Tending to Stress and Anxiety


Anxiety may be affecting us in two ways:

Anxiety may be affecting us in two ways: one relates to us– the parents and family– and the stress and anxiety we feel as we love someone who is so deeply hurting. The other part is that many of our children struggle with anxiety issues in addition to another diagnosis. Professional guidance may be needed in managing stress and anxiety. Yet some of the techniques that follow can be beneficial for all of us.

Regarding our children–

We have mentioned elsewhere that our daughter has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychotic features and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD.) PTSD is the most extreme form of anxiety that there is. Through her teen years, prior to trauma, we had dealt with anxiety as well as what we thought was depression. As years went on, and her diagnosis was better clarified, we had researched all these illnesses. You may already know by now that it is very common for people who have one diagnosis to also be wrestling with a second diagnosis or disorder. For example, depression and anxiety often go hand in hand, as do alcoholism and depression. So, many of our children may be living with bipolar disorder, major depression, or borderline personality disorder and struggling with anxiety, too. The experts in the books refer to this as: comorbid, comorbidity, concomitant, or co-occurring. (For a brief critique/personal opinion and further definition of this questionable terminology click here.)

Again, speak to a professional about the treatment and advice best for your child.

For all of us—

We are all affected by the pain our loved one feels. Perhaps life has been very trying and stressful for you for quite some time. Even as you provide care for your child, allow yourself to pay attention to your needs. Start with the basics of all good health: get proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep. I (Kimberly) emphasize this because I have failed miserably here! It is so hard! It is very important to give ourselves permission to slow things down, really rest, and take care of our needs in order to be strengthened for the future. How we create these opportunities will vary. I feel I heard people saying, “Take care of yourself!” and all I could think was, “How do I do that??” For a long time, I couldn’t even fathom what that meant! My concerns for my daughter’s well-being, and my desire to take care of all of my children to the best of my ability seemed so large in my mind. Worry and stress can make rest and self-care seem impossible. Along the way, I learned it happens through very tiny steps.

Through the years, my daughter and I have learned many small but helpful ways to combat anxiety and stress. Some very beneficial techniques we want to share with you include:

Deep breathing– (I found myself doing this before I knew it was a technique!) Breathe in slowly through the nose, hold for an equal count, then release through pursed lips to a longer, slower count. It physiologically slows down brain activity, decreases heart rate, and may possibly lower blood pressure. Repeat often.

Counting – Yes, count things. This may sound nuts, but when your mind is far away, worrying about your loved one’s mental health and dangerous behavior, you can stay immersed in the present by counting things. Count whatever is in your vicinity: stop lights, red cars, green books, flowers in the wallpaper, etc.

Tossing the ball – An excellent counselor explained to us the underlying principle behind treatment for post-traumatic stress involves engaging each half of the brain alternately, which helps facilitate brain processing. (For more information, research EMDR therapy.) I just borrowed this one portion of EMDR, and noticed some relief. Find a small, yet weighty ball (a yoga ball or stress-ball at discount stores is about $5), and toss it from one hand to the other.

Play Doh – Another therapist taught us this one for decreasing frustration and stress: pound it, mold it, smash it, stab it with a plastic knife…

Water – Water can be soothing, and refreshing. Take a break to wash the face. Close your eyes and let your skin get drenched in a shower or bubble bath. Dip into a pool or splash your feet in a lake. Slow down and sit near a local pond or other body of water.

Nature – Get outside, take in a view, watch a butterfly, listen to the leaves rustle in the wind, breathe in fresh air, hike, bask in the warmth of the sun. I personally find great peace and restoration in nature.

Art – Grab the crayons, paint, or pencils, and dive in. Expressing herself through all kinds of artistic (and musical) outlets has afforded my daughter immense comfort and healing.

Lavender – This scent has calming properties. Try it in candles, lotions, scented pillows.

In addition, experiment with other elements that promote relaxation such as herbal teas, scented candles, gentle exercise, swinging on a swing, rocking in a rocking chair, soothing music, massage, etc.

In order to help our children, it is important to look at the whole package. Lessons we’ve acquired on this painful journey reflect that healing and better mental health are nourished by at least six critical components: the basics (nutrition, sleep, exercise), medication, good counseling, something productive for a loved one to do, a safe place to live, and the presence of loving, caring, supportive people. Many of these factors are crucial to our health and strength, as well.

To further strengthen you in dealing with anxiety and stress, read The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs by Dr. Stephen Ilardi, Ph.D. Not only essential for helping those who live with depression, the principles Dr. Ilardi prescribes are also key to managing stress. His chapter on the light box is worth the price of the book!*

For more information on General Anxiety Disorder, visit: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad.htm. See also their article “How to Stop Worrying.” This is an excellent website.