anxiety, a gift, really?!
You might be thinking, the gift of anxiety, are you kidding me?
It seems to me more like the curse of anxiety.
Are you going to tell me that the anxiety meltdown my child just had was a gift?
And, well, if anxiety is such a gift, then why do you treat it?
Ok, ok, I get it.
It’s Not All Roses and cupcakes
Anxiety brings with it quite the range of unpleasant physical, cognitive, and behavioral effects.
Physically, it can bring with it headaches, stomachaches, stiff muscles, heart palpitations, hives, diarrhea…and I could continue for quite some time.
Cognitively, it can bring looping thoughts, thoughts of dread or impending doom, negativity, harsh self-judgement, and a cornucopia of thinking distortions.
And then there’s our favorite (ha)…those lovely behaviors…the meltdowns, the shutdowns, the avoidance, the refusals, the constant reassurance seeking.
And none of these things sound like gifts, right?!
So, where’s the gift?
Staying Alive, Staying Alive
Well, first of all, anxiety presents so dramatically because its mandate is to capture our attention to protect us from danger.
And capture our attention it does!
Anxiety needs to do this to deliver its most vital gift.
Simply said, the gift of life.
If anxiety didn’t exist, we would not exist.
A Positive Spin on Paranoia (Finally)
If our distant ancestors had been super laid-back, without a care in the world, always looking at the sunny side of life types, we wouldn’t be here today.
Our ancestors were the ones scanning for danger at every turn.
Our ancestors were the ones who lived by the credo, better safe than sorry. Our ancestors were the hyper-vigilant ones...the paranoid people.
Our ancestors were not the ones sitting around second-guessing whether something was dangerous or not.
Our ancestors reacted first and asked questions second.
Then and Now
Now, things have changed a lot since then.
Most of us are not easy prey for lions, tigers, or bears...or other predators.
Nor do most of us face poisonous vegetation, food shortages, or confrontations with hostile tribes.
Most of us are not warding off starvation…out hunting or foraging for our next meal while having to defend against such formidable risks.
Please Send MY Brain the Memo
Yet, for some of us, the fear center of the brain has yet to receive the memo.
So many of us still find ourselves prone to hyper-focusing on all manner of possible calamities.
Some of us may zero in on our bodily sensations, as though they were harbingers of serious illness, impending death, or possible vomiting.
Some of us may ruminate on that offhand comment from our coworker (or the one we made to someone else) as though we were just about to be kicked out of our tribe and left alone to protect our self from predators or enemy tribes.
Some of us may not speak at all...elevating each utterance to a do or die status.
Some of us may worry that a parent (or partner) won’t return, leaving us abandoned, having to emotionally and/or physically fend for ourselves.
Some of us may contend with frightening obsessions set on repeat mode, despite us knowing that these sticky thoughts defy logic.
And then there’s those dogs, cats, insects (including butterflies, believe it or not), snakes, planes, cars, boats, bridges, storms, earth quakes, heights, blood, dentists, doctors, and a litany of other things.
And many of us have what I like to call the anxiety salad with a bit of this and a bit of that…to create an especially zesty mix.
Our list of fear activating possibilities is virtually endless...
Some Things Don’t Change With the Times
Because what has not changed between modern humans and our ancient ancestors is that we still share the same fear center in our brain that kept our ancient ancestors alive and reproducing.
Our brain is still busy scanning for danger...but the problem now is it too often mistakes paper lions, tigers, and bears for the real things…attaching to all manner of things, as mentioned above.
Our fear center is five hundred million years old, primitive and none too bright...with a seemingly long and far-reaching evolutionary memory of sorts.
Too MUch of a Good Thing
But in our modern world, our primitive fear center more often than not is more akin to that domineering relative that is just a little too helpful...a lot too often.
So just like with that overbearing relative, we need to put some boundaries in place.
Just like we must learn to relate to that intrusive relative differently than we do with our non-intrusive ones, so we need to do this with our anxiety.
Anxiety to the Rescue
Our helpful anxiety can range from being a motivating force in our lives all the way to life preserving.
It’s what reminds us to study for tomorrow’s test.
It’s what makes us look both ways before we cross the street…
And to put on our seat-belts.
It’s what allows our child to slam on their bike breaks long before their much newer and smarter thinking brain can register the threat and be activated.
While that not so helpful variety is well...basically a pain in the you know what.
Anxiety Treatment’s Place
For those of us with very sensitive fear centers, that aforementioned annoying relative has a much louder voice, is much more omnipresent, and can sometimes become downright abusive.
If you or your child fall into this category, anxiety treatment can often be very helpful.
And if you do fall into this category, does it mean that you or your child’s brain is defective, that you’re mentally incompetent, or worse, crazy?
No! No! And No!
It simply means that you have a sensitive fear center.
Now anxiety treatment won’t take away your child’s anxiety…remember we need it.
But it can help him or her (and you) to form a healthier relationship with it.
Anxiety, Bearing Many more Gifts
Returning to the gift of anxiety…more good news…
The good news is that if you or your child have a sensitive, easily activated fear center, it generally comes as a package deal.
Why is that good news?
Because so often included in the package are valuable gifts that add richness, beauty, depth, and thoughtfulness to a world that perhaps more than ever needs such gifts.
The gifts found in the anxiety package that I see over and over in the children and parents I see are:
Heightened creativity and imagination
Kindness, empathy, thoughtfulness
Keen observation ability
Heightened appreciation of beauty
Strong sense of fairness and reciprocity
Ability to be loyal, supportive friends
Pronounced ability for deep insightful thought
Sense of caring responsibility/conscientious
Don’t Let Anxiety Cast an Obliterate Spell
Overwhelming anxiety, unfortunately, can too often cause these valuable gifts to become obscured, blunted, discounted, minimized, or even forgotten.
Anxiety, if allowed to sink its claws in, will try to hijack and harness these gifts for its purposes.
It will attempt to redirect a child’s imagination toward the catastrophic and take over more and more mental territory, leaving a child feeling disconnected and de-energized…the antithesis for the further development of these inborn gifts.
When a child with a sensitive fear center learns to manage their anxiety, these gifts can fully blossom, bloom, and thrive.
the gift of anxiety treatment
If anxiety treatment is warranted for your child, it will require dedication from you, the parent.
Most anxious children just won’t rise to the occasion if a parent is not fully on board.
Some common parental barriers to their child’s treatment success are the need to be “liked” by their child, difficulty tolerating their own distress when child is distressed, or just not having the emotional bandwidth at their disposal during the therapy process for whatever reason.
The great thing, however, is that when parent/s are fully on board, treatment usually progresses quickly.
Now there is a high probability that your child will not thank you at first.
But if you, as the parent, are dedicated to the treatment process, your child will eventually thank you.
I like to say, a bit of short term pain will yield a world of gain.
The eloquent words of the famous nineteenth-century philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, still ring true today: To venture causes anxiety, not to venture is to lose oneself.
Your child developing the skills to form a healthy relationship with anxiety is a gift that will last a lifetime.
Helping Anxious Kids is here to support your family. If you are seeking anxiety treatment for your child and my approach resonates with you, schedule an appointment today.