The Subtle Signs That Someone Might Be Struggling With Anxiety

The Subtle Signs of Anxiety in Others

Anxiety is a very normal part of being human, and we all experience it on some level from time to time. It’s our inbuilt early warning system that has been designed by evolution to warn us when there might be trouble, and ready us to deal with it. Sometimes though, the early warning system works a little too hard, switching on too often when there’s just no need. 

Anxiety can be thought of as the workings of a strong healthy brain that’s being a little overprotective. It’s not crazy and it’s not troubled. It’s overprotective. Like anything overprotective, anxiety can be intrusive, confusing and exhausting. For some people, there may be no outward clues that they are anxious at all. Their symptoms will be managed beautifully and will have minimal, if any, intrusion into their lives. For others, anxiety can be debilitating.  

The stats on anxiety are staggering. Anxiety is so common, that if you aren’t experiencing it yourself, it’s very likely that someone you care about is. Bupa has created an infographic that illustrates some of the statistics. Find it in the Blue Room here: ‘Feeling Anxious? You’re Not Alone’

Anxiety is just another part of being human. We all have our ‘stuff’, and anxiety is just one that many of us will struggle with from time to time. If someone close to you is experiencing anxiety, there may be signs. Sometimes they may be obvious. Sometimes, they may make their way into the shared space between you in more subtle ways. As with anything that’s happening the lives of the people we love, it is when anxiety is misunderstood or ignored that it can do the most damage. 

Here are some subtle signs to watch out for. If you see them happening, don’t make a big deal of things. For the person you’re with, they would have been likely living with it for a while. Just be there and know that you don’t need to fix anything. 

None of these behaviours necessarily mean anxiety is causing trouble for someone you care about, but they might. Being open to the signs and the different ways anxiety looks when it lands will help you to be a strong, steady, soothing presence (rather than a confused one) for the person you care about. And we all need that from time to time. 

The Subtle Signs of Anxiety. 

  1. The details. All of them. ASAP.

    If you are someone who is more a go-with-the-flow type of person, an excessive need for details might seem confusing for you. For someone with anxiety, having as many details as soon as possible can be the greatest defence against anxiety sashaying in when it’s not welcome. And it’s never welcome. The details may help to cut down the ‘what-ifs’ that feed anxiety before they’ve had the chance to breathe. The need to clarify plans, or fill in or change some of the details isn’t about needing to control anything, but about trying to stop anxiety controlling them. 

  2. Decisions. Ugh.

    People with anxiety often have wonderfully strong and vibrant minds and when there’s a decision to be made, they’ll tend to think of all the different angles. On the plus side, they may be the ones to think of things that nobody else saw coming. On the other hand, anxiety can make decision-making more difficult. The outward signs of this may be trouble deciding, planning, weighing up consequences and organising thoughts in a logical, rational way to get to a good decision. The capacity to make a good decision is there, but anxiety can send it offline. 

  3. Avoiding new people, too many people, places, situations, the unfamiliar.

    It’s normal to want to avoid things sometimes, but if someone close to you regularly pulls out of things, looks for an out, says ‘no’ to invites, or changes plans, anxiety might be in the driver’s seat. This isn’t about avoiding situations, people or places (even though it looks that way), but about avoiding the awful feelings that rocket in with anxiety. 

  4. Flight. The need to leave – a place, a relationship, a situation, a crowd.

    Anxiety drives people to make things safe. The two ways this can happen are fight or flight. ‘Flight’ can look like leaving, ignoring, not picking up the phone, wanting out of relationships, or wanting to leave a gathering early. This isn’t done to hurt anyone and it isn’t an avoidance of you, the people they care about, places or situations. It’s an avoidance of the anxiety that might come bundled with those things in certain situations. 

  5. Or fight. Anger, aggression, tantrums, irritability.

    Anxiety isn’t always about avoidance or escape. During anxiety, the alternative to ‘flight’ is ‘fight’. This can look like aggression or anger, but underlying it might be anxiety and the need to feel safe.

