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  1. A friend of mine recently brought up a concern he had and was worried that he was overreacting. His son, who is friends with my youngest daughter, was beginning to struggle in school. It wasn’t that the educational material was beyond him. The problem was that his son refused to turn in the work he had already completed. In the beginning, my friend was just confused. The teacher sent a note home explaining that his son was doing the work but not handing it into her. When she had asked why, his son had become agitated and said it wasn’t done, even though she could clearly see he had completed it. This back-and-forth continued to happen for several more days until the teacher insisted he needed to turn in his work. At that point, the boy had become almost inconsolably upset and had to be removed from the class. When the teacher and other staff tried to figure out what was wrong, he kept insisting none of his work was done yet, and he had to “fix it.” Worrying Signs of Mental Illness My friend was worried, but he wondered if it was just a phase. However, he has since gone with his son to his pediatrician, who recommended a child psychologist that specializes in childhood Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). You see, this isn’t the only symptom that my friend’s son was experiencing. He would become overwhelmed if people tried to move anything out of place in his unusually spotless room. He also became highly anxious at the idea of others touching his possessions. When asked a simple question, like if he wanted a snack, my friend’s son would sometimes get too upset to answer and wind up with a stomach ache. These kinds of behaviors in children are often written off as “quirks” or “oddities.” Really, they may be a sign of developing OCD, which in turn can be a symptom of a larger problem. Misrepresentations of OCD in Media We have all seen the tropes. In the long-running comedy show Monk, the titular character suffers from a form of OCD that forces him to obsess over cleanliness and counting. In an episode of Scrubs, Michael J Fox plays a doctor who can’t stop scrubbing his hands raw. The truth is that OCD can exhibit a number of symptoms that don’t follow by the classical clichés we are used to seeing on the screen. Some lesser-known signs your child might be suffering from this condition include: Signs of intense anxiety that seem triggered by specific environments or conditions, like certain classes, or social situations. Red, raw or dry patches of skin, including the hands, due to excessive washing or use of antibacterial products like hand sanitizer. A rigidness about possessions, including them being handled by or moved by others. A constant need for reassurance that they are following directions properly, doing well on assignments/tasks or signs of aggravation when they don’t get enough reassurance. Needing excessive clarification or directions for simple tasks. Sensory issues, such as being bothered by the feeling of a tag on their clothing. These, along with more traditional and well-known signs, could indicate that your child is suffering from OCD. OCD & Comorbid Conditions If you notice some of these signs in your child, their problems might not stop with their compulsive behaviors. Certain conditions can be overlapping or even trigger the OCD in the first place. Certain forms of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, and Oppositional Defiant Disorder are all commonly seen in combination with OCD. Depression and other mental illness may also be an issue. Those who have, for example, Bipolar Disorder exhibiting early may see an increase in signs of OCD during manic phases. Those with depression could become obsessed with a single aspect of their lives that help them maintain a semblance of control. Because of the complexity of the issue, getting professional help is crucial. My friend worried that he was overreacting to his son’s behavior. In his case, he was right to be concerned. Even if your child is only going through a phase or something normal for their age, there is nothing wrong with making sure. It is better to be safe than sorry and early intervention is going to give your child a leg up on what are very manageable and treatable conditions. Resources National Institute of Mental Health, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/index.shtml Pelini, Sanya, Psych Central, Understanding the Link Between Anxiety and Problem Behavior In Young Kids and How You Can Help, https://psychcentral.com/blog/understanding-the-link-between-anxiety-and-problem-behavior-in-young-kids-and-how-you-can-help/ Heller, Kalman, PhD, Psych Central, Sensitive Children Who Develop Significant Anxiety, https://psychcentral.com/lib/sensitive-children-who-develop-significant-anxiety/ Liahona Academy, Standing Up For Teen Anxiety, https://www.liahonaacademy.com/standing-up-for-teen-anxiety-infographic.html Wortmann, Fletcher, Psychology Today, Why “Monk” Stunk, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/triggered/201305/why-monk-stunk View the full article
  2. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is defined as “an anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent and disturbing thoughts (called obsessions) and/or repetitive, ritualized behaviors that the person feels driven to perform (called compulsions). It may manifest in the form of hand washing until skin is red and raw, checking doors multiple times even if the key just turned in the lock, or making certain the stove is turned off even if one has done it a moment ago. It isn’t a memory issue, since the person is aware of having just engaged in the behaviors. Many years ago, I had the experience of interviewing a world-renowned yoga teacher who had symptoms of OCD. Seane Corn had shared that in childhood she would count in even numbers, have to walk in certain ways, be tapped on the shoulder a particular number of times. Growing up in a secular Jewish family, she had no concept of a protective God, so she took on that role herself, believing that her rituals kept her loved ones safe. When she began practicing yoga as a young adult that she found the postures exacting enough to satisfy those needs to feel a sense of balance in her life, since it had felt so out of control. Since then, she has taught all around the world, working with those living with HIV and AIDS, as well as with child survivors of sex-trafficking. A teen whose family immigrated from a predominantly Catholic country presented with symptoms of OCD and anxiety, following a visit to churches and cemeteries on a trip back home with his parents. They took the form of feeling like he was walking through portals while simply entering doorways in his home. They were also connected to the death of a loved one and guilt that he had not been there for him as much as he would have wanted to be. His family didn’t instill those feelings; he took it on himself, as he freely admitted. A man who was also raised in the Catholic tradition had obsessive thoughts that bordered on self-torment as his perseveration was about punishment for nebulous ill-advised deeds that he couldn’t easily identify. He felt as his every move was being scrutinized and he would glance upward as if checking on God checking on him. He attended Mass and went to confession regularly. He prayed the rosary, and still he felt unforgivable. Both people could acknowledge that they were kind and compassionate with others, had not committed crimes and yet were left with the message they were sinners. Each of them knew that their feelings were illogical and irrational. By definition, their form of OCD could fit under the category of Scrupulosity, described in this way, “Those suffering with Scrupulosity hold strict standards of religious, moral, and ethical perfection.” Joseph Ciarrocci, who is the author of The Doubting Disease says that the origin of the word, comes from the Latin word scrupulum, which is defined as a small sharp stone. For some if may feel as if they are being stabbed by the stone or at walking on it barefoot. What they have in common is the erroneous belief that they need to be shining examples of virtue in order to be acceptable to God and the people in their lives. They freely admit that their families and friends would view them in a positive light and that God would give them a thumbs up. As is so for OCD and one of its co-morbid conditions, anxiety, it involves a “what if?” and “if only” mindset. Each one questioned his future which was uncertain. They were reminded that no one’s life is cast in stone and that change is a natural part of the journey. Each one had a pivotal event or series of occurrences that triggered the symptoms. The first person’s experience was the death of his grandparent, coupled with visiting sacred sites. The second person’s experience was a painful injury sustained in childhood, from which he has recovered physically, but clearly not so, emotionally. As an interfaith minister, as well as social worker, I inform clients that I have no right to tell them what to believe spiritually. Instead, I engage in exploration with them, inquiring about the relationship with the God of their understanding. The work involves Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Gestalt exercises as they dialogue with deity, their OCD symptoms and the prevailing anxiety that may have triggered the behaviors. It involves relaxation and stress management techniques, using self-chosen mantras and affirmations, as well as hand mudras that are affirming as opposed to becoming a source of stress. It also includes reality testing as they prove that what they most fear is not likely to occur. I remind them that they are works in progress and that perfection doesn’t exist on this human plane. They come to accept that any skill they now have was once unfamiliar and uncomfortable and that by practicing, they improved. The same is so for any desired behavioral change. An example is folding hands together and asking which thumb naturally falls on top. Once they have provided the answer, I ask them to reverse the position and once they have done so, I ask how it feels. The initial feedback is that it “feels weird” and brings about a sense of uneasiness. Given enough time, they admit that they could get used to it. The same is so for OCD symptoms. When they are viewed as never-ending, they are more fearsome than if the person can imagine living without them. If they are able to tolerate the stress of not practicing the behaviors, they are closer to overcoming them. I remind them that by resisting the symptoms, they are more likely to continue. There is, however, a balance between repressing them and letting them run amok. Befriending God within them has helped these people to begin to accept their own inherent worthiness and enhances their desire to alleviate their own suffering. View the full article
  3. Admin

    OCD and Physical Pain

    I don’t think it comes as a surprise to many people that physical pain and mental pain often seem to be connected. I often hear from people with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder who also suffer from debilitating physical pain. And it’s not unusual, once their OCD is treated, for their physical symptoms to subside or even disappear completely. Sometimes the pain those with OCD experience is directly related to compulsions they perform. For example, some people with OCD are compelled to perform extensive rituals while showering, perhaps twisting and turning in particular ways for a specific amount of time. This might lead to chronic back or neck pain. Repetition is common with compulsions and can lead to physical pain such as arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome. I have heard of those who deal with trichotillomania experiencing relentless pain in their arms, wrists, hands and fingers. Also, turning doorknobs and tightening water faucets are other common compulsions in OCD that can lead to injury and physical pain. In other cases, pain appears unrelated to the disorder. Headaches, intestinal issues, and fibromyalgia are just a few examples. Are they connected to obsessive-compulsive disorder? I don’t know, but I do know that having both physical pain and OCD can get quite complicated. For example, if someone has a severe headache for a good amount of time, he or she would (hopefully) go to their doctor. The doctor might order a test, such as an MRI, which hopefully would come back normal. The person’s headache subsides, and life returns to normal. That’s if you don’t have OCD. If you do have OCD, you might feel reassured immediately after the results of the MRI, but then the obsessive thinking might kick in: How can I be sure the test didn’t miss something? I tripped the other day and have been more forgetful than usual. I must have a brain tumor. Maybe the doctors got my test results mixed up with someone else’s? As you can imagine, this list is endless. Compulsions to temporarily quell this anxiety might include going back to the doctor, asking a loved one for reassurance, or being hyperaware of every “symptom” you feel. All of these rituals only serve to make the OCD stronger. Nothing is simple when it comes to OCD. In an interesting study, researchers found that participants with obsessive-compulsive disorder were actually unusually tolerant of physical pain, regardless of the nature or severity of their symptoms. The scientists believe these findings suggest that individuals who struggle with emotional pain are able to endure physical pain to a much greater extent than others. In a nutshell, it appears the physical pain distracts from the emotional pain. This finding can perhaps give us somewhat of an understanding of the role of self-injury in OCD. Perhaps those with OCD are willing to endure physical pain as a distraction from their emotional distress. Experiencing physical pain might also be seen as an expression of negative self-worth, or as a means to gain control over some aspect of suffering. It’s interesting that two comments made by study participants were noted by the researchers. One comment was that the pain “felt good” and the other was, “In all the craziness of my OCD, pain is a constant. It’s one thing that you can count on.” So, the participants with OCD felt that this physical pain was something they could control in their otherwise chaotic world. Pain and obsessive-compulsive disorder appear to be connected in different ways. As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, however, when OCD is properly treated, many symptoms of pain often diminish, or disappear completely. Another great reason to get proper treatment and fight OCD. View the full article
  4. Anxiety feels like showing up to the start of a marathon with zero preparation. You haven’t trained a day in your life, and you have no idea what you’re doing. Common sense tells you this is a long race, you need to pace to survive. But without warning, and out of your control, a powerful force won’t let you. It takes over and you sprint the first few miles, burn out, then fall to the side of the road confused and frustrated. Is everyone else experiencing this? How are they able to control their speed and finish this race? Anxiety serves us well in situations where we need our fight or flight reflexes engaged. And some anxiety is normal, helpful even. However, anxiety that requires constant attention can have negative emotional and physical effects. As researchers at the Bio Behavioral Institute state, “anxiety is a single word that represents a broad range of emotional intensity. At the low end of the intensity range, anxiety is normal and adaptive. At the high end of the intensity range, anxiety can become pathological and maladaptive. While everyone experiences anxiety, not everyone experiences the emotion of anxiety with the same intensity, frequency, or duration as someone who has an anxiety disorder.” I have a long history of family members suffering from anxiety, and until I reached college I didn’t recognize my own struggles with it. I was not well-educated in mental health and spent years sucking it up, thinking my issues were part of a personality flaw. When I met my in-laws, I had new introspection and an encouraging platform to start researching and taking control of my own care plan. I spent time studying and speaking with others, and eventually ended up in counseling, which I now use as a critical resource for many areas of self-improvement. When the nerves of anxiety are firing, I am aware. I work to slow them down and spread them out, calm the fear instinct and rationalize my way down. But as many who suffer from anxiety can attest, my brain lacks the ability to cooperate. While the onset is unpredictable and can happen anytime during the day, my struggles mainly present in the evening. When the day is over, and the list is accomplished, my mind has nowhere left to run, so it creates its own new track. Studies have shown things like deep breathing, meditation, exercise, healthy eating, therapy, and when necessary medication can all be helpful strategies for managing anxiety. I personally implement them all, and at times struggle regardless. For some, anxiety is a chronic condition that needs constant monitoring. Attention to management tactics and what works best for our own personal spice of anxiety is critical. This past year I have found two new strategies that have helped my sense of restless mind-racing: books and podcasts. Before this year I was not much of a reader, I simply didn’t want to invest the time. What I discovered they offer me is an escape from my tornado brain. Books have provided a way to feel productive but shut off the part of my thoughts that feel necessary to constantly be on the run. Being able to disengage while reading means I don’t have to fight my thoughts, even if just for a small amount of time each day! Podcasts have had a similar effect. They provide free access to endless information and encouragement — and education in a variety of subjects. I never was a bookworm and didn’t particularly excel in school, but I have always enjoyed learning new things. Podcasts have proved to be a productive way to shut my brain up. Something about being productive with my mind helps it wear down enough to disengage. Some days I wonder what it’s like to live with a mind that is easier to control. Where it’s not necessary to constantly be on guard with management strategies ready in place. I realize I may not be able to cure anxiety and the effects that follow it. But there won’t be a day I stop working to find ways to improve its functions, and advocate for others to educate and reach for help themselves! References: Jacofsky, M. D., Santos, M. T., Khemlani-Patel, S., Neziroglu, F. (2018). Normal And Abnormal Anxiety: What’s The Difference? Retrieved from https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/normal-and-abnormal-anxiety-what-s-the-difference/ View the full article
  5. “This time, we are holding onto the tension of not knowing, not willing to press the panic button. We are unlearning thousands of years of conditioning.” – Sukhvinder Sircar This morning I awoke feeling uncertain about the direction my life was taking. Was it what I wanted in all areas? Was I right to be living where I wanted to, in London, away from family? Was I doing the “right thing” restructuring my business, and was I doing the “right thing” going away for two months next year? I’ve had a few days like this recently, and while I’d like to blame it on my external circumstances, I know differently. I’m simply feeling stuck in thought. I learned this in what I perceive as “the hard way.” Three years ago, I experienced trauma that left me feeling empty and abandoned. I got married. You wouldn’t think that this was a traumatic experience, but in the space of one month (and for no apparent reason whatsoever), my family told me that I was “no longer part of their family” and that I “deserved” to be abandoned by my dad when I was four, and my new mother-in-law to be told me that she had “never liked me but that she would try.” Also, I lost my best friend of ten years. It’s safe to say that my wedding day was a blur and I felt broken. Instead of experiencing wedded bliss, I ended up questioning my relationship and traveling alone to try to “find myself.” Really, I was trying to escape my pain and run from the uncertainty I was feeling about life. Fast forward three years, and I now know something different. When we are feeling uncertain or doubtful, trying to predict the future or trying to work out the past—whenever we are not in the moment—it is because we are actually caught up in our thinking. Sure, we can blame many of our external circumstances for these feelings and choices—there are plenty of things that have occurred this week that I could say have “made me” feel uncertain. But since I’ve discovered the truth of who I really am, I now know that my uncertainty is, in fact, coming from me. Ultimately, our thinking influences how we experience the external world, which means we have a choice in how our circumstances impact us. That being said, it is human nature, and completely normal, to get caught up in our feelings about external events at times. The point is that we don’t need to be scared of our human experience or try to think our way out of it; we just need to accept our feelings until they pass. It’s an Inside-Out Reality As I journeyed through life after what felt like a breakdown, I came across a profound understanding about the nature of our human experience, which totally transformed the way I saw and danced with life. I now call this my “Transformational Truth principles.” These principles explain how our entire reality is thought-created, which means that everything we see in the world and everything we feel comes from our thinking So, using my current experience as an example: I’ve been feeling uncertain about where I should live, whether I should travel for such a long time, and how I’m going to restructure my business and maintain my finances. I know that I am feeling anxious about these things solely because of my thoughts. If I weren’t worried about uncertainty (if I didn’t have an “uncertainty bothers me” lens), then it wouldn’t upset me at all. If I focused on the potential of my business growth, the excitement of the travel journey, and the beautiful feeling of living where I want to be living in London, I’d be feeling that thinking instead. So, external events that are happening can’t impact us, unless what we believe about them bothers us. It’s the same with anything. If someone criticizes us, it can’t impact us unless we believe it ourselves. Say someone criticized my creative talents, for example; I would probably laugh because I see myself as creative. If, like with my wedding, they criticized my worthiness, my ability to be loved, or left me, I might sob into my pillow for days, because at times, like many of us, I doubt my self-worth and question if I’m lovable. Just because people thought I was unlovable, that doesn’t mean I am. The only reason it impacted me was because I believed it myself. In this way the external only ever points us to what we think about ourselves, and not to the truth. Our Thoughts Are Not the Truth We get so caught up in believing our own stories that we often forget to step back and see that what we think is just thought. Thoughts aren’t always facts. What’s more, you might notice how our thinking fluctuates. We can think differently about the same thing in each different moment. That’s because our thoughts are transient, and fresh new thinking is available to us in each moment. When you understand this, you might well wonder, “Well, what is the truth then?” The truth is underneath our thinking. Within all of us there is a wisdom—a clarity—that is innately accessible to us, if we just allow the space to listen to it. We do this by simply seeing our thoughts as “just thought” floating around in our head. Noticing this allows our thoughts to drop away—without us doing anything. Allowing Space and Flowing Usually, instead, we are likely to have a whole host of thoughts around how to react when we feel anxious about uncertainty. For me personally, I would usually want to force and control things in order to “fix” my lack of certainty over my relationship or whatever my uncertainty might be in the moment—living where I was living, traveling, or restructuring my business. You might make lists of action plans, or work out worst-case scenarios, or analyze why it happened. This has always been a temptation of mine, and I spent months on this after my wedding, trying to work out if I should be with my husband or not, whether life would forever be difficult if I had children, why my in-laws didn’t like me, and why my dad left. But, again, in the same way I now understand that it is not the external that creates my feelings about uncertainty, I also understand that there is no need to force certainty, or even look for the “why.” Sometimes there isn’t one. Certainty Is an Illusion It’s an illusion that there is any certainty in the first place. Life is always evolving and, as such, there is no safety net beyond the one we imagine. We do this all the time, but the only certainty in life is that there isn’t any! Anything we predict is just our mind trying to “fix something,” which is futile. It can seem scary to think that we have no certainty, that we can’t fix things, but when we understand that there is actually nothing to fix—because nothing is broken—we can settle back into the flow of life. I’m not saying it always feels easy, but I have experienced how my feelings about my wedding traumas settled down when I began to understand this. We Are Universally Guided and Already Whole We only see that there is something to “fix” because this is, again, our construction of reality. We are unlearning thousands of years of conditioning of how we view the world: ideas that certainty exists, and that we need to fix ourselves if things don’t look how we think they should. Sydney Banks, the original inspirer of my Transformational Truth principles, said: “If the only thing people learned was not to be afraid of their experience, that alone would change the world.” Because, actually, there is nothing to fear. I believe we are always exactly where we need to be—because we are part of this amazingly miraculous universe, which is guided by some sort of powerful intelligence that no one really understands. In this way, we are already whole, always connected, and always safe. There is nothing to fix, because we are not broken. Ultimately, the “answer” we are looking for is pointless. There is no “answer,” and we don’t need one. All we need to do is see how life really works and allow ourselves to accept where we are in each moment, knowing that it is a transient, thought-created experience of life. We just need to flow, move with what happens, and sit in our feelings, knowing that they are thought-based, they can’t harm us, and they will soon pass. In her poem “She Is a Frontier Woman,” Sukhvinder Sircar explains this well in saying that all we really need to do is hold on to the tension of not knowing and not press the panic button. Allow the Creative Force of Life Flow And so, this morning, as I woke feeling uncertain, I got out my yoga mat and journal. I stretched, I moved my body, I sat in the feelings I had, knowing that they would pass, even though they felt horrible. I knew that they were not part of me, but simply my thinking, trying to convince me of something I believed that was fundamentally not the truth. I let go. I flowed. I accepted what I didn’t know. I didn’t press the panic button. Instead, I wrote this. In the space where I could have (and would have previously) worried and attempted to solve things, the creative force of life—which is actually underneath all of our thoughts—simply flowed through me. In a much more beautiful way than it could have done had I indulged my imagined beliefs about the external. When we sit back, creation gifts us with exactly what we need in each moment. We simply need to understand how this works and allow it. This post is courtesy of Tiny Buddha. View the full article
  6. ​​Social anxiety is finally becoming a more understood disorder. In the past, it was treated with less than stellar seriousness in both the professional and non-professional world. Often mistaken for shyness or even antisocial qualities, we now see that this is a very real phobia that can have a painful impact on the sufferer’s life. Teenagers and Social Pressure Teenagers are one group that is especially prone to social anxiety. The myriad of social stigmas associated with adolescence and growing to adulthood are hard enough. But then you add in the need to perform well in school, the competitiveness of modern academics and college applications, the dynamics of their peer groups, changing bodies, still forming minds, problems at home and a host of other factors. Is it any wonder depression and anxiety are such a serious problem for teenagers? Genetics may be a contributing element at play, as well. A study by the Institute of Human Genetics at the University of Bonn found that a serotonin transporter called SLC6A4 could have a significant impact on the chances a person will suffer from social anxiety. If you have social anxiety, there is a chance your kid could end up with it as well. Then there is technology. The world moves a mile a minute, and every second of every day seems to be recorded for posterity. Every young person is under a constant microscope. We all remember the days when we did stupid, reckless things in our youth. But we were fortunate enough not to have it go viral to be forever documented online. Pressure to stay connected and on social media at all times, added to the threat of negative response, cyberbullying and perception of reality caused by social media may be ramping up that anxiety that teens feel. Teaching Teens to Cope with Social Anxiety Social anxiety causes stress. When that stress is mild, it can be a positive force, pushing someone to perform better, act with more care and operate outside of their comfort zone. But when social phobia is present, that stress will reach higher levels, eventually becoming toxic. So, how do we help teach our teens to cope with that toxic stress level? By attacking it from two angles: for the phobia and for the stress itself. Expose Them More, Not Less – Your teen’s natural inclination is going to be to withdraw. But you should be encouraging them to interact more with their peers. That could be done in a safe place, or during an activity they enjoy. It is just important that they don’t shy away from social situations. Teach Them Breathing Techniques – When they are interacting, they might find themselves panicking at first. Remember that social anxiety is a real condition and it often has a physical impact. Teach your child to breathe through the belly, taking deep breaths through the nose so their stomach rounds, holding it for three seconds, then releasing it slowly. Let Them Take a Break – If they are overwhelmed, and mindful breathing is having no effect, let them step away. Sometimes they will need a break to collect themselves and quiet their anxiety. You also might try setting a time goal for social situations, such as one hour at an event, then letting them go home. Listen and Assure – Your teen might not feel like you understand them and their feelings. Encourage them to open up about how they feel. Be supportive and build trust. Really hear what they have to say. Seek Professional Help – Sometimes coping strategies just aren’t enough. If your child seems to be getting worse or they are seeing serious negative consequences, seek professional help. Therapy and medication may be necessary to overcome their social anxiety. By doing these things, you can give your children the tools to manage their social anxiety and go into adulthood strong and confident. Citations Medina, Joanna, PhD, ‘Social Anxiety Disorder Symptoms’, PsychCentral, https://psychcentral.com/disorders/anxiety/social-anxiety-disorder-symptoms/ Forstner, Andreas J. et. al. ‘Further evidence for genetic variation at the serotonin transporter gene SLC6A4contributing toward anxiety,’ Psychiatric Genetics, https://insights.ovid.com/crossref?an=00041444-201706000-00003 Rowe, Jasmina, ‘How Kids Experience Stress’, KidsMatter, https://www.kidsmatter.edu.au/health-and-community/enewsletter/how-kids-experience-stress Wood, Janice, ‘Pressure For Social Media 24/7 Linked to Teen Anxiety and Depression’, PsychCentral, https://psychcentral.com/news/2015/09/12/pressure-to-be-on-social-media-247-linked-to-teen-anxiety-and-depression/92145.html Liahona Academy, ‘Standing Up For Teen Anxiety’, https://www.liahonaacademy.com/standing-up-for-teen-anxiety-infographic.html View the full article
  7. It is said that an apple never falls far off from the tree. This has been proven wrong on many occasions. Having a murderer for a father does not condemn you to become a murderer. Having a depressed parent doesn’t necessarily mean that depression will stalk you all your life, lurking around the corner and waiting to strike as soon as you let your guard down. You are not doomed to a life of misery just because your parents were miserable. Still, there are many occasions on which the apple does fall close to the tree. One such occasion is related to anxiety. Anxiety is a crazy thing. It follows entire generations and doesn’t easily let up. In other words, if you struggle with anxiety, your child is likely to struggle with anxiety too, and there is evidence to back that up. But here’s the crazier thing: anxiety is rarely genetic in nature. Rarely do people “inherit” anxiety. Your anxiety — and your child’s anxiety — rarely has anything to do with the faults in your genes. Rather, it is often a learned trait. What this means is that an anxious parent does certain things, behaves in a certain way and reacts to situations in a certain manner, sparking his or her kid’s anxiety. So, the one positive thing about the passing of anxiety across generations is that if it is a learned trait, then it can be unlearned. Researchers have put much effort into unearthing how to best respond to your anxiety to avoid passing it onto your child. Here are five science-backed tips to help avoid passing your anxiety onto your child: 1. Get up-close and personal with your anxiety. Did you know that most anxiety experienced in adulthood can be traced back to childhood? Did you also know that you cannot deal effectively with your anxiety if you do not know what drives it? Write down what makes you most anxious: certain situations? Certain people? Certain environments? How do you react when you encounter these anxiety-provoking situations? Having this information is a first important step to help you fight anxiety. 2. Walk the walk. Coming up with strategies to help your child deal with his anxiety will not work if you model anxious behavior. Our children learn more from who we are than from what we say, that’s just the way it is. In other words, if your son always sees you reacting to a certain situation with anxiety, he is likely to develop anxious feelings in relation to that situation. Anxiety might as well be a hidden emotion, but it is reflected in the words we use and in our reactions to others or to specific situations. Modeling the right behavior does not mean pretending to have conquered anxiety. What’s more, research suggests that shielding your child from anxiety makes it worse, not better. The right behavior may mean talking with your child about situations that make you anxious to show him that anxiety is a normal emotion. It may also mean focusing on solutions: “I was anxious before making my presentation, so I took a few deep breaths.” Helping your child view anxiety as a manageable emotion goes a long way in helping him develop an appropriate response to his own anxiety. 3. Dance even when the world around you seems to be falling apart. Is your glass half-full or half-empty? We all see the world through different lenses and our perceptions of the events that occur in our lives shape not only how we react to them, but also how our kids learn to react to them. Young children interpret the events in their lives by watching how we interpret them. If your perception of the world is that of a scary and dangerous place, your child will grow up scared of the world around her. If you view every situation as an insurmountable catastrophe, fear will find a place in your home and never leave. Developing an optimist approach to life’s challenges can help calm anxiety and can make it easier to deal with even the most challenging situations. Dancing in the midst of challenges simply means experiencing those challenges but remaining optimistic that those too will pass. It is not about pretending that hard situations do not exist, but rather about understanding that even in the midst of grief, there can be hope. 4. Make a conscious effort to fight anxiety. You don’t lose weight by saying “I want to lose weight.” You don’t learn how to paint by saying “I want to become a painter.” You get to your objective by setting specific goals and following through. Making a conscious effort to fight anxiety means being aware of what drives that anxiety then coming up with a strategy to help manage that anxiety. Tackling questions such as “What is the worst that could happen anyway?” or “How can I react differently next time?” may help inform your strategy against anxiety. Don’t forget to fill your anxiety toolbox! 5. Do whatever works for you! There is no “one-fits all” approach in many areas of our lives, and anxiety is no different. Some things that work for others will not work for you and that’s okay: do whatever works for you. If fleeing from an anxiety-provoking situation is the only option that works for you, do so. Remember, though, that fleeing is a quick-fix solution and there are things in life from which we cannot flee. Get help if necessary. A good therapist can help you find an appropriate solution to tackle your anxiety. View the full article
