Empowering Youth to Conquer Anxiety with Dr. David H. Rosmarin

Empowering Youth to Conquer Anxiety with Dr. David H. Rosmarin

by Chris Tompkins | July 27, 2023

Dr. David H. Rosmarin is an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, a program director at McLean Hospital, and the founder of the Center for Anxiety. He has also written numerous articles on the subject of anxiety for notable publications like Scientific American and The New York Times. His upcoming book, Thriving With Anxiety: 9 Tools to Make Your Anxiety Work for You, set to hit shelves this fall.

Changing how we think about anxiety

According to Dr. Rosmarin, the way we think about anxiety in Western culture isn’t doing us any favours.

“We have made anxiety into a disease,” he explains on the Shaping Our World podcast. “The minute that we start to feel anxious or tense, we interpret that as a sign that something’s wrong and we try to get rid of it.”

He goes on to say that when we’re anxious about feeling anxious, our adrenaline spikes and we interpret it as a problem, which cues another adrenal flush, making the situation much worse and harder to manage than it has to be.

“We have to interrupt that cycle,” he says.

When it comes to the unprecedented levels of anxiety among youth, Dr. Rosmarin thinks it’s in part due to this overreaction to the stress response as he described. And he thinks that here in North America, it’s exacerbated by the fact that we live in the age of comfort.

“We are debilitated by anxiety because we expect everything to go so well all the time so when we hit a hitch like the pandemic, it affects us more profoundly,” he says.

Supporting his point is some interesting research that shows middle-income countries to have half the anxiety level as that of higher income countries. Accordingly, in low-income countries the anxiety level is halved again. Dr. Rosmarin boils it down to the fact that in low-income and middle-income countries, people do not expect that they are going to be stress-free.

“They don’t expect that they’re not going to have major struggles in their life,” he says. “But here in North America, our expectations are so high.”

The problem with “snow plow parenting”

When it comes to young people, in particular, parents can be part of the problem because we go to great lengths to clear their paths of any adversity. Dr. Rosmarin attests to the fact that he has seen his own children struggle with stress and anxiety at times — about academics, social pressures, etc.

“That’s just the way it is,” he says. “It’s not all fun and games. They’re not always happy … I think it’s critical that parents stop ‘snow plowing’ in front. Sometimes kids are going to struggle.”

He cautions that it’s obviously important to be aware of when they’re really buckling, but goes on to say that just because their times of struggle pull on your heart strings, that doesn’t necessarily mean that what they’re going through can’t be productive.

Anxiety as an agent for success

So how can anxiety be productive? Dr. Rosmarin says that to overcome our negative relationship with anxiety we have to understand that “not only is it not damaging … it’s actually potentially a catalyst for the development of resilience, the development of grit, the development of human connection, and even spiritual growth.”

So, even though it’s hard, as a parent, to watch your child suffer, you’re actually doing them a favour by accepting them as they are at that moment.

“It’s actually very kind to enable them to dig deep and to encourage them,” Dr. Rosmarin explains. “Giving kids permission to feel anxious, to look anxious, to struggle — it’s such a gift. And it’s such an important life lesson that we all need reinforcement of these days.”

To hear more about what Dr. Rosmarin has to say about helping your kids harness the positive impact that anxiety can have, listen to the complete episode at the top of this post.

Visit our website to discover a variety of other guests that we’ve had on the show. Shaping Our World episodes are also available wherever you get podcasts.

Transcript

[00:00:01.380] – Speaker 1
Well.

[00:00:12.440] – Speaker 2
Hey, everyone. I’m Chris Tompkins, and welcome to the Shaping Our World podcast. My goal is to invite you into a conversation that will leave you more confident in understanding and inspiring the young people in your life. Each episode, we talk with leading experts and offer relevant resources to dive deeper into the world of our youth today. Today, we’ve invited Dr. David Rosmarin. David is the author of Thriving With Anxiety: 9 Tools to Make Your Anxiety Work for You. It’s coming out later this year in October and it’s published by HarperCollins. And you’ll hear more about that as we talk through the episode. David is an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School, a Program Director at McLean Hospital, and the founder of the Center for Anxiety, which services over a 1,000 patients per year in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. Dr. Rosmarin has written for Scientific American, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. You can find more information about him on his website at www.dhrosmarin.com. It’s great to have him with us on the show, and I think you’re going to be really intrigued and listening to this.

