* Dealing With Anxiety

By Amber Russell, Courier & Press, Oct. 3, 2017 –

Thump, Thump, Thump.  Everything feels like it’s going in slow motion.  All I can hear is my heart beating, which feels like it is going to beat right out of my chest.

I can’t breathe.  I can’t think. I’m starting to sweat.  Thoughts begin swirling in my head.  “It is so crowded.”  “Everyone is looking at me.”  “I am in the way.”  “I am taking too long.”  Tears start to well up in my eyes as I think, “Please don’t let me see anyone I know.”

Sound familiar?  This is how I feel sometimes in a crowd or even at the grocery store.  Forty million adults (18 percent of the population) in the U.S. suffer from some form of anxiety disorder.

I am very familiar with anxiety and what helps me cope.  What works for me, however, might not work for someone else experiencing similar symptoms.

There isn’t one single coping mechanism that will magically make your symptoms go away, but there are lots of things aside from medication and therapy you can try.  To get started you may want to try talking with someone you trust, focusing on things you can control, finding a place you feel comfortable and safe, and doing something physical such as going for a walk.

Here are a few other suggestions to try when symptoms surface:

1. Know what triggers your anxiety.  Is it work, school, crowded places, a specific person? Do you feel overwhelmed or something else more specific?  What are your symptoms?  They may include racing heart, sweating, trembling, nervousness, rapid breathing, constant worrying, restless sleep, inability to focus, intense fear or embarrassment.

Keep a journal to track when you have panic attacks or strong symptoms.  Note the date, time, what was going on at the time of the attack, what you were thinking about beforehand, how long the symptoms lasted, and what made them go away.  Once you have more information about symptoms and causes, the anxiety is easier to control.  I get very anxious in crowds, especially while shopping.  From tracking triggers and symptoms I know that while I obviously can’t avoid shopping altogether, I should not shop on super busy Sunday afternoons.

2. Try deep breathing.  When we are stressed, our breathing becomes shallow.  We feel like we can’t breathe, so we try to breathe fast by taking in quick short breaths through the mouth.  This can actually cause hyperventilation.  Try the 4-7-8 method instead:

  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of 4.
  • Hold breath for a mental count of 7.
  • Exhale completely and slowly through your mouth, making a swoosh sound to a mental count of

Repeat these three steps at least 2 times.  It may seem awkward at first, but it really helps to focus on breathing.  Slow it down, breathe in through the nose, hold the breath, and slowly exhale through your mouth.

3. Try grounding techniques, which help put your mind in the “here and now” instead of focusing on how stressed and anxious you are.  The more you focus on how stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed you are, the more stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed you become.  Try the 5-4-3-2-1 game.  Look around the room and mentally describe 5 things (poster, clock, lamp, etc).  Name 4 things you can feel (hair touching your shoulders, the breeze of a fan).  Name 3 things you can hear (the air conditioning unit, the click of a pen).  Name 2 things you can smell or smells that you like.  Name 1 good quality about yourself. Repeat with different items if needed.

If you or your child suffers from an anxiety disorder, take steps to manage it.  Start with the coping techniques mentioned above, and seek professional help if anxiety is interfering with daily life.

Tips for Talking to Your Child About Their Day

father-and-son-talking

By Amber Russell, LCSW, Courier & Press, Oct. 22, 2016 –

Does having a conversation with your child ever feel like pulling teeth?  After picking up my 5-year old from kindergarten, I like to ask him about his day. It usually goes something like this:

Mom: “How was school today?”

Son: “Good.”

Mom: “What all did you do at school today?”

Son: “I will tell you later. I just don’t want to talk right now.”

Sometimes he’ll say, “Why do you always ask me about my day?” I reply, “Because I am interested in it, and I love you.”

Some days he is just not up for talking, but other times I have found it’s all in how you word the question.

Instead of asking, “How was school today?” here are a few conversation starters I have used:

  • Who did you play with at recess today, and what did you play?
  • What’s the best (or worst) thing that happened to you at school today?
  • What was the hardest thing you had to do in school today?
  • Who did you sit by at lunch today, and what did you talk about?
  • If you got one wish at school, what would it be?

I talk with my son after school because that time works best for our schedule; however, every family is different, and maybe another time is better for you.

Here are some specific questions I like to ask before school:

  • What three things do you want to accomplish today?
  • What class do you think will be the most fun and why?
  • What is one thing you can do better today than you did yesterday?

To get an older child or teen to open up, make sure the conversation is a two-way street where you are actually talking and sharing and not just firing off questions. No one, child or adult, likes to feel interrogated.

Try writing out some questions on cards ahead of time and let your child pick some to ask that you have to answer. Sometimes if you open up about a past experience it will make the child feel more comfortable to share.

Here are some examples:

  • What was your most embarrassing moment in school?
  • What was the worst or funniest date you ever went on?
  • Who was your best friend in school, and what did you like about them?

Playing games such as “High and Low” around the dinner table can also stimulate conversation.  Every family member shares their high and low points for the day. You could also have each family member share one thing they are grateful for and a goal for the next day.

As a Youth First school social worker, I talk with students every day. In my experience, even though kids seem annoyed with adults asking questions, deep down they want you to ask. It demonstrates that you care. Most kids have a friend whose parents don’t ask about their day, and believe me, they wish their parents would.

Even if a conversation with your child doesn’t go as planned, making the effort shows support and demonstrates that we want to be involved in kids’ lives. Talking with your children will not only influence their decisions now, it will have an effect on their future parenting styles as well.