Hello! My name is Caroline Glahn and I am a junior from Atlanta, Georgia. I am in the positive psychology course where we learn different positive psychology terms and techniques and how to apply them to our own lives. My goal for my project in the Catalyst Conference is to effectively teach about anxiety and high stress levels in teens and provide different positive psychology practices that include self-regulation to try to lessen symptoms or eliminate them all together.
Why I Chose This
I have had anxiety for a few years now, which is why I decided to do my project on anxiety and ways to make it easier to cope with. Not only does it help me learn ways to deal with it, but I can also help others learn how to. I chose “self-regulation” as the main positive psychology concept to focus on and apply to my project because I believe that it is the most effective and long-lasting solution that you can continue on your own.
As I mentioned before, I am a junior in high school. This is one of the most stressful years of our lives thus far, which means anxiety and stress levels in general are rising for me and my peers. We have college applications, AP classes, family stress, friend drama, sports teams, SAT/ACT, and we are trying to enjoy our final years before leaving high school. I wanted to try and find a way to help me and the rest of the people in my grade deal with stress and anxiety.
What is Anxiety?
Before we get into how self-regulation can help with anxiety, we need to know what anxiety is and what it stems from. Anxiety is a feeling of dread, fear, hesitation, or worry, that is often for no reason. This isn’t just regular fear, though, because fear comes a real, present danger. Anxiety is a learned response meaning that it is attached to stressful/scary events that have occurred in someone’s life. Whenever similar circumstances occur, the anxious feeling of anticipation is brought back. It is completely normal to feel anxious every now and then, but when it becomes a constant problem in one’s life, especially to the point where it is debilitating, it may be an actual anxiety disorder.
There are many different types of anxiety disorders, the most common being generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder, specific phobias, and posttraumatic stress disorder. The problem with anxiety disorders is that they often are under treated or just not treated at all. This is why it is important to know the signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders so that you can tell if you’re just anxious or genuinely need help.
There are tons of warning signs for an anxiety disorder, but here are a few main ones: feeling nervous, sense of impending doom, hyperventilating, sweating, trembling, trouble sleeping, and having the urge to avoid things that trigger such symptoms. Anxiety often comes in the form of a panic attack which has similar symptoms along with an intense feeling of panic. All of these symptoms are a result of something called the “fight or flight” response. This is an evolutionary response that allows humans and animals to quickly decide whether to fight the threat or flee from it. The problem is that this physiological response is meant for life-threatening situations, yet humans have started having the same hormonal changes as a result of minor inconveniences such as traffic jams, or in the instance of this paper, anxiety triggers.
Adding in Self-Regulation
This is where self-regulation comes in. Self-regulation is the ability to control aspects of one’s life in the pursuit of long-term goals. This is a pretty vague definition though, more specifically it’s when you’re able to manage disruptive emotions (fear, stress, sadness, etc) and have the ability to bounce back from negative occurrences quickly. This is a skill that one must practice in order to get better at and it also becomes easier as you age for it is part of maturing. An easy example of maturing through self-regulation would be starting out as a baby who continuously throws tantrums to a child who is beginning to learn how to express their emotions to an adult who can control their negative impulses.
The most important part of self-regulation is the pause that must be taken between feeling and action. Someone who struggles with the pause shows it through many ways like anxiety. Being able to self-regulate also helps you keep up with your values and morals. For example, if you want to do well in school, you won’t allow yourself to procrastinate.
Applying Self-Regulation to Anxiety
There are two different ways that I can think of applying to concept the anxiety. First, one could feel the anxiety symptoms and try to slow down their thoughts before they overwhelm them to a point of panic. One could try to think about their present situation and the actual “dangers”. There is most likely nothing life-threatening, but instead something that is just scary to that particular person. If they are able to reason with themselves and end the “fight or flight” response, the symptoms would quickly fade. The other way could be by regulating specific parts in one’s life to eliminate the stressors completely. For example, if someone’s anxiety is a result of stress from school or testing, they could stay ahead of their work as best as they can so that the late-night stress that comes from cramming is removed.
Practices to Try
I also found different positive psychology practices that relate to self-regulation that someone could try:
Mindfulness focuses on being aware of the present and staying in the moment. A lot of anxiety comes from worrying about the future and what is going to happen so this is a way to avoid/prevent that. Mindfulness exercises also help you focus your attention which would allow you to think something through before you do it. This relates to self-regulation because you would be able to focus on your negative feelings and emotions and decide what to do about them instead of acting on them instantly. There are many different mindfulness practices to try but I think that 2 are the most effective ones: mindfulness breaths and meditation.
Try this 10 minute Mindfulness Meditation!
For mindfulness breaths, there are a ton of different counts and techniques to try by my favorite is one that my volleyball coach taught me when I was at a tournament: box breathing. I used to freak out before every single one of my games and this technique helped me so much. It’s basically 4 counts of seven for each round as you move your hand in the shape of a box. As you move your hand up, you breathe in for 7 counts through your nose. When you begin to move your hand across to the right, you hold the breath for another 7 seconds. As you move your hand down, breathe out of your mouth for 7 seconds. The final 7 counts is another hold as you move across to the left. Repeat these steps until you feel calmer.
Cognitive Reappraisal may seem fairly simple, but it is a mindset that must be developed over time and with practice. It is when you are able to recognize your initial negative thoughts and try to turn them into positive/more effective ones. The best way to do this is to try and find a new perspective because during this time you will have a solely negative one. Because this practice can actually be quite difficult in the moment, it would take self-regulation to try and think about those extreme negative emotions and focus them into a positive place.
Ex: Ugh, I’m late to work and this traffic is horrible.
Becomes: Well, I am already late so I may as well enjoy the scenery and the radio.
The good thing about this mindset is that is allows you to keep your cool until you are through the difficult or upsetting situation which is perfect and necessary for those with high stress levels and anxiety.
If you have the chance, please fill out this form! https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdpBpY_gnUd9DXVLrem_u4g-QXLq7P3fX6Yfk_H3Zvx5LgUVQ/viewform?usp=sf_link
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“Anxiety.” Britannica School, Encyclopædia Britannica, 20 Mar. 2015.
Meditation. Photograph. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 26 Mar 2018.
Meditation. Photo. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016.
Cuncic, Arlin. “How to Practice Self-Regulation.” Very Well Mind, Dotdash, 15
“Improve Your Perspective.” Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Los Angeles, 4 May 2014.
“Understanding the stress response.” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard
University, 1 May 2018