Making Anxiety Management Part of Your Everyday Routine
When I speak to parents about managing anxiety they often report that their children don’t use the strategies when they are highly anxious or emotionally and behaviourally dysregulated. When someone is already highly anxious and overwhelmed their emotional brain has taken over and it is difficult to think logically about what would be helpful. Watch this video of a good explanation of the effects of anxiety on the brain:
What we do know is that if a child can learn to recognise their body cues which indicate they are starting to feel anxious then they can put into place their strategies to help them calm down.
When I discuss with parents the importance of practising anxiety management strategies I use the analogy of a fire. When there is a fire we notice the clues, we might smell smoke, the smell of burning plastic, or a door handle might feel hot. When we notice these clues we would generally put into place our fire evacuation plan. However, what if we didn’t have an escape plan? What if we hadn’t practised getting out of the building? So just as preparing for leaving a building during a fire, we learn to notice the signs of a fire and then we put our evacuation plan into place, so to is it important to be able to notice the body cues of increasing anxiety and put into place our toolbox of calming strategies.
In order for a fire evaluation plan to work effectively and smoothly organisations such as schools, businesses and hospitals have fire drills regularly, so all those in the building will act quickly and decisively to manage the danger and escape. This is much the same as anxiety management. It is very difficult for a child to put strategies they have been taught into place if they are not regularly practising these strategies at times when they are feeling okay. The more practice a child has with using their toolbox of calming strategies the more likely they are to be able to use these strategies when they first notice the signs of anxiety.
So I encourage parents to practise relaxation and calming strategies regularly with their children and also help their child identify their early signs of anxiety so that they can act quickly to implement strategies before feeling overwhelmed and distressed.
Look at these helpful resources that provide mindfulness practice, progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery scripts which the family can do together and can be a great start to regular relaxation routine.