Is Your Child Getting An ‘A’ In Anxiety?

Worried And Sad Student Online

Next week, teenagers up and down the country will be sitting their GCSE mocks. 

This may come as a surprise to those of you who don’t have a 15- or 16-year-old in the house and have been blissfully unaware of the unfolding drama being played out behind closed doors. 

But for those who do have such a creature hibernating behind a closed bedroom door, the weeks since the end of the summer must have felt a little like watching a gathering storm edging every closer.

These days, Year 11 pupils (that’s the 5th Year for those of us who still work in old money) are under pressure to do well from the moment they walk through the door of their secondary school as a fresh-faced 11-year-old. And they’re under pressure to perform measurably well. 

Whether little Johnny or Jennifer end up in the top set or a mixed ability set in French is no longer down to the arbitrary decision of a mere teacher using years of experience to gauge both achievement in the present and the potential of the future. Johnny and Jennifer are now assessed and tested to determine the probably limit of their academic aspirations.

I’ve talked at length before about why I think SATs and other tests have an unacceptable impact on children’s mental health and, if you missed it, you can read that here, so I’m not going to rehash those arguments here.

Instead, I want to focus on why parents who talk about their children suffering ‘exam stress’ might be in danger of misdiagnosing what’s going on in their child’s head.

As a society, we tend to talk a lot about how stressed we are. We say we’re ‘stressing about what to wear’, when we actually mean we’re undecided or struggling to decide; we feel irritated by the fact the house is a mess, but translate that frustration as, ‘I’m feeling a bit stressed out about the cleaning; a difficult commute to the office becomes a ‘stressful journey’ 

We offer stress as a go-to rational explanation for our children’s challenging behaviour as well. Being ‘stressy’ is almost a euphemism for the blizzard of hormones in a teenage body.

In fact, stress has become the ultimate euphemism of the modern age. We hear and see it everywhere. And the plain fact of the matter is that the euphemistic stress which parades in our lives as a convenient catch-all for any mildly irksome situation has a massive devaluing effect on real stress that affects children and adults in ways most people can barely begin to imagine.

If you want to know what your ‘stressed’ pre-exam child is really feeling, then let me help you out: they feel a profound sense of fear. From their first registration, they have been conditioned to succeed. Failure has never been an option in a world where tables and rankings and Ofsted inspections rule.

And so failure becomes the bogeyman hiding under the bed at night. What if I fail? What if I fail? What if I fail? They are terrified of what their teachers will think, of what their parents will thing and, probably most importantly, of what their friends will think. It gnaws and gnaws away at self-esteem and self-confidence and self-worth and it promotes reclusive and reticent behaviour.

The reason your child won’t talk to you has nothing to do with it being their job to hate their parents; they’re not talking because they don’t want to admit to you that they’re worried, because if they do that, the crisis of confidence will actually be real. 

And so they internalise it and what you see are the behavioural and emotional symptoms that manifest themselves as surliness or sulkiness. And we label this perceived attitude problem as stress because that seems to fit.

If you’re sitting there worrying that you’ve mistaken fear for stress, welcome to a very large and illustrious club: the majority of parents of GCSE-age children are fellow members. The problem is, there’s very little support available for parents to manage themselves and their children through the most challenging year of school life.

So, what can you do to help? Well, obviously hypnotherapy is an option and if you’d like to talk to us about how our treatments can help you and your child or children, we’d love to hear from you.

But in general day to day life, validation, recognition and reassurance goes a long way. Children need to understand they have a worth that transcends academic achievement. Repeat the mantra that their best is always good enough. Make them take a break from the books and enjoy more of the fleeting time they have as young people. Give them a hug and tell them you love them and are proud of them, whatever their results. Offer your help with revision, but allow them to refuse. Within reason, choose to interpret their infuriating outbursts as essential venting rather than rank insolence and ingratitude (even though it may actually be both of those things and more). Praise their achievements and meet failure with sanguinity. 

