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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
"Fight or Flight"
"Possum Response"

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.
  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:
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:
   -not interested
My parents will think I don’t care
   Anger - 8
   Disgust – 8
   Anxiety – 9
   Heart racing
   Nervous stomach
Now consider more POSITIVE self-talks with the same situation
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.
   Anger - 2
   Disgust – 1
   Anxiety – 2
More calm, but still a little worried
Lighter mood, not so stressed.
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.

May lead to headaches, irritability, and insomnia

Blood pressure


May lead to light-headedness and disorientation


Feeling like your heart is beating out of your chest


May also lead to light-headedness and disorientation


Breathing rapidly and possibly hyperventilating


May cause excessive yawning and light-headedness

Towards muscles

Leading to indigestion and nausea

Blood flow
Towards intestines

Leading to lethargy and fatigue

 Racing thoughts leading to difficulty concentrating 


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
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
Drugs -- particularly 

tranquilizers (e.g. Xanax, Valium, Ativan

opiate-derivatives (e.g. Percodan, Percoset, Oxycontin
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
Last Updated: 5/21/12
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