With the anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting on the horizon, new threats have emerged. Parents are on edge, children are nervous, school officials are overwhelmed. Sandy Hook is going remote that day. Neighboring towns are on edge.
There is an old adage that one can’t change the actions of others, but one can change how we choose to respond. As parents, we must remember that our kids take their cues from us. If we wire them for anxiety, they will have anxiety as adults. If we let them manifest our fears, they will become their own hangups.
There are approximately 48.1 million K-12 school children in the United States. Roughly one half of one percent will ever experience a school shooting in their lives based on the 278,000 students at 298 schools.
More disturbing than the high instances of school shootings is the attention paid to them. Because of social media and the internet, we experience the anxiety of shootings in other cities and other states over and over. We see the coverage, we share the posts, we argue in the comments. So we are all repeatedly experiencing each traumatic event at a secondary level.
So are our kids.
So it’s important to recognize how we are experiencing the trauma of these events and realize that viewing these events over and over is likely unhealthy for parents and children alike.
Following the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, we were faced with round the clock coverage for months on end. This was the beginning of the overall feeling that we are not safe, anything can happen, be aware, protect your loved ones.
It is important to recognize that anxiety is normally caused by something that is not actually happening at that moment. Anxiety is fear based. That is the reason why it is so insidious. Buddhists call it the “Monkey Mind.” The mind jumps from thought to thought looking for sources of anxiety.
If we really thought our children were going to be shot in school today, we wouldn’t have sent them. If our children have live shooter drills several times a year, temper that with some real talk about the realities of anxiety and how it works to convince our brains that they are experiencing the stress of something not actually happening. Teach them centering techniques to recognize the difference between anxiety and fear. Use them yourself.
This five-step exercise can be very helpful during periods of anxiety or panic by helping to ground you in the present when your mind is bouncing around between various anxious thoughts.
Before starting this exercise, pay attention to your breathing. Slow, deep, long breaths can help you maintain a sense of calm or help you return to a calmer state. Once you find your breath, go through the following steps to help ground yourself:
5: Acknowledge FIVE things you see around you. It could be a pen, a spot on the ceiling, anything in your surroundings.
4: Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you. It could be your hair, a pillow, or the ground under your feet.
3: Acknowledge THREE things you hear. This could be any external sound. If you can hear your belly rumbling that counts! Focus on things you can hear outside of your body.
2: Acknowledge TWO things you can smell. Maybe you are in your office and smell pencil, or maybe you are in your bedroom and smell a pillow. If you need to take a brief walk to find a scent you could smell soap in your bathroom, or nature outside.
1: Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste. What does the inside of your mouth taste like—gum, coffee, or the sandwich from lunch?
This technique is one of many options you could use if you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed. If anxiety is something that you struggle with regularly, and you continue to have trouble refocusing or coping with these feelings, please talk to your doctor.