Anxiety, Stress, and Gratefulness

What sums up 2020 for you and your family?

For us, it’s been anxiety, stress, and gratefulness.

Anxiety – the virus turning into a global pandemic reminded me of when I first became a parent. What is happening? How do I get myself through this? How do I help my sons get through this? Time shifted. It slowed much like it did when my sons were newborns, not knowing what each new day would bring, and bracing myself as I learned and adjusted.

Stress – much like giving birth trying to figure out how to survive — what we were seeing on the news, schools shutting down, work going remote, isolation, boredom, not knowing, toxic politics, people suffering, inequality and injustice, and longevity of the situation setting in — could be overwhelming and feel like you were surviving a trauma over and over. Putting one foot in front of the other to make it through the day could be challenging, but you put on your survivor face cause you had kids that needed to know everything would be okay, even when you didn’t.

Gratefulness – nature and our cat have been lifelines for us this year. Simple things — a sunny day, a rainbow, petting our cat (or simply watching him play, run, or hunt), brought us great joy. Virtual dinner parties, friends reaching out to check in, our boys finding ways to physically distance but still be with their friends, are things we are grateful for. Our health. Masks. People taking the virus seriously. All things we are thankful for. A vaccine, maybe two, coming, hallelujah! Time picking back up, adjusting to our new normal, being healthy. Grateful. Grateful. Grateful.

What sums up 2020 for you and your family? What are you grateful for this year?

Happy Thanksgiving. I’ll be off next week, but back in December.

A Sign of Hope

What gives you hope during difficult times?

Nature calms me. I’ve seen it have similar effects on my husband and boys too.

At the end of a stressful work day I needed to clear my head. It had been raining most of the day but started to clear up. Even though I was exhausted I asked my youngest son if he’d go with me on a walk.

As we left the house, I tried to leave my work day worries behind, but it wasn’t easy to do. After walking in silence for a few blocks my son and I started talking. We had a nice conversation, and my earlier stress started slipping away. As we rounded the corner towards our house, a rainbow appeared in the sky. I decided to stop and take a picture. My son pointed out that the rainbow went all the way across the sky. “It’s a full rainbow,” he said. We stood there and marveled at the sight for a few minutes. It almost felt like a someone was sending me a message that everything was going to be okay. It was just the sign of hope I needed.

Where are you finding hope these days?

Up, Up, and Away

Does your child like to travel?

My oldest has anxiety when he travels — specifically to new locations. He isn’t worried about mechanical problems or turbulence, but the length of the flight, getting bored or uncomfortable in his seat, and worried about worst case scenarios when he reaches his final destination — it being unsafe, or getting lost, etc. Leading up to his most recent trip, he started showing signs of his anxiety in a number of ways — complaining “I don’t want to go”, getting angry “this is so dumb”, and muttering under his breathe “this is so stupid”. Keep in mind he’s 14, so these reactions are common when he experiences anxiety or discomfort regardless the situation.

My husband and I deployed multiple methods of working to help him work through his feelings in the days leading up to his departure. We had numerous talks, went on multiple walks. We reminded him that while he may be anxious about the unknown (and reassuring him that it’s normal to feel this way) that everything was going to be okay.

He and I talked the night before he left on his trip. I tried to get him to think about his fears in a different context. “How long, and potentially boring, the flight is going to be is a good problem to have,” I said. He looked at me quizzically. “Think about it. There are kids whose family can’t afford to pay the rent, or struggle to put food on the table. To those kids, getting on a plane to go somewhere is a dream. The fact that you have this opportunity to see new places is a gift.” I could see, for a flicker of a moment, he understood what I was saying. He wasn’t done complaining or sharing his concerns with me, but I’m hopeful I got through to him and when his anxiety returns he can think of this is a larger context the problems that he’s experiencing are actually good ones to have, and instead enjoy the gift he’s being given.

How do you help you child when they have anxiety? How do you help them work through their feelings?

‘Tis the Season

What time of year is most stressful for you?

For many, the holiday season brings stress with it, but my stress starts earlier in the year and peaks around this time — like a roller coaster with the biggest hill at the end.

