I was recently walking in the park with my mom, and my 3-year-old daughter, listening to the Spring birds trilling back and forth, smelling the flowering trees on the breeze, and having a moment of “zen” in the middle of all the COVID crazy.
Then I heard my mom shout: “Look out! Bike! Bike! Bike on the path!”
I looked down the trail and saw a middle-aged woman pedaling a cruiser bike, headed in our direction from about 50 yards away. The paved path we were on was at least four or five feet wide, with plenty of room for us all to accommodate each other.
“Lexi! Get off the path! Get in the grass!” My mom was shouting, as she ran to grab my daughter’s hand and pull her aside. The fear in my mom’s voice was signaling life-or-death danger, and it startled me.
“Mom,” I said. “We’re totally fine. There’s plenty of room.”
“But it’s not COVID distance,” she replied.
Several days later, we were out again for fresh air, walking through the neighborhood. My daughter spied a couple coming towards us along the same sidewalk.
“COVID people! Look out, mommy! Get on the grass! Get on the grass!” she shouted.
She hears everything. We’ve got to be more careful with what we say around her, I thought. What if we’ve scared her beyond what’s healthy? Or are we protecting her?
My mom is a lifelong catastrophizer. I’ve struggled to unwind that pattern from myself. On any “normal” day, it’s a total joy-kill. I often notice that if I’m complaining a lot, I’m probably worried and anxious about something that I’ve allowed my mind to run wild with.
As Becca Armstrong, Psychotherapist and Hypnotherapist, explains in Soul Path Parenting Episode 21, the “what if’s” can fuel endless anxiety and agitation.
During a pandemic, sheltering at home with a “what if” addict has been extra challenging. All my latent worry-wort tendencies have been activated. I find I can barely get through what used to be easy meditations. My mind is dancing with end-of-days scenarios. As my fear and mental disaster dreaming has been building – I keep imaging how I’ll say my final goodbye to my daughter through a glass window or on a cell phone – I’ve noticed that Lexi is regressing to tantrums and neediness. She’s clinging to my legs saying “I need you mommy! I need you mommy!”
Three big lightbulb moments – thank you, Becca – shifted me out of this pattern, and have made all the difference. I hope they can guide you too, as you ride out these uncertain times with your family.
#1 Shift Your Energy, Not Just Your Words. Your Children Are Watching & Learning.
“We are not human doings. We’re human beings,” Becca reminds us in Episode 23 Thriving in Uncertainty, Transforming Anxiety, and A New Lens on Depression, ADD and ADHD. “And it’s a gift that we get to bring to our children because they don’t learn from what we say. They learn from who we ‘be.’”
As a parent, it is the way that we respond to the world around us that our children witness. It’s the energy with which we operate, not the words. So in these times that are truly troubling, we can help our children to avoid unnecessary fear and anxiety by practicing ways to ground and center ourselves. As we lead by calm and confident example our children will naturally relax into their own wisdom and inherent bravery. We may need to take some steps into the grass to let a bicyclist go by, but we can do it with calm and ease and wave to our neighbors as we do it.
If I notice the panic rising in me now, I will leave the room if my child is present. I’ll hide in the bathroom for 5 minutes, put my hand on my heart, listen to my breath, and say this mantra: “I see you. I hear you. And I love you.” It calms me down, and I don’t display my crazy to my little one. Hopefully it’s calming her nervous system too.
Becca shares a powerful breathing and heart coherence exercise you can do to hit your reset button in Episode 21.
#2: Operate from the Here and Now
“We can certainly go into ‘worried out in fear’ or we can use these opportunities to stay very connected in our now moments,” Becca so wisely reminds us.
Younger children especially, are already in the now moment, where what is, simply is. We as parents can use this practice from Becca to get us there. She recommends that if we find our minds running down disaster scenarios, that we can get back into the now by noticing what’s happening right in front of us. Are we sick today? Most likely not. If we are – like when Becca’s daughter came down with fever – do we know that we have coronavirus? Becca’s daughter actually did not, but the family didn’t know this for several days. In the meantime, they focused on what was so, right then and there. They laughed and watched movies and practiced gratitude for the togetherness.
For me, I’m practicing putting my attention on the rare opportunity this pandemic has brought me and my daughter, to spend so much time with my elderly mom. It’s a true gift.
What are you present to, and grateful for, right now, today? Share that with your children.
#3 Know the Difference between Fear and Concern
Fear can be defined as allowing the mind to run with wild abandon into all sorts of “what if” and disaster scenarios, without much – or any – practicality. It happens when you’ve stressed your system into panic mode, and are leaving the world of the sane and headed into flight or fight.
Concern, on the other hand, is a very helpful and wise tool that we have to stay safe and healthy by voicing what we see is possible, and sharing what we’d rather have happen with our loved ones. Concern can lead us into constructive conversations and problem solving. It can also open us up to the energy and action of creating the world we want to live in, instead of being a victim of the one we are terrified by.
Thank you Becca, for that wonderfully freeing distinction!
For more practical tips on reducing fear and anxiety in your household, be sure to: