I spent most of yesterday watching our local school board meeting. It was VERY heated, and in the end our board voted to reinstate a universal mask mandate for the next 30 days. I heard parent after parent talk about their concern that their child would develop anxiety or depression due to mask wearing, not mask wearing, quarantining, illness, etc.
I feel like it’s important to say something about this particular issue because anxiety and I are old friends.
Anxiety and depression are treatable conditions.
You can see a therapist who can give you concrete things you can do to lessen your experience of anxiety, help you recognize and face your anxiety triggers and – please hear this part – it gets better with treatment.
When you are deep in depression, it feels like it will last forever and that there is no way out. It feels like everything is hard (because everything IS hard, you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders for crying out loud!). But depending on your situation medication, therapy, diet, a combination of all of the above – it gets better.
Do I have to organize my life around my mental health?
Yes. I do.
Some days I feel like I’m doing the self-care Olympics because this pandemic year has been RIDICULOUSLY HARD, so taking care of my mental health is more difficult: I stay in touch with my therapist. I exercise. I spend time with people who matter to me. I meditate. I journal (every day I write down 5 things I’m grateful for, 3 things I enjoyed and 1 thing that made me say “WOW” in a good way). I take 20 minutes before bed to read something inspiring or interesting to me. I limit how much news I watch. I have timers on my social media accounts to make sure I don’t spend more than 2 hours a day doom scrolling. I make sure I get enough sleep.
I don’t get it all right every day, but I have resources that help me interrupt the anxious thought patterns and depressive cycles I used to feel trapped in.
When I was deep in depression, I didn’t realize that there was a way out and that things didn’t have to be this way.
One parent at the board meeting said yesterday that she didn’t think her 11 year old should even know what anxiety was. And, I honestly disagree with that. I was an anxious child, and I just thought there was something wrong with me, so I leaned into perfectionism in a way that wasn’t great for me.
If I had known that anxiety was a thing, that there were age appropriate tools I could have used, even as a child, to work through and with my worried feelings, that would have been such a gift to me. (PSA I’m not mad at anyone about this. I think that we’ve come a long way as a society at recognizing the mental health needs of children. I had enough skill to get me through my childhood, and I’m glad that as an adult, I was able to find the help I needed to move past it).
So, that is all to say that if your child is experiencing anxiety as a result of this pandemic (and just writing that sentence feels ridiculous: of course your child is experiencing anxiety as a result of this pandemic) it is a treatable condition. Please get them help for their anxiety. Your choices are not that they will either suffer or that you must protect them from situations that make provoke their anxiety. You can also help them learn to work with and through their feelings and develop the confidence that their life doesn’t have to be controlled by their anxiety – even though they will feel anxious from time to time.
I’m not a child’s mental health professional, and I’m not qualified to diagnose anxiety in your child, but the CDC has some valuable information and resources for parents:
CDC: Anxiety and Depression in Children
HuffPost: 10 Books to help your anxious child (I have read several books on this list, it is an EXCELLENT list)