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      ~ Anxiety ~
     
     
    Anxiety is one of the most common experiences among people of all ages—and one of the most poorly understood. Our bodies are “programmed” to elicit an anxiety reaction whenever a threat is perceived. Threats can be specific, such as being bullied, ridiculed or intimidated, fear of public speaking, fear of flying, or performance anxiety before a sporting event. Threats can also be general, such as fears of abandonment, rejection, failure, or the unknown future.
     
    The "Fight or Flight" response
    The peripheral or autonomic nervous system is essentially divided into two halves. One half (the sympathetic nervous system) tends to “charge up” the body and the other half (the parasympathetic nervous system) tends to calm it down . These two halves work together, charging up the body when necessary, then calming it down when there is no need for direct action. Most people experience anxiety when the sympathetic nervous system is activated. This causes the sensation of nervousness, ranging from mild jitteriness to full-blown panic. Activation of the sympathetic nervous system is often referred to as the “Fight or Flight” reaction—meaning that the body is preparing to either fight the threat or run away from it. 
     
    The "Possum response"
    Others experience stress as an over-activation of the parasympathetic system. Sometimes referred to as the “Possum Response,” the nervous system actually “shuts down” the body when under stress, leading to feelings of fatigue, difficulty concentrating, yawning, and an increased desire to eat or sleep.
    One good definition of anxiety or stress is when the nervous swings in either direction at the wrong time, or stays imbalanced long after it is necessary.  If you're feeling any of the effects listed below, you may be suffering from anxiety or excessive stress.
     
     
    Autonomic nervous system
    Sympathetic                      Parasympathetic
    "Fight or flight"                   "Possum Response" 
    Charges up the body              Calms the body down
     
     
     
     
    Symptoms of anxiety
    (Sympathetic)
    (Parasympathetic)
    "Fight or Flight"
    "Possum Response"
     
     

    Increase

    May lead to headaches, irritability, and insomnia

    Blood pressure

    Decrease

    May lead to light-headedness and disorientation

     

    Increase

    Feeling like your heart is beating out of your chest

    Heart rate

    Decrease

    May also lead to light-headedness and disorientation

     

    Increase

    Breathing rapidly and possibly hyperventilating

    Respiration

    Decrease

    May cause excessive yawning and light-headedness

     

    Towards muscles

    Leading to indigestion and nausea

    Blood flow

    Towards intestines

    Leading to lethargy and fatigue

     

    Dilated 

     Pupils  

      Constricted 

     

      Racing thoughts leading to difficulty concentrating 

    (preoccupation)

     Thoughts  

    Slowed thoughts leading to difficulty concentrating 

    (spacing out) 

     

     

      


     
    "Self-Talks"
    How the mind perpetuates stress and anxiety
    Who is the person that you talk to the most?  Your best friend?  Your parents?  People you text or instant message on-line?
    The correct answer is yourself.  Most of our dialogue is actually internal.  We continually send ourselves messages throughout the day as our brains think and interact with the world.
    Messages that we send ourselves are sometimes referred to as "self-talks."  These self-talks can be positive or negative, and typically occur without us even realizing it.  Identifying our self-talks can shed light on whether our views, attitudes, and beliefs are generally healthy or unhealthy.
    Self-talks:
    1. Denial -- telling ourselves ”I don’t believe this” or "this can't be happening" actually prevents us from dealing with a situation in the present.
    2. Demands -- we get hung up on the way we wish things were as opposed to accepting the reality and dealing with it, and place unreasonable demands on others and the world in general. (The key word: “should”)
    3. Over-reaction -- we use "catastrophic" words to describe situations that may not necessarily be catastrophic.  This triggers an exaggerated stress reaction in the body.
    4. Always/Never -- we convince ourselves that bad things always happen, or good things never happen.  This leads to pessimism, puts a negative spin on the past, and exaggerates fears of the future
    5. All/Nothing -- we exaggerate how black and white things appear, which leads to pessimism and anxiety. 
    6. Mind-reading -- we think we know what others are thinking, which is usually exaggerated and tends to undermine our self-esteem, relationships, and sense of safety and belonging.
     
    Negative self-talks make us feel worse emotionally and physically, and often affect our behavior in ways that are unproductive.  These feelings and behaviors can become habitual, as self-talks reinforce feelings and behaviors, while the behaviors and feelings reinforce negative self talks
    Below are some examples of positive and negative self-talks.*  I've used the example of misplaced homework as an example, but any issue or situation can be substituted.
    Example: You’ve completed your homework, but can’t find it the next day when you get to school and assume you've left it at home.
    NEGATIVE self-talks:
    Denial
    Over-reaction
    Always/Never  
    All/Nothing
     Demands
    Mind-reading
    Result
    I don’t believe it!
    How could it not be here?
    I can’t understand how I left it at home
    This can’t be!
     
