Review of the Documentary ANGST Focussing on Anxiety and Depression
Last Monday, I had the interesting and insightful experience of viewing the documentary, ANGST and experiencing a virtual reality experience of a panic attack. The film was hosted by Fraser Academy School in Vancouver and it was very inspiring to hear that they are on a mission to move the needle of the high levels of stress impacting children and teens everywhere, with a three year focus on building resilience.
The next night I gave a presentation in Lynn Valley, which was sponsored by Brockton School, on the topic of Developing Resilience. As I said in my presentation, whilst it’s really important to focus on developing resilience we also need to look at some of the root causes as to why our kids are feeling so much angst these days.
One of the biggest culprits, particularly at the high-school level is: Homework
Even though we know that Finland doesn’t place a lot of emphasis on homework in the high-school years and still ranks high in the worldwide educational rankings, we still seem to be caught in the Homework Myth as Alfie Kohn calls it. As I observe the large and unsustainable amounts of homework that high school clients are facing, I wonder when this hamster wheel will stop?
We’re dealing with record high rates of anxiety and depression but our educational system still keeps pushing… In the film ANGST, the high-school students also talked about the overwhelm they feel from the pressure of school work, the pressure to get good grades and to be accepted into universities. When I was a high-school student, one could be accepted into UBC with a C+/B average, and now you need straight A’s.
I thought the film ANGST did an excellent job of explaining what anxiety and depression feel like. It also shared the perspective of parents of anxious and depressed kids, and how hard their parenting journey has been. Michael Phelps, the Olympic athlete, also speaks openly and honestly about his anxiety and depression and how talking to close friends and family really helped him.
My Top Four Highlights/Take Aways of the Film ANGST
The film listed the following five most common core, base-level fears from which various anxieties arise:
If you think about a child who was adopted, it makes sense that his/her core fear could may well be abandonment, and his/her anxieties stem from this core fear.
For child who feels very fearful to give presentations, the core fear may be judgment or inadequacy.
For a perfectionist, the core fear is failure.
When a relationship is ending or going through a rough time, this can trigger the core fear of rejection.
I like this quote which sums up our fears:
“All our fears, are fears of feelings.”
~ Christian Mickleson
Social Media keeps our kids stuck in a world of competition, even from the comfort of their own homes
When we were tweens and teens going through the ups and downs of friendships and social status hierarchies, we could take a break from it all within the comfort of our homes. Nowadays, as a tween and teen, you’re thrown back into this competitive world the second you pick up your phone. You’re receiving new Instagram messages and Snapchats showing everybody looking their best and hanging out in groups having an “amazing” time together.
A parent’s biggest mistake is rushing to judgement. They may be minimizing or fixing. They maybe be saying or thinking “Everyone gets nervous, you’ll get over it.”
Kids need parents, with whom they can be open and can share their most vulnerable feelings.
One of the medical doctors in the film explained that in our society, we don’t see mental health conditions, such as anxiety, on the same level as “below the neck conditions”. We minimize or dismiss signs of mental health disorders.
We need to keep open, empathic communication with our kids in order that they feel safe to express their feelings. We need to be vulnerable and model how we share our feelings too.
As the film stated, if feelings aren’t expressed, and are unspoken, they are suppressed and they gain power.
If your child prefers to journal, or draw, then this is another healthy way of expressing thoughts and feelings.
Panic Attacks are a sudden feeling of acute and disabling anxiety
Panic attacks are very scary and give the feeling of being completely out of control. To the person having the panic attack, one feels threatened and very scared. One tries to regain control by going into fight, flight or freeze. Avoidance is the easiest way to have control. They are no accessible, logical, reasoning skills whilst in the midst of a panic attack.
In the virtual reality experience, after the film, we wore the VR “binoculars” and were taken through a situation where a student was having a panic attack about a test. She was in her classroom and her teacher realized what was happening. Through the VR experience, we could hear the student’s pounding heart, shallow breathing and we could imagine her eyes being dilated and watering with tears. We could also hear all her negative self-talk.
The teacher came over to her and suggested she think about her happy place. She also took her through some deep breathing exercises. After a few minutes, the student was able to reset and calm herself.
Once the person has been able to calm down, and “turn off” the alarm in his/her brain, the frontal lobe can engage in logical thinking again. The person can then see that they’re not really in danger, and the anxiety loses its power.
** It’s important to remember that we can’t rationalize with someone who is in the midst of a panic attack.
I think Angst is a really important film to creating greater awareness about anxiety and depression and I hope more schools and groups will bring it to their communities.
PS. Registration is now open for my next round of “Brain Science” groups to teach children ages 7-9yrs. and 10-12yrs. about anxiety and anxiety management strategies. You can find out more information and register online here and then go to “upcoming groups/events”.
PPS. Tomorrow night, (Monday, Nov. 27th), I am giving a free public presentation, on Understanding and Managing Anxiety/Anger in the Teen/Tween Years (sponsored by Brockton School). The presentation was sold out, but the school has added a few more seats if you would like to attend. You can reserve your free ticket here. The presentation will be from 7:15pm – 8:45pm at the Lynn Valley Community Room, adjacent to the Lynn Valley Library. (There is free parking under the library).
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