Session 1
Understanding Youth with Anxiety

What is alarm?

Our nervous system is constantly looking out for us by scanning our environment for danger so it can quickly move us out of harm’s way and keep us safe. The emotion of alarm is part of this system. It is like a lightning bolt of energy, activated without any conscious effort on our part. It is not something we think about—it happens to us.

For instance, if we are walking through the forest and we think we see a bear out of the corner of our eye, our nervous system will immediately activate, moving us in a variety of ways. It may cause us to fight for our life, or to run for our life, or to freeze up and become temporarily unable to move. In most cases, it gets us out of harm’s way and toward safety by moving us as quickly as possible into the arms of those who can protect us.

Alarm is an emotion shared by all mammals. Our animal kin have a built-in alarm system, just like we do, that is intended to keep us safe by keeping us close to those responsible for our care and protection. This is especially true for young children and youth who have not had their need to feel safe in relationships with their adults met. These unmet needs for safety fuel the emotion of alarm and the symptoms of anxiety. 

Imagine that within each of us are alarm bells that go off deep within our bodies, preparing us to move into action to survive. All of this happens under the surface, below our awareness. In many cases, youth don’t even know what the source of their alarm is until it has long passed and they can find themselves in the safe haven of warm relationship again. For many youth, this haven isn’t available, and the source of their anxiety therefore goes unaddressed. Their need for relationship continues to go unmet.

'It's your path but you don't have to walk it alone.'

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