January usually brings changes at work which require an adjustment — it’s common for me to have to tell myself at some point during the month, “calm down, you’re going to figure this out.” And I do. Just around the time I’m acclimated to the changed there are school activities, events, volunteers needed, vacations to plan, and again it culminates to what feels like a fever pitch, and then school is out, and the stress lowers. Then vacation comes, and the break is welcomed and rest is enjoyed. Recharging is the goal. Then school starts again, there is planning, figuring out logistics, getting used to a new schedule, new teachers, new activities, new places we have to be at new times. Then we adjust, and the stress lowers. Then it picks back up with all the things that come rapid fire starting in October and goes through the end of the year — Halloween, birthday parties, family visiting, getting the photo album together, getting the holiday card written and sent, scheduling holiday parties, making plans with friends, getting the house ready for Christmas, shopping, and the list goes on and on.

I knew I was overly stressed when I received a reminder call of an upcoming appointment. I was certain the person had the wrong date. “I was just there two or three weeks ago.” I rescheduled the appointment pushing it a month out. It was only when I paused to really think about it (the next day) that i realized it had been closer to six weeks since I had gone in, and I was in fact due for an appointment. Where did the time go? I thought.

No one is making me do any of these things. This is my doing. I want my children to have certain experiences (parties, holidays, vacations, etc.). I want to capture the memories and make sure I’m not getting behind (cause that would stress me out even more). But I realize I am close to burn out and desperately need a vacation. Time off is just around the corner so I’m just trying to power through until I get there. My guess is many of us are in the same boat.

How do you handle stress as a parent throughout the year? How do you navigate stress during this time of year?

Dreams

Have your dreams changed since having kids?

When I was pregnant, and when the kids were young, I’d dream about not being able to find them, or not be able to get to them. It was always a relief when I awakened to find it was only a dream and the kids were safe.

As the kids have grown, and as their activities have increased, so have my responsibilities. I’ve noticed my dreams have changed too. They’ve morphed from not finding my kids, to not being about to find things (my car, a person, where I need to go), running late, behind (or fear I’m running late or behind), and waking up relieved that it was only a dream. The dreams tend to be circular. I’m not sure how long they actually last, but they feel endless while I’m having them — always in search of something unattainable (finding what I was looking for, getting to the destination, etc.). I don’t have these dreams all the time, but more frequently than any others I can remember.

My youngest son and I were sharing strange dreams we’d had. His was silly and we laughed about his dream. I shared mine and how I couldn’t find what I was looking for. His demeanor changed as I shared my dream, and he asked in a concerned tone, “Are you under a lot of stress?” Wow, that’s pretty insightful for an eleven year-old I thought. “Maybe,” I replied, “But no more than usual.” “Well, it sounds like you’re more stressed than you realize to me,” he finished. Okay, I thought, he may be on to something. I decided I needed to consider how much I was juggling and figure out how to lessen my stress. Thank goodness my son happened to have a dream he was willing to share with me, and got me to think more about what my dream might be telling me.

Do you have a recurring dream(s) that are trying to tell you something? Have your dream(s) changed since having your child?

Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

What makes your child uncomfortable?

A teacher of my youngest shared that my son was becoming anxious about moving to middle school in the Fall. My son had shared this information with them, and they wanted to make sure my husband and I were aware.

One evening, after we’d had time to get home, eat and decompress for a while, I let my son know that I’d heard he was anxious about the future and wanted to better understand his concern. “What are you most concerned about?” I asked. He put both hands to his forehead. “Well everything!” He paused. “I feel like I’m not going to do well in middle school. 5th grade is harder than 4th.” I could tell by the look on his face he was feeling stress about how he’d navigate the new upcoming unfamiliar territory. He continued, “I do okay in school, but I get bored a lot.” I asked, “Is that because school isn’t challenging enough?” He scoffed, “No, Mom, it’s definitely challenging enough. It’s just I have to learn all this stuff.” I felt like I could almost read his mind, so I offered, “and you’d enjoy it more if they were teaching you about things you were more interested in?” “Yes!” he said. His face relaxed from what I took to be relief at being understood. I asked my son, “Have you ever heard of the phrase ‘a means to an end’?” He shook his head no.”Well, there are some things you have to do in order to get something else. If you want to go to college one day, they’ll expect you to graduate from high school with a degree. You don’t have to like it, but you have to do it and do it well to go. You could think of going to school as a means to an end.” He seemed to ponder this for a minute. “But it makes me really uncomfortable thinking about all the work I’ll have to do. How will I figure it out?” I reminded him that he’s only in 5th grade. “What is the point of teachers, aides, parents, etc.? We are all here to help. The unknown can feel scary, and can make you uncomfortable but there are lots of people ready to help you along the way, okay? Life can make us uncomfortable sometimes it’s getting to a place where you can be comfortable being uncomfortable, does that make sense?,” I asked. “Yea, I think so,” he said, “thanks, Mom.” I could tell at this point he was ready to get back to screen time so we ended our talk.

