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  1. The relationship between stress and memory is complex. A little bit of stress can enhance your ability to encode, store, and retrieve factual information. Too much stress, however, can shut the system down. You may have had this experience studying for a test. A moderate amount of anxiety is motivating and will help you perform better. Too much on the other hand, especially while taking the actual test, can prevent you from recalling what you know. The experience of trauma and chronic stress over time can actually change the brain structures involved in memory. To understand how this happens, we need to consider one of the ways memories are formed and recalled. When we have a sensory experience, the amygdala (associated with processing emotion) influences the hippocampus (associated with processing memory) to encode and store the information. Emotionally charged events (both positive and negative) form stronger memories. Later, when it comes time to retrieve a memory, the prefrontal cortex gives the command. All three of these brain structures are also involved in traumatic stress. Chronic Stress and Memory When we experience a threat, the amygdala sets off an alarm which puts the nervous system and body into fight or flight mode. This system exposes the brain and body to high levels of circulating stress hormones. Research has shown that high levels of stress hormones over time can damage the hippocampus (it actually shrinks). This reduces its ability to encode and form memories. Additionally, during times of stress, the amygdala will inhibit the activity of the prefrontal cortex. From a biological perspective, this is useful in keeping us alive. Energy and resources are pulled away from higher thought and reasoning (the prefrontal cortex) and re-directed to bodily systems needed to preserve our physical safety. For example, our sensory abilities are heightened. Our muscles receive oxygen and glucose so we can fight or run. For most if us, the fight or flight response is usually not needed to keep us alive in today’s society. It is not useful during an interview for a job you really want or while out on a date. A chronically activated nervous system actually reduces our ability to function and, over time, damages certain structures in our brain. Trauma and the Hippocampus To investigate the effects of trauma on the hippocampus researchers looked at the brains of coal miners who had developed posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after being involved in an explosion (2). The researchers found that the coal miners with PTSD had significantly reduced volume of the amygdala and hippocampus in comparison to non-traumatized coal miners. These findings hold important implications when it comes to memory. Reduced volume in the hippocampus and amygdala due to chronic stress reduces the ability to form and recall memories. What We Can Do The brain retains its ability to change throughout the entire lifespan. Studies have already shown that the damaging effects of chronic stress and trauma on the hippocampus can be reversed. For example, the use of antidepressant medication that increases serotonin levels has been shown to counteract the effects of stress on the hippocampus. With antidepressant use, the hippocampal volume in the chronically stressed brain increased. While the mechanism for the changes in the hippocampus is not fully understood, we can assume that in addition to the increase in serotonin, the reduction in stress that caused the damage in the first place, also plays a role in the reversal of damage to the hippocampus. Take the steps necessary to reduce chronic stress. Not only will lower stress have a positive effect on your overall quality of life, but it may also begin the process of healing the damage to the brain structures involved in memory. Exercise, therapy, and medication are all options for reversing damages of trauma and chronic stress. References Bremner, J. D. (2006). Traumatic stress: effects on the brain. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 8(4), 445. Zhang, Q., Zhuo, C., Lang, X., Li, H., Qin, W., & Yu, C. (2014). Structural impairments of hippocampus in coal mine gas explosion-related posttraumatic stress disorder. PloS one, 9(7), e102042. Malberg, J. E., Eisch, A. J., Nestler, E. J., & Duman, R. S. (2000). Chronic antidepressant treatment increases neurogenesis in adult rat hippocampus. Journal of Neuroscience, 20(24), 9104-9110. Power, J. D., & Schlaggar, B. L. (2017). Neural plasticity across the lifespan. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Developmental Biology, 6(1), e216. View the full article
  2. Happy Holidays, sweet readers! Regardless of which holiday you celebrate — or even if you celebrate one at all — you’ve no doubt felt a mix of pleasant and not-so-pleasant emotions this month (why does this read like a horoscope?) — especially if you celebrate Christmas as you now only have a few days to go! Take a look at this week’s Psychology Around the Net to learn more about how to handle the holidays when they aren’t the most wonderful time of the year for you, ways to navigate the season when it puts a strain on your relationship, and of course a bunch of other non-holiday-related goodies like studies on how your IQ affects your happiness, why it’s important to boost your EQ (and how), and more. Blue Christmas: It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year–But What If It’s Not for You? Often brought on by grief, illness, job loss, relationship problems, or just the overall stress and pressure the holidays can bring, the “holiday blues” — feeling lonely, isolated, or experiencing loss — can affect people with or without mental illness. Here