High Anxiety: Tips to Build Resiliency through the Fear of HalloweenOct 30, 2023
With Halloween just around the corner, it may be a time of excitement and joy for many, but for others, it can be downright terrifying. This mix of emotions can make Halloween a complex holiday, filled with fear, excitement, and, of course, the inevitable sugar overload. Some things are hard to avoid, but what I know for sure is you can help your child navigate this anxiety, with a focus on building resilience.
We'll explore the key mindset shift needed to understand and normalize anxiety, I'll offer strategies for handling anxiety in the heat of the moment, and introduce some practical neurobiological tools to support your family during this potentially spooky time.
Key Mindset Shift: Understanding Anxiety
Before we dive into strategies for managing anxiety during Halloween, it's crucial to understand why anxiety shows up and whether it's "normal." Anxiety is a natural and necessary emotion. It's our body's way of alerting us to potential threats, helping us stay vigilant and safe. While it's normal to experience anxiety, the intensity and specific triggers can vary greatly from person to person.
For children, Halloween can be anxiety-inducing for several reasons. The costumes, decorations, and eerie atmosphere may trigger fear in sensitive or young children. They might be afraid of the unknown or overwhelmed by the spooky elements associated with the holiday. It's essential to recognize that these feelings of anxiety are not abnormal but rather a part of the human experience. Acknowledging this can be the first step in helping your child build resilience.
If your child seems to like Halloween and gets into the spirit of it, they can still hold the fear of the scary elements of this fun holiday. Both can be true for them. In fact, for our adrenaline seeking kiddos, they are often drawn to the suspenseful eeriness because, from a neurobiological standpoint, their brain-body system gets a little "kick" out of the rush of adrenaline they feel after being scared! Weird but true!
What You Can Do in the Heat of the Moment?
When your child is experiencing anxiety around Halloween, it's crucial to offer guidance and support without adding to it! What you say and do can significantly impact how they handle their fears. Here are a couple of suggestions of what you could say and what to avoid saying:
What to Say:
- **Acknowledge Their Feelings:** Begin by acknowledging your child's feelings. You might say, "I can see that you're feeling scared right now, and that's okay."
- **Offer Reassurance:** Let them know that you are there for them. Reassure them that they are safe and that Halloween is just a fun and pretend time.
- **Encourage Communication:** Encourage your child to express their fears and concerns. Active listening can make them feel heard and understood.
- **Empower Them:** Help your child come up with solutions to alleviate their anxiety. This empowers them to take control of their emotions and actions.
- **Intentional Distraction:** Sometimes, a simple intentional distraction can be effective. Engage in a fun, non-spooky activity to divert their attention away from their fears.
Things to Avoid Saying:
- **Minimize Their Feelings:** Avoid dismissing their fears with statements like, "Don't be silly; it's just Halloween." This can make them feel unheard and invalidate their emotions.
- **Force Exposure:** Don't push your child into situations that cause extreme distress. Gradual exposure, if needed, is more helpful.
- **Criticism:** Never criticize your child for being scared. This can intensify their anxiety and erode their self-esteem.
- **Comparisons:** Avoid comparing your child's reactions to those of other children. Each child is unique, and their feelings are valid, even siblings!
- **Panic:** Stay calm and composed yourself. Panicking or reacting with fear can amplify your child's anxiety.
Neurobiological Tools for Support
In addition to the above support, there are some dedicated neurobiological tools you can use to help your child manage anxiety effectively, not only during Halloween but in any situation. These tools are simple yet can be tricky to implement, as they require practice and consistency outside of the big emotional moments.
- **Deep Breathing:** Deep breathing exercises can help calm the nervous system. Teach your child to take slow, deep breaths when they feel anxious. The exhale should be longer than the inhale to get the most out of this practice.
- **Mindfulness and Grounding Techniques:** Encourage your child to practice mindfulness or grounding exercises such as looking away from the scary image or focusing on grounding through their 5 senses by simply wiggling their toes and fingers while listening to calming music. These techniques help them stay in the present moment and reduce their fears about what might happen in the future.
- **Positive Visualization:** Guiding your child in positive visualization can help them reframe their fears. Encourage them to replace a scary image, using their imagination, with an image that brings them joy - such as the family pet or a special and fun family vacation. For a future visualization strategy on Halloween, ask them to imagine a happy and safe evening, and discuss the exciting aspects of the holiday, like costumes and treats.
- **Routine and Predictability:** The brain likes predictability! If there are unknowns or uncertainty, it sends a signal to the brain, alerting it to be on guard. In other words, our autonomic nervous systems go into flight, flight, freeze or fawn. For Halloween specifically, create a predictable routine; plan activities and events in advance, so your child knows what to expect.
- **Seek Professional Help if Necessary:** If your child's anxiety seems overwhelming and persistent, it might be a good idea to consult a coach and/or a mental health professional. They can offer tailored strategies and support to address your child's specific needs. Some of my clients have shared that after working with me for a couple of sessions, their child experienced an 80% decrease in anxiety. Help helps, so reach out and get the support needed.
With these suggestions and understanding around anxiety, you can have a better handle on how to best support your child and help them build resilience. Although anxiety can be a significant part of this holiday experience, it's crucial to understand that it's a normal response to certain stimuli. As parents, your role is to guide and support your child through their anxiety, using supportive words and actions. By adopting a mindset that normalizes anxiety, offering the appropriate guidance, and introducing neurobiological tools, you can help your child build resilience and face their fears.
This is a life-long skill. Building resilience around anxiety is an opportunity for growth and learning for you both!! Remember that every child is unique, and what works best for one may not work for another, so adapt your approach to your child's individual needs and preferences. With your support and understanding, your child can approach scary times throughout their life by conquering their fears and discovering the magic and fun we often experience in the unpredictability of life!
Learn more about how you can build resilience, emotional agility, and conscious awareness within your family, and bring ease and joy into your home.
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