What’s Your Real Problem?

I get calls from concerned parents all time. They are worried about the behaviors their kids are engaging in. What parent wouldn’t be concerned if they see their child struggling? Maybe your teen is avoiding school because they are anxious. Maybe your child is in college and drinking and partying too much led to them not returning for second semester. Maybe your teen is isolating or self-harming. Regardless of the behavior, I have to tell you, the behavior is NOT the problem, it is the SOLUTION.

I know, you probably think I am crazy at this point, but just keep reading. The problem is that they lack coping skills! Your kids don’t know how to feel intense or difficult emotions and they don’t have any real coping skills to manage them in the moment.

So, what do they do? They find another way. The “solution.” For each child, teen, or young adult (and let’s be real some of us as well), this might look different, but the concept is the same. They are all managing their feelings or essentially avoiding their feelings because they don’t know what else to do!

GOOD NEWS, There is a better way! 

There are coping skills that very effectively help teens learn to manage their feelings in the moment! Your teen can learn them today! You can learn them too and how to help your teen put them into practice on a regular basis. Any day now you can be on your way to having a happier healthier teen.

We help your teen envision a life worth living and imagine that they can be in control of their emotions. We help them to identify what their current behaviors are doing for them and teach them how coping skills can help them reach their same goals without the negative consequences (such as shame).

Sound good? Schedule your free 15-min phone strategy session to learn more about how coping skills to help you and/or your teen start the year off right!

What The Heck Is DBT and Why Will It Help My Teen?

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a comprehensive treatment model that offers hope for teens who have not seen improvement in other therapies. It is based on actionable skills and focuses on problem solving and acceptance-based strategies. DBT is led by a DBT-Certified therapist who is intensively trained by Behavior Tech.

At Mindful Healing, LLC our DBT program for adolescents involves group skills training. These actionable skills focus on helping teens learn to feel in control of their emotions rather than their emotions being in control of them. To transfer skills to the home and school environment, many teens also participate in individual DBT and parent coaching.

DBT is used to treat teens with anything from school avoidance to suicidality. It is the gold standard of evidence based treatment for emotion regulation in teens.

What Skills Does DBT Teach?

DBT skills group is a co-ed open-enrollment group. It runs for 26 weeks.   Group has a maximum of 8 clients to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to fully engage. We ask that you make the commitment to attend for a minimum of 12-weeks to give your teen ample time to develop skills and begin to see progress.

DBT skills training is very structured and consists of five modules.

Mindfulness skills: Teaches teens how to focus the mind and to observe and describe what they are feeling and thinking in the moment without judgement. These skills can help teens reduce reactivity to painful thoughts and emotions.

Distress Tolerance: Learning how to accept yourself and the situation. More specifically, learning to tolerate a crisis and being able to recognize urges to do things that would be ineffective, such self-harm, without acting on them.

Emotion Regulation: Addresses emotional sensitivity, mood changes such as depression, anxiety, or anger. In addition, recognizing and coping with negative emotions, and reducing one’s emotional vulnerability by increasing positive life experiences.

Interpersonal Effectiveness: It’s often relationships with others that are the triggers for self-destructive behaviors in teens. Interpersonal effectiveness skills teach adolescents how to engage more effectively with others. In addition, it enables them to feel more supported by others.

Middle Path: Teaches teens how to shift perspectives and see more than one viewpoint rather than only extreme thinking and behaviors. These skills involve learning about how to compromise and negotiate, as well as methods of behavior change, validation and acceptance.

Additional DBT Supports Available At Mindful Healing:

Individual DBT psychotherapy: This is the main way of developing and refining the ability to apply skills taught in DBT skills group to daily life. Individual DBT focuses on helping teens identify personal triggers for behaviors and explore skill based solutions.

Parent Tele-Coaching: Many parents feel unsure of how to approach a particular situation, when or how to set limits, if setting limits will make things better or worse, how to encourage skills use, etc. Parents can contact our intake corrdinator to arrange an individual parent coaching session for assistance in developing their own skills!

Commitment Strategies: “Commitment strategies” are a cornerstone of DBT treatment. Not all adolescents choose to come to therapy. Some are encouraged by parents or friends to seek treatment, and may not be “motivated” initially to attend therapy. Special commitment strategies are used to help adolescents gain a better understanding of their behaviors, and how DBT skills will help them meet their own unique individual goals!