    This is terrible!
    I’m so dead!
    This is awful
    This is killing me  
    This always happens to me!
    I’ll never get a good grade now.
    I’ll never be a good student!
    I always make mistakes  
    I’m a complete failure
    Homework is totally stupid.
    This is the dumbest class ever  
    This is totally ridiculous
    I can't take it anymore!
    Teachers shouldn’t assign so much homework!
    I have to be more careful
    Mom shouldn’t have rushed me this morning!  
    The teacher/other kids will think I’m:
       -irresponsible
       -stupid
       -not interested
    My parents will think I don’t care
    Feelings:
       Anger - 8
       Disgust – 8
       Anxiety – 9
    Physical:
       Heart racing
       Nervous stomach
    Behaviors:
       Irritable
       Avoidance
     
    Now consider more POSITIVE self-talks with the same situation
    Denial
    Over-reaction  
    Always/Never
    All/Nothing
    Demands  
    Mind-reading
    Result
    Did it happen? YES!
    So I must accept it and move on.
    How can I learn from this experience and improve.
     
    This is unfortunate, but it’s not the end of the world.
    I can survive this experience, and possibly grow and be better because of it.
    Either way, I’m in  control my reactions.  
    This doesn’t ALWAYS happen.  In fact, I’m usually pretty good with remembering my homework.
    One event (good or bad) does not define me.  It’s how I do over time.
    I’m human, and make mistakes like everyone else. 
    There’s always more than one side of any issue.
    While this may be a setback, it doesn’t mean I’m a complete failure.
    Teachers assign what they think is appropriate.
    I would PREFER to have less homework but I just have to do my best when it’s assigned.
    When I have a lot to do, I will keep everything in my binder so it’s ready.  
    I’ll never know for sure what other people are thinking, but if I really want to know, I can ask.
    Actually, I may even find that they are very sympathetic and understanding.
    Either way, it doesn’t really matter because opinions always change.
    Feelings:
       Anger - 2
       Disgust – 1
       Anxiety – 2
    Physical:
    More calm, but still a little worried
    Lighter mood, not so stressed.
    Behaviors:
    More likely to organize my binder, set up a new system for homework, etc.
     
     POSITIVE self-talks result in significantly improved physical and emotional well-being.  And the more you practice, the better you get!
     
     
    * Adapted from the book "The Quiet Mind" by John Harvey, Ph.D.
    For details, click HERE
     
     
     

     

     
    The Role of Breathing

    (and exercises that promote sleep)

     
    The role of breathing in stress and anxiety    
         Breathing is the important link between the mind and the body. The breath can reflect what’s going on in either the mind or body, but just as importantly, breathing exercises can be used to alter and improve our thoughts and emotions, and reduce anxiety.
         Remember that the autonomic nervous system is broken down into two complementary halves that work together to keep the body in balance (homeostasis). One half charges up the body whenever a threat is perceived (or we’ve ingested caffeine or other drugs); the other half slows the body when no action is required.
     
    The inhale "charges up" the body
         There is evidence that every inhale has an effect on the sympathetic nervous system, subtly "charging up" the body, and every exhale subtly calms the body down.  If someone sneaks up from behind and startles you, or you hear a loud bang, the body will initiate the "fight or flight" response.  When people are startled, there is typically an initial gasp of air into the lungs.  This helps activate the body for action.  If you were to really exaggerate the inhale, you'll begin to feel like you're hyperventilating.  Nobody would purposely want to start hyperventilating, but by gently exaggerating either the length or duration of the inhale, you will be able to increase your level of alertness.
     
    The exhale calms it down
         On the other hand, if you listen carefully to the way a very depressed person breathes, you'll notice a short shallow inhale and a long exaggerated exhale (a sigh).  The exhale is thought to be related to the "possum response."  Gently exaggerating the exhale (see 2:1 Breathing exercise below) will help calm the body--even to the point of inducing sleep.
     
     
    Autonomic nervous system
    Sympathetic                      Parasympathetic
    "Fight or flight"                   "Possum Response" 
    Charges up the body              Calms the body down
    Inhale                                         Exhale    
     
    Harnessing the power of breathing
    Based on the above, we can use breathing techniques to improve our physical and mental health in a number of ways such as:
    bullet Calming the body when we are tense or anxious
    bullet Calming our mind and focusing our thoughts, eliminating negative and obsessive thinking 
    bullet  see "The Power of Self Talks" by clicking HERE
    bullet Energizing the body when feeling lethargic and overwhelmed
    bullet Promoting sleep
    bullet Lowering blood pressure
    bullet Aiding the body's recuperative powers for better overall health and healing
     
     
    The Exercises
    Practicing the following exercises will provide immediate and long-term results
    Even breathing (1:1) -- For a relaxed but focused mind and energized body
    Imagine your breath as if it were a sine or radio wave. 
    Each incline represents the inhale.  Each decline represents the exhale.
    As you inhale, count to yourself throughout the entire length of the inhale.  Then exhale smoothly and evenly for the same duration.
    The inhale and exhale should BOTH be through the nose (never the mouth).
    Allow the inhale to gently turn into the exhale (and vice-versa) so there are no pauses in between the breaths.
     