  8. For people living in the path of a hurricane, the anxiety and distress can be overwhelming. Uncertainty about housing, work schedules and other life tasks increase when people are evacuated. Legitimate concerns about damage and destruction to homes, streets, and infrastructure accelerate in the midst of constant news about the storm. An important step is to recognize common emotional reactions while physically preparing for impending changes. On the 29th of August, 2005 Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans. I was a first responder to the disaster, and arrived in the area a week after the storm. I found myself in the midst of the type of devastation that I had only seen in movies. More than 13 years later as we find ourselves entering another potentially devastating hurricane season, it is important to remember that as with any stressful event, the storm can affect individuals in several areas. Physically it can cause disturbed sleep and appetite, aches and pains; psychologically there will be fear, anxiety, loss and sadness; cognitively, concentration and thinking may be affected; behaviorally many will become impatient and irritable towards others; and spiritually, many will question why the storm has happened. Children may have their own set of reactions to the storm. Young children (e.g., preschool) take their cues from the adults around them, so monitoring your reactions is important; be a role model for calm behavior. Clingy behavior or other regressive reactions (e.g., nightmares, bed-wetting, somatic complaints) are expected reactions to stress exhibited by children. Hugs and other physical contact can help. Reassure children that feelings of fear, sadness, and anger are normal reactions to abnormal experiences. The following are helpful coping strategies: Make an effort to maintain a “normal” routine Connecting with others can be a source of support especially close friends, family, clergy, and mental health professionals Try to get adequate sleep and nutrition Exercising and resting are critical; a healthy body can have a positive influence on your thoughts and emotions, and decision-making Draw upon skills that have helped you successfully manage past challenges In preparation for future storms, emergency preparedness and a safety plan that can be implemented quickly are important for you and everyone in your family, including pets. The American Red Cross recommends an emergency preparedness checklist that can be accessed via their website; the list includes such things as a list of telephone numbers of nearest relatives or people who help, a floor plan of your home with escape routes, and transportation options. Once the storm arrives, getting out safely becomes the biggest challenge. Although it is important to find out as much information as possible about the storm, once you get to a place of safety, try to limit your exposure to media reports that tend to focus on damage and destruction. This is especially important if there are children around. View the full article
  9. When you’ve been burned in the past. Nothing kills new relationships more quickly than relationship anxiety and obsessively wondering, “Does he like me?” Let’s say you’ve started dating someone, and you like them a lot. After a few great dates, they said they’d call you on Saturday … but they haven’t yet. At first, you didn’t mind. But, then, it starts to preoccupy your mind and you start feeling anxious and wonder if he still likes you. Warning Signs Your New Romance Is About to Turn Into a Nightmare Does this sound familiar? One minute, you’re a 30-year-old in the bar with your friends and the next, you’re reacting like you’re a 3-year-old. Your anxiety worsens and you start getting paranoid. Ultimately, you end up driving your new man away and you’re left alone … again. It becomes a becomes a self-fulfilling, self-sabotaging prophecy. However, the real problem might not be your new partner. It might be your emotional baggage from past traumas that’s holding you back from falling in love, and it’s time for you to clean it up. When something happens in your present dating life that triggers a memory of abandonment that happened in the past, take the time to look at your emotional responses. Maybe you had the experience of being left alone for too long as a child, which later made you prone to bein overly anxious in relationships as an adult. You can’t overcome the fear that your partner may abandon you, but you can become aware that fear of abandonment is one of your go-to to emotions. Trauma overloads us. There is a point where an event (like being left alone for too long as a child) becomes too much for the mind to bear and so we split it off. This is what psychologists mean when they speak of dissociative experiences. One of the potential long-term problems with a traumatic experience is that it leaves you with triggers — like sudden noises, shocks, fears, feelings of anticipation or anything that stirs up old memories — that can be activated at any time. So how do you stop these old traumatic wounds from resurfacing again and ruining things in your new relationship? How do you break the cycle of relationship anxiety and deal with your emotional baggage? Here are 5 ways to stop worrying “Does he like me?” in new relationships by addressing your past trauma and emotional baggage head-on. 1. Be Aware of How Your Trauma Relates to the Past. Don’t be put off if you can’t remember the events too clearly. You may be able to remember the feelings you have about it and they can be similar to how you feel now when you think you’ve been abandoned. 2. Seek Help. Consider working on these things confidentially with a psychotherapist. You need to feel safe and in a confidential space to explore these things. 3. Stay Present. Try to become more aware of what happens to you in these present moments when the abandonment fears flare up. 4. Keep Track of the Triggers That Push You Into Anxiety. Try to trace the experience and journey you go through, including the moments when you slip into the altered anxiety-filled traumatic state. By doing these things, by following the thread of thoughts and associations around the labyrinths of consciousness, you can become better at knowing what happens to you that can turn you from a calm person into full of anxiety. You start spotting various moments when things changed and veered from one thing (ordinary and non-threatening) into something anxious. The Life Skills That’ll Improve Your Career & Love Life Simultaneously 5. Become More Truthful About Yourself to Yourself. How often do you find something has gone wrong with a social arrangement, and when you try to ask what happened, you get a response like, “I don’t know” or “I can’t remember” or “I forgot”? When things break down in ordinary social ways which may involve some guilt, you may frequently use faulty memory as the reason. It’s a habit and it’s a habit you can change. There will be times when people forget things and not all memory lapses mean something. But, there is a possibility for you to be more honest about the choices you make. You might tell your friends that you forgot, but you can be clear with yourself. If you are serious about being able to manage your emotions better so you can develop your relationships and not have them break down at the first sign of anxiety, then it helps to develop a more thorough and honest approach to yourself. Clean up your emotional baggage before it gets in your way again, so you can stop feeling so paranoid and worrying “Does he like me?” in new relationships. This guest article originally appeared on YourTango.com: 5 Ways To Stop Feeling So Paranoid In New Relationships. View the full article
  10. We often go about our lives without noticing what our mind is telling us because we are too busy attending to our hectic lives. Blithely unaware, we comply with the advice our mind dictates to us all day long. Some of you may say, “What’s wrong with that?” Well, there is nothing wrong if the advice is helpful, and it moves us closer to our values and goals by following it. But when we are unaware of what our mind is saying, we can end up making unwise choices. For example, if you experience social anxiety, your mind may provide advice that to stay home from a social event is the best option. You believe your mind and don’t go out. In your experience, does that usually get you closer to the goals you have in life? Does isolating yourself at home help you live the true values you hold dear, like wanting to connect and developing intimate relationships? You may feel stuck in this dilemma. Your mind tells you to remain at home in order to avoid anxiety. On the surface this appears to be a great solution. Yet when you do, you feel the pain of loneliness. So what can you do? You can first remember that your mind’s job is to keep you safe and comfortable. As you’ve behaved according to that unhelpful advice, it’s inadvertently created the habit of avoidance for months or even years. The good news is that when individuals increase thought awareness they are able to broaden the gap between the thought and the choices they make. Awareness can enhance people’s ability to notice if they are also feeding their thoughts that fuel their anxiety. The goal of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is to help individuals develop psychological flexibility. Thought watching is something that can help you increase your awareness. Thought Watching Exercises When individuals begin learning to watch their thoughts, it may feel weird and foreign at first because they have not done it before. Don’t get discouraged and notice what your mind may be saying as you go over