School just called to say my son is in the sick bay and could I please collect him. I know he's not sick today, he was fit as a fiddle when he left for class, I know I am about to deal with an anxiety attack.
As I pull up to school my heart breaks a little. I put my 'big girl' pants on and try to find my 'parenting hat'...
Sure enough I enter the sick bay and my wee man says he has a headache. I can see straight through him. We leave and get to the car. I instantly hear and feel him finally breathe out. I don't think he drew a proper breath for the last 20 minutes. He has just suffered an anxiety attack... silently and alone...and sure enough I am starting to blame myself.
This morning we had a great start to the day. I had to take him to school a little later than usual as we had a doctors appointment regarding an old issue, then I took him for a hot chocolate and it was straight back to school. I was trying to calm the situation (of being out of normal routine) by taking him to a cafe and having a natter about life. I guess it didn't work.
He went to class but it was different than the usual routine (which people who suffer this nervous state of mind prefer) and this set him off into a spiral of anxiety. The kids were asking him where he had been (kindly) but he doesn't like to be the 'centre of attention' in those situations (colour me confused, as he loves to perform dances, raps, drums, songs, acting in front of everyone but when it comes to the REAL person, he would prefer the attention off him), safety in character of someone else when acting, I guess.
As we drove home, after the incident, he started to explain to me that he
a)hated being the centre of attention and
b) just needed out and away from his friends.
His friends were not doing ANYTHING mean or saying anything wrong, in his words they were just "really loud" and "right in my face" (I know his friends weren't actually in his face, they were just being kids, but I also know that it FEELS like they are when you are having an anxiety attack)
He doesn't draw attention to himself at the time, as he is still learning what's going on and what his body is doing. He just said he can't breathe very well and feels like rocks are on his chest, he says he just wants to escape wherever he is - and I am realising he will do this at any cost.
He did the right thing and told the teacher he had a headache, as that's also what it felt like for him I imagine - his head was about to pop off! Taking him from the situation is not always the best thing to do - BUT I HAVE SO MUCH WORK ON (as we all do) and life is continuing all around us.
So I have to bring him home, he heads into bed to read a book and replenish himself with alone time - which is fine as his door is open and we keep sharing hugs - because that's what he needs right now, a calm, safe zone...and there is nothing that can take that from him.
Once Mr 9 has calmed down, and feels safe, and is breathing normally we have a chat about what happened. It's vital that we discuss what's happening...and before Mr 6 comes home and it becomes a 'family affair'. Mr 9 doesn't want life to be like this, he just wants things to be normal. It's heart breaking. Anxiety attacks are debilitating, real and life challenging. You may not be able to actually 'see' any physical symptoms (unless you know the person suffering, as you can tell they are not in their normal state) but on the inside, in in the brain, an anxiety attack is horrific - at any age.
If you think your child is suffering from anxiety, or overwhelm. Has had or is having a panic attack (not always as dramatic as it sounds on the outside, yet horrific for the person on the inside) try some of these 60 second anxiety relief tools that I have learned so far through experience and with 'Go Zen' research. They may seem silly to you, but boy they can make a HUGE difference.
Research shows rapid and shallow breathing are often part of the stress response. Reverse the response with deep, slow breathing. Breathe deeply through your nose then exhale fully through your mouth, continue this for one minute. Concentrate on making sure your belly gets the air, not just your chest - this will mean your stomach goes in and out as you breathe, and try to keep your shoulders relaxed. Breathing like this tells your brain there is no danger, and you can go from flight or fight mode to rest and digest.
2. Drink Water
Water helps deliver vitamins and nutrients to the right places in our bodies, it helps eliminate waste and helps our systems function properly. Even mild dehydration can affect mental well-being and increase anxiety. WATER HELPS, it also gives a focus to keep sipping on water while the surge of anxiety passes.
3. Hug a loved one or pet
We all know how much a hug can melt stress away. Hugging slows the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and releases good hormones (like oxytocin) that are responsible for social bonding. Hugs also aid against illness!
4. Be mindful
Focus on the present by asking questions about your five senses. What do you feel, see, hear, smell and taste right now?
Research shows that 47 percent of the time we are actually thinking about something other than what we are doing. This research also reveals that thinking about the past or future is more likely to trigger anxiety than focusing on the present.
5. Look at something that makes you smile
The brain responds to viewing images of others being cared for. It can soothe anxiety and remind the brain of support and love. Sounds a bit mad, but just think how 'soothed and happy' you feel when you look at images of animals being cute or humans hugging as they greet each other at the airport!
6. Reframe stress
A little stress in your life is okay. It can lower levels of cortisol and boost productivity. (sure too much can have the opposite effect) but it is important to remind yourself that a little stress is a good thing and that it keeps you focused and motivated. Tell yourself that a little stress is actually okay.
7. Keep it real
Stress is an in-built protection mechanism from the cave days. It was there to keep the cave man attuned to the the saber-toothed cat lurking in the bush! To make sure we were really paying attention, the mind often exaggerated the object of worry (e.g a stick looked like a snake in the bush!)
The tendency to magnify what might go wrong remains with us and is a common cognitive distortion. Research shows that one of the best ways to bring yourself back from a distorted reality is self-disputation. When you have an anxious thought, ask yourself this question: is my thought really true?
The benefits of laughter are well documented. Laughing can relax muscles, improve respiration and circulation, stimulate endorphins (natural pain killers) and decrease stress-related hormones. In short, laughing is a great elixir for stress and anxiety.
Go forth and conquer team! Remember YOU ARE NOT ALONE - as a supporter or a sufferer.
I am excited to also let you know I am pooling all of my resources to create some info packs on anxiety for children and to start to work closely with them and their parents. If you would like to know more please send me an email email@example.com