A news story caught my attention this week about a study in reducing anxiety in children. With my own struggles with anxiety and depression, I’m always interested in what we are learning about these insidious and life-sapping conditions.
You can listen to or read the 4 minute news story here.
The first time I ever saw a counselor she talked to me about learning to comfort myself. I remember nodding my head and understanding the words but I couldn’t figure out how tactically I would comfort myself. Doesn’t comfort come from a hug or someone protecting me from something bad? At the time, food and alcohol were comforts of a sort, but that didn’t seem very smart. I finally got brave enough to admit my ignorance of how to comfort myself. “What do you mean, comfort myself?” I asked. “I’m not sure how I would do that.”
She recommended “The Woman’s Comfort Book” by Jennifer Louden. She told me I could skim through it and pick activities that I felt were comforting and try them. If I liked them, I would know what was comforting to me. I was amazed at all the different ways I could be nice to myself and love myself. It was a whole new perspective on self-care.
Later in life when I was struggling with an addiction, another counselor echoed this message. “The root of most addictions is that we don’t trust ourselves,” she said. When we don’t trust ourselves to get through hardships, manage our lives or even get through the day, it causes anxiety. As much as I wanted to trust myself, I could never get to the place where this became natural.
About 10 years ago I became desperate to deal with my anxiety. I had been sober for a very long time, and I was living a healthy life but I still was suffering from anxiety on a daily basis. It made it hard to take risks or make decisions because I didn’t know what was real and what was in my head. I found the Midwest Center for Stress and Anxiety. I bought the program called Attacking Anxiety & Depression. I felt silly spending that much money on a program I knew nothing about but I hoped that this time I might make some progress. I was really growing weary of battling this stuff.
The program was a serious of CD lessons on managing stress and anxiety, and the premise of the program was the same as the study I heard about this week. As I listened to the CDs over and over again, I learned what to say to myself to calm myself down. I got tips and tricks for reducing the physical symptoms. I listened to the stories of many people whose anxiety was more debilitating than mine. If they were able to get well, surely so could I. Most of all, I learned that people with anxiety are usually very high-functioning people. If we can turn that anxiety into positive momentum, we can be very successful.
The study I heard about this week did the same thing for these kids. It taught parents how to gradually help their kids to comfort themselves. In being supportive and providing positive messages over and over and allowing the children to be successful in calming themselves down, they were helping them to trust themselves.
I know that anxiety is more prevalent than ever. Young people who should be changing our world are being knocked to their knees with this stuff. It’s no surprise that addictions and suicides are at an all-time high. I know some generalized anxiety is genetically-wired. But what if even half of the sufferers could get better by learning to comfort themselves?
I heard Lucinda Bassett say hundreds of times on those CDs, “YOU are your own safe person.” Today, I believe that. I’m not always cognizant of it, but as soon as I can get a minute and breathe, I remind myself that I will handle whatever life dishes up. And, you know what? I always do.