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When Anxiety Keeps Knocking: False Alarms

When Anxiety Keeps Knocking: False Alarms

Published: 04/15/2014 by Kim Eckert

» Health & Wellness
» Student Psychology

We now understand that sometimes upsetting life events can result in problems in how our fight or flight response system is working.  

Most of us know the basics of how this automatic physiological system is meant to work. This is our brains emergency alarm system that prepares us for danger without us having to do a whole bunch of thinking - see the smoke down the hall, the bully by the monkey bars, or the bear down the path – in a split second we 1) stay and fight , 2) run and flee, or 3) freeze and play dead, all in an effort to survive. 

However, it is a known fact that sometimes our fight or flight system can become overwhelmed and the mind’s alarm system ends up being set at an extremely sensitive level, or seems  to respond when there is in fact no danger present – a false alarm. 

For many children, their fight or flight system keeps putting out adrenaline and other signals long after the danger has passed.  It is very important that parents seek support from a trained therapist who understands how past upsetting events can upset the fight or flight system and offer help in addressing the memory that is actually running the show in the present moment. 

At this point in time, the most effective intervention for clearing up “charged” memories is a treatment approach called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing). Through the Eight phases of EMDR, I help prepare kids for processing traumatic experiences by ensuring they have the necessary tools to soothe and calm themselves and that they know how to return to a “relaxed and ready” state anytime they need to so reviewing a traumatic memory does not overwhelm them. 

Within the safety of my office, we can open up whatever needs to be reviewed and reprocessed about the upsetting event until it becomes a memory with a coherent, truthful story, (characterized by perspective and objectivity: 1) the upsetting event is no longer happening; 2) it does not keep causing the child distress in the present – the memory loses its emotional “charge”).  I have had the honour of helping children sort through an array of upsetting life events, including:

o   A scary movie

o   A scary tv commercial

o   A wasp bite

o   A dog bite

o   A difficult medical procedure

o   Hearing that their parents were getting a divorce

o   Throwing up at school

o   Being bullied at school

o   An upsetting event with a teacher

o   Being adopted

o   The death of a pet

o   The death of a parent

o   The death of a grandparent

o   Death by suicide of a classmate

o   Death of a classmate

o   Being sexually abused

o   News reports of crime, murder, or terrorism

o   News reports of natural disasters

o   The June 2013 Alberta flood

 Fear is protective in nature, but if the threat is over and for some reason your child’s brain and body can not release the fear and reset to a state of feeling calm and safe, help is available.  Working together with a trained therapist, the grip of fear, panic, and worry can be released so your child can get back to the business of childhood - playing, learning, and exploring their world!