Anxiety … It’s like getting into a cold pool.

Anxiety is a completely normal human experience, but it’s being packaged as a disorder, as a deficiency, as something to be avoided. We have to change this. When we present anxiety as something to be avoided, we inadvertently drive avoidance of the safe but challenging things that drive anxiety. This means everything growthful. Everything that matters. Everything new. Everything hard. Everything brave.

Even for kids who have seismic levels of anxiety, pathologising anxiety will not serve them at all. All it will do is add to their need to avoid the thing that’s driving anxiety, which will most often be something brave, hard, important. (Of course if they are in front of an actual danger, we help anxiety do its job and get them out of the way of that danger, but that’s not the anxiety we’re talking about here.) 

The more we talk about anxiety as a deficiency, the more it will pull down anyone who feels anxious when they try to move forward. It will squash their potential, smudge the way they see themselves, and deprive them of the experiences they need to realise that anxiety is just one part of their ‘everythingness’. They can be anxious and strong, anxious and powerful, anxious and okay.

The key to anxiety isn’t in the ‘getting rid of’ anxiety, but in the ‘moving with’ anxiety. This doesn’t mean they will be able to ‘move with’ their anxiety straight away. The point is, the way we talk about anxiety matters.

So what do we do instead?

First, we change its shape – from an intruder to an ally. 

Living bravely with anxiety is about sharing the space with it, rather than being pushed out by it. If we want kids moving with their anxiety – feeling anxious and doing brave – we have to present anxiety as something that feels safe enough to be with. It’s not a bully, or a deficiency, or a pathology. It’s a protector, an ally. It’s there to take care of them but they need to decide what happens next. Do they stay with the discomfort and move gently towards brave, or do they avoid the discomfort by moving away?

What we focus on is what becomes powerful. If we focus on anxiety as something to be fixed or avoided, this becomes the focus. It will keep their bodies unsettled, the minds restless, and it will steer all their resources (and yours) towards avoiding the anxiety and whatever is fuelling it.

On the other hand, if we focus on their capacity to be with their anxiety, without needing to ‘fix’ it, we start to open the way for their brave to flourish, because being brave isn’t about outcome – it’s about process. It’s about being able to sit with the discomfort of anxiety for a little bit longer than last time. 

This doesn’t mean we ignore anxiety. Actually, we do the opposite. We acknowledge it and we let it exist alongside their their courage, their strength, their ‘everythingness’ – not instead of.

Then, we change the story.

We humans crave the stories that will make sense of our feelings. This happens in all of us. Whenever we have a feeling, we instinctively look for a story (a reason) to make make sense of the feeling. We need to understand why we feel the way we do, and any story will feel better than no story at all. The stories we tell ourselves matter. These stories will drive how we respond. The feelings aren’t the problem, but the way we respond can be.

When anxiety happens, our children (all of us) will tend to make sense of the feeling with one of two types of stories – either a story of disaster: ‘I feel like something bad is going to happen, so something bad must be going to happen,’ or a story of deficiency: ‘I can’t do this. I’m not brave enough, smart enough, strong enough.’ 

The story they (or we) put to their anxiety will determine their response. ‘You have anxiety. We need to fix it or avoid the thing that’s causing it,’ will drive a different response to, ‘Of course you have anxiety. You’re about to do something brave. What’s one little step you can take towards it?’

When we change the story, we make way for a different response. This might sound something like, ‘It’s okay to feel anxious. You don’t feel like this because there’s something wrong with you, or because something bad is about to happen. You feel like this because you’re doing some big things at the moment. How can I help?’

We don’t want them to be scared of anxiety, because we don’t want them to be scared of the brave, important, new, hard things that drive anxiety. Instead, we want to validate and normalise their anxiety, and attach it to a story that opens the way for brave:

‘Yes you feel anxious – that’s because you’re about to do something brave. Sometimes it feels like it happens for no reason at all. That’s because we don’t always know what your brain is thinking. Maybe it’s thinking about doing something brave. Maybe it’s thinking about something that happened last week or last year. We don’t always know, and that’s okay. It can feel scary, and you’re safe. I would never let you do something unsafe, or something I didn’t think you could handle. Yes you feel anxious, and yes you can do this. You mightn’t feel brave, but you can do brave. What can I do to help you be brave right now?’

