Podcast: Easing Back-to-School Anxieties for Kids & Parents
Jenn talks to Julie Cullen about the anxiety that can come with transitioning back to school. Julie shares tips and tricks to feel more excited about the upcoming school year, provides methods for lowering anxiety for both children and adults, and answers audience questions about how we can all feel a little more at ease about whatever the school year may bring.
Julie B. Cullen, LICSW, EdM, is a licensed social worker with over a decade of experience providing individual, group, and family therapy for children, adolescents, and their families. Julie has intensive training in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and has worked extensively with clinicians from The Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Jenn: Welcome to Mindful Things.
The Mindful Things podcast is brought to you by the Deconstructing Stigma team at McLean Hospital. You can help us change attitudes about mental health by visiting deconstructingstigma.org. Now on to the show.
Hi folks, good morning, good afternoon, good evening to you wherever you’re joining us from, whatever time you’re joining us, whatever the weather looks like there, thanks so much for joining us today to talk all about returning back to school and anxiety in kids and adults.
I’d like to introduce myself. I’m Jenn Kearney, and I am a digital communications manager for McLean Hospital.
And while I didn’t feel like this when I was in school, transitioning back to school can kind of feel like being at the top of a roller coaster for a lot of people, especially if you hate roller coasters. It can be pretty nerve wracking for both kids and parents.
Think about that feeling of that like pit in your stomach, knowing that things are going to be really fast paced and not always under your control. It doesn’t always make you feel good, right?
So that’s why I am really excited to have Julie Cullen with me today to talk all about how we can feel emotionally healthy in an unpredictable time for families, as well as how we can accentuate the positives in these “wild and unprecedented times” as I make air quotes.
It’s a time where we’re all more inclined to fixate on the negatives. And I’m excited that she’s here to talk about how we can focus on the positives, ways to lower anxiety in all of us, whether we’re a parent, a child, or neither, and how we can get more excited about the things that are really unknown to us.
If you are unfamiliar with her, I’m super excited to introduce her because I know Julie personally and I think that she is absolutely fabulous. Not only is she a good friend of mine, but she is also a licensed social worker with over a decade of experience providing individual group and family therapy for children, adolescents and their families.
She also has intensive training in dialectical behavioral therapy, which we call DBT. And she’s worked extensively with clinicians from the Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts using their ARC model of trauma treatment, as if she doesn’t already do enough in a day. So Julie, hi.
Jenn: Thank you so much for joining me. I’m super jazzed you’re here. People don’t want to hear from me. They want to hear from you.
So I’m going to get started by asking, what are some of the most common reasons for there to be back to school anxiety for kids?
Julie: So I think there’s a couple of categories of things. I think a lot of kids are nervous about sort of the logistics and the particulars.
Who’s my teacher going to be? What is the school year going to look like? What’s my schedule? Who’s in my classes? Will my teacher liked me? Will I like my teacher? Is it going to be a good fit? Some of those more very logistical parts.
It’s going to look different than my classroom last year. What color is the rug going to be? Where is the teacher going to be sitting? Are we in desks or tables? Particularly this year too, I think there’s a lot of those kinds of questions.
Are we using lockers this year? Are we carrying our backpacks this year? Where are we eating lunch? Who’s going to be in my lunch? All of those types of unknowns because there are certain things we know year to year.
We know what going into the school building looks like, we know what coming out of the school building looks like, we know typically the principal, although sometimes that changes.
But there are so many pieces of a kid’s day-to-day school routine that changed based on their grade, their teacher, who’s in the classroom, those types of things. So I think that that’s one category of things that kids worry about.
They’re just kind of, what am I walking into? Whereas it’s like going into a new job for adults. Like, what am I walking into? Who’s going to be there? Who am I going to connect with? Am I going to fit in?
I think that leads into sort of the second category, which is the social category. And that’s where kids are really nervous about starting with what kids are going to be in my class? Am I going to have any friends in there?
Are the kids that I have a hard time with going to be in my class? What if I don’t fit in? Last year maybe I had some difficulty, what if that carries over into this year? And particularly as kids get older, those peer concerns I think become more and more the norm.
I think with the younger kids, with the elementary school kids, it’s a lot of like, who’s going to be in my class and what if my friends aren’t in my class? But they tend to sort of mix a little bit easier and settle in.
With the older kids, it really gets into those issues of peer pressure and bullies and where do I fit in in the social hierarchy of middle school and high school? And I think that’s a huge piece for some of our older kids.
And then there’s sort of the other category, which depends more on some of our individual factors. I know I’ve worked with a lot of kids with food allergies who going to school is really scary because what if kids don’t follow the rules of the classroom and bring in food into the classroom that maybe is going to make me sick?
What if my teacher doesn’t really follow the rules or enforce the rules well enough? How do I keep myself safe in those situations? What do I need to be aware of? And so that plays a role in some kids fears.
And then there’s sort of the trauma aspect and those fears, if something has happened to a family member or if there have been health concerns in the family, there can be a lot of fears and anxieties from kids around like, what if something happens to you when I’m gone?
What if something happens to me while I’m there? And that leads to that fear of separation and fear of being away from parents.
Jenn: So I’m curious to know what are some of the common concerns and anxieties that then would pop up in parents and guardians around a new school year? I imagine that there’s some overlap, but what are they most concerned about?
Julie: Well, this year is a little bit of an interesting year in terms of parent concerns, but I think in general parent concerns do line up to a degree. I think parents are concerned about teacher fit. Is this going to be a good match for my kid?
I think parents are concerned about their kids fitting in socially and being a part of the group and having a support network in the classroom. I also think then a little bit on a little bit of a different end, although I think kids worry about this as well, I think parents have sort of the academic concerns.
Will my kids be able to keep up? Will they be able to engage with the curriculum? Especially if they’ve had some struggles learning, will they be able to keep learning? Will they be able to catch up to grade level?
Will their supports in any of their individual ed plans or 504 accommodations, will those be really followed this year in this new classroom? So I think there are some of those types of concerns.
How is the school, again, thinking about food allergies as well as sort of what’s going on right now, how will the school keep my kids safe? What are their protocols? What are their policies? What are their general ways of interacting with kids? I think those can be big concerns.
I think there are also concerns around, I wrote a couple notes down, so I just want to, concerns around the things that could go wrong at school. And I think particularly when we’re in that negative mindset, we tend to start thinking of all the things that could go wrong.
What if my kid won’t go to school? What if my kid gets there and doesn’t know where they’re going? What if my kid gets lost? What if my kid gets bullied? And we kind of get into that what if cycle.
