I recently spoke at a parent education night about the Worry Monster and ways parents can help their children understand and fight this bully. As usual, I spoke about the survival response we all have, how our amygdala gets triggered when we perceive threat, how our anxious thoughts trigger our fear response, and several thinking, doing, and mindful-based strategies that can keep the Worry Monster (and his friends the Perfectionist and OCD Monster) at bay.
As I talk to these types of audiences, I see different responses from parents. Some folks are listening and engaged and others are nodding when what I am saying reminds them of their child. Others look at me with wide eyes and an intense stare. I have learned that these are often the adults who have had a lifetime of worry and fear and are now just learning what it is called: anxiety.
A father came up to me at the end of my last talk and said, “I came for my daughter but you were talking about me. I think I actually worry more than she does.” I asked him if he had always worried and whether he knew he was a worrier. He said, he has worried as long as he could remember, but he did not know that he was a worrier. This is often the case. You only know what you know and what you know seems “normal.” How can you get help for something you don’t know you need help with?
Anxiety is both “nature” and “nurture.” It runs in families – people are both born with it and the family culture and parenting style can both play a role in minimizing it or exacerbating it. This is not a blame thing. Some families have a family tree of worry. When you find an anxious child, you often find an anxious parent who also had an anxious parent.. I find the biggest problem is that people don’t find information about worry, anxiety and fear and what they can do about it to manage it, cope with it and live more fully. Kids should be getting this information when they are young and adults should get this information now.
Worry and fear (aka Worry Monster) lurks in the shadows and quietly and persistently bullies, intimidates and threatens people of all ages – millions upon millions – every single day. We don’t have to live in fear. We don’t need to believe that worrying about something in the future (that hasn’t happened yet) will have any impact on that outcome. We don’t need to lose sleep worrying about what “may” happen.
It is never too late to learn new skills. I know adults who learn a new language, learn to swim, start a new career, and learn to fly planes. Why not learn the critical life skill of learning to manage your thoughts and mind to outsmart the Worry Monster? If you are a parent, you have the added motivation to model for your child the courage it takes to take the Worry Monster down and live more fully. Our children are our greatest motivation for change. If you don’t think you can do it for yourself, do it for them. Everyone will benefit that way.
So for all my fellow worriers and perfectionists, here’s the battle plan:
- Remember your anxious thoughts (“What if…) triggers your survival response and makes you feel bad (tight chest, heart racing, stomachache, butterflies, headaches, and dizziness)
- Changing your thoughts to be more rational (“I always get nervous before interviews but seem to do fine) can turn down your amygdala and allow you to perform to your potential
- Staying in the present moment keeps the Worry Monster away since all worry resides in the future
- Doing anything the Worry Monster tells you not to do (going to a social event) is a courageous step, even if small, against the Worry Monster.
I am privileged to see people of all ages take a stand against the Worry Monster every day and mount victories. Victories turn into confidence. Confidence opens up possibilities to live and experience life in a new way. Make a commitment for change and take a risk.
You CAN do it - for yourself and for your child.