I had become a bit concerned recently that my daughter has been experiencing some anxiety. Of course all children experience some worry. Being afraid of the dark is a common one, I can remember hiding under my bed sheets utterly terrified.
However after having a conversation earlier in the month it became clear to me that she wasn’t necessarily developing the best coping mechanisms. I’m a big believer that we can not avoid the unpleasant in life, or our own feelings, it is how we deal with them that really needs to be the focus. Unfortunately many of us have grown up in a society which did not promote healthy approaches to mental health. A heavy emphasis on avoidance as a coping mechanism can lead to people avoiding things that are actually enriching and becoming more isolated in their lives. The earlier we can help young people learn healthy coping mechanism, the more it will help them in the rest of their lives.
Being a mediator myself I started trying to teach my eight year-old meditation. Of course, this was excruciating for her. Sitting, or lying still is just not something she can deal with for more than half a minute, unless there is food or the TV is on. I tried a guided meditation and instead of sharing inner peace with my daughter I got annoyed she wasn’t taking it seriously, and learned a lesson myself about expectations and goals.
Trying to work out how to deal with this I realised that the foundation for meditation is always the breath, and if I was going to teach my daughter I needed to focus on this first and foremost. Every night at bed time we now breath together and try to sync our breathing. Even this simple step has it’s challenges. If someone doesn’t know how to breath from their stomach just describing how to do it isn’t enough, what they really need to learn is the feeling of doing it.
Chatting with people at my office, The Melting Pot, about this one of them mentioned Flowy, and app designed for people who have panic attacks. The essence of the app is that it retrains your breathing as well as helping to track your symptoms so you can learn more about your own experience of anxiety. Clinical trials showed Flowy helped people reduce their symptoms within 90 seconds of starting to play.
The breathing is retrained by simple games. Currently Milla and I are a magic ship being blown across the sea collecting treasure as we go, sometime we turn into a whale. We normally play this for a few minutes every day on our commute too and from school. So far Milla has really enjoyed it.
It is more mentally engaging that meditation, and more interesting than listening to her mother talking about lying on a nice relaxing beach. It’s a challenge which has goals that can be easily meet. While meditation is also challenging it has goals which are much more abstract. As a young person yet to understand the difficulty and benefit of patience my daughter needs rewards that are more concrete than “inner peace”.
For me Flowy is a great example of how the gamification of health can work really well. Especially for people who maybe have not yet developed the deep knowledge of self most of us need to recognise and adapt our unhealthy behaviour.