In a nutshell, DBT teaches teens actionable skills to help them learn to live a life they can love! DBT targets the issues that cause distress. It teaches teens skills to deal with them without having to resort to self-defeating behaviors.

SHIFT OUT OF NEGATIVE THOUGHTS (GOAL IS NOT TO CHANGE THEM)

If your teen struggles with negative self-talk the DBT mindfulness skill “Fact or Judgement” may be the solution. They can enjoy the moment without negative thinking.

Thoughts and Feelings aren’t Facts

Anybody who has worked with teens or has teens know that negative self-talk teens are very hard on themselves and this impacts their behavior. Using “Fact or Judgement” can help teens notice what’s happening in their mind and have more control over their emotions and reactions.

For example, if a teen fails a test in school they may think “I’m not good enough. I’m a failure. I’m never going to succeed in school.” Thoughts like this just keeps going and going in their head and by the time they get home they may not be willing to talk or have an angry outburst and as the parent you have no idea why. They may even not want to do their homework, or not want to go to school anymore.

When using “Fact or Judgment” helps teens observe their negative self-talk and ask themselves is this a fact, or is this a judgment? This will help to give emotional distance from the thought.

Teens can say: “I’m having the that I am stupid because I failed this test and this is a judgement. The fact is that I didn’t study. I am passing the class.”

This will in turn impact their behavior: If your teen is no longer feeling like a failure or stupid and has stopped the negative-self talk wheel, they may be more open to studying, going to school, talking to you, etc.

Don’t Let Your Thoughts Drive You

Remember don’t let your thoughts take control. Thoughts are not facts. Practice noticing your thoughts and letting them go. Remind yourself of what the facts of the situation are. Ask yourself what is true here? What amI reacting to?

Some teens have even mentioned that it is helpful gain distance from their thoughts by saying them out loud or talking to them in third person (ex. Lianna this negative thought is just a thought, your facts are…).

This doesn’t mean to invalidate our feelings, just to acknowledge that the thought is just a thought and a fact is fact.

Need more support or tricks for your teen? Book your free parent consultation here.

FIND YOUR TRUE SELF

If your teen struggles with not knowing who they are or feeling lost negative core beliefs may be part of the problem.

Many teens are filled with these negative core belief systems. Core beliefs are belief systems that impact how we see ourselves, others, our future, and the world. They develop over time, usually from childhood and from significant life events and circumstances. They are strongly-held and ridged belief systems that are reinforced by the tendency to focus on facts that support the belief and ignore evidence that contradicts the belief system.

Many of the teenagers I work with at Mindful Healing believe that “They will never get better,” “They aren’t worth helping,” “They are hurting the people around them,” or “They don’t deserve to be loved.”

These beliefs are distress intolerant and can be activated by certain circumstances. When they are triggered they create such a pain response and such large emotional reactions teens cannot tolerate distress.

Core-Beliefs Are Attached to Values

One of the skills I teach at Mindful Healing is the DBT skill: Finding Meaning

This skill helps teens take a look at their distress intolerant beliefs and identify the value and meaning that it is triggering. If they say “I hurt the people around me,” they may value relationships. If they say “I will never get better,” they may value hope.

When teens are able to identify their values and begin to stripe away their self-doubt they are better able to tolerate distress. Adding meaning to life can help create a sense of purpose, life, and hope for the future.

It can help them begin to change their distress intolerant beliefs and find their authentic self!

3 WAYS TO HELP YOUR TEEN FEEL HEARD

Does your teen ever say you just don’t understand me? If so, you are not alone.

As a teen therapist one of the most common things I hear from parents is “my teen won’t talk to me.” It is natural for parents want to connect with their teens and know what is happening in their lives. However, teens have a different perspective. One common thing I hear from teens is that “my parents don’t understand me,” or “my parents just don’t listen,” or “my parents make it all about themselves.”

One of the most difficult parts of being a parent is seeing your child suffer, watching them be in pain. When this happens parents tend to try to solve the problem for their teen, they want to take the pain away. However, They are also giving unwarranted advice, they discuss how they “would handle things.”

Teens, like most of use, aren’t looking for someone to solve their problems, so when you do, it feels really invalidating. It feels like you aren’t listening. As a parent you want to share your years of wisdom and experience. As a teen they want to have their own experience.

