If you want to decrease anxiety during family time then you probably need to re-think what family time is. I have had many people ask me about family time and anxiety in kids lately, so it seems like a great blog post. We learn as kids that family is mealtime. So, most parents think they need to make their children eat dinner with them to have “quality” family time. I am here to tell you that is not always the case. Especially if you have a child that struggles with anxiety or worse Misophonia. Misophonia is a sensitivity to a person’s bodily noises, usually chewing or mouth noises and can be extremely damaging to family time. It is related to an anxiety brain pattern so it deserves consideration here.
What is Family Time?
Ok, back to family time. Family time does not have to be mealtime. I challenge parents everyday on this blog, and in real life, to think out of the box when raising their children. Many of our issues as adults stem from the low-grade traumas we sustained as children. Yes, dinner qualifies as a low key trauma for some people. If you grew up in a family of 8 like I did, you know what I mean. And you guessed it, we had to eat dinner together every night, no exceptions.
We can avoid these issues for our kids if we get creative in our thinking. So, let’s rethink family time. Our children and our families must be set up for success when spending time together. I will tell you what I do and use two examples from my family’s trip to the mountains this past weekend. Check out the photo above. That is my family doing a puzzle in our lodge (big family fun). Below I will tell you what happens when we don’t use these tips. Hint, I almost had a meltdown.
As you know, I have 6 kids, which is anxiety provoking in and of itself when we are all together. There are so many personalities at play that there is bound to be tension if we spend too much time together without control over our own worlds. So, the key to success is letting everyone have some control in our Forced Family Fun (The “Triple F’s” as I call them).
Tip 1 to Decrease Anxiety During Family Time – Onus of Control
Let your children have control of coming and going so they do not feel trapped in a situation they do not want to be in. They need to understand that they must participate, but they have freedom of choice. They can participate for some of it, but not be held hostage.
Escape From Grandfather Mountain (pun-intended).
Which leads me to the story of me almost losing my mind. I have been working really hard as of late. To make matters worse, I had been away from home three weeks in a row. Read, no downtime for myself. What this means is that my brain health program of daily runs, workouts, cooking while sipping, and reading my books had completely broken down. I was totally beat and slightly cranky. Definitely not my usual self at all. Now my family and I were on an adventure to the mountains for some R & R. I wish I could write a fabulous story of shear relaxation, but that is just not how it goes for me. A trip to the mountains is a ton of work for me, the mom. Shopping for 9 people, cooking for and feeding 9 people, traveling with and managing 9 people is exhausting.
Grandfather Mountain is supposed to be amazing to hike and cross the swinging bridge. To our dismay, as we traveled a short distance from our Mountain side cabin to Grandfather Mountain, the GPS read that it would take 1 hour and 48 minutes to arrive. “It must be messed up” we thought. Nope. It was the line to get in on a beautiful Fall day. A line that my husband, Dr. Cosmas Leigh, made us stay in much too long because he was excited.
We made it to the gate after the super long wait to find out it would take another 45 minutes to park and we would have to wait to hike or go on the bridge. I wanted to abandon ship long before that but also didn’t want to dash his hopes, so I sat there in the care while all my children aggravated the crap out of each other for 2 hours. Calgon take me away.
Finally, we left the line and pulled over to hike one random trail that we had seen on our way up. Success! I had to work hard to get myself out of my “angsty” mode as Seamus called me. But… I did it.
The point of the story. When I go to the mountains, I do not plan anything. Getting there is enough work, never mind getting somewhere else when we are there. Having one child, that is probably easy. With 6 it’s just hard. I violated my own Onus of Control and allowed myself to be stuck in a car with prepubescent children and teenagers for much too long after a 3 hour drive the day before. Never again.
Tip 2 – Do Things that Allow Everyone to Come and Go.
Check out the picture of the “Fam Squad” as they call themselves doing a puzzle. Most of them are there, hanging out. The coolest thing is that nobody was called to do a puzzle. Each just joined. They didn’t have to, they just wanted to. I bought the puzzle with just that intention. Put it out, start a few pieces, have everyone complete it at leisure.
We do this at home too. Board games, cards, Legos, you name it. Start it, work on it leisurely, and have everyone join on their own terms. Onus of Control and no food. Boom. We provide the opportunity for this type of engagement most nights and weekends. Opportunity meaning we don’t always get to it on busy school nights, but we get to it eventually.