these skills. Thought-Boat Watching Find a quiet and comfortable place where you can practice this exercise for 5 minutes. You will close your eyes when ready. As you sit quietly, take a few deep breaths. Then imagine sitting or standing by a pier watching boats and ships slowly come in and out of the harbor. As you continue to breathe in and out, notice the thoughts that are coming out from your mind. As you notice each thought, place it on a boat. Observe it, and when you notice there is another thought, place the next thought on another boat. Continue to watch until you notice another thought show up. Keep noticing what happens. At one point, there will be a thought that leads you to start ruminating about something. You may forget that you were doing this exercise. Don’t worry. This happens all the time. Your mind will produce thoughts that may entangle you with other thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges. You may want to figure them out and end up obsessing about them. When you realize this has happened, acknowledge it by saying, “I just got fused with my thoughts.” Then bring yourself back to the pier and continue watching from a distance as the boats continue to carry your thoughts. It takes repetition to see the effects of this exercise. Be patient and don’t give up on just one try! Make it a goal to complete this exercise for 5 minutes every day. Thought-Automobile Watching You can literally do this if you have a chance to be at a street where cars are going by at 25-35 miles per hour. You can also use your imagination and sit in a quiet place to practice for 5 minutes. As with the thought-boat watching exercise, notice when each thought shows up and place it on a car. Notice it go by until the next thoughts shows up. At some time during the five minutes, your mind will produce a thought that will entangle you with more thoughts as previously mentioned. Once you realize this has happened, acknowledge it by saying something like: “I just got entangled with my thoughts.” Then gently get back to watching the automobiles carrying your thoughts. Remember to be patient and flexible as you go over these exercises. The more you repeat them the more you will realize you can watch your thoughts without having to act on them. You get to decide if they are helpful in the long run. Increasing your thought awareness will expand the space between them and your behaviors. This is something we all can benefit from, whether we have anxiety or not. Good luck as you continue to increase and apply your newly acquired skills! View the full article
  11. Maybe I should become an alcoholic. Before you wonder whether I have had one too many gin and tonics, let me explain. I have an uncle who has battled alcohol and drug issues for decades. When he believe a relapse is imminent, he attends an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. For him, AA has been a lifesaver, providing stability and support during particularly tumultuous times. In fact, he credits AA with his current sobriety. For mental health sufferers, where is our “Alcoholics Anonymous?” More specifically, where is our support group for struggling individuals mired in the throes of a depressive episode? Or a relentless panic attack? A proverbial safe space where we — the 40 plus million Americans battling mental health issues — can share our mental health trials and tribulations without judgment. For me, one of my biggest challenges has been finding a mental health support system — people who understand the daily struggles of managing my mental health. In particular, a mental health support group would have been a tremendous resource during my initial mental health diagnosis. When OCD bullied me into submission during my college years, I remember the shame and anguish churning inside me. Here I was an 18-year-old kid — in a rigorous academic program — besieged with tormenting thoughts. Without any understanding of OCD’s machinations, the thoughts felt inescapable, pinballing in my mind as I tried, futilely it seemed, to focus on something — anything — other than the barrage of negative thoughts. I needed help. But at the time, there was a sense of apprehension — even dread — at disclosing my mental health struggles to, well, anyone (as you can see, I have gotten over that fear). As an anxiety-riddled 18-year-old, though, I worried that divulging these horrific thoughts would have far-reaching — and disastrous — consequences. A counselor would think I was “crazy”; an academic advisor would report me to the dean; an RA would contact my parents. In hindsight, I needed a mental health support system — and probably a bear hug. A mental health support system (our own Alcoholics Anonymous) would have provided some context on the intrusive thoughts, calming my frayed nerves (“Matt, this is just you OCD mind talking”) and providing an invaluable resource when the OCD thoughts flared up. And for me, someone who concealed OCD from loved ones for years, a mental health support system would have minimized my own shame and self-doubt. I have learned from my fateful teenage years. Over the following years, I have cobbled together my own self-styled support system. There is the good friend from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, the friend of a friend who battles OCD, and the readers who detail their personal struggles in poignant emails. But, truthfully, building a support system hasn’t been easy; it has taken years to find a group of people I can openly discuss my mental health struggles with. And, at times, I have felt as isolated as your most remote island. So, I repeat, why isn’t there a Mental Health Anonymous? A place where we — the 40 million plus mental health sufferers — can discuss our mental health issues without (fear of) disparagement and mockery. A place where all of us can commiserate over our shared struggles and rejoice over our shared successes. Without my current support system, I shudder to think where I would be. Perhaps, in a sadly ironic twist, at an AA meeting lamenting the lack of mental health support. An introduction: A longtime Psych Central contributor, I will be chronicling my mental health insights and struggles in personal, self-deprecating terms (chuckling at yourself — and your occasional eccentricity — beats the alternative). As I blog about my own successes and stumbles, I look forward to building relationships with you. View the full article
  12. Nobody likes to be criticized, but it can be particularly difficult for individuals who are self-critical and/or socially anxious. Self-critical individuals often have high levels of unhealthy perfectionism. They frequently have ongoing internal dialogues that are harshly self-judgmental. Having someone else be critical can then act like salt to the wound and trigger feelings of shame and/or anxiety at being exposed as deficient. Individuals who are self-conscious and socially anxious are fearful of being judged and often avoid situations where they are at risk of being evaluated in some way. When judged, there is a tendency to be so focused on the judgement aspect that the validity of the criticism is not questioned. In the moment of being criticized all that is felt is the sense of shame and discomfort at being found lacking. Remember that not all criticism is valid, so do question it. One needs to also question whether the criticism serves any purpose at all, even if it is valid. Most importantly, even if the criticism is valid the delivery needs to be respectful. Being deficient does not justify being disrespected. Everyone makes mistakes and has deficiencies, including the person who is being critical. Accepting that you are as human as everyone else will help you to view yourself as being a worthy person regardless of your deficiencies. Arming oneself with effective skills will allow one to face criticism with fortitude. Done in baby steps and a self-encouraging attitude, it is very doable. The more the skills are practiced the less the criticism stings and the more empowered you become. Responding to criticism and diminishing the associated distress: Criticism can present itself in different ways in our lives. Here are some ways in which one can respond to criticism: 1. When the criticism is valid, constructive and respectful in delivery it may still cause one to feel upset and anxious to some degree. To cope it would be helpful to stay focused on what the other person is saying, while you calm yourself by taking some deep slow breaths. It is likely that as the minutes tick by you will be able to focus more on what is being said and recognize that this is not an “attack”. When calmer, you will also find yourself in a better position to ask for clarification and, if the helpful criticism is not completely valid, explain your position. 2. Remember that in instances where the criticism is not fair and your behavior is within your rights, it is appropriate to clarify and explain without offering lengthy excuses or apologies. Defending yourself and not accepting unfair criticism in whatever way you see fit is your right so long as it is done with respect. This is what assertive communication is all about. For example, if a co-worker were to say you were a tardy person when you were late to work on a rare occasion you could respond by saying “being late occasionally does not make me a tardy person.” This is likely to be challenging initially. The trick is to set small goals when you start and to say more as you become more comfortable. So, the initial goal may to speak up in situations that are less anxiety provoking and to simply object. For example, saying “I don’t agree” to a someone you are fairly comfortable with, maybe all that you aim for initially. Do give yourself credit for taking those first steps of speaking up, even if it is brief and the situation is not too challenging. Remember to not beat up on yourself if you do not speak up in more challenging situations as you move forward in your journey to becoming more assertive. As the distress in such situations begins to decrease you will be able to move towards addressing more challenging settings. 