Category Archives: wellness

Reducing Anxiety in Children

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In this technological age of instant news and social media at our fingertips, children are bombarded daily with news of school shootings, bombings, war, nuclear threats, genocide, and political extremism. At school and in their neighborhoods children experience peer pressure, bullying, and social isolation.

As a result there is a continued increase in the diagnosis of anxiety related disorders in children beginning in early middle school. Chronic anxiety can interfere with a child’s education as well as relationships with friends and family.

What does anxiety look like in children?

Anxiety is more than “nervousness.” Children exhibit a wide variety of symptoms including those listed below. If symptoms seem out of proportion with the situation or continue for long periods of time, seek support from your pediatrician or mental health provider.

  • Being easily startled
  • Clingy behavior with family members or care providers
  • Concerns about friends, school, or activities such as having conversations, meeting new people, being observed eating or drinking, performing in front of others such as giving a speech, etc.
  • Constant thoughts and fears about their safety or the safety of their parents or siblings
  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • Feeling as though there is a lump in the throat
  • Frequent stomach aches, headaches, or other physical complaints
  • Irritability
  • Lack of concentration
  • Muscle aches or tension
  • Refusing to go to school
  • Sleep problems including both difficulty falling asleep or difficulty staying asleep
  • Worry about sleeping away from home
  • Worrying about things that haven’t happened

What causes anxiety in children?

Biological Factors

Risk for experiencing anxiety increases with parental anxiety. Children who experience hypersensitivity to textures, smells, light, and touch are likely to have increased anxiety.

Environmental

Children who have experienced trauma experience higher rates of anxiety as are those who experience over or under protected. When schedules are too rigid, over scheduling, or under scheduled resulting in a chaotic environment, anxiety is likely to flourish.

Perceived loss of control is also an environmental source of anxiety including frequent moves, instability in caretakers, divorce, foster care, living through natural disasters such as fire, flood, hurricane, etc.

How can I help my child?

  • Support good sleep hygiene by limiting screens during the last hour before bed, maintaining a regular bedtime, and engaging in calming activities before bed. A Mayo Clinic study indicates that children 7-12 years old should get 10-11 hours of sleep each night and 12-18 years need 8-10 hours per night.
  • Encourage outdoor exercise such as taking walks, riding bicycles, playing games with other youth.
  • Improve nutrition by increasing water and decreasing sugar and caffeine,
  • Engage in positive activities such as playing catch, reading aloud, playing a game, etc. several times per week.
  • Develop healthy attitudes towards failure. Encourage your child to “Keep Trying!”
  • Learn and practice calming skills such as progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, paced breathing.
  • Learn to cope ahead; plan and prepare for anxiety triggering situations.
  • Talk through emotions. Support your child in learning to identify current emotions and then to rate them from 1-5 to help understand the depth of their feelings.
  • Practice affirmations such as:
  • I’m okay right now.
  • It’s ok if everything doesn’t go as planned.
  • I have the ability to cope with what happens in my life.
  • Enjoyable surprises often come from new situations.

What if self-help is not enough?

Although it is typical for children to experience anxiety at times, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is (CBT) is often necessary when anxiety becomes unmanageable and begins to interfere with a child’s social functioning. CBT is an evidence based treatment that focuses on identifying, understanding and then changing thinking and behavior. Clients are actively involved in their recovery by practicing assignments between sessions.

With support, children can overcome the challenges of anxiety and learn to manage their thoughts and their behaviors.

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Create a Life Worth Living: Finding your why

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When people reach the point where they feel that there is no hope that things will get better or they feel that they have exhausted every option in an attempt to solve the problems they face daily, hopelessness grows. Unchecked, hopelessness fuels self-harm, addictions, and suicide. Life has become so unmanageable that it no longer feels worth living.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl explores his experience as an inmate at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II, a place where many died at the hands of the Nazis, but many others died from lack of hope. Frankl  quotes Friedrich Nietzsche, “He who has a ‘why’ to live for can bear almost any ‘how’.”

Just a few days ago a new year began and hundreds of thousands of people made resolutions. Few will hold their resolve into February. And yet so many people plugged into hope, found their why, and survived unimaginable horrors.