  6. Tears. Unexpected ones.

    When people are anxious, they might burst into tears, not because of sadness, but because of anxiety. The part of the brain that is involved in anxiety, the amygdala, is also involved in emotion. During anxiety it can be on high volume, so emotions can be too. 

  7. They might seem a little aloof, disinterested or indifferent. Except they’re not.

    People with anxiety can appear aloof to outsiders, but they’re often the warmest people in the room. What looks like aloofness, is actually the process of standing back and taking things in until they feel comfortable and safe enough. There’s nothing wrong with it and it isn’t something that needs to be changed. Not everyone feels the need to open up straight away, and that’s okay. It makes it all the more wonderful when the wall goes down.

  8. There’s a tendency to overgeneralise

    People who are living with anxiety have a unique wiring that causes them to interpret things as harmful, even if they’re not harmful at all. This is called ‘overgeneralisation’. In an evolutionary sense, this is a great thing – it’s the reason people with anxiety are often alive to potential trouble long before it hits. The problem is that it can also cause too many false alarms. Rather than assessing the potential harm of things in the environment with fresh eyes every time, the anxious brain tends to tag everything as a potential threat.

  9. Tummy trouble.

    Where there is anxiety, there is often tummy trouble – constipation, diarrhoea, or irritable bowel. There’s a good reason for this. In the gut are hundreds of millions of neurons. This is affectionately known as ‘the brain in our gut’ or our ‘second brain’. They send information from the belly to the brain and they are a key player in mental health and emotional well-being. When the environment in the gut is out of balance, the messages sent back to the brain via the vagus nerve (the very long nerve that runs from the belly to the brain, touching the heart along the way) can stir anxiety. As well as neurons, the 100 trillion bacteria that call your gut home also play a major role in mental health. According to professor of physiology, psychiatry and behavioural sciences at UCLA, Emeran Mayer, gut bacteria contain extraordinary amounts of wisdom that get sent to the brain, influencing our behaviour and emotional well-being every minute of the day.

  10. A need for reassurance.

    Nothing can cast a healthy, vibrant mind into the future like anxiety can. Once the ‘what-ifs’ launch into action, it can make the need for reassurance a hungry one. The reassurance can be about anything – how you feel, how other people feel, whether the plans make sense, whether you’ll get there on time. An anxious brain is geared towards noticing threat before it happens. Understand that even though your reassurance might be needed more than once, you’re helping to soothe their anxiety back to small enough. We all need that sometimes.

  11. Oh but it’s not quite perfectly perfect. 

    The need for things to be exactly right can often be a well-built disguise for a fear of being criticised or judged if there is a mistake, fall or fail. To protect from failure, people with anxiety might place ridiculously high standards on themselves. They might redo things over and over and worry endlessly about getting the detail completely perfect. Sometimes it will be easier to never finish anything, or to have the excuse of falling short of time (because it was done over and over and over and ov…) than to claim full effort and for the result to not be good enough. On the plus side, when something makes it to completion, it’s likely to be exceptional.

  12. Worrying thoughts settle in.

    When thoughts become persistent and unrelenting, there’s a good chance they might be driven by anxiety. Often, there is an edge of irrationality or excessiveness to the thought. It’s normal to worry sometimes, but when it influences behaviour (such as compulsive behaviours [checking, washing], constantly asking for reassurance), anxiety might be the pushy little beast behind it all. Worries can also take the shape of ‘what ifs’ and for someone with anxiety, those worries can start to feel like predictions. What if I make a mistake? What if I say something stupid? What if everybody has a dreadful time? What if this headache is a tumour? What if something bad happens to someone I love? … You get the idea. Just keep in mind that the thoughts might feel irrational to you, but for your loved on, they can feel very real. Telling them to ‘stop worrying’ will work as well as telling someone to ‘stop breathing’. Instead, acknowledge the worry and suggest putting a limit on whatever the safety behaviours are, whether it’s checking, asking, washing. This is a way to show that you’re on their team, and to help bring a sense of calm back to their world.