And I think the other thing for parents that’s tricky, as kids go through the different developmental stages, we think of ourselves and our own experiences, and that can get put into the mix.
Like I’m worried about this thing that happened to me, even though maybe it hasn’t even been whispered around my child. I experienced this and I’m worried that that will happen for my child and that they’ll experience it too.
So it’s sort of putting this whole other level of worries that isn’t even in their orbit, but because we had that experience, it’s hard for it not to be in ours.
Jenn: I’m curious to know, we’ve talked about where there may be anxiety in kids, but how does it show up in kids and teens, and are there differences between how it shows up in children and adolescents?
Julie: I think the trickiest part about anxiety is that not only are there differences between kids and adolescents, there’s just differences between everybody. It doesn’t look the same. You have some people who get really anxious and they sort of pull in and they withdraw.
And these are kids who might start refusing to go to school or going to school and putting their head down on their desk, and not really being willing to participate, and not wanting to go out to recess, and finding reasons to stay inside, going to the nurse’s office.
And so they sort of internalize those feelings. And then you have other kids that are more external and they’re going to be the kids who sometimes look angry and irritable. And sometimes they’re tough to have in the classroom because they’re disruptive.
And so we don’t look at them all the time as anxious ‘cause we see the behavior and we don’t really see what’s going on underneath that. But a lot of times, anxiety can present that way because kids are so anxious about whatever’s happening, that they’re going to do anything they can to get out of that situation.
And if that means they have to push the chair and kick the desk to get sent out of the room, that’s what they’re going to do. So there’s such a wide range of what anxiety looks like.
With younger kids, I think we tend to see those some of those acting out behaviors. I think we see some of the school refusal and I feel like that’s becoming more and more common over time as kids really just being like, I’m not going, can’t make me go.
We can work with that a little bit differently when kids are in elementary school. As they get older, that becomes a little bit more of a challenging behavior, but it is a result of anxiety in most cases.
There’s something going on at school or internally that is exacerbated at school. And so it’s an avoidance behavior to not have to be in the face of that thing. I think in older kids, we see self-medication with substances.
I think we see the sort of rule-breaking behavior where maybe it’s not anger or irritability or tantruming, but it’s skipping classes and finding ways around being where they’re supposed to be. But really, I think the trickiest part about it is that it can present so differently.
And you have to really look at if you have a behavior that you’re struggling with looking at where that’s coming from and getting down to the anxiety is the tricky part, and identifying it as anxiety and not just sort of defiance or rule-breaking behavior, or anger, or something else. ADHD is often kind of thrown in there.
And a lot of times what we find is kids who we’re questioning ADHD, but when we talk to them and figure out what’s going on, their disruptive behavior is a result of just being so anxious that they are looking for a way out.
Jenn: I’m curious to know how we could address some of the avoidant behaviors that you’ve discussed and how parents can determine if it’s linked to anxiety?
So, for example, when you said like skipping class, putting your head on your desk, or just saying, I don’t feel well, I’m not going. How can we dig a little bit deeper to figure out if it’s avoidance, anxiety or both?
Julie: Well, little kids are often a little bit easier with this. I think the older kids are tricky ‘cause you get a lot of like, I dunno, I dunno, I dunno. And probably legitimately they don’t, which is what’s so hard about it.
But I think as parents, one of the things early on that we can do is when we’re noticing these behaviors is to notice them and to observe them and to sort of say, “Hey, I noticed that this seems to be an issue, what’s going on?”
I think as parents, we get anxious about these things and we want to fix it and we want to change it right now. And what we tend, the step we tend to skip is getting our kids input and we start trying to implement plans and do things and change things without getting input from our kids.
And if our kids are anxious, part of what they’re anxious about is not having control over things. So a big theme of all of this is like, if I don’t have control, I’m going to avoid whatever it is because I don’t know what’s going to happen, it’s unpredictable, it’s scary. I don’t want to do it.
So again, as parents, we see that and we’re like, “Oh, but you have to do it. You have to go to school. You have to go to class. You have to do your homework. You have to go to bed.”
Bedtime is another big issue for anxious kids. I should throw that in there. But as parents, we’re like, “You have to do those things. We need you to do those things.” And so we’re anxious to get them doing the different behavior.
And we skip the step of really inviting them to talk to us about what’s going on for them. And part of why we skip it is because often, they don’t want to. They don’t have the words. They don’t know.
So one thing that, one trick that I find really works is to find a situation or an environment that’s a little less threatening than sitting down at a table one-on-one, staring at each other from across the table.
I think again, as parents, we’re like, “Alright, we’re going to sit down and talk about this. We’re going to come up with a plan. We’re going to figure it out.”
And so now we’re looking, we have direct eye contact. We’re sitting across from each other, and this has been identified as a big deal. And as a teenager particularly, when something’s identified as a big deal, we’re going to do everything we can not to do it.
Jenn: It basically becomes an interrogation from a “Law and Order” episode.
Julie: Correct, and even if we want to do the thing, we’re now not doing the thing because now you’re telling me I need to do the thing. And so no. So I love things like car rides, walks. Bike rides are probably a little trickier, but walks on the beach.
I actually listened to one person speak at one point and he talked about just turning the lights out, having the conversation in the dark. And what those strategies do is cut that eye contact intimacy.
So as much as eye contact is an important form of communication, in a conversation like that, it can be really intimidating for our kids. And it can feel really scary, and overwhelming, and can create that behavior of shutting down and refusing to engage.
So if you’re walking and you’re both looking forward or in a car, and you’re both looking forward or your child’s in the backseat.
And so there’s really no eye contact, it opens the door for them to be able to express some of the things that are going on internally, some of the things that they’re feeling without feeling that stare down, that scrutiny.
On the parent end, if you’re in the dark, not facing each other, have some of that separation. When you say something and your kid rolls their eyes or makes a face, you don’t see it. And therefore you don’t have to stop whatever important conversation you’re having to address that, which we do.
So it just really creates a different dynamic and a different feeling to that type of conversation. And I think, again, with our own anxiety, we tend to want to fix the problem now. And by doing that, we sometimes cut off our kid’s willingness to hear or participate in that conversation and then we miss out on what’s going on for them.
And creating a plan without knowing what’s going on for them really, we miss the mark. So I really feel like that’s that first step is you got to invite them. What is going on here? And kids still sometimes can be really resistant to that.
Sometimes it’s not a whole big long conversation. Sometimes it’s saying things passing in the hallways. Coming, I’m leaving now, just want to let you know if you’re anxious about school, that’s totally fine. We can talk about that.
And then you sort of walk out the door because now you’ve opened the door, given them that opportunity and acknowledge that you’re open to that conversation without demanding that they participate in that conversation.
