Angst Film and Panel Discussion Help Bloomfield Community Face Anxiety Disorders

Angst Film and Panel Discussion Help Bloomfield Community Face Anxiety Disorders

(Crystal A. Proxmire, May 21, 2018)

Bloomfield Hills, MI – “I walked into the room and all of the seats I would normally feel comfortable sitting in were taken.  I sat down in the middle of the room and I just couldn’t do it.  I walked out of the room and I walked home.”

The story, shared by a teenager in the film Angst is one that many with anxiety disorder can relate to. A screening of the film and a panel discussion at Bloomfield Hills High School attracted nearly 100 parents, teachers and students seeking to better understand how anxiety works and what to do about it.

Principal Charlie Hollerith said “It’s been a rewarding personal journey for me learning about anxiety and recognizing it.  I see it in our students…It’s more prevalent than ever before.”

The film, presented by Bloomfield Youth Assistance, was part of the district’s efforts to address the challenge of student anxiety.  With six counselors, two social workers, and two psychologists, students who are struggling have people they can talk to.

Some students with anxiety disorder have arrangements with teachers so they can leave the room when necessary.  For many even just a short break can help them regain control over panicky feelings.

Efforts are also made in the classroom to give all students coping skills.  “Some teacher start each day with mindfulness activities,” Hollerith said. “This clears their minds and helps them to get to the executive part of the brain.”  Other classes start with a discussion circle where students can share their problems, feelings and experiences.

Through the film, attendees learned that during panic attacks the brain’s amygdala takes over and stops other parts of the brain from working, making it difficult to think rationally.  The amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for basic survival.  When triggered it encourages a “fight or flight” response in the body.  The person feels like they are in mortal danger, and for many that means it’s time to run away.

The problem is that the amygdala gets triggered in situations that are not actually life-threatening, such as in crowds, or when someone feels trapped, when there is fear of rejection or mockery, or when a person is in an unfamiliar environment.

Angst gave a common example of understanding the difference between typical anxiety and anxiety disorder.  If a student is late for class, they may feel nervous about walking in.  They may not like being looked at, or being criticized by their teacher.  Yet most are able to still walk in. With anxiety disorder, the thought of walking into that room is overwhelming, and they would rather cut class than face their fear.

Signs to look for in students, and in adults, are frequent stomach and headaches, frequently absences or calling in sick, and sometimes being argumentative or acting like they don’t care. Ritualization (doing things in repeated sets or focusing on a lucky number or pattern), germaphobia or eating disorders can also be a manifestation of anxiety issues.

For parents and other adults, talking about stress and anxiety, and the solutions to it, can be a helpful way for young people to learn.  “Don’t be afraid to share your struggles and your story with your child,” said school social worker Cassandra Jones. “Seeing that other people struggle helps them not feel along… they can see they can still be successful.”

Dr. Michael Young said a common treatment for anxiety disorders is CBT, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  “We help a child identify negative thought and change them,” he said.  Facing fearful experiences is called exposure therapy. For example if being in a crowded room causes anxiety, the person can either avoid crowded rooms, or expose themselves by intentionally facing their fear and gradually realizing that the situation is not as threatening as their amygdala tells them it is.

Another key point learned about the amygdala is that it takes over in times of panic so the frontal lobe is blocked from working clearly.  Doing things to help calm the body and refocus one’s energy to the frontal lobe can help stop a panic attack. Some techniques for redirecting one’s mind include taking slow deep breaths, thinking about being someplace else, snapping fingers while alternating hands, or doing art or writing.

It also helps to talk about stresses and feelings before they build up too much.  “When emotions go unspoken, we give them power and they become our reality,” advised one of the speakers in the film. As a bonus, when in the midst of panic, “by trying to articulate it, you’re actually using another part of your brain.”

The film included numerous children, parents and professionals.  Among them was Charlie, the child of Youth Assistance Board member Denise Ullem.  For Ullem, trying to help her son with anxiety gave her a reason to confront her own. “What I found was yoga,” she said, noting that it helps with mindfulness and relaxation.

In the film, Charlie got to meet a surprise guest, champion swimmer Michael Phelps.  Phelps has been public about his struggle with depression.   “The hardest part of my life is when I wished I wasn’t alive,” he said.  “I was made fun of and bullied.  I had massive bouts of depression…If something came up that made me angry or depressed I wouldn’t think about it, I’d push it deep down in me.  When I opened up about it, I started to feel better.”

The Angst website has resources and more information about anxiety, and the film is available for screenings. To learn more visit

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