  13. Rocketing to the worst case scenario.

    An anxious mind tends to always on guard for possible danger. This can drive a tendency to leap to the worst case scenario in a single, almighty, bound. When this happens, people can come across as negative, but it’s more about being careful and wanting to avoid trouble down the track. 

  14. Difficulty sleeping.

    Anxiety loves showing up when there’s nothing else to compete with it for air time. The early hours of the morning are prime time. We all shift between sleep cycles, but when sleep works as it should, we quickly put ourselves back to sleep again. If anxious thoughts find their way in, that gentle stirring can become a wide-eyed awakening that can persist for hours, breathing life into worrying thoughts along the way. A lack of sleep can make even the nicest of humans tense, irritable or cranky. Sometimes a bad sleep is just a bad sleep. And sometimes it’s the work of an anxious mind.

  15. Physical pain.

    Anxiety can be physically painful. Even though anxiety does some of its best work in the head, it’s a physiological response that can create painful symptoms. When the brain senses a threat (real or imagined – it doesn’t care) it activates the fight or flight response by surging the body with a chemical cocktail made up of hormones and adrenaline. This is a very normal, healthy response that happens in all of us from time to time. It’s designed to ready the body to deal with the possible threat by making it faster, stronger, more powerful and more alert. When there is no need to run or fight, there is nothing to burn these chemicals that are surging through the body, so they build up. This creates the physical symptoms of anxiety, some of which can be painful. These can include a tightening around the chest, a racy heart, headaches, nausea, muscle tension, tummy aches, a dry mouth. 

  16. They seem forgetful, scattered, inattentive, distracted.

    If someone seems forgetful, scattered, or inattentive, anxiety might be the culprit. We can all be a bit like this sometimes, but the clue lies in the regularity or intensity of the distractedness. Anxiety has a way of dominating head space with all sorts of thoughts and worries. This can skittle someone’s focus and steer attention away from the present. Someone who is feeling anxious, might have trouble focusing on you or the conversation, despite the most heartfelt desire to be fully present with you.

  17. Habits that seem unusual, or usual things done in an unusual way.

    People sometimes develop habits as a way of self-soothing during times of anxiety. These habits might not always make sense when you’re looking from the outside in, but they don’t need to. The main thing to understand is that for whatever reason, they make anxiety feel smaller for a while. Anxiety-driven habits might include compulsive behaviours such as washing hands, checking locks, having to do things a certain number of times or in a particular order. They can also be physical, such as nail biting, pulling out hair (trichotillomania) and skin picking (dermatillomania). These symptoms will often escalate with the intensity of the anxiety.

And finally …

Anxiety can also come with an abundance of strengths. Anyone who experiences anxiety would always choose not to have it, but it can also work to shape the person someone is in many ways for the better. People with anxiety will be some of the strongest, most emotionally generous, intelligent, creative, funny, warm and wise people you could meet.

Above all else, know that anxiety isn’t a failure, a disease, a weakness or a deficiency. It’s just another part of being human, and the sometimes beautiful, sometimes messy, sometimes ridiculous art that it is.  We all have things that we struggle with. Ultimately, they are the things that will make us braver, wiser, stronger, more compassionate humans. It’s just the way it seems to work. 

There is nothing to be scared of with anxiety. Nothing at all. Understanding when anxiety might be driving behaviour will help to stop anxiety feeling intrusive, confusing or isolating. One of the greatest feelings in the world is being close to someone who gets us, or who tries to. The truth is, we’re all complex beings with plenty of mystery to our edges. There are few things that feel as wonderfully strengthening and enriching than when someone makes an effort to understand us through our own eyes, from wherever we happen to be.

* This post has been sponsored by Bupa, but the views are the author’s own.