So again, anxiety comes from a place of lack of control or feeling a lack of control. So you’re giving them that control back to say, this is your anxiety. You tell me when you want to talk about. I also love sticky notes.
Sticky notes are great because you can write little messages, stick ‘em on a wall. And then you’re sort of getting some of your points across again, without having to sort of stop and say, I have to tell you something.
So if your kid is really resistant to having that conversation. I’ve had situations where kids and parents will essentially have a conversation over a period of a couple of days by leaving sticky notes for each other on the bathroom mirror or on each other’s bedroom doors.
“Hey, I think you’re anxious about school,” sticky note. “No, I’m not.” “Okay, I noticed that you did X, Y, and Z. And that’s why I was thinking that.” “Well, that was because of A, B and C.”
And so you’re having that conversation, but it’s a written conversation in pieces over a period of time. Again, taking that intensity out of it for kids who can’t manage the intensity of that conversation.
Jenn: There’s also a lot to be said about adults who quite frankly don’t have the understanding of what anxiety feels like given that anxiety is something that we all naturally feel.
But if you haven’t experienced it, a lot of folks are now experiencing anxiety because of the pandemic and they don’t know how they’re supposed to feel or why they’re feeling this way and they become aggressive, combative, shutdown, any, or all of the above.
So I think even having a conversation with your partner, your sibling, your own mom in the car, in the dark, via email, anything that’s going to help address it in a non-combative manner can be helpful for adults talking to adults too.
Julie: We see it on social media all the time. We can’t have a conversation about something with differing opinions without becoming combative. And that comes from a place of anxiety.
I’m giving you my perspective and you’re giving me a different perspective, which makes me feel like I don’t have control of the situation or makes me feel like you’re not hearing me or makes me feel like you don’t understand where I’m coming from.
And these aren’t conscious thoughts either. We don’t know always that we’re thinking this. It’s sort of a gut feeling, an instinct and it just takes over. And we get angry. And the same thing happens for our kids.
And so, it’s so difficult to have these conversations if we’re not acknowledging what’s going on for ourselves. We’ve had lots of conversations in my house as adults of, “You seem a little amped right now so maybe I should take over this situation.”
My husband has said to me, “Hey, I’ve noticed you’re pretty stressed out this week. You’re kind of reacting to stuff that really isn’t a big deal.”
We don’t like hearing that in the moment, because what we think is a big deal, we think is, but at the same time, being able as adults to have that conversation, you might be amping this situation up more than it needs to be is important because we do as humans play off each other.
So if I, as an adult am anxious and I’m behaving in this way, my kids are going to pick up on that and react to that because quite frankly, if I’m irritable and angry and snapping at everything they do, it doesn’t necessarily matter in that moment if it’s because I’m really angry, or I’m anxious, or I’m sad, it doesn’t matter.
I’m still treating them that way and they’re going to respond to me in turn. I can’t expect them to know more about what’s going on for me than I do.
So I think it’s really important as adults in these situations before we go into these conversations with our kids to take that step back and to figure out what our experience is in this moment.
What am I thinking about? What connections am I making to my own history? Why am I feeling this way? What physical sensations am I feeling in my body? The other thing about anxiety, it’s so crazy is that it’s so physical.
So a lot of some things that didn’t come up earlier, but also are symptoms or signs of anxiety are physical things. I have a stomach ache, I have a headache, I’m tired, I have no energy. These are all physical symptoms that can mean our kids are anxious.
I’ve worked with lots of kids where the sort of main chief concern coming in is like, I’m nauseous all the time and I feel like I’m going to throw up all the time, but I have no physical reason why.
We’ve done the tests. There’s no physical reason why and it’s just this constant state of anxiety, this fight or flight. Something bad is going to happen and I’m going to need to react to it. And so I need to be ready.
But that sense of needing to be ready to react all the time is a very intense place to be. And if we’re there all the time, yeah, our stomach hurts, we get a headache, our neck is tense, our shoulders hurt, all of these physical things.
So again, it’s another sign for us as adults to be like, oh, neck is a little sore and feel like there’s an elephant on my chest, maybe I’m anxious.
Jenn: Oh yeah, for me, I know when I clench my teeth at night, I wake up and I’m like, “Wow, it feels like I chewed a whole pack of gum.” And then I realized I’m pretty stressed.
Can you elaborate a little bit more on some of the signs of anxiety in kids that may just be more than like, “typical anxiety?” When might it be a problem?
Julie: So my sort of line for that is when it impedes our kids’ ability to function in life. We all experience anxiety. Anxiety is an important emotion. If we don’t have anxiety, we’re going to do things like walk in the middle of the street, walk off a cliff. It keeps us alive.
And it’s one of our sort of primal emotions that’s been in humans forever. So there are always going to be things that make us anxious as people and learning how to manage that is important.
When it starts to impede your ability to function in daily life, that’s a problem. I can’t go to school. I’m not getting up to shower. I won’t go out with friends. I won’t leave the house. I’m going to continue to work from home not because it’s easier, but because I just don’t want to leave.
I feel like with anxiety, a lot of times that’s where particularly kids get to this place of like, I’m just going to stay home. It’s just easier here. And it’s safe here. I know what to expect. I know who’s going to be here. So I’m just going to stay here.
But we can’t live like that. We need to be able to do things. We need to be able to go to the store. We need to be able to go to school. We need to be able to go places because social interaction is also important for us.
So that’s sort of my line is like, are these symptoms so bad that activities of daily life don’t happen? We’re not socializing, refusing to do any sort of afterschool activity, or event, or social engagement. Kids should want to do some of those things. They don’t have to do all of those things.
Some kids are more social than others. But if it’s a situation where you have a kid who was doing those things, and now suddenly isn’t doing those things, that’s anxiety getting in the way of their functioning. I always say, I don’t care what activity kids do.
They’ve got to do something, a thing, not seven things. Sometimes that’s too much, but a thing because it is important to be able to engage and be a part of something.
Jenn: Someone wrote in asking if skipping class or school, or work could be a manifestation of anxiety or simply a desire for control over your life?
I would love to play devil’s advocate and also ask you if it’s a desire for control over your life and what you’re doing with your time, could that “desire for control” as I’m making air quotes, just be another manifestation of anxiety?
Julie: Yes, I mean, I think that behavior is communication. We look at behavior as like, that’s the problem. The problem is the kid is skipping school or I am skipping work, that’s the problem.
From my perspective, that’s the communication that there is a problem because as people, we tend to want to succeed and do well. And so if I’m skipping class, if I’m 15 years old and I’m skipping class every day, there’s a reason for that.