[00:01:30.250] – Speaker 2
One of the things that’s a bit unique about this interview is in this podcast, we don’t often enter into conversations about religion and faith. But as you’ll find from Dr. Rosmarin and his work and his research, there is a connection between spirituality and mental health. And we dive into that and what that means for young people and just some really interesting insights about how anxiety can actually be used for good in our lives. It’s an amazing conversation. Can’t wait for you to hear it. So without further ado, let’s roll the interview. Welcome to the show. Thanks for having me. Yeah, it’s great to have you with us. Looking forward to the conversation today. And as our listeners often know, it’s called shaping our World. So we want to get a little bit more insight into what shaped your world. So when you were growing up as a child or youth, what were the biggest influence? What was significant in shaping your world?

[00:02:26.850] – Speaker 1
It was a very different world when I was growing up. And think a lot of people can say that, irrespective of their age, because things have changed so rapidly, even the last five or 10 years. Although, of course, I was a child many years before that.

[00:02:40.220] – Speaker 2
Yeah. And so what about today? What are some of the things that are shaping your world? What’s significant for you?

[00:02:48.420] – Speaker 1
I’m involved in mental health, and anybody, any of us who are on the front lines, it’s a stressful time. And I think we’re, on the one hand, trained and well equipped to be able to handle these situations. On the other hand, like I said, things have changed so much, even in the last five or 10 years, especially for youth who are experiencing unprecedented levels of anxiety and depression, and the severity is higher. So that’s probably top of my list. Shapping my world is what shaping everyone else’s world is listening to the podcast.

[00:03:25.480] – Speaker 2
Right now. I know we’ll dive into this, I’m sure. But managing anxiety is doing things that bring a lot of life and joy. What do you like to do in your free time? What do you do to unwind?

[00:03:38.900] – Speaker 1
How do I stay sane in this crazy world?

[00:03:40.630] – Speaker 2
Yeah, that’s another way to.

[00:03:42.240] – Speaker 1
Ask it. Okay. I live in Boston and I’m a runner, and running is super awesome. Getting out there several times a week makes a massive difference. I think I’d probably be dead if I wasn’t a runner. I definitely like the Boston Red Sox and live pretty close to Finway Park and spend a bunch of time there to unwind and decompress from the day. But those are hobbies. The most important thing to me is going to be my family and spending time with them. I’m very blessed. Then my spirituality and my faith, those are very important resources as well. Between those and some good friends, people like you in the world doing good, that’s what keeps me going.

[00:04:30.310] – Speaker 2
My friend. That’s great. I love to hear that. Just before we move too far, running, like marathon level, you’re in Boston. So I’m assuming, like Boston Marathon, have you gotten your name in for that?

[00:04:43.920] – Speaker 1
So I have run my share of marathons. Boston is still on my list. I’m not quite speeding it up for that, but one day. And yeah, long distance running is great for me.

[00:04:57.850] – Speaker 2
You are a special type of people in my mind. I run a little bit. I got into it a little bit more, but after 5 K, I’m just not sure I want to keep going much. Appreciate those people who can run a whole lot longer than that. That’s great. Help us take to know a little bit about your work specifically that you’re doing right now.

[00:05:18.780] – Speaker 1
Sure. There’s a couple of fronts, but the most exciting is that I have a book coming up this year called Thriving with Anxiety, nine tools to make your anxiety work for you. T hat is with Harper Collins. T hat’s probably the biggest project I’m working on right now.

[00:05:35.730] – Speaker 2
We’re going to dive into a few things from that as we go through, I’m sure. We’ll give your website near the end of the show so people can get a glimpse of what you’re up to and what you’re doing and get more information on that book. So a really intriguing topic because we often think of anxiety as a bad thing or a negative and getting rid of it. So I’m also intrigued by the title. So I’m sure we’re going to get and some more of that. But I wanted to jump right in. As you said earlier, those of us who have young people in our life have been paying a lot of attention to where anxiety is, how it affects young people. We know here in Canada that anxiety amongst kids and teens was on the rise even before the pandemic. I think some of the data was saying that diagnosed anxiety disorders among kids from 12 to 24 had doubled from 2011 to 2018. And now, after the pandemic, it’s even more pervasive. We feel it, we know it. It isn’t just the research that tells us that. Can you talk about why you think anxiety is so prevalent among young people that are in our worlds right now in the first place?

[00:06:44.200] – Speaker 2
And why are we dealing with it now on an exponential rise?

