Talking To Someone Seemed Too Simple, But It Ended Up Being The First Step To Healing My Anxiety

I was always shy as a child, avoiding conversation and always feeling a little worried. I put these feelings down to my age, and thought that once I’d grown up a bit, the awkward feelings would be a thing of the past. As I transitioned from primary school and into secondary school, the feelings seemed to follow me.

I was thirteen around this time, and knowing that I’d be in a new school with new people made me feel a heightened sense of worry I’d never experienced before. I felt the same worry I felt when my mum dropped me off in the playground for the first day of primary school. It was that same stomach churning worry that I knew all too well.

Even though I continued to feel this worry, I remember still thinking that I’d eventually grow out of it. The problem was, it was only getting worse. Whilst my new friends seemed like they didn’t have a care in the world, there I was, trying to fit in, but still feeling as if something was not right. At this time I didn’t even know that anxiety was a word! And I certainly wouldn’t of been able to tell you what it meant. So I carried on through my school years, forcing a smile onto my face, and saying yes to things when really deep down I wanted to say no and go and lock myself in my bedroom.

The years flew by as they do, and eleven years had passed since I took my first step into primary school. Even after all that time, I still felt the same intense levels of anxiety as I was approaching college. For what ever reason, my anxiety seemed to peak around this time, and I had my first panic attack. It was as if all those years had built up to a critical mass that simply tipped me over the edge.

I’d packed my bag and made my way out of the house as I normally did, walking down the main road towards the train station. I hadn’t made it very before before it started. Every passing car made me feel more paranoid, the sun was bright and caused me to feel blinded. Like many days, I had struggled with whether I was actually going to go in that day. I wondered if I’d be in trouble for last week when I’d stayed at home for three days. I was going back and forth in my mind wondering what they’d say to me. It was at that point I considered quitting and just going back to the comfort of my bedroom.

Although very anxious, I was also always determined, and so I knew that I had to at least see the year out, and so I carried on in the warm heat. However for a reason that I still can’t explain, my mind started to race, as if there were two voices telling my conflicting things. I started to feel frantic, as if everything was crashing down around me. The brain fog that I had become accustomed to sank over my eyes, and that was all I needed. I stopped, turned, and scurried back towards home. There was no way I could walk into a class with everyone looking at me. Surely they would know I was some kind of imposter that never truly belonged there in the first place. It just all got too much. Some people say that your life flashes before your eyes before you die, however in that moment, every anxious situation in my life seemed to play in fast forward in my mind.

Amongst the panic, I remember thinking to myself that this was just who I was, and likely who I’d always be. After all, I couldn’t remember a time that I hadn’t felt this way. I’d never be confident, outgoing, and I’d never understand why I felt so confused. I opened and closed the door behind me, and in doing so felt a huge weight drop. Amongst the quiet of the hallway, I heard my mum call out to see if I’d forgotten something.

This would be the first time that I’d ever broken down in the blink of an eye. She rushed over to me and asked what was wrong. I didn’t know how to explain what was going on, however I was completely convinced I was losing my mind. Of course I knew what anxiety was by this age, but I never knew it could make you feel like you were going mad. So that’s exactly what I told her. Blubbering, I told her I thought I was going crazy. It felt like the last eleven years were like a balloon that had slowly been filling with air, but the pressure had now caused it to pop.

My experience with anxiety had always made me feel lonely, as if I was the only person in the world who was experiencing it. Looking back I think I felt that way because no-one was talking about it. No-one was talking about mental health, not even within families. It just never seemed to come up. So whilst my mum tried to calm me down, I finally managed to get out how I had been feeling, not just for the last few weeks, but for most of my life, and even then I didn’t expect her to understand.  Like any good parent she comforted me, but more importantly, she revealed something to me.

She told me that she had experienced something similar. She explained to me that she had been on a mild medication for her anxiety for years. Rubbing my red eyes, I felt a sense of shock. My own mum struggled with anxiety? This was huge, because it showed me that I was not so different, and not the only person to of gone through it. Just being able to talk openly about it gave me a sense of peace, as if I had made this confusing part of myself a little less of a deal. I felt a tiny bit more normal. I’d never of guessed that she had any problems with anxiety, and so it made me wonder how many other people might not of opened up about it too.

The next few years were filled with doctor visits, medication, and ongoing soul searching. By no means did this completely fix how I felt, but it was a major turning point for me. From then on I found it much easier to talk about how I felt, because I then knew how powerful talking could be. Suddenly this ‘thing’ that lived inside of me was out in the open.

Now I’m into my twenties, I still experience stomach churning anxiety from time to time, but I’m a lot better at managing it. The fact is, I got to seventeen before I put how I felt into words to someone. Often times, it can be difficult to know how to tackle how you feel, especially if you are shy and an introvert like I was. However, my own experience taught me that simply talking to someone you care about is often the first step. For me, finally externalising my emotions opened the doorway to recovery. So if you’ve been suffering in silence for a while now, dare to reach out to someone. It doesn’t have to be a family member as there are plenty of online support groups these days.

Don’t be embarrassed, you are human, as is the rest of the world, and you never know, you might set off a chain reaction where others make the big move and open up too. We can all put anxiety into the spotlight and help those young children who feel lonely and embarrassed to understand that it’s okay, and there is support if they want it.


About the Author: Sean Clarke

Sean Clarke is a father and writer who has experienced anxiety and depression since a very young age. He now offers down to earth advice for those who feel lonely in their own struggles – just like he did for many years of his life. You can find him over at http://projectenergise.com/blog. His ever growing anxiety coping skills list for those that want to know what has helped him can be found at http://projectenergise.com/anxiety-coping-skills-list/.

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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.♥️
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#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.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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