How to calm anxiety (when you’re freaking out)

How to calm anxiety (when you’re freaking out)

posted on fingerprint for success

Anxiety is a common struggle for many people. The good news is that mental health is finally becoming part of the broader well-being conversation among medical professionals and the public–which helps eliminate the stigma of mental health struggles and allows us to find ways to treat it and cope with it.

Accommodating Your Anxious Child in School and Home

Accommodating Your Anxious Child in School and Home

written by Dr. Liz Matheis, published on Psychology Today

Anxiety can be a debilitating emotional experience. It has the ability to take a pleasant moment and turn it into a disaster with all of the “what ifs” that could happen. Anxiety lies, and it creates a sense of danger or incredible discomfort in daily life that is exhausting and can be debilitating and limiting.

Since March 2020, anxiety for our children, teens, and young adults has reached disturbingly high levels. Masks, social distancing, vaccinations, etc. have been a part of our daily language, thoughts, and conversation. We fear for the academic skills that our children have lost as well as the social and emotional experiences that our children have missed due to isolation, quarantine, and shutdowns.

Since September 2020, many of our children, teens, and young adults have needed extra support in school due to the high levels of anxiety that have resulted in school phobia, avoidance, and emotional shutdown. Children who were once high achievers stopped logging into classes, turning in assignments, completing homework, participating in class lessons, and studying for exams. Our children and teens did not wish to turn their cameras on or participate in class discussions because of the perceived direct focus on each child and the attention that was created. Our kids struggled to keep up with the list of assignments listed on different online portals such as Google Classroom. How many children, including my own, have had difficulty in uploading a document and hitting “submit”? Many. Too many.

I’m Not Raising a Wilting Flower

I’m Not Raising a Wilting Flower: How to Build Children’s Resilience in the Midst of a Pandemic

written by Dr. Liz Matheis, published on psychology today

This pandemic has challenged every single one of us. Children, teens, adults: we all have had to balance an extra set of life demands that have been outside the scope of any other life experience we have had thus far. I often pose a question to help us realize that we don’t have a former life experience to reference right now: “How many pandemics have we lived through? Just one and, hopefully, only one!”

As a mom and a psychologist, I have watched my own children and others collectively struggle with isolation, loneliness, anxiety, academics, and reintegrating into a world that is slowly opening back up. We know that adolescents are very self-focused and believe they are on display on their imaginary stage where everyone is watching (aka the imaginary audience). Add the computer camera, masks, and social distancing, and we have a lot of confusion, stagnation in the development of skills, anxiety, and depression.

Adolescence is already a period of intense growth, identity building, and emotional chaos as it is. Add a pandemic into the mix, and that is a lot of intense emotion to process on top of the usual “stuff.” It’s a lot more to unravel and work through alongside the “regular” milestones to develop.

So how do we, as parents, build children who can use this experience to develop a sense of self and strength? How do we raise children who are not going to fall apart when presented with a challenge? How are we going to grow children who can face stress and use it to find their inner strength? Resilience isn’t born; it’s bred. As parents, we can play a role in building resilient children who aren’t going to break down each time they are faced with a life stressor, big or small.

The Great Unmasking

The Great Unmasking

by Dr. Liz Matheis

As a mother and psychologist, I have actively been a part of the incredibly damaging impact of masks and virtual learning. The number of our children, teens and young adults who have been and continue to suffer is immense and heartbreaking. Our children have been living in an upside-down world with significant change for a prolonged period of time and the negative effects are  loud and clear right now.