[00:06:48.080] – Speaker 1
It’s a great question. It’s the question to ask. And I’ll tell you my perspective on it. We have made anxiety into something that we cannot live with.

[00:06:59.870] – Speaker 2
T.

[00:07:00.570] – Speaker 1
He reality is people can and do live and even thrive when they feel anxious, when they feel tensed, when they’re under immense stress. That has been the case for all of human history. But today, because of a variety of societal factors, cultural factors in the Western hemisphere, especially in the United States, and Canada is not too far behind, we have made the anxiety into a disease. The minute that we start to feel anxious or tensed, we interpret that as a sign that something’s wrong and we try to get rid of it.

[00:07:32.960] – Speaker 2
Guess what.

[00:07:33.530] – Speaker 1
Happens to anxiety when you’re anxious about feeling anxious? It’s going to spike right away. And that happens all the time where the initial experience of an adrenal flush, where we’re getting adrenaline seeping into our bloodstream and getting agitated and getting activated is interpreted by us cognitively as being a problem, that only cascades the adrenaline and makes the it much worse and much harder to manage. And we have to interrupt that cycle. And that’s where we’re at.

[00:08:09.070] – Speaker 2
Yeah. We get anxious about being anxious, right? Correct. And then the stress just creates this vicious feedback loop and feels never ending. From your perspective and some of the work you’ve done, what are the things that young people are dealing with? W hat’s the stressors or things around them that is making anxiety feel a little more real and palpable?

[00:08:36.260] – Speaker 1
Well, that’s the thing. That’s what’s actually interesting is that I think our stressors.

[00:08:40.430] – Speaker 2
And I’m.

[00:08:40.910] – Speaker 1
Using your word literally, the actual stress that we’re facing is actually less than it’s ever been in history. We have more access to medical care than ever. We have better technology. From financial standpoint, things are better off than they have been for all of human history. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, and here we’re at post technological revolution, if you just think about it, how many people do you know who’ve never been on a plane, ever? I bet you can maybe count them on one hand. For all of human history, how many people could say that? B y contrast, we are debilitated by anxiety because we expect everything to go so well all the time. T hen when we hit a hitch, or pandemic, it unmoves us so badly. W hat we’re really seeing is in many ways an overreaction to the stress response, which is a part of being human.

[00:09:43.110] – Speaker 2
That’s interesting. I listened to a podcast where a cultural analyst was just talking about living in the age of comfort, like what you were talking about. We’re able and used to having access to so many things on demand, comfort levels have been the highest they’ve ever been, including some of the things that you talked about. But when that’s high, our expectations are so high. So then when anything thorts or works against that, it can be it can send us off a little bit.

[00:10:19.080] – Speaker 1
That’s 100 % right. And I’ll give you some examples of this in a big way. Are you aware that in middle income countries, there’s half the level of anxiety that people have than in higher income countries? Interesting. And in low income countries, it’s half the level of anxiety that people have in middle income countries. And the answer to anxiety doesn’t mean you should give up your money, don’t worry. But it is the case that in low income and middle income countries, people do not expect that they are going to be stress free. They don’t expect that they’re not going to have major struggles in their life. But in high income countries, we expect too much. In fact, here’s another piece which I just crossed my desk yesterday. The Journal of Effective Disorders, a very reputable psychiatry journal, has something coming out in October 2023. This is the preprint. It looked at changes in anxiety and depression in patients with different income levels throughout the COVID pandemic. Oh, wow. The authors hypothesized, and I would have joined them in this hypothesis at some point, that lower socioeconomic status would have been associated with higher mental health burden during the pandemic because people had fewer resources.

[00:11:26.890] – Speaker 1
What they found, and I quote from the results, e found a statistically significant wors of depression and anxiety metrics in respondents with higher income levels from 2019 to 2021. And we did not observe a significant change in anxiety and depression for low income respondents over.

[00:11:45.480] – Speaker 2
The same period. Interesting.

[00:11:47.340] – Speaker 1
That was among 79,000 respondents in the United States, which is even more fascinating.

[00:11:53.560] – Speaker 2
Wow. Yeah, it is interesting, right? It’s the limitations and the changes is maybe have been felt at a higher socioeconomic level. And the expectancy of dealing with hard things, like you were mentioning before, is definitely woven in there. So that’s really interesting.

[00:12:15.090] – Speaker 1
It’s all about the expectancy.