I’m not just deciding I’m not going today. It may look like that. I may present it that way. I just didn’t feel like. We get a lot of that with teenagers. But typically, if we take a minute to dig a little bit further back, there is something.
There is another reason. There is an anxiety. There is a fear. There is a frustration. There is a lack of control in some way. What’s the pattern? Is it the same class all the time?
Is it different classes? Is it the same time of day? Is there something going on at that time of day that’s problematic? Behavior is typically a way that we communicate stuff that’s going on internally that we don’t have words for.
So yes, it can be about that control, but typically when we’re behaving in a way that’s aiming to regain control, it’s because we’re anxious that we have a lack of control in our life. If that makes sense. We don’t do things for no reason.
Jenn: Exactly, talk to me about ways that we can lower our own anxiety as adults.
I know that there’s a genetic component to anxiety, but there’s also that learned behavior where if a parent is continuing to project concerns, eventually the kids are going to believe that there are always things to be concerned about.
So how do we lower our own anxiety? And I guess my second question would be, how do we reduce that projection of worry onto our kids?
Julie: So I always start with kind of lifestyle. And there are a few things that if we’re doing consistently, the goal is to reduce our baseline anxiety, that just general every day worry of anxiety and kind of look to see what’s leftover.
And this is something that I definitely get from that sort of DBT, ARC perspective of I use the acronym of ABC please. So ABC is about accumulating positives, building mastery and coping ahead of time as much as we possibly can.
So if we’re focusing, accumulating positives is just focusing on what’s good and not in a rainbows and puppy dogs way, but in even things like, hey, that was really hard and I was able to figure out a way to get through it.
I start with kids sometimes and with adults sometimes who struggle with this and say, “It can be things like I wore matching socks,” because quite frankly, some days that’s hard. It can be things as simple as that, but it also can be things like I took a math test and it was really hard and I did okay.
Or I was afraid to go to work today and I got myself up and I did it, and I pushed through. Maybe it was awful, maybe it was like a terrible day, but I got there. So we’re looking at the end of the day for those things that we were able to accomplish or do well or feel good about however big or small they may be.
Building mastery is interesting as an adult. I think it’s a real easy thing to do as a kid. We’re always building mastery as a kid. We’re going to school and we’re learning more, we’re taking lessons, we’re learning sports, we’re doing all these things and we’re getting better at something all the time.
And then we get to be adults. And we’re like, how do we do that? How does that work? The thought of picking up a hobby as an adult feels like more work than anything else. When am I going to take guitar lessons? When am I going to learn how to paint? It’s another thing on the list.
So sometimes we need to be a little bit creative about this, but finding something that you do in your life that allows you to learn and grow every day in some way. So it might be one of the things that has been a theme over the last year and a half is cooking. Lots of people I know have suddenly become able to better at cooking maybe.
Jenn: No one saw that, but I raised my hand because all I do is cook at this point.
Julie: And I don’t cook. It’s not my thing. My husband’s a great cook. He does dinner most of the time, but over the last year and a half, I’ve learned how to make a couple of things. So that’s building some mastery.
At this point in our life, we’re not building mastery to try to go to the Olympics or play college sports or something, but we’re just trying to learn how to do something a little bit better than we could do it yesterday.
And that’s important because it gives us that sense of control, of ability, of goodwill about ourselves, some positive feelings about who we are and what we can accomplish. And that in turn allows us to see the positives a little bit more clearly.
And then coping ahead of time with as much as we possibly can. We’re never going to be able to anticipate every single thing that’s going to happen in our life. But if we can anticipate what’s coming, that could be difficult and create a plan for how we’re going to manage that.
There’s less energy spent in the moment that it happens trying to figure out what to do. And that’s more energy that we have and more brain space that we can use doing other things and managing other stuff, and life starts to feel a little bit less overwhelming.
It doesn’t mean you never encounter something novel or that you don’t know how to handle or that’s new. It just means that because you’ve coped with the stuff that you know, this new thing, you got a little more energy to deal with it. So that’s a really important one.
And I think that one in particular in terms of modeling for our kids, if we’re doing that and showing our kids, this is how we cope with stuff. It’s Monday, here’s the schedule for the week. Here are the places that I think we might have a little bit of difficulty.
How are we going to manage that? I can tell you in terms of going back to school, I’m looking at like, okay, kids are going to both be home by 2:30. Mondays at 2:30, we’re going to have to sit down and look at the week, look at the homework, look at the activity schedule, look at these because we need to figure out how we’re going to work through those afternoons.
I work, my husband’s at work, the kids are. How are we going to do this ‘cause those can be challenging and stressful. So let’s plan it ahead of time as much as we possibly can so that it feels less stressful and so that when things arise, we can roll a little bit better.
So I think that’s kind of the starting point. And then we get into sort of the PLEASE section of that acronym and we get into making sure that physically we’re healthy, doing things to keep ourselves physically healthy and avoid physical illness as much as we can.
Eating nutritious foods, sleeping well, exercising. So PLEASE, it’s funny that the acronym PLEASE is a little bit of a stretch sometimes. I’m like, okay, it’s a little bit of a stretch, but P.L is for physical illness. The L kind of carries into illness. The E is eating well. The A is avoiding substances that aren’t prescribed.
So you want to be clear-minded in order to feel less anxious. The S is for sleep. And the E is for exercise. So all of the things that we know we need to do that we don’t like to do as adults.
Jenn: But if you keep doing them and you build them into your routine, it gets easier. That’s the thing is trying to address all of this at once. Rome wasn’t built in a day. I’ve been going to the gym for eight years and I still don’t have abs.
Some things are just going to happen, some parts of it are psychological flexibility and some of it is just trying not to eat the whole sandwich at once, take a bite, work through it. You’ll get through the whole sandwich eventually.
Julie: And I mean, I think adding these things into your routines and your lifestyle over time is how they stick over time. I use exercise as an example, just because I think a lot of us feel that when we’re doing it, it’s fine.
When we get into a routine with it, we go, but go away for a week or two and come home. And you’re like, how do I, I don’t know how to go there anymore. And that happens, and these things all ebb and flow.
They’re going to be weeks and even months where we’re like, oh, I am so on this. I’ve got everything in line. I’m checking all my boxes every day. When I find myself getting out of these routines, I make little check boxes for myself.
And just to remind myself, and I kind of keep it in a notebook and I’m just like, okay, did I feel sick at all today? Did I do the things that I’ve set up for my family to stay well? Did I take my vitamins? Did I take my prescribed medications? Did I exercise today? What did I eat today? How did I sleep last night?
