Anxiety, also called angst or worry, is a psychological and physiological state characterized by somatic, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components. Anxiety can create feelings of fear, worry, uneasiness, and dread. Anxiety is considered to be a normal reaction to a stressor. When anxiety becomes excessive, it may fall under the classification of an anxiety disorder. This article explores a multitude of resources with a special focus on realistic thinking.
We have used a multitude of tools to aid in tempering anxious thoughts and feelings. It’s important to note that in each day, each hour, the same strategy may not always work. The distraction strategy that got you and your child out the door yesterday might not be the appropriate strategy for today. As long as you equip yourself with a variety of options, you will always be one step ahead of the anxiety.
Anxiety Reduction Strategies
We have used the following strategies at one moment or another. Again, what works in one moment may not work in another moment. However, add these strategies to your bag of strategies to pull out as you may need them.
Drawings and words that encapsulate an in the moment coping strategy. These can be written down in a little note pad or you can print images with instructions and laminate them into a key ring.
Strategies may include any number of simple activities such as count to 10 slowly, sing a song, slowly and deeply inhale – exhale.
Strategies may include a variety of sensory calming strategies such as those provided in Sensational Brain’s BrainWorks Sensory Diet Visual Schedules.
Meditation music, whether CD or Digital, can be used specifically in the evenings to calm and soothe the anxious mind.
There is a host of wonderful meditation music to help with anxiety and stress for children and teens.
Another calming form of meditation is a guided journey or guided imagery. Your child is guided by a soothing voice to take his mind where it needs to go.
With the help of a teacher, educational assistant, or parent, the child progresses through a workbook filled with exercises to gain understanding of where the anxiety comes from and how to talk back to his worries.
With the Stepladder Plan, you make a step by step plan for each one of your child’s worries or fears.
Each plan has a goal. Each time you reach a step, your child is rewarded.
Worry ratings start at 2 or 3 and go all the way up to 10.
In between the ratings, there are lots of great steps that help your child reach their final goal.
The Stepladder Approach to Help Anxiety in Children explains how this plan can be implemented.
Create a daily chart and record your child’s feelings throughout the day. At the end of the day, the child can look back at the chart to see his progress.
Using a visual chart, one child may record the following:
I felt sad and panicky in the morning but by the afternoon I felt fine.
Today I feel sad and panicky but if it is like yesterday, I will feel fine.
For this concept, it is very helpful to have a visual reminder. This visual reminder encourages the child that he can make it through the day despite the worry or anxiety.
To see how these charts can be best utilized, visit Free Printable Behavior Charts
Affirmations are positive statements designed to enhance the child’s self-esteem and self confidence. We use affirmations daily because they are short, simple and to the point.
For example, our evening affirmations may include:
I am strong.
I am loved.
I can do whatever I set my mind to.
I am thankful for everything I have done today.
I do everything to the best of my ability.
Each and every one of aforementioned techniques have a place in our home. There is one that stands out above all the rest and that is Realistic Thinking.
“Realistic thinking means looking at all aspects of a situation (the positive, the negative, and the neutral) before making conclusions. In other words, realistic thinking means looking at yourself, others, and the world in a balanced and fair way.”(1)
Realistic thinking has helped all members of our family who struggle with anxiety. Realistic thinking is a very versatile and simple way to cut through the clutter and negative chatter in the mind to put things back into perspective. It offers the greatest benefit because, unlike some of the other techniques listed above, you need nothing other than the awareness of the moment. The here and now is what will carry the moment from panic to calm.
Practice Realistic Thinking
Be aware of all that surrounds you.
If one of us is in the midst of that deluge of shaky, queasy, dizzy, rapid breathing and everything is moving too fast, we literally stop where we are and take a breath.
Ask Questions to Foster Realistic Thinking
For the kids I encourage realistic thinking by asking questions such as:
Where are you right now?
Is there anything here that you should be worried about?
Is there anything here that is making you feel unsafe?
What is making you feel worried or nervous right now?
Have you ever felt this way before?
Are people really looking at you?
All of these questions prompt the true and realistic answer rather than that which our thoughts have determined. This kind of thinking brings attention to what is really surrounding you. If there is a threat then we deal with it. If there is no threat then we proceed.
Challenge Negative Thoughts with Realistic Thinking
Realistic thinking also challenges those negative thoughts by asking question such as:
What’s the worst that can happen?
What would I say to someone else if they told me their thoughts and feelings?
Has it ever happened before?
Have I worked through this feeling before?
Encapsulate Realistic Thinking
Once the calm body, mind, and spirit prevail, I always take the realistic thinking one step further to include a quick encapsulation of the world around my kids. So I will ask them:
What do you see around you?
What colour is the sky?
What colour is the paint on the walls?
I ask them to describe the world around them as specifically as they can. This allows an even more centered and harmonious moment. It allows their breathing to slow thus allowing the thinking process to slow down. Clarity remains. Fear and worry are gone. Nothing but calm.
This realistic thinking practice is one that everyone can do. It is not only for anxious or worried thoughts. Each and every one of us could do some realistic thinking each and every day. However, if your child is dealing with severe anxiety or panic attacks, this is one technique that I highly recommend.
“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”
(1) “Realistic Thinking.” (n.d.): n. pag. AnxietyBC. Web. 14 June 2016.