Does your child suffer with anxiety? I see many children in my clinic and most of them come to me because they are suffering with symptoms such as excessive worrying, difficulty sleeping, poor digestion, being moody and snappy or withdrawn, obsessive behaviour, self-harm, panic attacks, depression and so on. To see your child suffering like this is very hard and to know what to do is even harder!
In my work as a Craniosacral Therapist, specialising in trauma and anxiety, I quickly became known as an expert in anxiety in children. I hope to give you some key points as to how to recognise that your child needs help and the best way to go about getting the help that will make the biggest difference to them whilst giving them some skills and more resilience going forward that will protect them from overwhelming anxiety into the future.
I don’t understand why is my child like this!?
Often we don’t, but perhaps that is not our role. We have all had different life experiences. Some people are more prone to anxiety than others and there are complex reasons for this.
It’s important to recognise that regardless of the symptoms your child is currently showing, the underlying cause (which is nearly always tension/anxiety) is what needs addressing and that is what I am practised at doing.
Our role as parents/carers
There are three key areas to this:
Accepting that your child needs help – and now!
We can pass it off as phase. We like to think that children are resilient and surely he/she’ll just grow out of it? And maybe they will. But in my experience, when anxiety shows itself and it is not addressed in a helpful manner, it tends to grow and manifest into bigger and more scary things. So, the sooner you act, the better
2. Don’t blame yourself
It’s a parent’s default isn’t it? I’ve been there. BUT – I have never met a parent yet who isn’t doing the very best that they can with what they have and who doesn’t want the best for their child. Many children have a less than ideal start in life (even the unresolved stress from an overwhelming birth experience can linger on in a child causing future issues), and some continue to have more than their fair share of struggles. Looking for somewhere to cast blame is nearly always unhelpful, so lets work towards acceptance of the current situation and the best way forward; its what you do now that matters.
3. Take an honest look at your own mental state
Ouch, I hate this one. As a parent myself, I find it very hard to admit that my mental state is perhaps the single most influencing factor in my children’s mental health. But, in my many years as a therapist working with anxious children, it has become more and more apparent to me that an anxious child often has an anxious parent. The reasons for this are long and complex (and deserve their own blog), and of course it can be a chicken and egg situation, but please please please, for your child’s sake, as well as your own, please take an honest look at your own mental health and if you need help, get some. Don’t just accept that ‘this is who I am’. Change is possible, even for yourself.
The advice that I am going to give you for the care of your anxious child is not dissimilar to the advice for an anxious adult, so you may able to apply a lot of the principles in this blog to help yourself as well as your child – wow, you are going to see some progress!
A toolbox for anxiety
In my clinic, I often talk to parents about creating a ‘toolbox’ for their child. The idea is to find resources, skills and coping strategies that help keep them well and happy and put them inside.
They will become familiar with these things through trying them. They will have their favourites and they will know that the toolbox is there any time they need to open it and use what’s inside. Some things they will grow out of over time, and new ones will be discovered, but it’ll be there for life and they can open it and use what’s inside anytime they need strength/support/life feels tough.
Essentially, I am talking about building the resilience of your child. I believe we all need a toolbox. None of us are immune to anxiety. As an old tutor of mine, Steve Haines always says, ‘squeeze anyone hard enough and they will become overwhelmed’. So as I go through a list of resources that I know to have been helpful for many children that I have worked with, see what you think your child might like to try and consider which of them might help you too. You might come up with some of your own too which would be great.
Craniosacral Therapy (CST) – addressing the cause not the symptoms
When we experience shock/trauma, which all of us do at some point, whatever our system is not able to resolve at the time, is held in the physiology. Using a very gentle hand on approach, I identify any specific tensions or restrictions that are being held in the child’s body, and then help those tensions to release in a very kind supportive way, and at a pace that is right for the child. My experience is that the result of having released this held shock/underlying tension is that anxiety symptoms lessen or completely resolve.
Another really important aspect of my work is to tune into the nervous system and listen to it. Our nervous systems should spend most of their time in ‘rest and digest’ mode and rarely need to be in ‘fight, flight or freeze’ (the latter only when there is an emergency). However, after experiencing either acute stress, or ongoing stress, our nervous systems can get stuck in the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode and finding the ‘off switch’ can become almost impossible. This leads to symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression and so on.
