I have struggled with anxiety since I was a little girl. Even at 4-years-old, my mom can remember me talking about being “worried”. I would worry about fire drills at school, fires, getting kidnapped, my parents dying, war, and those were just a few examples out of the endless things I would worry about.
The thing about worry is that it is fueled by “What if’s….?”
As a child my what if’s would have been: What if that car pulls up and tries to kidnap me? What if that airplane bombs us? What if my mom gets in a car crash? What if my dad has a heart attack? What if my house catches on fire when I am sleeping? What IF……?
What if’s can run out of control in your head and spiral into a TOTAL imagined disaster. What if’s can be debilitating and the root of unnecessary anxiety.
Now, there are some kind of what if’s that are necessary.
Like, what if I climb that tree and fall and break my leg? Some what if’s make us stop and question things that might be unsafe. Those are valid what if’s. I am talking about the what if’s which we have absolutely no control over.
Just this past Friday night one of the neighbor kids down the street was having a house party which meant some teenagers were out in front of our house being loud and a little hoodlum-ish and my daughter got freaked out.
Teenagers scare her because our neighbor friend told her a story about how teenagers climbed their back wall in the middle of the night and her parents had to call the police. It was a big deal. Having this in her head, she was scared of the teenagers outside our house.
So much so that she couldn’t go to sleep.
She called for me and told me she was scared of the teenagers. I was giggling to myself because in a few years she is going to be one herself, but the idea of the “teenagers” doing bad stuff to our house was upsetting her. At this point they were long gone, but she couldn’t let the fear go.
I crawled into bed with her and asked her if she was thinking any “what if’s…” in her head? She said, yes. What if the teenagers try to get into our house? What if the teenagers break into our house?
I told her now instead of using “What if…” sentences let’s change our thinking to “What IS.”
Just the facts. What we know for sure, right now, for real.
Here’s what IS.
The teenagers are gone. We are safe. Our house is locked. Mommy and daddy are here. You are snuggled into your comfy bed. God is with you. You are safe.
I heard her exhale. And she was able to go to sleep.
Following my own advice
Lately we have had the most unfortunate news of four people we know, people in their late 30’s to early 40’s, being diagnosed with cancer. It’s hitting so close to home. It is terrifying.
A lot of what if’s have plagued me recently. What if I got cancer? What if my husband got cancer? And as a parent those are the scariest what if’s and it has really been consuming me lately. The fear of what if we got sick?
Then I considered my own advice. What IS.
The fact is we are healthy. We have no evidence to prove otherwise. That’s what I am trying to remember when my mind starts to go there. It’s helping.
So the next time you find yourself diving into the darkness of What If Land, turn around and swim up, reminding yourself of the facts, until you reach the light of What Is Land.
Do you have any tips on helping children with anxiety?