resolutions

How I Learned to Curb My–and My Kids’–Anxiety

stressed woman

I am obsessed with dates and, more generally, numbers. I can remember what happened on a certain date X many years ago, what I was doing (or what my children were doing) on this date a year (or several years) ago, special dates, random people’s birthdays, etc. All this recollection is done to a fault, I must add, because I always think this brain space ought to be used in a more productive manner.

Nevertheless, when it comes to goal setting for the coming calendar year—both Jewish and Georgian—I always have a myriad of goals. And, because July represents being halfway through with 2015, I’ve been reflecting upon how I am doing with these resolutions.

This year, I wanted to focus on internal growth and well-being—not only for me but also for my children. So, in addition to setting my own personal goals, I decided to bring my kids into the game for one. My girls—and likely my son, though he is not yet 4—have inherited (yay) my tendency towards being anxious. This, coupled with a dash (or dollop) of overthinking and obsessing, is a characteristic that I work hard at reining in each day.

READ: Facing Anxiety as a Mother, Wife & Woman

But, when I was my 11-year-old’s age, anxiety roamed free; it even bubbled over into poetry writing. Most famously, in my 6th grade yearbook there was a page upon which our English teacher had published statements—no names—about every child and we were left to guess which statement was about ourselves. Without a shadow of a doubt, mine was, “She elevates worrying to an art form.” Looking back on it years later still makes me so terribly sad for that girl. I want my own children to learn ways to combat that thinking sooner, rather than later.

The challenge, I explained to my 13 and 11-year-old daughters, was modified from a lecture I was privileged to attend in January of 2014. The speaker had been talking about how doing for others helps us mitigate stress and anxiety. He explained that helping others is a method of getting out of ourselves—our problems, our anxieties.

When we take a break from focusing on the chatter in our heads and help someone else, something magical happens: We begin to feel good about ourselves, so much so that we can forget about our own stressors. Granted, we may revert right back to that internal monologue, but it is impossible to be focusing on someone else and yourself in the exact same moment.

READ: How My 5-Year-Old Is Learning to Cope with Her Anxiety

The lecturer went on to suggest that one way of starting our day off on the right (relaxed) foot is by doing nice things for others immediately upon awakening. He challenged us to, within the first 15 minutes of being awake, give out three compliments. Given that on weekdays the first 15 minutes I am awake, I am usually waking up four children for school, mine were a lot of: “Your hair looks so pretty when you (actually) brush it!” Or, “I love how you resisted the urge to roll your eyes at me just then and/or snap at your sister.”

I did this morning exercise on-and-off throughout 2014 (probably more off than on) but, for 2015, I wanted to step it up. By making others feel good about themselves and not being quite so self-absorbed (complete with my perennially, insanely long To Do lists and other stressors) first thing in the morning, I had noticed my anxiety level went down drastically. When I woke up and forced myself to think of complimenting others versus immediately being consumed with what I need to do for the day, I actually felt a sense of peace wash over me.

Best of all, my two older daughters noticed a positive difference in our mornings. I was hopeful that if I explained it to my girls, maybe they could begin to change their thinking patterns and begin their own days feeling more calm and content. In particular, my 11-year-old is not at her happiest upon awakening on school mornings (something about needing absolute 100% quiet which, given she has three siblings, is pretty much an impossibility…). I thought giving her a task to reframe her first few moments awake in a positive manner would help.

READ: After Battling Postpartum Anxiety, Finding the Mama in Me

Sure enough, she really enjoys focusing on giving compliments to her parents and siblings in the morning and has incorporated them into her morning routine. She even (almost) acquiesces that she sees a difference in her mood! My favorite one she gave me was: “Mommy, I love how even when you know I’m such a crab in the mornings, you still find something nice to say about me.” She is nothing if not honest and direct. My 13-year-old is considerably less rigid with her daily schedule and has not adopted it consistently; however, we’ve had a lot of great talks about the theory behind it, and I’m thrilled that she understands, and agrees with, the concept.

The theme throughout all of my 2015 resolutions—both for myself and for my children—has been reframing. If I can impart just one thing this year to my kids it would be that each of us has the power to change how much stress and worry we allow ourselves to hold onto.

By changing our actions (giving compliments to others, doing nice things for others, etc.) we automatically change our thinking and mood, which, in turn, can reduce our level of anxiety. Practice makes perfect, and it is my hope that by the time my kids reach young adulthood they will be much farther on the road than I was.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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