Mindfulness and Meditation

UNDERSTANDING ANXIETY FROM INSIDE OUT: LESSONS FROM A TEENAGE BRAIN

Inside Out 2
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What’s even more cringy than a mother asking her teenage sons to go to the movies with her? Going to an animated movie. One full of little kids and their moms, and one about EMOTIONS. Seriously mom? Yep… they were going to kill me.

My obsession with the Inside Out series began just last summer, many years after its release. I was preparing for a keynote at the Hyde Museum’s Annual Luncheon, which was focused on the emotion “AWE.” In doing some research about awe, I discovered that one of my “go-to” resources in the field of Positive Psychology had a significant role in the creation of the original Inside Out movie. Dr. Dacher Keltner, co-director of U.C. Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, was consulted as part of the movie’s professional team. His role, after 30 years of teaching courses at Berkeley about emotions, was to bring a good dose of neuroscience to the set. In other words, to develop the characters (joy, anger, sadness, fear and disgust) with as much of an understanding behind each emotion as possible. And his well-researched input on the emotions played a huge role in Inside Out’s box office success.

Fast forward several years, and main character “Riley” is growing up. As many of us with pubescent tweens and teens know, LOTS of things change. Not just physically, but emotionally. In fact, we’re introduced to BIG, new emotions that have been lying dormant… until they’re ready to take over the teenage brain. And what a perfect opportunity for Pixar to bring back the professionals, to help us best understand these new emotions and the science behind them.

INTRODUCING NEW EMOTIONS

In Inside Out Two, we were introduced to Envy, Embarrassment, Ennui (boredom), and Anxiety (those emotions us parents-of-teens are often witnessing). Although there were many new characters, it was Anxiety that played the biggest role. As Dr. Keltner said in a recent interview, this was very purposeful. Between the increase social media usage, around-the-clock negative news cycles and political unrest, anxiety is something most of us are feeling in 2024, and is hardly limited to teens. It was very important for him to help both the teens and the adults responsible for them understand a bit more about the science behind these, real, and tough emotions.

As Anxiety takes over Riley’s life, it pushes all other core emotions aside and causes many disruptions. Eventually, Anxiety steps back when the other emotions, led by Joy, manage to restore balance and teach her that ALL emotions are essential in keeping us regulated.

HOW ANXIETY CAN HELP AND HURT US

Whether it’s manifested itself as a full-blown anxiety attack (like Riley’s) or more minor physical or mental challenges, anxiety is something that we will all experience. The surprising part? It’s not BAD to feel anxious. In fact, it plays several important roles in our everyday lives.
• It protects us. By activating the “fight-or-flight” response, we are ready to respond to a dangerous situation.
• It motivates us. Anxiety can play a key role in helping us to best prepare for important events and meet critical deadlines.

On the other hand, it’s important that we don’t allow it to take over the show, as it did in Riley’s case. Anxiety, when becoming chronic or overwhelming, could severely impact our lives by:
• Interfering with our concentration and focus
• Causing us to avoid interacting with others
• Leading to mental health issues such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and depression
• Contributing to health problems like digestive issues, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system

In addition to understanding it’s role, it’s also important to recognize when anxiety is “showing up” in your life. We all experience it differently. It may look like shortness of breath, like in Riley’s case, or something entirely different. There may be a lifestyle change you can make to help ease your anxiety (relaxation techniques, exercise, and sleep) or you may have to seek the help of a mental health professional. There are a range of useful interventions.

The most important thing to remember about anxiety is that it is there to serve a purpose, and we should recognize it as that. We must expect that it will come and go throughout life, but also be self-aware enough to know when it is taking over and negatively interfering with life.

Dragging my boys to Inside Out Two taught us all a great lesson: that each emotion, from joy to anxiety, plays a crucial role in our lives. Anxiety, as shown so clearly in Riley’s story, illustrates how an overpowering emotion can disrupt our equilibrium. At the same time, the film was also a great reminder that harmony among our emotions is essential to stay emotionally regulated. Just as Joy and her companions learn to work together with Anxiety and the new emotions, acknowledging and understanding our emotions and role they play empowers us to navigate life’s challenges in the most resilient way possible.

A lesson that was just as important for all adults to hear, as well as my moody, unpredictable teens boys.

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OBSESSED WITH INTENTIONAL LIVING, MINDFULNESS AND LIFELONG LEARNING.

Hi, I'm Ally.
Executive coach,
speaker, trainer and mindset shifter

Observing the declining state of mental health in a world of non-stop news, work-life overlap and distractions galore, Ally became committed to learning and sharing simple strategies, based on the research in the field of Positive Psychology, to help individuals and teams thrive.

Learn more

Ally Meyers is a certified executive coach  and speaker with workshops that translate the science of happiness into strategies to manage stress and increase resilience, productivity and well-being.

WWW.ALLISONMEYERS.COM