It’s like getting into a cold pool …

Think of the move through anxiety like getting into a cold pool. When we take the first teeny step into a cold pool, our brain will register pain and will want us out of the pool. But we know we can handle it and we know we’re safe, so we stay with it. As we stay with it, our brains and bodies adjust and it starts to feel okay. Then we go a little deeper. The same thing happens. Then a little deeper, until eventually, we’re all in and loving it. We can’t even remember what it was like when we were standing on the edge of the pool, wondering whether to get it or stay out. It’s the same for anxiety – the more we stay with it, the more familiar the brain becomes with the situation, and the safer it will feel – but first, it might feel super uncomfortable. Maybe even awful.

We can believe them, and believe in them.

First, we validate. Validation doesn’t mean we agree with them, it means we believe them. ‘Yes, I believe you when you say this feels big.’ ‘Yes, I believe it feels awful.’ Without this validation, anxiety will continue to do its job and drive big feelings to recruit the safety of another human. Validation is a way to make sure they don’t feel alone in their distress. 

Then, we let them know we believe in them. We speak to their brave. We know it’s there, so we usher it into the light: Yes I know this is big. It’s hard [being away from the people you love] isn’t it. And I know you can handle this. We can do hard things, can’t we.’

We’re not saying they’ll handle it well, and we’re not dismissing their anxiety. What we’re doing is supporting them (when it’s safe) in the experience of discovering that they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. This will take time, and it won’t feel okay at first. It will feel like getting into a cold pool. Our job as their adults isn’t to remove them from the discomfort of anxiety, but to give them the experiences to help them discover that they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. This is important because there will always be anxiety when they do something brave, new, important, growthful. 

So often though, their courage to believe in what they are capable of will start with ours. ‘Yes, I believe you (that this feels bad), and yes, I believe in you (that you can handle the discomfort of anxiety).’ 

‘You are one of the bravest, strongest people I know. Being brave feels scary and hard sometimes doesn’t it. It feels like brave isn’t there, but it’s always there. Always. And you know what else I know? It gets easier every time. I know this because I’ve seen you do hard things and because I’ve felt like this too, so many times. I know that you and I, even when we feel anxious, we can do brave. It’s always in you. I know that for certain.’


Victoria S

True for anxiety and every other feeling humans experience. Too many emotions have been demonised with our language, it needs to change.

Josie Yarham

Yes, but…

If there is a tiger in the bathroom, and you acknowledge my anxiety, validate me, tell me that I’m brave, then send me into the bathroom, I am not going to survive. For some of us, the things giving us anxiety are hurting us and they need to be changed, not us.

If I am being bullied at school, have a learning disability, am autistic/ADHD, have PTSD, no amount of support or “resilience” is going to change the fact that school is hell for me. What will make the anxiety go away is accommodations like: stopping the bullying, testing for disabilities and supporting them, noise cancelling headphones, a trauma informed teacher, school, environment.

My kids struggles at school to the point of suicide. My son was diagnosed with school phobia. The thought of school sent his nervous system into overdrive BECAUSE IT WASN’T SAFE (capitals for emphasis, not shouting). He needed time for is body to regulate, tools, medication, and ultimately an incredible, trauma informed school where he could confront his phobia on his terms and timeline. As of now he has enough points to graduate and a guaranteed entry to us preferred degree. He is 16yo and needed a different way of learning for his brain.

All of this is correct, but there is a yes, and…. that needs to be included.

Karen Young

Yes, you’re absolutely right, and as it says in the article, ‘ Of course if they are in front of an actual danger, we help anxiety do its job and get them out of the way of that danger, but that’s not the anxiety we’re talking about here.’

We have to remember that anxiety has a very important job to do – to keep us safe by warning us of danger and readying our bodies with the physical resources to deal with that danger. That’s the whole point of anxiety – to steer us away from tigers in the bathroom, dark alleys, tricky people. We don’t want to push through all anxiety – sometimes danger will be on the other side of it. Similarly, we don’t always want to be turned away by anxiety – sometimes something growthful and worth it will be on the other side. The key is knowing the difference, and being able to sit with annxiety and move forwards with it when we need to.

