For you it may feel like restlessness, worry, confusion, dizziness, nausea, feeling ‘down’, having headaches, sweating or feeling like your memory is letting you down. For your child it might look like refusal to go to school, inability to try new things, unsettled sleep, lack of focus in class, irritability, aggression or ‘meltdowns’.
For me, anxiety looked like not being able to sleep more than a few hours a night even with sleeping pills, drinking a bottle of wine every night, eating garbage, running on adrenalin and being unable to focus on anything. Until I hit a wall, practically collapsed and spent 6 weeks in bed recovering.
Early this year my colleague and I surveyed over 600 parents who have children on the Autism Spectrum to see what was their number one concern. No prizes for guessing that Anxiety was top of that list.
Kids suffering anxiety not only feel rotten, their thinking is usually negatively affected. The perceived threat or danger to them feels a thousand times worse than it actually is which then causes them to be more anxious. In order to try and cope, children will try to avoid the situations they are thinking about which means the next time it’s presented, it’s even harder to manage.
Anxiety may be the true cause of headaches and tummy pains that appear when kids are asked to do something unfamiliar, they may have difficulty falling asleep or have night mares and they need lots of reassurance all the time. At school these are the kids who need to have things done perfectly and are reluctant to ask for help from the teacher in case they look ‘stupid’. They might have difficulty joining in with friends or with activities like camp or sports because they are too anxious about what’s going to happen in these unpredictable scenarios. They might even be refusing to go to school at all.
It can be crippling. For the kids and their parents. As mums of kids on the spectrum we are usually living with our own anxiety – at High Alert 24/7, anticipating the next situation that will probably cause a meltdown, worrying about their future, which school is going to be the right one, will they ever be independent, will they ever have friends, what else do I need to do to make sure they’re ok …. And on and on.
The good news is that there are a few simple strategies we can incorporate into our lives to ease our own and our children’s anxiety. And trust me, life is a lot more fun for everyone on the other side.
A few slow, deep breaths will increase the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, sending a message to your brain to calm down and relax.. Studies show that 20 minutes a day of deep breathing is optimal but even if you can catch you (or your child) as you notice yourself becoming anxious, you can quickly relieve your symptoms with 10 deep breaths.
Meditation is a fantastic way to reduce anxiety. It can help quieten an overactive brain. Much anxiety is caused by fear – usually a fear of what might happen in the future. Meditation has you focus on the here and now. When you’re just right here, focusing on the present, you can’t be worrying about the future.
I’m not great at just sitting with my mind, but I love guided meditations and have found them a huge help. I always had some calming music or kids meditations playing on CD’s in my children’s rooms from the time they were babies and now they are both teenagers and still listen to meditations each night. Personally I use an App called Insight Timer, a free App which lets you choose from hundreds of meditations from 1 minute to 2 hours long. Every day I will put on a meditation for 15-30 minutes to recharge or set myself up for the day, and most nights I will use a sleep one as well.
Tapping is also called EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) or emotional acupuncture. By using your fingers to tap at certain acupressure points on your face and body, you can quickly reduce your Cortisol levels (which go through the roof when you’re anxious). Sound whacky? Maybe. But it’s scientifically proven and evidence based. And you can do it yourself at home for free. My go-to Tapping resource is my good friend and mentor Sally Thibault, and you can access hundreds of free tapping scripts at Sally’s YouTube channel.
Some resources you read about anxiety and depression say that exercise is as effective as medication. When you move your body, you metabolise excess adrenalin and you stimulate endorphins – your body’s feel good hormones. You don’t have to become a gym junkie, you can achieve this just by moving your body – walking, yoga (which also has breath work in it which is an extra bonus), swimming or dancing. Don’t forget that our kids need to move too, and will benefit from regular movement instead of screen time.
Our food affects our mood. This is the topic of a whole seminar in itself, but for the sake of this article let’s cut to the chase.
Avoid the “bad mood” foods – gluten, sugar, artificial sweeteners, highly processed foods, alcohol and caffeine will not be helping anxiety. Deficiencies in magnesium, zinc and B6 will contribute to anxiety symptoms so we want to be sure we are supplementing those. It may not be possible to get all we need from food but good food sources are walnuts, seeds, olive oil, broccoli, chocolate (raw cacao, not a Kit Kat) and salmon.
Let the sunshine in
Vitamin D is so important it’s the only vitamin the body can make itself. How? From exposure to the sun. Uncovered, direct exposure, not out in the sun slathered in toxic sunscreen. Vitamin D deficiency is highly correlated with depression and anxiety, so while you’re moving your body with your exercise, try and do it outside and get some early morning or later afternoon sun on your body as well (at least 20 minutes a day).
There’s an Oil for that.
I’m a huge fan of pure therapeutic grade essential oils. I use them for myself and my family and for my clients. I love them so much because they are safe, easy to use, affordable AND THEY WORK! From helping you to sleep, stopping bedwetting in its tracks, calming the nervous system, stopping a meltdown, getting an anxious child through the school gates or just giving a child some extra confidence to know they are enough and they are OK. Only last night one of my mums told me how her 7 year old asked her “for that oil that helps me feel confident at school”. J If you haven’t yet tried oils for anxiety related situations, please consider adding them to your protocol – just be sure they are 100% pure and therapeutic. If you want any help in choosing oils or more info on how they work just email me any time.
I hope this has been empowering for you to know of these simple strategies we can incorporate into our lives to combat anxiety. Honestly, from someone who’s been there, I promise these can make a huge difference to yourself and your child and you don’t have to accept that anxiety is forever.
Wishing you great health and as always, feel free to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) any time if you have any questions I can help you with.