part of our brain called the Amygdala that serves as the smoke alarm. Our brains are brilliantly wired for our life experience. So much goes on in our brain to try to allow us to have the best lives ever. Lots of brain research has surfaced in the last 10 years, but more and more is coming out each day. All of the coping skills that I’m going to suggest may help you brain function at more optimal level during times of distress. Please know that these things are not like a light switch, but rather a dimmer, that can help one calm down slowly. If these things don’t seem to help, seeking out professional assistance from a mental health professional may help you get to the root of these fears on a deeper level. As a clinician, I’ve seen amazing progress with EMDR, EFT, Art Therapy, Play Therapy, and a body based therapy called Somatic Experiencing. These types of therapy surpass the limitation of words by incorporating the entire brain and body in the healing process. It can happen so quickly sometimes, it leaves me questioning if it’s really healed. Has the person really moved past and escaped from the grips of the Anxiety, Depression, PTSD, or whatever it is they are dealing with, or is it hopeful thinking? After years of working in this field and seeing long lasting change, I am certain that these types of therapy help- help people get their quality of life back. And, for parents it allows them to be fully engaged with their children and spouse if they are married. It can be truly remarkable! I think everyone can use therapy at one time or another in their lives, especially if they have a difficult situation in their past and/or their present, as well as their perceived future.
In this episode we’re going to cover what that diagnosis means, but we won’t confine ourselves to that, because anxiety can be felt to the level of meeting that clinical diagnostic criteria, but it can also be felt without. It can leave us, as parents feeling unable to cope with stressful situations, feeling trapped and overwhelmed.
Also, if you haven’t done so yet, be sure to check out Episode 33, When a Parent Struggles with Depression. https://www.jackieflynnconsulting.com/33-when-a-parent-struggles-with-depression/
A Reminder: this podcast is not therapy, nor is it a substitute for therapy. It’s meant for informational and educational purposes only. If you need therapeutic support, look around in your area for a mental health provider that can meet your needs.
For parents, it’s especially important to heal and move past Anxiety. Children need a parent or caregiver to fully participate in life with them -to create healthy foundations of attachment and security. Anxiety can impede on that process. Even in utero, the mother’s emotional state can have a big impact on the child’s development. In my EMDR training years ago, I learned that we have emotional memories from as far back as 6 months in the womb. Our children not only use us as a model of how to act, they also take on our responses to situations in a deeper way, in an unconscious way. Some of the types of therapies that I’ll bring up in a bit can help people heal from that. But, I do believe the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies here. If you are a parent experiencing painful and life limiting anxiety, getting help for yourself can benefit you and your children, your children’s children, and so on and so on. Not only is there no trophy for self-sacrificing and taking the hard road through this, there’s also a chance of having it affect people for generations to come.
Okay, so I know how tempting it can be to search on the web for your symptoms and do somewhat of a self-diagnosis. I’ve done that before with medical stuff. I was convinced that I had Hypothyroidism, but once I got to the doctor and had bloodwork done, it turned out that I was just low on iron and Vitamin D. As a clinician, I’ve experienced people coming in convinced that they have a specific disorder as well. Sometimes they are on the right track, but many times they are not. That’s why we are going to cover awareness and coping skills today. For this reason, I’m not going to read verbatim, the diagnostic criteria. We are going to discuss it in a more practical sense, but if feel like you’re experiencing this on a deep level, then you may want to see a mental health and/or a medical professional. I’ve seen anxiety treated well with therapy, and sometimes through medication as an adjunct to therapy. I’m not a doctor, so I don’t offer education or advice on medication. However, your physician can be a great source of information. I often accompany my clients to psychiatric appointments or doctor’s appointments as part of a team approach. It can be incredibly helpful. If several professionals are helping the same person, it just makes sense to collaborate as a team. It can be powerful. This is common especially with my clients with an eating disorder. Upon authorization from the client or their guardian, we can really discuss the treatment approach and support each other in ways that make a huge difference.
