You Can Have Anxiety and Be a Social Scientist- Three Professors Share How

As the school year nears its end, we’re all feeling it — the nervousness before finals, the stress and pressure to do well, the fear of what comes next. These anxious feelings aren’t exclusive to students; nearly 20% of American adults have an anxiety disorder and many others experience issues with anxiety each year, even if they don’t have an anxiety disorder.

This month’s “Picture a Social Scientist” activity focused on those who have mental health challenges, particularly anxiety. The “Picture an Anxious Social Scientist” event on March 31 began with a presentation on biofeedback from BYU’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). Biofeedback helps us respond to our body’s stress signals before they become too intense and to take action to relieve stress throughout the day before it impacts our ability to complete our tasks or handle our emotions.

CAPS Biofeedback presentation

The biofeedback presentation was followed by a panel of professors with different types of anxiety. Alyssa Banford Witting in the School of Family Life, Sam Hardy in the Psychology Department, and Scott Sanders in the Sociology Department put themselves in an anxiety-inducing situation to help students see how someone with anxiety can be successful as a social scientist. They addressed questions such as, “What was your experience being diagnosed?” and “What do you recommend for students who may have these feelings but have not been diagnosed?” as well as “How has anxiety been a superpower in your career?”

The professors shared some of the tools they use to manage their anxiety. Sanders suggested, “Develop self-love now, develop self-care now… Do it now because it’s so much harder when you’re in those troughs.” Deep breathing is another helpful tool that was taught during the biofeedback presentation. Hardy’s tools include antidepressant medication, therapy, and support groups. His self-care includes Diet Dr. Pepper and hobbies like cooking, playing with dogs, and jamming out on drums in the basement. He also is mindful of nutrition and exercise, reads self-help books, and makes spiritual practices a priority.

Banford Witting encouraged students not to go it alone if they are feeling anxious. “Seek help, there’s no reason to suffer.” When looking for help, remember that your professors are there for you and you are not alone in your struggle. “It’s common enough that it’s okay. You’ll have some friends in the mental illness business… Everybody has anxiety to some degree,” added Hardy.

Sanders said to manage anxiety step by step, day by day, or even moment by moment. Describing his process to overcome anxious feelings he said, “What can you do in that moment? Maybe it’s a breath, a class period, a day. What does it look like and what can I do to get through that moment?”

PICTURE AN ANXIOUS SOCIAL SCIENTIST: Natalie Herbst Durtschi interviews panelists Alyssa Banford Witting, Sam Hardy, and Scott Sanders.

Whatever your experiences with anxiety may be, create boundaries for yourself, find your toolkit, and keep navigating the challenges that come your way. There will be many who can relate and help, as well as those who understand and support.

The College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences monthly “Picture a Social Scientist” events will return in the fall. With the goal of fostering belonging, each event will feature inspiring social science professionals to whom students can relate. Future events will explore themes such as neurodiversity, being a woman, managing a dual-career family, and other groups that are underrepresented in the social sciences. Students can expect to gain new perspectives and develop insights on how to press forward with their own ambitions.

Learn more about “Picture a Social Scientist” here.

Learn more or schedule an appointment with BYU CAPS.

Use Positive Psychology To Change Your Brain in Healthy Ways

Have you ever felt stuck in a personal rut? Maybe not a full-blown crisis, but you’ve definitely been better? Psychologist Adam Grant terms this feeling “languishing,” and a large portion of the population finds themselves trapped in this mental-health twilight zone.

Jared Warren, associate professor of clinical and developmental psychology, has a solution. 

Warren studies positive psychology, or the applied science of well-being. His research objective is to connect people with evidence-based resources for living their best life possible.

“Positive psychology is about being a whole person,” Warren says. “A misconception about positive psychology is that it’s just a ‘focus on the positive, look on the bright side’ kind of naive approach to life, and that’s not at all what it is. It’s recognizing that there’s value in every experience, including the challenging ones.”

Warren’s research, among the research of others in the field, links principles of positivity like gratitude, mindfulness, self-compassion, and savoring to overall well-being. By learning these skills, anyone can take steps to flourish mentally. But, research also shows that simply understanding positive principles will not lead to personal progress.

Warren developed the course for and teaches Psych 349, “Introduction to Positive Psychology.” The curriculum gives students the opportunity to develop an attribute of well-being by practicing that attribute for three weeks. Known as “The 21-Day Personal Growth Experiment,” this assignment moves students from knowing about well-being to living what they know.

Dr. Warren also has a practice as a clinical psychologist at BYU’s Comprehensive Clinic. He says that his research has helped patients at the clinic “because some positive psychology practices are already baked into some of our best clinical approaches.” 

The John Taylor Building houses the Comprehensive Clinic (Claire Moore)

Many tried and true psychological treatments line up naturally with positive psychology principles, such as having subjects actively plan pleasant activities, consider their personal core values, and set goals to become who they’ve always wanted to be.

But positive psychology isn’t just for those struggling with clinical disorders. Wherever people find themselves on the spectrum of well-being, positive psychology can help anyone live a rich, vibrant, and meaningful life. The skills developed by practicing positive psychology build the capacity to handle unexpected stressors and challenges that will inevitably come into our lives.

So, how can you break out of the languishing rut? 

“To change the brain in healthy ways we have to practice,” says Warren. “My wish for the whole world is that everyone could spend 20 minutes a day practicing some of these skills for improving their well-being.”

To work through some positive psychology modules and improve your own well-being, visit the My Best Self 101 website developed by Warren.

Other mental health resources for students include BYU CAPS, the SafeUT App and webinars from the Hope Squad.

