My 12-year-old daughter is experiencing extreme anxiety. She describes her symptoms as waking up at night and being unable to get back to sleep, an inability to concentrate at school because she’s exhausted by lack of sleep, a decrease in appetite and hyperventilating if she’s put on the spot at school. She believes this anxiety is caused by academic pressure at school and “that her whole life is just school, school, school”.
My first response was to think that it may have something to do with her spending too much time on her phone, so I limited her access to screen time and made sure her phone wasn’t in her room at night. Despite her resistance to these measure, the result has been that she’s more present and in the world. She reads and has started drawing large charcoal portraits without being prompted by me. BUT it hasn’t helped diminish school anxiety.
Subsequent to the screen time limits, she came to me and said “I need help” so I got her help. I went to see the principal of her school and I found her a therapist. We also got some tools. We chose a pink Himalayan salt lamp to cast a spiritual rosy glow over her bedroom at night, some essential oils that supposedly alleviate anxiety for her nightly bath, a soft cushion to cuddle at night and a stash of rescue remedy pastels to keep in her school bag.
I also realised my mounting anxiety in relation to my daughter was not helping the situation. I know I need to be her safe container – to feel her dread but to retain a balance of mind and not go to pieces when she panics. With the help of my therapist, I’m getting better at managing this.
In a month or so we’re going to have a group session with my daughter and her therapist to decide on a way forward together. This may mean changing schools if staying in a mainstream environment traumatizes her further. Knowing of course that this will not be a magic panacea and that she’s going to have to learn ways to manage her anxiety.
I don’t believe that medication is an option. She’s too young and my research shows that anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication can cause irreversible chemical and structural changes to the body and brain in growing adolescents. I am alarmed at how many of her girlfriends are depressed and/or anxious and are on medication for it. Are they being medicated to survive the school system? Or is there something deeper and sadder playing out in their social media lives?
It’s going to be a long journey with my young daughter and I don’t see any quick fixes. The world is more complicated, and paradoxically with increased connectivity the risk of disconnection and alienation increases. Social media and school in its current form are here to stay – we are going to have to learn ways to manage them both creatively .