If kids with anxiety could see themselves the way the rest of us do, they would always feel so much bigger than their anxiety. They would feel bigger than everything – as though a tiny, tip-toed stretch could have them touching the top of the world from where they are. If they, like us, could see straight through their anxiety to who they are, they would see their strength, their courage, and their beautifully different and interesting way of looking at the world. They would see their depth of feeling and richness of thought. They would see that their anxiety is just one part of them, and in a way, testament to some pretty wonderful things that make them who they are.
Kids will live up to expectations or down to them. They need to see what we see so they can believe, as we do, in what they are capable of.
Here are some that are likely to be true for them, and that they need to know about themselves as much as we do:
Dear Kids with Anxiety,
Here’s what you need to know…
First, let’s be honest – anxiety sucks. It tends to come at the worst times and when it does, there’s nothing gentle and soft about it. Anxiety can seem to come from nowhere and for no reason at all. The thing is, so many things that we would like to change about ourselves often have strengths built into them. Anxiety is no different. Even though there are things about it that feel awful, there are also things that will also make you pretty incredible in a lot of ways. Here are some of them (and don’t worry – anxiety is very manageable (see here for how) but the good things about you won’t change when your anxiety does.)
Your anxiety is there to check that you’re okay not to tell you that you’re not.
Anxiety shows up to check that you’re okay, not to tell you that you’re not. It’s your brain’s way of saying, ‘Not sure but there might be some trouble here, but there might not be, but just in case you should be ready for it if it comes, which it might not – but just in case you’d better be ready to run or fight – but it might be totally fine.’ Brains can be so confusing sometimes! Without a doubt, you have a brain that is strong, healthy and hardworking. It’s doing a brilliant job of doing exactly what brains are meant to do – keep you alive. To be completely honest, your brain is pretty fabulous. When you train it to be less anxious, it will just get better and better.
Brains can change.
One of the most amazing things about your brain is that you can change it. Every time you do something brave or think strong, brave thoughts (‘I’m okay – I can do this!’), you’re strengthening the part of your brain that helps with brave behaviour. Every time you take strong deep breaths, you’re teaching your brain how to help you feel calm. If you could see your brain on the inside, you would see millions of tiny brain cells making more and more connections every time you do something. The more connections you have in a part of your brain, the stronger it is and the better it works.The things you do really do make a difference.
You have an interesting and different and wonderful way of looking at things.
You notice a lot of things that might worry you, but that’s because you’re noticing so much of the world in general and thinking about things deeply. You notice the detail which means you will understand and appreciate things in ways that are surprising and clever and different. You might not appreciate this but trust me, it’s pretty special to be with someone who notices the world with as much richness as you do. The way you see things might feel normal to you, but it’s actually refreshing, wonderful and clever.
You’re quick to notice when something isn’t right.
When there’s something that needs attention, you’re right on it. You’re amazing like that. You’ll be the first to spot trouble and to figure out what needs to be done about it. Just make sure you spend as much time feeling the things that make you feel good, as you do feeling the things that bother you. You might have to work really hard at this but we already know that your brain is a hard worker and super capable. When something happens that makes you feel good, let the good feeling stay – keep noticing that good feeling for at least 20 seconds. This will help the good feelings to happen as easily as the worrying feelings.
You’re brave. And strong. And determined.
Anxiety and courage always happen together. It can’t be any other way. If you’re anxious, it’s because you’re about to do something really brave. Anxiety feels like a big barrier, but even with that, you’re able to push through it and do things that feel scary. That takes determination, strength and courage – and you have loads of all of them. People with anxiety are some of the bravest people on the planet because even when things feel scary, they do them anyway. And they do them every day. The more anxious you are, the braver you’re about to be.
Your thoughts are powerful.
Your thoughts are so powerful that sometimes little thoughts can be big worries and before you know it, they’re controlling the way you feel and the things you do. You have a really – really – strong mind, and as powerful as it can be in making you anxious and stopping you from doing things, it can be just as powerful in making you do things that are strong, brave and determined. Your strong mind means that you will always be braver and stronger than you feel. Always.
You are really trustworthy. And people know it.
Because you understand people and the things that can hurt them, you are really careful not to hurt those around you. People can tell this about you and would think of you as someone who is trustworthy and pretty great to know. Research has even proven it.
People like you, like, really like you.
People really like you. Research has shown that even though people with anxiety tend to be unsure about what others think of them, those others are likely to be thinking that you’re someone kind of wonderful. Anyone who knows you would know that you aren’t bossy or mean, that you’re kind, honest and thoughtful and that you can be really funny and fun to be around. Why wouldn’t they like you! That doesn’t mean you always want to be with people, even if they’re people you really like. Sometimes it just feels good to be on your own – and there’s nothing at all wrong with that.