The future can be scary, and make you anxious or uncomfortable, that’s normal. I’ve experienced it as an adult — when I became a parent, when my job responsibilities changed, when I wrote my book and started doing public speaking for example — but I knew if I wanted to achieve goals in life, I needed to embrace the discomfort and knew the best way to lessen the discomfort was with experience.

I feel discomfort when my child comes to me with problems I don’t know how to solve. I guess that’s just life, but I’m glad my child is willing to open up to me. We’ll work through our respective discomfort together.

How you help your child deal with anxiety, stress or discomfort?

It Takes a Village

Who is helping you raise your child?

There are many people that are helping my husband and I raise our kids–family, friends, babysitters, caregivers, teachers, doctors–I refer to this folks as part of our village. Each member plays a critical role in the care, nurturing, mentoring, tending to, and shaping of my boys.

My youngest son’s recent distress required we revisit resources available to him. My son’s village will likely have some new members in the near future. 😊 We’re also now having to rethink environments in which will help him thrive academically and emotionally in the future. The previous known path now isn’t so clear. This lack of clarity is causing me discomfort I haven’t felt this intensely in a while. I’m concerned about doing right by my son and making the right decisions for what’s best for him. It does give me comfort to know I have a village I can turn to for guidance, information, encouragement and support.

How is part of your child’s village?

About to Snap

Do you ever lose your patience with your child?

Most of us do. At least from time to time. My husband needed to work late one night, so I got my boys to various appointments and commitments around town, and once we were finished we went out for dinner. My kids wanted to go to a pizza place followed with a trip to the ice cream store next door.

I got the boys their pizza and turned my focus to my phone. I had some work I needed to get caught up since I’d been running the kids all over the place. My kids were busy eating and watching the TV at the restaurant. I was thinking about how I wanted to respond to a work email. I began to type my response when he oldest asked, “Can we leave now?” I didn’t realize they were already finished. I asked for a minute so I could finish my work. Before I was done, my son said, “Mom, can we go?” I tried to suppress my frustration with the question and instead redirected my son. “Why don’t you and your brother put your plates and trash away.” They did as I asked, and I was able to just get my email off before my son said, “Mom, come on, let’s go.”

I followed my sons to the ice cream shop and had them place their orders while I continued to try to get through my work emails. After they ordered, I decided to get some ice cream too. I paid and we sat down to eat our ice cream. Almost as soon as my backside was in the chair my oldest son said, “Mom, can we go?” I just sat down, and his question made me almost snap. In a stern voice I said, “I just sat down. I’m not going anywhere until I’m done. Stop asking me when we’re going.” I could tell my son wasn’t expecting my reaction to be so strong. I gave myself a minute to calm down. Up to that point I’d been a ball of stress, getting the kids from place to place, making sure everyone was taken care of and fed, trying to get some work done, and, heaven forbid, have a couple minutes to sit down and have a moment with my kids.

My son wasn’t in the mood to talk to me on the way home, and I understood, I had snapped at him and he didn’t think he deserved it. If I had been more mindful What happened wouldn’t have. I should have communicated better with my boys and let them know that I was under stress to get done work done and ask them to give me some room and keep any questions to a minimum. I believe we would have avoided me getting upset and my son feeling like he was blindsided. It was a reminder to me to be more mindful in the future and remember how important teaching good communication skills to my kids is.

Have you ever unexpectedly lost your cool with your child? What did you take from the situation? What did you do differently after?

One Day At A Time

How do you handle stressful situations?

This year has been off to a somewhat stressful start for our family. My job has evolved and I’ve taken on more responsibility. My oldest picked up new classes and is feeling the stress of higher demands on his abilities and performance. And we got a cat (but you already know that).

Early in January, I was having moments where the new responsibilities were too many and coming at me too fast. In those moments I’d feel overwhelmed, and experience a wide range of emotion from fear–can I handle everything that is being given to me? to anger–why is this happening me? to hope — okay, I think I can do this; only to find myself repeating this loop over and over. It was exhausting.

My oldest was going through the same. Taking on assignments that were pushing his comfort level. Due dates that seemed aggressive. Grades hanging in the balance. He too was dealing with a range of emotion from fear — how am I doing to do this? to anger — why are they asking me/making me do this? to hope — okay, maybe I can figure this out. The same loop repeating over and over, and just like his mom, he was finding it exhausting.

