Anxiety is something I have dealt with my whole life. I had it before I even realised I knew what it was. I never used to understand why I’d feel sick over certain situations in my life; the pressure of studying and exams or simply before I went to a party in my teens. But when your child is anxious too, you spot it a mile off.
My anxiety is mainly health anxiety and I’ve written candidly about this before. I’ve no idea where this stemmed from, as I remember it starting from a very young age. I absolutely hated throwing up as a child. I would go as far as to say I had mild emetophobia. It used to fill me with terror if someone was ill around me, especially my brother or Mum. I’m thankful having children and picking up every stomach bug under the sun from them has cured me a little of this. I’m still dreadfully anxious when one of them is sick, waiting for it to spread through us all but I’m not scared to be sick anymore. I can even just about cope when they are vomiting in front of me, as previously I would have run a mile!! I had 4 separate stomach bugs in a year period at one point, pre and post the little man being born so you get used to it! But I know my anxiety was more than just a fear of vomiting. I used to genuinely think I had things wrong with me as a child. I was going to die and that was it. I’d read stories in magazines and completely convince myself it was going to happen or was happening to me.
It’s horrible though. Your mind plays tricks on you and it definitely has got worse since I had children.
I’m not sure I’m particularly that good at dealing with my anxiety. As I write this I’ve had a jittery couple of days. They come and go. For me, it’s talking to people, distracting myself and trying to keep my spirits and humour up. Luckily I do have quite supportive family and friends I can turn to but it’s not always easy. I find I need time alone to sort myself out too and this is very tricky when you have three children who never leave you alone.
Your Child is Anxious
I’m not going into any details about my eldest here at all. It’s not my place and I stopped sharing too many details about her a while ago. She needs her privacy. But what I will say is she is showing some signs of thinking and behaving like me, especially when she is unwell or something new happens to her body.
I was pretty devastated to witness it, to be honest. Watching her react in the same way as me was heartbreaking. I racked my brains to think about if I had shown signs of my health anxiety in front of her but I couldn’t think off any times. I’ve always tried so hard to hide it from her. It made me feel sick that I had passed on that part of my to her, whether it be nature or nurture.
What was so difficult was thinking of ways to help her through it and what was the right thing to say. She seemed to feel better in a few days and I was very conscious of what I was saying.
How To Help Your Anxious Child
Now I’m not a doctor or psychologist but I hope I managed my eldest’s anxiety the best way I could and these are 5 things I consciously did in front of her and to help her. I’ve learnt this from my job, general reading and my own experiences with my mental health.
Validated her Feelings
I was losing my mind a bit with on occasion as she was so upset and refusing to do the most normal of things. It took every ounce of my being to make sure I validated her feelings and said it was ok to feel scared or worried. It’s so easy to say “calm down” or “don’t be silly”. The truth is with anxiety you are desperately wanting to not be silly and feel calm but you just can’t help it. I wanted her to know her feelings were ok. It was ok to feel scared.
Listened and Supported
I may have had to listen and answer the same questions over and over but it was what she wanted to help feel better. She also wanted a lot of love and me around her for the simplest things. It had to really focus on being patient and calm myself and go with what she wanted or needed.
Explained Her Feelings
She didn’t understand why she was shaking and felt sick. She didn’t understand why she had no appetite for a few days. I had to sit her down and explain what anxiety was and sadly how it physically affected her body. Why she was in flight or fight mode and relate it to me too. It seemed to help her to understand what was happening and why she felt the way she did.
Gave Her Time and Had Patience
This is not my forte at all. I am the least patient person but I know with my own anxiety things take a few days sometimes. Tasks take longer. I may not have much of an appetite for a few days but it does tend to come back. I had to make sure I practiced what I preached and gave her time for the anxiety and worry to pass.
I’ve mentioned before that we all go straight to the “fix it mode” and although it isn’t always helpful, I felt with eldest she really wanted things to help her relax. For her a warm shower, reading her book and music helped. She also felt much better after going to school and having a normal day, even though was keen to stay at home at first! She is aware of mindful exercises that she has learnt at school, as this was going to be another option. The only issue I find is in the throes of panic, they don’t work for me at all but they were always another tool in my belt.
It’s a huge learning curve for me I feel. Even as someone who has always had some anxiety on and off, I’m not always sure what I’m doing when helping someone else. I’m so conscious and not listening, ignoring my daughter or making her feel stupid for how she feels. Of course she’s not but it is so easy to feel like you are when you see others coping and getting on as normal.
I’m sure this won’t be the last time anxiety in either of us flares up again but although I feel sad for her, I feel we can deal with it together and learn from each other. If your child is anxious I hope some of these tips have helped.