Today I rang the mother of a young client (14 yrs) who recently attended clinic with severe anxiety, panic attacks and depression.
Apart from ‘checking in’, I wanted to share an important message with his mum based upon current world events.
After our session, he has been doing really well. His parents were so grateful for the change in their son, his reconnection with the world and his new resilience. One of the reasons for connecting was the recent shooting down of the aeroplane over the Ukraine.
The message I gave his mum on this follow-up call is a message that all parents should hear. In times of global crisis and suffering, turn the news and current affairs OFF in your house.
The news media take the images and sounds such as these and replay them over and over. They ask each other questions, and rather than deliver ‘facts’ discuss ‘theories’ and ‘suppositions’. During these conversations and reviews, the terrible images and sounds keep looping away in the background.
What is not appreciated is that a child’s unconscious mind registers each disaster as an event. Watching one news report, a small set of eyes can see the one plane crash 20 times, or to their unconscious mind, 20 planes crashing.
For children (and for many adults) watching excessive coverage of catastrophic events, they get to see a catastrophic event that is outside of their control. They get to see it magnified and repeated. When they are not supported to process these images and sounds in an appropriate way, they can often be a trigger for anxiety, panic and fear. When we see things happening over and over, we begin to generalise. We begin to believe that these ‘many’ events become a pattern, and we can generalise so that we soon believe that all planes will crash.
If you remember back to 2001, how many times were we shown the planes crashing into the twin towers on 9-11? If your unconscious brain processes them as individual events (each with emotional impact), how many planes crashed? Many people were left with an impression that all planes would be hijacked, that no plane is safe, that no building is safe. The way that this manifested in terms of creating fear, anxiety and trauma is still being experienced by many today.
The same response occurs with natural disasters that we are excessively exposed to – fires, floods and droughts, and even human misery stories such as murders, assults and wars. Essentially, everything we see on the news coverage every night, and current affairs shows.
What can we do to help?
- Limit the number of images and reports that your children are exposed to. Minimise the ability of their brains to generalise a single event into an ‘always’ event. Turn off the TV, specially during news coverage.
- Talk to your child about things they see. Explain to them what happened (clearly and factually). Take the time to be available to answer any questions. Use critical thinking, help your child see that it is a single incident.
- Ensure your child pays attention to their feelings around the issue. Talk about the feelings of uncertainty, lack of control, sadness and fear that may emerge. Allow them to be open and discuss their feelings rather than repress and bury them.
- Give them the opportunity to respond. Getting them to control their response (choose their response, take the action) is a critical lesson that greatly helps people avoid anxiety. This may be in writing a card, making a donation or some action which allows them to respond to the incident.
- When it is over, discuss the fact that good and bad things can happen. Find some examples of good things that also happened at the same time, either from the tragedy, or simply that occurred at the same time.
I encourage you to be aware of those around you when ‘crisis’ occurs. Reaching out and making sure they are OK, following these principles and not being a slave to the 24 hour news cycle can make a massive difference.
Be aware that anxiety and depression are both on the rise in children. Fear, panic disorders, lack of sleep, emotional outbursts and lack of coping may appear as signs in your children – or vulnerable friends – that they are suffering anxiety. We can help by paying attention, tuning in to those around us and being available to connect as they try to process events from the world around them.