[00:12:17.260] – Speaker 2
It’s all about that. I was just talking with someone we’re working on a research project with on young people work and leadership. And we were just talking about this as well. And for young people, our parenting styles, too, and I think this is generational and cultural, have elevated that for young people as well, that we want them to have access to everything. And we want to snow plow. We call about snow plow parenting. We want to go before them and make sure the roads clear and remove any difficulties or barriers that come so that our kids, we think, can thrive. And I think there is a connection, too, with young people that as you were talking about and as we’ve just been talking about in this conversation, just these expectations that everything will run smoothly and be okay for me. And we’ve parented ourselves, I think, a little bit into that. I don’t know if you would agree or.

[00:13:13.590] – Speaker 1
I would. I just got to pause for a second. And snowplow parenting, wow, you’re really taking me back as having Canadian roots. I grew up in Toronto as we were chatting about before the pandemic.

[00:13:23.920] – Speaker 2
You can get the imagery, right? It moved from helicopter hovering over to make sure it’s okay until now we’re just going to snowplow the road so that it’s pretty safe to drive down.

[00:13:34.020] – Speaker 1
It’s a better visual for me coming from my Canadian background. So thanks for that. You put a smile on.

[00:13:40.040] – Speaker 2
My face. No worries. Happy to do that. Okay, so if this is true, which we all have experienced it and know it to be there. What do we do about that loop where we become anxious about being anxious? How do we… And I’m sure you’ve got some of these things from your book. What does it look like to live into that anxiety and not see it as often this major threat or something that actually would cause more anxiety?

[00:14:10.120] – Speaker 1
It’s a great question. First, I think we have to take it a little bit further before we can get practical. T he next step, I would say, is not only is anxiety to be expected if you’re a human being, because I myself get anxious plenty, which is funny because on the one hand, because this is what I do for a living. W e’ve seen over 10,000 patients at center for anxiety and my position in academic medicine has me interacting with even more people. But on the other hand, it’s just a part of being human. T hat’s the first point that we made before. The second point, though, is even more. Anxiety can actually help us to thrive.

[00:14:49.840] – Speaker 2
If.

[00:14:50.690] – Speaker 1
We take the opportunity that presents itself. I’ll give you an example of this. Here’s another paper. This is one that I myself and my colleagues are working on. We compared patients who had anxiety before the pandemic and immediately prior to the pandemic.

[00:15:06.270] – Speaker 2
With.

[00:15:06.600] – Speaker 1
People who developed it afterwards. These are people coming in for treatment. Those people who were anxious before the pandemic and came in for treatment, did not experience a spike in anxiety during the acute phase of the pandemic from March till June 2020. That’s an incredible finding because what it suggests is that if people take the opportunity that anxiety provides to get the skills and the tools that they need, they will become more resilient to face even extreme national or international level stressors. Wow. And this is what happens to countless patients that I’ve seen, where by going through aspects of therapy like exposure therapy, for example, or even interpersonal therapy where they’re strengthening their relationships. Or let’s say people have a spiritual quest that they are starting to go on because they’ve experienced anxiety or depression for that matter. Those changes that they implement in their life can serve as a catalyst for growth that would make them better off than had they never been anxious in the first place.

[00:16:14.080] – Speaker 2
Interesting. Because we feel like we want to avoid it. It’s this negative thing that’s doing damage on us. But as you’re sharing this, there are things that we can glean and take from it.

[00:16:28.800] – Speaker 1
Not only is it not damaging, I will tell you that it’s actually potentially a catalyst for the development of resilience, the development of grit, the development of human connection, and I would even say spiritual growth. We were talking about marathoning before, I don’t know a single marathoner who loves the entire process. Somewhere between 20 and 26 miles, 20 to 24 miles, you’re going to fall apart. You’re out of glycogen in your leg muscles. You’re falling apart. People are bleeding. You got to go to the bathroom. Your nutrition is off. It is not fun. But somehow just getting through it is so powerful. People finish their first marathon, often they’re in tears at the finish line. They’re like, I can’t believe it. I can’t believe I did it. It’s a life changing, life altering experience that I can face this distress and come out on top and feel strong onger as a result of it. You can do anything. That boost of confidence, that boost of resilience, that boost of connection with others and the camaraderie that it creates is its life altering. That’s what anxiety can provide. You don’t have to run a marathon. You can just be anxious and get the same benefits as long as you take the time and effort to get the skills you need.

