By Christopher Roberson
Lynn Lyons, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist in Concord, N.H., recently spoke to parents at Lynnfield Middle School about why there needs to be a stronger emphasis on childhood anxiety.
“What we are doing is not working, if it were working I wouldn’t have done 92 presentations last year,” said Lyons during her Oct. 24 lecture: How To Help Your Anxious Child. “Anxiety is a feeder into depression, we need to get ahead of this thing.”
She also spoke about the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which allows humans to reflect on the past and think about the future.
Lyons said she had a child come into her office one day who was very distraught. After talking with him, she discovered that the boy had watched his father navigate the complex process of filing his taxes. She said this made the boy anxious, as he knew that one day, he would have to do the same thing.
“The research is pretty clear, anxiety runs in families,” said Lyons. “Family culture is very powerful, what we do as adults is very powerful.”
In addition to the prefrontal cortex, Lyons highlighted the function of the amygdala, which is located in the middle part of the brain.
“This is your fight or flight system,” she said, adding that the amygdala is not capable of differentiating between real fear and imagined fear.
In addition, Lyons said the adrenal glands are also activated when a person becomes anxious. She said this physical response causes all non-essential systems to automatically shut down. Among them is the digestive system, which is why a person tends to feel nauseous during an anxiety episode.
Lyons said that at school, some districts are actually doing a disservice by allowing students, some of whom are in eighth grade, to wait outside the building during a fire drill as the fire alarm triggers anxiety.
“Being startled by a fire drill is the point of a fire drill. School is uncertainty, it’s full of discomfort,” said Lyons. “When it comes to anxiety, accommodation means doing what the anxiety wants.”
She said it is also important for parents to know when it is appropriate to start giving their children independence.
“If your 12-year-old is invited to a sleepover you shouldn’t go,” she said. “You’re not supposed to do everything they’re doing, it’s weird. Our job is not to get in the way of them making mistakes.”
Lyons said that ultimately, the key to managing anxiety is learning not to be afraid of it.
“The cool thing about anxiety is that it’s so darn predictable, expect it to show up,” she said.
According to her website, http://www.lynnlyonsnh.com/, Lyons has been in private practice for 28 years specializing in anxiety disorders in adults and children.
Lyons is the author of Using Hypnosis with Children: Creating and Delivering Effective Interventions. She is also the co-author of Playing with Anxiety: Casey’s Guide for Teens and Kids and Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents: 7 Ways to Stop the Worry Cycle and Raise Courageous and Independent Children.