In speaking with and working with many teens during this pandemic, I have heard the following about their experience with school:

  • Everyday feels the same
  • It’s horrible
  • It’s boring
  • I have headaches from staring at my computer all day
  • I didn’t even change my clothes. I was in pajamas all day
  • I am distracted
  • I’m not listening to any lesson or discussion
  • It’s really easy to tune out and nobody will know
  • In the classroom, if I lose focus, my teacher will notice
  • There is no accountability when I’m home
  • I’m not seeing friends
  • I’m not talking to friends
  • I’m sad because I can’t see my friends
  • There’s no spontaneity
  • I miss spontaneous gatherings and plans
  • I missed my graduation
  • I missed my prom
  • I missed my field trips
  • I missed having my birthday party

These are some big thoughts from our children who are begging for the return of our pre-pandemic life. Our children are feeling anxious, depressed, socially anxious and awkward more so than ever. Their attention and focus are poor, and their study skills are almost non-existent. We have had to start from the beginning as of September 2021. One and a half years of lost instruction, lost skills, lost interactions and lost spontaneity of life.

Keep Schools Open

Please, keep the doors open to our schools. As much as is humanly possible, avoid virtual learning. It’s creating flashbacks, sadness and anxiety that started in 2020 and continues to haunt us now.  Keep kids in school so they can sit in the classroom, receive instruction face to face, walk through the school halls, and scurry when the bell rings. 

Keep the Masks Off!

I’m speaking from a focus on mental health. Masks don’t allow us to see each other’s gentle eye expressions and squints that match a scrunchy nose and smiling mouth. We can’t see each other’s pout, anger, contentment, sadness, or whatever may come. Our kids can’t see their teacher’s facial expressions either which is a huge part of academic instruction. When a teacher is excited about a topic, the body language and matching facial expressions are remembered strongly and make an impact on learning.  

Within the classroom, teachers can’t always tell who is speaking or what is being said because they can’t see each other’s mouths while we speak. There is a disconnect between our eyes and ears in that a great deal of conversation is matching the words that are coming out of another person’s mouth with the sound of them. We are missing big chunks of information that is a natural part of our give and take interactions between humans.

Our children also need to sit next to each other, whisper secrets, sit in huddles, walk side by side. Our kids need that closeness and sensory feedback to maintain their emotional well-being. So much of that has been taken away and it’s starting to show.

Put Away the Computers 

Please, no more learning through computers. Turn them off as much as possible. Revert back to pencil and paper. Write on the board or the smartboard. Work on projects in groups. Create posterboard or PowerPoint presentations.  But, please, shut it down and allow the interactions to be more human based. More conversation, discussion, sharing ideas and experiences. Close the laptop and look at each other.  

Virtual learning doesn’t work. I know this firsthand. My 9-year-old (now in 3rd grade) could, in theory, return to first grade because this hasn’t worked. Google forms and uploading documents isn’t education. It’s unnatural. My 13-year-old doesn’t know how to study for a test. My 15-year-old is finally learning how to manage the multiple moving parts of being in high school.  

The other thing that has happened is our children have forgotten how to take notes, study for tests, and keep track of their assignments. Their executive functioning skills haven’t been developed.

To no fault of anyone anywhere, pandemic learning hasn’t been effective. Our children will benefit academically, emotionally, socially and behaviorally if they can be in school, without masks and without computers.

Product Review: Zenimal for Mindfulness

Product Review: Zenimal for Mindfulness

by Deborah Tiel Millard

I began my search for a unique way to develop mindfulness, when my 11-year-old son was struggling to regulate big emotions and settle himself to go to sleep at night. My goal is similar to that of most parents, to see my son become independent and capable of self-regulation.

I was looking for a screen-less option, as I wanted something to help develop regulation and self-calming before bed. This ruled out all the great apps for devices like phones or tablets. This search led me to Zenimal.

A Zenimal is a screen-free device that assists children with developing mindfulness through nine mediations. The nine meditations cover the following areas: sleep, gratitude, stillness, breath, creativity, relaxation, empathy, feelings and warmth (healing). The device also offers three options for white noise to soothe and help a child fall asleep and stay asleep.

I did my research and went ahead and ordered one. My son thought the unboxing experience was pretty cool and the turtle-shaped device was cute. We plugged it in and read about the options. That night he chose the sleep meditation and fell right to sleep. Ever since, my son has been using his turtle at night either through the sleep meditation or one of the white noise settings to help him sleep.