are a few ways you can combat them before they start, or fight back if they’ve already begun. Can Intelligence Buy You Happiness? They say ignorance is bliss, but new research suggests the higher your IQ, the greater your well-being (or, at least, the greater your potential for having a greater well-being) because your smarts will enable you to acquire the educational and financial means to boost your quality of life. 21 Ways to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence (Using Just a Few Minutes a Day): OK, so now that we’ve covered IQ and how it can affect your happiness and overall well-being, what about your EQ — your emotional intelligence, e.g. your ability to be aware of, control, and express your own emotions as well as handle relationships? Mental Health Care Coverage Is Leaving Kids Behind and Families Reeling: Says Gene Beresin, the challenge is that “the treatment of children requires a village, and we don’t have a village. We have silos, and not all these silos are covered by insurance.” What to Do If the Holidays Make You Question Your Relationship: Some people start to feel a little weird about their relationships during the holidays. Often, this is just a side effect of the stress the holidays can bring. However, what if it’s not? What if it’s a sign of something bigger? Suggests Study: Depression and Anxiety May Damage Health as Much as Smoking and Obesity: According to new research, people who suffer from depression and anxiety might be at a significantly higher risk for serious health conditions such as heart disease — possibly risk levels comparable to obesity and smoking. View the full article
  3. It’s that time of year again. Your child is anxiously awaiting the arrival of the holiday break. They can’t wait to be home from school, have freedom in their schedule, and are super excited about the upcoming holidays. However, while they are so excited about it, it might be causing you a lot of stress and anxiety. And, their excitement can quickly disappear as they deal with this right alongside of you. Remember that this can be a stressful time for children as well. It’s easy to think that holiday stress only affects adults, but that’s not true. There are many children that experience stress and anxiety over the holiday season as well. Their schedules are typically turned upside down. They are staying up later and could be waking up earlier. They are running from one place to another alongside you and often don’t necessarily care for the activity that they have to participate in. Even their regular eating habits can be challenged during a holiday filled with sweet treats. Even if they can handle the challenges they are facing, they may be picking up on your stress and anxiety. If you’re like many adults this time of year you could be stressed over your finances as you try to purchase gifts or be dreading having to see that certain person at a holiday function. Children are more perceptive than they are given credit for. They can feel your stress and tension as you work through the holidays. Be the example. The best way to help your child handle holiday stress is to set a calm example for them. If they see that you are becoming frazzled they are likely to follow in your shoes. Learning how to practice mindfulness is an effective way to regain control when you are starting to feel the stress of the season and your schedule. You can move your focus away from the things that are causing you stress and anxiety and change it to the positive things that are happening all around you. You can also teach your child how to engage in this activity as well. It’s a useful skill for every person to have. Don’t overschedule. A schedule that is packed to the brim will cause holiday stress and anxiety for both you and your child. It can be difficult to maintain balance in your schedule this time of year because there are lots of invitations that are coming your way. But, if you accept every invitation that comes your way, you and your kids will soon be exhausted. When this exhaustion sets in, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by stress and anxiety. Make sure that you schedule in downtime for your family. Put it on the calendar and make sure that you protect this time. It could be time that your child has to play quietly in their room while you read and relax, nap time, or even time for your family to sit together and enjoy a favorite Christmas movie. It’s not important what you’re doing with that time, just that it’s purposeful downtime to unwind. Be intentional about self-care. During the holidays you need to be even more intentional about self-care for you and your kids. Schedules are off, sleep patterns are disrupted, and there are sweets galore. Here are some tips that you can use for both you and the kiddos: Watch what’s going in. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying some holiday treats, but don’t forget about healthy options as well. Make sure that your family is still getting in fruits and vegetables along with drinking plenty of water. Consuming more sugar and/or caffeine than we are used to can make us feel jittery, making it harder to deal with stress. The same is true for children. If you are at a party set a limit on how many treats everyone can have before you arrive. They can still choose their favorites to enjoy but won’t overdo it. Take time to move. It’s hard to squeeze in exercise during the holidays when your schedule is already packed. But making sure you take time to move is good for the whole family. Take time to walk outside together, hit the local playground and let them run around, or if you have snow enjoy sledding or building a snowman altogether. The fresh air and exercise help to alleviate stress and