3. When the criticism is invalid, unnecessary and given disrespectfully, it would very naturally trigger considerable distress. At such times, it would be good to follow the strategy of focusing on calming yourself initially. This can vary from doing slow breathing exercises, to counting backwards or focusing on something extraneous to distract yourself from the unpleasant situation. If you find yourself in a situation where your emotional response is intense, leave the situation if possible and go to a private place, where you can take some time to calm yourself before returning to the situation. You also have the option to respond to the criticism by saying that you would like to think about what has been said and talk about it later. It is okay to not respond immediately, to take your time to reduce distress, figure out the best course of action and respond when you are ready. It is important to give yourself permission to respond later and not be hard on yourself for not responding immediately, especially in the earlier phases of skill building. 4. Sometimes, in the case of manipulative and emotionally abusive persons the intention of the criticism is get you to react and get upset. In such cases ignoring or not reacting would be the best way to go. 5. Agreeing with bullies is another strategy that can knock the wind out of their sails since it demonstrates that you are not taking them seriously. Typically, such individuals nitpick and point out deficiencies or mistakes that everyone makes including themselves! So, agreeing to the mistakes and deficiencies is no weakness but an attitude of “I have these deficiencies and make these mistakes, so what?” 6. Sometimes unhealthy criticisms are indirect. They can be conveyed through facial expressions and body language. At other times criticism are veiled and implied. In such instances, it would be good to ask for clarifications. For example, if someone were to state that they dislike your line of work or profession without addressing you directly you could ask them to explain what they mean. This causes such people to experience the discomfort of explaining their passively aggressive statements and not repeat these kinds of veiled attacks. 7. When people make blanket judgmental criticisms, it is also good to ask for clarification. For example, if a friend were to say that you are always selfish, asking them to specify the instances that demonstrate your selfishness would help create room for clarification and problem solving. 8. When one is being criticized in the presence of other people a big part of the distress is associated with the sense of being shamed in the presence of other people. The criticism then takes on a collective quality where the judgment causes one to feel isolated into a shamed corner. However, the reality is that it is the person who is displaying the unkind behavior who gets judged for bad behavior by others. The person who is the target of disrespectful behavior usually gains the support, of those who witness such behavior whether the criticism is valid or not. Learn from it or let it roll off your back. Hilary Rodham Clinton once said, “Take criticism seriously, but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you.” This can be easier said than done. If you have difficulty dealing with criticism, you are not alone. Nobody likes criticism or dealing with it. However, negative feedback can be valuable teachers too. Sifting the worthwhile from the toxic feedback and learning how to deal with criticism will allow you to be well-armed in the battle of life. The more you practice and hone your skills of dealing with criticism the easier it becomes to stay strong and remain self-accepting. View the full article
  13. The team at Psych Central’s Ask the Therapist is part of a stream of history that started almost 300 years ago. The first recorded advice column was in 1690! For centuries, people have looked to sometimes anonymous “experts” for advice about love and romance, family relationships, social and work problems, and internal distress. Over time, the format has been much the same: People write in their questions and the advisors advise. Every day, PsychCentral’s four-member team of psychologists and social workers answer questions from people all over the world. There are about 270,000 page views each month by about 108,000 viewers. Why? I’m sure that, for some, it is curiosity about other people or interest in comparing their own answers to ours. Others have not yet found the courage or think they don’t have the ability to write about their own situation. They therefore look for our responses to other people who have problems similar to their own. But hundreds of people do write. Our inbox contains letters from teens, young and not so young adults, every gender, and many different countries. They come from all economic, religious, and ethnic groups. Writers are people who are worried about how they are feeling or upset about interactions with people they care about or confused about how to handle a stressful situation. Some are merely curious about psychology. Some are in deep distress. Should you send us an email too? There are many positive reasons to do so: To organize your thinking. Just writing a problem down is often helpful. Explaining anything to someone else requires slowing down and thinking about what you need to say and how to say it. You may be surprised, when you look at what you’ve written, to see the problem in a new and sometimes solvable way. If not, we can perhaps offer another way to look at the situation or direct you to appropriate sources of support. To dump some of your distress: Sometimes it helps just to “dump” or “vent.” Writing to us can get something off your chest and into our mailbox. Sometimes that’s enough. You don’t want to bother friends or family. You do want a place where you can express yourself freely – and anonymously. We’re here for that. We’re here to let you know you are not alone. We might even have some ideas about how you can manage the problem. To sort information: The internet is a wonderful source of information. But it can sometimes be difficult to sort through the sheer volume of sites. What is legitimate research? What is sensationalism? What is really applicable to you? How can you reconcile contradictory opinions? If you are having difficulty making sense of what you are reading or if what you are finding online is stressing you out, we can help you sort it out. To get a diagnosis: I’m sorry. It is unethical for us to diagnose on the basis of a short letter. But if you have been attempting self-diagnosis, you might find it reassuring or enlightening to write to us. Self-diagnosis is often incomplete, at best, and often inaccurate. Often it is anxiety-provoking. In cases where we think symptoms are consistent with a particular diagnostic category, we will encourage you to seek a mental health assessment to confirm it. On the other hand, our experience may lead us to suggest that your suffering is attributable to something besides mental illness. Feelings and behaviors that might indicate a mental illness can often be explained by medical, developmental and/or cultural issues. If that’s the case, we’ll refer you to professionals or resources who can help. Sometimes we may suggest that you are going through a perfectly normal, though uncomfortable, developmental phase. Sometimes we may remind you that being anxious or depressed is a normal response to an abnormal situation. To spare your support people: Yes, we all can and should reach out to the people who count in our lives when we are troubled. But sometimes they have listened and listened and done their best to be helpful but you have a sense that they just can’t take in more of your stress. Sometimes they have troubles of their own. Sometimes they feel helpless to help. Writing to us spreads out your distress and expands your support circle. In addition, we may encourage you to join one of the PsychCentral forums, to explore support services in your community, and/or to make an appointment with a professional. What the Ask the Therapist team offers: Credentials: In my opinion, it is unfortunate that many advice columns have been written by people with no credentials in psychology or mental health, or who have advanced degrees in an irrelevant profession. In contrast, all of us are licensed psychologists or social workers. All of us have years of experience working directly with people from all walks of life and with the full range of diagnoses. For detailed information about each of us, click on the Help tab on the home page, then click on “About our Therapists.” Respectful answers: There are advice columnists who seem more interested in using people’s letters for their entertainment value than in providing real help. Not so at PsychCentral. We think witty responses to someone’s pain aren’t funny. Blaming or shaming people may play into the negativity currently permeating our culture but we think it is disrespectful and rude. We never call people names or bully. Yes, there is sometimes a place for humor, but never at a writer’s expense. Although a glib response might be more hip or entertaining, we believe letter writers deserve better than a pop, slap dash, way cool answer. Our team has always treated serious problems seriously. Hope. Yes, hope. As a team, we believe in the resilience and potential for recovery and growth of our writers. We do the best we can to respond to the immediate problem and to offer encouragement, support and hope. Whenever we can, we identify next steps and encourage people to take positive action. Should you write to us? If you are asking that question, you probably already have the answer. You have a problem you haven’t been able to solve on your own. If you could, you would have done it already. You have nothing to lose by sharing the problem with us. There are no guarantees that our advice will be helpful but we’ll do our best. Chances are we can provide a new perspective on the situation, some practical ideas, new resources to explore, or some peace of mind. You deserve it. You are worth it. View the full article
