Strategies for Managing Anxiety
By Hallie Bulkin
And we’re back with part 2 of our series on strategies for managing anxiety. If you missed part 1, you can go back and read it here: Part 1. How to Strategically Manage Anxiety. My goal in Part 1 was to share a personal experience and set up the groundwork for understanding anxiety a little more, especially if it is not something that you have ever personally experienced. Today the goal is to help add some strategies to your toolbox to help you or your loved one(s) better cope with and manage anxiety.
According to Google, the definition of anxiety is:
- A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.
- Desire to do something, typically accompanied by unease.
So basically, breaking it down…anxiety can be a result of a not-so-good feeling you have due to an event or outcome (even one that you WANT to take part in) that builds up and makes it feel largely unmanageable (resulting in you feeling negative feelings including lack of success or failure). Can you relate to this for yourself or a loved one?
In my experience working with children I grew quite a toolbox of strategies to help my kiddos overcome anxiety. That is what I want to share with you today. In order to decrease anxiety you need to set yourself or your child up for success. You can do this by providing the tool(s) needed so that you or your child can feel more comfortable and less worried about the imminent event and/or outcome of that event.
Add the following strategies to your toolbox to set yourself and/or your child up for success:
- *Picture Schedules. This is basically a permanent daily picture schedule for the basics or with dynamic removable (velcro) picture pieces (and a “done pouch” attached to the back of the schedule). The purpose behind this is to let the child keep a visual “to do” list so they know what to expect next and they know what they have already accomplished that day. Knowing when something is starting, what to expect during and when it is going to end will help to decrease anxiety.
- Time-Sensitive Warnings. Give a time sensitive warning at 5 minutes, 2 minutes, and 1 minute before the end of the activity followed by a consistent signal at activity end time (e.g., always say “We’re all done!” at the end of the activity). Even though a child may thrive on knowing when the activity will be over, doesn’t mean you can just yank them from the situation when you are ready to be done. You need to give them warnings as you get closer to the end of the activity. I recommend a 5 minute warning, followed by a 3 or 2 minute warning, a 1 minute warning and then a phrase to let them know the activity has come to an end. If you use the same consistent phrases when giving time-sensitive warnings the child will actually become comforted by having this structure and it will make transitioning out of an activity to the next one MUCH easier and more successful!
- *First…Then. I often here a lot of parents using ‘If…Then’. This doesn’t work for several reasons but mainly because you are bargaining with your child (if you do X then you get Y) This assumes that if they choose NOT to do something (X), they wont get the reward (Y). But what if there is anxiety around doing the “X” in order to get the “Y”? You can reduce the chances of the surrounding anxiety by simply using the words “First…Then.” “First…Then” provides clear instruction on what must be done first and what is to follow, helping to decrease anxiety. It is no longer an option, now it is a definitive plan. It may sound like a little difference but it’s actually a big one! You may want to try using a “First…Then” picture board if visual/pictures are needed for success.
- Give 2 options. Now you want to make sure you do not make them more anxious by providing too many options, so two is a safe number. If you KNOW they can handle more then go for three options, but I would limit it there. Be sure that the options that you provide are options that you would be satisfied with, regardless of which one the child chooses. This gives the child sense of control over situation which can reduce anxiety and increase cooperation. For example, you may ask, “Want apple or banana?” Note: If your child is a visual learner you may need to have a system where you provide the options in pictures (are you imagining you may need to carry around a binder with pictures now? This may be a great topic for our upcoming online TV show launch…more to come on that).
- *Expectations chart. Create a chart with pictures (or written word if they are reading and that’s a strength of theirs) of the behaviors that are expected in a given situation. Before partaking in a given activity the child chooses from options and puts them on board (using velcro/laminated pictures). Your child can keep this tool in front of them as a reminder of what to do and expect during that activity. This will help them focus on what they should be doing and help to decrease anxiety since it will become a more familiar experience.
These strategies help with starting, completing, ending and transitioning between activities. If your child struggles with any of these at school you may want to ask their teacher to implement some of these strategies. They work when used consistently! Furthermore, I have used all of these strategies successfully with kids as young as 18 months of age. You can modify to make these strategies very simple or more complicated based on the child’s age.
*If you would like an example of what any of the picture schedules or other tools look like, please let me know!
Have you ever tried any of these strategies? Can you think of any additional ones that you have used that aren’t listed here? Please share by commenting on this article below!