Before we talk about how to use Reveal Stories to help identify anxiety for each individual, let’s go over what anxiety is and how it can present itself.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a response to a perceived threat. This means that our brain sees danger, even though danger may not exist at that moment. There may be a number of reasons that a threat is perceived – one of them could be that our brain is remembering a time when it was actually in danger. For example, you may have experienced a scary moment in a grocery store. Next time you enter that grocery store – or any grocery store – your brain remembers that scary moment and it responds with anxiety.

Another reason could be that our brain associates danger with things that aren’t necessarily a threat. Common examples include public speaking, being in a loud and busy crowd, missing an appointment, or certain animals like dogs and bees. Knowing that we have to stand up and speak in front of a crowd in 10 minutes will often send our body into overdrive!

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Curious to find out more about the science of anxiety? Here are some links for you

  1. WebMD – What are Anxiety Disorders?
  2. Anxiety, autism may share common basis
  3. Unmasking anxiety in autism

How can anxiety present itself?

The moment that our brain sees danger, our body responds with what is sometimes called the fight or flight response. Our body gets ready to deal with the danger – our muscles tense, our heart starts racing – and our brain, our amygdala, releases chemicals that block our us from making rational decisions, choosing instead to act impulsively.

Anxiety is scary, it hurts, and we are willing to do anything to feel good again. This ‘anything’ can take on different shapes for different people. Some people may choose to avoid the source of anxiety before fight or flight kicks in:

  • Going to the dentist causes me anxiety –> I don’t go to the dentist –> I feel better.

Some do things that get rid of, or compete with the bad feeling in their body caused by anxiety:

  • I am anxious in a loud and busy crowd –> my body feels tense and my breath feels short –> I bounce my leg and take some deep breaths –> I feel better.

Some people will react to anxiety when they can’t escape or feel better:

  • Social interactions cause me anxiety –> I am in the middle of an interaction and cannot leave –> I yell at you and lash out with my fists until you back off –> I feel better.

These are all strategies that people use to make themselves feel better when they are experiencing anxiety. Some of these strategies can be productive – like taking deep breaths – while others can be harmful. Avoiding the source of anxiety can have long-term consequences, and some responses can be harmful to the person with anxiety or the people around them.

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Want to learn more about the behavior side of anxiety? Check out these articles

  1. BAQ – can we have a behavioral science of anxiety?
  2. A contemporary analysis of anxiety and avoidance
  3. ABA in the treatment of anxiety

Using Reveal Stories to help identify anxiety

So where does Reveal Stories fit into this picture? If you and your trusted care team want to overcome anxiety, the first step is identifying when it happens. This means that you have to pay attention to signs and hints that anxiety is present.

Is your kiddo’s body tense? Did they suddenly stop responding to your questions? Is your student acting aggressively towards their classmates? Are you noticing that you are avoiding certain places throughout the week?

Reveal Stories is a great tool for everyone in the trusted care team to keep a record of these hints at home, at school, and in the community. Using the “Quick Note” option on the app, you can type a quick note that describes the body’s response to anxiety and take a picture of where you are in that moment. Using the “Behavior” option, you can keep an accurate record of an anxious behavior, its intensity, frequency, and duration, as well as a description of what was happening in that moment.

The information that you and your team record using Reveal Stories can help you identify patterns in anxiety. For example, you might notice that certain behavioral signs of anxiety always happen at a certain time of day. Or, you might see that your student’s body language shows they are tense only in specific environments.

Some of these patterns might not be obvious at first. For example, it is possible that the food you eat and the amount of sleep you get will affect how you feel. With Reveal Stories, you can use the “Sleep” and “Diet” options to record information related to sleep quality and food.

The signs of anxiety might also be difficult to pick up. It often seems that people go from 0 to 100 in 3 seconds; the reality may be that anxiety may have been building up over a long period of time. Subtle hints may be present, for example, your kiddo may ask a lot of questions about a specific topic, or start speaking louder and louder. These can be hard to identify at first; but the more information you record, and the more your trusted team gets involved, the clearer the patterns will become.

Recording information at home, at school, and in the community is a great way to identify patterns and gain a deeper confidence in your ability to identify signs of anxiety. It is also important to remember to involve your team – including the people being supported – in collecting, sharing, and discussing this information.