My daughter's anxiety was crippling our family - and this one thing really helped

Photo: Supplied
Photo: Supplied 

When Juliet Strang was seven-years-old, she developed anxiety. 

The young girl was perpetually 'worried something bad' would happen to her mum and struggled being away from her parents. 

"It's been one of the most challenging things we faced as a family," her mother, Melissa, tells Essential Kids

Photo: Supplied
Photo: Supplied 

"All the normal things that girls her age should be doing - going to school, friends' houses, birthday parties - became too stressful and emotional for her."

According to Melissa, the experience was 'heartbreaking'.

"It was so overwhelming to watch my daughter struggle to do the things she loves and see her in such distress at times that should have been filled with joy and excitement," she explains. 

Out of the darkness, however, one thing emerged that truly helped Juliet - gymnastics. An activity she had first tried when she was four-years-old. 

"I hate to think how much harder things would be for her if she didn't have it to focus on," Melissa says.

"We saw changes in her immediately, but it took time and lots of support from coaches to push some fears aside and to see her confidence grow."

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The gymnastics floor became a safe space for Juliet, and is able to relax and focus as soon as she gets out on the floor. 

"On really bad days looking forward to getting to the gym is a huge help," Melissa admits.

However, not every day has been easy. Meliss can recall one occasion when Juliet was unable to calm down outside her lesson and refused to go onto the floor. 

Eventually, she was coaxed in by her coach and mum.

"In the car on the way home she thanked me for 'making' her do it," Melissa said. "For me the anxiety didn't win. For her, she knew she had people who cared for her. It makes me angry that her own mind could try to take the thing she loves so much from her.

In the end, she pushed through and I am so proud of her."

Fast forward to age 11 and Juliet has come so far with her gymnastics, including competing at squad level - and the goal setting has helped in all aspects of her life. She even attended a school camp, which was a milestone achievement. 

"The advice I have for other parents who may have a child diagnosed with anxiety is to get your child the support they need, be that counselling or advocating for them at school and their activities," Melissa says, adding that when they find something they love, support them at it no matter how much they might be struggling.

"It truly can make all the difference."

Bree Mort, a qualified coach with BK's Gymnastics, said it's no surprise that gymnastics can and does assist with a range of mental health and development issues.

"Gymnastics provides an environment to enhance social skills, boost self-esteem and become more confident. It's often used to treat depression, anxiety, autism, cognitive delays and as physiotherapy for injury and rehabilitation," said Bree.

"It gives kids with anxiety a focus and teaches them to train their body to do what they want it to do. In turn, this gives them the skills to train the mind to overcome the uncomfortable feeling of anxiety."

Coaches also play a pivotal role, as they are able to identify the difference between anxiety's role and a genuine physical response.

"Often, when faced with a challenge they think is too large, children with anxiety can develop a mysterious ache or illness," Bree explains. "Our job is to identify if the feelings are genuine or if we need to work with them to give them confidence to try and overcome the fear.

"The coach is the person who's there for them when the anxiety gets too much and to instil confidence that they have the gymnast's back, will catch them when they fall and dry the tears when it doesn't work."

If you are concerned your child is suffering from anxiety, please see your GP in the first instance