[00:17:53.120] – Speaker 2
I love that. I think it’s really helpful way to approach the topic and think about it. If we put on our parenting hat, it’s hard to tell a kid who’s really anxious. At least for me, I know I’ve been with my own daughter, it’s like when you want to help them through it, it’s like, Thanks a lot, dad. Sure, this is going to shape me or help me down the road. But right now, I’m overwhelmed and I’m anxious and I’m stressed. What are some tools or tips or how do we not just help ourselves, or maybe you can shape it with how we help ourselves, but how do we help young kids embrace that fact that what they’re wrestling through or going through with anxiety may be a significant part of their own growth and development?

[00:18:38.360] – Speaker 1
I think it’s a great question, and let’s try to address it. First, I want to say I’m a parent myself. Actually, I have six kids at home, ranging in age from at this point eight till 19. Okay, yeah. So I’ve definitely…

[00:18:51.680] – Speaker 2
You’re right in the thick of it as well.

[00:18:53.350] – Speaker 1
Been through the trenches, my wife and myself. We’ve been there. And some of our children have struggled over time with stress and anxiety and social pressures and academic stuff and extra curricular issues and things come up. It’s just the way it is. It’s not all fun and games. They’re not always happy. They’re not always looking good, feeling good, doing great. This is part of life, though. I think it’s critical that parents today use the word snow plowing. Stop snow plowing in front. Sometimes kids are going to struggle. It’s important to be watchful and to be aware and to see when they’re really buckling. But if it’s pulling on your heart strings that they’re struggling, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going through, that what they’re going through can’t be productive.

[00:19:52.670] – Speaker 1
It’s hard. It’s one of the hardest things as a parent to watch your child struggle or suffer. But it’s not cruel. It actually sometimes is very kind to enable them to dig deep and to encourage them. One of the thing I think parents need to do is to convey that when you’re distressed and when you’re struggling, it’s okay. You don’t have to be happy all the time.

[00:20:20.450] – Speaker 2
Yeah.

[00:20:21.220] – Speaker 1
That’s right. Giving kids permission to feel anxious, to look anxious, to struggle. It’s such a gift. And it’s such an important life lesson that we all need reinforcement of these days.

[00:20:36.780] – Speaker 2
It’s really encouraging. I think reminding kids that not only that it’s going to be okay, but it’s okay to be where they are, I think. And we all know the power of relationship and the journey through something with others. I’ve learned that as a parent, right? Not just coming in to fix things, but entering in and being with through a journey and not always snow plowing and letting it fix, but letting the things that are coming up shape and help and encourage. And like you said, give it almost a gift sometimes in the developmental process. But to be with them in it, I think is a great invitation for parents to not just be dismissive of what it is and not just try to swoop in to fix it, but to hold those intention and allow them to see. And like you said, being kind by saying, hey, you can do this. You can get through. And giving them tools and resources to make good choices, to keep moving forward and not letting what they’re feeling anxious about paralyze them in moving forward. I’m really interested about the intersection of anxiety and spirituality. Can you talk a little bit about how spirituality is relevant to mental health.

[00:22:01.750] – Speaker 2
How do they connect? What have you seen in your work and in your own life?

[00:22:05.940] – Speaker 1
First, I got to tell you a story before we’re going to get into this topic. I’m from the Orthodox Jewish community, and I proudly wear a yarmulke on my head. When I started off at McLean Hospital, which is Harvard Medical School’s flagship psychiatric hospital here in Boston, actually in Belmont, just outside of Boston, Belmont, Massachusetts, really wonderful, wonderful institution that’s been around for over 200 years. During the Civil War, McLean Hospital was around in the United States. It’s a pretty amazing piece of psychiatric history here. Anyhow, I was wearing my garb, and I’m on the unit and patients were coming over to me and saying they wanted to speak about their spirituality and their faith. I was there as an intern learning how to do cognitive and dialectical behavior therapy. In every case, I was very uncomfortable because I’m like, I’m not your clinician. I’m not even on your caseload. We’re not supposed to be working together. I’m not a chaplain. I’m a member of the community. A fter this happened so many times, I went to my advisors. I’m like, What do you want me to do? The next time the patient comes over to me.

