What Took Me 20 Years to Learn As An Anxiety Therapist
This story was contributed by psychotherapist and mother Niro Feliciano LCSW.
I thought at 20 years in practice I had seen most of what there was to see when it came to anxiety. For the last two decades, I have treated adults and adolescents in private practice in Connecticut. When you work with young people, often you are also working with families to help support them and guide them in reinforcing treatment goals at home.
There was a piece that I was missing, however, until I became a mom of a child with anxiety.
Without sharing too many details, the past few months have been a struggle for our family. Having a child that developed a phobia that prevents them from attending school regularly impacts everyone in the family, including moms who are anxiety therapists.
What I didn’t realize was that when your child is constantly in fight or flight, you will be, too.
This anxious state of being has potential to affect your marriage, your relationships with your other children, and potentially your career, too. When we are in constant sympathetic activation it is often hard to concentrate on anything that isn’t mediating the threat. You will also feel it physically in your body—it is exhausting.
As I was experiencing this daily, I realized that I was not taking my own advice—the advice I would undoubtedly and without hesitation give to parents that I was working with year after year.
So for that reason, this is what I want to share with you:
- Take Care of Your Own Mental Health First: It has been shown that a parent with anxiety are 7x more likely to have a child with anxiety. You need the mental bandwidth for yourself and also for your family, so prioritize what you need to preserve your mental bandwidth.
- Eliminate as Much Stress As Possible: Do not take on anything big or stressful during the time your child is healing and working through issues. Life becomes very unpredictable and your need as much flexibility in your schedule as possible. Your stress can come out in ways you don’t anticipate which elevates stress around you.
- Believe Your Child: Even though it maybe anxiety related, believe it when your child says it’s hard or it hurts. We don’t want to create more stress for them by needing to convince you. Validate feelings and empathize which strengthens their connection to you and gives them confidence.
- Make time for Your Relationships: This will be hard but needed so you don’t pour from an empty cup. Date nights, coffee dates with friends, walks with a trusted colleague can do much to replenish the soul. Even 15-20 minutes of 1:1 time with your other kids can go along way to strengthen connection during this time.
- Practice Acceptance: Trust that this is your purpose in this season. It wasn’t what you thought it would be, but believe that good can come out of this for you and for your family. You were chosen to be this child’s parent for a reason.
- Let Go of Outcome but Hold On to Hope: It may not look like what you envisioned, but never give up hope for your child’s potential to be fulfilled or for their healing.
- Celebrate Every Win: Small wins count and add up to big ones. Getting out of bed and dressed is a win somedays. Pay attention to every one along the way. Talk about them, celebrate them, and remind your child of them and you when you both need it.