Stress of Change
Over the last two years we all have had to revamp our lives to deal with the pandemic. Change can be stressful, from virtual classrooms, to limited social contact the upheavel has had a significant impact on us.
Often there is one or more members in a family who are dealing with anxiety. So the question of genetic predisposition and home life impact can be underlying reasons why someone is prone to worry.
A Poor Foundation of Support
I think of the pillars of support we all should have included in our foundation. These include the key known elements of healthy living like; quality sleep, nutritional foods, good levels of physical activity, time outside and good emotional connections with friends and family.
There is the idea of functional assessment for nutritional status. We are all individuals and our needs for optimal function can vary from person to person. There are labs that can access the metabolic status of the body. The goal of which is to establish a nutritional support plan.
The Gut Brain Connection
There is a cause and effect relationship with mood and digestion. If we are in a state of chronic worry our digestion function is going to suffer. And if our digestive function is a problem it can impact our mood.
Foods impact on the brain and mood is often a controversial topic. Clinically I have seen a connection. Many cases where a person has seen a significant mood change with removing those foods that they tested being sensitive to. But like everything it is not always the smoking gun.
We are bombarded with sensory challenges. Never before have we been so wired or connected. Children are given electronic devices to use before they can walk. We are setting up a model of interaction that is impersonal and disconnected. We are teaching less problem solving skills, children are expecting instant answers and instant gratification. The Electric Magnetic Field (EMF) exposure from cordless phones, WIFI and hand held electronic devices has been growing exponentially. The health impact on our nervous system is a concern especially on developing brains and nervous systems.
The Worry Cycle
Whatever the cause or contributing factors for anxiety it is helpful to understand the physical process behind the worry. The wiring for anxiety for some people is hotwired, meaning it is the script that is running most of the time. Ideally the worry voice should be one of the many voices that we listen to when we make our way through the day. It should not be the sole director. The rational mind will take in all the emotional perceptions along with other sensory and informational input to come up with a way to respond to a given situation. This is our “intelligence” at work. We are flexible, open and able to respond in a unique and appropriate way to our life’s experiences. Knowing that if some response doesn’t work exactly the way we expected there is room for adjustment or reworking things.
The brains prefrontal cortex is our thought, and creative center it can also be our initiator of the worry pathway. It will signal the Amygdala (a portion of the brain that deals with memory, emotional responses and decision making) that there is an emergency. Then this causes a release of signals to the rest of the body that results in a “fight or flight” response. Functional MRIs have shown this pattern in people with chronic anxiety.
The exciting news is that by teaching new skills we can help those with anxiety understand the power of flexible thinking and the freedom of alternative responses.
Stp 1 Provide a New Model of Understanding.
By simply explaining the workings of the worry cycle (above) a person with anxiety can begin to understand that the way we are “wired” is not their fault or is not who they are.
Step 2 Develop New Skills
There are key skills that help us manage anxiety these include:
Tolerate (and normalize) discomfort- understand that the anxiety is an annoying voice that is going to be there, making it a part of the background is a goal.
Externalize react differently to thoughts see the worry and anxiety an influencer but not in control “That’s my worry speaking”
Learn by doing, failing, & succeeding, evaluation of our responses to difficult situations in life what works and what does not.
Handle the uncertainty of life – “teach rolling with change and making the best of it”
Flexibility (malleability!)- Anxiety is rigid.e
Problem solving skills (vs. ruminate)
Step 3 Content Does Not Matter
It does not matter what an individual is worried about. Trying to convince or align ourselves with the worry and try to convince a person that there is no need to worry doesn’t help. The exception to this rule is an unresolved traumatic event that is still in the processing and healing phase.
Step 4 Challenges to the Worry Director
We often begin by making accommodations for being uncomfortable, “Let me leave the light on for you”. “Of course you can sleep in my bed”. It seems comforting and easier then dealing with a kid who is overwhelmed. But it empowers the worry/anxiety voice. Instead we can talk to the outspoken worry director and provide options for working around this director. Say instead “it sounds like your worry voice is really loud right now what do you need to say to it so you are not feeling controlled by it?”
Step 5 Energy support
Unplug turn off the WIFI, turn off the cell phones, get rid of the cordless home phones and get time outside every day. Grounding or walking barefoot is a good way to energetically unplug.
Step 6 Correct any contributing Co-Factors
Remove the food sensitivities, correct the nutrient deficiencies, support good sleep, encourage exercise, support good social interaction.
Step 7 Understand and Support Emotional Sorting
Emotional healing is a goal for all of us. Kids who have their healing mechanisms intact will emote, they will cry when sad, yell if angry, shake if scared and be excited when stimulated. We can often assist in the emotional healing process by allowing and encourage the “discharge of emotions” so they can process events and be able to put them in some context of life. Listening and allowing time for them to process is a good goal.