11 Ways to Minimize Anxiety During Stressful Times

Stress is a feeling of being under abnormal pressure. This pressure can come from different aspects of our day to day life including current events that we have absolutely no control over. Sometimes stressors feel like they’re building on top of one another to a point where we feel helpless. 

For teens with high anxiety, it’s important to look into strategies that can help manage or reduce anxiety in the long term, like skills therapy or medication. But everyone can benefit from other ways to reduce stress with steps you can take in the moment when anxiety starts to take hold. 

  1. Stand Up Straight: For immediate relief from anxiety, stand up, pull your shoulders back, plant your feet evenly and widely apart, and open your chest. Then breathe deeply. This posture, combined with deep breathing, helps your body remember that it’s not in danger right now, and that it is in control (not helpless).
  2. Watch a Funny Video: Watching a funny YouTube video, for example, will help you stop feeling anxious fast. Why? Because you can’t laugh and stay anxious at the same time, physiologically. Your body relaxes after laughing in a way that gets rid of anxiety. Plus, according to the Mayo Clinic, laughter brings in oxygen-rich air, which stimulates your heart and lungs, and spikes your endorphins.
  3. Stay Away from Sugar: It may be tempting to reach for something sweet when you’re stressed, but that cake pop can do more harm than good, as research shows that eating too much sugar can worsen anxious feelings. Instead of reaching into the candy bowl, drink a glass of water or eat some protein.
  4. Go Outside for A Walk: Exercise is a long-proven way to lower anxiety. In addition to boosting your level of feel-good neurotransmitters, a brisk walk clears your mind and gets you breathing more deeply again–and anxiety is intimately linked to shallow breathing.
  5. Listen to Relaxing Music: Turn down the base and update your Spotify playlist with soft tunes. Studies have shown that listening to relaxing music can actually calm your nervous system. 
  6. Do Something Productive: Checking something off your to-do list can help alleviate that one more thing you have to do. Making your bed, clearing off your desk, organizing your closet, for instance, can make you feel productive and relieve anxiety.
  7. Chew Gum: According to several studies, chewing gum can help you relax and promote wellbeing. One possible explanation is that chewing gum causes brain waves similar to those of relaxed people. Another is that chewing gum promotes blood flow to your brain.
  8. Practice Being Mindful: Mindfulness describes practices that anchor you to the present moment. It can help combat the anxiety-inducing effects of negative thinking. Some studies have suggested that mindfulness may help increase self-esteem, which in turn lessens symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  9. Cuddle With Your Pet: Positive physical contact can help release oxytocin and lower cortisol. This can help lower blood pressure and heart rate, both of which are physical symptoms of stress. Fun fact, humans aren’t the only animals who cuddle for stress relief. Chimpanzees also cuddle friends who are stressed.
  10. Light A Candle: Ever sit in front of a fireplace and instantly feel relaxed? Well lighting a candle can offer the same sensation. Light a candle or use essential oils to benefit from calming scents like lavender, orange, or sandalwood.
  11. Write It Out Of Your Mind: Write it down. Recording what you’re stressed about is one approach, another is jotting down what you’re grateful for. Gratitude may help relieve stress and anxiety by focusing your thoughts on what’s positive in your life.

Tis’ The Season To Be Stressed…Tips To Support Your Teen During The Holidays

The holidays aren’t Merry and Bright for everyone, especially teens with depression, anxiety, or overwhelming feelings. Teens often experience more stress than adults. NO, really they do! The holidays can be a stressful time for teens. Preparing for the end of the school quarter (which means pressure for grades), managing family events, change in schedule, etc.

Many people feel that they are supposed to be happy and smiling during the holidays. This adds an additional pressure for individuals that suffer from depression. Often these teens worry that they will “ruin” the holidays or be a burden to the family so they put on a fake smile which is exhausting for them.

Here are some tips to help you support your teen this holiday season:

1) Focus on only 1 or 2 events rather than trying to make every celebration. Focus on time with your teens and family, celebrating the holiday, rather than having to make it to a specific location. There is always next year!

2) Remember that no holiday is perfect. Try not to worry about making every tradition perfect or having the perfect meal or cleanest house. Enjoy the celebration.

3) Try to be a host to your teens friends. As your teen is getting older it is stressful to spend all of school break doing family events. Try to create time where your teen can just have peers over to the house. Maybe they can have a” friends-giving.” It is nice for them to feel like your house is a place that is safe and has good feelings.

4) Try to focus less on traditions and more on shared activities. It is easy to get caught up in holiday rituals and family traditions. This may take away from actually spending quality time with your teens. Try to focus on having shared time together. Maybe they have traditions they would like to add.

No matter how you celebrate or if you celebrate spending quality time with your teen and giving them time to relax is important.

If your teen needs additional support this holiday season we are here to help. Contact us today for your free 15-min phone consultation.

3 Tips To Help Your Teen Cope With Back To School Anxiety

As you know school is starting and you know what happens next feelings of overwhelm, stress, and anxiety. I am going to address some of things you can do as a parent to help your kids be successful this year despite feeling anxious.

Many of us believe that by the time our kids reach high school they have back-to-school anxiety under control. Nope. Many of the teens I work with talk consistently about worrying about returning to school. They worry about a number of issues including classes, being liked, fitting in, finding their way around, what to say, managing their schedule and work load, etc.

Something I see a lot of with the teens I work with and I am sure many of you parents are familiar with too as that when teens get this anxious and uncomfortable they beg and plead to stay home. They actually can make themselves sick.

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP…

So bearing in mind that your teens are nervous not only about the first day, but the first few weeks or months here are some tips you can use to help your teen adjust to returning to school:

  1. Look At the Basics

Have a routine. Start about 1-2 weeks before school starts. Get their sleeping back on track for a school schedule. Eat breakfast! No one copes well when they are hungry. Pack your book bag the night before, decide on your outfit, etc.

  1. Avoid reassuring instead focus on problem solving

Parents this doesn’t mean solve the problem for them. However, try to avoid statements like everything will be fine. Your teen doesn’t believe this and it can feel invalidating. Instead try to ask them problem solving questions, such as, If (worst thing) happened what would you do? Use things they identified as being anxious about (try not to come up with your own things, this may increase fears).

3. Encourage them to breathe

Practicing their coping skills will help them feel more confident when school starts. Try making this part of your house-hold routine. Role model using this as a skill or practice it as a family before or after dinner.

If your teen needs support with coping skills for returning to school contact me here  to learn more.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE AFRAID OF YOUR EMOTIONS

Does your teen feel overwhelmed by emotions, hide from them or shove them down? Facing distress is difficult and a common reaction for teenagers is to shove those feelings away. Sometimes the emotions we are having feel so overwhelming we don’t want to feel them or deal with them so we shove them away, we are not even interest in going close to them because we are afraid to of what might happen if we connect to them.

It’s normal to have a range of emotions and every day is not going to be perfect. It’s okay to experience them.

How To Face Difficult Emotions

We have discovered that if you acknowledge them and label them the intensity with decrease and you will get through it quicker. In DBT we use the skill “riding the wave” to help teenagers learn to experience their emotions in the moment without their emotions being in control.

A surfer doesn’t fight the powerful ocean wave; he moves with the wave riding its natural tide. “Riding the wave” is also a practice of surfing your own powerful and negative emotions. Rather than fighting sadness, anger and other negative emotions, it’s about allowing your emotions to wash over you like a tidal wave, riding them out until they pass so that you can make wise decisions from a place of calm rather than a place of emotional turmoil that can often lead to destructive or ineffective behavior that doesn’t serve your goals.

When your teen is in distress it can be challenging to control or manage intense emotions. They may be flooded and inundated with negative emotions and harmful urges. There may be a feeling of hopelessness as the emotions are too overwhelming to deal with.  This is when riding the wave comes in handy.

Also known as Urge surfing, riding the wave involves observing and coping with the experience without trying to change it. As the more frequent tendency is to avoid, escape, or shove the feeling away, so riding the wave may seem unnatural. Riding the wave will give your teen a sense of personal control over uncomfortable feelings. Riding the wave allows one to sit with his or her discomfort, sorrow, and pain, instead of fighting the feeling by acting impulsively and engaging in harmful and self-destructive behaviors.  Although it can seem counterintuitive, accepting painful emotions allows for freedom from suffering.

It’s challenging to accept our thoughts and manage our emotions, but if we can learn how to “ride the wave” of our feelings we can prevent our urges from dictating our behavior. Your Teen will be more secure in knowing they have more control over their behavior and be able to respond rather than react!

This can be a difficult skill to learn. If you think your teen might benefit from riding the wave or other coping skills contact me here to learn more about Teen DBT Skills Group!

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.

HELP TEENS NOTICE POSITIVE THINGS

Anyone with teenagers knows that teens can be an emotional rollercoaster. Teenagers feeling are intense and small issues can feel like the end of the world. I remember being grounded in middle school and having to miss a town event. This felt like I was missing the event of the century, like I was going to be left out of every event because I missed one.

Especially when life gets hard your teen may not notice any positives in their life. They may come to you with a list of stressors a mile long. As a parent, you may feel overwhelmed and not know what to do.

