We humans are meaning makers. We are storytellers at heart. It’s how we make sense of each other, our world, and most importantly, ourselves. But big feelings can hijack our stories. When anxiety drives the story, it tells tales of deficiency and lacking, and puts avoidance where courage should be - but we can change that.
When we get a feeling, we are driven to make sense of it. Anxiety feels awful. It’s meant to. It compels us to listen to, and act on, its story: ‘This is unsafe and you need to act.’ This is how it keeps us safe. When there is no obvious threat, it is understandable that the story that children (or any of us) might put to the feeling is, ‘I feel as though something bad is going to happen, so something bad must be going to happen.’ .
This is when anxiety grows teeth. It assumes a power it doesn’t deserve, and drive a response that holds brave hearts back. .
To change the response, we have to change the story. First, we validate, because that lets them feel us beside them. ‘I can see how worried you are about going to school. It makes so much sense that you want to stay home. I’d want to stay home too if I felt like that.’
Then, to change how the story ends, we change how it begins. ‘Anxiety feels awful. It’s meant to - it’s how it keeps you safe from things that are actually dangerous, like dark alleys. But here’s the secret to doing hard things: Anxiety doesn’t only happen when something is dangerous. It also happens when there is something important or meaningful you need to do, like school or trying something new. It happens when you’re about to be brave. This is when you have a decision to make. Is this a time to stay safe, or is this a time to be brave?’
Then, we align with the part of them - and it’s always in them - that wants to be brave and knows they can be. It might be the tiniest whisper, or threadbare, or wilted by anxiety, but it will be there. .
Our job as their important people is to usher that brave part of them into the light, so they can start to feel it too. ‘You have done brave things before my darling, and I know you can do this. I know it with everything in me.’...