Does your child suffer from anxiety? The answer is likely “yes,” because we all have anxiety from time to time. I have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and my daughter has anxiety as well. As she gets older, I want to empower her with tools that she can use to calm herself down if anxiety strikes when I’m not with her.
We have many calming tools at home (a weighted blanket, guided meditations, fidget toys, music, yoga mat, quiet spaces, etc.), but anxiety can happen anytime and it’s important to know how to calm yourself. Always consult with a mental heath professional if you or your child are demonstrating signs of anxiety and feel that you need support.
My mom is a counselor and has taught me many helpful strategies throughout the years (I sure got lucky!). I’ve also picked up calming tools from my work as a speech pathologist, my occupational therapist friends (who have great tips on calming the sensory system), therapy, books, videos and courses I took in my undergraduate studies in Family Therapy.
Here are some simple tools and strategies for calming anxiety that anyone can use:
Talk About It
I have found that openly discussing this topic and explaining to my daughter what is happening in her brain and body during anxiety has been very helpful. She knows that anxiety is a normal human response that our brain carries out to protect ourselves from danger but that some people’s brains try to carry out this process when they are not actually in danger. I love how Carrie Contey, PhD and Dr. Daniel Siegel describe that anxiety leads to the fight or flight response and when we are anxious, we are functioning in our, “reptile brain” or lower brain (the part of our brain that is focused on survival). When we are calm, we are functioning in our “human brain” or higher brain, which controls higher level thinking and reasoning.
So simple but so powerful! Whether it’s simply taking deep breath in and out or using a special breathing technique, breathing is a great way to calm your nervous system and you can do it anytime! My daughter likes a breathing exercise where she thinks of a peaceful word (like “calm”) as she inhales and something she’d like to release on the exhale (like “stress”).
Meditation is a wonderful practice to help calm your nervous system. Whether it is sitting or laying down for 2 minutes and breathing deeply or listening to a guided meditation, this is an amazing tool for calming. Yoga is another great way to incorporate mediation into your day for active kiddos who are always on the move.
This is a form a meditation that I find to be very helpful. Visualization is a great technique for children when they are experiencing anxiety. This can be a as simple as imaging your favorite peaceful place and thinking about what each sense is experiencing. I often do guided visualizations with my daughters before bed to help them relax. First I ask them to describe a beautiful and peaceful place. Then I ask them questions about what each sense is perceiving. Next, using calm, slow-paced speech, I describe the place in detail and repeat what they told me about the sensory experience. They are often asleep in a few minutes. This strategy can be done anytime!
We all know that exercise has many benefits for the body and lowering anxiety is one of them. When my daughter is active, I notice that she has less anxiety. When I see signs of anxiety, I encourage her to move her body, whether it’s a dance party, setting up an obstacle course or playing outside.
Calm the Sensory System
In my co-treatment sessions with occupational therapists, I was amazed at how they used deep pressure and other strategies to calm a child’s sensory system quickly. According the amazing OT and PT mamas behind the website The Inspired Treehouse:
…I consider deep pressure to be my go-to calming sensory strategy at home and at work…It’s a simple little trick that can have a calming effect on kids within minutes (or even seconds) and – at its most basic level – doesn’t require any equipment but your own two hands!
I am not an expert in this area but have found that something as simple as a hug, a pillow squeeze, letting my kids jump into a pile of pillows, or rolling them up in a blanket like a burrito instantly clams them and usually leads to lots of giggles! Consult with an OT, PT or related professional or visit The Inspired Treehouse to learn more.
Sometimes we can all get in our heads and feel overwhelmed. Laughing is a wonderful way to get out of that mindset. I like to make my daughter laugh when she is feeling overwhelmed by doing silly things. I also give her ideas of funny things to think about if she’s anxious at school (like her dog being silly).
Here are some great resources that have helped us a lot! I’d love to hear your ideas for calming in the comments below. 🙂