By Sissy Goff, Crosswalk.com
In the 27 years I’ve been counseling girls and their families, I have never seen something impact the lives of girls the way anxiety has in the past five years. It has now reached epidemic proportions, with one in four children suffering from anxiety somewhere during their growing up years.
The research varies, but the average age of onset is somewhere between the ages of six and eight. And that is certainly what I’m seeing in my counseling office. I’m also seeing an uptick in anxiety around the age of 11, when puberty starts to wreak havoc on our already anxious-prone girls.
Here’s the problem: anxiety is really hard to detect. In fact, most kids who start to show signs of anxiety aren’t brought in from treatment until two years after those signs start to manifest.
And, while girls are twice as likely to develop an anxiety disorder as boys, they’re brought in for therapy less often. So, what’s the deal with girls specifically?
The deal is that anxious girls often fit a certain profile. I tell girls in my office that it’s usually girls who try hard, care deeply, want to please their parents and teachers and the adults who love them who worry the most.
In fact, my standard line with girls of all ages is “you know, the girls who I see who worry are some of the coolest girls I know. They’re really smart, they try hard, and they care a lot about the people in their lives.”
And those girls’ faces light up when someone knows a little more of what’s going on underneath the surface. So, let’s dig a little deeper to figure out what is really going on with the anxious girls we love, and how we can maybe understand and help before the problem gets worse.
In fact, anxiety does just that—if left untreated, it only gets worse. So, here are a few of the things I hear parents describe the most in their anxious daughters.
When parents bring their girls in for counseling, especially their younger girls, there’s on emotion they describe the most: anger.
Anger, as you’ve likely read, is a secondary emotion. In other words, another emotion is fueling that anger.
For children (and even teenagers at times—maybe we should add adults) who don’t yet know how to put appropriate words to their fears, those fears manifest as anger. And that anger comes out in a big way.
These girls live at 10 on a 1 to 10 scale. They struggle with self-regulation, as a result of the anxiety that literally takes over their brains and their bodies.
2. Overestimating the Problem
Girls who are anxious see small problems as big and big problems as insurmountable. They just can’t do it. It’s too hard. Or scary.
In fact, even the same problem she faced yesterday will be too big again today. Anxiety has no memory. She will cry before bed about riding the bus the next morning over and over and over again.
3. Underestimating Herself
Not only is the problem too big, but she’s too small. She’s not smart enough. Or brave enough.
In fact, it’s why I based the title of my book for elementary aged girls after the Pooh quote—Braver, Stronger, Smarter. And I remind girls that the book isn’t to make them something they’re not, but to help them discover how brave and strong and smart God has already made her to be.
She needs regular reminders that “she’s got this”—whatever the “this” involves.
4. Looping Thoughts
Parents will regularly tell me in my offices that they feel crazy. “I just can’t talk her out of it,” or “There is no way to make her feel better once she starts to worry.” In fact, those parents are exactly right. Her amygdala, the fight or flight region of her brain, has hijacked the thinking partwhen she starts to worry. And so she truly isn’t capable of reasonable, rational thought.
Therefore, her thoughts will loop over and over around the same idea. I tell the girls in my office it’s a little like the one loop roller coaster at the fair. Whatever the worried thought is just goes around and around and around in her little brain. She needs your help resetting her brain and stopping those anxious, looping thoughts. But first, she needs you to recognize worry or anxiety for what it is.
If your daughter is showing struggles with self-regulation or looping thoughts, if she overestimates the problem and underestimates herself, she may struggle with worry or anxiety. But she's blessed to have you as support.
Sissy Goff, M.Ed., LPC-MHSP is the Director of Child and Adolescent Counseling at Daystar Counseling Ministries in Nashville, TN, with the help of her counseling assistant, Lucy the Havanese puppy. She is a sought-after speaker and the author of eleven books, including her two brand new companion books, Raising Worry-Free Girls and Braver, Stronger, Smarter. You can find her at raisingboysandgirls.com.
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