Battling with Anxiety

“I’m scared of earthquakes.” Gleek launched into this statement almost before she cleared the door to enter my room. Her face was pale, wide-eyed, and a little teary.

“Okay.” I said putting down my book and scooting over so there was room for her next to me on my bed. “What makes you scared about earthquakes today?” I always ask questions when my kids are mired in anxiety. Additional information helps me figure out which flavor of anxiety we’re attempting to manage. It matters because sometimes the anxiety needs to be laughed at and sometimes it needs to be sympathized with.

“I’ve been scared for days. My history teacher says there is a huge fault here in Utah and it is sixty years overdue for an earthquake. And now I’m scared that the earthquake will come and knock down our house and destroy everything.”

So we talked at length about earthquakes. I grew up in California and lived in the Bay Area during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake which knocked down a section of the Bay Bridge and collapsed a long section of the Cypress freeway. That quake had more than a dozen aftershocks over the next two years. I also remember the Livermore quake and its aftershocks. I was able to tell her what an earthquake feels like and that humans are much smarter about building structures that are earthquake safe. I told her about many different earthquakes and how mostly it was just an interesting (if unnerving) experience with little or no damage done. Then we talked about her anxiety disorder and how it makes her more afraid than she needs to be. Yes an earthquake might strike, but beyond some basic emergency preparedness there is nothing we can do about it. We certainly shouldn’t let our daily lives be affected by fear of earthquakes.

Gleek acknowledged all of this and said “Usually when I’m scared of things and the scared won’t go away, I have to talk it out.” I loved hearing the self awareness in her voice. She has grown so much and has developed a solid set of coping strategies. Her fourteen year old strategies are worlds better than the ones she was employing at twelve.

This is a thing I need to remember when Patch responds to stress by becoming uncommunicative instead of engaging with me to figure out where the stress is coming from. When he finally spoke with me (after missing his bus) we were able to determine a specific problem that could be easily fixed. Patch is still acquiring good strategies. I just need to put structural support in place and give him time.

Gleek wound down from her outpouring of earthquake fear. Oddly, the most comforting thing I said was that sometimes I’d only know there was an earthquake because I’d see the lights swaying on the ceiling. Gleek now has plans to hang some things from her bedroom ceiling so she’ll be able to see if there is an an earthquake and get under her desk. On one level she knows that this warning system does little to protect her from the real possibility of an earthquake, but it is a small tool she can use to quell the anxiety. “See the hanging things aren’t moving. We’re fine.”

The other thing I’ll do is go have a word with Gleek’s teacher and let her know that while I understand she has the responsibility to teach about hazards in our area, maybe she could do so in a way that isn’t going to trigger anxiety for the anxiety prone kids.