In short, be there for them now and make sure they know you’re there for them every day. It goes a lot further than you might think.


Anxiety Isn’t Love

Red Bondage

I have a question for you, but before I ask it, I want you to picture the scene.

Imagine that every evening at 7pm you leave your house and take a 30-minute walk into town to the same bar. You sit in the same chair at the same table and you order the same drink, because it’s your favourite and it’s the only place for miles where you can buy it.

But the problem is that every night, at 9pm, a well-dressed and apparently normal guy walks into the bar, comes over to your table and punches you in the face.

This happens every night, every week, every month. Without fail.

My question is, would you stop going to the bar? Or would you keep going, but ask your doctor to prescribe something to help you cope with the pain you know you’ll be dealing with every night?

You’d stop going to the bar, wouldn’t you? Forget the fact it’s the only place where you can get your favourite drink, it’s not worth the pain. So, it’s a stupid question, right?

Well, not really.

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Does The Financial Wellbeing Of Your Business Mirror The Mental Health Of Your Team?

London Cityscape At Sunset

On Monday I had the privilege of being asked to lead a session on mental health in the workplace for the TruMunity Unconference in London, a recruitment event for HR leaders and recruitment professionals with informality and learning at its heart.

When thinking about what to talk about, I kept coming back to the role business has to play in tackling the mental health crisis the UK faces.

A study into wellbeing in the workplace recently estimated that around 97 million work days are lost each year in the UK to mental health issues.

Imagine the impact of that figure for a moment. It equates to more than a quarter of a million years. And if you’re having trouble processing that, it’s around 50,000 years longer than we’ve been on the earth.

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Why We Must Educate The Government About Education

Girl having problem with learning

I’m rarely driven to the point of invective, but recently I’ve read about two pieces of bewildering Government policy the logic of which, no matter how hard I try, I’m unable to rationalise.

Worse, I’m genuinely worried that together they could, If I’ve interpreted them correctly, produce the most emotionally damaged generation of people we’ve ever seen.

First came the news that  100,000 teenagers will be provided with mental health training to help them cope with the pressure of exams.

Before we get to the second policy that’s troubling me, let’s just dwell on that, for a moment. Consider the process that has led the Government to that position. Consider the number of people who must have been involved in the process of constructing the financial and political argument so compelling that the Cabinet Office felt bound to adopt it. Consider what the implications of that are.

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Have You Got A Mental Health Issue….Or Is It Your Lifestyle?

Have You Got A Mental Health Issue….Or Is It Your Lifestyle?

It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? Perhaps one you’ve never asked yourself before. Maybe you’ve never felt you’ve needed to. After all, you might not be displaying any obvious sign that your emotional wellbeing is at risk and perhaps your lifestyle is a predictable drumbeat punctuated with an occasional burst of high octane.

In other words, you’re just … normal. Right? Okay. Maybe you are. Maybe you’re not. Only you know for sure. Or maybe, just maybe … you don’t.

Now I’ve put the question out there, indulge me and take a few minutes to really think about your answer.

And while you’re doing that, let me explain why for a great many people – maybe even for you – their lifestyle is anything but normal and why it’s creating an unnecessary risk.

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The Invisible Pain Of Growing Up

The Invisible Pain Of Growing Up

It’s the hardest job in the world. There’s no interview to see if you have the right skills for it, no fail-proof training to give them to you if you don’t. The original product is something you’ve never dealt with before and it arrives with dozens of accessories but no instruction manual.

In the early days, it emits all sorts of alarms, all of which relate to different operational issues but which, to your spectacularly untrained ear, sound exactly the same.

Through trial and error, you learn how to fix these problems. But no sooner do you resolve one than another, completely new problem arises for you to work out. And pretty soon you’re wondering if you’re worthy or capable of doing the job at all.

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Anxiety & Fear – What Is The Truth?

