On Wednesday, Feb. 6, Rochelle Bridges, MA, LMFT came to speak to Friendswood ISD students and parents about anxiety as a part of FISD’s Parent Power Session series. She helped define anxiety, discuss why it is problematic and how to cope with it.
Bridges said a common misconception about anxiety is it is just in the person’s head and can be avoided completely.
“It’s not all just in your head,” Bridges said. “It’s an actual physiological thing that happens, and it happens over and over and over again during the day.”
She then addressed those in the group of 80 attendees who have not experienced such feelings.
“If you don’t have anxiety, it doesn’t make sense because it’s not logical or reasonable,” she said.
Bridges tried to get everyone to understand anxious feelings by comparing them to seeing a snake on a trail.
“You know that fear you feel in that moment? Your brain sends a rush of adrenaline throughout your body and that’s where we go into flight, fight or freeze,” she said. “Your brain goes into survival mode. People with anxiety are finding threats throughout the day, but it happens over things that someone who does not have anxiety would not react so strongly to.”
Once she finished defining it, Bridges went into talking about how it can be a problem in school and life.
She said based on a study conducted in 2001-2004, 32 percent of adolescents have anxiety and 8 percent of that number has severe anxiety. Since the study is out-dated, Bridges said those numbers have likely increased due to the rise of social media. She said there is a direct correlation between social media usage and an increase in the percentage of people who struggle with anxiety, specifically adolescents.
Brandee Fernandez, a mother of a Windsong student, said social media and anxiety were her main concerns due to the societal pressures that come with the platforms.
“We have a ten-year-old, so social media and all of the electronics are greatly impacting kids at a very young age because they’re exposed to it all the time, whereas when we were younger, we got to get away from it since we didn’t have our phones all the time,” Fernandez said. “I want to learn some of the ways to deal with it. There’s a lot of social media out there are probably some things parents aren’t aware of, so I want awareness of things you can use to help your kids.”
In addition to social media, Bridges said anxiety can be genetic or induced by stress. She said performance-based activities such as school and sports often create high levels of anxiety with those who struggle with it. Because of this, students can actually be hindered in their learning.
“Anxiety disorders can lead to difficulty concentrating and sometimes causes a temporary loss of memory which affects learning,” she said.
However, there are ways to cope with anxiety and reduce anxious feelings. Some of the coping mechanisms Bridges suggested were deep breathing, placing one’s hand on their heart, doing yoga, exercising daily and building supportive relationships.
For parents with a student dealing with anxiety, Bridges had some advice.
“It’s easy to dismiss anxiety as, ‘Just chill out. What is your problem?’ But that reinforces to the student ‘I have a problem. I’m not like everyone else,’” she said. “It’s important to practice patience, offer love and support.”
Olivia Thompson, Friendswood Junior High seventh-grader, struggles with anxiety and attended the event with her mom.
“It means a lot she wanted to come because it shows how much she cares about me,” Thompson said.
Speaking to Thompson’s mom as well as the other parents in attendance, Bridges said good ways to be supportive include listening to their student non-judgmentally, asking how they can be helpful, seeking treatment from a professional and simplifying their student’s schedule.
Melissa Hickman, FHS counselor, and Kelly Parker, Bales counselor, then spoke about what they’ve noticed in their own schools.
“Anxiety affects everyone: boys, girls, seniors – I’ve even seen teachers,” Hickman said. “Reach out to us; we’re there for you.”
For anyone interested, Community Education will be offering a Mindful Self-Compassion Course beginning on Feb. 26. For more information on this, please visit myfisd.com/community-ed/.