Did you know that anxiety is contagious? Well, not in the germy way like a bad head cold. It’s contagious in the teaching/learning way. Your children learn it and you can guess who they are most likely to learn it from. Yes, they learn it from their best teachers, their parents.
“But our whole family has it”, you say. “My mom had it. My dad was a real worry wart. And, I have it and now our son has it. That must mean it’s genetic, right?”
Anxiety does run in families but not because of genes. Children watch, listen, and learn. World renowned Canadian psychologist, Albert Bandura originated the social learning theory which explains that all people learn from models.
Parents, teachers, peers become the models for a child. People observe behavior and also rewards and consequences, which simply means how the behavior benefited or didn’t benefit the person. It starts at birth. If parents model smiles and clapping for fun, the child learns it. If parents model worrying, fear, too many concerns, pessimism etc. their child will learn this way of relating to the world.
The other side, the good news, is that because they are watching, and storing everything, you can show them how to live without anxiety. You can learn how to address your own anxiety and teach your children how to do the same. If you think you might have more anxiety than you want, and you are noticing it in your children, then you are ready to make some changes.
Ten Ways to Reduce Anxiety
- Watch Your Thinking – Worry creates the illusion of being helpful because we think, think, and think. But all that thinking doesm’t solve problems. It takes a calm, clear mind to do that. As the worry thoughts come into your mind tell yourself the worry is a zero and let it slide away.
- Breathe – Breathing slowly, with pauses, reverses the adrenaline rush that comes from the worry and fogs the mind. Just soft, slow, deep breathing, in and out, drop your shoulders. You or your child can calmly do this anywhere. Even in public, because you do it gently and no one can tell, except you. Breathe until you feel the way you want to feel. There is no magic number. Teach your child.
- Mindfulness or Meditation – All of the latest research shows the powerful effect of the practices. Mindfulness simply means focusing on the very moment you are in and your senses. As other thoughts intrude, just bring your mind back to the present. The art is not in eliminating the other thoughts, it’s in bringing yourself back to the moment – over and over. You can sit quietly and do this or you can do it while you are washing dishes, mowing the lawn, stacking firewood, picking up the house with your kids.
- Omega-3 – Omega-3 acts like a mild mood stabilizer. The lows are less low and the frenzies are less frenzied. This supplement won’t work on an as needed basis, though. It needs to be taken every day and it comes in child size tablets, too. The change is subtle and takes a little time, so stay the course.
- Exercise/Activity – No one needs to pay for gym memberships or classes because plain old walking, hiking or bike riding will do. School sports work, too. Daily or several times a week makes the most difference and keep it simple, and free if you can. Get some outside air. Take your kids along for sure, but, get some solo time, too. Simple exercise allows the brain to reorganize.
- Sleep – Pay attention to sleep hygiene techniques and do what’s right so that your family gets the best sleep possible. This one is hard for some people because it means changing some deep rooted habits like sitting up too late, or watching TV in bed. Inadequate sleep naturally causes an irritable, anxiety state in the brain. Better sleep = calmer days.
- Nutrition – Yes, this is one of my mantras. Especially when it comes to refined sugars. (The sugars that occur naturally within a vegetable or fruit are different.) Check food labels and read the ingredients. Find the added sugar. Get it out of your family’s life. Sugar disturbs blood sugar regulation in the body and brain and causes disrupted sleep. I think if a family made one change – eliminate sugar – the rest would fall into place since all the foods with added sugar, which are mostly unhealthy foods, will also be gone.
- Simplify – Running around like a chicken with your head cut off day after day doesn’t impress anyone, including self. Learn to reduce commitments for yourself, and your children. One activity per child is plenty. Down time may feel like wasted time at first but, hang in there. You and your kids will learn to love it. And, don’t forget to simplify possessions for more peace in your life. Empty space is good. Purge. Donate. Resist the urge to save everything for that big yard sale next summer. It probably isn’t worth it. Just get rid of anything you don’t love any more. And do it soon.
- Watch Your Words – “Be careful.” “Hurry up.” “You could have gotten an A if you had done your best.” “You need to get those scholarships for college.” On and on. Sometimes we don’t even realize how we are talking to our kids and the effect that these little bits here and there have. Once you listen to yourself you will know what you need to change.
- Teach Independence – Children can do more than most of us think so give them tasks and chores. Did you know that your 8-9 year olds can do laundry? 10-11s are capable of preparing simple meals. Yes, you have to teach them first and put up with a few mistakes while they master whatever it is. Independence builds self efficacy and reduces children’s anxiety. Watching your children’s independence grow reduces your anxiety.
You can start by picking a couple of these strategies and get started. Then add another. There’s no need to make these changes cause more anxiety. Slow and steady. And at the end of every day, remind yourself what went well that day. Do this with your kids, too, and watch the changes you see in them.
If you have questions about anxiety you can leave a comment or email me using the contact link.