For most people, feelings of worry or anxiety happen every now and then and are part of a healthy emotional range. Such feelings can serve us well by warning us of potential danger and helping us ‘gear up’ for performance. However, sometimes these feelings remain long after the ‘threat’ or stressful situation has subsided and escalate into an unwanted problem, becoming what is known as ‘anxiety’.
According to the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (Summary of Results, 2007, 4326.0, Canberra) anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. The results showed that on average, one in four people will experience anxiety at some stage in their life and in a twelve-month period, over two million Australians will experience anxiety.
Children, as well as adults, experience anxiety—whether it is a response to particularly challenging circumstances or a generalised, free-floating habit of worry for no apparent reason. When it becomes an intense, prolonged experience, anxiety can be excruciating and even debilitating.
As author of our soon to be released Anxiety Solutions for Kids card set, we asked Selina Byrne M.A.P.S., ‘What is anxiety anyway?’
‘Anxiety is an unpleasant feeling combined with certain worried thoughts. Usually the feeling comes first, maybe a sick feeling, or dizziness or tightness in the chest. And it only becomes ‘anxiety’ when we think it’s a problem. If we think it’s just a feeling, or just a thought, it may not be a problem at all. Any feeling in human experience is a mix of both physiology (something in the body) plus focus (where we put our attention). If we feel something we don’t like, then zero in on it in a worried way, bam. We have anxiety.’
Selina Byrne, M.A.P.S., once had a client, a young boy, who had unpleasant feelings that his parents and she thought would be anxiety-related. But for him, he was used to the feelings, didn’t think much about them, and just went on with his life. So they agreed there was no need to change anything as long as he wasn’t bothered by the feelings! Many people start thinking about those feelings, though, and get worried. They talk inside their heads about the ‘awful’ feelings and how to ‘get rid’ of them. Strangely, the more we focus on anxiety and how to remove it, the more we build fear of the feelings, which can make them more frequent or intense.
Anxious feelings are a normal part of the human experience, depending on individual tolerance, frequency and intensity of the feelings and thoughts. Some people (kids included) are more prone to anxiety due to both genetics and/or personality and need a little help re-routing the brain. Luckily, the brain is very fast at learning, and can learn to go in another direction when it has the urge to veer towards fear! ‘
Teaching all children to manage worry, find ways to distract and soothe themselves, challenge their thinking and self-talk is very important. These are essential ‘resilience’ skills.
As a publisher of therapeutic tools for children and adults, Innovative Resources hopes that Anxiety Solutions for Kids cards will help lay a foundation of wellbeing for children. We are delighted to have co-created this tool with author, Selina Byrne M.A.P.S. and artist, Katie Jardine. We hope that children (and parents) will enjoy experimenting with the activities and discovering that there are things they can do when old Worrywart drops by and outstays the welcome.