As a Mom, I love many of the features that Zenimal offers. The device can be plugged in and white noise played all night, or left unplugged, it will play for an hour. It is cute and cleverly designed. It’s easy to find the buttons by feeling in the dark. I also really appreciate the many meditation options and I’ve used several of them myself. Speaking of that, there is also an option for adults! You can even purchase additional meditation cartridges.

I have been really impressed with Zenimal both for my son and myself. I may just go ahead and order one for myself, so I don’t keep stealing his!


Anxiety Doesn’t Always Look the Same

Anxiety Doesn’t Always Look the Same

written by Dr. Liz Matheis posted on Psychology Today

When we think of anxiety or a person who is anxious, we may think of someone panicking, hyperventilating, or crying. That can be the experience of anxiety, but it’s not always that obvious for children, adolescents, or young adults. Anxiety is an internal physiological and cognitive experience that can be all-consuming and consistent. There are days when anxiety is stronger and there are days when anxiety is quieter. There are times when anxiety is triggered by a scent or a thought, and sometimes, it can be triggered by seemingly nothing at all.

The Silent Side of Anxiety

Anxiety can be an invisible disability in that it can’t be seen. It is often very difficult to look at a person and accurately assess their experience of anxiety and its intensity. It is an internal experience that can be easily misinterpreted as aloofness or disinterest. In fact, people with anxiety are not aloof or disinterested at all. Instead, they often want to be accepted and part of the group. They want to be present but are often worried about:

  • How others feel around them
  • If they have contributed to negative feelings in the social situation they’re in
  • If they can maintain a conversation well
  • If they are being judged
  • Where the exits are
  • Their safety and the safety of others
  • What to do with their hands
  • How to position their body
  • Where to stand
  • When to speak and when to stop speaking

Why Kids’ Anxiety Is at an All-Time High

Why Kids’ Anxiety Is at an All-Time High

written by Dr. Liz Matheis, published on Psychology Today

Here we are, one year and 8 months after the start of the pandemic, still battling its effects, and we are exhausted and overwhelmed. Our children, teens, and young adults continue to hear about new variants of the virus, which makes us believe that this is not over yet.

Adults, parents, and children everywhere are struggling with heightened levels of anxiety and as mental health professionals, there is more need than there is supply. We are seeing the anxiety across the lifespan. Isolation has led to feelings of anxiety and ultimately sadness as there seems to be a little end in sight.

What about the COVID-19 pandemic has created such heightened levels of anxiety for so many of our children?

"The various psycho-educational testing Dr. Liz conducted on our son gave us critical clues about where his learning strengths and weaknesses lie so that his needs could be better addressed at home and school. Moreover, because of their warm, kindhearted personalities, both Dr. Liz and her associate, Stephanie, formed an immediate bond with my son. He eagerly looks forward to his weekly therapy sessions. We are so lucky Dr. Liz came into our family's lives when she did! For stressed-out families trying to help their children as best they can, she is a calming voice of reason!"
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- Anonymous
"The various psycho-educational testing Dr. Liz conducted on our son gave us critical clues about where his learning strengths and weaknesses lie so that his needs could be better addressed at home and school. Moreover, because of their warm, kindhearted personalities, both Dr. Liz and her associate, Stephanie, formed an immediate bond with my son. He eagerly looks forward to his weekly therapy sessions. We are so lucky Dr. Liz came into our family's lives when she did! For stressed-out families trying to help their children as best they can, she is a calming voice of reason!"
- Anonymous
"Thank you, Dr. Liz. Although we have told you countless times, it will never feel enough. You have listened when J could barely speak and continued to listen when he was sad, angry and confused. You've challenged him and directed us in our roles as parents. You've helped J face his fears while the list evolved and changed, and yet you've stayed committed to 'the course.' We pray that your children realize that time away from them is spent helping children learn and that vulnerability is a sign of strength and bravery."
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