Creating a life worth living is about refusing to be a victim. It is about surviving the harsh realities of life and learning to thrive. It is finding your Why in the midst of the storm.

In 2014  author Susan Gabriel shared a blog post, 120 Things That Give Me Hope. This list is an amazing place to begin to build your own well of hope and a life worth living.

As you look at the list, think about those things that give you a sense of purpose:

Creativity

Does making something bring you joy? Satisfaction? Are you spending some of your time each day creating? Creativity includes writing, knitting, woodworking, gardening, sewing, sculpting.

Nature

The beach? The desert? The mountains? Does nature call to you? Do you long to take a long bicycle ride down a country lane? Would you like to hike to the top of the highest peaks? Does sea kayaking make your heart thrill? Are you spending time in nature?

Faith/Spirituality

Do you believe in a higher power? Is there something larger than yourself? Do you take time to meditate or pray? Do you lean into the silence?

Serving/Giving

Can you see others who have needs that you might be able to meet? Do you give of yourself, your time, to lift others up? Can you help the elderly neighbor carry in her groceries? Teach a class at the community center. Read to children in schools or to seniors in care homes? How can you give of yourself?

Creating a life worth living is about giving yourself permission to live fully. What small step can you take today to grow hope and find your “why”?

Instead of giving myself reasons why I cant, I give myself reasons why I can.”

~ Victor Frankl

 

On Being or Acting As If

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Or, fake it until you make it.

Change is difficult.

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Smoothing out old patterns and creating new pathways doesn’t happen overnight. But is there danger in faking it? Yes, and no.

When we use affirmations, we affirm statements that are how we want life to be.

“I am healthy, strong, and fit.”

We may not be there, but our affirmation is pulling us that direction. We are working towards being.

When we act “as if” we can allow ourselves the opportunity to grow into our desired behavior. Putting on your running shoes and running around the block can begin to move you closer to being a runner.

However, acting as if can create significant cognitive dissonance when the acting is not being followed up by doing. Cognitive dissonance can become strong motivation to work harder at being more authentic. Ignored, it can develop into shame and manifest depression and anxiety.

Think back to the CBT triangle.

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Stating that “I am a runner” when putting on shoes each day, but only walking as far as the kitchen for potato chips can create feelings of defeat, despair and disappointment and drive thoughts of insecurity.

Acting as if can be healthy if there is truly action behind it. In this same scenario, the client puts on their shoes and runs around the block each day. Each time they run, they increase their stamina and experience feelings of accomplishment. They begin to run a little further and positive emotions and thoughts increase about their move towards becoming a runner. Soon, they are no longer acting as if, but are firmly entrenched in being. They are a runner.

Take time to reflect on what you want to manifest in your life. Are you on the road to being? Or, are you just acting as if?

Dealing with Emotions: An Analogy

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imageSometimes you don’t want to deal with emotions.

Sometimes you need to wait until you have more time to process.

Sometimes you hope that they will just go away.

Waiting until you have time alone to think things through or holding onto the emotions to share at your next counseling appointment can be a healthy option. Stuffing emotions down and ignoring them long-term can make them even harder to deal with and create more problems.

Unprocessed emotions are like leftovers. After dinner, you can carefully pack them away in the Tupperware and place in the refrigerator, but at some point you will have to take care of them.

If you deal with the leftovers within a day or two, it’s easy to handle. But the longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes to manage and will take more work to sort out.

If you really try to ignore the leftovers, push them to the back of the refrigerator and “forget” about them for a month, the task of dealing with them becomes awful. The leftovers become rotten. They are smelly, slimey, and hairy. Taking care of them takes more work and effort.

So, shall we deal with it now, or later?

6 Ways to Survive the Dog Days of Summer

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sun-622740_1920.jpgAugust has arrived and brought extreme heat to the Pacific Northwest. We are not accustomed to triple digit temperatures in this region of the country. There is evidence that extreme temperatures can affect mood, and high heat can increase aggression. According to research, intergroup conflicts increase by 14% while interpersonal violence increases 4% during peak heat cycles.

So, how do you keep your cool when heat strikes?

