Tag Archives: life

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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A Reminder for Difficult Times

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7 Tips for Talking to Children About Mass Shootings

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With great sadness I read of another mass shooting. 58 people have been confirmed dead and hundreds more were injured in the Las Vegas shooting on Sunday, October 1, 2017. As adults, it’s difficult to understand the hows and the whys of these events. For children, it’s even more difficult.

Young children, under the age of 8, have a difficult time differentiating between fact and fiction on screens including television, computers, smartphones, and game systems.

Children over the age of 9 have greater understand, but when overexposed to information about shootings and other traumatic events are at risk for developing anxiety, depression, anger, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Below are 7 tips for talking to children about mass shootings and traumatic events.

1. Limit exposure to news.

If possible, do not allow children under the age of 9 to watch the news.

If older children are watching news, make a point of watching with them. Take time to help them express their thoughts and feelings about the information. Provide additional information from a calm, adult perspective. Point out positive media images if appropriate.

Engage children in non-news related activities: Watch movies on DVD, play board games, go for bike rides, go to the park.

2. Reassure children that they are cared for and safe.

Remind them that there are more good people in the world then bad. Encourage them to make a list of all of the supportive people in their lives.

3. Validate their feelings.

Let them know that it is okay to be sad or scared, but they are and will be okay.

4. Identify ways to give back.

Doing something productive can help manage feelings. Encourage children to write a letter of encouragement to the injured, collect soda cans and donate the proceeds to a medical fund to help victims, or other ideas that they may generate.

5. Check in with them periodically.

Ask children if they have any questions. Be sure to let them know that you are open to talking more if they want.

6. Monitor adult conversations.

Children hear more than adults realize and can often misunderstand adult reactions to traumatic events. Have adult conversations in private spaces where you cannot be overheard. If a child overhears part of a conversation, be open and honest about your feelings while continuing to reassure the child of their safety.

Some indicators that your child needs professional help includes:

  • Persistent worry or anxiety about their safety or the of their friends and family.
  • Continuing to focus on thoughts of the incident, including seeking out news information, talking about the event, or drawing pictures of the event.
  • Significant changes in behavior including inattentiveness, irritability, sleeping too much or too little, lack of appetite, etc.
  • Persistent headaches or stomachaches.
  • Increased sensitivity to sounds.

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?

Total Eclipse of Life

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Oregon is in the path of totality, which sounds ominous. Discussion of the impending eclipse has ranged from a party-like excitement to a deep wariness.

There are many situations in life that bring untimely darkness, much like the upcoming solar eclipse. The death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or losing a job are just a few of the events that create a shadow in our lives, effectively blocking out the light.

Yet, just as the moon passes over the sun for just a few moments, so do these dark moments in life pass. They fade away and the light returns to our lives once again.

But even during totality, that darkest moment, the corona of the sun is still visible. Planets including Venus and Jupiter will glow in the twilight sky along with the star, Sirius. There is light, even in the darkest places.

So often we believe that this loss or that failure will create a permanent dark void in our lives and that we may never recover. Yet given time, hearts heal, new relationships develop, job opportunities appear, and the light returns. And, if we are paying attention when we are lost in the dark, we will see the bright lights of our family, friends and other supports guiding us back into the light..

In every darkness, there’s a light.

In every struggle, there’s a way.

In every faith, there is a hope.

~Anmol Andore

6 Actions to Increase 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. I love camping in the woods and luxurious high rise hotel rooms.

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.

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.

Making the Shift: An Evening Ritual

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Making the Shift: An Evening Ritual

harmony-1229893_1920In a recent post I discussed the value of a morning ritual to support focus, creativity, and peace. I have found that a brief evening ritual can support the transition from work to home.

Working in community mental health care can be challenging and sometimes stressful. It is important to set aside the content of the day and leave it in the office so that you can be fully present at home with family and friends.

I first recognized the need for an end of the day ritual when I was providing mental health services to children and families in their homes. I often ended my day at a client’s home before beginning the commute home.

On my hour long drive, I would find myself processing the contents of client sessions, planning my work for the next day, and reformulating treatment plans. I would arrive home worn out and mentally still at work.

After several months of my commute, I noticed a ramshackle barn about halfway between home and work. The old red barn had started to crumble and nature was doing its best to reclaim the space. Vines grew through the building, up and out of holes that had developed in the roof. I first noticed the barn when the vines began to flower in the spring. Hundreds of tiny white flowers blanketed the roof of the barn.

That ramshackle barn in the middle of nowhere became the trigger for my first evening ritual.

Rituals require structure to be effective and I created a simple rule that cared for my budding ritual. Each night as I traveled home from work, I allowed my mind to process and wander through all the sessions, meetings, and tasks of the day. However, when the old barn came in sight, all thoughts of work were relegated to the back of my mind and I turned my focus to the tasks of my life. My mind began to make dinner plans, consider the route for walking the dog, think about weeding the garden, and creating a list of things to pack on my upcoming vacation. If work thoughts crept in, they were shooed away and I refocused on personal thoughts and plans.

A couple of years ago, I made a shift in my work to clinic based treatment. This has created a number of changes in my life including eliminating a lengthy commute. However, with the loss of the commute also came the loss of my evening ritual.

My new ritual is just as simple, but takes place before I leave the office for the day. Each night after the last client has left, I straighten my office so that it is ready for the first client the next day. Chairs are realigned, toys replaced on shelves, and the markers and colored pencils are sorted back into their cups on the art table. I gather my personal belongings to take home and clear my desk of everything except my notebook. Taking a couple of centering breaths, I consider any tasks or ideas that I want to follow up on the next day and jot them in the notebook before returning it to the desk drawer. Having cleared my mind, I pull the cord on the lamp to turn out the light, lock the door and step out of my office door into my personal life.

A WARM Morning Ritual

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IMG_0409Those who know me well are cognizant that I do not naturally lean towards rituals, habits and organization. I thrive in creativity and fluidity.

However, in my professional practice, I have discovered the value of daily rituals. I have come to discover that well planned rituals can create smooth transitions from home life to professional life and back again.

My morning ritual has metamorphosed over the years and settled into a simple four part practice: WARM.

Write

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way encourages a daily writing practice she calls “Morning Pages.” Part journal, part mind-dump, these three pages of long hand writing help to clear the mind of all the extraneous information, fears and concerns. It creates a clear space to begin the day.

Affirmations

Affirmations are an effective way to focus our intentions for our lives and our work. They support healthy change affecting mind, body, and spirit. I use a combination of 2-3 affirmation statements each day which correspond with my desired growth in my professional life, personal life, and physical health. Affirmations can be modified as needed to support current goals.

Read

Knowledge is power. While working to establish the University of Virginia in 1817, Thomas Jefferson wrote “that knowledge is power, that knowledge is safety, and tht knowledge is happiness.” Reading a variety of materials increases knowledge. I encourage reading of professional journals, novels, literature, non-fiction, meditations, spiritual texts, and more. An additional benefit, according to the University of Sussex, is that just 6 minutes of reading per day can reduce stress levels by 68%.

Meditate

Meditation reduces stress, increases clarity and creativity, as well as increasing mindfulness and tolerance. Meditation does not have to be a complicated process. There are numerous articles and books written on beginning meditation, but a couple of simple ways to get started is by setting aside five minutes to focus on deep breathing, listen calming music and focus on one element of the music, or combine with affirmation work by focusing on your affirmation with each breath.

Take some time this week and begin to develop or refine your own morning routine. Add or change one element at a time to make sustainable changes. Feel free to comment below on your current morning ritual or on the impact of any changes you make.