It’s not the anxiety that’s the problem. It’s the response. We need to decide if the danger is real or not, and respond accordingly. If the danger is ‘scary-safe’ (feels scary but is safe, such as brave, new, hard things or things that matter), we need to respond differently to the way we would respond to an actual danger. Anxiety becomes intrusive when we blur the two, and stay away from things that are actually safe or good for us. This is where the work is for our children – deciding when anxiety is a stop sign, and when it’s a warning.♥️


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Thanks so much @maggiedentauthor♥️…
“Karen Young - Hey Sigmund has such a wonderful way with words especially around anxiety. This is her latest beautiful picture book that explains anxiety through the lens of the Polyvagal theory using the metaphor of a house. This shows how sometimes anxiety can be hard to notice. I think this book can help kids and teens better understand stress and anxiety. I loved it! This would be great for homes, schools and in libraries.
Congratulations Karen.💛”
Of course we love them, no matter what - but they need to feel us loving them, no matter what. Especially when they are acting in unlovable ways, or saying unlovable things. Especially then.

This is not ‘rewarding bad behaviour’. To think this assumes that they want to behave badly. They don’t. What they want is to feel calm and safe again, but in that moment they don’t have the skills to do that themselves, so they need us to help them. 

It’s leading with love. It’s showing up, even when it’s hard. The more connected they feel to us, the more capacity we will have to lead them - back to calm, into better choices, towards claiming their space in the world kindly, respectfully, and with strength. 

This is not about dropping the boundary, but about holding it lovingly, ‘I can see you’re doing it tough right now. I’m right here. No, I won’t let you [name the boundary]. I’m right here. You’re not in trouble. We’ll get through this together.’

If you’re not sure what they need, ask them (when they are calm), ‘When you get upset/ angry/ anxious, what could I do that would help you feel loved and cared for in that moment? And this doesn’t mean saying ‘yes’ to a ‘no’ situation. What can I do to make the no easier to handle? What do I do that makes it harder?’♥️
Believe them AND believe in them. 

‘Yes this is hard. I know how much you don’t want to do this. It feels big doesn’t it. And I know you can do big things, even when it feels like you can’t. How can I help?’

They won’t believe in themselves until we show them what they are capable of. For this, we’ll have to believe in their ‘can’ more than they believe in their ‘can’t’.♥️
Sometimes it feels as though how we feel directs what we do, but it also works the other way: What we do will direct how we feel. 

When we avoid, we feel more anxious, and a bigger need to avoid. But when we do brave - and it only needs to be a teeny brave step - we feel brave. The braver we do, the braver we feel, and the braver we do… This is how we build brave - with tiny, tiny uncertain steps. 

So, tell me how you feel. All feelings are okay to be there. Now tell me what you like to do if your brave felt a little bigger. What tiny step can we take towards that. Because that brave is always in you. Always. And when you take the first step, your brave will rise bigger to meet you.♥️
#anxietyinkids #consciousparenting #parentingtips #gentleparent #parentinglife #mindfulparenting #childanxiety #heywarrior
If anxiety has had extra big teeth lately, I know how brutal this feels. I really do. Think of it as the invitation to strengthen your young ones against anxiety. It’s not the disappearance of brave, or the retreat of brave. It’s the invitation to build their brave.

This is because the strengthening against anxiety happens only with experience. When the experience is in front of you, it can feel like bloodshed. I know that. I really do. But this is when we fight for them and with them - to show them they can do this.

The need to support their avoidance can feel relentless. But as long as they are safe, we don’t need to hold them back. We’ll want to, and they’ll want us to, but we don’t need to. 

Handling the distress of anxiety IS the work. Anxiety isn’t the disruption to building brave, it’s the invitation to build brave. As their important adult who knows they are capable, strong, and brave, you are the one to help them do that.

The amygdala only learns from experience - for better or worse. So the more they avoid, the more the amygdala learns that the thing they are avoiding is ‘unsafe’, and it will continue to drive a big fight (anger, distress) or flight (avoidance) response. 

On the other hand, when they stay with the discomfort of anxiety - and they only need to stay with it for a little longer each time (tiny steps count as big steps with anxiety) - the amygdala learns that it’s okay to move forward. It’s safe enough.

This learning won’t happen quickly or easily though. In fact, it will probably get worse before it gets better. This is part of the process of strengthening them against anxiety, not a disruption to it. 

As long as they are safe, their anxiety and the discomfort of that anxiety won’t hurt them. 
What’s important making sure they don’t feel alone in their distress. We can do this with validation, which shows our emotional availability. 

They also need to feel us holding the boundary, by not supporting their avoidance. This sends the message that we trust their capacity to handle this.

‘I know this feels big, and I know you can do this. What would feel brave right now?’♥️

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