For my students who struggle with anxiety, I teach them the DARE method.
I confess to my teens that I came across this when I was struggling with anxiety-based-insomnia last school year. For many nights, I was unable to fall asleep until 3 or 4 most mornings. I then would have to wake up at 7am to take my son to school and go to work. At one point, I went for 6 days on 1 or 2 hours of sleep each night.
That’s around the time I came across Barry McDonagh’s book, “DARE”. It taught me, not to get rid of my anxiety, but how to work with it in a more skillful way. I use it each day and encourage my students to do the same.
So what does the DARE actually stand for?
The D is for Defuse
Most of our anxiety is future-based, where we worry and ask ourselves, “What if?” What if I can’t fall asleep tonight? What if I fail this test? What if I have an anxiety attack and pass out? What if my friend ditches me? What if my parents get divorced? What if I don’t get into a 4-year college.
The defuse is the response to the “What if?”. Answer with this question-“So what?”
What if I can’t fall asleep, so what? I can still get out of bed, go to school, and try to teach. I may not be at my best, but at least I can try.
What if I have an anxiety attack and pass out, so what? Someone will pick me up and help me.
What if I lose my friend, so what? I’ll make a new one.
What if I don’t get into Chapel Hill or Duke, so what? I’ll go to a cheaper college and have less college debt after getting the same degree.
The A is for Allow
Even after you defuse the anxiety, there will still be some residue left over. Accept it as a sensation, a part of the human experience. Remind yourself that this is natural and be willing to work with it.
The R is for Run To
The instinct is to stay in bed, vape, or isolate yourself-essentially to run away from your anxiety. But the best way to work with it is to run to it.
I use the example of Rocky when he faces Apollo Creed. In one of the final rounds, you can tell this underdog has been beaten up by his opponent. His eyes are nearly swollen shut. There’s blood coming from his nose and bruises forming all over his body.
He gets knocked down and the crowd thinks it’s over, but Rocky pushes him up and stands. Despite his bruises and pain, he rises and signals for Apollo to bring more punches, lunging towards his adversary. This broke guy from Philly survives all 15 rounds against the champion of the world.
It doesn’t matter if he wins or loses. He survives.
I remind my students that you don’t have to beat your anxiety. You don’t have to win the battle, but you can stay in the fight. You can run to the fear. I don’t care how big your anxiety is, you CAN go the distance.
The E is for Engage
I view the 4th step as a reward for completing the 1st 3. You engage in something you enjoy where you can be fully present. For me, it’s playing Mario Kart or Yoshi’s World on our Nintendo Switch, spending time with my family, singing to my favorite songs, or reading a book.
There’s a misconception about anxiety-you can just eliminate it. In reality, it’s not that easy. No matter how hard you try, it comes and goes.
It sucks, but it’s manageable, treatable, and it absolutely makes you stronger.
Get out of bed. Take that test. Speak up with confidence in class. Make new friends. Try something new. Play your heart out in that game.
Be brave! I DARE you. This is what I tell my students. This is also what I tell myself as a teacher.