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Parents Night Out: Learning about Anxiety

It was cold and dark.

It felt late in the evening. It was 7:00pm.

The school district hosted Lynn Lyons, LICSW presenting “Modeling Matters: What Parents Need to Know and Do to Decrease Stress, Worry, and Anxiety” in the high school auditorium. January evenings often start at 4:30 pm. Many folks pulled out their winter tricks to convince themselves that a 7-8:30 lecture on anxiety was worth leaving the comfort of pjs. Jill went to the YMCA to avoid home, Jess stayed in her work clothes while she made dinner though it took a text that said “Rally!!” to convince her. Winter in Maine is about hibernating. 

Learning about how to care for our kids will get us out of hibernation. We love our kids. 

Learning about how to support the students is the business of our educators. We love our kids.

Hibernating can wait. 

Lynn Lyons, LICSW  was so worth the winter night out. We laughed, learned, nodded our heads in agreement, and we took notes. So many notes. Well, I took a ton of notes. I want to share six take-aways for the adults so we can help our kids.

UNDERSTAND “The Mights” and “the Maybes”

  • Worries come when we make up stories because we are uncertain about what is happening or what we think is happening. The Mights could happen but are not guaranteed to happen. The Maybes are in the same boat. 

  • Might and Maybe could also sound like What if… these stories feed the fire of worry and anxiety. They build on one another. For instance, when I decide that I might be late waking up, then maybe I can’t eat breakfast… what if I faint?

  • Mights, Maybes, and What ifs can take on a life of their own. 

  • We have control over our mights, maybes, and what-iffs. Step one, notice when you are making up a story that uses these words. When you notice it, don’t be mean to yourself. Instead, visualize a bubble blown from bubble wand. You slowly blew this bubble that floats up and out and all around. Put the story inside the bubble and watch its journey away from you. Lets the story float away. All you need to do is notice it and put it in the bubble. 

VISUALIZE the Worries - Worries are Predictable and Persistent

  • As we create stories about what might be (the ones we try to put in the bubble), we love to replay fears, worries, and uncertainties. We can predict what worry stories we retell. Rarely do we make up a new worry. Instead, we replay worries over and over again. This persistence builds the worry. We allow it to play on repeat, growing strength and power. 

  • If we know that our worries are playing on repeat, we can stop the pattern. We can put this story in a bubble. Then ask each bubble:  Is there evidence of this worry? Is it true? 

  • When we begin to think through our stories, we can feel uncomfortable and yucky. While this is temporary, there are ways to get out of the cycle of judgment and sadness. It is okay to feel discomfort periodically and for short periods of time.

REFLECT: How do we feel better?

There are three categories and YOU know the answers. Take a few minutes to make a list for each category. Let’s think and write for 2-3 minutes per list.

  • List 1: Identify the things that make you feel better. 

  • List 2: Identify the things that make you feel worse. 

  • List 3: Identify the things that make you feel better in the short term but terrible in the long term.

PRACTICE Balancing the urgency of the situation and the resources you have to handle the situation. This isn’t easy to explain but I am going to give it a go.

  • The outcome of this practice is to feel as though each of us can DEAL with the SITUATION in front of us. If that is the goal, then it looks like we balance the urgency of the situation with the resources we have.

  • An example will be helpful. A few weeks ago, we had a snow storm. In Maine, that means we have to think about two major things: power and food. One can depend on the other. If the power goes out, the oven doesn’t work. You see the ripple effect. Unless you are from California where you worry about earthquakes, which you don't see coming. Then you don’t worry about food and power all the time because earthquakes are not forecasted and we don't see them coming. Earthquake worries need different resources.

  • Anyway, to prepare for the storm, I swing through the local grocery store. The beer is gone. So is the frozen pizza. I buy food for BLT sandwiches. It can double as lunch and dinner. We don’t need the oven or stovetop after I cook the bacon. The resources I have feel strong. I know what my storm food is, I buy it. I hunker down and deal with the generator when the power goes out. But my family knows that we will eat BLTs and we will be happy. The balance of the urgency of the situation and my resources is good. 

  • If I found myself in California in an earthquake, I don’t have the resources. In an earthquake, there is no planning for food. The power will probably go out, but I don’t know what to plan for. I am not keeping cooked bacon in the fridge just in case there is an earthquake. The situation is urgent and my resources are not in balance. I do not know what to do. So I worry.

  • When I can balance the urgency of the situation and the resources I have so that we are mostly in balance, then I feel better. I want to respond in relationship to the urgency. If it is a small problem, I want a small response. If it is a BIG problem, let the response be BIG.

IDENTIFY The Gap: The time between knowing and doing.

When you find yourself in a The Gap, you are in the time between the input you get and the response you make. In this gap, we give ourselves the space to respond with intention rather than react with emotion. It takes practice, and it is worth it. Taking time to “mind the gap” keeps us safe and authentic. 

  • Being comfortable in the gap is a two step process

  • Identify your thoughts and feelings. We find ourselves in a situation. Ok. How do I feel about it? What are my worries? What stories am I telling myself? Let me take a minute or two to figure out how I am thinking and feeling about this situation. 

  • Pause. Wait. Really. No one is actually going anywhere. And we want to take the time. I like to define URGENT as a medical issue or a fight. Something that really has to be dealt with in the moment for the safety of a bigger group. Just because we CAN connect with others immediately does not mean we have to. Take time to think about the feelings.

  • Choose how you respond or relate to a situation. Now that we know what is happening, how we are feeling about it, and have made time, we can decide how to respond. Our response is within our control. 

Next Steps:

As we continue to hibernate, consider the things that are within your control. Put the things you can't control in a bubble. List the things that make you happy so that when there are a lot of bubbles you are able to take a moment to mind the gap and consider your response.

It's not easy and the way I wrote that made me laugh and put my pjs on. It is dark and cold. Everyday I will give it a go and only some days will I find success.

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From our All-School Assembly, February 28, 2024 Written by Nell Dailey “On this rainy day in February, I want to share a story with you. So sit back, put your phones away, and give me your attention.


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