Healthy Outlets for Anxiety: Part I
Updated: Jul 21
As part of our current focus on Anxiety, we talked to Bainbridge Island educators, physicians, mentors, coaches, and counselors who play key roles with youth in our community. Here's what they had to say about what they are seeing and what they recommend.
Tickets are on sale now for Raising Resilience's screening of ANGST: Raising Awareness Around Anxiety at 7pm @ Bainbridge Cinemas. Anxiety is real, common, and treatable. Let's talk about it.
Outlet: Simple Tasks and Movement
Courtney Oliver, LMHC, Bainbridge Youth Services -Director of Clinical Services
Activities that create movement helps reduce anxiety.
“As a youth counselor we talk to youth a lot about what helps their anxiety. We found it was simple tasks that were really helpful to reduce anxiety such as taking walks at the beach, rock climbing gym, or going to the local PAWS shelter to pet the cats/kittens. Youth often talk about taking a break from academics and use their hands for more than just writing and typing. Painting, sports, playing an instrument, cooking, and other activities that create movement helps reduce their anxiety and recharge. Having a playlist available of songs could benefit during those stressful moments. Anxiety can put our body into a flight/fight mode and movement of any kind can help calm the body and regain focus.”
Kaycee Taylor, Bainbridge High -Varsity Boys Swim & Dive Head Coach / PE & Health Teacher
Kids benefit from being a part of something bigger than themselves.
“In the 20 odd years I have been a coach, teacher and parent I have seen an increase in the number of young people experiencing some sort of mental stress or anxiety, especially in the high pressure setting of an academically competitive school, which is why I think there has also been an increase in the number of kids involved in athletics and other activities. Research shows the value sports and the arts have for mental health and wellness: physiologically, cognitively, and socially. A great little article from Healthline.com delves into the connection between brain chemistry, depression, anxiety and exercise …'endorphins are only one of many neurotransmitters released when you exercise. Physical activity also stimulates the release of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These brain chemicals play an important part in regulating your mood.'
I have seen athletes of all levels benefit from being part of something that is bigger than themselves and how that sense of team gives them a safe place to challenge themselves, to commit to a shared goal and to even fail in a way that provides important life lessons and the GRIT that it takes to try again and again. One thing my wife and I did when our daughters were starting high school was encourage them to get involved with a team right away for the fall season, that way they had a network of peers to help ease the transition from middle school; and since BHS still has non-cut sports anyone with an interest and willingness to try can find a place on a team.”
Outlet: Community and Connections
Mara Saulitis, M.D., Swedish Bainbridge Island Primary Care / Model UN Advisor
Small daily practices and gathering to share experiences make a difference.
"As a family physician and parent, I've been troubled by the explosion of anxiety and depression in high schoolers and school aged children. There are many life experiences that contribute to worsening mental and emotional health for teens across the country including socioeconomic stressors, family dynamics, an increasingly negative political discourse, climate change concerns combined with a person's unique internal and external supports and resources for coping with these stressors. Here on Bainbridge Island, students feel intense pressure to succeed socially and academically according to fairly narrow definitions of success. While the island may seem like a wonderful, magical place for children to grow up, for many youth and teens, living on an island within a predominantly homogenous community, can feel stifling, restrictive, boring and insular. For many students, their unique strengths and interests may not fit into a traditional mold of the "success" and the internal conflict that imposes can lead to feelings of loneliness, isolation, anxiety and depression.
Within my practice I try to approach anxiety and depression holistically and have found that small daily "practices" can make a big difference in a person's ability to face stressful situations. Finding time for exercise, drinking 48-64 ounces of water daily, and aiming for at least 7 hours of sleep nightly are all helpful in reducing the body's fight or flight response to stress. Sitting quietly (my words for meditation) for 2 minutes in the morning and 2 minutes in the evening reduces the stress response and lowers heart rate and blood pressure. Participation in sports can build community for some students, but for others, the competition involved may actually worsen anxiety. For these youth, finding individual exercise forms like biking, running, walking and yoga may be better options. Within our community, teens can access yoga classes at Bainbridge Yoga House or the Dayalu Center, some focused specifically on teens. Public social spaces specifically for teens are limited on Bainbridge, however, the new Coffee Oasis center at the Pavilion provides a potential meeting place where students can talk and share their experiences. One of my visions for our community is a coffeehouse space within the new campus design at the high school, where student-run evening events, run for and by teens, including poetry slams, improv, concerts, and readings could help foster a sense of community and connections between students outside of the traditional ones."
Pete Benson, Bainbridge Performing Arts -Director of Education
Failure can present an opportunity. Nothing will stop us if we move forward.
“One of the main tenets we preach at Bainbridge Performing Arts Theatre School is that the theatre is a place where kids are allowed to fail. And if you fail, fail BIG! I feel like kids today are often faced with this constant need to be perfect. Social media demands amazing images of your life if you want clicks on your post. One misspoken word or misdeed while someone films it on their phone and you can pay for it with a lifetime of shaming. Straight A's are the norm if you want that desired/privileged life. Get a single B+ and you are no longer eligible for top colleges. Failure simply isn't believed to be an option. In the theatre, just as in day to day life, things rarely go exactly as planned - and yet the show MUST go on. On stage, failures become opportunities for brilliance. Seeing a fallen set piece turn into a comedy routine, feeling that relief as your fellow actor picks up your lost cue, or even finishing the show with nothing more than flashlights showing you the way reinforces the idea that nothing will stop us if we keep moving forward. The biggest relief for stress is the ability to trust in yourself. When one learns that failure is not only an option but an eventuality, it removes this stress of being perfect.”
Stephanie Rohl, Carden Country School Director
Little successes can challenge anxiety and foster healthy growth.
"As teachers, we start with the children where we find them and teach with the assurance of eventual success for each student. With that assurance, we can give the child confidence in himself and build upon his successful baby steps. Teachers who understand, recognize, and address anxiety in children as a normal, protective emotion, can help students build confidence through encouragement and strategies to face, rather than avoid, situations that make them feel uncomfortable. The tools and strategies teachers share with their students can create little successes to challenge their anxiety and foster healthy growth. Then students feel safe to ask questions and share their ideas without judgment."
Stay tuned for Part II. Next week we'll hear from:
Ian McCallum (BIFC), Denise Dumouchel, PhD (BARN), Shannon Dowling (BISA), and State Representative, Drew Hansen.