Anxiety can feel overwhelming; often leave us feeling out of control. Some things that people with anxiety experience are some or all of the following: exhaustion, even more tired than usual, focus and concentration issues, grumpiness and irritability, body soreness, sleep disturbance of then leaving one having trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep, restlessness, or sleep that leaves someone still tired upon waking.
Anxiety has some body symptoms too. I love Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk’s work and Dr. Peter Levine’s work. They really point out how the body experiences deep emotional experiences and can often hold it there. I’ve seen anxiety show itself as gastrointestinal issues such as constipation or diarrhea, sweating, nausea, feeling faint and much more. Each person is unique and has their own experience. But, the big take away is that it isn’t just confined to thoughts in the mind. It can make it hard to function, especially if you are a parent with tons of responsibilities and expectations. It can also take a toll on relationships at home, work, social life, and more… It can strain our child parent relationship and marital relationships for sure.
This episode wouldn’t be complete without a mention of trauma. Trauma can come to us in different sizes – Big T Trauma for those really startling situations and little t trauma for the smaller situations that still impact us. A big T may be from emotional and/or physical abuse, violence, war time experience – really intense situations. A little t may be someone laughing at you during a class presentation in 4th grade, gossip, and such… Since people experience stuff in such a different way, a big T trauma for one person, may be a little t trauma for someone else. And, visa versa. These traumas cause our smoke alarm to go off in our brain, sending the signal to release cortisol in our brain to keep us safe. If serve enough the alarm system becomes sensitive and releases those chemicals without as much threat when we are triggered. And, that can look like Anxiety, when our brain and body tries to keep us safe, even when there’s no real danger. It can be difficult to parent with Anxiety, leaving us on edge, not being able to fully engage in the present moment with our children. Or, keeping us from participating in certain social situations, staying home to take care of something that you exhibit symptoms of obsessiveness and compulsiveness over, or even the fear of going into a panic attack while doing something. Sometimes people go into a state of panic over the fear of going into a state of panic.
Years ago, I read Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Teens by Richard Carlson to my middle school class. In that book he used the metaphor of a snow globe. I think it’s such a great metaphor of how our brain works when inundated with feelings and thoughts. The coping and calming skills that we’ll cover helps those settle like the snowflakes in the globe.
Another important point that I need to mention here is the importance of naming the emotions that come up in certain situations. Dr. Seigel has a phrase, “If you can name it, you can tame it”. By naming our emotions, it allows our brain’s to process them in a more efficient way.
Before we cover calming and coping skills, it’s really important to mention the impact of nutrition and sleep. With good nutrition and sleep our brain functions at its best. This can’t be overstated. Nutrition and sleep make a big difference!
So, let’s cover a list of the things that help those symptoms of anxiety subside. I always like to start off with rating the level of anxiety. In EMDR and EFT we call it a SUD, Subjective Unit of Distress. From 0 to 10, how distressed do you feel? (these are described more in detail in episode 38 of Parenting in the Rain www.parentingintherain.com
- 4 seconds inhale – hold for 2 seconds – 4 seconds exhale
- Monitoring Your Self Talk
- Bunny Sniffs
- Circle Breathing
- Progressive Muscular Relaxation
- Thought Stopping and Changing
- Tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique)
- Double Mirror Doodle
- Body Scan & Pendulating
- Walking and/or Jogging
If you are experiencing feelings of anxiety and it is limiting your life, as well as your ability to parent or function in the family in a healthy way, you may want to consider seeking out a professional mental health counselor. I have seen huge changes in my clients that led them to a better quality of life their entire family.
See the following for a list of books and products that I love and recommend. I have used and read all of them, which is the only reason that I would recommend them to you, as I take my recommendations seriously
FREE Parenting Summit from The Parenting Skill – Becoming Peaceful Parents and Raising Happy Kids! Watch the interview by registering here: http://bit.ly/WBPS2016
My Parent Coaching Program –
Below Are Some Sites, Affiliate Links to Books/Products That I Love
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