  1. Slow Down – Reduce the number of tasks and appointments to the minimum to allow time to move from task to task at an easy pace. Rushing increases stress and body temperature.
  2. Stay Inside – If you are particularly sensitive to heat, stay in as much as possible. If you don’t have access to air conditioning, keep shades and curtains closed, avoiding upper floors as much as possible. Remember heat rises.
  3. Drink Plenty of Fluids – We all need water for health benefits, but during hot weather we need extra fluids to replace what is lost through perspiration. Avoid dehydrating beverages such as caffeinated drinks and alcohol and increase consumption of water and iced herbal teas.
  4. Wear White – Wear white or lighter colored clothing which reflects the heat instead of black or darker shades which tend to absorb the heat.
  5. Eat Lightly – Eat smaller portions more frequently through the day to reduce strain on digestion. Avoid eating large meals.
  6. Cool Down Fast – Even with good intentions, we can sometimes over do it and end up overheated. To cool down fast, apply ice packs, cool compresses or cold water to the pulse spots on your body which brings down the temperature of your blood vessels and lowers your overall body temperature. Areas of focus included the neck, inner wrists, back of knees, ankles, top of feet, temples, inside bend of elbows, and inner thighs.

The impact of weather on mood can be reduced significantly by being flexible. Have backup plans for activities to do inside on hot days such as going to the movies or engaging in hobbies. Or, plan water related activities such as swimming or going to the beach and save hiking for the more temperate days.

A Cup Full of Self-Compassion: Kindness Challenge Reflection

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Is your cup half empty or half full?

More important than how full is your cup, is WHAT is your cup filled with? There have been times in my life where my cup has been filled with negative thoughts, poor self image, and painful memories. When our cups are filled with negativity, self-compassion is impossible. Anything can become a weapon to tear away at our spirit.

Anyone who has travelled by air has hear the flight attendants give the standard safety message:

“Should the cabin experience sudden pressure loss, stay calm and listen for instructions from the cabin crew. Oxygen masks will drop down from above your seat. Place the mask over your mouth and nose, like this. Pull the strap to tighten it. Please make sure that your own mask is on first before helping those seated next to you.”

The message is clear. If you don’t have anything to give, you can’t be of help to anyone else.

I have found that in order to give of myself to clients, family, and friends, I must consistently check the status of my cup and purposely fill it with love and compassion. Taking time to care for my body, mind, and spirit is a necessity. And so is forgiving myself for the days when I am not my best self.

Those days that I don’t get everything done that I thought I should or when I said something that I later regretted, aren’t who I am. Compassion includes gifting myself the same compassion that I would offer someone else. I acknowledge my strengths and my weaknesses. I forgive myself. I care for myself. And when I do, my cup is filled with love and compassion which can freely flow out to those around me.

Kindness Challenge

This post is from Week 1 of the 2017 Kindness Challenge. For more information or to view other participants’ submissions, please click here.

Kindness Challenge Reflection: Self-Love

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Self-love can be a difficult thing to find when you have spent your life feeling “less than.” A history of traumatic events can lead a person to erect a concrete wall around their heart. Love for others is difficult, but love of self can become nearly impossible.

Short of breaking out a jack hammer, how do we overcome the negative thoughts and emotions that hold us back from loving ourselves?

Get to know yourself

Who are you really? What do you like? What are you really good at? Imagine all the questions that you would ask a person you’ve just met and want to get to know better.

I am a writer, a therapist, a sister, a traveler, and an activist. I am friendly, funny, curious and sometimes silly. I like coffee (and tea), fluffy dogs, and the beach.

Take responsibility for your life

Wherever you are today is where you are today. While you cannot change what has happened to you in the past, you can take full responsibility for the choices you make today. Your decisions today are not the fault of your parents, teachers and others that shaped your early life.

Begin a path of healing by seeking out respected therapists, clergy, or healers who can support you in taking responsibility. Create a circle of friends who will hold you accountable to your choices.

Set and maintain clear boundaries

Loving yourself means protecting yourself. Teach others how to treat you by setting clear boundaries. Practice saying “no” to events, activities, or requests for help that don’t fit in your schedule or interfere with self-care or important relationships.