Parents often also go into “comfort mode.” They tell their teens everything is going to be okay. How often to get an angry response to this…

Teen: ”No it’s not, how would you know.”

When teens, or anyone really are in distress they don’t feel like things are going to work out. Telling them things will be okay, is the same as telling them their feelings are wrong (at least that’s what they will hear in that moment).

So what do to do instead?

Validate!

 Validation is the acknowledgement of another person’s perspective and feelings. Often parents misunderstand it for complete agreement. This is not true. For example, if your teen says “I hate you, you are the worst parents ever.” You may not be inclined to agree with this. However, you can validate it! You can say “Given the situation (being told no), I can understand that you feel this way.”  Validation is letting them know that you can empathize with them and you understand their perspective.

Here are a few starting points on how to validate:

Listen:

Just listen to what your teen has to say. Don’t interrupt them. Allow them to express their feelings.

Summarize and Reflect:

Reflect it back to them. Show them you are heard them by rephrasing what they said. Ask questions if you need clarification.

Create a safe place for their feelings:

Hold a space for them to feel distress. Sit with them through the pain and tolerate their feelings. Do NOT try to give advice or solve the problem. Just be with them. Let them feel whatever they feel, however, they feel it. You may find that after their feelings have passed they actually ask or your opinion.

When teens feel heard and connected they are more likely to open up.

Keep in mind validation is a practiced skill. Be kind to yourself while you are learning it.

If you need help communicating with your teen Contact Me to schedule your FREE parent screening.

6 UNHELPFUL THINGS WELL-INTENDED PARENTS SAY

You see your teen feeling overwhelmed with school work, struggling with peer relationships, or constantly judging themselves and all you want to do is help them feel better. You do your best to say the right thing, but some words that may sound positive can actually hurt.

Teens don’t come with a “how-to” manual and despite being attentive loving parents we can say pretty unhelpful things sometimes. These aren’t always things said in the middle of an argument, but things we say to comfort or encourage our teens with the best of intentions.

Next time you find yourself ready to say one of these things pause and take a different approach.

1. Practice Makes perfect

It is true that the more you practice a skill the better you can get at it. However, “perfect” doesn’t exist. This not only sends the message that it isn’t okay to make mistakes, but that perfection is expected and to keep trying until they achieve it. Many teens hear that they are not good enough or worthy until they have achieved this perfection.

2. Don’t Worry or Don’t Cry

We say this often to try to comfort our teens, but instead it sends them the message that their feelings don’t count or are wrong. Instead try saying, “I can see why that be worrisome, what are some things you can do to feel less worried?” This shows your teen not only do understand their feelings but believe they are strong enough to address them.

3. How Was School Today?

This question is asked to show interest on your teens life, but is often met with one word answers – Typically, “good,” or “fine.” Instead try asking questions that require more than one word to answer, such as “what did you do for your science project?” or “who did you sit with at lunch?

4. I’m On a Diet

This is something to keep to yourself. If your children or teens hear you discussing watching your weight, being on a diet, or feeling fat they may develop their own body image issues. Instead try saying that you are eating healthy because you like the way it makes you feel.

5. If you don’t start doing better, you will never get a job/get into college

Often parents say this with the intention of getting teens to think about how their current behavior is impacting their future. If you don’t do your homework now or go to school, your hope of going to college won’t happen. However, if your teen is struggling with going to school adding pressure isn’t going to help. This sends them the message that you don’t believe in them. Focus on supporting the current behavior rather than a negative future. Instead try saying “What are some small steps you can take to get to school?

6. You Can’t Imagine the Day I’ve Had

As parents when you get home after a long day at work and the first thing your teen does is ask you for something or start an argument, this one can be easy to say. Often you are trying to get them to be compassionate and empathetic. What your teens hears is “My problems are more important than yours.” Your teen needs you to be fully present even when you don’t want to be. If you need a few minutes to relax, try pulling over listening to relaxing music or meditating in the car for a minutes down the road before walking in the door.

While these are often said with the best intentions, when we know more about how our teens interpret what we are saying we can truly be as helpful as we intended.

For more parenting support contact me here. 

