Avani Dilger is asking people to fall in love with their anxiety, to tap into the energy and see it as a superpower that can help.

“We say to kids and parents, at this point in the world, if you have anxiety, you are more intelligent, more sensitive and more caring,” said Dilger, who started Boulder‘s Natural Highs program for teens and is a licensed professional counselor. “How do we tap into this energy?”

Her workshop was part of the third annual symposium on stress and anxiety held over the weekend at Louisville‘s Monarch High School.

About 140 people attended the two-day event designed to “address the impact that stress and anxiety is having on people‘s day-to-day experience of life.”

“We had a lot of people talking to us, saying their children were stressed and parents were stressed,” said Shelly Mahon, Parent Engagement Network‘s executive director. “This is an effort to bring our whole community together to address an important issue.”

She said the symposium has expanded from a half day of teaching quick techniques to help manage stress in the first year to this year‘s two day event that combines techniques with information.

“Participants wanted more than just techniques,” she said. “They want to understand.”

Parent Jasmine Rodriguez said she learned tools to help with resilience, tolerance and stress management that she can use now with her young children and into their teen years.

“It‘s hard not to want to go to every session,” she said.

The symposium offered a selection of about 45 classes and workshops, some in Spanish, on topics that included “Creating Authentic Connections with Your Teen,” “Fight or Flight Therapy” and “The Gut-Brain Connection.”

Shawna Warner, founder of Cultivating Resilient Teens, led a session on how parents can stay “in neutral” when responding to teens and pre-teens.

“I really, truly believe we are stronger as parents together,” she said.

One tip she offered is to ask if the teen just wants someone to listen or instead wants support or advice.

One mom said she will say the advice she really wants to give only in her head. Another mom said she‘ll ask if her teen wants a monologue or a dialogue.

To stay calm when faced with a teen making a bad choice, Warner offered suggestions on how to avoid going into “fight, flight or freeze” mode and encouraged focusing on how to make the conversation feel safe for the teen.

“Nothing good happens when you‘re freaking out,” she said. “In those calm conversations is where you get the gems and nuggets of what‘s really going on.”

In the “Turn Anxiety into Your Superpower” session, Dilger talked about the brain being designed in the stone age with reactions to keep you alive — and how the brain remained the same even as the world changed.

“There‘s very often a disconnect between how our brain works and the modern world,” she said. “If your survival mechanism in 2019 is playing dead, that‘s not working for you.”

She then led participants through an exercise to release the survival energy, or anxiety and stress, that‘s built up by pushing against each other or a wall and vocalizing what they‘re feeling.

Participant Vasi Smith, a student teacher at Boulder Community School of Integrated Studies, said she appreciated a novel way of thinking about stress.

“We think of stress as a negative, but it‘s energy,” she said. “I can use it to help me.”


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