More than 250 people turned out at the Alden Theater Monday, April 1 to hear Lynn Lyons discuss youth anxiety.
Photo by Marion Meakem Photography
Speaking to a crowd of more than 250 at the McLean Community Center Alden Theater on April 1, Lynn Lyons, LICSW and author of “Anxious Kids Anxious Parents: 7 Ways to Stop the Worry Cycle and Raise Courageous and Independent Children” gave the audience a delightful insight into the inner workings of anxiety and steps to prevent it from taking over families.
“Anxiety’s agenda is just two things: certainty and comfort. That’s it,” said Lyons. “It’s not that complicated.”
Lyons says knowing the specific type or root cause of anxiety ultimately doesn’t matter.
“All anxiety will tell you the same thing,” she said, “Blah, blah, blah…and you can’t handle it.” The “blah, blah, blah” could be anything – a substitute teacher, an unleashed dog, a fire drill, taking the SAT, trying a new food, fear of getting sick, etc.
Lyons stressed that anxiety has a genetic component, with anxious parents up to seven times more likely to have an anxious child. But because there’s no anxiety gene, how parents model behaviors around anxiety sets the tone. “Basically, if it’s nature it’s you. If it’s nurture it’s you,” she said to a laughing crowd of parents and students from across McLean and the surrounding area.
Research shows that anxious children can learn patterns of worry from parents. Parents want the worry to go away, so we reassure and arrange for things to run smoothly. Yet the more we try to accommodate and provide certainty, the more we inadvertently reinforce the fear and avoidance. “Reassurance is a bottomless pit,” she stressed, but by embracing new strategies we can alter the pattern.
In the beginning of treatment, she explains how worry operates in the brain and body. A trigger event causes the worried thoughts that activate the brain’s “fight or flight” response. Chemicals are then secreted that cause physical discomfort – nausea, sweating, headaches, shaking – which makes us more worried and intensifies the physical reactions, and the cycle repeats. When kids understand what’s happening inside their brains and bodies, they are less overwhelmed by their thoughts and physical sensations.
Parents can also help by sharing their personal experiences to show children know how they manage their own anxiety or when they have had to go to Plan B. These simple conversations can signal to anxious children that adults are human too. “I had to give a big presentation today. I was so nervous, but I…” models the process of managing “normal” worry.
For families that need therapy, Lyons says effective treatment has a few key components – getting parents involved, having homework between sessions, and knowing the goals.
For more about Lyons’ steps for managing anxiety, visit the Safe Community Coalition website at mcleanscc.org.
Lyons’s visit to McLean was the highlight of the Safe Community Coalition’s yearlong focus on anxiety in families. The SCC’s vision is a community where youth learn to make responsible decisions and where they are safe, mentally and physically healthy, and free from alcohol and drug use. The SCC offers programs for youth, parents, and the community in collaboration with other community sectors concerned about our youth: schools, parent/teacher associations, faith organizations, businesses, public safety organizations, the medical community, and civic organizations.
The SCC is a tax-exempt non-profit organization that is 100 percent funded by donations. See mcleanscc.org for more details on how you can donate and get involved.