WHY SELF-ESTEEM BOOSTERS CAN BE HARMFUL

Most teens have an inner critic, in fact many of us do, a voice that tells them they:

  • Are not good enough
  • Are not smart enough
  • Need to be prettier
  • Are not lovable
  • Need to work harder
  • And so forth and so on

This voice is can be all all consuming for teens. Many teens will either give in to the voice and say why bother or try to prove it wrong and be the “perfect” teen.

As parents and professionals we often tell teens to just think positively and say affirmations. That sounds great. I know I have said it. Watch this video to learn why that is actually counter productive and what you can do instead to help your teen build self-worth:

Self-Esteem Boosters Can Be Harmful

HOW DBT HELPS TO INSTANTLY CALM STRONG EMOTIONS

Though everyone feels intense negative emotions, it is very common for teenagers to feel overwhelmed or stressed on a regular basis. UCLA researchers have reported that incoming freshman rates of feeling overwhelmed have increased from 18 percent in 1985 to 29 percent in 2010 and 41 percent in 2016.  A recent study in Psychological Medicine reported an increase in depression from 2005 to 2015 from 8.7 percent to 12.7 percent for teens 12- to 17-year-olds.

When your teen is overwhelmed it may be very hard for them to access and use their everyday coping skills and reminding them may lead to them feeling more frustrated. The reason being when we are in a state of extreme emotional arousal our brains aren’t functioning properly and we can’t process or access information. It is as if your teen is so overwhelmed by emotions their brain is on pause.

In order for your teen to get past their brain being on pause they need to “reset” it. According to Dr. Marsha Linehan, founder of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) there are some simple skills you can use to kick your parasympathetic nervous system into gear (PNS) which helps to relax us. This skill is referred to by the acronym TIP.

  • Temperature: If your teen changes their temperature it can help them refocus and reset. It helps them feel more grounded. Changing their temperature will instantly slow their nervous system down and help them to relax. They can try running cold water on their forehead or forearms, or back of their necks. Maybe chewing on some ice.
  • Intense Exercise: Always check with your physician before doing any new physical activities to ensure you avoid any injuries. Short, quick and intense bursts of exercise can jolt your teen’s system and help to ground your teen. Quick increases in heart rate help mind/body connect and your teen is better able to calm down. Try jumping jacks, burpees, a quick jog, etc.
  • Paced Breathing: Deep breathing is always a wonderful coping skill. Paced breathing is the opposite of the slow deep breaths you may be used to. In yoga we refer to it as “breath of fire” or “cleaning breath.” You take short breaths in and strong forceful breaths out at a quick pace. Use this for about 15-30 seconds and no longer as it may leave you feeling lightheaded.
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation: The concept is to focus on one muscle group at a time tensing and releasing each group and notice the difference. You can repeat each muscle group four to six times. As you scan your body, tensing and releasing each muscle group the muscles loosen and relax. This skill can be very relaxing and help connect mind and body. If your teen is struggling to fall asleep this can be a great tool to use before bedtime to help them relax and fall asleep.

These skills will not necessarily stop your teen from feeling distress or discomfort. They can however learn to get through the crisis and whatever made them feel overwhelmed to begin with. Once the intensity has passed they will better be able to access their other DBT skills and begin to problem-solve the situation.

If your teen needs support with managing intense emotions DBT group help. Contact me here to learn more.

DO THESE 3 THINGS TO OVERCOME ANXIETY

“You can’t think your way into right action, but you can act your way into right thinking”-Bill Wilson

Anxiety can be debilitating. Fear and anxiety can cause significant life problems and leave us left out of some of life’s most rewarding experiences.

Anxiety often looks like:

  • That inner critic consistently telling you you’re not enough
  • That thought that races through your mind over and over
  • That ache in your stomach that doesn’t go away
  • That shakiness of your hands and legs
  • That avoidance of situations you are uncomfortable in (even when you want to go)
  • That voice that tells you something bad will happen
  • That urge to run away, hide, or stay in bed
  • That constant fear of what will happen next and attempt to control the future

Anxiety can be overwhelming to say the least. The difficult part of dealing with it is the natural response to anxiety is to avoid. If you wait until you feel like dealing it is pretty much a non-starter.

So what do you do then? In we DBT we teach a skill called Opposite Action to help teens handle challenging feelings without making them worse.

