Lesson SIX Overview - Worry Warrior
Identifying and Managing Anxiety
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL COMPETENCY: Self-Management
Students will learn to:
Identify physiological signs and symptoms of anxiety
Understand how the brain responds to fear and anxiety
Identify realistic thoughts and unreal/unrealistic thoughts
Learn four steps to manage worry
KEY VOCABULARY: anxiety, fear, fight mode, flight mode, amygdala, catastrophizing, perspective.
Access to computer
'A Little Spot of Anxiety' video
Scrap paper for drawing
Video - Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Day', by Judith Viorst
Anxiety is driven by a strong, healthy brain that is overprotective and quick to sense danger, regardless of if the danger is a real threat or not. Every emotion exists to meet a need and with anxiety, the need is to feel safe even if there is no obvious danger. Children don’t often recognise their anxiety for what it is. Instead, they may think there is something ‘wrong’ with them as the only focus is on the physical symptoms of anxiety, which can feel awful! The first step is to teach children all about where anxiety comes from – how it looks, how it works and how to recognise if it is problematic.
Children are introduced to the part of the brain responsible for anxiety. When children and adults alike experience anxiety, the brain switches to auto-pilot and triggers the flight or fight response. This primitive and impulsive part of the brain is designed to keep us safe and is brilliant in times where an immediate response is needed. It’s a sign of a strong, healthy brain doing its job! But when it happen unnecessarily or too much, it feels awful and can interfere with life.
Children will notice anxiety affecting them in three different ways.
The 3 aspects of anxiety
Anxious or negative thoughts
Anxious feelings (Physical feelings)
Firstly anxiety is experienced in a child’s type of thinking. A child will have negative or anxious thoughts about a fear or threat.
Secondly, a child will experience anxiety in body sensations and emotions. Anxiety automatically triggers our fight or flight response regardless of whether the threat is real or perceived. Fight or flight is a primitive response, hardwired into the human brain. It evolved as a survival mechanism to enable people and other mammals to react quickly to life-threatening situations. This primitive response is all action and not a lot of thought. When our bodies are in fight or flight response we may feel a rapid heart rate, rapid breathing or nausea.
Thirdly, anxiety will affect a child’s behaviour. A child may cry, shake, freeze, get angry, yell, lash out by hitting, run away or avoid the situation.
Learning about the three aspects is important in learning to manage anxiety. Learning what anxiety looks like and where is comes from provides a level of safety and comfort. When children understand where their anxiety comes from and what is causing their anxiety they will, over time, feel less threatened and scared. Just as unexplained noises in the middle of the night feel terrifying, if you know what noises are you are less threatened by them.
Anxiety becomes a problem when we let our overprotective brain be in charge. Our amygdala does not know the difference between a real danger and an unreal/unlikely danger. When we face real situations that are scary to us or cause us worry and when we think of situations that cause us worry our brain senses danger! Worry tells our brain there is a danger. Then our brain tells our bodies there is a danger. Our Amygdala fuels our body with special body fuel ready to protect us by preparing us for flight or fight.
Today’s lesson teaches children how to recognise the physiological signs and symptoms of anxiety, how the brain responds to fear and worry and how to overcome their anxiety.
Introduce Lesson and Review Previous Lesson
Review previous session by asking students to remember what was covered in the last session. Shape students’ responses to reflect the learning intent from the previous lesson. Revise Group guidelines.
Welcome back. Last week I challenged you to make the 'I Can’t Yet' structure. We talked about how challenges stretch our brain and how our brain is like a muscle and becomes stronger and smarter the more we use it. Remember our thoughts are really powerful and can stop us from giving things a red hot go. Did anyone catch an 'I can’t' thought this week? Were you able to change it to 'I can’t Yet ' and make a plan to figure it out?
Today we are going to learn about worry and anxiety. Everyone, absolutely everyone experiences anxiety and worry from time to time. Even some of the bravest, strongest people in the world struggle with anxiety. If you feel worried or anxious there is nothing wrong with you. Anxiety and worry are common and normal feelings. In fact they are VERY important feelings.
While anxiety is normal, for some people, they worry more than others. Sometimes anxiety and worry can start to affect a person’s day.
Has your anxiety stopped you from enjoying your day?
Has your anxiety stopped you from giving something a go?
