As an Adult, Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychologist, bestselling author of The Mind Strength Method: Four Steps to Curb Anxiety, Conquer Worry and Build Resilience and founder of The Anxiety Clinic, I am passionate about equipping parents, educators, kids and teens with a practical toolkit to manage anxiety and thrive. Research shows that anxiety within our younger generations is now at unprecedented levels. Approximately 25% of children and adolescents under the age of sixteen experience anxiety so extreme that it causes prolonged fear, suffering and avoidance in their lives - and this prevalence is on the rise. In fact, in a national survey of school principals, anxiety was identified as the most prevalent mental health challenge in our children, draining critical resources and a primary cause of student and teacher burnout, student self-harm and despair.
Despite these statistics, I want you to feel hopeful and empowered as parents and educators, because with the right practical tools you can help your kids and teens to move "from anxiety to action" and thrive. Through decades of research and practice helping people of all ages with anxiety, I have created a methodology called The Mind Strength Method which is transforming lives in schools and the community. The Mind Strength Method is four simple steps combining scientifically supported techniques from neuroscience, clinical psychology, positive psychology and building a high performance mindset to help you to conquer and prevent anxiety, stress, low mood and burnout, and to build confidence, resilience and wellbeing.
Step 1 - Fight or flight
Step 1 of The Mind Strength Method is to help your children or students build awareness of their fight or flight driven thoughts, feelings and actions. What are some of the worry thoughts that boss you or your student around are - what is the 'worry story'? What are some of the unhelpful fight or flight driven behaviours that you or your students engage in as a result? Try to recognise the many faces of anxiety. Remember that alongside fear and avoidance, anxiety can commonly present as anger, agitation, frustration or oppositional behaviour. Build some acceptance and validation around these emotions. This helps to quieten the part of the brain that drives the fight or flight reaction and helps your child move towards a greater sense of calm. Awareness is a critical first step in helping you and your students. Recognise that anxiety is a discomfort with uncertainty and can also cluster around behaviours that are trying to satisfy and need for certainty and control - things like overchecking, perfectionism, second guessing, procrastination, people pleasing, reassurance seeking, worry and rumination.
Step 2 - Build awareness
As an alternative pathway, Step 2 of the Mind Strength Method is to build awareness around family, school and personal values and values-driven actions. When I am working with schools and families there are many activities that we do to build awareness around fight or flight pathways and values aligned, emotionally intelligent, assertive and resilient pathways.
Step 3 - Use toolkit
Step 3 of The Mind Strength Method is a Mind Strength Toolkit to move out of fight, flight or a need for certainty and control and realign to resilience, mental health and wellbeing. An example is moving from worry which typically leads to more worry and anxiety to problem solving and action planning around what’s in your control. Encourage your students to notice worry as a bully that’s bossing them around and see if together you can boss worry back. Experiment with approaching rather than avoiding the situation that worry is telling you to avoid. Experiment with noticing worry as a story, labelling the story and putting it back on the shelf. Practise the power of the long, slow out breath and let your lungs fill up naturally - this reengages the calming nervous system. Practise mindfulness strategies which help to teach present moment awareness - like noticing 5 things you can see, hear, touch, taste or smell and acknowledging without judgment thoughts and feelings that might come and go along the way. There are so many practical tools in the Mind Strength Method - you can access a comprehensive overview of these in my book The Mind Strength Method: Four Steps to Curb Anxiety Conquer Worry and Build Resilience and the accompanying Mind Strength Values Cards by Dr Jodie which you can use to define individual values, school values, family values and values as a couple.
Step 4 - Wellbeing program
Step 4 of The Mind Strength Method is the Mind Strength Wellbeing Program. It is a suite of scientifically supported strategies to boost mood and build wellbeing over the long term so you and your children or students can feel resilient and empowered to achieve your personal, academic or professional goals. Encourage your child or students that small steps and a focus on effort not outcome is what is best. Consistency is better than quantity - so see if you can practise one small bit of exercise or movement daily, if you can record small acts of kindness or gratitude, if you can ensure good sleep habits and staying hydrated with water. Otherwise connecting with people who have similar values - connecting with others is a key strategy to boost wellbeing. Again, there are many other wellbeing tools in the Mind Strength Method so enjoy exploring this practical methodology.
Remember that anxiety comes with it some of the kindest people, it is an analytical mind and desire to make sure nothing bad happens - we could consider this a heightened sense of empathy, so if you or a student experiences anxiety, let go of any stigma and feel proud of who you are. I like to call anxiety a superpower but it can be a double edged sword so we learn tools to stand up to the challenges and embrace the strengths. And please do remember a key message to not suffer in silence - if you or a student are experiencing anxiety or any other mental health challenge, it is time to reach out for help. For example, at The Anxiety Clinic we are a team of highly skilled psychologists working with adults, children and adolescents in person or via digital. It is similarly a joy to be implementing Mind Strength Programs for Teachers and Students in schools across Australia.