Session 5


experiences that fuel anxiety

Developing insight

Stressors come in many shapes and sizes and cause a variety of stress responses in different youth. The most alarm-inducing stressors are related to the level of separation a youth is experiencing in their relationships with those they are attached to. Young children and youth with trauma can’t tolerate much separation from the adults they are attached to. Separation evokes alarm, which is meant to move us rapidly to close the gap between ourselves and those we are most attached to. 

Ashley's Story

As you go thru the course, hear the firsthand perspective of Ashley, a former youth in care. 

Most youth in care have already experienced too much separation stress. Dr. Deborah MacNamara, in her book Rest, Play, Grow: Making Sense of Preschoolers (or Anyone Who Acts Like One), describes how separation causes alarm, which in turn leads to troubling anxiety symptoms of all sorts. Youth in care often experience a degree of separation that leads to serious trouble both physically and psychologically.

Reducing the separation underlying anxiety

If a youth is not able to maintain a connection with their loved ones when physical closeness is not an option, and there is no one else who can help them stay connected, the youth is at risk of experiencing more separation alarm than their nervous system can handle. Keeping youth connected with their people, kin and traditions is powerful preventive medicine that reduces the separation underlying their anxiety.

If a youth experiences a chronic lack of invitation and warmth from their primary caregivers, they face a different—and equally, if not more, harmful—form of separation. This is often the case with peer attachments. A youth may pursue their peers either physically or on social media, and the peer group, as a result of their own immaturity and inability to fulfill the true relational needs of the youth, can become a very unsafe and wounding environment.

Helping to reduce experiences of separation

Your job as a caregiver or care provider is to reduce the experiences of separation that are fuelling the anxiety of the youth in your care. However, you can only reduce separation if you have first honoured and nourished the youth, and if they have begun to experience a sense of home with you, as a haven in which they can find rest.

Make time and space for relationship and rest

Make time and space for relationship and rest. Being busy all the time can keep young people in work mode, and although it may keep them distracted, it does not help to calm their overwrought nervous systems. Cutting out unnecessary activities that may create anxiety-inducing stress, and replacing them with time to just be and to be in relationship, can make a huge difference. 

Here are some examples:


Nourishing relationship with a youth significantly reduces separation, in lasting ways across the lifespan. In turn, reducing separation eases anxiety by bringing the nervous system to a place of rest.

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

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