can improve your sleep later that night. Protect sleep when possible. Do your best to schedule activities that don’t interfere with the normal sleep patterns of your children. If your little one naps in the afternoon protect this time. If you have a family party that will keep them out late one night, try to follow it up with an early night in the next day. Proper sleep is important for dealing with stress and anxiety. Change your focus. It’s so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season that we lose sight of why we are doing it all in the first place. Work to keep your focus on the people around you during this holiday season instead of all the to-dos. Instead of stressing about having to do all the gift shopping, focus on all the reasons you want to purchase the gifts you are getting. Spend time appreciating those you love. Help your child to see the reason behind everything that’s being done during this busy time of year. Remind your entire family about the purpose of celebrating. It can also be helpful to take your focus off your family entirely. Schedule a time to serve together at a homeless shelter, or purchase gifts for a family in need. Look for ways to be a blessing to others. Sometimes seeing the situations of others can help put our stress and anxiety into proper perspective. For those times when it’s too much… While stress and anxiety is something that all people deal with in one way or another, it’s not something to be taken lightly. If you or your child is becoming overwhelmed with it then it’s time to schedule an appointment with a local therapist. They can help you get to the root cause of the stress and teach you practical steps that can help you deal with it effectively. View the full article
  4. Does America need therapy? I don’t know about you, but I am perplexed by the millions of Americans who each and every day, continue to disregard facts, reject scientific proof, obstruct progress and deny the truth about a lot of things. This massive group also includes many of our supposedly best educated and well-informed politicians. What’s going on here? The popular wave of anti-intellectualism rolling through Washington is no longer merely pervasive — it’s aggressive. And lately it has overtaken the usual rhetoric we’ve come to expect from the conservative side of the chamber. Especially in the last few years we have seen open-mindedness and critical thinking be replaced by a fanatical embrace of ignorance. Trading reason for dogma and irrational emotion for learned facts threatens to unravel not only who we are as a society, but the fate of our entire nation and our planet. Am I exaggerating? No, I am not. How is it that we are headed in this direction? Is it anxiety? Is it something more serious? Let’s take a closer look: People who suffer from anxiety worry excessively; they are emotionally reactive and have a low threshold for distress tolerance. As a result, anxiety compels sufferers to resist change and avoid imagined threats. The reason? It’s because the underlying component of anxiety is: FEAR. Fear is the strongest emotion we as human beings experience. Left unchecked, it can control us and bring us to our knees. Accordingly, fear of the unknown often completely freaks us out. It doesn’t matter what your IQ is or what Ivy League school you attended. Fear does not discriminate. So, it’s not necessarily facts that scare people into denying reason, it’s their emotional reactivity. Let’s take the head-scratching position that climate change is a hoax, and that fact-based science is just plain wrong. Why the denial in the face of proof? Perhaps it’s fear of depleting the economy? Fear of losing jobs? Or is it a subversive liberal plot intended to overthrow our government? Regardless of motivation, science, facts, and rational thought provoke, not only anxiety, but hostility as well. This results in an angry and illogical reflex to stay closed-minded and stop learning. In anxiety treatment we call these reactions cognitive distortions. They’re maladaptive thinking patterns that are baseless and unreasonable. They are knee-jerk responses that are automatic and often unconscious. For example, denying the science of climate change is called mental filtering. When the mind focuses exclusively on a self-chosen reality, it filters out all other frames of reference, even one’s that are proven and true. In this instance, forward-thinking about the future and the kind of world we will leave our children is easily disregarded and completely overlooked. Perhaps people aren’t ignorant after all? Maybe it’s just a case of the heebie-jeebies. Granted, since 9/11 the world as most Americans knew it turned completely upside down, and it has remained an unsteady time for all of us. Some Americans have become so desensitized to fear they don’t realize their lives are tightly wound in a chronic state of panic. Another example of how we turn a blind eye to reason is the gun violence that has literally riddled our society, not just with bullets, but with terror. Consider this: In the United States, every time a plane goes down or a train derails and crashes and American lives are lost, our transportation and safety authority’s act very quickly. They launch full investigations and do everything in their power to prevent the accident from happening again. They leave no stone unturned, and the search for answers often goes on for months, or even years. But when yet another mass shooting occurs — at a school, a theater, a concert, a synagogue — rather than taking action, we freeze and remain paralyzed in shock. Instead of applying concrete solutions, we send our thoughts and prayers. Of course condolences are kind, but they are also too easy to accomplish than applying