And I’m going through, and I’m making sure that I’m doing all those things. And then once I get in the habit, I feel good, and so I stay in the habit until something comes up and changes my schedule and everything gets messed up and I forget to do those things.
And then I start to feel a little off again, and I have to go back to the beginning. And so I think that that’s where that psychological flexibility comes in, in that just because we get it under control once, doesn’t mean it will always be under control.
But then once we get it under control, we know the things that work for us. And typically when things get out of control again, it’s because we’re not doing those things consistently anymore. That consistency is really important.
And I think also when we get consistent and then we feel good, we’re like, oh, I don’t have to do this anymore. I feel great now. And we forget the link between how we feel and what we’re doing in order to feel that way. I think particularly with eating well, I think that was one I resisted for a long time.
I didn’t want that to have anything to do with how anxious I felt. But when you eat well consistently, you see that it does. And it’s not one day, you don’t eat well one day and suddenly, it’s over time and it takes that consistency, but things will ebb and flow.
But the more you do those things, the easier they all become to incorporate and be a part of your life. And then as we’re doing those things, we’re incorporating those things for our kids and we’re helping them bring their baseline anxiety level down so that they can then be more flexible in their thinking because the things are more predictable.
Their bodies are fueled, they’ve burned off that extra energy, they’re clearheaded, they feel well, they see themselves in a positive light, they know what they’re going to do when struggles come up. And so they can kind of move through those anxieties with a little bit more ease.
Jenn: I would love for you to talk a little bit about how caregivers can discuss or address anxiety, depression, and especially substance use.
We know that there have been tons of articles out there that we’re all being negatively impacted by the pandemic and substance use across all populations is on the rise. How do we talk to kids about this?
Julie: So what I am seeing and sort of from my perspective, I think, again, a lot of this is self-medicating. We’ve been isolated. We’ve been alone. We felt disconnected, particularly teens. I mean, thinking about what is the job of a teen? What is the developmental job of a teen?
It is to be with their friends and to resist everything that authority figures set. So here we are in a situation where authority figures are saying the worst thing they could possibly be saying to a teen whose job is to be with their peers and connect with their peers and resist authority in that you have to stay home and stay away from your friends.
And we’re sort of not in that place right now, but there’s still this sort of, we need to be careful. And there’s a lot of rules and policies and procedures and things that we’re just in that teens are in that sweet spot for not wanting to do those things.
And so they feel controlled and they feel angry. ‘Cause the other thing about being a teenager is when you’re a teenager, everything’s about me. And so if I’m okay, why can’t I do what I want? And so they’re feeling very controlled by the situation that’s happening right now.
And again, when we feel out of control, we tend to feel more anxious, and we want to do something to make that feeling go away. And for a lot of teens who haven’t felt that anxiety before, they’re like, “Whoa, what is this? What is this feeling? This doesn’t feel good.”
And drugs and alcohol make it feel better in the short term. So I think having the conversation with them about why they’re feeling that way and physically what those symptoms are.
And again, these are conversations with teenagers that you’re not sitting down and having at a table, you’re getting these snippets in when you can. And you’re maybe saying, “Oh wait, I noticed that you watched TV for 13 hours yesterday. I know when I get really anxious, sometimes I binge watched TV.”
And then you kind of walk away. You sort of dropped the knowledge and then walk away. Don’t expect a response. Don’t expect a big conversation, but they hear you. You’re telling them the things and they hear you.
And I think the other thing we do with substance abuse is, with our kids in particular is when we notice it and we see that it’s happening, we try to reign it in again by adding controls. Well, now you can’t go out with that friend. Well, now you can only go out till this time. You can’t have your phone, you can’t.
And we do that because we want to stop the behavior because as parents, we don’t want our kids to be using substances, totally valid. We got to do that first part. We have to have the conversations with them about what they’re using those substances for.
And they’re going to tell us that they’re using them for fun. And we’re going to ask them, “How were you feeling before you went out?” Or we’re going to ask our kids before they go out, “How are you feeling? Physically, how are you feeling? How are things with your friends? Everything good? Great, awesome.”
We’re getting that information beforehand because that gives them the opportunity to be like, “You know, I’ve got this weird thing in my stomach and my chest kind of hurts. And my shoulders have been really tense this week.”
Whether they say it that way or not, but it gives them an open door and an opportunity to talk about that. And then if they go out and drink or smoke or whatever, and they come home and you realize it, the next day you’re able to say, “Hey, remember we had that conversation before you went out that you felt X, Y, and Z. And then this is what you did?”
I don’t know. I like to wonder a lot with kids because when you tell them things, then you’re absolutely wrong, but if you wonder about things, sometimes you can get in there a little bit easier. Language is really important with teens.
Language is so important with teens. I really try hard not to tell teens what I know, try hard to wonder about things and suspect things and be curious about things. I’m just curious. That’s one of my favorites with teens.
They’ll come in and tell me these stories and I’m like, “So I’m a little confused and I’m a little curious. Could you tell me a little bit more about this thing you just said?” Because again, I want them to tell me. They don’t want to hear me. I want them to tell me.
When they get talking, sometimes they can make those connections. And sometimes we can wonder and be curious and put some connections out there that maybe in that moment, they’re not going to connect with or admit to, but later they’re going to think about, and they’re going to be like, “Oh!”
Now, this is with our typical teens, we’re not talking about kids who are at the point of a substance use disorder and need intervention and that. This is our typical teen who goes out on a Friday night and might drink and get themself in a little bit of trouble.
We know that as teens in this country, that is unfortunately typical behavior. There is again, there is a point, is it happening frequently? Are they unable to get up the next day and function in life? Is this their main? Are they skipping class to go use substances?
Those are different things, but I think regardless of where the level is, I think the conversation is really about why is this happening? Where is this coming from? What’s underneath it and what else is going on?
And it’s finding ways to get into their world a little bit by getting them to tell us. If we go into that conversation anxious and confrontational, we’re not getting anywhere. We’ve got to sneak our way. We’re wondering, be confused, and tell me a little bit more about that, our way into their experience and why they’re using.
Jenn: That’s the difference between, I want to learn things about you at the same time that you’re learning things about you, versus I’m your parent, guardian, caregiver, I know this about you because I raised you.
Julie: And I think there’s lots of stuff we know. I mean, I see it. I have a 12 year old and I look at him and I’m like, “You’re me when I was 12 and I know.” And even at 12, if I say that to him, he’s like, “Whatever.”
I need to sort of be a little bit more subtle about the things that I know and get him to know because it’s not important that, it’s important that I know, but it’s more important than he knows.