Tip 3 – Change Expectations to Decrease Anxiety During Family Time
My expectation is that we will hang out for 10 or 15 minutes, not an hour. But if we hang out in enough 10 – minute increments, that equals alot of awesome family time. Sometimes we hang out longer. If we are watching a movie as a family, everyone must join but you do not have to stay. That means we make popcorn, we chat as we cue up the movie, and most kids stay. On any given movie night one or two kids will leave. Not always the same kids. Thus, we have a family time ritual of watching movies together. I have set reasonable expectations and we have many successes.
Now I will tell you, for years The Hubs did not like this idea. He was of the notion that family time meant we all do lots of things together for long periods of time. He has seen the merits of my ways now that we have mostly teenage children that, for the most part, like to hang out with us. I owe that to these tips. What is important for family time is the shared experience., the building of family identity. What you do really doesn’t matter. It is the fact that you do it together, as a family, and everyone is desired. Everyone’s presence matters. My family knows that.
How Does Anxiety Show Up in the Brain?
Let’s talk about anxiety a bit before we wrap up. Anxiety is proven to be associated with a brain that is using too much extra fast brain speed, High Beta. So, if you or your child struggle with anxiety your baseline for High Beta, anxious mode, is much higher than other people’s. This is what can set a person off so quickly in moments of overwhelm of too much forced interaction. Fun can go to chaos heartbeat.
Control and short time frames and not being confined to a chair at a table of triggers can help keep that fast brain pattern in check. These tips can keep the fast brain pattern from going even faster in these moments of stress. Fatigue can make these issues worse. That’s why my exhausted state did not help me regulate myself like I usually do. I knew it was coming as I could feel it in my brain. Realistically I should’ve stayed at the cabin and chilled. You know how that goes, I didn’t want to disappoint Cosmas at my own peril. Almost at his peril as my attitude continued to go South. Well, it ended up fine and I was able to exercise my self-regulation muscle for a good long workout. Ha.
Be Properly Resourced to Decrease Anxiety During Family Time
To decrease anxiety during family time each member should be properly resourced. This means you should not be tired, hungry or angry. When a person goes into family time in these conditions there tends to be diminishing returns. Rest. Eat first, and keep angsty situations at bay for the best family times imaginable.
Can’t Use These Tips to Decrease Anxiety During Family Time?
If you or your child still cannot participate in family time, even after loosening the reigns a bit, then your brain might be really jammed in anxious mode. A qEEG brain Map would show you if it was. If you want to learn more about the Anxiety Brain pattern and learn tips on how to control it, check out my short course on Conquering Anxiety with Brain Hacks. If your child struggles with Misophonia you need to know even more. All you need to know is in my Short Course on Sensory Processing Disorders. A qEEG Brain Map will show you how your brain is performing so you can see it for yourself. With your own eyes. People love the maps. What’s not to love,right?
A picture of the inner workings of your brain and possibly psyche. When you see that your brain performance pattern is at the root of your behaviors, it is enlightening. Then you know what must happen to make your brain perform better so that you can engage with other and stay in peace. Neurofeedback can help get you there and my short courses can help you stay there. This is what joy truly is. We all deserve joy. When I took the photo above I was joyful of the beautiful family that I have and grateful I get to spend my days with them. That is what a regulated brain does for you. It allows you to see that. So, if you need help getting your brain on track, call me. Seriously, call me. I will help you find a Neurofeedback practitioner near you or get you set up with home Neurofeedback to get your brain performing better so you can rock out your best life.
FOR NEUROFEEDBACK EXPERTS
A classic study of biofeedback, by Zaichkowsy and Kamen, showed that changes in the Alpha rhythm within a person’s brain not only decreased their muscle tension but gave them a heightened sense of locus of control. As, I always say, it is a two-way street. The study specifically showed that biofeedback was the most powerful for increasing locus of control.
Decreasing High Beta and increasing Alpha peak frequency to optimal speed allows the brain is better able to perform and feels better too. When you feel and perform better, life is better.
If your patient struggles with anxiety, and especially Misophonia, then they are most likely using too much High Beta speed. Possibly too much Delta extra slow speed is being used as well. When you train the brain to make more perfect processing speed in the middle, Alpha, the brain can relax and enjoy time with others.