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If you're living with anxiety, here's what you need to know about your brain.

Last weekend, I went to a speed-dating event. Just walking up to the door made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

I like to think of myself as a social, outgoing person. But when it comes to anything related to dating, I can be painfully shy.


A speed dating event in the U.K. Photo by Jack Taylor/AFP/Getty Images.

As I got closer to the building, I started to feel like there was some horrible, inaudible, invisible static in the air that only I could sense. To anyone else, I'm sure everything looked perfectly normal — the bar was nice, all the people I met were very lovely ... but I couldn't help but feel that static playing across the back of my neck.

I was, in other words, anxious.

Everyone gets anxious sometimes, and that's OK.

Image via iStock.

In fact, anxiety is a normal and evolutionary biological response to stressful situations. Our brains are really good at linking bad experiences (like awkward dates) and stimuli together, mostly because it keeps us safe.

If something bad happens and then you're in a similar situation in the future (like, say, having to talk to nearly 20 strangers in five-minute increments), your brain holds up big signs to help you remember to stay safe — signs like that prickling feeling on the back of my neck.

Other signs can be mental symptoms, like hypervigilance or intrusive thoughts, or physical ones, like a racing heartbeat or feeling nauseous or dizzy. And these can sometimes be really, really hard to ignore.

"[Anxiety is] a whole-body, a whole-mind, a whole-person experience," Dr. Michael Irvine told Upworthy.

Irvine is a clinical psychologist who knows a lot about anxiety. He's worked extensively with combat veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, a diagnosis that, at its heart, is about anxiety.

“It’s not just battling your thoughts. The work isn’t just trying to convince yourself not to be scared. Anxiety is a reflex."

Irvine explained that fighting off anxiety isn't as simple as just ignoring those anxious feelings.

“It’s not just battling your thoughts," said Irvine. "The work isn’t just trying to convince yourself not to be scared. Anxiety is a reflex."

And anxiety doesn't just affect our bodies and minds; it can actually affect how we see the world every day.

An anxious job applicant, circa 1940. Photo by Rondal Patridge/National Archives/Wikimedia Commons.

An experiment from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel showed clearly that having anxiety can affect our ability to process sights and sounds.

Researchers from the lab set up the experiment by training volunteers with specific sounds. They taught them that some sounds had good outcomes (gaining money), and some had bad outcomes (losing money).

Then they played the good and bad sounds, plus some benign and neutral ones, back to the volunteers. And what they found was fascinating: The volunteers with anxiety were more likely to identify benign sounds as bad sounds, too, even though those sounds were neutral.

Why? It wasn't a conscious decision. Instead, the anxious volunteers' brains had automatically overcompensated. In trying to keep them safe, their brains had changed the way they perceived all the sounds, not just the bad ones.

This might sound like an odd scenario, but it helps to explain why the speed-dating event was so weird for me. To outsiders, the event looked like a couple dozen young people enjoying themselves. But to my brain, through the filter of anxiety, the event was suddenly attached to bad dates of years past and uncomfortable social interactions. What might seem benign to everyone else actually looked much worse to me.

Sometimes, though, our brains take it too far.

Anxiety is normal — especially after a bad event — but, similar to how an overactive immune system can give us allergies, our brain's natural protective response can sometimes overcompensate. And when anxiety progresses to the point where it disrupts your everyday life, that's when it becomes what psychologists would call an anxiety disorder.

The U.S. Army now requires soldiers take suicide awareness classes. PTSD, an anxiety disorder, may be associated with higher suicide rates in soldiers. Photo from Chris Hondros/Getty Images.

About 1 out of every 5 adults in the U.S. is affected by an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders come in a lot of different forms, too, ranging from social anxiety disorder to PTSD.

I don’t have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, but for folks who do, the symptoms can be really paralyzing. Those intrusive thoughts and physical symptoms can keep people with anxiety disorders from leaving the house. The symptoms can make them struggle at work and seriously affect their quality of life.

