People often feel puzzled as to why “the happiest time of year” leaves one feeling sad, depressed, overwhelmed, angry, and lonely, especially if you are someone who has a “good life.” It doesn’t seem to make sense.
I want to pose the idea that for some people trauma gets kicked up over the holiday season. Holidays are full of memories, smells, sights, tastes, and sounds. If you had a childhood that was problematic, especially around the holidays, it is quite possible you are feeling either consciously or unconsciously activated by the holidays.
In the writings of trauma specialist Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., he reflects on how the body holds sensory memory even though our thinking memories of the past may be suppressed. For some, the smell of a pie baking in the oven evokes a warm feeling of yumminess. For others, the smell can be repulsive. Why is this? The body holds memory in all forms and even though we may not know the conscious memory of why we feel a particular way, it is stored inside of us. If there was an incident where an angry parent smashed a pie against the wall and flew into a rage, this may haven gotten wired into the brain and body. Pie might not invite warm feelings any longer. Especially if something like this happened repeatedly.
Grief and loss is another feeling stored in the body and is often triggered around holiday time, no matter how long ago the loss was.
We are products of our past. Be kind to yourself this holiday time and reach out to those who love you if you are having a tough time. Share your stories with someone you trust and take really good care of yourself. Remember, this is a season, and seasons always change.
Don’t mean to be a downer here, just a realist trying to provide support for those of you who don’t have a picturesque family.
Even if you do have a picturesque family, it doesn’t mean perfection lies there either.
If you have a less than ideal Thanksgiving, you aren’t alone. Kick the fantasy about what you think everyone else has and know in every social media post there will be a story you haven’t heard. You won’t see the tension, the looks, the alcohol consumption, the tears, the absent folks, the loss, or the feelings stuffed inside. Sure, some people might have it all this holiday, and I hope you do too. But if you don’t, I get you. Be kind to yourself.
“Which comes first: Smartphone dependency or loneliness and depression?” Take a guess and then read this article from the latest research coming out of the University of Arizona in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Review of study
Many kids right now are struggling to find where they fit. Maybe they started a new school or new classroom. Maybe the social scene has changed with the addition of a new kid to the grade.
Whatever it is, some kids are unsure of how to find their place.
What can you do if this is your child? I am so glad you asked.
- Talk to them. Ask them to share about their day. Who they ate lunch with. Who they played with at recess or hung out with at break. Understand what their social landscape looks like.
- Help them gain another view of the social scene. Listen for who might be a good fit for them and point it out.
- Empower them by pointing out their strengths.
- Dialogue about how to make new friends or get closer with others. Give them language to try on.
- Normalize that many kids are struggling with the same issue. Even though kids may look to be a part of a group doesn’t mean they actually feel it or want to be a part of it. They may be open to making a new friend, but may hang with an unfit group because they don’t see any alternative.
- Limit your judgement about your kid or someone else’s. Parents can get awfully triggered by social dynamics and start to point fingers and put kids down. Be sure to understand what is your own stuff getting kicked up. Try to remain in a supportive place for your kid and get out of the judgement zone.
The end of summer comes with a mixed bag of emotions. Happy to see our kids head back to school to get some structure and rhythm to their days. Ecstatic siblings get a break from one another and the bickering has a natural hiatus. Sad the fun is over. Dreading no more sleeping in. Reluctance to go back to the rigid schedule. Hopeful this year will be good for them as they learn, grow, and connect with others. For some families, anxiety is also an emotion in the bag. For some families, anxiety takes up the whole bag!
Some children have gotten a healthy dose of anxiety mixed into their DNA so they tend to lean that way. Other children have had experiences causing anxiety. Some children have a bit of both.
No matter how anxiety developed, there is one major Don’t when it comes to handling back to school anxiety:
#1 DO NOT LET YOUR CHILD STAY HOME FROM SCHOOL! I know, I know. You think I am yelling at you with all those capital letters in your face. If you can imagine we are talking in person, I am looking at you directly in the eyes, with a slightly serious head tilt, and assertively telling you to not let you child stay home from school. Then I am going to gently, kindly, and directly discuss with you why this statement is my #1 Don’t.
