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Managing Anxiety in the Family Unit

As beautiful as the family unit is, it’s also delicate. The experience of raising a family for most people is one full of joy, love, a lot of learned patience, and anxiety. Yes, anxiety! You’ve been blessed and trusted with wonderful children who are the light of your life but if we’re being honest, sometimes you just don’t know what to do. You are worried about keeping them safe and healthy and you might not always succeed especially as they get older.

The children are also learning how to exist as part of your family and this world in general. As they grow, their identities are formed. They learn the good from the bad. They adopt new fears like not fitting in, not being likable, or failing in school. At some point, you’ll clash and communication will be difficult.

Then there is you, the parent who may be in a marriage, committed relationship or co-parenting all while trying to make ends meet, be part of your community, and stay healthy. Anxiety around all these areas of life for both children and parents can easily creep in and stagnate our relationships, sense of self, and health leading to a crisis. A crisis looks like broken relationships, poor grades in school, indulging in bad behavior, poor mental health, and overall bad quality of life.

Every one of us has been anxious at some point like when you’re about to go on a blind date, make a presentation, speak in public, get interviewed, or on your wedding day. You have felt the sudden shivers up your spine, heart racing, voice shaking, and weak knees. All of this is a normal body response to a threat or perceived threat. Your sympathetic nervous system is simply alerting your brain and heart to prepare for danger. In simple terms, anxiety is feelings of tension, nervousness, or restlessness about ordinary situations.

Anxiety is the health leading issue in America – 1 in 5 people have it. 63% of people are either treating or preventing anxiety. 40 million Americans struggle with the five major types of anxiety; Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Our exposure to pandemic trauma and readily available news that are mostly negative have made the anxiety worse and more prevalent. We’ve become uncertain and overly worried about the future.

If you or your child have a lot of anxiety, you may experience the following symptoms;

  • Physical and mental symptoms like poor digestion, aggression, hyperactivity, poor concentration, mood swings, tiredness, sweating, trembling, depression and restlessness.

  • Feeling overwhelmed to perform daily tasks, projects, or assignments because you’re overly worried that you won’t do well or because you don’t have the energy to do them.

  • Your emotions feel so heavy and you don’t know how to process them.

  • You become too conscious and overthink every small situation. In most cases, you’re thinking of the worst possible thing that could happen which makes your mind go into overdrive trying to control everything.

  • You easily talk yourself out of doing things because you don’t feel confident enough. You also self-sabotage a lot and your inner dialogue is mostly negative.

Now imagine a home full of anxious people whose anxiety may not be from the same source. Mom may be anxious that she isn’t doing her best as a parent. Dad is anxious about how he’ll provide for his family when jobs are not forthcoming. The child is anxious that they’re going back to school or that they don’t know how to catch up with their peers. Worst case scenario, there’s also abuse in the home. All that will come out of that home is dysfunction.

How to manage anxiety at home

  1. Check-in with everyone’s emotions Regularly ask each other how you’re feeling in the moment, especially with children. If they can name their emotions, then they will know what to do when they’re feeling anxious. Anxiety may show up in many different ways as discussed in the symptoms so look out for signs that you’re becoming anxious. Hold family meetings where there’s safety to be vulnerable about emotions or have one on one conversations. When you know how everyone is feeling, you can help each other cope better and move to much healthier emotions.

  2. Create a happy space in your house Instead of a naughty corner, how about you have a safe and happy corner? Decorate it with bright and beautiful colors and put pillows to make it cozy and comfortable. If anyone in the house is feeling anxious or overwhelmed, they can move to that corner or a special room to listen to their thoughts and emotions and calm down. Include everyone’s opinions and suggestions when making the corner so that it has a personal touch. Make it clear that it’s the safe space in the house and there’s no judgment if anyone wants to go there and decompress their emotions.

  3. Use positive affirmations Anxiety can have you talking to yourself negatively so much so that it starts to create negative belief systems for both adults and children. To counter this, use positive affirmations to change the negative narratives that anxiety forms in us. Speak positively to and about your children, your spouses, and other family members. Let them know that you see the best in them and that you understand their struggles. Examples of affirmations you can say to yourself include;

“I am calm and relaxed.”

“My mind is at peace.”

“I am free of all worries and stress.”

“I am safe and secure now.”

“I have a home within.”

Practice coping techniques

A coping technique is an activity you can safely use to make you feel less anxious in the present moment. Think of it as a red button you can press during emergencies. Examples include;

- Distraction technique - Do things that help you not think about your anxiety. Activities you can focus on deeply like painting, writing, drawing, reading, listening to music, watching your favorite shows, knitting, gardening, and sewing.

- Guided Imagery - Breathe slowly and deeply. Think of a peaceful scene that makes you feel at ease, relaxed, and safe. Visualize everything from how you feel in the present moment, to colors, smells, and sounds. Practice this for 5 to 10 minutes every day. Alternatively, you can listen to calming instrumentals or rain sounds especially when you’re struggling to keep calm.

- Mindfulness meditation

  • Sit or lie in a comfortable position.

  • Be aware of your breathing without overthinking it or controlling it.

  • Bring your mind to concentrate on how you’re breathing in and out. If thoughts on anxiety come, acknowledge them without trying to get rid of them, then gently release them.

  • Continue doing this until your mind feels free of the anxiety.

The 2-7-8 breathing technique

  • Inhale for 2 seconds

  • Hold the breath for 7 seconds

  • Exhale for 8 seconds

  • Repeat

“Anxiety happens when you think you have to figure out everything all at once. Breathe. You’re strong. You got this. Take it day by day.”

– Karen Salmansohn

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