Giftedness and Anxiety: Part 2

By Erin Peace, LCSW, RPT: ACE Academy School Counselor

Date: November 18, 2021

Part 1

In Part 1 of this blog series on giftedness and anxiety, we explored the definition of anxiety as well as the way it manifests between the interrelation of thoughts, emotions/body sensations, and behavior. In this post, you will find information on how to help your student manage the physical sensation of anxiety through progress muscle relaxation and managing sugar/caffeine intake.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

When we feel anxiety, our bodies experience heightened heart rate and shallow breathing, which causes our muscles to tense up. In order to signal to our bodies that we are safe, we can use Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) as a strategy to slow our breathing and heart rate. Like any new routine, practice will help our bodies learn new strategies, and I recommend students first practice PMR when they’re already relatively calm. This practice then allows us to access these skills when we’re feeling a heightened sense of anxiety. See below for a graphic on how to practice PMR:

  1. Sit or lie down in a comfortable and quiet surrounding.

  2. Start by taking a couple of deep breaths. Allow yourself to be still for a few minutes, and let yourself start to unwind.

  3. Focus on your breathing and let your muscles slowly start to relax.

  4. First, focus your attention on your forehead. Tense your muscles in this area, but not so much that you feel a great deal of pain. Notice what it feels like when these muscles are tight and tense. Tense for about 5 seconds.

  5. Then relax the muscles in your forehead. Notice the different sensations in your muscles from the tense state to the relaxed state.

  6. Focus on the feelings of relaxation in your hands and arms for at least 10 seconds

  7. Then begin to move to the other muscle groups, repeating steps 5 through 7.

Tips for Relaxation:

Below is a relaxation scale and diary to help you to discover where and when you are best able to relax. It will also help you monitor your progress. Before doing the relaxation exercise, rate how relaxed you are feeling according to the scale given below. After completing the exercise, rate your level of relaxation again; you can look at these notes to try and make your practice more effective.

Reducing Caffeine and Sugar Intake

Research shows the correlation between caffeine/sugar intake and increased heart rate and shallow breathing, which can either trigger or mimic symptoms of anxiety. As you help your student identify their triggers for anxiety, you can help them keep a sugar or caffeine log to track whether their intake impacts their anxiety symptoms. You can use a log similar to the one below:

With more data, you can then help your student reduce the amount of sugar or caffeine gradually. In addition to improving the severity and frequency of anxiety symptoms, a reduction in caffeine and sugar later in the day can also benefit children’s quality of sleep.