It never fails, every Sunday night most of my household is on edge. Anxious anticipation regarding the upcoming school and work week impacts everyone’s mood. Anticipatory anxiety rears its ugly head at the worst times. Often, I feel a tight knot in my belly before a speaking engagement when I want to come across as cool and collected. “Mom, I have a stomach ache,” says my child as she stares at the instructions to a mammoth project due the following week. Anticipatory anxiety is awful and uncomfortable, but normal. Yet, quieting this anxiety is important, otherwise it may disrupt a person’s ability to function productively.
Verbalizing the anxiety is the first step in reducing it. Telling a loved one that you are worried and overwhelmed helps elicit support and reassurance. In addition, modeling the identification of a feeling state in order to garner support is a healthy thing for a child to observe.
When a child expresses a worry, a parent should empathize, “That’s a big worry. I get it. It’s important to you. I understand why you are worried.” When a child feels understood they feel less alone. They also feel connected to the parent because the parent gets it. Often, this is all they need to feel better.
Salma Hayek (mom to Valentina): “When Valentina was not even 1 month old, my aunt [gave me the best advice]: ‘Put her to sleep yourself every night. Sing to her and cradle her in your arms and sit by her side - every night. Because one day you won’t be able to, and it’s going to happen really fast.”
Other effective strategies include laughter therapy. Pulling up this year’s funniest movie scenes or commercials is an entertaining way to diminish anxiety. Chuckling and smiling reduces anxiety tenfold. It also helps people sleep more restfully. Watching fifteen minutes of hilarious animal videos with your child helps stop the intensification of anxiety, contributing to a feeling of control over it. Hitting the human “refresh” button (laughter) assists everyone in returning to daily life more relaxed.
If time and weather permit, escaping outside for fifteen minutes also truncates anxiety. Grab your coat and your kid and saddle up the ten-speeds. Taking a spin around the neighborhood quickly reduces angst.
Mind and body activities like yoga and martial arts also help tremendously. Striking a couple of yoga poses in the kitchen before grabbing a glass of water will curtail anxiety. Challenging your child to a side kick vs high kick duel will assist them in alleviating tension too.
Finally, playing music softly throughout the home will also keep the nerves at bay. Singing and humming increases the therapeutic benefit of music.
Pay attention at age 14. That's when most kids start to resist peer influence and flex the think-for-myself muscle, rather than simply following the leader, according to a study published in Developmental Psychology. Want to help strengthen that muscle at any age? Put screens aside and circle the wagons every night. Ask, "What's new with your friends?" This will (here's hoping, if he talks) give you a chance to decode what's happening behind the scenes and offer support.
Anticipatory anxiety is normal but preventing it from taking over is essential. Involving your child with these practices helps them establish coping mechanisms which will serve them well for the rest of their life. Don’t let anxiety paralyze you and have some laughs while you zap it.