Nurture yourself

Most children have caring adults devoted to cuddle, nurse, teach, and play with them. These loving adult relationships fill the heart and nurture the soul. As an adult, the responsibility to receive nurturing falls on you.

Create a list of enjoyable and soothing activities to try. Some ideas? Take a walk early in the morning before the neighborhood wakes up, slip into a warm bath with scented bath salts, savor a piece of dark chocolate alongside your favorite coffee, or slip into your favorite pajamas and fluffy socks before curling up on the couch to read.

Manage your health

Taking time to manage your health creates more time to enjoy your life. Loving yourself includes taking yourself to the doctor and dentist, taking medications on time, eating healthy foods, and getting adequate physical activity.

Create personal affirmations

Like anything else, learning to love ourselves is a process. Affirmations are a beautiful way to help us remain focused on the path we have chosen. Create your affirmation by thinking about what you want to manifest in your life.

Not sure where to start? Spend some time writing in your journal about how you want your life to be. While you are working on your own personal affirmation, practice one of these:

  • I am deserving of love.
  • I am at peace with my past and enjoy a life of balance and harmony.
  • I love myself; I am growing and healing everyday.

Several years ago, I spent a day writing a personal affirmation. I had been on a retreat that inspired me to accept myself and begin to thrive. Each year since, I have revised the affirmation so that it continues to be my guide. Below is my current version:

My life is an adventure and I seek new experiences.

I do not put off doing something until “later.”

I live my life to the fullest everyday.

I am healthy, beautiful and fit: I spend time doing rather than watching.

I am a warrior: I control the direction of my life.

I can accomplish what I set out to do.

I love myself and deserve to be treated well.

Kindness Challenge

This post is from Week 1 of the 2017 Kindness Challenge. For more information or to view other participants’ submissions, please click here.

Creating a Personal Occupational Wellness Plan

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planning-620299_1280Creating wellness in our lives is simple, but not always easy. Our work life is often overlooked when considering self-improvement. Developing a plan to incorporate wellness into our work requires time for self reflection.

Find a quiet space and make yourself comfortable. Take out a pen and paper and set aside an hour or two to contemplate the following questions. Write down any thoughts that come to mind without editing them.

  1. Am I doing work that matters to me?
  2. What do I set aside to work on career activities (Example: family activities, health care, exercise, spiritual practices, etc.)
  3. What part of my work brings me deep satisfaction?
  4.  Do I have the tools and education to do my work well?
  5. Why did I choose this work?
  6. What do I want to achieve professionally this year?

During your reflection, you may have come to some conclusions about changes you may need to make in your career path. If so, begin working on a plan to shift your career in the direction that you want to move, but continue to work to improve wellness in your current situation.

Personal Occupational Wellness Plan

  1. Plan your day the night before

Steven Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, had it right when he encouraged the habit of “Begin with the end in mind.” In an era where technology is a ready distraction, having a plan to accomplish daily tasks and minimize disruptions from email, telephone calls and drop-in visitors. Take 5-10 minutes before you leave for the day to review your task list. Note 3-5 priorities for the next day. Then review your appointment schedule and carve out time to complete your most important tasks.

  1. Reset your workspace before you leave work

Clear off your desk, straighten furniture, wash your coffee cup. Place items where they belong so that when you enter your workspace in the morning, it is fresh and ready for action.

  1. Start the day with a ritual

Create a morning ritual for work. A simple ritual would be to sit at your desk with your cup of coffee or tea, turn on the desk lamp, take three deep breaths and repeat your affirmation for the day, take three more deep breaths before turning on the computer and viewing the first order of business.

  1. Complete a priority task first

Schedule some time at the beginning of your day to complete at least one of the high priority tasks that you identified the night before. Checking that item off the list right away increases motivation and frees up mental energy.

  1. Take breaks throughout the day

First, eat lunch every day away from your desk. Even if you don’t have enough time to leave the office, take your lunch to the employee lounge. This reduces the temptation to continue to work through lunch and provides an opportunity to interact with coworkers.