intelligence and data to systematically minimize the chances of similar tragedies occurring in the future. We also make the choice — another easy out — to place responsibility of these tragedies on the mentally ill, including the recent mass shootings in Thousand Oaks, California, and Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. We conveniently scapegoat the mentally ill, further stigmatizing an entire population who are already at a societal disadvantage. We put a Band-Aid over the problem for a few days until the wound disappears, and time and time again, we refuse to recognize the obvious: That this is no surface wound. It’s an open, oozing infection that remains and grows. But, at least it appears that we have taken some action to solve the problem. It’s also ironic that we, as a nation that largely ignores, delegitimizes and under-funds mental illness, conveniently draw it into the national spotlight when it’s time to find someone or something to blame other than ourselves and our outdated laws. Let’s look at how fear makes us respond in this case: Obviously, the fear of losing our 2nd Amendment rights is problematic and palpable to many. But the real reason we are so terrified to face facts is that if we let our guard down just a bit, other rights will be taken from us. This cognitive distortion is called catastrophic thinking — jumping to conclusions and assuming you know the outcome of something without relevant and solid facts to support it. It’s another standard, habitual human defense mechanism motivated by panic, and it’s the reason why the rational pleas for gun reform are consistently ignored. But despite the numbers, fear continues to win and nothing changes. Maybe America needs therapy! Think about it. View the full article
  5. Society tries to convince us that we can control our internal experiences. We constantly hear messages like “Don’t worry about it. Relax. Calm down.” That’s dead wrong. Just hearing the words “Don’t worry” can make us anxious. Telling yourself “Don’t worry” isn’t much different. The more often we think, “Don’t feel anxious you can’t feel anxious don’t be depressed don’t be sad you shouldn’t be upset” the more anxious, depressed, sad and upset we’ll become. Let’s take a metaphor from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, developed by Hayes and Masuda, as an example of how this process works. Imagine that you’re hooked up to a very sensitive polygraph machine. This polygraph machine can pick up the slightest physiological changes that occur in your body, including any changes in heartbeat, pulse, muscle tension, sweat, or any type of minor arousal. Now suppose I say, “Whatever you do, don’t get anxious while you’re hooked up to this highly sensitive device!” What do you imagine might happen? You guessed it. You’d start getting anxious. Now suppose I pull out a gun and say, “No, seriously, whatever you do as long as you are hooked up to this polygraph machine you cannot get anxious! Otherwise, I shoot!” You’d get extremely anxious. Now imagine I say, “Give me your phone or I’ll shoot.” You’d give me your phone. Or if I say “Give me a dollar or I’ll shoot.” You’d give me a dollar. Although society tries to sell us the idea that we can control our internal experiences the same way we do objects in the external world, the truth is that we actually can’t. We can’t control our thoughts, feelings, and sensations, the way we can control objects in the world. In fact, the more we try to control or change our internal experiences the more out of control we feel. The more we try to get rid of distressing thoughts and feelings the stronger they become. This is what many of us do to ourselves when we experience uncomfortable feelings. Our minds, like the polygraph machine, pick up sensations in our bodies. Then we pull out the gun against ourselves and tell ourselves not to have certain emotions. We start struggling with trying to control and eliminate certain thoughts and feelings. The more we try get rid of our experience the more they intensify. What if we dropped the gun and were kind to ourselves instead? Thoughts and feelings shift and change like the weather. They are temporary. They intensify when we bully ourselves, and fade away with acceptance and self-compassion. Painful feelings such as loneliness, fear, sadness, deprivation, rejection, and disappointment are an unavoidable part of life. They are just a part of being a human being. Although we don’t have control over having painful emotions that are a part of being alive, we always have control over our actions. We can always choose to respond in ways that are consistent with our values, regardless of how we feel. We may sometimes think that our emotions force us to act a certain way. We think our emotions are in charge. They’re not. We are. We are never ever truly trapped into actions we don’t want. We can always choose to respond to our emotions in ways that leave us free. So, how can we drop the gun and embrace all our internal experiences? Notice when you’re pulling out a gun on yourself — judging or struggling with your internal experience. Drop the struggle. Instead, give the emotion a neutral label. Say to yourself “I feel scared” or “I feel hurt.” Notice the sensations in your body that comes with that emotion. Stay present with the sensations. Notice the size, shape, color, and texture of the sensation. Drop the story in your head about “why” you’re feeling this way. Focus on sensations and feelings rather than ideas. Open up to the emotional experience. Practicing self-compassion and loving kindness helps us soften up to our emotional experience without pushing it away. Put your hand on your heart and speak to yourself as you would to someone you love. You might say, “This is really difficult” or “It makes sense that I feel sad now.” Remember we are all in this together. Think of all the people right now in this world who are feeling helpless, lonely, deprived, or rejected. You are not alone. Being human comes with pain. Those steps are the essence of self-compassionate care. Self-compassion is embracing your humanness. Choose self-compassion and you will be free to act in line with your values. For now, please take this message to heart. Much of the time, you’re the one with the gun. Don’t pull out the gun and you will be free. View the full article