Teaching the nervous system how to slow down or down-regulate is very powerful and usually has a profound impact on the child’s outlook, sense of calm and ability to cope.
Many parents worry that their child won’t lay down for a treatment, much less stay still! But don’t worry, I work around their needs. Often newborn babies receive their treatment whilst in their mum’s arms, or even breast feeding. I get down on the floor with a toddler and a toybox and sometimes a screen to watch and I grab what hands on time I can – a few minutes here and there can be enough. Older children will often happily lay on the treatment table as long as they can have a parent close by holding their hand and reading a book. We work it out one way or another. The most important thing for me is to provide an environment where your child feels as safe and content as possible.
Nearly all the children that I see, REALLY enjoy their sessions and will ask to come back, even once they are all better! In fact, its not unusual for them to be asleep by the end!
I find that improvements are often seen after just one session, although obviously lasting change can take more of an investment. But to me, Craniosacral Therapy is the single most effective way to tackle anxiety.
2. Emotional connection/time with your kids
It has been proven that emotional connection creates a strong resilience when it comes to trauma/life’s difficulties. Think of ways to connect to your child. If you have a teenager like me, this may be more challenging!
Offering them your time and asking them how they’d like to spend it might be a good start. You may not have much time to offer, but that’s okay. Let them know how important they are to you and how you’d like to dedicate 15 mins of quality time to them every day. Talking, running, laughing, dancing, cooking, reading or having a cuddle can all be a great way to connect.
Mood cards can be a good way to find out more about what’s going on for your child. I use these ones with my two:
The Mood Cards: Make Sense of Your Moods and Emotions for Clarity, Confidence and Well-Being (MOOD Series) cards by Andrea Harr.
My girls and I make a habit of sitting at the table together to eat dinner each evening and we’ll often look at the cards. Each has an emotion on one side and some queries and affirmations on the other. I teach them that there is no such thing as a ‘bad’ emotion, that anger for example is neither good nor bad, it just is. So we’ll tend to pick one ‘easy’ emotion and one that we find harder and then we each have a turn to talk about what’s going on for us. It helps us all to open up and gain clarity on what we are feeling.
3. Books to tackle worry
There are several out there. My personal favourite is ‘What To Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide To Overcoming Anxiety’ by Dawn Huebner and Bonnie Matthews.
This book works on the principle that worrying can become a habit and how to break that habit. It suggests that a worry is like a tomato seed and that the more we fuss over the seed and give it our attention, the more it’ll grow. It also introduces the idea of a ‘worry box’, which I love. We refuse to enter into thought or discussion about anything worrying, it simply goes in the worry box. We only open the worry box once a day for a limited time to address and rationalise the worries. Then it gets closed until the next day. Over time, you’d be amazing, the worries diminish.
4. Breathing exercises
The breath is a powerful tool. I have seen clients who are taking nine breaths to my one. Training yourself into the more natural, deeper, slower, more efficient and relaxed abdominal pattern of breathing will help the nervous system to slow down and to stay calm. Ten minutes of practice, morning and night will usually mean that your regular breathing and therefore your nervous system will be calmer most of the time in a week or two.
Your child may not be old enough to do this, but if he/she is, the main two things to address are (whilst laying on their back)
a) their tummy moves in and out with their breathing, not their chest
b) the out breath should be as slow as possible – a slow count of 6 would be amazing
The more awkward it feels to start with, the more benefit you will get from the transition! Start where you are at. Acknowledge the awkwardness and take baby steps. Using your tummy for one breathe only might be great progress! Slowing that out breath down from a count of just one to nearly two is great too! Be kind and patient with yourself and your child, these are life skills we are learning.
There is no ‘correct’ way of being mindful. What we are really talking about when we say mindfulness is getting practiced at bringing ourselves into the present moment. When we are truly in the present, the past doesn’t take over and the future hasn’t happened yet. It is a key skill in mental health. Again, a life skill and one that most of us need to get better at.
There is much help and advice out there to help you achieve mindfulness. Often CST opens the door to children and adults alike, but if you would like some guidance, I like this book and CD:
Sitting Still Like A Frog: Mindfulness Exercises For Kids (And Their Parents) by Eline Snel.
There are also many apps to try.
It has been proven that gratitude has many benefits to us psychologically. In this material world where all we seem to want is more, appreciating what is good in life can have genuine benefits. Making a daily habit of naming a couple of things that each family member is grateful for can really steer things into a more positive direction.
