Son Has Anxiety About World Ending
by Mary Follin and Kristi Crosson
THE PROBLEM: I’m afraid my 13-year old son has gotten into some stuff on the internet that’s causing him a lot of anxiety. He’s convinced the world is going to end soon, and he can’t stop talking about it. He’s lost interest in the activities he used to enjoy, like playing guitar and watching sports on TV with his dad, and he’s trying to convince everybody else to worry, too. (Again, by talking about it all the time.) He has also confided to me that he feels hopeless, and he doesn’t know what’s going to happen to him after the world ends. He is suffering so much, and I feel awful for him, but I don’t know how to help him.
MARY SAYS: Have you ever found your mind grinding away at something you said in a work meeting or obsessing on an imagined health scare? You’re bee-bopping along, happy, and all of a sudden, bam! In an instant, your thoughts turn into a runaway train without brakes.
At best, it’s annoying, but at worst, obsessive thinking can consume you in a most uncomfortable way, which is what is happening to your son.
Unfortunately, heightened anxiety is a common fallout from a global disaster, which we have been in since—since—wow, it feels like forever. There’s no shortage of bad news to fuel endless doom-scrolling, which an anxious mind loves to feed on.
Common sense might tell you to limit your son’s internet use. But aside from dealing with the pushback you’ll get, it’s not that simple. To revisit our earlier metaphor, the train has already left the station.
Your son is in desperate need of coping tools. For whatever reason, he has joined the thousands of children who have lost the resiliency that comes so naturally to young people. He may be a particularly sensitive boy, or he might be dealing with another issue that is too overwhelming to look at, which makes obsessing on the end of the world an easier option.
He also might be picking up on how you’re feeling.
If you are a parent, you’ve probably met your own demons this year, having to deal with the demands of raising a family and having a pandemic thrown in just in case you didn’t have enough going on. How are you managing? What races through your mind while you’re lying in bed, eyes wide open, at 3 in the morning? Are you experiencing heightened anxiety or depression?
Most significantly for your son, what are you saying about all of this?
If you’re not doing the ‘everything’s coming up roses’ thing, that’s good. Trying times are best dealt with honestly, rather than putting on a happy face even when you don’t feel like it. But if your son is only hearing about your worries and fears, perhaps it’s time to share the helpful strategies you use for dealing with them.
And if you aren’t using any, now’s a good time to start.
First of all, be aware of projecting gloom into the future, which might sound like this: “COVID 19 is just the beginning. They say what’s coming down the pike will be a lot worse.” Or: “Kids are so behind in school. How will they ever catch up?” Or: “Now that I’m working remote, I feel far away, like I’ll lose my job any day now.” Indeed, you may believe all these things, but unless they come to pass, they’re just scary stories, invented to feed that insatiable anxious mind.
Mind your words, please. Our children need us to. At the age of 13, children want to be autonomous, and they want someone to be in charge. These opposing ‘wants’ create a breeding ground for uncertainty and fear, but they also offer an opportunity for growth.
True, we may find ourselves facing another pandemic in years to come. But does that portend a dark fate, or have we learned something about how resilient we humans can be? Yes, many kids have had a less-than-desirable school experience over the past 12 months. But could this gap in our children’s education possibly be a chance for them to get off the hamster wheel of pushing through? I mean, what’s the hurry? And have you ever lost a job? How often does that turn into something better?
These are not small issues. But a shift in perspective can turn setbacks into opportunities, while at the same time relieving suffering for everybody in your household.
I would also encourage you to give your son a device to use when he feels himself beginning to ruminate about death and destruction. This simple, 3-step ‘box breath’ is extremely powerful at calming down the nervous system. It’s quick, easy, portable, and nobody ever needs to know you’re doing it.
Here’s how it works:
- Take a slow, deep breath to the count of four.
- Hold the breath in, also to the count of four. (Stay relaxed while suspending the breath—not that puffy-cheeked, nose-holding thing kids do when going underwater. Rather, simply don’t breathe out for a moment.)
- Slowly release the breath to the count of four.
Try it. Right now. You’ll be amazed how relaxed you feel. Your son may need to use this device 20 times an hour when he first begins, but over time, just thinking about the box breath will prompt his system to chill out.
And finally, keep in mind that although you might try to convince your son the world is NOT going to end, do we really know for sure what will happen next? Trying to control an outcome only offers temporary relief from anxiety. For a more sustained sense of wellbeing, one needs to come from a centered place, knowing deep down that no matter what, everything is as it should be.
People spend a lifetime trying to find that eternal nugget—through faith, centering practices, nature, and many other sources. Seekers always find. Share your own journey with your son, and perhaps you will discover in each other a companion to journey with—a hidden gem, buried deep inside these crazy times we’re living in.
Kristi is on vacation this week.
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising small children (Kristi). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in! If you have a question for Mary and Kristi, we’d love to hear from you! firstname.lastname@example.org
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Kristi Crosson is a freelance writer, homeschooling mom of three children, and author of Healthy Mom Revolution, a blog that offers insights on healthy parenting.