The stigma of having an anxiety disorder can be just as tough as the symptoms, too.

Image from iStock.

Even though 1 in 5 people struggles with it, people who are living with anxiety disorders often feel like they should be able to fix themselves alone — to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. In a 2007 survey, only 25% of people with mental health symptoms said they believed people would be sympathetic to their stories.

But in reality, anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of; it's just your brain working extra hard. Plus, talking about your struggles and looking for treatment early are some of the best strategies for managing it.

"The earlier we intervene on the timeline, the more likely an individual is to get a better outcome," said Irvine.

So biologically, it's not too weird to have a prickly-neck feeling or an upset stomach while meeting a bunch of strangers.

But when your brain is dealing with anxiety, especially an anxiety disorder, it actually functions differently. Things that might be benign suddenly seem scary. Meeting potential dates might make you really sweat. An overwhelming feeling of being unsettled might come over you just as you enter a new place that reminds you of an old place.

That is OK. Because even though we can't always control how our brains see the world, or what warnings signs they throw in our faces (needed or not), we've got nothing to be ashamed of when we start to feel anxious.

And if you ever run into me at another speed-dating event, I hope you'll cut me some extra slack.

A young mom with her kids in the ER.

Sage Pasch’s unique family situation has attracted a lot of attention recently. The 20-something mother of 2 shared a 6-second TikTok video on September 29 that has been viewed over 33 million times because it shows how hard it can be for young moms to be taken seriously.

In the video, the young-looking Pasch took her son Nick to the ER after he injured his leg at school. But when the family got to the hospital, the doctor couldn’t believe Pasch was his mother. “POV, we’re at the ER, and the doctor didn’t believe I was the parent,” she captioned the post.


Pasch and her fiancé , Luke Faircloth, adopted the teen in 2022 after his parents tragically died two years apart. “Nick was already spending so much time with us, so it made sense that we would continue raising him,” Pasch told Today.com.

The couple also has a 17-month-old daughter named Lilith.

@coffee4lifesage

He really thought i was lying😭

Pasch says that people are often taken aback by her family when they are out in public. "Everybody gets a little confused because my fiancé and I are definitely younger to have a teenager," she said. "It can be very frustrating."

It may be hard for the young parents to be taken seriously, but their story has made a lot of people in a similar situation feel seen. "Omg, I feel this. I took my son to the ER, and they asked for the guardian. Yes, hi, that's me," Brittany wrote in the comments. "Meee with my teenager at a parent-teacher conference. They think I’m her older sister and say we need to talk with your parents," KatMonroy added.


This article originally appeared on 10.24.23

Photo by Tod Perry

A recreation of the note left on Brooke Lacey's car.

If you are having thoughts about taking your own life, or know of anyone who is in need of help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (273-8255) or text "HOME" to the Crisis Text Line: 741741.


There’s an old Hebrew saying that if you “save one life, you save the world entire.” Who knows if Brooke Lacey, 22, had that lofty goal when she began a campaign in 2020 to help uplift people’s spirits during the first COVID-19 wave.

But her kind efforts may have done just that.

Lacey has struggled with mental health issues throughout her life and she knew that people like her were going to have a really hard time during COVID-19 lockdowns. A study from May 2021 found that the New Zealand population had “higher depression and anxiety compared with population norms.” The study also found that “younger people” and “those most at risk of COVID-19 reported poorer mental health.”



To help those who may be struggling, Lacey printed 600 stickers with an uplifting message and posted them around places where people may take their lives, including trains, bridges and large bodies of water in Wellington, New Zealand. She also made a bumper sticker with the same message for her car.

The stickers spoke directly to those who may be contemplating taking their own life. “Please don’t take your life today,” the stickers read. “The world is so much better with you in it. More than you realize, stay.”