    2:1 Breathing -- For increased sense of calm and promoting sleep
    Begin by regulating the breathing as in 1:1 Breathing (above).
    Slowly extend the length of the exhale so that it becomes (almost) twice as long as the inhale.  For example, if you inhale to the count of 3, control the exhale so that it lasts to the count of 4, 5 or even 6 if comfortable.
    Maintain smooth breaths without pauses in between the inhales and exhales.
    Make sure that the inhale is natural (never forced or delayed).  Only change the exhale based on the length of the inhale.
     
    Breathe-Yourself-to-Sleep Exercise
    Begin with the above two exercises for several breaths each.
    Once you are comfortable doing 2:1 Breathing (exhale is longer than the inhale):
    (Very few people complete this exercise before falling asleep)
    bullet Complete 8 full breaths (inhale and exhale) lying on your back
    bullet Complete 16 breaths lying on your right side
    bullet Complete 32 breaths lying on your left side
     
     
     
     
    Why does smoking cigarettes calm people down?
    How can it be that smoking cigarettes can calm people down?  With every drag, you're taking a potent and extremely fast-acting stimulant drug that affects the brain within seconds.  One would expect that smoking would trigger a "fight or flight" reaction in the nervous system, increasing pulse, blood pressure, and other bodily reactions to stress.
    And it does!  But one thing that smoking also does is (paradoxically) mimic proper breathing.  A typical drag from a cigarette is characterized by a smooth inhale followed by a long exaggerated exhale.  This is the type of breathing associated with relaxation (see 2:1 breathing above).
    So it's not the cigarette or the nicotine that calms people down.  It's the breathing.  Proper breathing is so powerful that it can even calm you down despite ingesting a fairly powerful stimulant drug.
    So if you smoke, the next time you're feeling stressed, try one of the breathing exercises above.
    It's free.
    And you'll live a lot longer.
     
     
     
     
     

    Decrease

    May lead to light-headedness and disorientation

    Increase

    May lead to headaches, irritability, and insomnia

    Blood pressure
    Increase

    Feeling like your heart is beating out of your chest

    Heartrate
    Decrease

    May also lead to light-headedness and disorientation

    Increase

    Breathing rapidly and possibly hyperventilating

    Respiration
    Decrease

    May cause excessive yawning and light-headedness

    Towards muscles

    Leading to indigestion and nausea

    Blood flow
    Towards intestines

    Leading to lethargy and fatigue

    Dilated 
     
    Pupils  
     Constricted 
     Racing thoughts leading to difficulty concentrating 

    (preoccupation)

     
    Thoughts  
    Slowed thoughts leading to difficulty concentrating 

    (spacing out) 

     
     
     
    Dealing with ANXIETY
    Anxiety can be addressed in 3 basic ways:
    Psychologically Physically Socially
    Counseling is one of the best ways to identify the source of stress and anxiety, and develop coping strategies
    Click HEREto find out about Student Assistance Counseling at Park Ridge Jr.-Sr. High School
    Research shows that a healthy diet, regular exercise, and sufficient sleep are highly effective antidotes to stress and anxiety
    See below for the most common anxiety-producing drugs, as well as strategies for sleep better
    Spending quality time with friends and family are effective ways to minimize feelings of isolation, loneliness, and anxiety
    5 easy and healthy steps to anxiety reduction
    1. Talk to a counselor - to address fearful, irrational and/or obsessive thoughts
    2. Eliminate caffeine and other drugs (see below) and minimize sugar intake
    3. Exercise (run, walk, lift weights, do yoga, etc.)
    4. Practice breathing exercises (see below)
    5. Get sufficient sleep (see below)
     
     
     
    The following can create mild to extreme ANXIETY
    DANGER
    bullet
    Caffeine -- usually in coffee, teas and sodas.  Caffeine has been shown to raise anxiety levels significantly.  Some people with panic and anxiety issues have experienced drastic changes simply by eliminating caffeinated drinks
     
    bullet
    Drugs -- particularly 
    bullet

    tranquilizers (e.g. Xanax, Valium, Ativan

    bullet
    opiate-derivatives (e.g. Percodan, Percoset, Oxycontin
    bullet
    marijuana.  
    All of these drugs have been shown to boost anxiety -  sometimes days after using.  These drugs have a depressant effect on the central nervous system and as the body metabolizes the drug the nervous system rebounds past "normal" and creates a "fight or flight" reaction.
     

      

    Book recommendations
    (click on book for more details)
    "The Quiet Mind" by John Harvey, Ph.D.
    The Quiet Mind: Techniques for Transforming Stress
    ____________________
    "Freedom From Stress" by Phil Nuerenberger, Ph.D.
    Freedom from Stress: A Holistic Approach
     
    Useful links (click any icon)
          National Institute of Mental Health - Guide to anxiety disorders
          U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services - Mental Health Information Center
          Anxiety Disorders Association of America
          NYU screening questionnaire for anxiety symptoms
          Kids Health - Anxiety information for teens
          Mayo Clinic - Learn ways to calm your stress
          National Association of School Psychologists -- tips for parents