Do you find that your kids become overly anxious around exam time? I love anxiety – in fact, I consider it to be a great friend – and I’d like to help you and your kids to love it too. You see, anxiety is a very specific kind of fear – fear of the future. And considering the future has not yet happened, it is a fear that we don’t know how to handle because there’s nothing we can do about something that hasn’t happened yet.
What our minds are doing with anxiety is giving us a warning sign that we are thinking about something that we DON’T want to happen. Anxiety is like the little red flag to help us to focus on something more positive. Now most of us are thinking incessantly and on auto-pilot and we’re not often aware of what we’re thinking or even that we’re thinking at all. And yet our thoughts have a very direct and profound influence on how we feel. So our minds have this wonderful in-built system to help us to think about things that will flood our systems with positive, life-affirming chemicals rather than the rush of adrenaline that comes with fear.
The trick here is to change the way that we view anxiety. If you can teach your kids that that “horrible” feeling is actually a trusted friend and to understand the language of this new friend, it will be a tool that will help them for life. Every time they feel that feeling it is a red flag telling them to go and take a look at their thoughts. What they’ll find is that they are imagining the worst – in their minds they are seeing themselves failing the exam or not being able to answer the questions or the teachers setting impossible tasks or something along those lines.
Step one is to understand that the future has not yet happened. The only place that the future exists at this moment is in your own mind so you can imagine it to be good or bad – both are just thoughts in your head. You can’t possibly know what is going to happen or not happen, so you may as well imagine something good.
What I get my clients to do is to actually imagine themselves flying above the timeline of their lives out into the future to just past the SUCCESSFUL outcome of the event they are worrying about. This is just a trick of the mind to focus on something positive and it works wonders with kids.
Step two is to label your thoughts as just that – thoughts. Not truth, not fact, not inevitability. Just imagination.
Kids can even label the part of their mind that thinks negatively – give it a name like “Moaning Minnie” or “Anxious Ant” and talk back to it with the positive side of the mind (which can also be given a name or character, like “Successful Susan” or “Positive Panther”). This helps kids to realize that there is always more than one way to look at a situation and looking at the negative side is just a habit that can be changed.
Step three is to take damning statements and turn them into positive questions. So something like “I’m going to fail this exam” can become a question like “How can I definitely pass this exam?” Our minds respond very well to questions and tend to automatically seek out answers. So if we ask a positive question, we will find a positive solution. This also helps kids to define what they’re really worried about and take action on something specific rather than thinking in generalized negative statements.
And the beginning point to all of this is the anxiety itself. Like a trusted friend, redirecting us to positivity and reminding us every time we stray from being in control of our own minds. Whenever I feel anxiety I first stop and thank my mind for keeping me on track to a wonderful, positive, relaxed and happy life. I hope you and your kids will too!