Your article was so informative and I’m going to try and get my wife to read it so she can understand me better. It felt like you were describing things about me and how I feel a lot of the time so perfectly. Anxiety has really ruled my life for several years now and it’s really put a strain on my relationship at times. After reading the article I realize I need to get more help than just taking the meds I am on as lately my anxiety has reached an all time high and I can barely function at work as a cashier. I’m so stuck in my head I breakdown crying randomly all the time, sometimes it feels like over nothing because anything can set me off it feels like. Also I cannot talk to my wife because she doesn’t understand and thinks I can just get over it and I wish it were that simple. I find I “jump to conclusions” try and figure out problems to certain things by asking questions and will bluntly ask my wife if she or so and so did something and I come across as blaming when that is not at all what I am trying to do and I feel terrible over it. I have reached a point where I feel like it would be better if I could disappear even when I know that is not true.

I just wanted to share that this article was a good read and felt informative and it felt like you really care.


hey i hope you’re doing well! my anxiety has gotten worse since winter started last year. it’s a lot better now but i still freak out sometimes or start crying. just wanted you to know you’re not alone! that’s something that always helps me. you’re never alone in anything you feel or experience. there’s always gonna be someone out there who’s gone through something similar. i suggest you keep reading about small ways to overcome your anxiety. that’s what i’ve been doing and it’s helped me feel like i have more control. my best friend recently got a therapist and i think i’m going to as well. she says it’s really helpful. so maybe you should try that!


Very good information, I thought I was an expert on hypnotherapy, but I got some further tips in this article. Thanks.!!

Eileen B

It caught my attention when you said that anxiety can cause people to cry because they both involve the brain’s amygdala. For a few months now, I’ve been having to fight the urge to cry whenever I’m in a stressful situation. Reading your article helped me realize that I should find a therapist service to talk with about anxiety.

Daphne G

Thanks for explaining that anxiety can make decision making more difficult. Lately I’ve been getting overwhelmed whenever I have to make choices. Your article made me see that I should look for a coaching program for anxiety.


I m patient of depression but i m taking my homeopathic medicine n its curing me i have just problem of anger left


Although I’m not generally an anxious person, my mum has recently been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer (she is only 62) and has been given 6 months to live. The overwhelming weight of this news consumes me every day and has since caused me to live in a constant state of anxiety. This article really helped me recognise all the symptoms and why I always feel the way i do. I have also just sent it to my husband so he can begin to understand why my behaviour is changing so much. Thank you for putting this in words. Knowing that what i feel has a name makes it a little easier to understand and i can now find ways (like mindfulness) to try and deal with the anxiety so it isn’t all-consuming all the time.

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Your welcome Ceri. I’m pleased this has been able to help. The news you have been given about your mother is traumatic and it’s completely understandable that you would feel the way you do. This is a difficult time for you and I wish you and your family love and strength.


Thank you so much for this article! I struggle with anxiety and this article somehow helped me!!


Your article on anxiety is completely accurate and comforting at the same time as I see a lot of those behaviours in myself. It’s important to be able to recognise and acknowledge anxiety in yourself and understand how it works and that your nor alone. If you are caught up in it and don’t realise suddenly you can find yourself overwhelmed and feeling like you’ve lost control. That is a frightening feeling. Getting the right help at the right time makes all the difference in the world.


This article on anxiety describes me to the notch. I never knew I had anxiety till I read this. I can admit I’ve been struggling with anxiety for a while. I don’t know who to open up to am an introvert and most of the times I spend time alone if not with my boyfriend.
Anxiety is eating me up. I don’t have a tight relationship with my parents so I don’t think I would open up to them. Am kinda in my own world.
Please what should I do at 20 with anxiety taking the better part of me?

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Pauline here are some articles about ways to help to manage your symptoms.

Living with Anxiety – Important New Insights
Our ‘Second Brain’ and Anxiety:
Overcoming Anxiety – The Remarkable and Proven Power of Mindfulness
How to Calm Anxiety – The Easy Way to Restore Vital Neurochemicals:

I hope they are able to help.


