When my daughter started experiencing high levels of anxiety related to school, I contacted school quickly to see what we could collectively do to help her.
My daughter has always been very academic, so didn't struggle in lessons. But having faced both bullying and racism at school, she was really struggling to be in that environment, and her attendance was really slipping.
Her Head of Year was incredibly sympathetic and understanding. She was able to offer a toilet pass, a reading nook, and some school counselling. But none of these worked, and my daughter grew increasingly unhappy and anxious. The reading nook got quickly overtaken by other girls. The counselling consisted mostly of a sympathetic ear, but also the message that ‘you just have to face the fact that you have to come to school’.
Having faced both bullying and racism at school, she was really struggling to be in that environment, and her attendance was really slipping.
Where could we turn next?
We tried our GP to see what, if anything, they could do for her. Again, we got a great deal of sympathy and understanding, and importantly a referral to CAMHS. But with a waiting list of over 18 months, my daughter wouldn’t get to see anyone at CAMHS until after she’d taken her GCSEs and finished school. What on earth were we going to do until then?
By this stage I was getting quite frantic. She clearly needed help, but there was really no help available. I started Googling endlessly, looking for help, solutions, ideas. But all I found were more stories similar to our own.
An opportunity to try yoga
And then an opportunity came up that I hadn’t considered. I have been practicing yoga for a number of years, but the classes I attend are only for adults. However, one of my yoga teachers was running a weekend retreat for mums and teenage daughters. It was local to us, deep in the countryside and surrounded by nature. On an impulse I booked us on.
When we arrived, my daughter was incredibly nervous and hugely self-conscious; all the girls attending with their mums seemed to be. But this was an entirely different environment for her to be in, and not at all related to anything school-ish. There was relaxing music playing, incense burning, essential oils to dab on your wrists, crystals and best of all – a welcome goodie bag filled with yoga treats. The aromas, the music, the atmosphere, the friendly people, all helped her to relax.
The first day of the retreat focussed on breathwork, an energising yoga practice, and meditation before a delicious lunch. After lunch there was a walk to see the alpacas on the farm, a crystal bracelet making session, and a relaxing yoga practice to finish. My daughter already loved crystal bracelets and she was now completely in her comfort zone.
When we arrived, my daughter was incredibly nervous and hugely self-conscious; all the girls attending with their mums seemed to be. But this was an entirely different environment for her to be in, and not at all related to anything school-ish.
On the second day, our yoga practice was partner yoga – a series of poses that you do in pairs. It’s challenging but also really great fun and there was lots of laughter; we were having a ball! But then the yoga instructor asked us to switch partners and my heart froze – this was my daughter’s worst-case-scenario and I knew she couldn’t do it. Except she did, and she did it willingly!
Another delicious lunch was followed by a session making vision boards and journaling, and a walk through the blue-bell wood. Our final practice was yin yoga; a very slow, very relaxing practice. To complete the weekend, we had a small campfire with marshmallows to toast. The teens were invited to write anything that wasn’t working for them in their lives onto a piece of paper, and then throw it into the fire to watch it burn. Symbolic and cathartic.
The yoga instructor asked us to switch partners and my heart froze – this was my daughter’s worst-case-scenario and I knew she couldn’t do it. Except she did, and she did it willingly!
Yoga became a coping strategy and helped her heal
The change in my daughter after this weekend was amazing. No, it didn’t fix the underlying issues (CAMHS did eventually), but it did give my daughter valuable coping strategies while waiting for her CAMHS appointment. Strategies that helped her to cope with trauma, anxiety and help her heal. She began practising yoga regularly and meditating in the evening; it made a huge difference. School eventually relented thanks to a letter from the GP and gave her a reduced timetable, and she got fantastic grades in her 8 GCSEs. We’d gotten her through it.
I was so amazed at how yoga helped my daughter through some really dark times that I decided to train as a Teen Yoga for Mental Health Coach. I now work in our local youth club, introducing yoga, breathwork and meditation to the teens that come there. If I can help even one child cope with school related anxiety, I will feel that I have paid-forward the healing that yoga gave my daughter.
It didn’t fix the underlying issues (CAMHS did eventually), but it did give my daughter valuable coping strategies while waiting for her CAMHS appointment.
If you’d like to try yoga with your child at home
If you’d like to try yoga with your child at home, or encourage them to give it a go by themselves, you can find lots of free yoga videos by searching online. You may also be able to find teen yoga classes in your local area.
Useful helplines and websites
YoungMinds Parents Helpline
We support parents and carers who are concerned about their child or young person's mental health. Our Parents Helpline provides detailed advice and information, emotional support and signposting.
You can speak to us over the phone or chat to us online.
You can speak to us over webchat between 9.30am and 4pm from Monday-Friday. When we’re closed, you can still leave us a message in the chat. We’ll reply to you by email in 3-5 working days.
- Opening times:
- 9.30am-4pm, Monday-Friday
Parenting Mental Health
Digital support community and charity offering information, peer support, facilitated listening circles, mentoring and courses for parents of children with mental health difficulties.
Founder Suzanne Alderson’s book Never Let Go - How to Parent Your Child Through Mental Illness (Penguin, 2020) outlines how she supported her daughter to recovery after she became depressed and suicidal.
Thanks for sharing your story Julie
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