It’s not big news that so many people are experiencing unprecedented depression, fear, and anxiety in every sector. In my own practice, we’ve seen a tremendous increase in our family consults with so many young children experiencing panic attacks, as parents are reaching out wondering how to help them. Let me share with you what I’ve found as a proven approach that offers support to the whole family.
Step 1: The first line of defense is parents: first help yourself so you can help your children succeed.
As a parent who is also stressed you might respond to this by saying that you are too busy to get the help you need. I suggest that there are things you can do to start helping yourself, in your own home, on your own time.
One of the books we highly recommend for situations like these is “Childhood Disrupted: How your Biography Becomes your Biology, and How you can Heal” by Donna Jackson Nakazawa. In the book, Janet highlights how important parents being emotionally and mentally healthy is to the outcomes for their children becoming physically healthy adults. The book clearly illustrates how children do not quickly forget and “get over” their childhood problems. This author highlights how on a biochemical level, parents’ chronic fights, divorce, death in the family, being bullied or hazed, and growing up with a hypercritical, alcoholic, or with a mentally ill parent can leave permanent “fingerprints’ on our brains. These traumas can lead to life-altering illnesses amongst a host of other issues; including how well one nurtures and raises the next generation of children. We underscore the importance of Step 1: First, help yourself.
Step 2: If you want to help your children handle adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) – our second step is as a parent to become informed. A phrase we hear frequently lately is “knowledge is power” and it is. By becoming knowledgeable about what is truly Adverse Childhood Experiences you are better able to assess your own resiliency as well as that of your child.
Even before 2020 when the world was diagnosed being in a pandemic families dealt with ACEs. The pressure of lockdowns full of uncertainty has compounded the impact. Here are some resources to help you gain understanding and insight with the hope it sets you on a path of healing yourself as a parent so you can be more equipped to help your children.
ACEs – Vital Signs CDC - Preventing early trauma to improve adult health (free download)
Resiliency Assessment – Assess yourself first to become informed. This is not designed for treatment but as a resource to gain greater understanding. If you choose to take the assessment and would like more resources, visit our site at WiseChoiceFamily.com
Step 3: Pay attention to what your own body is trying to tell you. This is a key step in taking the lid off your own story and taking a step towards healing. Whether your story is one of physical or that of emotional pain, studies show repressed emotions find an outlet either in a behavior or in the body. You can assess yourself and start noticing what in your body is trying to get your attention? Is it a stomachache in certain situations, pain in your back or a twitch in your arm? Here is a place you can start right now. It’s called short-term focused writing. Get a journal or notepad and plan to write for 20 minutes over a four-day period (or as long as you can). The intent of this writing is for your eyes only. You can even write and tear up what you wrote if that makes you feel safer.
This exercise is to be done in 20-minute increments, at most. Write your deepest emotions, and thoughts about the emotional upheaval that has been influencing your life the most. Notice the triggers between a physical or emotional connection and in your writing really ‘let go” and explore the event and how it affected you, your childhood, your relationship with your parents, people you have loved, and potentially even your career. Focus on the healing effects of getting those secrets and making those connections from the inside out.
Step 4: Engage your imagination and clear some mental clutter. Take a breath and sketch, scribble, or draw a picture of something that comes to mind. Allow your drawing just to be, don’t critique it as good or bad and sometime the next day analyze it, as if you were trying to gain insight from a dream. (This is an exercise that you might be asked to do if you were seeing an art therapist.)
Two elements of this step are key. Breathing and visualization. When we are anxious or stressed, we take shorter, lighter breaths which makes us more anxious and stressed. A vicious cycle. Likely you already know that taking a few deep breaths, pausing, and counting to 3 will usually quiet your brain and body enough to have a clearer thought. Visualization is key in helping our brain form and strengthen neural pathways to both see a positive even in the negative and reinforce those positive pathways to lead to healing.
Step 5: Find the positives. The more positive experiences and thoughts you and your child have in your lives strengthens resiliency and can even change your brain. Here are a few insights to kick start this exercise for you. We hope it becomes a regular practice in your life as a mental health boost.
Consider this excerpt from Dr. Caroline Leaf, author “Who Switched Off my Brain? Controlling Toxic Thoughts and Emotions”.
My thinking, feeling, choosing and subsequent thoughts will not only affect my motivation, but also my entire state of mind for the week ahead. If I start my day by just complaining, I may find more and more things to complain about throughout the day because whatever I think about the most grows. If, however, I focus on another perspective, I may come across even more things that will cheer me up and boost my perspective. Instead of looking for things to complain about, I will choose to focus on the things I am excited about and grateful for, and all the benefits that the week ahead may bring.”
To wrap up the 5 steps, revisit the action suggested in Step 2 to become informed about Adverse Childhood Experiences. Incorporate Step 5 of creating and reinforcing positive experiences for you as a parent and for your child. Use this to tip the scale and increase your well-being and inner strength.
Our team at Wise Choice Family & Educational Solutions is passionately committed to helping families and individuals go beyond surviving to being free to enjoy life and realize their potential. You can learn more, find resources, or schedule a consultation by clicking the button below.