Don’t be Afraid of the Big Bad Blizzard

You might be worried about losing power. You might be looking forward to gathering around the fireplace. You might be scrambling to reschedule your afternoon meeting or that early Valentine’s dinner date with your spouse. There’s a lot to think about as this blizzard approaches, but don’t forget that your anxious child maybe struggling with irrational and agonizing fears. Follow these tips to help your anxious child through the snowy weekend.

If your anxious child has never experienced a blizzard, be sure to tell her what to expect. Address rational fears like a power outage, but emphasize positives like family time, adventure, and beautiful snow.

Indicate that you and your family will be safe by acting calm and prepared, even if you’re worried about the storm.

Involve your child in your storm preparations. Explain how each action you’re taking will help keep your family safe.

If you lose power, make it an adventure. Play board games in the dark, tell stories by candlelight, or sing songs together.

Shelter your child from sensationalist media.

Avoid using language that indicates or implies that this storm is the worst storm ever or the end of the world or unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Help your anxious child understand that major storms are common and manageable.

If your child was traumatized by Super-Storm Sandy, explicitly explain that this storm will be different.

Ask your child to voice all his fears, and help your child find reasons to dismiss each fear. Be respectful, empathetic, and calm.

Watch for signs of magical thinking. Children who suffer from Obsessive-compulsive Disorder are particularly vulnerable to irrational self-blame regarding catastrophe.

Put safety first. Make sure you have a plan to keep your family warm even if you lose power, and be careful to avoid fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. Follow these blizzard safety rules for kids and parents.

Stay warm this weekend!

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Stand Up For Mental Health!

I have Panic Disorder and OCD.

I suffered immensely until I got help. Today, I am stable and panic-free thanks to education, lifestyle changes (no caffeine for me), cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and venlafaxine. Medication certainly isn’t right for everyone, but it’s a crucial part of my anti-anxiety treatment. While I’m obviously very open about my mental illnesses, I’m less willing to discuss my medication use. People have strong opinions about psychiatric medication, and they should. No medication should be taken frivolously. CBT is very effective, and lifestyle changes will, by definition, change your life. And in my experience, nothing is more important than education. Understanding your disorder gives you power over it. Sometimes, however, medication is necessary.

I’ve decided to tell the world about my use of venlafaxine in honor of healthyplace.com’s new campaign, Stand Up for Mental Health. The campaign is “dedicated to eliminating the stigma of mental health,” and I’m proud to be a part of it.

If your child is suffering from mental illness, make sure she knows that there’s no reason to feel ashamed.

Remember, anxiety disorders and most other mental illnesses are treatable. Anxiety disorder treatments are particularly effective. Never be ashamed to ask for help. Your child only gets one childhood, and you’re already dedicated to making it great. Seeking treatment for your child’s anxiety disorder could be the most important decision you make as a parent.

If you’re concerned about the cost of therapy or medication, there are a lot of affordable alternatives. First of all, look for reduced-fee therapy. Find a free support group in your area. Educate yourself and your children about their disease. Knowledge really is power. Finally, search online for tips and information about addressing the needs of anxious children. (For example, are you caught up on this blog?)

You’re not alone.

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Anxiety Disorder Treatments Are Effective

Magical Thinking in a Hurricane

When I was thirteen, I was struggling with severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, neither of which had yet been diagnosed. (I was diagnosed with Separation Anxiety Disorder in first grade, and at thirteen, I still worried excessively about my mom.) I hated school and already felt burned out by the second Tuesday of the year so, as I stepped out of my dad’s car in the morning, I wished that school would be cancelled for the day.

Wishing, even in my own head, was strictly prohibited by the torturous rules enforced by my OCD. But I was exhausted by months of acute anxiety—summer had always been difficult for me and puberty seemed to be exacerbating all my emotional struggles—and the thought slipped through. I did my simplest undoing ritual, which involved whispering “shut up shut up shut up,” and then I dragged myself to class…where a punky girl in an army surplus jacket informed me that the Pentagon had been attacked and New York City was, she thought, being bombed.

I knew I didn’t cause 9/11. I knew the attacks had to have happened hours before I even made that awful wish. I knew that it was disrespectful and narcissistic and absurd to feel responsible for something so horrific. But, in the panic of that day and the consistent anxiety of the following year, I returned again and again to that stupid careless wish.

Magical thinking, the fallacious association between unrelated events, is a significant cognitive symptom of OCD. Humans have evolved to seek out patterns: people who eat this red berry become very ill. Unfortunately, the patterns imaged by sufferers of OCD are typically very frightening. And, although magical thinking is a fallacy, intelligence doesn’t seem to offer much protection. (Imagine any of the many smart people who indulge a few superstitions.)

For healthy adults, a bit of magical thinking can be harmless or even fun. Magical thinking is ubiquitous in young children and rarely causes significant distress. However, anxious children and mentally ill individuals of all ages should avoid magical thinking. If you have an anxious child, be careful when encouraging even benign superstitions. (The weighted risks and benefits of teaching superstition is something that requires its own post.)

Crises like this hurricane can be scary for kids. If your children or students are prone to anxiety, reassure them regularly, shield them from sensationalist news, and show them that your family or school is prepared. Model calmness and optimism. And, if they recently wished for a few days off from school, make sure they know that this hurricane isn’t their fault.