Lesson SIX Overview - Worry Bullies
Identifying and Managing Anxiety
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL COMPETENCY: Self-Management
Students will learn:
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 fight worry bullies
KEY VOCABULARY: worry bully, anxiety, fear, fight mode, flight mode, amygdala, catastrophizing, perspective.
'The Huge Bag of Worries', by Virginia Ironside
'Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Day', by Judith Viorst
Scrap paper for drawing
'How Big is My Problem' Scale (download here)
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 understands 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.
1. 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? Where 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. But first let's start with a gratitude attitude.
2. 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 1: The Huge Bag of Worries (10 minutes)
I'm going to share now a story with you about a girl named Jenny who found herself carrying around a huge bag of worries. They are with her all the time - at school, at home, when she is watching TV and even in the bathroom! Jenny decides they have to go, but who will help her get rid of them?
What were some of the worries that Jenny carried with her?
How do you think her worried thought about wars and bombs make her feel? Scared
How do you think her worried thought about her parents fighting make her feel? Upset.
How do you think her worried thought about people whispering about her make her feel? Embarrassed.
How do you think her worried thought about her dog getting fleas make her feel? Concerned.
Jenny's worries just didn't come out of nowhere. Feeling worried ALWAYS starts with a thought. When you are feeling anxious or feeling worried, you have a worried thought that is giving you the worried feeling. Jenny's worried thoughts about wars and bombs and her best friend leaving caused Jenny to FEEL worried.
Worried feelings START WITH A WORRIED THOUGHT!
Activity 2: What is in your worry bag? (10 minutes)
Imagine you have a bag of worries. What worries are you carrying around or have carried around before?
Ask each student to draw a time that they were worried. Invite students to share their picture. Pose questions:
What was your worried thought?
How did it make you feel?
Did it stop you from giving something a go, or from enjoying your day or from trying something new?
While it's normal and okay to worry from time to time. It's not okay if worry is stopping you from enjoying your day or giving something a go. Today we are going to learn what you can do when worry stops you from enjoying your day.
Activity 3: Anxiety Y Chart (5 minutes)
There are 3 parts to anxiety. By learning all about anxiety, what it looks like, feels like and sounds like, you will be able to learn how to be the boss of your anxiety and not the other way around.
What does anxiety sound like? Anxiety always starts with a worried thought. Let’s write some of Jenny’s worried thoughts on the Y chart. Anxiety often sounds like what if.
Write answers on Y chart.
What does anxiety feel like? Your body gives you clues to how you are feeling. What clues does your body give you when you worry? You may feel your heart beat faster or you might feel butterflies in your tummy.
Write answers on Y chart.
What does anxiety look like? Anxiety also affects your behaviour or how you act. How do you behave when you are anxious? What do you do? Do you avoid the frightening situation? Do you bite your nails? Do you pace up and down?
Draw a thought bubble, a heart and a square on the whiteboard. Or use thoughts, feelings, and behaviour poster.
As I said, anxiety and worry always start with a worried thought. The worried thought leads to a feeling. The feeling leads to an action. Let me show you by using one of Jenny’s worries.
In the thought bubble write one of Jenny’s worries.
Pose question: How did the worried thought make Jenny feel?
In the heart write answer (worried, scared, frightened).
Pose question: What did Jenny do?
In the box write answer (sit in her room, sit on the fence)
Activity 4: The Brain (5 mins)
Remember everyone experiences anxiety and worry from time to time. Anxiety and worry are common and normal feelings. In fact they are VERY important feelings. These emotions prepare you for real danger. Who remembers the part of the brain that is responsible for our emotions? Yes the Amygdala.
The Amygdala is responsible for checking if you are safe. The amygdala is like a guard dog. It is there to protect you if we are in danger by getting you ready to run away, fight or freeze.
We also all have a wise owl part of our brain called the prefrontal cortex that is the decision making part of our brain.
When our amygdala, the guard dog part of our brain, is trying to protect us, the wise owl part of our brain switches off. This makes it difficult to think clearly and realistically.
Imagine you are walking through a forest and you see a bear walking towards you. What would you do? Would you run away from the bear? Would you try and scare the bear away or would you freeze?
Ask each student to share their answer.
When the guard dog part of your brain is switched on your body responds to danger by either fleeing (running away from the bear), fighting (trying to scare the bear) or freezing (hoping that the bear won’t see you if you stand really still).