Anxiety & Fear - What Is The Truth?

As people it is quite easy for us to create a whole convincing reality in our heads. How do we know the difference between the actual truth and ‘a truth?’ When we experience anxiety, it is relatively simple to respond to that uncomfortable feeling from a negative perspective. By default we automatically go into fear, we convince ourselves that something awful is going to happen, since anxiety was a response to and created from unpleasant past experiences. We will naturally gravitate to our default setting, a defense mechanism that was put in place by our subconscious as a way to keep us safe, that is its job and it will carry out the task at hand regardless.

The subconscious knows nothing about linear time and is still responding to an old ‘threat’ with the same hyper alert response that it used many years ago. That old programme is running in the background, and is creating a reality from ‘a truth’ of how it used to be, as opposed to how we are living now, older and wiser, and hopefully no longer under threat, or in imminent danger. The subconscious is not at all concerned about how safe we are now, all it cares about is the truth and nothing but the truth, so help you! Anxiety can be very unpleasant and challenging, leading to a host of difficult symptoms, like OCD, drug and alcohol addiction. Hypnotherapy for Anxiety can help relieve these symptoms by negotiating with our subconscious Inner Protector that the external threat no longer exists, and thereby convincing it that we are now safe, not only that, but we are no longer in flight or fright response. It can let go and update that anxious reaction to life and its challenges, to more comfortable and harmonious responses that are relative to our present reality, enabling us to live by a new ‘truth’ that fills us with ease and well-being.

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Anxiety? Don’t Worry About It

Anxiety? Don't Worry About It

The point of this title is not to minimise or play down the impact anxiety has on the sufferer, far from it, rather to explain the ‘nature’ of anxiety and just why sufferers become so entrenched in the cycle of fearful thoughts and symptoms that is the quicksand of an anxiety disorder.

I specialise in anxiety and I understand only too well how debilitating anxiety can be, how it blights lives and can leave sufferers mentally exhausted, self-medicating with tranquillisers and alcohol and in some cases unable to leave the house for fear of an anxiety attack.

However, one of the worst things about suffering from anxiety is that whilst anxiety always begins for a reason: a prolonged period of stress, emotions you haven’t let yourself fully feel (anxiety is all too often a ‘lid’ over other unexpressed emotions such as grief or sadness), issues from childhood that haven’t been resolved (your subconscious mind begins ‘shouting’ at you through anxiety and depression – it’s a clever tool the subconscious uses to make someone sit up and pay attention), it all too often continues and the anxiety becomes a condition within itself: I call it ‘anxiety about the anxiety’.

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We Fear What Has Already Happened

We Fear What Has Already Happened

One of the first things I tell a client is this: the subconscious mind doesn’t understand time. Linear time simply does not exist in the subconscious. I feel it’s really important to understand this as it explains so clearly the irrational fears, phobias and anxieties that plague the individual whose lives in the present are actually in pretty good shape. They may be happily married but plauged with fears of their partner leaving them, despite their other halves consistent reassurances. They may be thriving at work but left sleepless at night with irrational fears of facing the chop. All too often people have good lives but for the deep undercurrent of ‘generalised anxiety’ that leaves them fully unable to enjoy their life and relax into themselves fully.

Often there is no reason in my clients present why their anxiety is nagging away at them with such incessant persistence, the reason is nearly always in their past: old heartbreaks, old losses, old traumas, old subconscious beliefs or even inherited beliefs and fears passed down from parents, schoolteachers or friends.

The truth is we fear what has already happened, and because our subconscious mind is our inner protector and wants to keep us safe it works very hard at keeping us vigilant against any future pain and leaves us on red alert, scanning the horizon for invisible threats!

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Additional Credits

Video by Weeks360.

Photography by Liz Bishop Photography.

Production by Mark Norman at Little Joe Media and Joanne Brooks.

Hair by Jonny Albutt.

Make up by Olly Fisk and Nabeel Hussain.