In moments of stress, we seek out coping mechanisms. All my former coping mechanisms were not having the intended affect. Food — no thanks, no appetite — I’m too stressed. Meditation — okay I’m meditating, but I’m only slightly less tense after doing so. Giving myself a break — too tense and overwhelmed to even consider it. I had a moment of clarity when I was discussing my situation with a peer. “I’ve got to just take it one day at a time,” I said. I don’t know where it came from, but it was like a light turned on. Part of my struggle was that I kept jumbling everything I had to do today, tomorrow, next week, next month, etc. into the ‘have-to-do’ compartment of my brain which was setting off my ‘help-I’m-overwhelmed’ alarm bells. When I said it outloud, I could almost immediately feel the stress diminishing. One day at a time. I can handle this. Just focus on today. Not tomorrow or the day after that. Just today.

After having this ephiphany I shared it with my son. When he next shared how stressed he was, I asked him what he had to get done that day — not the next or the following, just that day. When he replied with items he had to do he had a similar reaction. He even smiled and said, “I can do that, mom.”

His relief matched mine. I’ve heard the phrase “one day at a time” a million times, but never really took it to heart, until now…when I had to.

How do you cope with stressful situations? How do you help your child cope when they are stressed?

What a Gift

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.”
– Alice Morse Earle

Have you ever experienced anxiety? If so, what did you do to calm yourself?

Middle school is stressing my oldest son out. I get it. New, larger school (3x the number of students than his elementary school had); new teachers; getting used to have six different teachers with different expectations; and a locker. Getting used to a new routine can be stressful for anyone early on (regardless of age). My son has high expectations for himself. He gets stressed when he doesn’t know what to do, even if he’s had little exposure, experience or training. In other words, no one holds him to the same expectations he holds himself to. It can be frustrating as a parent to watch. My husband and I do not push our son to be perfect. We encourage him to be open, willing to learn and apply himself. When he gets worked up in his failure to adjust as quickly as he’d like in a new situation, my husband and I try to talk him down often with mixed results — sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t — it feels like we’re failing when our words don’t help our son.

I thought my son’s anxiety would start to wane after a few days at school, but they remained strong. One morning he came to me and shared how worried he was about the upcoming day. Instead of trying to calm him down with another speech, I thought, I’ve got to do something different, but what?  Then I thought about what has worked for me when I’m stressed and I thought meditation! I know I was reluctant to try meditation when someone encouraged me to consider it and wondered if my son would feel the same way. “Have you ever heard of meditation?” I asked my son. “Yea, but I don’t really know what it is,” my son said. “Well, meditation is something that can help you with stress. It gets you to relax.” I knew I was oversimplifying it, but was trying to find the words that would make sense for my son. I continued, “there’s an app I use sometimes called Calm. It’s got some really good meditations on it. Want to give it a try with me?” My son didn’t hesitate for a second. “Sure!” he said with a smile. I was surprised how quickly he agreed to try it. I quickly opened the app and scrolled through the meditations until I found sessions under “Calm Kids” (I love it because the app even breaks down the sessions by age group). I launched the intro session and my son and I meditated.

During the session the speaker shared the quote I wrote above. She attributed it to Master Uguay in Kung Fu Panda (I’m guessing so it would resonate more with the sessions younger audience). It made my son smile. I thought the quote was very appropriate. My son was stressing about yesterday, and worrying about the future. How many of us do that? I am guilty of this. Many, if not all, of us are. Instead of dwelling on the past or fearing the future, we have the present right in front of us. It is a gift.  The quote seemed to resonate with my son as well. We continued with the session, which talked us through how to ‘be in the present’ by simply paying attention to our body — our breathing, and how our body felt. Pretty simple stuff, but often overlooked or dismissed as something that isn’t worth our time. I’d beg to differ. When the meditation finished, my son and I opened and locked eyes. He had the biggest smile on his face. His demeanor had changed significantly in eight minutes. He was more relaxed and enthusiastic about the coming school day instead of being riddled with angst. He looked at me and said, “Mom, I’m not nervous anymore. I feel pretty good.” I felt relieved and elated. There is no better feeling for me than when I’ve helped my child. It was yet another gift.

New beginnings can be stressful. I’m glad my son was willing to try the meditation and hope it will continue to help — we’ve already got several more sessions under our belt, so right now they are working and I’ll take it!

How do you help calm your child when they are stressed?