Every girls needs to learn to reframe, tame, and love their anxiety. Unfortunately, most girls tend to have a complicated relationship with anxiety. They judge it, get frustrated by it, and fear its presence. All of this makes their worry ten times worse, and they end up worrying about their worries. Let me offer you some suggestions about how your daughter can learn to love and appreciate her anxiety.
Understand where anxiety comes from
It’s invaluable for girls to understand what’s going on in their brains when they get anxious. The amygdala is the part of the brain that processes emotions and in particular, fear. It developed to keep us safe in prehistoric times when danger was ever-present. When the amygdala gets triggered, it’s our brain telling us that there may be some danger, a threat that we need to pay attention to. It is there to protect us, and so I encourage girls to thank their amygdala for trying to take care of them whenever anxiety strikes. “Thanks for warning me amygdala; now it’s my job to check out the situation to see if there really is a danger present.”
Good metaphors for anxiety
I like to equate this phenomenon to the smoke alarms in your home. When the alarm goes off, you don’t freak out and immediately called the fire department. Instead, you calmly check it out. Is the whole house on fire, or is it just a piece of burnt toast in the toaster? A true ‘house on fire’ situation requires a lot more energy and attention than a piece of burnt toast. Same goes for real dangers vs. just exaggerated anxious thoughts.
I offer girls other metaphors to reframe their worries. A triggered amygdala is like your dog barking when someone is at your front door. You don’t immediately call 911, you check it out. Your dog can’t tell the difference between a burglar and a person delivering packages. But you certainly can and should.
I encourage girls to consciously become like the program in their computer that spots spam. Girls can learn to sort through their anxious thoughts and decide which ones are real and which are junk mail to be deleted. They can also view anxiety as perpetual fire drills alerting them that it’s possible that they might do something awkward or embarrassing, say something stupid, or experience being judged harshly. Almost always, what we fear doesn’t actually occur. So, girls can remind themselves that just like the fire drills at school, the amygdala is just preparing them in case something actually DOES happen.
The amygdala is our brain’s 24/7 security system built to protect us and keep us safe from danger. It tends to error on the side of caution to ensure our safety. It also tends to exaggerate and distort facts in its never-ending quest to keep us alive. It’s your daughter’s job to question their worried thoughts to discover the truth.
Anxiety is not to be feared; it deserves to be appreciated for the job it’s been doing since dangerous, prehistoric times. It has been a reliable tool that helped us survive as a species. The amygdala’s job is to make everything seem dangerous and like an emergency in order to get our attention to check things out. Your daughter’s job is to recognize that her anxious thoughts aren’t always true or requiring heroic, immediate reaction. She can learn to challenge these automatic thoughts and give them the attention they actually deserve. Even though most of our anxious thoughts are false alarms, it’s still wise to check within and around us to ensure that we are safe.
Appreciate your amygdala and your anxiety for the warning system that it is. But make sure that once you are triggered, it’s up to you to make good sense of your situation and not overreact.
That’s how you reframe, tame, and love your anxiety.
For an in-depth understanding of anxiety and girl’s emotional life, look into Dr. Jordan’s online parenting course: Parenting girls: The challenges girls face today with their feelings and friends and what they need
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