Anxiety and the Family – How Mindfulness-Based, Mind-Body Techniques Can Help
It is heartbreaking for a parent to see their child battle with anxiety. Parents want the best for their children, and they want them to grow up happy and emotionally resilient. But anxiety prevents children from enjoying things other children enjoy like making friends and attending school. Anxiety can also prevent children from building an open and honest relationship with their parents and finding confidence within themselves.
A child’s anxiety can also have negative effects on the family. The stress of dealing with a child’s fear, resistance, mood swings, pessimism, and tantrums can weaken the bond between parent and child. Furthermore, a child’s anxiety has long-term effects that can potentially persist into adulthood.
Although anxiety in children usually resolves itself, recent studies have shown that anxiety experienced in childhood can often return when a child is an adult 1 and present as coping difficulties, including the development of multiple anxiety disorders, problems with interpersonal relationships, and educational difficulties. Additionally, it is not uncommon for those who have childhood-onset anxiety disorders to develop general health problems, financial difficulties, and depression in adulthood. Because of this, experts emphasize the importance of early intervention, be it pharmacological treatment, psychotherapeutic therapy, or mindfulness-based mind-body (MBMB) techniques for anxiety experienced in childhood.
Addressing a child’s anxiety and learning how to effectively deal with associated family stress can not only reduce symptoms of anxiety, but can also strengthen the family bond, making the whole family more emotionally resilient.
The family’s support and love are very important to the emotional and psychological well being of a child. As a parent, one way to help your child cope with anxiety and stress is by being there for him or her, not only physically but emotionally as well. Your child needs to feel that he or she has your love, support, and trust. It can also help if you and your child learn some techniques to control high emotions so you can talk with one another calmly. One approach currently in use is a mindfulness-based mind-body (MBMB) technique.
What is a Mindfulness-Based Mind-Body (MBMB) Approach?
In a nutshell, MBMB teaches children to be more aware of themselves– their breathing as well as the emotions and thoughts running through their mind – and to use these thoughts and emotions as a guide to return to the present and regain emotional self-control. Through this technique, a child learns how to regulate or control his or her stressors, feelings/emotions, and behavior. The child becomes more resilient and develops a more positive outlook on life, school, and interpersonal relationships with family and peers.
Some of the benefits of MBMB2 include:
- Reduction in stress, anxiety, and depression
- Increased relaxation
- Improvement in concentration and focus
- Decreased self-harming behavior and suicidal thoughts
- Increased positive emotions
- Emotional resiliency and the ability to correct negative feelings
What Are Some Simple MBMB techniques You and Your Child Can Do at Home?
The three techniques 3 described below have been shown to be effective in a classroom setting, and can be incorporated into home exercises. They include:
- Being aware of your breathing: To do this, sit in a quiet place and focus your attention on your breathing. Should your attention begin to wander, use either the tip of your nose or the rising and falling of your abdomen to bring your focus back to your breathing. Count the number of your breaths in sets of five.
- Being aware of your emotions, thoughts, and body sensations: Once you’ve acknowledged these thoughts and feelings, let them go by again paying attention to your breathing.
- Conducting body scans: Focus on the sensations going through your body – from your feet to your head. This will make you more aware of your body, posture, and spatial orientation, as well as your movement. Once you have become aware of them, focus your attention back to your breathing.
In a recent study, these meditation techniques were completed by the students for 5 to 10 minutes per day, five days a week. The main purpose was to help children train their minds to take control over whatever is distracting them at the moment, be it their surroundings, emotions, thoughts, or sensations. The study found that MBMB practice resulted in a reduction in symptoms of anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide.
How Can MBMB Techniques Benefit Your Family and Strengthen Family Ties?
MBMB can help you cope with family stress and help your child deal with feelings of anxiety. It can also make your family more emotionally resilient. MBMB techniques can also help you and your child become more “in-tune” with one another. By learning how to control negative feelings, communication between you and your child can become easier. Your child won’t be afraid to open up to you since they know you’ll listen, and you will have less difficulty talking with your child and sharing ideas. MBMB techniques allow parents to relax, think, and respond calmly when responding to their child’s behavior.
MBMB techniques can help reduce parenting stress, which will bring you and your child closer to one another. Experts say that parents who experience less parenting stress and parents who are more involved in their children’s lives and activities develop stronger family bonds. 4
Anxiety experienced in childhood can affect not only your child, but your whole family as well. Difficulties have long-term consequences on a child’s health, interpersonal relationships, and academic functioning. Anxiety and stress can also weaken family ties. Addressing anxiety with techniques like MBMB, which teaches individuals how to respond to stressors and control negative emotions, can help reduce a child’s anxiety and can make your family more resilient, emotionally stable and attuned with one another.
1 Wehry, A. M., Beesdo-Baum, K., Hennelly, M. M., Connolly, S. D., & Strawn, J. R. (2015). Assessment and Treatment of Anxiety Disorders in Children and Adolescents. Current Psychiatry Reports, 17(7), 591. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-015-0591-z
2 Britton, W. B., Lepp, N. E., Niles, H. F., Rocha, T., Fisher, N., & Gold, J. (2014). A Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial of Classroom-Based Mindfulness Meditation Compared to an Active Control Condition in 6th Grade Children. Journal of School Psychology, 52(3), 263–278. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsp.2014.03.002
3 Britton, W. B., Lepp, N. E., Niles, H. F., Rocha, T., Fisher, N., & Gold, J. (2014). A Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial of Classroom-Based Mindfulness Meditation Compared to an Active Control Condition in 6th Grade Children. Journal of School Psychology, 52(3), 263–278. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsp.2014.03.002
4 Melissa Respler-Herman, "Parenting beliefs, parental stress, and social support relationships" (January 1, 2009). ETD Collection for Pace University. Paper AAI3357197. http://digitalcommons.pace.edu/dissertations/AAI3357197
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