Dealing with Anxiety and Scary Thoughts as a Family
I sit on the bus bed with my youngest daughter, who is full up with anxiety. With a glisten of tears, she asks, “Will I have these bad thoughts forever?” I understand all too well the anxietyand the bad thoughts that can often accompany it.
“Do the thoughts scare you?” I ask knowing the answer. My thoughts and my attachment to them have sent me into panic attacks that have debilitated me for days. The thought of her, or anyone for that matter, but especially her, my baby, brings on a surge of anxiety.
“I just want to know if I should expect it.”
“That they’ll last forever?”
Taking her hand, I take a deep breath, allowing myself to pause before reacting.
“Oh, darling. No. You don’t experience it all day every day now, right?”
“No. Just sometimes. When I’m not busy doing other stuff. That’s why I like to do art. It calms me down.”
“Do you know that Mommy experiences them (bad thoughts), too?” She nods yes. “Your sister does, too. So many people do. And there’s ways we can teach our brain how to deal with them. Did you know that?”
“No.” She says.
As with any problem in our family, we face it as a family unit. After getting my youngest daughter’s okay to invite my husband Tim and eldest daughter into the conversation, I call them from the other side of the bus.
“I have those thoughts, too,” my eldest says. “Sometimes, I can get scared of everything. Anything.”
“When I was a kid, I’d run and leap onto the bed. Like this…” Tim says, running from the bedroom sliding doors to the edge of the bed my youngest and I lay on. “When I got to my bed, I’d lay straight, like this.” As he lay as stiff as a board, he continues. “I’d lay there with my eyes closed. Tight. I wouldn’t open them. No way. I wouldn’t move. Then, I’d have to go to the toilet. Nope. I wouldn’t go.” All of us laugh, dispelling any anxiety each of us came to the conversation with.
That night my sleep is interrupted by my own anxiety and bad thoughts. It’s your fault your girls are struggling.Your anxiety makes them anxious. I breathe into the discomfort, and, after a few more brutal thoughts, I manage to fall asleep.
The following morning, I reach out to a dear friend and colleague. I ask for advice. I want a family solution to what has become obvious, a family problem.
It turns out there are ways we can train our minds to not invest in thoughts that perpetuate the thoughts themselves. In the next month, my daughters and I will be having video coaching to best learn how to do this. We’ll be doing it on the bus. We’ll keep you posted about what we learn.