Anxiety is a common co-occurring condition with eating disorders, and both anxiety and eating disorders are on the rise for our kids. It’s important that we learn some tools to help them manage their anxiety so that they can avoid triggering eating disorder behavior.
The reasons our kids are more anxious are real and pervasive. Our kids today are facing more pressure to achieve academic success from an early age. While many of us didn’t start worrying about college admission until high school, our kids often worry about college beginning in middle school or even earlier. The pressure to perform is constant, and even if we manage to avoid adding pressure at home, there is plenty to go around at school.
In the midst of this increased academic pressure, we also expect our kids to compete in their sports and participate in enrichment activities like chess, piano and computer coding. And then there are the expectations to volunteer, give back, and participate in society in a meaningful way, which supposedly “looks great on college applications.”
Meanwhile, our kids’ social structures are completely different from how we experienced them. The advent of smartphones, which have completely transformed socialization, is impacting the current generation in ways we cannot fully grasp. Social media, texting and other offline interactions have replaced hanging around together in the same room or talking on the phone. We have no idea how this change in socialization will impact our kids, but initial signs are not great.
So, there is a lot of reason for anxiety, and our kids are suffering as a result. Mindfulness – the ability to step aside and separate the “self” from feelings of fear – can help our kids manage this tremendous stress, and simultaneously reduce symptoms of anxiety and eating disorder behavior.
We came up with a short video about one trick we like to use, called the Fear Parade. Check it out!
The Fear Parade (Mindfulness in Action)
There you are, just minding your own business … when suddenly you remember that you have a test tomorrow, and you haven’t studied! And that’s when the fear feelings start circling. They say terrible things like:
- You’re going to fail!
- How could you do this to me?
- You’re so stupid!
- You’re going to die!
- This is the worst thing ever!
- This is the end!
- It’s all over.
Suddenly, it’s not just the test tomorrow, it’s everything. Your feelings turn into gigantic monsters and they take over your mind. They start in your head, but within a fraction of a second, they change your
And Adrenaline pumps all through your body, shutting down rational thought. It is impossible to think rationally during the fear response. When this happens, it feels like there is nowhere you can go. You feel trapped.
Mindfulness can help. Here’s how it works. The first thing you must do is realize that you are in a fear-state. Take a step back, and notice that you are being overwhelmed by fear.
Now, take a look at the fear monsters in your head. They are trying to talk, but they are tripping all over themselves. Tell the feelings you’re willing to listen, but they have to behave. Ask them to line up. Now, that’s better.
Let’s have a fear parade, with a float full of feelings that you can watch as they pass. The fear feelings can all jump on the float so you can see them. The float can pass in front of you, and you can watch it go by, but you know that you are separate from the feelings. Your feelings are real, but they aren’t always the truth.
As you watch the parade, your fear feelings are still there, but you notice that they seem smaller. Your body starts to relax, as you see the fear feelings getting smaller and smaller. And, suddenly, you notice that your body is calmer.
Without the fear shutting down your brain, you can think clearly again. Now you can start taking action based on what you learned from the fear. In other words, start studying!
Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating disorders. She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery.