Anxiety: How Much Is Too Much?
While anxiety is a normal emotion, there are times when serious intervention is necessary. When anxiety is severe, such as when it begins to interfere with one’s daily life, one should seek professional help.
At age nineteen, college student Ahuva (not her real name) began experiencing anxiety attacks. There were days when she was nauseous and tearful, and just wanted to stay in bed. “I couldn’t identify a trigger,” she says, although she admits to having been bullied relentlessly during elementary school. Ahuva realized she needed help. She entered therapy and was eventually prescribed medication by a psychiatrist. It was a rocky adjustment until the dosages were fine-tuned. When things began to stabilize, her best friend got married and left town. Then her aunt died after a battle with cancer. “After that, I had a breakdown,” she says. “I couldn’t get out of bed, had no appetite and cried all day. My therapist thought I should consider going to a facility, because on a twenty-point scale of anxiety, I was a nineteen.” Ultimately, Ahuva was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Her medication dose was increased, and she attended more frequent therapy sessions. She also joined a support group for people who suffer from anxiety disorders. “Your life is not over after you get diagnosed,” she says. “With anxiety you go up and down, but I’m in a good place now.” This fall, she started a master’s program in mental health counseling.
Giving Up Control
One way to alleviate anxiety is giving up your need for control and strengthening your belief that God is in control. “Nowadays we can predict markets, the weather, et cetera,” explains Dr. David H. Rosmarin, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and founder of the Center for Anxiety in New York. “We’re obsessed with control. We don’t realize that emotional fluctuations, unpredictability and failure are normal parts of life. We’ve lost tolerance for uncertainty and feel anxious when we can’t control every outcome.” Remarkably, clinical science points to the importance of giving up control and “accepting the uncertainty of life as the foremost antidote to anxiety,” he says.
When Your Child Is Feeling Anxious
By David H. Rosmarin
If your child doesn’t want to go to school or take a test, for example, due to his anxiety:
- Validate that he is having a hard time by conveying that you understand and appreciate how he feels.
- Don’t bail her out; rather, find a way to help her engage. If she can’t or won’t do all of the task, encourage her do as much as possible.
- When a child faces his fears, sits with discomfort or tolerates uncertainty, appreciate it and reinforce him with praise (catch him being “good”!)
- When a child can’t or won’t engage in important aspects of life for a month or more, consult a mental health professional for guidance.
David H. Rosmarin, PhD, is founder/director of the Center for Anxiety in New York and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. His clinical work and research have been featured in Scientific American, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times.
By Leah Haber
Often, our instincts as parents are to “make things easy” for our kids and avoid uncomfortable situations. For example, if our child is anxious about going to sleepaway camp, we may simply allow him or her to stay home. However, by doing this, we bypass the problem rather than help our kids manage their anxiety. It’s more constructive to let our children experience some emotional discomfort, which implicitly gives them the message: “I know this is hard. I believe you can figure this out.”
When we say “fine, don’t go to camp,” a child might think: “I don’t believe I can do this and my parent doesn’t either.” A more productive way to deal with anxiety is to talk it through and possibly problem solve with a child. We might say: “I get that you’re nervous. Going away to camp is a big deal. Are there any specific parts of camp that you’re nervous about? What do you think might help you in that situation? Would you like to hear what worked for me when I was a kid? “ Often, anxiety can be diffused just by talking things out and giving ourselves and our child enough time and emotional space to think, plan and problem solve.
Dr. Leah Haber, PsyD, a clinical psychologist practicing in Ramat Beit Shemesh
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Anxiety, like most feelings, is contagious. Anxiety in our children can trigger a similar reaction in us. Before you respond, make sure to give yourself space, don’t say the first thing that pops into your head.
—Dr. Leah Haber
A child should never be made to feel guilty about his feelings. Don’t respond dismissively by saying “you are fine” or “calm down.” Instead, try “this seems really hard for you. Tell me what’s going on.” Validate feelings, not necessarily behavior.
—Dr. Leah Haber