Parents often let their kids stay home with the best of intentions. Promises get made about how they will go the next day. I am telling you now, letting your child avoid what they are fearing is only feeding the anxiety monster more. It creates anxiety by giving it more time to develop and get bigger and bigger. It may appear the anxiety quiets down when you give your child the thumbs up to stay home, but this ease is temporary. If you are planning on them going to school tomorrow, the one day buffer put a bandaid on a broken leg. As we all know, bandaids don’t fix broken legs.
Anxiety has a way of making people believe something really bad is going to happen. It tricks our brains into creating fantastic stories. Like last night when I feared for my life because I was home alone for the night….Here I am this morning, alive and well creating this post.
Yes bad things do happen at school. Kids can be cruel, teachers move too fast on a lesson, there is no room at the lunch table, being the last one picked, getting blamed for something you didn’t do. Those things, among others, can make school feel terrible.
Let’s talk about a few ways to support an anxious child who doesn’t want to go to school.
- Assess what is really going on. Are they really in danger? Is there a peer who is hitting them with sticks when the yard duty isn’t looking? Is there someone on social media who has threatened to beat them up after school when they walk home? Is someone threatening to post inappropriate pictures and say it was them
If we are going to help our child, we need to know what is really happening. Sometimes anxiety is warranted. Like if someone via social media this summer told a girl she better watch it or she is going to smash her face in if she sees her at school. Or if last year a child was a target of someone’s constant teasing, then we can see how anxiety is present.
Your job is to learn the most you can about what actually has happened. See if your child will show you the messages sent to her. Find out how many times this has happened, who was involved, and all the details you can so you can move onto how to help them navigate the situation.
2. If the anxiety is due to something truly threatening their safety, reach out for help. Talk to the teacher, school counselor, and/or administrators to help get the problem solved at school early before it has time to grow this year. Giving your child a person to connect with over this situation can help them feel supported at school.
A second option would be to talk with the other parent of the child involved. Whatever you do, make sure to come across in a respectful way. These calls can go well or terrible. Sometimes parents can become quite defensive. If you get a call like this, do your best to hear all the information being presented and communicate back in a respectful way.
A third option is to develop a plan with your child on how to handle the situation, but if the situation truly involves their safety, we don’t want to put off keeping them safe in the spirit of keeping their cool. If it feels like a situation you/your child want to try and manage on your own for a bit, role play what to say and do given the situation. Discuss safe places to be and safe people to be with. Continue to assess how the days go and if things are escalating, it may be time to go with the first two options above.
A fourth option: If none of this works, it may be worthwhile to look at whether this school is a good fit for your child. I would encourage you to talk to the school first. Find out if the school is willing to work with you.
I believe every child has a right to feel safe at school. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always come easy for every child. We need to help our children have access to this inherent right. Going it alone or asking for help, it is important we work to address these issues with and for our children.
- In true anxiety fashion, if the worry is about something that hasn’t ever happened, it is time to help your child move into the present moment. So often anxiety helps us write a horrible story in our head that probably isn’t going to take place. We can bring our child into the present moment by looking around to what is happening right now versus what we imagine is going to happen into the future. Be there with them in the here and now by coaching them on taking some deep breaths. Have them tune into your voice and just breathe. There are also some pretty amazing apps and kids/teen meditations out there if you need some help. You tube is filled with them.
A second tool is to help your child write a story of infinite possibilities using the facts. Example: The fact is I can go into the office and eat lunch if I don’t find someone to sit with. The fact is I can ask Kelly to eat lunch with me; she is nice to everyone. The fact is I can bring my book out to lunch and read today. The fact is I don’t know what today will look like but I am open to having a good day and I am not going to let lunch time bring me down.
I have a ton of other tools in my bag to support kids with anxiety, too much for a blog. Please feel free to reach out to me to talk more. Other great resources include the websites Anxiety BC and Worry Wise Kids.
Wishing each family and child a great start to the school year!
