Today’s Family: Your anxiety Is not you

Life's challenges are sometimes overwhelming and we often feel alone dealing with them.

Children and teens experience stress and anxiety in ways different than adults. The way each group looks at the world and their problems is based on a myriad of views: parents, teachers, friends and social media. Their core identities are emerging, and the world is becoming a much scarier space than the carefree days of elementary and middle school. They are trying to figure out who they are in the world and separating themselves from their parents.

As parents and caregivers, we feel the need to lessen kids’ stress by offering solutions and advice. We want to minimize their suffering or upset by telling them not to worry. What they want to hear is that you get it. You understand what they are going through, or at least you want to try. Acknowledge what is happening for them which requires being in their world with them. When we try to minimize their stress, we teach them to stuff it, ignore it, or that it’s not okay to have it.

There’s a saying, “What you resist persists.” Long ago, the depth psychologist Carl Jung contended that “what you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.” Another way to put it: If you don’t acknowledge and get out in the open about what’s on your mind or what you’re feeling, it will surface in other ways.

Are your kids talking back to you, acting out, or ignoring you? These are signs they may be grappling with something and don’t know how to identify it or express it verbally. “I don’t know” will be a common answer you will get when you ask them what’s wrong.

The important thing to get here is that anxiety and stress are made up. We create stories about what’s going on with us, and it’s in those stories that the anxiety lives. For example, your teen has a big test coming up. What’s going on is they have a test. What causes the stress and anxiety is what they tell themselves about that test. If I don’t get an A, I’m a failure. If don’t get a good grade, I will never get into college. What if I don’t do as well as my peers? They will think I’m stupid. I’m not a natural learner. I hate taking tests. My parents will be so disappointed if I don’t get a good grade.

It’s those thoughts that have the brain respond with fight (grin and bear it), or flight (I’m out of here).

There is good news. Your anxiety is not you. It’s just the stories you make up and repeat over and over until you actually believe them. Catch yourself and note when you are experiencing upset or feelings that do not serve you. What are you saying to yourself? Chances are it’s not in an empowering context.

When that happens and you notice you are beating the crap out of yourself, mostly with things that are not even true about you or your future, make up a different story that goes something like this. “I’ve got this. Tests are ways of practicing what I’ve learned and know. I have a future full of possibility and tests are one small step toward that future. Tests rock. I rock.”

You get it. If your negative emotions live in the things we make up about ourselves, then make up things about yourself that inspire and motivate you.

Another way to consider this is to imagine yourself in the future. Who are you being in that future, happy, joyous, peaceful, successful? Then imagine yourself being that in the present.

Humans are wired to be goal-driven and oriented with a win-lose mentality. We identify with an attitude of “I’ve got to be the best or I’m not enough.” Give yourself permission to not be restricted by the voices in your head that tell you you’re just not good enough or that have you have to compare yourself to others. When you stop thinking you are not all-that and instead tell yourself you are perfect, whole, and complete exactly the way you are, right here right now, a whole new world of freedom and ease opens up and a space to take on what really matters to you becomes available.

Tell your wimpy, whiney, blaming, complaining, thoughts to take a time out. Tell them you are the boss of your thoughts, not the other way around!

It’s just you and your thoughts. Always has been. Always will be. So, don’t just have different thoughts. Have different conversations with your thoughts. You think I don’t have this and I’m not good enough. Well you’re wrong. I’m powerful and courageous.  I’m large and in charge. Thank you, anxiety for getting my attention, but I think I’ll be in the driver’s seat today.

Stress is inevitable in our lives; it's our reactions to stressful events over which we have control. It’s okay to have your feelings. Don’t let them have you.

For more tips and strategies on dealing with stress in your family visit Today’s Family by Kim Engstromand DailyKimE.  If you need more support on how to identify when anxiety is taking a toll on the young people in your life (or you), contact me @ Kim




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About Kim Engstrom

Kim Engstrom is a certified mental health counselor and mother of two located in Chadds Ford. Online Counseling and Walk and Talk Therapy now available. For questions or more information on this topic visit or Facebook at Kim Engstrom and KE Counseling Services. A complimentary 30-minute discovery call or in office meeting is available to all first-time clients to discuss your family goals.



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