Has your anxiety stopped you from trying something new?
Has your anxiety stopped you from being brave?
When anxiety stops you from enjoying your day, from trying something new or giving something a go, it’s time to do something about it and take control. It is important to know that I am teaching you to manage your anxiety and not get rid of it. Remember, it’s a very important feeling. You will simply learn how to control it better. First, let's start with a gratitude attitude.
A Gratitude Attitude (5 minutes)
Sit in a circle. Ask each student to share something that they are grateful for or something positive that has happened to them this week. This simple activity is training students to be positive and to have a gratitude attitude.
A gratitude attitude focuses on the NOW! Try to pay attention and be thankful for what you already have and not worry about what you don’t have. People with a gratitude attitude are positive, resilient and happy.
Activity One: Why Worry? (10 minutes)
Did you know worry is a very important feeling? Worry is your healthy, magnificent brain doing exactly what it's meant to do and that is to keep you safe. The part of your brain responsible for checking if you are safe is called the Amygdala (ah-mig-dah-la). The Amygdala is a tiny part of your brain. It is shaped like an almond. I like to think that your Amygdala is like a guard dog. Because guard dogs protect you and your Amygdala is there to protect you too. When your brain believes you are in danger, it prepares your body with a special body fuel. It’s called the flight or fight response and it happens to everyone. The reason why it’s called flight or fight is that this special body fuel is there to make you stronger, faster, more alert and more powerful!
Your Amygdala turns you into a superhero! Let's watch a short video clip that explains the fight and flight response and why worry is such an important feeling.
Watch video clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfSbWc3O_5M
Activity Two: Three parts of Worry - Sounds like (5 minutes)
Draw a Y Chart on the board and label Sounds Like, Feels Like, Looks Like.
What does worry sound like, feel like and look like? We are going to learn how to recognise worry because when you are able to recognise worry you are able to manage it positively.
Let's start with what worry sounds like. In Lesson 3 we learned the difference between our thoughts and our feelings.
Who can tell me a feeling? Who can tell me what a thought is?
Thoughts are words we say to ourselves, the talking in our heads. We can have helpful thoughts, unhelpful thoughts, we can have sad thoughts, happy thoughts, angry thoughts and we can also have worry thoughts.
Did you know that worried feelings always START WITH A WORRIED THOUGHT! These strong emotions don’t just come from nowhere. Feeling worried ALWAYS starts with a thought.
When you are feeling anxious or feeling worried, you have a worried thought that makes you feel worried.
Can you think of a worried thought?
Write worried thoughts on the Y chart.
Your amygdala is exceptionally good at doing what it does, which is keeping us safe. Remember your amygdala switches on when it thinks there might be trouble. What counts as trouble? Fear of being left out, being embarrassed, leaving Mum, or it may be something happening to someone you love.
Activity Three: What Worry Feels like (5 minutes)
So far we have learned that our amygdala, prepares our body with a special body fuel. Superhero body fuel! The special body fuel is there to make you stronger, faster, more alert and more powerful so that you can fight or flee danger. If there is nothing to fight or flee your body has lots of body fuel that hasn’t been used and that’s the awful feelings that we get with anxiety.
When you are worried, scared, anxious or shy, have you ever felt:
Restless or fidgety?
Big eyes, darting around
Like running away?
A Pounding heart?
These are all signs that your body is in flight mode.
Write examples on Y Chart under Feels like.
When you are worried, scared, and anxious or shy have you ever:
Raised your voice?
Clenched your hands?
Stamped your foot?
Hit someone or something?
These are all signs that your body is in fight mode.
Write examples on Y Chart under Feels like.
By paying attention to the clues your body gives you, you can learn to manage your feelings so that you are in control of your feelings and not the other way around.
When you are worried, take a moment to notice the way your body reacts. Those are your warning signs. Think of them as your own personal heads up.
Activity Four: What Worry Looks Like (5 minutes)
Let’s move on to the last part of anxiety. Anxiety also affects your behaviour. It may be difficult to answer this question right now. Next time you are worried, think about how you act. How do you behave when you are anxious? What do you do? Do you avoid frightening or scary situations? Do you bite your nails? Do you pace up and down?
Write behaviours on Y Chart under looks like.
Activity Five: A Chain Reaction (5 minutes)
Have you ever heard of a chain reaction? Let’s make one!
