It is an established fact that millions of people today battle anxiety.
Unfortunately, the majority of those battling anxiety never end up seeking advice, treatment, or therapy for many different reasons. A large percent of the population is hesitant to act in order to deal with anxiety.
Did you know that anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health problems identified in children?
Many parents are unsure if their child’s behaviour is something for them to worry about, or whether it is typical behaviour for children of that age. Should we be concerned when a usually talkative 8 year old becomes withdrawn and pre-occupied, when an 11 year old feels sick every school morning or when an adolescent suddenly begins to refuse to leave their room.
Is this anxiety?
“Imagine you are hiking in the woods and you come across a bear. What is the first thing you would do? You may run away from the bear (flight response), or you may simply freeze (freeze response). Another reaction is to wave your arms and yell to appear bigger and scarier than a bear (fight response).
These are three natural ways humans react to danger: flight, freeze, or fight.
Our brain is like a fire alarm. It can set you into fight or flight response, it’s telling you that there is danger.
However, the fire alarm which goes off all the time, even if there is no real danger (like when you are baking cookies), can be annoying and can keep you away from having fun.
Anxiety is a bit like this broken fire alarm – it sets us up into fight and freeze response for no apparent reason. A broken fire alarm can cause lots of trouble and it can make our life more difficult.
Being nervous is natural, however if it happens too often or it makes our life difficult then we should seek advice.
Anxiety does not show up in the same way for every person.
“Joanna, what is wrong with you? During your lessons you played the piano perfectly. When you attended your exam, I don’t know what happened to you. So many mistakes, shaking hands… I don’t know what to do with you.” – I heard that every time from my piano teacher.
As a child I attended Music School with piano as my main instrument. On the end of each term (for 6 years) except music theory tests etc. I had to attend practical piano exams. I played very well for my teacher, however after attending my exams, that was what I heard from her. When I was little, no one really knew about anxiety. I grew up in Poland, where mental health awareness was not very advanced.
Well, my dear piano teacher, if you were aware of what social anxiety is, you would know exactly what was happening to me. You would know that in a front of you I could play well, as I knew you for years and I felt comfortable in your company. But when you asked me to attend my exam, to enter a room with 3 very serious looking people (judges), you didn’t know that my mind went blank. You weren’t aware that all my muscles were tense. You didn’t know that I could not focus on piano keyboard at all. My hands were shaking, that’s why I made mistakes. This massive black cloud was over my head, an invisible hand was squeezing my chest. My body was sweating… You knew that I could play the piano well. But you didn’t know that I could not perform in a front of people and I had a fear of being judged.
My parents, however very loving and caring, were not aware of social anxiety disorder. I was known in our family as a shy, a very sensitive child, a bit nervous, one who didn’t like to perform in a front of others, but no one really thought that needed a treatment. Actually, I remember my Mum took me about 3 times to the psychologist. The lady tried a ‘dropping anchor’ method with me. It didn’t work, as you cannot fix a complex anxiety mind with 2-3 therapy sessions or only one method. This is a complex process and it may take years.
I don’t have anxiety anymore. Now I am able to help others face their anxiety and fears. Does it make me a better therapist because I had anxiety myself? I don’t know. But I do know when I say “I understand how you feel” – I really mean it, as I was there myself.
For many years people believed that children did not experience depression or anxiety, and that those who appeared to be merely malingering or attention seeking. This is no longer the case. It is now widely accepted that as many as 8 - 11% of children and adolescents suffer from an anxiety that affects their ability to get on with their lives.
Why anxiety awareness is so important?
If anxiety is not diagnosed and treated, we are expected to ‘deal with it’ ourselves. One person will manage to get out of it but for some people it may affect all life and have bigger consequences. While short-term effects can pass with time, some might experience long-term impact on their health and well-being.
Chronic anxiety disorders are associated with increased risk of other serious mental health problems in later life. Therefore, early identification and treatment is a key.
How can music therapy help with anxiety? Please read my other blog post ‘Music Therapy and Anxiety in Children’.
Joanna - MHarmony Music Therapy Services Northampton