One of my earliest memories is waking to the sound of what my three-year-old mind imagined to be a large monster advancing on my home with the intent to devour me.
As my fear grew, his booming footsteps became more urgent, pounding faster and louder as the seconds (that seemed like hours) ticked by. What I didn’t realize until years later was the sound of my heartbeat amplified by my ear laying on my pillow was the real culprit, not the monster of my imagination. Nonetheless, I was crippled with fear. I was afraid to move, to open my eyes, or to cry out for my mother, hoping that my silence would cause the monster to overlook me and not make me his next meal. When my grandmother came to wake me for breakfast, the clomping suddenly stopped, and I bounded out of bed and ran to the dining table. Yummy food and the presence of a trusted adult quickly brought relief and my fear was forgotten. That is until the world was quiet, and my head lay upon my pillow in just the right position to awaken my imaginary beast once again.
The following summer, we moved from Florida to Michigan. I don’t recall my monster following me to Michigan, but he was replaced with a slew of other fears. The basement (dark and musty), kidnappers (overheard a news story), and, of course, the monster in the closet or under the bed.
All of this had the same effect on me; crippling fear that left me curled up in a ball, covers over my head with just my nose poking out for air, and many nights of poor sleep as my fear would keep me awake until exhaustion overpowered it and I drifted off to sleep.
Don’t get me wrong, I did tell my mom and she did all the things that one would expect a mother to do. She educated me on why the basement smelled that way, took me on a tour to show me there was nothing living down there with nefarious intent, she surveyed my closet and showed me there was nothing there, and she assured me that I was safe in our neighborhood and surrounded by adults who would love and protect me. But, of course, this was of little comfort in the wee hours as I lay awake with my nose protruding like a snorkel from beneath what I apparently thought was some magical armor fashioned into a blanket.
As I got older and realized there are no monsters in the basement, under the bed, or in the closet, my fears were simply replaced with more realistic scenarios.
Housefires, burglars, car accidents, murderous lunatics, and weird urban legends became my monsters. (Who remembers the one about the gas station attendant alerting a woman to an axe murderer hiding on the backseat floorboard of her car?)
As a teen, I carried some of my more practical fears such as house fires and car accidents but also added social pressures and many of the usual things that teens worry over. I was even afraid of spontaneous human combustion for a while after watching a show about it.
As an adult with children of my own, new concerns became just as scary as the basement or the hungry monster looking to make me its next meal.
Fear had different faces in different circumstances and at different times in my life but it was always present to some degree.
In late 2014, I began to work with a pharmacist friend of mine and a doctor from (at the time) the Cleveland Clinic on a project that they had started three years earlier to help children on the autism spectrum deal with anxiety, sleep problems, and sensory overload. My background in the natural products industry, the doctor’s desire to help her own son, and my friend, the pharmacist’s, research and development skills, tenacity, and tender heart were the perfect fit to build a product around their newly patented ingredient, Anandanol.
I looked at their three plus years of research and read story after story from people who were using their herbal/mineral/vitamin blend, Anandanol, and I was thrilled to be a part of it.
It was the afternoon that I left my job of over 12 years to begin this new endeavor that I had my “first” panic attack.
I thought I was dying. I almost pulled over to the side of the highway to either call my wife to say goodbye, or 911 to come and save me. Thankfully, I realized that I wasn't dying and that I was exhibiting the same symptoms that my wife exhibited when she had a panic attack. I chalked it up to the adrenaline dump after having a very difficult conversation that I had had earlier that afternoon.
I took a break from driving by pulling off at the next exit to compose myself and was able to continue after a few minutes. As I drove, I began to consider the memories of the times I was so crippled with fear and realized that the shared trait was the way it felt physically. Heart racing, dizzy, a feeling of impending doom; that was my experience no matter the object of the fear or the age I was when I experienced it.
Of all the times that I had these episodes throughout the years, I can’t really tell you if the thought/fear preceded the physical reaction or vice versa but the physical is certainly always there and now I’ve realized; it was the main thing, not the fear.
Here’s what I mean by that; when my wife has a panic attack, it’s “out of the blue” and doesn’t usually have a fear, event, or trigger. It’s a physical panic attack without warning. It’s her “main thing”. All my life I thought the monster, or the kidnapper, or the tornado, or the auto accident was my “main thing”, the fear, not the physical, but now, I realize that I was experiencing anxiety and panic attacks. The object of my panic was simply what I focused on to make sense of the physical experience I was having. Now that I understood this, I was able to create a method to minimize the severity and the duration of panic attacks when they do occur. (Linked below)
You might be asking yourself, “What does this have to do with me and my child?”
Although there is no guarantee the panic or anxiety will diminish, knowing that trusted adults are nearby and willing to help is very valuable and often calmed me when I did have the courage to speak out. If your child is expressing fears that you know are irrational or misdirected, especially if you are noticing a pattern, ask questions to see if you can identify the source of the anxiety. Ask what they’re afraid off. Ask what they do to cope, how it makes their body feel and/or how it affects their breathing. Numbness or tingling in hands and feet, rapid breathing, accelerated heartbeat, dizziness, and feelings of doom are just a few of the common symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks and I felt all of them at various times. Or, if you notice that they are excessively tired, irritable, or are hard to wake in the morning, ask questions like, “How are you sleeping?”, “Is anything keeping you awake at night?”, “Is there something that we can do to help?”.
To help determine if there are some stress points such as bullying, a problem at school, or with a family member or neighbor, ask specific questions about the people and places your child encounters. “Is anyone being mean to you? Have you been mistreated? Are you struggling in school?” are all great questions to help zero in on some potential causes.
If you determine that your child is experiencing anxiety or panic attacks, then what?
Sometimes these feelings can be a symptom of a more serious issue such as abuse or a physical condition. Please keep that in mind and be willing to dig deeper if some more simple solutions don’t seem to be working. But there are a few things that you can do to help.
- If they indicate that there is fear that fits some of the more common childhood issues, reassure them that you are here to protect them and that their closet and under the bed are free of monsters. Show them as much and let them know that you’re available for them. Be OK with them waking you up to seek reassurance and communicate that to them.
- If they are experiencing the physical feedback mentioned above, explain that they may be experiencing anxiety and/or panic and that it’s normal, won’t cause them harm, and can be diminished if not eradicated altogether. Let them know that there are steps they can take to process the panic that may help diminish the severity or shorten the duration.
- Take their fear seriously because it’s real to them but, at the same time, let them know that it is unwarranted and is a physical process that is working from within. There is no monster.
- Be available and let them know that you are concerned and willing to help. Don’t add to their anxiety by poking fun or diminishing their experience. Feeling heard and safe will encourage them to be more open and will make your efforts to help more effective.
- There are natural supplements that help with calm, focus, and sleep without harmful side effects. Neural Balance is one of them.
- If these simple steps don’t help, it may be a sign of a bigger issue and might require a consultation with a professional who is trained to work with children.
- We also have a peer-to-peer support group on Facebook that you might find helpful.
We hope you find this helpful. If so, please share!