[00:23:14.170] – Speaker 1
T hat really started a series of research projects and also clinical interventions to help clinicians, rather, address aspects of patient spirituality. In that body of research that I was doing in clinical work, it turned out, to my surprise, that the statistical majority of patients… Remember, this is in Northeast United States. Eastern Massachusetts is not the Bible Belt by any stretch. It’s one of the least religious enclaves in the entire country. The statistical majority of our patients wanted spiritually integrated care, wanted to discuss spiritual struggles or aspects that were positive for them in the context of their psychiatric care. And more than 80 % were using spirituality in some way to cope with the distress that brought them into the hospital.

[00:24:07.290] – Speaker 2
For assistance.

[00:24:08.370] – Speaker 1
Those data really move things forward in a big way. And ever since, that’s been the other side of my career is the academic medical work that I’m doing on spirituality and mental health.

[00:24:22.020] – Speaker 2
So what are some things that you found as contributors or the intersection? How does spirituality connect with mental health or positive mental health or shaping it?

[00:24:33.250] – Speaker 1
Like anything in life, there are positive and negatives. And on the positive side, it can be a catalyst for hope. It can give people a sense of peace, a sense of connection. Spiritual and religious communities are a great way to meet other people and to have social support. Also, it can protect people against impulsivity because if people have a regular religious cadence in their life. I have a couple of studies that have shown this. It actually shapes people s thinking, keeps them more on track, less impulsive in terms of their actual cognition, but also in terms of their behavior, less suicidality. They’re less likely to be suicidal, to injure themselves, and also to engage in substance use. Those are a couple of positives. On the negative side, when people struggle with their faith, when they feel that they’re being punished, they feel disconnected from others in a spiritual community, they feel, I should say, unjustly punished. They feel that there’s no hope because there’s an omniscient, omnipotent, that is force in the universe which is trying to get them. Those are not healthy, adaptive ways of thinking about spirituality. T hey obviously make a negative impact in a significant way.

[00:25:48.240] – Speaker 1
People who have those types of struggles are more likely to be suicidal. It’s quite significant. Then there’s the third way, which is that sometimes spirituality can shape people’s symptoms. I don’t know if you’ve seen this, but people come in with obsessive compulsive disorder that has religious themes, or they have, instead of counting numbers, they’re counting their prayers, or instead of focusing on physical washing their hands, they’re focused on spiritual impurities, these kinds of things. We also see it in psychosis. Some people, they’ll have delusions that they’re a religious figure, or they engage in compulsive or impulsive, I should say, religious behavior because they’re manic. These kinds of things, it’s interesting. Usually, they have a religious background. Then when they have the symptoms, then they just manifest in that context. It’s not that the religion causes those symptoms, but it does shape the way that they’re expressed. In any event, these three ways that spirituality is relevant, the positives, the negatives and the symptom shaping, that’s really what the data suggests. It’s an interesting area. It’s something I like to do.

[00:26:52.820] – Speaker 2
It’s fascinating. Ms. Cookwoods is a Christian youth resort, so there’s some connections to some of that for sure. One of the things that I always found interesting, I did my degree in positive youth development. What you find in a lot of the research, particularly for young people, is that spirituality, religion, often has the similar positive benefits to developmental assets and to helping young people, for a lot of the reasons that you said, develop into thriving adults. I think that’s something that often we don’t naturally think of and see the connection similar to mental health. But it is interesting that this belief in something higher can give hope, help with practices like you said, impulse behavior, and that’s true in young people. In the research and data that you’ve seen and that you’ve spent your life working on, is this true also for young people? How does spirituality maybe shape within our kids lives as well?

[00:27:56.020] – Speaker 1
There’s a lot less research on spirituality and mental health among kids, but there are a couple of findings that stand out. One of them is Lisa Miller’s really fascinating work. Lisa Miller is a clinical psychologist at Columbia University, and she directs the spirituality Mind Body Institute there, which is a very unique program. S he has a book called The Spiritual Child, which really summarizes the data quite well. In this sense, she’s speaking about what you’re saying is that developmentally, aspects of spiritual and religious life can really position children well. I would go a step further and say that the primary issue today is that when people have an aspect of, call it faith, call it a faith community, it’s somehow understood that even if they are struggling, even if they are anxious, even if they are going through a difficult period, there’s some force in the universe that can help them to get through. And that concept is so powerful because if there’s a rhyme and a reason why I’m feeling anxious and something that I could do with it, then maybe I could actually turn these lemons into lemonade. Maybe I can learn how to thrive with them.

[00:29:11.990] – Speaker 1
And I think that that is a primary mechanism.

[00:29:14.560] – Speaker 2
Yeah. And something so much bigger than myself can help intervene, can give me strength when I don’t feel I have it myself, I think can be something that propels us forward a little bit.