I wonder what your chest feels like right now? And my kids are funny ‘cause they’re like, “Oh, we’re doing this again.” ‘Cause at this point they know they know what I’m doing.
Jenn: Oh, mom’s therapizing again.
Julie: “Really mom, I’m fine.” And I will say to him, “What did that feel like?” What did it feel like if there’s some back and forth between him and another boy. “What did that feel like?” And the first couple of times he’s like, “Why are you asking me that?”
And I was like, “Well, I’m just curious. I’m just curious what you were thinking and how you were feeling when that situation happened.” We know that our thoughts, and our feelings and our behaviors are all connected.
We know that when kids act out, there are thoughts and feelings behind it. When kids use, there’s thoughts and feelings behind it. And those are the points in the triangle that we need to get to if we want to change behavior.
When we address behavior alone, we might be able to change it for the short term, but it’s going to come back up because those thoughts and feelings remain. One example, I had a situation where a kid came in and knocked down all the chairs in the kitchen.
We can address the knocking down of the chairs, but the kid didn’t come in from outside and just knock the chairs down out of nowhere. There was a reason that that happened. So we can get angry and tell them, pick up those chairs. You can’t just come in here and knock things.
Or, you need to pick up those chairs. And the kid will eventually pick up the chairs, whether it’s right then, or whether it’s later, whatever. The kid will pick up the chairs. But we haven’t addressed anything about what was going on there.
What happened outside? What was the thing that happened right before you came in the house and knocked over the chairs? That’s really what I’m interested in. We’ll talk about the chairs later. You’ll pick up the chairs.
But what just happened? What was the feeling? It seems like you were angry. Were you feeling angry? And wondering about those pieces because those are the pieces that are going to create lasting change.
If we can target their thoughts and their feelings, and we can really help them to address difficulties in those areas, that’s going to change behavior. When we just address behavior, we can short-term make something stop, but it’s going to come back if we haven’t addressed the other piece of it.
Jenn: I’m curious about behaviors and bedtime. You mentioned earlier in the chat, but can you talk more about why bedtime is difficult for people with anxiety?
Julie: So bedtime is tricky because it’s quiet, and you’re laying down and you’re not supposed to be doing anything else. So something that people who are anxious do to manage their anxiety is often do more than one thing at a time, which again is part of why we sometimes confuse it with ADHD because it’s the fidgety kid.
Again, I’m working from my bedroom while I’m home and not in the office. And if I could show you the things ‘cause my hands need to be doing things. So when we get into bed, we’re supposed to lay there quietly and still and just close our eyes and go to sleep.
Also, remember anxiety is very much internal. It’s very much about our thoughts. It’s very much about our feelings. It’s very much about the physical sensations. So when an anxious kid lays down to go to bed, their brain does not necessarily shut off.
And the thoughts can actually get worse because now it’s quiet so there’s also nothing to distract them to be able to shut their brain off and not think about all the what ifs and the horrible things that could happen.
Jenn: Yes, I’m not a clinician, but I call this for me, I call it super bowl syndrome. I lie down and all of a sudden, all my thoughts are bouncing out of control. And I’m like, can you all just corral yourselves? What’s happening?
Julie: Where’s the box I stuff you in?
Jenn: Super bowl syndrome over here.
Julie: Absolutely, I always say, if I get a cut on my hand right before bed, I could probably convince myself within 45 minutes, I need to go to the hospital and have my arm amputated. There are just nights where it doesn’t want to shut off.
And again, we all have this at times. This is a normal thing that people experience. It’s problematic when it’s happening night after night, after night, after night and creating insomnia essentially, and making it so that you can’t sleep.
So that to me is the biggest culprit, that inability to slow thinking and to turn off your amygdala. So our amygdala is a small piece of our brain. It’s about the size of a walnut. There’s one on each side of our brain. And it’s our emotion center. And for people who are anxious, that’s where fight or flight comes from.
And so when people are anxious, they’re in this sort of constant state of hyper-vigilance or fight or flight, like I’m waiting to see where the danger is so I can either fight it or run away.
And that all comes from our amygdala level, but when our amygdala gets going, the front part of our brain that’s like rational thinking, and logic, and decision making, and problem solving shuts off. And so that happens at night for people who get anxious.
Their amygdala goes crazy. Their frontal lobe shuts off. I mean, the things that you think about in those moments are like, you wake up the next morning like, “What, where did that come from?”
So the trick for sleep and anxiety is shutting that brain off, slowing that brain down, learning how to slow those thoughts down so that the frontal lobe can reconnect. So when I explain this to teenagers and younger and younger kids get this, I’m finding.
I compare the frontal lobe to a cellphone. When your cellphone dies, your apps still exist on your cellphone, you just can’t access them because the battery is dead. When our amygdala takes over, it drains all the battery out of our frontal lobe.
So all of the skills and strategies are still there. We just can’t access them because our battery is dead, that particular battery is dead. The amygdala has drained all of that energy. So we need to slow our thinking and our brain down so that the battery power in our frontal lobe gets going again.
So my biggest trick here that I think has been the most successful over the years is using at that point short nightly meditations with kids. There are tons of apps. My favorite is called Smiling Mind, and it’s a free app that’s on Android and Apple. It’s got a ton of content.
They never ask you to pay for anything, which is why I like it. And it breaks everything down by ages. There’s a whole section for specific sleep meditations and they’re short. They go anywhere from like five, the shorter ones are like four or five, six minutes.
And then they go up to like 10, 15, 20 minutes if you want something longer. This doesn’t work in one night. You have to do this over time because again, you’re training your brain. You’re teaching your brain to listen to that voice and slow down.
And by creating that external voice, you’re playing this person speaking and he’s speaking in a very slow, calming tone. You’re training your brain to listen to that voice, and your brain is sort of matching up with that speed and now you’re not doing the what ifs.
Because most of the time, your body is actually tired. It’s your brain that’s keeping you up and for our kids too, it’s their brains that are keeping them up. It’s not their body. It’s not that they’re not tired.
And I know I’ve had kids in my office who have said, “I’m exhausted, but I just can’t sleep when I lay down to go to sleep. I can sleep in math. I can sleep at lunch. I can sleep any other, but I can’t sleep.” Well, what’s happening during all of those times?
There’s all kinds of stuff going on. There’s something else to listen to so that you’re not listening to those thoughts. So the meditations, the short meditations teach our kids how to slow our brain’s speed down, how to keep our frontal lobe engaged and how to relax everything so that we can take advantage of that tiredness and actually go to sleep.
Jenn: Okay, I’m curious to know how we can address parent and child anxiety around school shootings.
