Anxiety-Proofing Your Family’s Environment

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By Sushi Frausto, M.A.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT #101031)

Truth be told, we probably can’t get rid of anxiety and stress completely.  Nor would we want to.  These feelings help keep us safe, motivate us to respond, and inspire us to prepare for what is to come.  But sometimes these feelings get so overwhelming they stop us from reaching our potential.  This can be especially true for kids.  

The good news?  There are many things you can do to minimize the effects of stress and anxiety on your family. Below you’ll find some ideas on how you can adjust your environment and plan ahead in order to create a more stress-free family. 

Be aware of your environment: 

We are constantly bombarded with images and sounds of distress.  TV news, talk shows, movies, and “reality-based” shows such as Grey’s Anatomy or NCIS highlight stressors such as disasters and crime.  Children can be exposed to frightening sounds and images they do not understand.  Children do not always realize these things are make believe, unlikely to happen, or sensationalized for effect.  And TV news about real-life concerns such as coronavirus will certainly add to kids’ stress levels. 

Try filling your space with music, podcasts, comedies or shows appropriate for the entire family.  Watch adult programming when kids are asleep or in another room outside of ear reach.  Play music in the car, rather than news, and avoid morning talk radio or TV if you feel it is upsetting to your child.

Take time to prepare:

We all must learn to recognize what causes us stress and to prepare for it.  Parents often learn their children’s stress triggers and soothers long before their children even know what stress is. Help your children pay attention to what they’re feeling, identify what they might need, and plan ahead.  By planning ahead, you make every environment more manageable. 

If your children have tough mornings, help them prepare their things the night before.  Have clothes picked out, lunch premade, and jackets by the door.  If you’re planning a day trip with your family, remind the kids.  They will likely get hungry and possibly cranky; ask them what snacks the family should bring along.  If you’re at a party with a socially anxious child, plan ahead.  You and your spouse can take turns sitting in a quiet place with your child for a few minutes at a time during the party.  Bring a stuffed animal or a fidget along for those moments. 

There are so many ways to plan ahead, including bringing sensory objects, distractors, comfort items, snacks, or sound-blocking earmuffs.   You could also give your family an extra 15 minutes to get ready when needed. Make your children part of the plan ahead process, and you’re teaching them to plan ahead for themselves in the future. 

Learn more about how to support your family in the face of anxiety: