I decided I wanted to be a child therapist long before I ever had children. I finished graduate school before I even began motherhood. I knew all the signs and symptoms of every childhood mental health disorder before my first child entered the world. You would think I was well prepared. You would think if anyone could handle anxious kids – it would be me. Apparently the universe shared the same sentiment – as it dutifully delivered me child after child with some form of anxiety in their DNA.
What Butterflies Can Teach Us About the Mind/Body Connection: A Shrink’s Guide to Listening to Your Gut (by Dr Sarah Sarkis)
We all know the expression “butterflies in my stomach” and we all tend to agree on what that feeling signifies for us at a psychological level. We use this expression to describe feeling nervous, anxious, or excited. But did you know that the butterflies you feel in your “stomach” are actually representative of a complex and mutually reciprocal relationship between your brain and your gut?
Phobias happen when tame, harmless things turn into bullies. They take on a power they don’t deserve, in ways that often don’t make sense. The fear is real and persuasive, and for kids, they can be particularly debilitating. The good news is that phobias and fears in children are very manageable, and with the right guidance and strategies, kids can be empowered to move straight through the middle of the intense fears that get in their way.
Mindfulness has an extraordinary capacity to build a strong body, mind and spirit in ourselves as adults, as well as in our children. Science has told us that it can help to protect against stress, anxiety, depression, illness and pain, ease the symptoms of autism and ADHD, improve academic performance and social relationships, as well as expand the capacity to experience positive emotions.
Dealing with anxiety in children can be confusing for everyone. Anxiety doesn’t always make sense because it doesn’t always come with an obvious trigger. It is driven by a strong, healthy, determined brain, but one that is overprotective and quick to sense danger, even when there isn’t any. As the trusted adult in your child’s life, your response can have a powerful effect on calming an anxious brain and uncovering the brave behaviour that all kids with anxiety are wonderfully capable of.
Getting hot and sweaty might not be great for comfort but it’s brilliant for mental health. If getting hot and sweaty isn’t your thing, stay with me – there are other ways to get the full mental health benefits of exercise without the intensity and your brain will love you for it – like, love you. Exercise is the wonderdrug-but-not-a-drug of the mental health world. Volumes of research have testified to its incredible capacity to strengthen mental health, and now we’re starting to uncover why.
When my anxiety first hit, I would have anxiety attacks in public frequently. In church, youth group, grocery stores, school, family events, and so on. If you know anything about panic attacks, you know it is not something you want to happen in public. I’ll give you brief overview: shaking, rapid breathing, suffocating feeling, crying, and sweating. Definitely not a pleasant ordeal, especially not in public where anyone can see it.