Line up dominoes in a row to create a chain reaction.
A chain reaction is when something happens, and because of the first thing that happened, a bunch of other things happen like a falling row of dominoes. Worry starts a chain reaction too. Worry starts with a thought. Your worried thought leads to a feeling. Your feeling leads to action. Your action leads to another thought and it continues.
Illustrate the chain reaction on the whiteboard
All because that first worry started a chain reaction.
Worry always, always starts with a thought! Your worried thought switches on your amygdala which surges your body with special body fuel. That special body fuel is what you feel on your body when you are worried. Your feelings lead you to act in a particular way, be it crying, biting your nails, hiding in your room, punching the wall. All because of the first worried thought. So next time you are worried, I want you to try to catch the worrying thought, check the thought and if it is a worrying thought change it to a calm thought.
Chain Reaction Illustration
Activity Six: Stand Up to Worry in 4 Steps (10 minutes)
Display poster - 4 Steps to Manage Worry
You are going to learn how to manage your worries in 4 steps using the 'catch it, check it and change it' method. Let's learn the first step.
The most powerful thing that you can do to make yourself the boss of your brain again and switch your Prefrontal Cortex (wise owl) back on is to breathe. It sounds so simple - and it is! In Lesson Two we practised breathing exercises to calm our big feelings. We are going to practise breathing again today. Strong deep breathing instantly calms your Amygdala and sends a message to your brain that you are okay. When you do this your brain will stop surging with the super body fuel and you will start to relax again.
Practise star breathing or balloon breathing.
The next step is to catch it! Catch your unhelpful 'worried' thought. Draw a picture of your worry or put your worry into words by telling an adult or friend. Ask yourself, 'What am I worried about?' I want you to draw a picture of a worry you have or you have had.
Allow 5-10 minutes for children to draw their worry. Invite children to share their 'worry' with the group.
The third step is to check it! Question the worry.
Is it a real danger or an unreal/unlikely danger?
Could it really happen?
Could I cope if it did happen?
How likely is it to happen?
What is the most likely outcome?
What is the worst thing that could happen?
Is my thought sensible?
Am I jumping to conclusions?
Invite children to practise questioning the worry. You may need to ask leading questions.
The last step is to change it! Stand up to your worry using calm, realistic thoughts. In your journal, you will learn how to change your 'worried' thought into a calm, realistic thought.
Invite children to practise changing the worry into a calm, realistic thought. E.g. I can handle it, it's okay if I get it wrong etc.
Activity Seven: A Little Spot of Anxiety (10 minutes)
Mute the video and read 'A Little Spot of Anxiety' to the group.
We all worry at times. Sometimes we may start to worry more and it starts to affect our day. When this happens, you need to remember your worry battle skills. Practise catching, checking and changing any worried thoughts that may come your way. Good luck!
Optional activity: Thinking Traps - Catastrophizing (10 minutes)
Read ‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’.
Discuss the story:
• What kind of day did Alexander have?
• What were some of the things that happened to him?
• How did these things make him feel?
• Can you think of a time when you felt like this?
• What happened?
It wasn’t the things that happened to Alexander that made his day so terrible. Do you know what made his day so terrible? Yes, it was his thoughts. He had a lot of unhelpful, negative thoughts that left him feeling upset. Do you think Alexander’s day could have been different if he had changed his unhelpful thoughts to helpful thoughts?
Alexander described his day as terrible or horrible. If something is terrible or horrible is means that it’s the worst thing that could happen. Were the things that happened to Alexander the worst things that could happen? Or where they just a little bad or a tad bad? How could we describe the type of day Alexander had? (Examples, annoying, not so good, a bit bad).
Take a look at my ‘How Big is My Problem’ scale. You will find this scale in your Get GRIT Journal. The 'How Big is My Problem' scale measure how big a problem really is. Sometimes we may think our worry is a bigger problem than it really is. Let's think about some of the things that happened to Alexander and together we are going to decide where we think they should go on our scale.
As a group, decide where Alexander's problems should go on the scale.
The ‘How Big is My Problem’ scale helps us to keep things in perspective, which means it reminds us if our problem really is that bad. Sometimes when we make a problem bigger than it is, we ignore the evidence. We need to ask ourselves, is it really that bad? Or is it a tad bad?