Do you remember your 5th-8th grade self? If you are like me, you may remember a variety of selves that showed up. Transitioning from a kid to a teen in the matter of 4 short years. From changing bodies to older topics of conversations to getting in and out of braces. Then there is the labeling yourself, judging others, trying to find your place, changing relationships with your family members and friends, and seeing yourself in a whole new way. And then there is the more modern day changes from no phone to phone and from texting to use of social media platforms.
I believe these years are extremely critical to our development and are a window of opportunity. Kids and teens can still hear us. I see it all the time in my work; kids who are spouting out their family values, words, and beliefs. Towards the junior high time though, many parents feel like their kids stop listening to them. This time is when it can be helpful to have your child hear positive messages from other people.
Deep down inside of me is a teacher with wisdom to share with younger people. While I don’t have all the answers, I believe I do have a knowing based on my own experiences, the experiences of others, and my training to help guide, share, and inspire.
There are a lot of things I wish I would’ve known and why I feel so compelled to run Wise Girl Workshops. Here are a few:
- That feeling you get when you start eating a lot of food when you aren’t even hungry or you find yourself drinking faster, that’s anxiety. There are healthy things you can do when you recognize that feeling to take care of yourself and watch it pass.
- You can be the person you want to be and you will also have challenges within yourself. That’s ok. You don’t have to be perfect.
- You are enough and can love yourself as is AND you can also work to better yourself all at the same time. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.
- You can make good decisions for yourself and seek guidance from the loving adults around you. It is ok, and people approve of you asking for help.
- We all want attention. You don’t have to seek it out in unhealthy ways and succumb to pressure from others in order to be seen.
- We are all just trying to find our place. It’s ok to feel sad, worried, scared, and lonely. It’s ok to talk to someone who cares about you when you feel this way. You aren’t weak. You are human. And you don’t have to happy all the time.
- You can dream big and make things happen.
- You don’t have to sit quietly when comments, gestures, or requests are made that make you uncomfortable. Stand up for yourself. Set limits with others.
- Allow yourself and others to try on different ways of being without judgement. We are all going through it. No one way is right.
- Give yourself permission to embrace your strengths. From academic success to athleticism, to being funny and caring. It all counts!
- No one ever starts out using substances and intends to be addicted. It can happen to anyone.
What do you wish you would’ve known?
If you or your family member suffers from anxiety, chances are you are being bossed around by it. Anxiety might say things like:
“Don’t do that!”
“You can’t do that!”
“Call me when you leave!”
“Text me when you get there!”
“Don’t leave before I tell you to!”
“This is going to be bad!”
Now notice there is an exclamation point after each of these statements. This is because if it were said in a calm, cool manner, it wouldn’t be anxiety. Anxiety has an urgent fretful tone to it, warranting the exclamation. If you hear this more urgent tone coming from yourself or your loved one, odds are good, it is anxiety trying to push you around. Even if you aren’t the one suffering directly, anxiety has been known to be contagious and make others around them feel it too. The whole system gets impacted.
Who likes to be bossed around? (The crowd goes silent.)
So what does one do when anxiety is bossing them around?
1. Once you recognize anxiety is there and possibly bossing you, take a deep breath, maybe even a few to make room in your brain to think rationally about what is happening and what you will do next.
2. Decide if the anxiety is warranted. Ask yourself questions like, “Am I really in danger?” “What will actually happen if I don’t text my kid every 5 minutes from the grocery store as he demanded?”
3. If you are in danger, worry away and get yourself to a safe spot.
4. If are not in any real danger, which most likely is the case, begin to use your logic to talk yourself off the ledge. “Who is talking here? Me or anxiety?” “What is actually going to happen if….?”
5. Soothe yourself by talking calmly to yourself. “I am going to be ok.” “She’ll be back in 30 minutes.”
6. Do something to give your mind a break from the anxiety after you have gone through these steps. We don’t want to avoid our feelings but we do want to give ourselves a bit of space if we are feeling flooded by them, and we do want to move on after we have gone through the steps. No need to stay stuck.
7. Have a party! Recognizing when anxiety is bossing you around and choosing to do something different other than let it take control of you is definitely worth celebrating!
I handle anxiety with ease.