Anxiety can feel like an internal restlessness, an irritability, a desire to avoid something and a need to distract yourself from what is in your senses, emotions, mind, and thoughts. It splits your focus and your energy.
This can be a conscious set of activities or an unconscious one. It can look to another as if you are distracted, bored, inattentive, irritable, disagreeable and sometimes hyperactive. Due to this, anxiety in children can be confused with ADD and when hyperactivity is present treated with a number od different medications. For individuals wanting to keep their children free of medications I encourage you to look at how to decrease your child’s anxiety or stress reactions through structure, compassion development of mindfulness activities and meditation.
Attention is a combination of focus, interest, and energy. There are neural pathways involved in attention that incorporate emotion (interest, focus, and energy) the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, and the hippocampus. The frontal and parietal lobes assist with memory, attention, and behavior. These pathways can be excited by overuse, overstimulation, and create problems with mediating fearful, anxiety provoking situations. Some of these fearful states can be as simple as test anxiety, anxiety in social situations, and intense worry in young children who are sensitive.
Gestalt looks at this anxious activity as a way to keep yourself out of a present moment state and uses various techniques to get you into the present. For the most part, much of Gestalt therapy is the development and use of mindfulness.
Anxiety defined in Gestalt therapy is having your attention focused in the past or the future, with rumination about what has happened in a circulatory way or what might happen, what if, in a circulatory way. These actions keep a person out of the present where he has actual power to make decisions and take actions. These actions are distracting and in general the person looks unfocused, bored, inattentive, restless, and defiant. Mindfulness and meditation are present moment activities that help to quell anxiety and refocus the person’s attention.
Actions and connections in the brain happen quickly and sometimes an individual may not be aware of feeling anxious – they may feel irritable, restless, or bored but not know the etiology of their feelings. When this happens with children, teachers and parents often respond by being more firm providing consequences for the inattention – if the lack of focus is related to anxiety then this normal response from parents or teachers can exacerbate the problem within the child and increase his anxiety resulting in more negative behavior on the part of the child.
Creating space for downtime, lengthening transition time, attending to the child’s physical stressors of sleep, nourishment (both physical and emotional) and exercise ( lack of or too much), and teaching mindfulness and meditation tools to your child are your best antidotes to anxiety and inattention.
This is true whether the underlying issue is social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder or hyperactivity. Structure, connection, mindfulness, and meditation all allow the child to move into the center of his world so that he can increase his internal sense of power and see from a neutral perspective. This moves your child into a present moment so that it is virtually impossible to feel anxiety since anxiety is connected to past- or future-time concerns. It increases the down cycle of your child’s brain so that he can incorporate new learning and integrate old information with new information – the required cycling of the brain is intense focus and down cycling for incorporation.
1. Set up a routine for sleep, rest, exercise, and nourishment that is reasonable for your child and predictable.
2. When transitioning from play to work wakefulness to sleep – (and vice versa), and intense activities make sure you create 20 to 30 minutes of transition time – longer when the next activity is anxiety provoking for your child.
3. Know your child. Educate yourself on the specific symptoms your child has developed to telegraph his anxiety. Educate him on these too.
4. Develop specific strategies for your child to use to manage his anxiety when he notices one of his triggers or symptoms. I.E.: focused breathing, visualization techniques, journaling to release fears and increase opportunities for reality testing (paradigm or perspective shifting), meditation, mindfulness, and changing his environment to shift his energy.
5. Engage other caregivers to assist your child in utilizing these strategies.
6. Maintain clear boundaries with fair and loving, compassionate consequences.
If you have a child who has been diagnosed with ADD and is being treated with medication but still has attentional issues it may be that the medication is assisting your child with his anxiety through the “frontal lobe putting ‘reins’ on the amygdala…” This is only covering the possible underlying etiology of the inattentive behavior and under stressful circumstances your child’s anxiety and negative behavior will recur. According to Srini Pillay a psychiatrist and author of Life Unlocked: 7 Revolutionary Lessons to Overcome Fear (2010). He suggests:
1. Ask yourself: If anxiety were the culprit, what would the reason be?
2. Have you tucked away any fears that you don’t know how to deal with?
3. Do you avoid situations to avoid anxiety?
4. Are you “tolerating” anything in your life, and if so, what?
5. What are your greatest unfulfilled desires and how could your dissatisfaction about this be impacting you?
If you write down brief answers to these questions, you will be well on your way to understanding the possible unconscious anxiety in your brain. If you work with a professional, ask them about his, and check to see if treating the anxiety restores your attention. Exploring this possibility in the longer term is usually what helps people find a way to deal with the anxiety. Remember, anxiety is really just “electrical energy” gone haywire in your brain. The best way to deal with random electrical energy is to make sure you are “grounded” and to make sure that there is an appropriate channel through which it can flow.
It may well be that your attention deficit disorder is actually an anxiety excess disorder. Consider this carefully before deciding on your strategy. Taking a little extra time to explore this may be worth the wait. Srini Pillay (2010)
Emotion, memory, attention and experience are all interconnected.
Mindfulness, meditation, and structuring your life to allow for physical and emotional nourishment, and the natural cycle of stimulus and downtime for integration will assist you and your child to deal with the complexities and stressors in life that can cause anxiety and a lack of focus.
These suggestions are helpful for adults and children struggling with inattention, distraction, lack of motivation, and moodiness that may be indicative of internal anxiety.
Practicing mindfulness, meditation, compassionate, neutral paradigm shifting to access an internal centeredness allows you to create balance within so that your response to your environment can be balanced.
See you tomorrow.
January 20, 2012 at 5:28 am
The idea that anxiety is connected with focus in the past or future seems extremely useful. I am actually dealing with something like this in my own life just at the moment and I think what you are saying is quite true.
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