How to Use Opposite Action With Anxiety:

Step One

Think about what you are worried about

You can start small. Don’t have to overwhelm yourself. Stop avoiding your fears all together. Think about what you are worried about. Think about approaching the situation and how you would do that.

 Step Two

Stop Avoiding

Avoidance of your fears only makes them bigger. Feelings aren’t facts. Our feelings exist for reason, they communicate to others, motivate action, let us know what is happening in our environment. However, sometimes our feelings get it wrong and miscommunicate to us. This is anxiety. It tells us there is something to be afraid of when there isn’t.

So stop avoiding and begin to face your anxiety. This will be hard and uncomfortable. Do it anyway and do it often. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Step Three

Now that you have begun to face your fears. Do something every day that faces your fears. Here are some examples of opposite action for anxiety:

  • If you have social anxiety and withdrawal, then actively reach out to friends
  • If you have a fear of failure then try mindfully doing something without judgement (drawing, journaling, etc)
  • If you are anxious about going to school then keep going everyday

Opposite Action is a VERY hard and can feel overwhelming and stuck without the support of a professional and others who are going through it. When done right it DOES WORK.

If you or your teen need help learning to manage your anxiety so you can feel calm and at peace, I would be happy to help. You can reach me here to schedule your consultation to discuss best next steps!

FEEL DISTRESS? NO THANKS!! BUT CAN IT REALLY DECREASE MY SUFFERING?

Before leaving for vacation I had everything planned out and organized. I wanted to go on my trip and have nothing to worry about, to be able to be in relaxation mode from the second I left work. I wrote my next three weeks blogs, I did all my notes (a rarity for me), I did the laundry, cleaned the house, I was ready to go.

This worked wonderfully. I had an amazing vacation. Everything went as planned. Not a care in the world. I was ready to come home, relaxed and stress free. I had planned a Sunday to recover and re-adjust before returning to work.

When I landed I was waiting as the plane was taxiing to its gate and, just like everyone else, I turned on my cell phone. Then BAM reality hit. All my planning was gone. I was overwhelmed with stressors and to dos. I had expected to have emails to respond to, but not like this:

  • I was being audited by 2 insurance companies (every therapists worse nightmare)
  • A clerical error had accidently ended my relationship with an insurance company and they needed me to “request” reinstatement
  • And worst of all, my cat of 14 years, was dying and may not make it until I got home

I was flooded with emotion; my thoughts were racing. “How am going to handle all of this?” “What if he doesn’t make it until I get home?”  “Was my relaxing vacation a waste because I am so stressed now?” It didn’t feel like I even went away. The list went on and on.

Then I had to pause. What was really in my control? What could I address in this moment? Nothing. This was a moment of suffering for me. All I could really do was be in the moment, and feel the grief. Allow myself to feel the loss. I needed to practice mindfulness and self-compassion. The skills I preach every day and in the moment, I had lost. I was consumed with anxiety and frustration about work and grief about my cat.

As I began to slow down and allow myself to just be, the feeling of the loss of my cat got more intense. Ironic I know, but this was better. I was able to feel it, to know that this was the moment I was in and it wouldn’t last forever. My vacation was relaxing and nothing can take those moments away, they came and they went. This moment was a moment of pain and I needed to feel it. Trying to avoid my feelings had left me feeling overwhelmed and confused.

It is easy to get caught up in our thoughts and emotions. They sometimes have a repetitive quality. Trying not to think about our thoughts or feel our feelings only amplifies them (aka avoidance). This is why practicing mindfulness is so important. Learning to be aware and accept distressing thoughts and feelings helps us allow them to and go without battling with them.

Mindfulness reduces suffering.
And suffering is the result of resisting reality. Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional-Buddha

We resist reality by constantly thinking about the past or the future.

Focusing on the past leads to depression, hopelessness, and isolation. Focusing on the future leads to  anxiety, fear and worry.

Focusing on the past or the future leads to being overwhelmed. Now we are dealing with whatever emotions thinking about the past and future brought up, but also whatever emotions we are currently experiencing. It’s too much!

This is what happened to me when my plane landed. My thoughts and feelings began to be overloaded with the memories of the past and plans/fears of the future. I was unable to handle the immense sorrow of my loss. It wasn’t until I began to experience the moment that I was able to begin to grieve and process my feelings.

To learn more about how mindfulness can help change your life click here!