I know I probably should’ve told some of you about this earlier but sometimes a blessing can appear to be a curse. This is a good thing for me, be happy for me. We learn from suffering, it is the ultimate teacher and I am looking forward to evolving…
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When most people think of social distancing they think of masks and 6 feet. Is that what you think of? Because I don’t. I think of my daughters. What’s happening to my fourteen year old terrifies me of the present, and looking at my 8 year old scares me of what the future might bring. I’m talking about social media. When I was younger I was the first to have everything in my group. A TV in my car, Bluetooth at the time when everyone assumed I was talking to myself, the first flat screen TV (that cost me 3k), hell I was even the first of my friends to have a CD player in his car. Even with all that I am still just an old man trying to catch up to what is happening.
As a therapist I’m more sensitive to behavior than most. As an empath I’m more sensitive to emotions than most. But when all is said and done I’m just a father trying to guide my children and frankly I’m at a loss. If they were my clients I could just turn down my emotions and turn up the logic but when you truly love someone, the way a parent loves a child, emotions will always be prevalent.
So why am I so concerned? Social media and electronics in general have been creating a rift in what we know as traditional “socializing” for over a decade now but its influence is increasing rapidly. Is it that I have been indoctrinated by years of my mother telling me that the TV and video games would rot my brain? Was it years of urban legends telling us sitting to close to the TV would make us go blind? Who knows why but the fear is still there and in my mind it is still justified.
As a professional counselor and an amateur philosopher I tell myself that you cannot fight change but God I want to so bad. All I see as a father is my daughter isolated in her room and the lights are off except for a glow reflecting off her face. When she wakes up her eyes are blood shot and she clearly hasn’t been sleeping. Her anxiety is up, her depression symptoms are up, and we barely talk anymore. Covid 19 was the ultimate alarm. Kind of like the light of a lighthouse finally shining through the parting clouds, but this is not relief for parents as it is for so many sailors that see the “light”. As parents we have been forced to “understand” that our children can’t go outside. Our children can’t see their friends. Our children can’t play in the sun and breathe in the fresh air. This is not human. This is torture for an entire generation that isn’t even old enough to have the awareness to know what is happening to them.
And then I hear hope, not from my daughter, but from my clients. Children tend to make an assumption that every adult will somehow tell their parents anything they tell them. Therapists are different though. As a therapist I am not allowed to say anything to anyone about what is said in session unless there is an immediate threat to themselves or others. I won’t lie, many of the kids take weeks to build this trust in a therapist, if it’s a good therapist, and some will take years. However the kids that do speak openly tell me a different story of social media and electronics.
The kids I talk to tell me how the internet is the only way they can talk to their friends. Some tell me that FaceTime is the only way they can see their friends. So as parents how do we take that from them? Are we being asked to pick the lesser of the two evils once again? Is this what life is about, having to choose what would cause the least damage to our children? As parents, stuck at home as well I might add, how many times have we pushed the electronics on them because we needed them quiet? Does this make us bad parents or are we accepting the situation that we are in? I don’t know.
So what do I tell the parents of my clients? I tell them moderation. I tell them to allow it but to have structure. Give them a couple hours a day as long as their responsibilities have been met. Make sure when they go to sleep their phones are not left in their rooms. Make sure they wake up and go to sleep at the same times every day. Make sure you spend time with them every day. Most importantly, and unfortunately the most difficult, is to make sure they feel the sun and breathe the fresh air every single day. Some of these can obviously be combined, and should be if possible, but all are necessary. With all that said, everything nowadays appears easier said than done and this is no different. We are being challenged, every single one of us. Life is full of tests. Will we pass this one? When I first asked myself that question I didn’t have an answer, but then I looked at my children. There is no choice here. We will pass this test, and you know how I know that? Because I can’t tell you how were going to make it, but I can tell you that if you’re reading this than you’ve already past every test that life has thrown at you. Why would this test be any different?
