Fighting the "Anxiety Monster"

Fighting the "Anxiety Monster"

What is Anxiety?

“It’s the extreme fear of being scrutinized and judged by others in social or performance situations: Social anxiety disorder can wreak havoc on the lives of those who suffer from it. This disorder is not simply shyness that has been inappropriately medicalized.” (According to the Anxiety Disorder Association of America)

It’s not very hard to remember what the world was like for us a few years ago. At the age of 2 my daughter's world was so overwhelming that her ability to cope was highly compromised. At this age children are supposed to want to play and engage with others or they begin to discover the world around them, and for our daughter she quite literally hid in the corner and just cried.

Very early on we were seeing behaviour that had me in the doctor’s office begging for help. Her fear of the world inhibited her from just about everything. There were more things on the list that she didn’t do than those that she would engage in and it had us very worried. It was as if the world was passing her by and she was too terrified to notice. By the age of 4 she was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and running the risk of becoming selectively mute.

Between the ages of 2 and 5 while all the other children were off playing and socializing this is what her world looked like:

-        She spoke no more than three almost words (which had multiple meanings).

-        She did not like being held.

-        She would not respond to her name.

-        She did not colour or draw or engage in any craft activities.

-        She did not run or skip or jump.

-        She did not play with other children (in fact she ran away screaming if another child would say hello).

-        She was high sensitivity to loud noises. She would startle very easily.

-        Walking into a room full of people would bring her to tears. (Even if she knew them).

-        She would either turn away or hold her hands over her eyes when people would speak directly to her. She would begin to tremble and shake.

-        She engaged in little activity other than sitting by herself and watching the world go by.

-        Changes in her environment would have her in tears.

-        She refused to eat in front of others.

-        She cried a lot and often; she was inconsolable.

For a family with a child who has anxious feelings this scenario is so common.

When should you get help?

If the anxiety is making it so that every day routines cannot be completed, or in our case when everyday life is faced with floods of tears and upset, then it’s time to seek help.

Our daughter is now in Grade 4 and she is thriving but that hasn’t happened overnight, nor has it happened alone. There is literally a village of people that have helped all of us because dealing with extreme anxiety really is a family affair.

We have used many strategies such as:

There are so many effective strategies out there to help with anxious feelings and each one is as individual as each child’s anxiety. We don’t focus on the big picture; we look at all the little steps that get us where we want to go.  Eating that first lunch in the classroom for us was HUGE as was walking into the school alone without me was a gigantic step in the right direction. Putting up her hand and answering a question had us all teary-eyed. We need to support and understand that these wonderful children who struggle with that constant onslaught of fight-or-flight just need a little extra time and a supportive encouraging voice to remind them over and over again that they can and will accomplish anything they set out to do. 

Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography

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Written by: Darlene Wierski-Devoe See other articles by Darlene Wierski-Devoe
About the Author:

Darlene Wierski-Devoe is a certified Life Coach, owner of Talk, Breathe, Live and the founder and publisher of the “Raising Socially Anxious Children Blog.”  She specializes in creating balance and wellness for parents and families who struggle with mood and anxiety disorders.  As a result of her own experiences with anxiety -- and those of her children -- Darlene has created an ever-evolving community where parents and caregivers can find support, resources and inspiration.

Darlene is also the author of the children’s book, “Just Like You” which is officially scheduled for release on May 7th, 2012.  This book along with its “Toolbox Journal” is a resource for children both facing mental health issues and those of their friends who want to further understand more about anxiety.

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