Yet another eye opening, amazing article from you! Oh how I wish you lived in the US, Florida to be more precise! I would love to read in the future something about anxiety in teens with skin picking (cuticle area) and how to stop it. (4 yr long habit in my teen daughter, but only approx 2 times a month) I know several 13-21 yr old young women with this issue and it seems to either be more common, or I’m noticing it it a lot more.
Also another thing I would LOVE to know if you happen to have any recommendations for a iphone app for teens for “mindfulness” practicing/training. I really think that would be so helpful since they’re on their phone anyway, why not have a period of time in the morning and evening practicing mindfulness while on their phones! I would GLADLY pay for an app, not looking for a free one. Your recommendations for that would be priceless to me as i would want it to be effective. Better yet, maybe you’re coming up with an app!!! {I think I hear the world screaming “YES!!!!”}
Bless you Dr. Karen!

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Debbie you’re not going to believe this but I have just sat down to write an article about anxiety in teens! I love your suggestion about including skin picking and will make sure I include something on that. I’m hearing about this happening more and more in kids and teens. I have a brilliant app for you (it’s not mine – maybe after the books!). It’s called Smiling Mind and it’s free to download. One of the reasons I love this app is because of the mindfulness research Smiling Mind are doing. You are so right about how great it would be for teens to use their free time to practice mindfulness. Here is the link for you It has different programs for different ages, so she can play the one that is right for her. Hope it helps!


I’ve used 4 apps for meditation: Headspace (which I like a lot, but it’s pay and I don’t use regularly to justify, but you can try it out for free), Smiling Mind, 10% Happier, and Breathe. They are all great, but my favorite in general and for the kids is Stop, Think, & Breathe (Breathe for short) which I’ve used with groups of middle schoolers and my own kids (10 & 14).. More info here:


I read this because some of my daughter’s friends have said they have anxiety. But, gee, after reading this, I guess I have anxiety and I, as well as my loved ones and friends, have no idea! I have had 3 panic attacks in my lifetime, but they were about 20 years ago, and nothing since. I really didn’t think I have anxiety, but I have all of the above symptoms. I do feel a little anxious at times, but isn’t that normal? Humph…I’m confounded!

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Experiencing some level of anxiety is absolutely normal! It’s what has kept us humans alive for thousands of years. If we never experienced anxiety, we would be diving into dangerous situations head first because there would be nothing in us to warn about possible danger. We all show some symptoms of anxiety some of the time. The most important thing to remember is that something is only a problem of it’s causing you a problem.


Thank you, Karen! That last line was especially helpful (“The most important thing to remember is that something is only a problem of it’s causing you a problem.”).


Thank you for this list of the signs (symptoms) of anxiety. I think it is good to be aware of the signs, because if you’re aware, you can change your self talk to calm yourself. When I awake with worrying thoughts that prevent me from sleeping, I find that reading on my iPad helps to distract me. If I’m reading something spiritual or self-help like, “The Language of Letting Go,” by Melody Beattie, I find it calms my anxiety. I also find that reciting scriptures that I’ve memorized helps to put me back to sleep. These are just my attempts to control the anxieties I experience in this increasingly scary world.


I am very pleased that I read this article on anxiety. Yes, I am, have been an anxious person all of my life. It’s been a rough road at times. What amazed me was your statements that anxiety is part of being normal, and produces better results in us as people who want to do the right thing. I have had a lot of the ailments mentioned for anxious people, but this article made me understand why I pull away from people sometimes in friendships. I tend to fear that if I keep to myself, I won’t “make a mistake and make them angry at me”, and I don’t always have to keep apologizing for everything I say and do, because I know myself and figure it’s my fault. Thank you for this article. Please keep sending them.

Karen - Hey Sigmund

You’re so welcome Margie. I’m pleased it was helpful. The way you describe your experience in friendships makes a lot of sense. I imagine that if your friends could tell you, they would say that they really value your friendship and enjoy having you around. Anxious thoughts can be so persuasive though can’t they.


Sharing this was friends & colleagues. Focusing on:
“People with anxiety will be some of the strongest, most emotionally generous, intelligent, creative, funny, warm and wise people you could meet.”