Activity 5: When Worry Becomes a Problem (5 minutes)
There’s just one small problem. Your guard dog (your amygdala) does not know the difference between a real danger and an unreal danger. Worry becomes a problem when your body is preparing for real danger, but the danger is not real and/or is unlikely. Sometimes your brain prepares you for danger, and sends you the signals to run away, fight back or freeze, but the danger is not real. A bear walking toward you is a real danger, but a monster under your bed is not a real danger, and a natural disaster is an unlikely danger.
Write on the board - Real danger and unreal/unlikely danger.
What would be a real danger?
What would be an unreal or unlikely danger?
Record their answers on the board.
The amygdala does not know the difference between a real danger (a shark) or an unreal danger (a monster) and will respond in exactly the same way!
Activity 6: Fighting Worries (10 minutes)
Today we are going to learn how to fight worries. Did you know that you have the power to make your worries go away? Worries are like bullies, unless you stand up to them they won’t go away. What does a worry bully look like? Worry bullies are mean and ugly. They are unhelpful, negative 'I Can't' thoughts that stop us from having fun and enjoying our day. Imagine what your worry bully looks like? (Depending on time, students may like to draw a picture of their worry bully).
Display Worry Bullies poster.
Worry bullies can…..
· Bother you all night and day
· Use words like always or never.
· Lie to make you scared
· Lie and tell you things that have not even happened and most likely won’t happen.
· Imagine things that aren’t real.
· Exaggerate how bad something will be.
· Stop you from giving things a go!
Everyone worries. Some people worry more often than others. But, the good news is, you have the power to stop your worries. We are going to learn how to fight worries by following 4 easy steps!
Stand up to Your Worries!
1. Breathe. The most powerful thing you can do to make yourself the boss of your brain again and get your wise owl part of your brain working again is breathe. It sounds so simple – and it is!
2. Catch your worried thought. Draw a picture of your worry or put your worry into words by telling an adult or friend.
3. Question the worry. Is it a real danger or an unreal/unlikely danger? What is the evidence?
4. Use Realistic Thinking. Stand up to the worry using positive thoughts. Don’t let the worry bully you. Worry bullies like to make something that is only a little bit bad seem really terrible. They exaggerate, catastrophize, they lie to make you scared, and they sometimes make you worry about something that hasn’t even happened!
The first step to tackling your worry is to breathe. The most powerful thing you can do to make yourself the boss of your brain again and get your wise owl part of your brain working again is breathe. It sounds so simple – and it is! Anxiety changes our breathing rate and pattern. So instead of breathing slowly from our lungs, we begin to breathe shallow and rapid breaths from our upper lungs. Breathing exercise can help you feel calm so that you can think clearer and make better choices.
We are going to practise our hot chocolate breathing. Imagine yourself holding a warm cup of hot chocolate. Take a deep breath in through your nose breathing in the delicious smell of chocolate. Exhale through your mouth, cooling your hot chocolate. Repeat until you feel your body and mind calm.
The second step to tackling worry is to catch your worried thought. Draw a picture of your worry or put your worry into words by telling an adult or friend. We have already shared our worries today.
The third step is to question the worry. What is the evidence? There are lots of questions you can ask yourself to find evidence. It’s a bit like being a detective. You need to search for evidence and clues in order to find the truth.
Is it a real danger or an unreal or unlikely danger?
Could it really happen?
Are my thoughts sensible?
What is the worst that could happen?
What is the most likely outcome?
Am I jumping to conclusions?
Could I cope if it did happen?
Once you have questioned the worry the next step is to ask yourself, ‘based on the evidence, do I think it will really happen. The last step is to use Realistic Thinking. Realistic thinking is when you question your thought and change the worry thought to a calm realistic thought. The last step is to change your worried thought to a calm thought. Can you think of a realistic calm thought to replace your worried thought?
Invite students to change their worried thought to a calm realistic thought.
8. Concluding Discussion (5 minutes)
We all worry. Sometimes we may start to worry more than often and it starts to affect our day. When this happens, you need to stand up to the worry bully. Today we learnt about the brain. We also learnt that worry begins with a thought that causes the feeling. Practise standing up to any worry bullies which are worry thoughts this week. Good luck!
Close session: Thank the group for their participation throughout the session. Encourage them to practice the new skills they learned during the week. Share with the group an exciting activity that they will do during the next GRIT lesson.
Optional Activity: Alexander and the Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (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?