As a parent, teacher, student or anyone in the working world, chances are you’ve had to deal with some form of stress or anxiety in your life. However, it can be difficult to tell the difference between feeling stressed and having an actual anxiety disorder. In a presentation given by Ryan Long, Oyster River High School’s psychologist, students and parents were given the opportunity to listen and learn about the aspects of both.
On November 8, 2017, Oyster River held a Stress and Anxiety Forum for students and parents. The goal was to distinguish the difference between stress and anxiety, and then learn some skills to cope with both of them. The presentation began with Long defining stress versus anxiety. The formal definition of stress is “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” The definition of anxiety differs in that it is “a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.”
“I have children that are very anxious and they seem to be going through waves of anxiety and they don’t know the difference between stress and anxiety,” remarked Maritza Bagnall, a parent of Oyster River students. Bagnall brought her family, expressing that going to the forum would be a good idea for them as a whole. “I wanted to see if there were helpful hints [for coping] with what they feel.”
Long used labeled diagrams during his presentation to aid him in explaining to students and parents the long term physical and emotional effects of stress and anxiety. He also made a point of saying that experiencing stress and anxiety isn’t always a bad thing. Long used the example of panic attacks. “Panic attacks are scary, and sometimes they can make people feel like they are dying or can’t function properly,” he said. Long conveyed that getting through those attacks and growing from the experience helps people cope.
The end of Long’s presentation provided a number of coping mechanisms such as mindfulness and meditation. The psychological definition of mindfulness is “a technique in which one focuses one’s full attention only on the present, experiencing thoughts, feelings, and sensations but not judging them”. Meditating, a verb, is the act of “engaging in thought or contemplation; reflecting.”
Maritza Bagnall also commented on the coping mechanisms and how they’ve helped her, particularly the idea of mindfulness. “There are so many things going on in the world that even I get anxious. Concentrating on your breathing has really helped me in the past.”
As the relevance of dealing with stress and anxiety has grown over the years, ORHS Principal Suzanne Filippone revealed the progress so far as well as plans for the future to help students cope:
“We’ve started by working with faculty on different wellness methods. We’re working to see where social/emotional learning is happening for kids in the school already and where we can enhance it and what we can do to improve that. Kids will start to see more of it as time progresses. Hopefully it will just become integrated into what we do.”