  6. Comfort zones. They usually get a lot of bad press. We’re regularly told that they’re something we need to “break out of” or “smash” in order to progress and grow as a human being. I’ve lost count of the number of meme diagrams I’ve come across depicting this. You know the ones, with the “where the magic happens” mentality. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found there’s something a little conflicting about the language used here. “Comfort” versus “break out.” Why would I want to break something I find a comfort to me? The Psychology Behind ‘Comfort Zones’ It’s worth exploring the origin of the terminology and why it came about. The term “comfort zone” was originally coined by Alasdair White, a Business Management Theorist, in 2009. Popular definitions of what a comfort zone is go something like this: A comfort zone is a psychological state in which things feel familiar to a person, and they are at ease, and in control of their environment, experiencing low levels of anxiety and stress. In this zone, a steady level of performance is possible. The definition, of course, doesn’t end there. White went on to work closely with John Fairhurst to formulate their White-Fairhurst Performance Hypothesis which states: “All performance will initially trend towards a steady state, particularly after a period of performance uplift, and that steady state will then develop a downward curve leading to a significant performance decline.” From their initial observations, White and Fairhurst went on to write the “From Comfort Zone to Performance Management’”paper, which still stands relatively unchallenged to this day. What they’re basically saying is that the “steady state” bit of the performance is our comfort zone. It’s where we achieve a steady stream of output. Their work came about as a leadership and business performance piece, not a personal growth piece. They were seeking how to ensure that management performed at a consistent and steady rate of output. The defining words in the definition for me are “they are at ease” and “low levels of anxiety.” A comfort zone, contrary to all the memes and what we’re told by the plethora of well-meaning social media life coaches, actually sounds like a pretty good place. Often inferred as a place of stagnation, the origin of the term seems to hold it in much higher esteem: it is a place of consistency. So why do we continually hold breaking out of our comfort zone in high regard, and beat ourselves up for not succeeding in doing so? Moving Beyond Your Comfort Zone Rather than trying to break out of it, what we do need to be more conscious about is becoming too complacent within our comfort zone. A little over a century ago Robert Yerkes, a celebrated psychologist, began speaking of a behavioral theory whereby, in order to optimize performance, humans must reach a level of stress slightly higher than normal. He referred to this as “Optimal Anxiety” and it seems that this space exists just outside of our comfort zone. What this means is that, yes, your comfort zone is a brilliant place to exist, but it likely won’t prepare to handle some of those curveballs life is going to drop on you like an unwelcome family guest at the dinner table you haven’t set a place for. However, Yerkes did also add that: “Anxiety improves performance until a certain optimum level of arousal has been reached. Beyond that point, performance deteriorates as higher levels of anxiety are attained.” So now we have a balancing act to manage. We need to push outside of our comfort just enough to achieve “Optimal Anxiety”, but not too much or we’ll end up pushing ourselves too far and it’ll actually be detrimental to achieving any performance at all as our anxiety takes over. Sound complicated? You’re not wrong. Here’s some more psychology theory to compound this. Many of us are familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. What you might not be too familiar with is that for human beings, feelings of safety are second only to the physiological requirements of the hierarchy (food, water, shelter). That’s a pretty powerful need and a strong reason for wanting to stay in our comfort zone. We feel safe = we stay alive. Thus, in a nutshell, our comfort zone is the sweet spot, but if we want to achieve optimal performance, we have to step outside it just a tiny bit, but not too much, and preventing us from wanting to do that at all, is the deep-seated need to stay safe. What do you do? Explore Your Growth Zone We are not plateaus and life is not a straight line. At times we’ll feel resilient and confident enough to play jump rope with what the definition of our comfort zone might be. For me, moving across the world to take a chance on love was one such period of life. But if the same scenario had been presented two or even the year before, during a time when I was heavily committed to keeping safe and maintaining my comfort zone, it’s unlikely I would have taken the chance. In recent years psychologists have expanded on the concept of the comfort zone and developed it to include two new zones: your growth zone and your panic zone. Along the lines of Yerkes “Optimal Anxiety” theory, these