Julie: This is a tough one. So I actually encountered this with my own son when he was in fifth grade. He came home. It was like every day for a week, he was just terrified of going to school. This is a kid, he loves school. School’s his happy place.
And we talked about it a couple of times and we couldn’t quite figure it out. And then finally, he was able to articulate after a few conversations that they had done an active shooter drill and it terrified him, but he didn’t know why it terrified him.
I mean, there’s sort of just the general, the thought that that could happen, but he couldn’t quite place what the thoughts were that were so scary. So we kind of talked about it. We talked about what the drill was like, we talked about how it would work and he just still couldn’t quite figure it out.
So I talked to the guidance counselor, the guidance counselor had a conversation with him. And then we thought we happen to know the school resource officer at our school so I said, “Well, could he come in and have a conversation with Tommy?”
So he came in and basically said to him, “You don’t need to know everything. If there’s a situation that happens, the teachers and the adults in the room will tell you what to do and you just follow their directions.”
And he was like, “Oh, alright, I’m good now.” That was sort of like, “I said that three days ago.” So I think what I would take from that is that sometimes it takes a couple of different voices to figure out what the actual concerns are for our kids, the specific concerns that we can help them address.
I also think there’s a bigger sort of fear that exists that it’s hard to address because it is this unknown. It’s this idea, and for parents in particular that this could happen. We don’t know. We can’t say to our kids, it’s not going to happen because that’s not honest and they know it.
If it couldn’t happen, why would we be doing active shooter drills in school? I think honesty is important. I think knowing your school’s policies is important.
So being able to say to your kid, “Listen, I know it’s scary to think about. I know it’s scary to have to do these drills. And here are all the things in place at your school to make sure it never gets to that point.”
It’s not perfect. And again, we can’t say to them, it’s never going to happen. We have to be honest and say, “It is a reality that we live with in our world.” And because two things can be opposite and true. It is a reality that we live with and we don’t like it.
And so what we’ve done is put all these things in place, which we also don’t always like, but they keep us safe. So I know in my kid’s school, you have to buzz in. You can’t just walk in. You have to buzz in that they have to open the door. You have to go to the office first.
I also know that at the police station, there are monitors where they’re able to monitor all of the different school lobbies. So we talked about those things during this time. We talked about the things that are in place. Remember when we went on the field trip to the police station?
When they were little, they did a field trip to all the different municipal buildings. Remember we saw that room with all the monitors? So they’re watching to be able to help keep you safe. You have to buzz in. Nobody can just walk into school, even me as your mom, I can’t just walk into school.
And I tell my kids too, I remember as a kid being in elementary school in class and my mom just showing up at the door. You used to be able to do that. I can’t do that. If I need to bring you something, I have to buzz in.
I have to tell them who I’m here for. They can see me through the window. They unlock the door and let me in. And then I have to leave whatever it is in the office and you have to come down to get it. I’m not allowed to go past that door.
So those are the things that I try to focus on with kids is here are the things that are in place to keep you safe. Here are the ways that the adults are working together to keep you safe. As an adult, it’s terrifying. It’s a terrifying thought.
And again, I think a lot about the facts that I, as a parent can’t just walk into school and see my kid, which feels weird. And I know that that exists because of this threat. So I have to use that same strategy a lot of times of, but these are the things that they’re doing to keep my kids safe.
Here are the people who I know are in charge and I trust them. If I didn’t trust them, my kids wouldn’t go to that school.
And so a lot of self-talk and a lot of cheerleading and a lot of reminding yourself of what is in place and the ways that we mitigate risk. I find those are the most effective because unfortunately we can’t just be like, “Oh, it won’t happen here.”
Jenn: We had somebody write in asking about, in order to get their child to engage in being social, they have to actually tell them that they’ll enforce a punishment if he doesn’t go to his play dates and everything.
Once he’s at the activity, he has fun and seems fine, but what are some ways that this parent can encourage them to be social, but also address the anxiety they might be feeling?
Julie: So I like baby steps. I’m a huge fan of baby steps. I have this five minute strategy that I feel like can work pretty well because for the exact reason that once they’re there, they’re fine.
It’s the starting, it’s the getting them there. It’s the convincing them to leave what they’re doing and go do something else. And so what I’ll often do is say, “Well, we’re just going to go for five minutes. Let’s just go for five minutes.”
And if five minutes is too long, trying to figure out what they can do without a punishment being involved. What can we do? We can agree to go outside for five minutes. Okay great, now we’ve done that three times. Can we agree to go outside for seven minutes?
And sometimes it’s excruciating ‘cause it feels like we have to start at a really early point, but a lot of this when kids are anxious about social activity and that sort of thing, before they go, they’re thinking about all the things that could go wrong.
And they’re so focused on all the things that could go wrong, that how could you possibly expect me to go and do that thing when X, Y, and Z could happen? And they’re so anxious about those things that starting this new activity feels painful. They can’t, it’s hard to do.
Sometimes also too, if it’s like an unlimited amount of time or they don’t know how long they’re going to be there, or it’s a couple of hours and it feels like a big block of time, sometimes we can work with kids around, well, what feels comfortable? What can you do?
Some kids are going to hold you to that like, “You said five minutes, it’s been five minutes. I want to go home.” Other kids once they’re there might be okay. So you have to know your kid a little bit there.
I think with a kid who is typically fine once they get there, you can use that strategy of like, “Hey, listen, I know you don’t want to do this, but let’s just try it for five or 10 minutes and see what happens.” Again, those situations are about ending and starting and the anticipation of what could go wrong.
So also trying to use reminders of what’s gone right. Or sort of challenging that thinking and okay, so that could go wrong, yep.
Again, being honest, you can’t invalidate their thinking because if you tell them that can’t happen, they’re going to be like, “How do you know? Of course it could happen.” “Okay, that could happen. And what if you had fun? What if you made a new friend? What if it’s the best thing you’ve ever done?”
And helping them to understand that as valid as their negative fears are, these other things are just as valid and could possibly happen as well. And that’s challenging that thinking end of the triangle.
The other thing is to process a little bit afterwards and be like, “Hey, so that wasn’t so bad, huh? You seemed to have a good time. I wonder what you were nervous about before we left that made it hard to go? Did that thing actually happen? Did that happen? No, okay. I wonder if we can remember that next time?”
And then also remembering that the brain is going, if they’re anxious, the brain is going, so is there something you can do? Before you transition your kid out the door, can you do something with them that slows their thinking down so that they’re not thinking all the what ifs as you’re trying to get them out the door?
