The other day I was speaking with a friend, the father of a sophomore at one of our prestigious Chicago Public Schools (CPS) high schools. His son is achieving a 96 percent to 98 percent in most of his academic subjects. In one class, he has only a 90 percent. The student is also involved in sports and the math team and is an Eagle Scout.
My friend is beside himself worrying about the drop in grades and is trying to decide if he should eliminate his son’s screen time, social time … you get the picture. But let’s differentiate the experience from the drama.
The experience: He’s a straight A student with several outside and valuable interests.
The drama: Oh, no! The possibility of a B will ruin my son’s life. He will have limited college choices. Top firms won’t want him. His marriage prospects will narrow. His children will be nobodies.
My recommendation: Stay in the experience. This young man is a diligent student. Inquire with curiosity (not agenda) about his concerns and whether he would like assistance. See him for how he has shown up thus far in his studies. Don’t dive into drama, confusing the what ifs with your child’s ability to continue to manage the various moving parts of his life. Have a conversation. Seek to understand.
Here are some ways to reduce or eliminate anxiety (yours and your children’s):
• Recognize when you shift to drama. Drama is a black hole not worth entering.
• Recognize feeling threatened. When feeling threatened, both internal and external perceptions become distorted. We lose clarity and our sense of reality. We seek evidence and build cases against others. We create distorted, dramatic stories and believe them. Feeling threatened? Remind yourself that you are okay. Take threat, place it next to you (along with drama) and look at the situation again. Move forward from a place without threat.
• Ask for what you need. In the scenario above, this may be a conversation with the teen about his concern and strategy for success regarding his grade.
• Say no to worry. Worry is like a run on a hamster wheel; it doesn’t end until you are flung off or take a tumble. Inflicting worry on another is cruel.
• Stop questioning and start answering. Listen to and acknowledge the answers. If you receive clarity and are not yet able to act, keep your antennae open for increased clarity and the acknowledgment that it is time to proceed.
• Journal. This can be writing, doodling, drawing or scribbling. Journaling is a way to assert oneself, to get inner feelings out to be seen, managed and released. Held-in feelings can be used against ourselves as chronic pain, injury, migraines, etc. Squelched feelings have a greater possibility of being spewed at others, including our loved ones.
• Be mindful of pleasure and feel-good moments. If we only indulge feelings of irritation, frustration and the like, these feelings can escalate, promoting stress, anxiety, anger, fear, hopelessness, etc.
• Breathe. Close your eyes and follow your breath. Picture your breath as a golden river that flows from the crown of your head to the tip of your tailbone. Play with the temperature of this river, its flow, its current. Allow your flow to enliven and calm you.
Parents, if you show up for your kids with anxiety, stress or symptoms of depression, you create a way of being in the world that becomes their norm. An estimated 34.7 percent of CPS high school students felt so “sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row” that they stopped doing some usual activities during the past year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
If you or your children are affected with anxiety, which can lead to depression, please contact your physician, school counselor, mental health practitioner and/or clergy. And, use the practices shared in this column.
Learning to be comfortable with the uncomfortable is imperative for us all.
Nourish the flourish.