This article totally burst my illusions that I am not an anxious person. In reality,it seems as though I am an anxious mess. But I’m used to it and like how my coping skills have shaped my life. Overall, I think anxiety keeps me on the straight path to doing things correctly.

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Amanda if the things you do aren’t causing you problems, then there’s no problem. It’s great that you have found ways to manage any symptoms that might otherwise get in your way. I love that you have turned these into strengths and qualities that work for you.

Susan gunn

Excellent article. I fit a few of the symptoms!
Please more remedies for anxiety? What do therapists recommend?

Denise Costabile

This is an extremely helpful and straightforward explanation of anxiety. Thank you for taking time out to post it. Am I free to share this as a link onto a web page that is not listed on the side bar here?



Thank you for writing this article. I am beginning to understand better the behavior of my loved one. This article has helped me tremendously!


I can see myself in this article but I can also see my son, and I desperately want to help him be less anxious but I really don’t know how. As an adult I often give myself a pep talk about whatever it is that’s making me worried- but he can’t do that yet. My husband gets irritated at times by my worrying but thinks it’s endearing at other times – he’s wired very differently to me and he handles his stresses well. We’re strange creatures but I so wish my son wasn’t so anxious.

Karen - Hey Sigmund

You will be a wonderful source of wisdom for your son. It sounds as though you have found ways of dealing with your anxiety that work well for you. For your son, it’s a matter of learning the strategies that will work for him. One of the most important ways for you to help him is to believe that he can cope – even with the things that seem to trigger his anxiety. He will look to you for clues about whether something is safe and whether he has the capacity to deal with it. Kids are such savvy little beings and they will pick up on every one of our subtle thoughts and feelings. Even if you are worried about him, the more you can let him see your belief in him, the more he will pick up on that and ‘borrow’ your strength and belief in himself.

Here are a couple of articles that might also help:
>> Anxiety in Kids – How to Turn it Around and Protect Them For Life (The explanation here can be really powerful for kids in dealing with anxiety. It takes out the mystery and makes it all less scary. Understanding where it comes from stops ‘anxiety about the anxiety’, which can get in the way for anyone who tends to get a little anxious sometimes.

>> Building Emotional Intelligence: What to Say to Kids When They Get Anxious

>> Dealing with Anxiety in Children: How to Calm and Strengthen an Anxious Brain


This article couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I’m going through some really tough financial and emotional things right now. 2016 has been an abysmal year. To make matters worse, I come from a society/culture that attaches stigmas to mental issues like anxiety, depression, etc and parents/brothers constantly tell me to relax and, when my son was younger, used to tell me I was an unfit Mom so if I didn’t “buck-up” they would take my son away from me. I took anti-depressants for many years, but they became way too costly. I have trouble sleeping and already take up to 3 tablets a night for an average of 4 hours sleep. Today my anxiety is in an ebb but last night I nearly passed out from worry. Thank you for these types of articles that make me “pull myself towards myself” and makes me realise I’m not crazy.

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Jodi you are definitely NOT crazy! The problem is that the more you are made to feel as though you are, the worse this will make your symptoms. Know that anxiety is so common and such a normal part of the human experience. I wish the people around you could understand this and be more supportive of you. Keep moving forward and now that you are strong, capable and NOT crazy. Some of the bravest, smartest, most wonderfully capable and talented people get anxious sometimes – sometimes extremely so. It doesn’t change who you are. Love and healing to you.


