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Ask a Therapist: Fears and anxieties

Illustration of a woman running away from a dark hand trying to grab her

To celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month in May, we launched a short video series called “Ask a Therapist.” In each episode, senior writer Amye Archer sits down with two expert clinicians and asks them questions submitted by our audience.

In our latest installment, we explored everyday fears and anxieties with Kevin Chapman, PhD, who specializes in anxiety and phobias, and Ilyse Kennedy, LPC, LMFT, a trauma expert.

Minding our anxiety as parents

Some level of worry was commonplace during the COVID-19 pandemic, and now one parent is wondering how her residual anxiety might affect her children.

“A lot of times, our children can pick up on our energy,” says Kennedy. The key to protecting your children, she advises, is to process the emotions behind your intrusive thoughts with a therapist. Kennedy describes fear as the outside layers of an onion—only by peeling them back and getting at the root of what’s causing the fear, she says, can we begin to respond accordingly.

Chapman recommends that parents closely monitor our responses and what we say in front of our kids. “The number one thing you can do from a practical standpoint is make sure you’re not modeling anxious behaviors,” he says.

Children who have anxious parents are more likely to develop anxiety themselves, explains Chapman. “Think about Ralphie’s mom in ‘A Christmas Story,’” he says. “I put on seven coats, and all of a sudden Ralphie’s little brother thinks the world is dangerous.”

Helping soothe pandemic nerves

After being cautious during the pandemic, a young couple is having a tough time convincing their parents that it’s safe to fly cross-country for a visit. “Anxiety is not a problem unless it’s chronic,” says Chapman. “When I have an inflated risk evaluation of things that may or may not be dangerous, that’s when it’s a problem.”

Because there is still legitimate risk around COVID-19, especially for older and immunocompromised people, this situation is tricky. Chapman advises the couple not to confront their parents, but to normalize their concern and offer to meet them halfway, either geographically or emotionally.

Kennedy agrees: “When we validate people instead of minimizing their fears, it helps us to work together instead of working against each other.” And, she adds, it may be helpful for the couple to acknowledge their own underlying grief in response to not having seen their parents very often for a long time.

Watch the full episode for more

For more insights on anxiety from Chapman and Kennedy, watch the latest episode of “Ask a Therapist” below. If you’d like to join the conversation and submit a question for our guests, follow us on Instagram and send a message. We’d love to hear from you.

Finally, please remember: Our guests are amazing therapists, but they’re not your therapists. “Ask a Therapist” is for educational purposes only.

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