Although stress is a normal part of being a student, Lynn Lyons emphasized to the student body that there are effective ways to manage it, before playing a clip of actor and comedian Bill Hader discussing his anxiety. Lyons, a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and author specializing in the treatment of anxiety disorders, spoke to students and faculty during mandatory presentations on Monday and Tuesday about how to think about and deal with anxiety.
“We can’t get rid of anxious events. We can’t rearrange the world so that things always go as planned and you always feel comfortable. And for people who do that in extreme, the world gets smaller. And it works in the moment… But where our worrying takes over is when it steps in, and it doesn’t let you take reasonable risk because of its demands. So we’re not going to get rid of anxious events,” said Lyons on Tuesday morning.
Instead of focusing on the content that is causing stress, students should prioritize how to work through the anxiety, according to Lyons. Lyons underscored the method of externalizing anxiety by giving it a different name and putting distance between stress and self, which prevents anxiety from dictating daily life.
“Sometimes we focus a lot on why you’re worried about it. And what I really want you to focus on is how you’re going to manage your worry when it shows up. What is your response to it going to be? And here’s the biggest mistake that we make. We try and get rid of it. Anxiety is paradoxical. The more you try and get rid of it, the stronger it gets,” said Lyons.
According to Lyons, anxiety can lead to isolation, which can then turn into symptoms of depression. Lyons stressed the importance of taking initiative to continue involving oneself in community endeavors to mitigate feelings of loneliness.
Lyons said, “The more that [the anxiety] becomes a closed loop of your perceptions and interpretations, the more that you’re focused on yourself, the stronger this thing gets. External connection means that you are doing things with other people.”
As young people, students should be aware that we are still developing and learning, according to Lyons. Permanent, fixed mindsets as an adolescent can inhibit action and growth. Lyons emphasized that the mental health problems that students might be experiencing now are not permanent.
“It is enormously important for you to know that your mental health is ever changing, that it is not permanent. Who you are right now is not who you will be… Worry, stress, anxiety, and depression are things that people recover from, grow in other directions. No one should tell you at this moment that this is who you are, that you will be like this for the rest of your life, that if you think about the world in this way [then] you can react to situations in this way. This is a part of who you are, and it will be the majority of who you are—that is not a helpful message,” said Lyons.
Dr. Amy Patel, Medical Director at the Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center, and Dr. Suzanne Kemp, Director of Psychological Services at Sykes, organized Lyons’s visit to campus after meeting her at a health and wellness conference. Patel and Kemp believed that it was essential for all students to learn of the knowledge and skills that Lyons touched upon.
“We know that anxiety is a universal human experience. We hope that Ms. Lyons can help to normalize this experience as well as to help people to differentiate anxiety from anxiety disorders. The skills she will teach us will help everyone to manage anxiety more effectively. We hope that by having our students, faculty, staff, and parents hear from Ms. Lyons, we can strengthen the team approach we take in supporting all of our students,” wrote Patel and Kemp in an email to The Phillipian.
Lyons finished her presentation by expressing her belief that her mental health field likes to make things complicated, and the information it might spread can be unhelpful for adolescents. Lyons stressed the importance of believing in growth and connection, as well as employing other strategies to deal with stress and anxiety.
“[The mental health field] gives teenagers information that I find incredibly inaccurate and unhelpful in particular, that this is who you are now and this is who you’re going to be. That takes away your hope, takes away your optimism. It takes away your action. It takes away your autonomy. And those are critical things for you as you move this part of your life, so don’t buy into it. I want you to focus on how it is that you can be flexible when things don’t go the way you want them to go, how you can step in rather than avoid, how you can pay attention to your patterns of avoidance, and how you can focus on connection versus the separation that anxiety and depression demand from you,” said Lyons.