  14. We now know that children’s behavior is always driven by emotions, but what if whatever is driving those emotions is invisible? There are many reasons why kids sometimes behave in ways that leave us in despair and one of these reasons is anxiety. One thing we know is that many children will go through anxiety at some stage in their lives. Although many of these anxious phases may be difficult to deal with, they are normal phases that mark children’s development. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, few children under 13 suffer from anxiety disorders. In other words, normal anxiety is a part of childhood. It is not uncommon for kids to portray anxiety-related behaviors when they have to leave their parents, meet new people, or participate in specific activities such as swimming or even going to school. Few parents have escaped the stress associated with separation anxiety. Fear is one of the most common feelings children experience and this often leads to anxiety-related behaviors. An anxious child may be a worrier, she might fear messing up, or she might act clingy especially around difficult situations such as attending school for the first time. There are times, however, when anxiety in children leads to problem behavior. The biggest problem when dealing with difficult emotions such as anxiety is that, just like for adults, navigating difficult emotions is not always easy. Your child may not know what emotion he is feeling and what that means, and this may lead him to act in inappropriate ways in an attempt to deal with his difficult emotions. Peter had always been a relatively calm child, but he would frequently throw tantrums that seemed to come out of nowhere. For example, he would be doing a puzzle and all of a sudden, he would be in the middle of a tantrum for no apparent reason. The same pattern continued when he joined school. In the middle of an activity, Peter would suddenly begin to speak or sing loudly and would not leave his classmates in peace. He would throw things around the classroom, clown around, and do almost anything to disrupt the class. A few sessions with a therapist revealed that Peter’s behavior was driven by anxiety. Peter’s inability to complete an activity gave rise to feelings of shame and fear and his behavior was an attempt to camouflage these feelings. Whenever he was asked to do an activity he felt he was unable to do, Peter became anxious. Several researchers are now saying that there is a strong link between anxiety and problem behavior. For instance, one study has found that working to decrease anxiety greatly reduces problem behavior in children. In other words, feelings such as shame or fear of embarrassment may explain your child’s disruptive behavior. Most studies focusing on problem behavior in children have found that promoting low-anxiety environments is a first important step when dealing with problem behavior. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when dealing with your child’s anxiety: 1. Remember that navigating big emotions is difficult, even for adults. Emotions are a big deal and they can sometimes lead us to behave in ways that surprise even those closest to us. People who have always been taught that emotions should be hidden struggle with difficult emotions all their lives. What is rarely foreseen is how hiding one’s emotions alters one in unaccountable ways. Helping your child navigate big emotions is an important step toward helping him learn to deal with difficult emotions. This may mean having to learn to deal with your own emotions first. Providing an environment in which emotions are viewed as normal and holding conversations around those emotions is an important phase in helping foster low-anxiety environments. Numerous age-appropriate resources now make it possible to help children learn to identify their emotions, understand what triggers those emotions, and find appropriate strategies to express those emotions. 2. Create emotionally safe environments. Emotional safety refers to environments in which individuals are able to identity their feelings and feel safe enough to experience those feelings. Although the concept of “emotional safety” is more commonly used in couple’s therapy, it also works in parent-child relationships because it promotes the development of environments in which both parties feel comfortable enough to express themselves. 3. Talk about your personal experiences. A child suffering from anxiety often believes that she alone experiences this emotion. Talking about your personal experiences with anxiety can help her see that anxiety affects everybody. Beyond talking about anxiety, talk about what you do to handle anxious situations. Helping your child see that anxiety affects everybody and can be managed may help give her the tools she needs to deal with her own anxiety. 4. Know when to worry about your child’s anxiety. Normal anxiety is rarely excessive. If you feel that your child’s anxiety-related behavior is excessive, disruptive, disproportionate to actual situations and negatively affects her social life or her academic performance, seeking professional help may enable your child to identify an appropriate strategy to help reduce anxiety. View the full article
  15. “Why isn’t this medication working?” me in 2002. “Why isn’t this medication working?” me in 2018. When the university nurse first prodded me to consider medication, I hesitated before eventually relenting. My reasoning: While this little white pill may not be my salvation, it surely can’t hurt. Or can it? Over the past 16 years, my medication history is longer than a typical Catholic wedding. A is for Abilify, B is for Buspar, C is for Clonazepam…and, well, you get the idea. Medication, I naively hoped, would be a cure-all — a foolproof remedy for intrusive, tormenting thoughts. And while medication has, at times, lowered the volume on my depressive radio, it has come with its own set of challenges. Speaking from firsthand experience — now 16 years and counting, medications have potent and, at times, debilitating side effects. From complaining about grogginess to bouts of irritability to general apathy, my panicked emails to my dedicated health care team bear this out. Pinpointing the right medication is trial and error — in my case, a 16-year trial replete with lots of errors (and lethargy and grogginess and irritability). When I first accepted the shiny white pill, at the university nurse’s gentle insistence, I had no idea I had just signed up for a 16-year medication joyride. In my naïveté, there was an implicit assumption — “just give the medication six weeks and life will suddenly become unicorns, rainbows, and free Beyonce concerts.” Forget unicorns and a resplendent Beyonce sashaying in her yellow dress, I will take six weeks without a panic-stricken email to my dedicated health care provider (thank you, Dr. Neumaier, for your endless patience). More than lamenting my own trials and tribulations, though, this article is intended for “Prozac Nation” — the millions of Americans seeking magic in a pill bottle as we shuffle from one supposed elixir to another. I understand the frustration — even despair — because I have lived it: the dry mouth, the racing heartbeat, the mental grogginess. After 16 years wandering in the (medication) desert, I believe I am inching closer to a long(er)-term solution. Knock on proverbial wood — or that Bartell’s counter that I have visited all too frequently. While Wellbutrin is far from perfect — and, yes, my mood vacillates more than Tesla stock — it is has provided a level of clarity and creativity. After years of medications numbing my mood, feelings, and, in some respects, life enjoyment, there is a level of comfort to know that there is a medication that, you know, actually works. An estimated 40 million Americans now take a psychiatric drug; these drugs are as much of an American institution as the 9 to 5 and Thanksgiving family feuds. Despite prescription drugs’ ubiquity, however, their effects are deeply personal, even idiosyncratic (notwithstanding your health care professional’s calming reassurances that “you will feel better in no time”). For some, Prozac Nation may be an accurate title. For others, including yours truly, Wellbutrin World is a more fitting descriptor. One unmistakable lesson (and revelation) during my 16 years of medication cat and mouse: the best prescription may be, well, another prescription. View the full article