The BYU Comprehensive Clinic offers counseling services for individuals, couples, and families in the Utah County area. Services are provided by graduate student interns in Clinical Psychology, Marriage and Family Therapy, and Social Work. These graduate student therapists are supervised by experienced, licensed professionals, and faculty members. Call (801)422-7759 to schedule an intake.

Preparing with hope: 2018-2019 Families at Risk lecture series

We aren’t meant to be alone, and in a world continually changing, Families at Risk reminds us what the core of life is: our families. An upcoming series of lectures powerfully advocates effective communication, healthy sexuality, mental health awareness and more.

The Families at Risk lecture series is held every second Wednesday of the month for nine months, beginning on October 10th, 2018. Classes start at 7 am and last for about two hours. Prices vary from $10 to $25 depending on the class, and all lectures are held at the BYU Conference Center.

From parenting kids with behavioral concerns, helping children transition to adulthood, and building healthy relationships in all stages of life, BYU Continuing Education offers advice and techniques for you and those you care for.

With such a diverse range of subjects, you may register for only the topics which are most useful and compelling to you and your family.

In Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy asserted, “All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” No family’s trials are the same, and yet they can all be reconciled through Christ. His hands are outstretched, offering hope and healing. The best thing we can do to build lasting, beautiful relationships with those who mean the most is to learn and grow together.

Registration is available in multiple convenient ways: over the phone (877-221-6716 weekdays between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., excluding holidays), by mail (Families at Risk Registration 229 HCEB 770 E University Pkwy Provo UT 84602), in person at 116 HCEB 770 E University Pkwy, or online at familiesatrisk.ce.byu.edu, where a full schedule and additional details are also posted.

Tackling Mental Health with a Psychologist and College Quarterback

What do you think of when you hear the words “mental health?” For many people, there’s a stigma attached to depression, anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, or any other form of mental illness, but these illnesses are real, and they are widespread. Luckily, more and more people are raising their voices to talk about their experiences with mental illness. You probably first heard of one such BYU student in September 2015 when he threw a Hail Mary to secure BYU’s victory over Nebraska, featured on ESPN. In an April 2017 Instagram post, “Miracle Mangum,” this year’s starting quarterback Tanner Mangum, spoke out about his struggles with depression and anxiety.

Now, a new CBS Sports video features the quarterback as he discusses more about his mental health. Dr. Michael Larson, a clinical neuropsychologist from FHSS‘s Psychology Department, appears in the video to elaborate on the science of mental illness. “Most mental illness tends to start between the ages of 18 and 24,” Dr. Larson says. It often manifests itself as young adults move away from home and live on their own for the first time.


Dr. Larson also addressed the myths that learning to “toughen up” or realizing “it’s just in your head” will cure mental illness. “The truth is that depression and anxiety have actual changes in the brain that are associated with these mental illnesses,” he explained.

Depression and anxiety may result from a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and social factors, according to the American Psychological Association. And mental illness may occur if there are problems with the function of a particular brain region or as neurons send messages via neurotransmitters, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

BYU’s Counseling and Psychological Services Office offers many resources and services to students with mental illnesses, and our Comprehensive Clinic provides counseling and therapy to members of the community dealing with mental illness. The office lets students make appointments with counselors, complete online courses on stress management, and enroll in student development classes, among other things.

Has mental illness affected you? How can friends and family members support individuals with mental illness?

Let us know in the comments, and don’t hesitate to share resources or tips.

BYU Social Work Conference to Focus on Trauma and Mental Health Treatment Awareness​​​

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Advances with mental health treatment have come a long way. Yet, a recent Pew Research Center study concluded that only 19 percent of Americans believe the nation is making progress in tackling mental health diseases. Brigham Young University’s Annual Social Work Conference strives to bridge the gap between those affected by mental health issues and treatments for them. It approaches its tenth year next month and centers on trauma and mental health treatment.  The one-day conference on November 6, 2015 includes speakers who are therapists, psychologists and clinicians. Conference organizers say that the objectives for the annual Conference are to help people

1) Understand the challenges faced by trauma victims, both short term and long term

2) Improve understanding of how to treat and work with those who are struggling with negative side effects of traumatic experiences

3) Recognize the long term effects of trauma and how it impacts the individual’s development, including childhood trauma

4) Create an awareness of trauma related issues within the community and how to protect vulnerable children and families

5) Understand the effect of trauma on the family unit and interpersonal relationships.

Director of the School of Social Work, Gordon Limb, says the goal of the Conference is to “get people more information, knowledge, and skills in how to effectively treat trauma in their work.”

Trauma is our emotional response to a disturbing or distressing event.

                                                                 –Gordon Limb, Director, School of Social Work

The impetus for the conference focus came through expert opinion and strong recommendations. “As we have talked with supervisors of student internships and members of the Social Work Advisory Council, among others, the issue of trauma came up as number one over and over again,” Limb says.

Limb says that most mental health agencies in which students work in are dealing with trauma-related issues. All students participating in the graduate program are required to participate in two internships.

This year, in addition to the usual format of plenary speakers and break-out sessions, the conference also offers a self-care element. “Given that the nature of trauma is a very sensitive topic, participants have the option of entertainment or self-care during lunch,” Limb explains.

Conference organizers say the purpose “is to not only shed light on this topic, but to provide an understanding of how to care for, and meet the needs of those who deal with trauma.” Sponsors for the Conference include the School of Social Work, The Marjorie Pay Hinckley Endowed Chair ​in Social Work and the Social Sciences and the BYU College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences.

Trauma Conference flyer for website

The event is free to the public. Visit swevents.byu.edu to get more information or to register. Guests may register at the Varsity Theater in the Wilkinson Center the morning of, if capacity has not yet been reached.

Trauma and Mental Health Treatment

8:30 AM to 4:00 PM

BYU Wilkinson Center