WALKING ALONGSIDE YOUTH - AN ONLINE ANXIETY COURSE
experiences that fuel anxiety
A story about reducing: Holding on and providing rest
Philip is a 13-year-old Indigenous youth who has been in foster care for over seven years. At age six, Philip lost the most important person in his life: his dad. He became aware at a very young age that bad things can and do happen. Unfortunately, Philip was raised away from his community and kin and does not have much support aside from his current caregivers. Philip has mild to moderate anxiety that affects his sleep, causes stomach aches and eating problems, and affects his attendance at school.
Philip’s caregivers have become frustrated with his inconsistent school attendance. Teachers have been raising concerns about Philip’s grades for some time now. He is also a very picky eater and will not eat the same the foods as the rest of the family. His caregivers have sent him to a counsellor to learn how to cope better with his anxiety by thinking more positively and learning techniques to calm himself down. The caregivers, on the advice of the counsellor, have started a reward system for the days when Philip is able to go to school and for times when he eats with the rest of the family. However, despite the hard work the caregivers and counsellor are putting into helping Philip function better, nothing seems to be working very well.
How might these caregivers identify and reduce the stressors that Philip is experiencing, particularly at night, at mealtime and at school? What are the relational needs Philip has that must be met to reduce the alarm fuelling this anxious and troubling behaviour?
In this case, the significant separation caused by the loss of Philip’s father, coupled with the stress he experiences at school, is likely causing increased alarm that is expressed at school, at mealtime and at night. The caregivers need to reduce Philip’s stressors where possible so his nervous system can find rest. The rewards and consequences will not necessarily help reduce the chronic anxiety around school and nighttime that shows up in problems with eating and school attendance.
Philip needs regular, predictable relationship rituals that help him stay connected with his late father and that give him scheduled breaks from school. Here are a few specific things the caregivers can do that might help reduce Philip’s anxiety:
These are potential approaches to reducing stress. A cookie-cutter approach won’t do. Trust yourself! Get to know the youth you are caring for; attempt to reduce stressors and provide connection and rest in ways that both make sense to you, and that fit with who the youth is and what their lived experiences are. Take the lead in providing, in a gentle and confident way, opportunities for connection and rest that will reduce alarm.