From the New York Post article.....
"One of the difficult parts of getting help for children suffering from anxiety is that anxiety often presents as a constellation of negative behaviors. Parents and educators are quick to spot the behavior problem, but they don’t always see the underlying anxiety that drives it.”
This makes so much sense..... how many adults do you see claiming they have anxiety based difficulties vs how many adults do you see behaving in angry, addictive, and disengaging ways? You're right. We many more the latter. Children use the space and the resources they have to act in or act out their anxiety. So do adults. It's just much more socially common and acceptable to behave "badly" than it is to acknowledge the inner or outer chaos. And so both children, adults, and society suffers.
I think about anxiety as the reflection of dis-regulation, a lack of symbiosis and symmetry between parts of the whole. Whether the imbalance is within the one individual system or the relational, collective system - anxiety is a part of and a product of being human and living on the earth. Yet, what is most commonly done is to focus on, judge, seek to extinguish and then pull away from the expression of the behavior. For example, if my daughter's not doing her homework? A common response might be "thinking she must be lazy and undisciplined. I should take away her access to technology until she changes her behavior." If that is all I focused on and did, I would be judging her and her behavior as unacceptable and bad and I would be using negative consequence to "teach her." But that's just the point, there is little "teaching" in this approach. It is only offering the chance for her to develop negative association. With this approach, I would also be missing the opportunity to pull in close and observe and listen to find out what other factors (such as holes in her learning, broader holes in her capacity to learn, or some other physical or social obstacle) is getting in the way of her homework getting completed. Her expressed avoidance of the homework, fueled by her anxiety is an invitation to engage more, not less. As her parent and the loved ones around her, my increased engagement can actually model and teach her how to address the sources of her anxiety. And yet, how often do we seek to pull away from that which is not readily apparent with a straight forward answer or fix?
Anxiety is not a demon to be exorcised or an illness to be cured. While addressing and supporting it's symptoms are essential for relief and freedom, a child or an adult who suffers from anxiety is NOT inherently broken and in need of fixing. What anxiety says is that what I alone bring to the situation is inadequate to meet the need and I need the engagements of other parts of myself or my tribe and community to meet me in meeting the needs of the situation. Wether it is a 7 year old child saying with behavior that "my physical needs to move and learn do not allow me to sit in a desk for 5 hours a day" or an adult attempting to squelch with aggressive or addictive behavior, "I am really lonely and frightened of what is next" both are expressions of anxiety at different stages and seasons of life.
Anxiety is not a one facet experience. It involves ones thinking, physiology, neurology, learning, family and friend network, financial means, history of trauma, and more. Each of these serves as an entry point to connect with the person behind the anxiety. Does the person need more routine moments of quiet to calm down-provide them with a quite space/or head phones. Does the person need a chance to know more specifically where, when, and how money/resource are going to be handled - pursue resources for budget making and make the budget. Does a person have routine dips in blood sugar or wake up unrested - build in multiple small snack breaks and/or nap breaks. Does the person come home at the end of the day jittery and agitated - get them to a pair or running shoes or boxing gloves. The bigger helping question you can offer yourself if you love someone with anxiety is what is his/her anxiety profile? How does anxiety manifest itself in them and what are the global points of relief and connections that you can partner to building into practice.
If we are able to honor anxiety as an invitation to connect, rally, and innovate - rather than judge, shun away or punish, if we see anxiety as an ever present energy that is a function to serve us, as opposed as a reflection of weakness, then individuals, families and tribes will have access to the full expression of connection, life, and hope.
It's likely if you are reading this blog post, you are or love someone who has struggled with anxiety. You know they are not being "bad," and you know that this is not something that can (or should be) disciplined out of them. You also know loving them can often be a unique, frequently challenging hard. I just want to send some love and encouragement that you are doing the right things. There is no one-shot straight forward fix to anxiety. But the more you draw closer and connect and the more we can share and tell this story of the need for connection and integration in society, the closer we will be to creating the peaceful, symbiotic, and symmetrical world - many might call heaven.
Melinda is a recovering "normal" seeker, who is often distracted by unexpected moments of nature's beauty or questioning children