Earlier this month, Lacey parked her car in her university’s lot and when she returned to her vehicle to leave, she noticed a note was affixed to the windshield. Thinking it was someone complaining about how she parked or a ticket, she prepared for the worst but wound up being blindsided by the positive message.

“I left my house with a plan and asked for a sign, any sign, I was doing the right thing when I saw your car in the parking lot. Thank you,” the note read. At first, Lacey wasn’t sure what the person was referring to, then she remembered her homemade bumper sticker.

“I had these made so long ago, put one on my car and forgot about them, until now,” she tweeted on her since deactivated account. “I am so glad whoever you are chose to stay today. You never know who needs this reminder.”

Now, it’s unclear exactly what the person’s “plan” was, but there's no doubt that Lacey’s bumper sticker inspired them to choose life. Let’s hope that the sticker also inspired them to seek professional help for whatever difficulties they are going through.

Whether it was intentional or not, Lacey’s sticker was effective because it followed one of the most important strategies that people use at suicide hotlines. According to Science.org, it’s of utmost importance that people contemplating suicide are handled with “respect and empathy.”

Lacey's story is a beautiful reminder of the power that one simple, thoughtful gesture can have on another person’s life. Every day, there are people all around us who are looking for a sign to give them a reason keep going. Whether it’s a hug, a smile or the right message in the right place at the right time, we should all be like Lacey and make sure everyone knows that the world is better with them in it. In fact, much more than they ever realize.


This article originally appeared on 02.24.22

Education

Someone criticized a middle school teacher's behavior. Her comeback was an A+.

When a person commented, "your a teacher act like it," Amy Allen hilariously took the advice to heart.

A rude commenter got a lesson from Ms. Allen.

Being a teacher isn't easy. Teaching middle school students is especially not easy. Teaching middle school students who spent several of their formative years going through a global pandemic in the age of smartphones, social media and a youth mental health crisis is downright heroic.

If you haven't spent time in a middle school classroom, you may not fully grasp the intensity of it on every level, from the awkwardness to the body odor to the delightful hilarity that tweens bring to the table. When you connect with your students, it can be incredibly rewarding, and when you don't…well, we all read "Lord of the Flies," right?

Skilled teachers bring out the best in young people, and that can be done in many different ways. For Amy Allen, it's by making her middle school classroom a fun, welcoming place to learn and by bonding with her students.


"I love teaching middle schoolers because they are awkward, and I’m awkward, so we get along," Allen tells Upworthy.

She plays games with students, gets rambunctious with them and creates opportunities for them to expend some of that intense pre-and-early-teen energy in healthy ways. For instance, she shared a video of a game of "grudgeball," an active trivia game that makes reviewing for a quiz or test fun and competitive, and you can see how high-energy her classroom is:

@_queenoftheclassroom

If this looks like fun to you, pick up my grudgeball template (🔗 in bio) #qotc #grudgeball #10outof10recommend @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️

"I think for teachers, we always want to create moments for our students that are beyond the standard reading, writing, memorizing, quiz, 'traditional learning,'" Allen says. "Games are a great way to incorporate fun in the classroom."

Allen clearly enjoyed the game as much as her students—"I love the chaos!" she says— and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Fun keeps teachers sane, too. But one person took issue with her classroom behavior and commented, "your a teacher act like it." (Not my typo—that's exactly what the person wrote, only with no period.)

Allen addressed the comment in another video in the most perfect way possible—by acting exactly like a teacher.

Watch:

@_queenoftheclassroom

Replying to @كل الكلبات تريد مني Come see me if you have any further questions. #qotc #iteachmiddleschool #weDEFINITELYdonthavefuninhere @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ #Inverted

There are two solid ways to handle a rude comment without making things worse—you can ignore it or you can craft a response that makes the person look like a fool without being cruel or rude yourself. Allen's grammar lesson response was A+ work, right down to the "Come see me if you have any further questions" caption.

