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Anxiety: The Master of Disguise

By 11th June 2020October 20th, 2020No Comments

We are living in a time of huge uncertainty and through a global pandemic that many of us are unlikely to experience again in our lifetime. The day to day certainties we would usually rely on that bring consistency and familiarity may no longer be there. Even the most buoyant among us might struggle to manage the feelings and emotions that come hand in hand with uncertainty. I know I have.

What you may not know is that anxiety is a master of disguise and when our brain is overwhelmed it can be much harder to emotionally regulate so anger flares and we become more irritable. What those around us see is a manifestation of some or all of these emotions hiding the underlying emotion and root cause – anxiety.

Unable to create a predictable and consistent environment can lead us to feel more anxious and worried and so we can find ourselves stuck in a cycle repeating the same behaviours. For those of us working and trying to balance this with family life anxiety and worry can be a daily feature. Pressure to finish work related tasks can contribute to the behaviours described above.

Last week whilst trying to work from home two of my teenage step daughters started chatting about their latest TikTok fad. Under normal circumstances I would enthusiastically join in the conversation and laugh along with them. But the time-pressured piece of work I was focused on and trying to complete, was worrying me. I became irritable and could feel frustration building. So when a few minutes later all I could hear was ‘noise’ I snapped, shouting “could you two keep it down please?”

I instantly felt a pang of guilt, followed by the first of multiple reruns of the incident (in my head) replaying every detail again and again as my brain tried to make sense of what had just happened, finishing my work on time seemed impossible.

Sound familiar?

When their chatter started up again a few minutes later, mindful of what had just happened I took a deep breath and realised it would make more sense to remove myself from the situation and relocate upstairs to finish the work I was doing.

Later with work complete and the pressure lifted I revisited what had happened and my uncharacteristic behaviour. What I realised was the reason for my outburst was not anger or intolerance it was because I was anxious about getting my work completed. At the time though with my brain flooded with chemicals and hormones fuelling my emotions I wasn’t able to access higher level thinking and functioning and so without a clear head I reacted.

We are all human and there will be times when we feel out of control and anxious. The trick is to try and keep a cool head where you can and remove yourself to give yourself time to process what is going on.

A small amount of anxiety is healthy, and adrenaline helps us to focus and get tasks done. However, if you experience regular sustained or prolonged stress and anxiety that can be unhealthy.

The key to breaking any anxiety cycle is Healthy Habit forming

I find using the STOPP strategy really helps me to take a step back, recognise what is happening and take action so that I don’t feel like I’m going to explode.

On another occasion, I made a call to Family Line to ask for support from one of their volunteers, as I was feeling overwhelmed. Given the time and space to talk to another person, totally independent and objective enabled me to explore my thoughts and feelings. I felt listened to and the volunteer normalised and validated some of the feelings I was having.

Now, imagine how it feels to be a child who is trying to cope with the same feelings and emotions. Teenagers particularly can struggle to navigate their feelings and emotions because of the way their brain is developing. Emotions can appear to swing and change from one moment to the next. This can manifest as anger over something seemingly small such as what to have for dinner. At the moment, teenagers have little agency over what is going on in their lives. They may still be unclear as to what is happening with school, and many of them have not been spending time with their friends or extended family.

There are some really useful resources and strategies out there. For me I found using the SPACE factsheet, helped  guide me on how I could use empathy and playfulness to make sure my teenagers felt heard.

Or you might want to sit and watch a video together?

Sometimes though just being a listening ear is all that’s needed.

What I also recognised was the power in an apology, if like me, you do lose your mind for those few seconds acknowledge it, help the other person to understand why it happened but above everything else say SORRY.  It helps children to recognise that sometimes things get too much and that’s ‘ok’. the important thing is talk and apologise to the other person if they’ve been on the receiving end. This builds trust and resilience in relationships and can prevent further outbursts as you become more aware of the need to balance time and space to ‘work, and have fun’

Having experienced first-hand how hard I am finding it some days, I am reminded of the importance of conversation to allow us and young people to talk about feelings. Taking time to be kind and compassionate to ourselves and others helps to reinforce positive connections and maintains good emotional health and wellbeing for everyone.

– Blog written by Ness and Laura

Emotional Resilience for Parents & Carers

Cornwall Council Advice Page


Headstart Kernow SPACE

(Supporting Parents and Children Emotionally)

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