[00:29:28.390] – Speaker 1
Yeah. I visited a colleague in the hospital this last week. She was really having a hard time and her pain was excruciating. And there’s complexity about the medical situation and physicians didn’t know what’s going on. And that’s in Boston, right? We got good doctors here. She obviously is a complex situation. She said the only thing that got her through, the hardest part of this 24 hours period, was some faith that this has potentially going to help her in some way in the next step of her life, whatever that is. When I saw her, she was in such peace. I actually haven’t seen her in that much peace in a long time. Wow. A long time. She obviously suffering and struggling, and I wouldn’t wish it upon anybody. At the same time, though, she was really uniquely poised and calm. There’s something very special about that.

[00:30:25.700] – Speaker 2
I think like you were saying earlier, the opportunity and suffering or anxiety, depression may even lean us deeper into faith and spiritual things as well.

[00:30:41.470] – Speaker 1
It can. I don’t think it always does, but I think that it can. When it does, it could be very beneficial. I also mentioned, I don’t know if it has to in order for people to find ways to thrive. I think there are ways that people can develop their interpersonal connections or even just a better sense of resilience and a better sense of confidence in themselves when they go through. T hat doesn’t necessarily involve faith. I think there are more tools in the toolkit, so to speak, but I fully agree with what you’re saying.

[00:31:09.620] – Speaker 2
Maybe we can drill in a little bit on that. F or people of faith who are listening to this and who have kids that are struggling and if their kids are of the same faith or whatever, what are some ways that they can lean into their faith? T hen outside of that, what are some ractices, people who are young people that are struggling with anxiety, we can, as parents, help guide and encourage?

[00:31:37.970] – Speaker 1
I’m going to refer to the book again. The last section of Thriving with Anxiety does speak about how anxiety can be a catalyst for spiritual growth and lean into, to use your word, when we lean into our anxiety, we can actually find opportunities to enhance our sense of spiritual connection. I’ll give you one example from the book.

[00:32:03.060] – Speaker 2
Great.

[00:32:04.730] – Speaker 1
At the core of anxiety is a difficulty tolerating uncertainty. T here’s a substantial volume of research on this subject alone that when people cannot tolerate not knowing what’s going to happen next, they’re going to feel worried, they’re going to feel anxious, it’s going to be very difficult for them. Now, the opposite of intolerance of uncertainty is acceptance and recognition and fully accepting and recognizing that we’re not in control, we don’t know what’s going to happen next, and learning to live life in the moment, not focused on trying to control that which we can’t. I’ll give you an example. When I get into an airplane, I’m not in control of the plane. I never will be in control of the plane. I don’t even know which direction the plane is going in. I can guess, but I don’t really know. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to know. I don’t want a plane. I don’t want to be in control of the plane. I don’t want to be in the cockpit. None of the passengers are going to want me there either because I don’t know how to fly a plane. Do you?

[00:33:14.060] – Speaker 2
I don’t know if you do. But no, I don’t. Okay.

[00:33:17.070] – Speaker 1
So neither of us should be in the cockpit. So I put my seat belt on and I’m sitting there and I’m in this aluminium box and it’s going to go up in the sky at 5, 6, 700 miles an hour and 30, 40,000 feet, however much it is, with zero control and zero awareness of what’s truly going on around me. And if I can fully accept that, then in the moment, then I’m going to be at peace on the flight. T hat to me has a deep spiritual message of, are we really, as human beings, aware of the limitations of our knowledge and of our control? That’s a very, very deeply to me humbling thought to really recognize how little I know and how little I can control. I think for a lot of people, that’s a stepping stone across different faith traditions, whether it’s the Christian faith, the Jewish faith, the Muslim, any other faith, any other major or minor faith tradition. That lack of control and embracing it, giving it up, being humble about what we don’t know, all of it is food for discussion. That’s on the one side. For people who don’t want to get into this, I think it’s a great opportunity for them.

[00:34:35.290] – Speaker 1
But for people who don’t, like you said, interpersonal connection, so many people, like you said before, hold themselves up. They’ll isolate when they’re feeling anxious and depressed. I agree, it’s one of the worst things you can do. Having at least one friend that you can go to about real issues in your life is one of the key predictors of being able to overcome anxiety and depression. When we do that, it actually, in some ways, gives meaning to our depression and anxiety because, hey, it actually brought us closer in our friendships. You really want to get close to someone, tell them about something that’s truly on your mind, how you’re feeling, what your struggles are. T hose are a couple of the blessings that can come out of anxiety.

