One of the primary mental health struggles that I see in children and adolescents is anxiety. It is so prevalent in the lives of these impressionable minds due to the access they now have to more information. I have seen anxiety’s crippling affects on many of these children and teens that it affects their sleeping and eating habits, ability to focus in school, ability to cope with stress, how they view themselves, and how they build relationships with others. Many parents struggle with anxiety as well and/or are unable to understand how to best help their children face this challenge.
One unique way I approach anxiety is understanding it as a separate entity from the individual. Calling it the worry monster (or whatever name the individual desires to use) allows them to understand that they don’t have to listen to the worry monster. This worry monster whispers lies, which cause persistent anxious thoughts to develop. Worry is different from stress in that it becomes stuck. This leads to ruminating thoughts (i.e. I often give the picture of a hamster wheel; moving, but not going anywhere).
There are some helpful tools to fight the worry monster. These include:
1. Understanding how worry affects the body – How does the body feel (stomachaches, headaches, sweaty palms, etc.)? This is the body’s warning signs of anxiety. This is where healthy coping tools are effective. This includes deep breathing, movement, grounding exercises (i.e. using five senses to find what’s in the surrounding space), mindfulness or scripture to name a few. There are many coping tools that are helpful, but not every tool works for everyone. Through therapy effective coping tools can be discovered for each individual.
2. Understanding the way worry affects the mind – Because of anxiety, perception is often a significant issue. This means battling the thoughts that arise versus what is actually said or happening. The worry monster also likes to create thinking traps that many get stuck in. Some of the most common with children and teens are mind reading (believing the individual knows what others are doing or thinking without having all the information) and fortune telling (the individual thinking he will know what happens in the future and that it will be bad.) Learning these traps and tools for getting through them can be done in therapy session.
3. Understanding the way worry affects the heart – This aspect deals with the deeper feelings and meanings behind the anxiety. The worry monster tries to convince people that there must be certainty and comfort which is a way to control. The problem with this is that there is so much that is out of our control. This can then lead to avoidance (avoiding whatever is causing the anxiety), which can strengthen anxiety. Building upon previous tools and going deeper in therapy can be helpful in getting to the root matters of anxiety.
Beating the worry monster is possible. It takes time, effort and understanding. Children and adolescents are fighting to find peace in their lives from everything that causes them to be anxious and afraid. Therapy is a great tool to work toward this peace, but God also promises that when we come to Him, He will give us peace beyond our understanding. Along with therapeutic work, leaning on God is the greatest resource for lasting peace.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7
Concepts used from “Brave: A Teen Girl’s Guide to Beating Worry and Anxiety” by Sissy Goff