7. Referral to CAMHS
The school may already be aware of your child’s anxiety. They or the GP may make a referral to CAMHS. You or your child may even be able to make the referral yourself.
After what is usually a very long wait, you should be given an for your child to be given a mental health assessment. To say that CAMHS is under-resourced is a huge understatement, which is a very sorry situation and a large proportion of children do not any help at all.
My advice would always be to take responsibility yourself. By all means apply to CAMHS for help, but the help if there is any is likely to be slow and insufficient. Thankfully, there is much that you can do in the meantime, rather than waiting for the help that may never come (see toolbox!).
Some schools are able to offer talking /play therapy which can be helpful.
Hopefully this blog has given you an insight as to how you can be most effective at helping your anxious child, and yourself!
Life can be stressful. We all need healthy coping strategies and support in place. Start filling up your child’s toolbox. By taking action now, you are showing your child that it is good to be open about their feelings and to reach out when they need help or are worried; that they are not alone and that things can and will get better.
I am here, even throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to answer your queries on 07956 390419 (Sarah Johnson RBCST BCST) or email email@example.com.
I’m currently writing a book on the subject of anxiety in children and how as parents, we can best help them. I will be expanding on many of the subjects that I raise here, and also I am adding a lot of new ones. Please keep your eye out for it.
This is a short CASE STUDY of a lady who came to see me suffering with M.E. and DEPRESSION (we’ll call her Karen).
Karen came to see me having been suffering with ME for about 12 years. During that time her symptoms had steadily got worse, despite trying lots of different ways to help herself. She had also during this time become very DEPRESSED. She was often bedbound with fatigue and would ‘crash’ frequently after relatively little activity – she described the fatigue as a 7 out of 10 (10 being the worst she could possibly imagine). She said the depression was a 10 out of 10 and she was experiencing back pain which felt like a ‘ripping’ and she scored that as a 6.5 out of 10. Her main goal was “to feel alive / happy / healthy again”, which she said hadn’t for at least 6 years.
Improvements came after just one session and after she’d had five, she said the depression was a 1/10 and the fatigue just 3/10. The pain was improving a lot also.
It was clear to both Karen and myself that further improvement was almost inevitable so she maintained her sessions with me, although they became more spread out. Karen found that having a CST session every 6 weeks needed to be part of her “care plan” and would “keep her on a level”, even to the point where she continues to see further improvements even now.
The last time I saw her, she got tearful telling me how CST had “changed her life” and how she had gone from “being largely bed-bound to LIVING A FULLER AND HAPPIER LIFE’.
Here at Cranio Kent, we are acutely aware that OUR SERVICES ARE NEEDED NOW MORE THAN EVER!
I am desperately sad that because of COVID-19, many of you are having to suspend your hands-on therapy sessions for the time being. Especially knowing what important work was taking place, so many people making leaps and bounds towards where they wanted to be, not to mention those clients who rely on their maintenance sessions in order to manage pain and keep well mentally.
In addition to all of this, the current situation is challenging for everyone’s mental health and many of us need to put additional support in place right now.
I am a VERY EXPERIENCED AND WELL RESPECTED TRAUMA THERAPIST and I although I am primarily a body worker, I do have psychotherapy training and many of my clients swear by the talking therapy which I have always provided as a key part of their session.
Therefore, I have put together a PLAN OF ACTION! This is for existing clients, those in acute need, those who need ongoing support and even those who’ve never had therapy before (adults and children aged 8 and above).
I am offering UNIQUE THERAPY SESSIONS ONLINE and BY PHONE (first appointments Wednesday). I will be using a combination of specialist techniques according to the needs of you as an individual e.g. guided relaxation, talking therapy, grounding and helping you to tune in to your physiology safely (most of which is very similar to a hands-on therapy session).
The aim of these sessions will be for your nervous system to down-regulate, for you to release tension and stress that is held in your body and gain more clarity.
If you would like to give this a go, I am offering FIRST SESSIONS FOR £25 DURING MARCH * (1 hr long). This first session will allow me to assess your needs and a treatment plan will be discussed if I feel that I am able to help you going forward.
For the first time ever, you can work with me without even getting in your car! I am so excited about this new chapter and being able to help you!