[00:35:17.960] – Speaker 2
That’s really good. As we’re wrapping up this conversation, Dr. Rosemarin, what are some resources or opportunities or things that you can suggest to parents whose kids are dealing with anxiety and maybe start with reading your book, I think would be great. W here can we find that? Give us your website. T hen any other articles or websites or things that you think would be helpful for parents who are going, Man, this has been a really good conversation. I’d like to learn more about that.

[00:35:50.210] – Speaker 1
Thanks so much. People can definitely get the book. It’s available for pre order now anywhere where books are sold. It’s Amazon, Barnes & noble, etc. On my website, my author’s website, which is D H, and then my last name, Ross Maran, R O, S, M, A, R, I, N. Com, we are going to be having a free giveaway, which is a free chapter of the book. And then for people who pre order, we’re going to give them a recorded webinar about Thriving with Anxiety, as well as another chapter of the book. So they can have that in hand before the release date on October 17th, later this year.

[00:36:31.060] – Speaker 2
Great.

[00:36:31.740] – Speaker 1
But I think there are plenty of other resources aside from what I have to offer. First and foremost is going to be therapy, and it’s not what it used to be. To me, therapy, especially for anxiety, can be one or two meetings. It could be four or five meetings. It could be meeting with somebody once a month, or even quarterly or annually. It doesn’t have to be years and years of sitting on the couch and purging the demons of one’s past. It’s not what psychotherapy used to be. It’s much more upfront, it’s much more collaborative, and it’s much simpler. For those of you who have a therapist, talk about your anxiety. If you don’t, then well, there’s never been a better time than to check out what the wonderful world of therapy has to offer. I think the work you’re doing at Ms. Coco Woods is fantastic, especially for youths. That’s another fantastic resource just off the top of my head.

[00:37:27.250] – Speaker 2
Again, for parents, as we’re listening, we said it before, but the book is called Thriving With Anxiety, nine tools to help make your anxiety work for you. I’m looking forward to getting that and reading that. As we wrap up today, I’ve really appreciated this conversation. It’s been really some helpful insights, particularly for those of us from a faith perspective. But I think just that whole message of letting our anxiety work for us rather than feeling it’s this thing that actually creates more anxiety because we don’t want it and it’s horrible and it’s awful and we should get through it and around it and behind it as quickly as we can. It’s been very encouraging to have this conversation to hear your perspective on it and your history and research in it is phenomenal. I’m wondering, maybe if you can just give any final thoughts or words of encouragement to parents who are really trying to help their kids through an anxiety diagnosis or just them feeling overwhelmed with the world that they live in.

[00:38:29.740] – Speaker 1
You said it so well beforehand, Chris. I think you said that there is this balance between, on the one hand, not paving the way or not snow plowing in front of our children and making it… Anesthetizing them or making it… Maybe that’s too strong, but making it taking away all their struggles, but also holding them and being there with them, not just ignoring it and pretending that it’s not an issue. It is an issue. It is a struggle. When in children when anyone feels that they’re not alone and knows ultimately that the struggle that they’re going through, the difficulty that they’re going through, they can overcome it. It is a real struggle. It’s valid. I’m here with you, but I’m not going to take away the problem for you because I trust you and I believe in you and I know that you can manage this. It’s such a powerful message and it sets us up for success and thriving in life. I think you said it best before.

[00:39:32.900] – Speaker 2
Well, I think our conversation led to that and I appreciate that. I think that that is some great encouragement for young people. All the best to you, Dr. Doherty, Rosemary is in your work. Thank you for being with us today. I’ve appreciated this conversation.

[00:39:51.290] – Speaker 1
Thank you. Great to be on your show.

About the Author

Chris Tompkins is the CEO of Muskoka Woods. He holds a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Guelph, a teacher’s college degree from the University of Toronto and a Master’s degree in Youth Development from Clemson University. His experience leading in local community, school, church and camp settings has spanned over 20 years. His current role and expertise generates a demand for him to speak with teens and consult with youth leaders. Chris hosts the Muskoka Woods podcast, Shaping Our World where he speaks with youth development experts. He is an avid sports fan who enjoys an afternoon with a big cup of coffee and a good book. Chris resides in Stouffville, Ontario with his wife and daughter.
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