So, “Hey, let’s listen to a meditation real quick. I listened to this really cool one the other day.” ‘Cause some of them are fun. Some of them are like laying down and putting a stuffed animal on your belly and watching it go up and down the elevator. For the younger kids obviously.
But, I wanted to share this with you. I listened to this the other day. It was really cool. I wanted to share it with you. And having them do that and then at the end of that being like, “Alright cool, let’s go get our shoes on. Now we’re going to go.”
Or engaging them in something that really brings their thinking down and gets their thinking slower and more in control and gets their frontal lobe a little bit more engaged before we move them out the door, as opposed to going from a thing they really love doing and being like, “Okay, time to go.”
Jenn: We cannot talk about kids and anxiety without talking about digital media, social media. So a lot of younger kids use their online friends and their online networks as support systems. A lot of parents see this as being physically isolating.
It can also be really mentally isolating as well. How can we promote folks using online friends as a support system, but also encouraging them to expand into having their own in-person social network for lack of better terms, if they’re dealing with anxiety?
Julie: I think the thing that anxious kids like about online friendships is that they’re less intimate. They’re less intense and I mean intimate in terms of there’s that screen in between you.
It’s the same reason why, again, sort of people are willing to say a lot of things online that they’re not willing to say in person because you’re not there. You don’t have to deal with that actual interaction.
I think for anxious kids not having to deal with that actual interaction can be relieving because that interaction creates such anxiety for them. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to say it. If I can talk to them online. If I’m texting, if we’re talking on an app, I can write it first, vet it, change it if I need to, and then send it.
And that for some kids make them feel less anxious. I think also it can create more anxiety in other situations because things are read the way they’re read. And sometimes they’re read in ways that aren’t intended.
And I mean, you can’t write, you can’t text tone. So there’s a lot of problems there too. But I think for a lot of kids, they talk about their online friends as people who can always be there and they don’t have to go anywhere.
They can stay in the comfort of their home and still have connections with people, which is great and important and can be good, but it also can be problematic. We don’t actually know who these people are.
We don’t as parents have connections with the parents of these people. So that as parents makes us feel a little bit less in control. It is more common these days and it is something that I think as parents, we’re uncomfortable with because it’s unknown.
And I think there is a part of it where we just have to get a little bit more comfortable with it because it is going exist and they are going to have online friends that we don’t know. I do think that the balance between that and actual real life friendships and social networks is very important.
We need actual people in our life who are right there and not right there like I can text them, like I can get to them, they can get to me. I mean, I think this has been tricky over the last year because we haven’t been able to actually have those in-person social networks.
So now our anxious kids have all kinds of connections online with people because they’ve been home tethered to their computers for a year and a half. So again, we got to start slow. We have to figure out where they’re at and work from there. Pushing kids out of their comfort zone is important.
We also have to remember that it’s outside of their comfort zone so we’ve got to with them around what those steps look like. Here’s the ultimate goal, but here’s where you are. How do we get there?
There’s a great image of two people standing in front of two different ladders and sort of the goal is the same, but one ladder has lots of little rungs and the other ladder has only like two or three rungs. And the first one is higher than the person can reach.
If it’s higher than our kids can reach, if the goalpost is higher than our kids can reach, they’re not going to be able to reach it. They’re going to feel like failures and it’s going to pull them back into themselves more than they were before. So we want to set little goals with our kids.
Here’s the ultimate goal is to get you out with your friends at least twice a week, but right now you’re at zero, how do we get there? And working with them and being collaborative and making them part of the solution instead of telling them what they have to do, getting their buy-in can be effective.
Jenn: My last question, but certainly not the least is how can we be supportive and understanding of anxiety in people close to us especially if they’re choosing not to address anxiety themselves?
Julie: That’s really hard. I think it’s always easier to see from the outside than it is to sometimes notice from the inside. And sometimes even when we notice from the inside, we’re just not willing to do it.
I think that when we’re experiencing that, and it’s different if it’s our kids versus other adults, family members. With our kids, we have a little bit more of an impact of being like, we need to address this here. Getting our kids to a therapist.
I know that’s very difficult right now, but finding those ways. If you can’t get to a therapist finding there’s lots of resources online. They’re paid resources, but there’s an app for younger kids called GoZen. There’s also a program called the Mighty.
I’m a little bit less familiar with the Mighty, but it’s another one of these sort of online programs that we can kind of do with our kids to get them out. But we can’t do stuff like that with other adult family members. It’s up to them if they’re going to address it or not and we don’t have control over that.
And I think in those situations, we have to kind of focus on what we can control. We can control our response to them. We can be supportive We can be encouraging and we can let them know that we’ve got some boundaries and we’re not going to buy in.
I know that you’re anxious about that. I get it. I hear you. And if you’re not willing to address that, I’m not sure how I can help you. If you’re not going to go to therapy, if you’re not going to talk to somebody, if you’re not going to put these lifestyle changes into place, how else can I help you? What do you need from me?
And somebody like that is probably going to say, “I need you to just accept me how I am.” And it’s like, okay, I can, but I also am not going to sort of buy into the anxieties that I can see aren’t necessary.
Again, wording is important, that I can see may not be things that I need to fear or things that I need to worry about. But we can’t control other people and we can’t make them get help unfortunately.
We can encourage it. We can support it. We can offer them resources. We can help them. We can make the phone call if they are just having a hard time making the phone call. If in the end, they choose not to work on it, we have to control what we can control on our end, our response to them when they’re anxious.
Jenn: Put your own oxygen mask on first.
Julie: Absolutely, you can’t force it. Like I said, with the kids, it’s a little bit different.
When there are children, we can force it a little bit more and the goal would be to give them those skills so they don’t end up in a situation where they are adults and don’t know what to do and they’re refusing to do the work.
Jenn: Julie, I cannot thank you enough for the last 75 minutes or more of all of your insight. You are brilliant. You are empathetic. You know how to talk to kids and adults and me, which is shocking.
Thank you tremendously so much for all of your input. And to anyone tuning in, thank you for joining. This actually concludes our session.
Until next time, be nice to one another, but most importantly, be nice to yourself. Julie, thank you so much. And thanks to all of you. Have a great day.
Julie: Thank you for having me.
Jenn: Thanks for tuning in to Mindful Things! Please subscribe to us and rate us on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Don’t forget, mental health is everyone’s responsibility. If you or a loved one are in crisis, the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day at 877.870.4673. Again, that’s 877.870.4673.
- - -
The McLean Hospital podcast Mindful Things is intended to provide general information and to help listeners learn about mental health, educational opportunities, and research initiatives. This podcast is not an attempt to practice medicine or to provide specific medical advice.
© 2022 McLean Hospital. All Rights Reserved.