One possible approach to help anxiety

Today I thought I’d write about something that seems to be horribly prevalent in society: Anxiety. Now this is definitely not something that I consider myself an expert in at all – if someone suffers life-crippling anxiety I would generally suggest that is outside the realm of coaching as a therapy. But I thought it might help someone if I share a little story. 

My Mum came to stay with me while my Dad was on his golfing jolly a while back. (And I have asked Mum’s permission to share this and she’s happy to incase it’s helpful to someone). Now I would describe my Mum’s mental health generally as not that resilient and in particular Dad’s cancer diagnosis has led to a bout of depression & pretty bad anxiety. Mum already felt worried about coming to stay, as it would be out of her normal routine, Dad wouldn’t be there etc but I persuaded her to come and the first day or so went well and Mum was pretty relaxed, happy & enjoying seeing her grandchildren. But then came something even more out of her comfort zone as it was Grandparent’s Day at school for my daughter, and parents couldn’t attend.

The impact of this was that Mum went into anxiety overdrive and was even shaking with worry at the thought of the day ahead. I did what any good life coach would do … I got my A4 pad out! Now anxiety can strike anyone and often it can be what seems to be irrational worries / fears to everybody around them. Hence a natural inclination can be to dismiss the worries with comments such as:

You’re being ridciculous

Of course that won’t happen

What are you so worried about?

Etc

Or to try to comfort with comments:

Don’t worry

It will all be fine

You’ll enjoy it when you get there

Etc.

These are often well meaning attempts to help the anxious person calm down but very often do more harm than good. The anxious person, whether it’s a young child, a teenager going through exams, a 40 year old or an elderly parent, doesn’t feel listened to and can end up feeling worse.

Having got my A4 pad I drew a line down the centre and got Mum to tell me every single thing that she was worried about and wrote each one down. I didn’t comment on them, dismiss them or laugh at them. I just wrote them down and asked what else she was worried about until we ran out. 

I then started with one of the worries which was ‘Getting stuck in the loo’. I said ‘Yep, that could definitely happen. You might go to the loo and the lock jams and you can’t get out. If that happens what will you do?’. Of course Mum said ‘Wait for someone to come’. I prompted ‘And what would happen then?’. ‘They would get me out or get further help’. To which I replied ‘Of course they would. And it’s a busy school so people are always in the loo. Worse case scenario if I come to pick you up and can’t find you, I’ll check the loo!’. We had a chuckle and I wrote down Mum’s response on the right hand side and moved to the next fear. And so we went through each one. Nothing was dismissed but instead we talked about strategies for how to deal with it if it became a reality. By the end Mum’s anxiety had largely abated, her hands were no longer shaking and she felt a lot more confident about the day ahead. 

It’s a simple technique but can be useful for helping someone else with anxiety or yourself if your brain is in overdrive with doom and gloom scenarios. If we write down solutions it’s as if the brain can relax a bit and think ‘I’ve got that covered’. And if you are dealing with an anxious child / partner / relative / friend or even yourself, try to avoid dismissing or papering over their worries as it doesn’t really help. The writing down is quite a crucial step of the process to stop the brain from spinning. Eg. A teenager going through exams may be anxious about failing – so help them to come up with a what-to-do-if-you-fail solution. There will be one. It might not be ideal but it won’t be catastrophic either. 

Finally, a reminder that anxiety is not my specialist subject so this is certainly not meant as a cure all but I’m telling the story incase it helps someone a little. Please like / share as we never know who might need to read this today. Thank you, Sue X

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