Thoughts on fostering growth through empathy
- a blog for parents -
Before we get too far down this road, let's first define what we mean by anxiety and how feeling "anxious" is different than fear or feeling "afraid".
First off, it's perfectly normal to feel "anxious". Everyone experiences some level of anxiety at some point. We "feel anxious" when we perceive a potential "threat" to our safety. However, what is perceived as threatening to one person may not be threatening to another because, unlike "fear" (as we will define it in a future post), our individual interpretations and responses to our environment are based on our unique biology (genetic and epigenetic factors) and our individual life experiences. Nature and nurture create our sensitivity to responding with the heightened state of alertness we experience as "feeling anxious".
When we feel "anxious" we have both a physical (physiological, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, hormonal, neurological) and emotional experience of feeling that we might be unsafe. There may have been some sensory cue that caused this alarm response, but often it is our thoughts or unconscious beliefs about some sensory cue or situation that produces the experience that makes us feel anxious.
To be clear, for our purposes, we are not talking about sensory cues that represent a "clear and present danger"; for our purposes, we will call that "fear". It's the difference between what you would feel if a lion were crouched immediately in front of you about to pounce (fear) and thinking that a lion could be hiding under your bed in your suburban 3 bedroom 2-storey home (anxiety). It's the difference between having had a peer threaten to harm your child at school tomorrow (fear) and worrying that a peer could threaten to harm your child if they went to school tomorrow (anxiety). One means our life is in danger; the other feels like our life could be.
AND, both feelings are REAL. Both feelings are uncomfortable. Both feelings need your support and help for your child to work through.
We'll delve more into anxiety - what happens in our bodies and how you can help your child work through it - in future posts. For today, consider: Do you feel anxious from time to time? Does your child?