You would make an amazing leader.
You understand people really well. You understand the sorts of things that can hurt people’s feelings and you understand the things that can make people feel great about themselves. That’s a true leader. You are trustworthy and people look to you for guidance because they know that you’ve usually thought of everything. You might not be the one putting your hand up to be a leader or a captain, but you should be. People trust you, and they know that if they follow you, they’re in great hands.
You are creative.
People with anxiety are often very creative. Anxiety and creativity seem to come from the same part of the brain. If you know this and are already doing creative things, keep going – the world needs your creative genius. If you haven’t found your creative spark yet, keep looking – it’s there – it’s just a matter of finding the thing that will make it come out. There are plenty of ways to be creative – drawing, painting, cooking, building, writing, acting, inventing, dancing – so many!
You are great at making decisions.
You might take a while to make decisions, but that’s okay, don’t rush yourself, because that time you’re taking is your brain taking all sorts of things into consideration – maybe even things that nobody else has thought of. You don’t make wrong decisions from jumping in too quickly or because you’ve missed something important. You are able to notice the important things and take them into account when making up your mind. Imagine if we could all do that! When you make a decision, it will most often be absolutely the right one. Remember though that sometimes there are no wrong decisions – just a choice between two (or more) things that will be equally good for you.
When you’re anxious, you kind of have the power of a superhero. Or a ninja.
The reason you feel the way you do when you have anxiety is because your brain has told you that there might be some sort of trouble ahead and it surges your body with healthy chemicals called hormones and adrenaline. (Remember, your brain doesn’t actually know whether or not there is trouble – it’s just letting you know that there might be.) These healthy chemicals are designed to make you more alert, stronger, faster and more powerful, just is case there actually is something you need to deal with. It’s your body going into superhero mode. The problem is that if there’s no superhero action needed (nothing to fight, nothing to run away from) the chemicals build up and that’s why you feel the way you do when you have anxiety. Taking a few strong deep breaths is one way to feel better because it calms your brain, switches off the chemicals, and restores your body to normal.
You’re people smart. You get people. You really understand them.
You understand what it is like for people to worry or feel scared or as though they might make a mistake, because you go through similar things. Even if you don’t understand exactly why someone is feeling the way they do, you understand exactly what it feels like to feel ‘not right’. You can take information about people and situations and put them together really well. You can understand how people are feeling or what might help them to feel better. Seriously – it’s no wonder people love you.
The things that matter to you REALLY matter.
Your family, your friends, your pets – you care deeply about the people and things that are important to you and you always work hard to make sure they are okay and that they know how important they are to you. It’s the kind of person you are – you really care about the things that matter, and you’ll never stop.
You do great things with information.
You’re great at learning and understanding things. That doesn’t mean you know everything about everything, but when you have enough information or when you put your mind to understanding something, you can understand it really well and put the information to good use.
You’re a thinker and a planner.
You think deeply about things and you figure things out. Even though thinking about things too much can make anxiety worse, it’s also the thing that makes you prepared and very capable. You’re very likely to spend a lot of time thinking about the things that could go wrong, so make sure that you also spend a lot of time thinking about the things that could go right. They’re important too.
Everyone struggles with something.
Every single person on the planet struggles with something. Everyone. Even the strongest, bravest, smartest person on the planet has things that trouble them or make them worried or anxious from time to time. It’s good to know that you’re human. Take it as a sign that you’re normal, and about to do something really – really – brave. Because that’s exactly what it is.
You make the world better – no, wonderful – for the people around you.
Because you know how it feels when things are difficult, you’re really able to appreciate how great it feels to be happy and safe and with people who you like being with.
And finally …
Anxiety can be tough to deal with, but dealing with it has given you certain strengths that are unique to you, and amazing. Own them – they’re pretty great strengths to have. You’re a thinker, you’re creative, you’re brave, strong and determined, and you feel things richly and deeply. You are capable of something wonderful and there’s no need to know what that will be, just that it will be. In the meantime, all you have to do is take one small step at a time, because the biggest, most important, most wonderful things all start with something small and brave.
You might also like …
‘Hey Warrior’ is the book I’ve written for children to help them understand anxiety and to find their ‘brave’. It explains why anxiety feels the way it does, and it will teach them how they can ‘be the boss of their brains’ during anxiety, to feel calm. It’s not always enough to tell kids what to do – they need to understand why it works. Hey Warrior does this, giving explanations in a fun, simple, way that helps things make sense in a, ‘Oh so that’s how that works!’ kind of way, alongside gorgeous illustrations.