This article describes me to a “T.” I stopped taking anxiety/anti-depressant medication in early 2015, after weaning myself off of it for the previous year. I had also used alcohol and food to self-medicate. I quit drinking altogether and have changed my eating habits to eliminate sugar and processed foods. However, I feel the anxiety full force in all its manifestations. I’ve gone back into therapy and am trying to find more healthy coping strategies like exercise and meditation. My mind is a whirling dervish and trying to calm myself is still a big hurdle. My husband, who is the most laid-back, calm person with very few neuroses, has a difficult time understanding my behaviors. He’s the first to say, “you don’t have anything to worry about,” or “just relax, everything will be just fine,” or “don’t care so much what other people think.” On the face of it, he’s correct – I get that intellectually, but my brain is not wired that way. He wants to help and fix this for me but he can’t. I went off meds because I’ve been researching the long term effects of medications on the brain and I have some serious concerns about them. I certainly don’t want to numb out again like I did for so many years. But omigosh, I wouldn’t wish the type of anxiety I have on anyone. It’s quite debilitating.

Karen - Hey Sigmund

Thank you for sharing your story. I’m so sure that it will help other people who read it to feel less alone in their experience. Anxiety can be difficult to understand for people who haven’t been through it, which can make it all the more difficult for the one who is. Your husband obviously cares about you so much and I imagine he would do anything to take your anxiety away. If only it was as easy as ‘not worrying’! I’m so pleased that you’re going to try exercise and meditation. There is so much research (and it’s growing) about how exercise and meditation can change the brain in ways that can strengthen it against anxiety. You have wonderful strength in you – I can hear it in your words. Keep fighting for you.


Thank you for your articles about anxiety in its many forms. Unfortunately our whole family has anxiety and depression in varying degrees and now my 13 yr old daughter is showing the signs of this frustrating disorder. I too have used alcohol and other crutches to ease the pain of it. Now I try to use herbs and supplements like magnesium, valerian, St Johns Wort and also the freshest healthy food I can get my hands on and I’m sure this makes a positive contribution to our wellness.

I also limit time on social media to a minimum as I believe this can be an anxious person’s enemy and create problems where there weren’t any previously.

Once again, thank you for creating this informative and supportive site. I wish you and your readers well.

Kind regards
Diane from Rockhampton

Karen - Hey Sigmund

You’re so welcome Diane. It sounds like you are doing all of the right things to help your family. I love that you have limited your time on social media – I absolutely agree that this can sometimes create problems that weren’t there. Exercise and meditation can also be powerful ways to strengthen the brain against anxiety. Keep doing what you’re doing. It sounds like your family are in wonderful hands.

Jennifer Johnson

It occurred to me while reading that, which is a similar tendency in myself, you may be exercising that “all or nothing” aspect of anxiety in trying to remove all coping mechanisms at once, which may be self-defeating. Absolutely the alcohol should go first, since it is dangerous to mix with medication and it doesn’t really serve any purpose other than recreation. Cleaning up your eating and meditating is great too, but there is no shame in taking anti-anxiety medication if you are symptomatic, which is sounds like you are. Brain chemistry is a tricky thing, and not something you can “will” away. Therefore my opinion is if taking anti-anxiety medication under a doctor’s care keeps you from booze, overeating and other destructive behaviors, examine why you felt you needed to get off it in the first place. It didn’t sound from your description it was due to a competing health reason. I wish you well, it is a tricky thing to live with. I am by no means a “pop a pill to fix it” person, but have found that it can give you the space to work on non-pharmaceutical options, therapy and life. We don’t get extra points for difficulty at the end of our lives!

Clara Jacobs


Your last sentence is right on and might save the life of a kind, successful, single mom of an amazing young person whose legal career helps people daily– the mom started a business which employs over 2,600 people (started over 30 years ago) — important because GDP down, etc. This lady was put on Diazepam age 19 due to stress of University, working full time, & supporting husband (also attending University full time) until it was revealed he was in affair with her classmate. She divorced him. She has weaned herself down from 40 mg / day to 10 but almost died past summer when she abruptly “threw the pills out”. She is back on 9mg and struggling to reduce. Something physical stronger at play here, more than her determination and she feels like a failure. I am afraid for her: she views the “Heather Ashton Manual” (Prof in England) as the Bible but her “I failed” has a scary undertone. She has had such a challenging life, with no family now or growing up. I will try to get her to hang on with the help of your last sentence. Well said! Thank you. She is so worthy of help.


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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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