In fact, the person apparently went back and deleted their comment after the comeback video went viral, which makes it all the more hilarious. The video currently has more than 4 million views on TikTok and over 18 million views on YouTube.

"What’s funny is I left my correction on the board accidentally, and the next day, students asked me what that was all about," Allen says. "When I explained it, they thought it was cool because 'why would anyone go after Ms. Allen'? At that point, the video had maybe 10,000 views. I never imagined the video would go viral."

Two days later, as the video was creeping toward a million views, she upped the stakes. "Some of my students are my ultimate hype people, and they were tracking it harder than I was," she says. "I made a 'deal' with my fifth period if it reached 1 million during their class, they could sit wherever they wanted the entire week. During lunch, I checked, and it reached 1 million. So when they came back from recess, I announced it, and it was like I was a rockstar. They screamed and cheered for me. It was an incredible moment for me."

The irony, of course, is that Allen was acting like a teacher in her grudgeball video—an engaged teacher with engaged students who are actively participating in the learning process. Just because it doesn't look like serious study doesn't mean it's not learning, and for some kids, this kind of activity might be far more effective at helping them remember things they've learned (in this case, vocabulary words) than less energetic ways of reviewing.

Allen has her thumb on the pulse of her students and goes out of her way to meet them where they are. Last year, for instance, she created a "mental health day" for her students. "I could tell they were getting burnt out from all the state tests, regular homework, and personal life extracurricular activities that many of my students participate in," she says. "We went to my school library for 'fireside reading,' solved a murder mystery, built blanket forts, watched the World Cup, colored, and completed sudokus. Is it part of the curriculum? No. Is it worth spending one class period doing something mentally rewarding for students? Absolutely."

Teaching middle school requires a lot of different skills, but perhaps the most important one is to connect with students, partly because it's far easier to teach someone actually wants to be in your classroom and partly because effective teaching is about so much more than just academics. A teacher might be the most caring, stable, trustworthy adult in some students' lives. What looks like silly fun and games in a classroom can actually help students feel safe and welcomed and valued, knowing that a teacher cares enough to try to make learning as enjoyable as possible. Plus, shared laughter in a classroom helps build a community of engaged learners, which is exactly what a classroom should be.

Keep up the awesome work, Ms. Allen, both in the classroom and in the comment section.

You can follow Amy Allen on TikTok and YouTube.

Pop Culture

Why Gotye gave up $10 million in ad revenue from his 'Somebody That I Used to Know' video

The humble singer-songwriter's story is a cautionary tale of viral fame.

Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know" video has 2.2 billion views on YouTube.

For most musicians, creating a hit song and making it big on the international stage would be living the dream. For Gotye, it turned out to be a bit of a nightmare.

Gotye is the stage name of Wouter "Wally" De Backer, the singer-songwriter behind the 2011 smash hit song, "Somebody That I Used to Know." The music video for the song becoming one of YouTube's most-liked videos, and with 2.2 billion views, the video could have earned over $10 million in ad revenue.

But De Backer has refused to place ads on it, saying, "I'm not interested in selling my music. That's the reason I don't put ads on my YouTube channel, which seems strange to people in today's climate, but that is a decision you can make. I'm like that with all my music."

It was the fame that came with the virality of the song that was the bigger issue for the artist, however. It's a simple enough thing to turn down money, but there's not much you can do to stop a viral wave.


The song took six months to write and produce, and when the video leaked a week before its official release, it quickly caught fire. At first, De Backer was just excited that his song was being played on the radio. Then the virality online took hold and that was also exciting for a while.

From the start, De Backer was grateful for the song's success, but he also managed to stayed simple and humble. He didn't buy anything large or luxurious with the money he made from song sales, being content to drive his old van. And when he was asked what was the best thing that happened in the previous year, he responded, "It probably wouldn't be anything to do with a marker of success of my song or my album. More something like a really great swim I took at Summer's Beach near where I live."

