In my last few blogs I have talked about tips to help parents help their child (children) with anxiety problems. What I have learned is that if a system, or way of doing things (as the parent) has been established it is difficult to implement all of the things that have been suggested unless you are cognitively aware of the things your child is doing, and consistent in establishing routines and setting consequences in advance.
The other side of things is; what can a child with anxiety do to help himself or herself? Of everything I have heard from different speakers, or read on line or in books, the paramount way to help yourself is developing ‘mindfulness and learning self-awareness.’ In simplified language – helping you control your thoughts and finding ways to cope with internal distractions.
In her book, ‘Don’t Let Your Emotions Run Your Life For Teens’ Sheri Van Dijk says it is about paying close attention to what you’re doing in the present moment, noticing when your attention wanders, and bringing it back to what you’re doing. It is also about accepting, or not judging, whatever you happen to notice in the present moment, whether it’s thoughts you’re having, emotions that are coming up, things that are distracting you, or whatever.
Life is full of distractions, and what mindfulness does is try to help you deal with the distractions. It cannot help in all situations because sometimes the distractions are not things we can control. What it tries to do is allow an individual to control distractions when they are internal. I am sure everyone can remember a time they had to re-read something they have just read because, simply put, our mind was elsewhere. I know I love the fact that I can pause and or rewind live TV because I just missed something. Maybe it is because somebody was talking to me, or you were doing something else while watching TV, but maybe it is because my mind was wandering.
Why is mindfulness important for the person with anxiety? It is important because often times when their mind is wandering, it is about things that make them anxious (an upcoming test, homework, something at home, a friend who is upset with you….). Mindfulness, if done correctly, can help this person to be able to concentrate more or solely on what they are currently doing and in turn, allow them to remove the stressors (anxiety) they are feeling.
In other words, if you are not thinking about the present, you must be thinking about the past or the future, and probably not about happy things – more often than not, (especially for anxious person) you are thinking about what did or might go wrong, or things that generate painful emotions – sadness, anger, shame…, this triggers the anxiety and causes more internal distractions.
Mindfulness is about living in the present so you are not living in the future or the past. It is realizing that things are okay just the way they are, right now in the moment even if the moment is not great or full of happy emotions. The thing is, even if you have to deal with what is actually going on in the present, it is better to do that, than dealing with the emotions being brought up by thoughts of the future or the past as well as the present.