Second, take mini breaks every hour. Americans sit too much and it is hard on the body and bad for health. Stand up and stretch for one minute or walk to furthest restroom. Refill your water bottle in the employee lounge or take a quick walk around the building.

  1. Fuel your body

Pack healthy snacks to nosh on throughout the day. Keep packets of nuts, protein bars, and dried fruit in your desk for quick boosts of energy. Keep a water bottle on your desk to refill throughout the day to stay hydrated.

  1. Leave on time

In truth, very few things can’t be left until the next day. When you reach the end of your scheduled work day, take a few minutes to plan for tomorrow and reset your office, then turn off the lights and leave the office. Spend the evening building relationships, engaging in creative endeavors, exercising, writing, reading, and whatever else brings you joy.

A Mindful Valentine’s Day

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{Photo taken at Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle, Washington 2017}

 

Valentine’s Day is often filled with hearts, flowers and high expectations. A recent visit to the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit in Seattle reminded me of the complexity of relationships. Like this chandelier art piece, life swirls and changes. The deeper you look into your life, the more you see.

Take a few minutes to focus on the picture above. Still yourself and notice the changing shapes and colors.

Be mindful today and go out in love.

 

Creating a Culture of Wellness: Occupational Wellness (Part 2)

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img_0244A few weeks ago, I wrote about Creating a Culture of Wellness in your life. Part one focused on improving emotional wellness.  Today’s post will explore the concept of occupational wellness.

University of California, Riverside defines occupational wellness as:

“the ability to achieve a balance between work and leisure time, addressing workplace stress and building relationships with coworkers. It focuses on our search for a calling and involves exploring various career options and finding where you fit.”

In my pre-therapist life, I worked in real estate marketing. I dreaded going to work. I spent most of my days working on tasks that I didn’t enjoy and wasn’t certain that they mattered to anyone except my supervisor. I worked long hours, spent little time with my family and drank more lattes in one day than anyone should drink.

Then in 2001, the book Good to Great came out and blew through corporate America like a Kansas tornado. My manager was no exception. One day he came into my office and asked me one of the most popular questions that percolated from that book: “Are you in the right seat on the bus?” My answer bubbled up before I had a chance to contemplate it. “I’m not sure that I’m even on the right bus.” Within two years of that conversation, I had left corporate America and entered the world of non-profit social work.

In short, occupational wellness is about loving what you do, doing what you love and loving yourself along the way. Here are a few questions to help you determine your level of occupational wellness.

1.   Do you enjoy going to work most days?

Is heading to work, just the next thing on your daily to do list, or do you start dreading the beginning of the work week on Sunday morning? Are you wasting your downtime lamenting how much you detest your job

2.  When you leave work, do you continue to think about clients, tasks or paperwork into the evening?

Do you find yourself thinking about the difficult client or the unsigned contract while your partner is talking to you? Do characters in your favorite television program remind you of clients or coworkers.

3.  Do you regularly work more than your scheduled work week.

Are you regularly scheduling an afterhours appointment because there was no other time to fit them in? Or do you stay just a few minutes late daily to catch up on routine paperwork, phone calls, and emails?

4.  Do you feel that your workload is manageable?

Do you cringe when you open your daily schedule and see your client load? Do you wonder if you are going to be able to eat lunch today? Or when you might use the restroom?

5.  Do you have at least one coworker that you can discuss non work related topics with over lunch or a break?

Is there someone you can talk to about anything other than your difficult clients, frustrating supervisors, overbooked schedule, etc.? Can you talk to others about books, family, hiking, or other personal interests.

6.  Do you feel that you can go to your supervisor or a coworker for guidance with a work-related problem?

Does the thought of asking for help strike fear in your heart or do you feel that your supervisor and coworkers are available for support and guidance?

7.  Do you feel that your work matters?

Is what you do important to somebody? When you think about the work that you do, do you have a sense of accomplishment?

Americans generally spend more than one-third of their waking hours engaged in occupational activities. During the work week, this is often more time than we spend with our friends and families. If you feel uncomfortable with your answers to the above questions, it is likely time for you to develop an occupational wellness plan for your life. Watch for an upcoming post: Creating a Personal Occupational Wellness Plan.