I’ll leave you with this. There’s an old proverb that says “it takes a village to raise a child”. As parents, as humans, we must adapt. Reach out for help. Set up those zoom play dates, go for a walk with your children, find a good counselor, but don’t give up. Maybe the village, at least for the moment, is online.
I always say that every good therapist’s first client is themselves. We’re just like everyone else we’ve just learned more coping skills than most and went to school for a long time. However it was in that gauntlet of colleges, universities and grad school in which I learned the tools I needed to combat my own anxiety. I can even claim that part of the reason I became a counselor was so that I could get a better understanding of how and why anxiety occurs. Problem is it’s one thing to read about anxiety it’s another to be overwhelmed by it, how can you even function when you feel like you’re drowning in thoughts?
I like two say that anxiety usually comes in two forms, the kind where you can’t get a certain worry out of your head to the point it consumes you, and the second in which it feels like you have a thousand thoughts but you can’t identify or focus on even one. Some people don’t even realize they have anxiety because the mind is so good at defending us that it’ll bury our worries until they manifest physically, as in biting finger nails, irritability, lack of sleep, loss or increase in appetite, ticks, muscle tension, and my favorite the famous leg shake (just to name a few). Have you ever seen someone that was clearly worried about something, acknowledged they were anxious but couldn’t give you a reason why? The mind is a powerful thing.
However this article is not about the living hell that anxiety can create it’s about the power. You see life is about perspective, but to have a clear perspective you can’t be clouded by things like irrational thoughts and negative self-talk. In the world of addiction they say that a person must reach rock bottom before they can begin to recover, the same can be said for many mental health issues, including anxiety. When I was in my early twenties I had my first panic attack, anxiety attack, whatever you want to call it. The hyperventilation from the attack zapped my energy so much that I laid on the floor, not moving, and I couldn’t even open my eyes. A good friend even thought I was dying, called the paramedics, and almost gave me mouth to mouth (which thank God he didn’t). But I’ll never forget when the paramedics get there they knew right away what was going on and I heard this one hero’s voice say “take a deep breath, open your eyes or we’re taking your ass to the hospital, you just had a panic attack”. Besides the horrible bedside manner it was as if he had hit a switch in my head and I was instantly aware that there was nothing physically wrong with me. I opened my eyes, sat up, and with my tail between my legs I apologized.
I was embarrassed, but looking back I shouldn’t have been. I was just ignorant to what was happening. So I began to educate myself in everything anxiety related. I have to admit the issue with panic attacks is once you have one they seem to come back easier and faster. I had them for two years, I was prescribed Xanax which thank god I was only on for a month before my dad confiscated them for the evil they are. Instead I learned the order of my symptoms, many people feel them differently, but for me it starts with heart palpitations, sweaty hands, shaky leg, than tears out of nowhere for some reason and finally hyperventilation.
The more time that passed the better I got at identifying when my anxiety was ramping up. I began to understand that I could use preventive measures like exercise, hobbies, structure, scheduling, and sleep. The savior of the coping skills, for me at least, was always progressive muscle relaxation. No matter where I was I could implement them without people even knowing I was doing it. Another big one is that I wouldn’t run from issues anymore, I would address them immediately. I noticed procrastination just made it worse, so I stopped doing it. If that little voice in my head told me I should be scared I would tell it to shut up.
Now it’s been over two decades since my last panic attack but every once in a while I feel it coming out. The thing is I’ve gotten so good at understanding it that the minute I feel it I’ll go for a walk or just start breathing deeply till it stops (yes that works amazing well). More often than not though it’s become a motivator. If I’m working on something and I get anxious it’s probably because I’m not comfortable with it so I change it up. If the kids are driving me crazy and I feel myself getting irritable I go out for a walk. The thing with anxiety is to not accept it and just sit in it, its energy. And how do you burn energy? You get off your ass and do something.
I’ve provided some resources on my page that you can have for free but please feel free to comment on your journey with anxiety and if you need help you can always contact me so we can talk it out. We are all given challenges in life it is how we cope with those challenges that define us as human beings, don’t ever forget that.