Soon the covers and parodies of the "Somebody That I Used to Know" grew more widespread and the quality of them began to wane, De Backer began to feel "burnt out" on it all. He had no control over people connecting name with whatever they were hearing done to his song, which was frustrating. He started to feel the pressures that come with fame, to have a certain personality or to follow up his huge hit with another huge hit. And he missed feeling like he had a personal connection with his audience, which becomes difficult at a certain scale.

He even began to feel self-conscious about the popularity of the song due to its theme—two people who had broken up and couldn't work out their differences. The fact that so many people were celebrating it so fiercely was uncomfortable for him; he didn't want to be responsible for spreading more angst or bitterness in the world. And then came the "overplayed" and "annoying" era of oversaturation. He even apologized to people for having to hear the song so often because radios wouldn't stop playing it.

Ultimately, he ceased putting out music as a solo artist and focused on making music with his long-time band, The Basics. There is a possibility for another solo Gotye project sometime in the next decade, but he's probably hoping he doesn't end up with a big hit next time around.

Watch SunnyV2 tell the story of Gotye's "one hit wonder" experience and how it impacted his musical career:

It's a cautionary tale for anyone who thinks they want to be famous or wishes they'd have a song go viral. Parts of that experience can be great, but fame isn't always everything it's cracked up to be.

via Pexels

A woman sitting cross-legged on a yoga mat

Everyone wants to know how long they will live and there are many indicators that can show whether someone is thriving or on the decline. But people have yet to develop a magic formula to determine exactly how long someone should expect to live.

However, a doctor recently featured on the "Today" show says a straightforward test can reveal the likelihood that someone aged 51 to 80 will die in the near future.

NBC News medical contributor Dr. Natalie Azar was on the "Today" show on March 8 and demonstrated how to perform the simple “sit to stand test” (aka sit-rising test or SRT) that can help determine the longevity of someone between 51 to 80.


The test is pretty simple. Go from standing to sitting cross-legged, and then go back to standing without using any parts of your body besides your legs and core to help you get up and down. The test measures multiple longevity factors, including heart health, balance, agility, core and leg strength and flexibility.

You begin the test with a score of 10 and subtract points on your way up and down for doing the following:

Hand used for support: -1 point

Knee used for support: -1 point

Forearm used for support: -1 point

One hand on knee or thigh: -1 point

Side of leg used for support: -1 point

A 2012 study published by the European Society of Cardiology found a correlation between the SRT score and how long people live. The study was conducted on 2002 people, 68% of whom were men, who performed the SRT test and were followed by researchers in the coming years. The study found that “Musculoskeletal fitness, as assessed by SRT, was a significant predictor of mortality in 51–80-year-old subjects.”

Those who scored in the lowest range, 0 to 3, had up to a 6 times greater chance of dying than those in the highest scores (8 to 10). About 40% of those in the 0 to 3 range died within 11 years of the study.

Azar distilled the study on "Today," saying: "The study found that the lower the score, you were seven times more likely to die in the next six years.”

"Eight points or higher is what you want," Azar said. "As we get older, we spend time talking cardiovascular health and aerobic fitness, but balance, flexibility and agility are also really important," she stressed.

One should note that the people who scored lowest on the test were the oldest, giving them an elevated risk of death.

Dr. Greg Hartley, Board Certified Geriatric Clinical Specialist and associate professor at the University of Miami, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that we should take the study with a grain of salt. “Frailty, strength, muscle mass, physical performance—those things are all correlated to mortality, but I would caution everybody that correlation doesn’t mean causation,” he said.

And of course, the test doesn't take into account injuries or disabilities that may make doing the test impossible. But one of the study's authors says that the study is a call to take our mobility seriously.

“The more active we are the better we can accommodate stressors, the more likely we are to handle something bad that happens down the road,” Dr. Claudio Gil Araujo, told USA Today.


This article originally appeared on 3.10.23