Spaces are limited *, so please don’t delay, call / text me on 07956 390419 (Sarah).
Feeling STRESSED OR ANXIOUS about COVID-19? Is all this talk of COVID-19 GETTING TO YOU? Or are you more worried about self-isolating and all its implications?
It is normal to feel some ANXIETY over recent developments (and very common, look at all the panic buying). After all, we know that being vigilant about hygiene etc will slow down the spread of what to a small proportion of the population will be life threatening.
But be clear that STRESS is known to be linked to a diverse range of DISEASES. Higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is secreted by the adrenal glands inhibits the activity of the immune system, making us prone to ILLNESS.
So, if you find that your WORRIES are getting out of control and its hard to KEEP PERSPECTIVE, PLEASE GET IN TOUCH, as Craniosacral Therapy is known to be often highly effective at DOWN-REGULATING THE NERVOUS SYSTEM (I see it all the time) and bringing stress levels down. And that in turn will help your IMMUNE SYSTEM.
And rest assured, HYGIENE is of tip top importance here at Cranio Kent.
The word anxiety gets bandied around a lot these days doesn’t it and we have all experienced it to some degree. From the ‘normal’ anxious feelings we have when we are waiting for important news, to the crippling and irrational fear that takes over our whole world.
Anxiety is something that I see at least daily in my clinic and it affects people in different ways.
Often it’s early trauma that puts us into ‘fight, flight or freeze’ (a healthy coping strategy in the short term) and we stay there (feeling anxious), not knowing how to find the ‘off switch’. Sometimes its ongoing stress that gradually takes its toll without us realising particularly, or we try and carry on as if we are okay, until we are debilitated (either by the anxiety itself or by a physical symptom which has been caused by the anxiety). The body has a habit of saying, STOP, TAKE NOTICE and if you ignore it, it will SHOUT LOUDER! At some point, we are forced to take a look at our lives and take steps to address things.
It’s a big subject so here, I am going to give an overview of how Craniosacral Therapy can help you if you are feeling anxious or have symptoms that you think may be related to anxiety and also what you can do at home to help yourself. Because however bad things are, there are things you can do that will help.
So how does Craniosacral Therapy help a stressed nervous system?
I can tell a lot about a person’s system by listening to it with my hands. A system which is in ‘fight, flight or freeze’ can feel revved up, tight, it often feels quivery and ‘slowing down’ is a challenge. The body can be very dissociated, a sense that parts (or all) of the body are missing, or parts of the body are a different shape or size to how you know they are, are common. The system sometimes feels ‘shut down’, the potency is very low and / or the client feels it is impossible to find anywhere in the body that feels ‘okay’ (these are all symptoms of trauma / stress / fear).
Step 1 is for me to work with the nervous system according to how it is presenting. Transforming a system from that which I have described, to one which is whole, present moment, grounded and feels safe and calm is MAJOR. So simple eh! Not always easy (!) but it is a simple concept. Gosh how I love this work! Because really that is a transformation and then with the newly down regulated nervous system, a new world of clarity, coping and calm becomes clear and in the stillness and resource that the system now has, is the ability to process and release specific tensions and unresolved restrictions (I won’t go into this process right now).
Now a short list of things that you can do to help yourself:
See how it is to allow the possibility that things will get better, Having hope will help you.
The first and probably the most important thing to do is feel your feet on the ground. I mean REALLY feel them on the ground. Take your shoes and socks off and go and walk on the grass or barefoot in the earth. Ooo, the beach would be lovely! Make this a daily thing and really notice the sensations you feel through your feet. This is what it is to be in the present moment.
Notice that in this exact moment (truly being present), 99% of your worries are gone. There is no anxiety.
Be interested in the intense sensations that you feel, rather than going into panic – you have a choice here. Practice curiosity and notice how your physiology prepares you for action. Notice what is around you and that you are actually safe in this moment. This will often help the feelings to change or ease.
Recognise that in anxiety, we often imagine the worst case scenario (predicting the future). Our brains want to protect us, but by imagining the worst, we are sent into panic mode. Recogising that you are doing this is fabulous progress. Consider that this is not rational thought. There is a choice here.
Surrounding yourself with people who are good for you is great for anxiety. Who do you feel safe with? Conversely, who do you need to avoid? Is that possible?
A hug or a listening ear can really help anxiety. Tell someone close how you are feeling, else they won’t know.