zones provide you with the options to see what growth looks like for you. Your growth zone exists outside of your comfort zone but is not a place of stress, on the flipside, it’s a space of opportunity. This a space well worth exploring. When it feels right for you to do so. What the “break out of your comfort zone” crusaders neglect is the allowance of individual difference. The comfort, growth or panic zone for one individual will look dramatically different to the next. For me, my comfort zone is not a place of stagnation. It is stillness and restoration. It’s a place I come back when my confidence is depleted and my resilience is waning. It is filled with the things that fuel me, and I take no shame in retreating to it when I’ve emerged too deeply into the panic zone. Yes, a lot of magic can happen when we take a chance and step over into an area of growth. But what is deeply comforting, is knowing that your comfort zone is there, waiting to welcome you, when you need it. So the next time someone tells you, you need to “break out” of anything that makes you feel good, feel free to tell them you’re quite alright where you are. View the full article
  7. When you have an assignment, presentation, or a job interview, you know it is essential that you prepare for it. Yet, getting started feels like a monumental task. You may check your email and feel like you need to respond right away, or your friend texts, and you feel the urge to reply. Maybe you go on social media for a few minutes before you embark on the task at hand. You fidget, get a drink and a snack. You get another text, and your assignment just keeps getting further and further postponed. Procrastination is king when individuals experience anxiety, maladaptive perfectionism, and other mental and emotional challenges. But we all procrastinate at one time or another. Why does our mind lead us to play stalling games? Why can’t we just take matters into our hands? We could just say, “Thanks, mind, you are doing a good job at helping me stall. I’ll just get on it!” It is easier said than done. Sometimes we just don’t seem to have the motivation to get started. We may rationalize and justify the delay with statements such as, “I hate this. It’s so boring!” “It’s going to take so long.” “I don’t think I’m made out for this.” “Who cares anyway?” The procrastination games may end up entangling you into a big mess. Your mind may say, “If I cannot do it perfectly, why should I do it at all? Others will think less of me.” Your mind may advise, “There is simply not enough time, after all. I’ll most likely get caught in the minutiae, so it is best to avoid that trap.” The judgments and evaluations the mind provides may be well intentioned. Remember, you mind is looking out for you. It wants to protect you from possible danger, discomfort, and unpleasant feelings. Unfortunately, the mind’s intentions backfire as you end up with sleepless nights, increased anxiety, and possibly discouragement, hopelessness, and depression. Take a few minutes to answer these questions: Am I avoiding the task itself or is there something else I am avoiding? When I think of the task, what are the specific feelings that come up? Are my perfectionistic tendencies and anxiety causing the delay? Am I avoiding any possible judgments from anyone? Whose judgments am I preventing? What will be the consequence if I fail? If my mind’s advice is helpful, does it have to do with avoiding anxiety? Your answers may be an indication that you are fused with the thoughts related to the situation. Is anxiety or other unpleasant emotions getting in the way? If this is the case, remember that when your mind sets up “should’ve, could’ve, would’ve” statements, you may be fused with them. Are you also creating high expectations because your mind is saying so? It doesn’t have to be that way. Remember, your mind doesn’t have all the information. It is simply doing its job, and you are the one that can see the whole picture when you become aware of what’s happening. The following exercise can help you become untangled from your thoughts when the mind leads you to procrastinate. Sing the Thought* Write down what the mind is saying. When you discover the stalling is related to anxiety or other unpleasant feeling and not the task, separate yourself from the unhelpful thoughts. You can sing the thoughts to a tune of a childhood song or any other song you’d like. For example, you could use the Happy Birthday tune with these thoughts: “I worry and worry. I may fail my test. I hate feeling anxious. So I’m not going to start!” You are not trying to make fun of the situation or diminish it in any way. You are only trying to change the context and meaning of what is happening. Your judgmental mind may add additional thoughts such as, “I’m so lazy.” “I’m irresponsible.” “I’m not smart. Otherwise, I would have gotten this done by now.” Use the same song or another song with those thoughts to continue to separate from them. As you practice this exercise, you’ll realize that those thoughts are just a bunch of unhelpful words produced by your mind. When you untangle from them, you can then move towards what matters most in your life. You don’t have to believe everything your mind says! * Hayes, S. C. 2005. Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications. View the full article
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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
  11. 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
  12. “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
  13. ​​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
  14. 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
  15. 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