Its always important to do the basics, but especially when you are struggling with anxiety. Eat as healthily as you can and prioritise sleep. Try and spend some time outside, preferably moving / doing exercise. Treat yourself (i.e. something that’s good for you).
The more we do all of this, the more automatic it becomes (our default in other words). Otherwise anxiety can feel like a trap that we can’t get out of.
But you can get out of it. By understanding more about what is happening in your brain, you can show yourself how to respond differently.
Remember, you are not alone. I can help you with all of this and guide you to a more relaxed way of living. Support from a professional can really make the world of difference. Your mental health matters!
What does it mean it to you? A spa weekend and some retail therapy or is it the simpler (but not easier) things like monitoring your self talk or looking at why you find it so hard to take care of yourself?
What forms does self care take? And why is it hard for some people?
The more I understand about self care, the more I have come to appreciate that people are very different.
Probably due to early conditioning, at one extreme there are people who only know how to be self critical. Possibly they grew up with a lot of critisism, or parents with low self esteem. They don’t feel worthy of anything better and this continual harsh self talk only serves to do more harm. “What would you tell yourself if you were your own best friend?”, I often say. Sometimes we need to be the nurturing mother that we never had.
Others who find it easier to love themselves and show themselves kindness and compassion tend to be better not only at identifying what they need, but prioritising those things. They consider their physical, emotional and mental well-being, to be of paramount importance, and they take the time and invest the money in that. They feel worthy of self love.
The role of Craniosacral Therapy in self care
When people first come to see me, they can be at various stages of connection, grounding, resource and ability to process trauma. Craniosacral Therapy is the best way I know to meet your system where it is at and to gain a better understanding of what it is that you need. You are likely to become more and more aware of what your needs are as your treatment program progresses (i.e. your self awareness will improve).
My role is to support you in this process. I will listen to your system (with my hands). Your system knows what it needs and I will follow your body’s own inherent treatment plan, in order for you to move closer to health.
What are your reasons for seeking help….?
How self-care got me to my first ever 5k at 46 years old!
Anyone who knows me well, would tell you that I’ve never been a runner. I’ve been a wanna-be runner.
My dad ran marathons into his late 70s (he used to get automatic entry into the London marathon, his time was so good).I’ve tried to get into running several times over the last 4 or 5 years and never got very far. I even had a personal trainer at one point. Seriously, every time I tried, I’d either get injured or ill and had to stop. It was crazy. I came to the realisation that, for some reason that I didn’t understand, I would never be able to do it.
However, in recent months, I had been paying more attention to the fact that generally in life, I have always been pretty hard on myself and getting a better understanding of that. How, being driven, determined, and focused had served me well in life and got me through situations that otherwise I certainly would not have. However, where was that nurturing mother part of me? I was super comfortable looking after others, in fact its probably my favourite thing to do(!), but looking after myself, hmm, I still find myself squirming slightly at the idea.
And in amongst this self reflection came a thought… what if all the struggle with running was down to my lack of self-care? That idea that I HAD to push myself, that I could succeed against any odds and didn’t need to go slowly (I must be fairly fit surely?!). What if that was the problem? How would it be to approach things as if I was being my own nurturing mother? The answer was, I realised, that I would follow a gentle program like ‘Couch to 5k’. To the letter. No skipping out the first three or four weeks, or skipping anything out in fact. Just….. going…. slowly. Then I’d really know if it was possible for me to run a 5k.
So I did. I started ‘Couch to 5k’ and I can honestly say that the hardest part for me was the going slow. Sticking rigidly to the program, arrggghh, so hard to do!! I had to getting back in touch with that nurturing mother part of me
But here I am, week 9 and running 5k, three times a week. I honestly cannot believe it! And what’s more I’m really enjoying it and whilst there’s that urge to push on and do more (surely 10k isn’t that much!?), I’m going easy on myself and sticking with this for now.
So, self care for me isn’t just about booking a spa weekend or treating yourself to something new, it starts with the way you talk yourself. And I challenge you to look at that very seriously. Just observe and then ask yourself what you would be saying if you were own nurturing mother? For me its an ongoing process, but one which I know will be good for me and it is likely to be good for you too.
...the pain in my neck is a lot better, I haven't had nearly as many waves of anxiety and I feel a lot happier!"
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