How Can You Help Your Teen When They Don’t Notice Positive Things

First, validate their feelings and stressors. It is normal to get overwhelmed and easy to focus on negative events.

Second, in DBT we have a skill Accumulating Positive Experiences/Emotions. When we are on auto-pilot we can get stuck in stress and don’t notice the good things. Encourage your teen to be mindful of positive things around them. take notice if it is a beautiful day, did something funny happen during the day, etc. Spend some time each night identifying something they are grateful for.

Last, help your teen identify what short-term positive experiences they can begin to add in to their life. What do they value? What do they enjoy? Maybe take some time to go hiking, walking, play music or an instrument, or other fun activities.

Adding positive experiences to our life is a great way to boost our mood long-term. Mindfulness and pleasant activities are shown to decrease depression and anxiety. Remind your teen that stress and feeling overwhelmed are normal feelings. They can feel both stressed AND have positive experiences.

WHY SUMMER BOREDOM BUSTERS ARE NOT THE ANSWER

“Mom…Dad…I’m bored.”

Sound familiar? I used to say this to my parents all the time, even into my teens. Believing that your parents are responsible to entertain you is an innate belief in children. Parents feel on the spot to provide a solution or even like a bad parent if they haven’t entertained their children.

It is easier today than ever for teens to get bored. Children and teens boredom is easy to satisfy in the moment with the constant access to electronic entertainment (YouTube, Social Media, Video Games, etc). However, this constant access has created an increase in boredom as well. Teens are requiring “bigger and better” entertainment to be entertained. Their attention span is decreasing. Teens require more intense entertainment at a faster pace to not get bored. Electronic entertainment has also impacted their enjoyment of face-to-face socializing with family and friends. Social skills are decreasing with social anxiety rates increasing.

What should you do when your children and teens get bored?

Children need unstructured time. One of the biggest challenges as children is learning how to manage unstructured time. This is an important skill for your children to learn. Unstructured time is essential for children and teens. It gives them the opportunity to learn decision making. It helps them to explore their inner and outer world and begin to discover who they are. This is time when they explore their creative and authentic self.

A key to this unstructured time is no screen time. A good way to start is to agree as a family to times during the week that the family won’t use any devices. One day a week or a few hours a day. You may get some push back, but it will be worth it. Just encourage them and use your connection to help them see the value.

Think about before we had phones and we had to just wait in line or at the movies. Remember, how your mind would wonder to creative things or solve problems. This ability to vacillate between focused and unfocused thinking helps to create a sense of self and empathy.

Boredom is normal is teens and encourages them to actively entertain themselves. Join my Correction to Connection Workshop for more tips about parenting teens.

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.

4 WAYS TO DEAL WITH COLLEGE STRESS PREP

You may not believe this, but I start hearing about college admission anxiety from 7th or even 6th graders. The pre-teens and teens I work with share that teachers start asking them what they want to do for a living, where they want to go to college and “preparing” them for what they will need to do to achieve these goals. This is well-intended. Teachers want to help kids achieve higher education. However, Gen Y is experiencing this as extreme pressure to decide their future, and believe this requires near perfect grades to achieve it.

Research is showing that Gen Y is quickly becoming America’s most stressed generation. With exam pressures and college admissions anxiety at an all-time high, academic stress can become a daily struggle. According to an Associated Press/MTV survey, school was the most frequentlymentioned source of stress for 13 to 17-year-olds.

Whether it’s parents pushing teenagers to boost their GPA, teachers criticizing them for less-than-stellar test scores, or their own drive to get in to their first-choice college — or some combination of the three.- academic pressure is rising and impacts stress, self-esteem, and mental wellness as a whole.

That’s why it’s important for YOU to learn how to support your teen without adding pressure and more stress.

Here are some ways to help cut down on some of that stress:

1) Stress breeds stress

Teenagers will often say that their parents are more anxious or care more about where they go to college than they do. Or that they don’t get a say because their parents want them to go to _____ School. Remember that your teen can feel your anxiety even when you don’t say anything. As pressure amounts and reactions grow stronger instead of having your teens back you may find yourself harboring frustration, or yelling at your teen. It is important for you to do your own de-stressing. This is an anxiety provoking process for you too. Do your own self-care!

2) Stop Being a Helicopter Parent

I can’t tell how often I hear from my teens that they feel they need to be better for their parents. They feel pressure because their parents are always checking their grades online, looking up application statuses or college admission requirements. STOP checking online. These behaviors come from a good intention in you. As parents you want your children to succeed and you are trying to help. However, the message they get is that you don’t think they can do it on their own. Give them space to find their own way through the process. This takes me to our next skill:

3) Ask If They Need Help

Many parents see their teens stressed and try to fix the problem. This leads to the situation we just discussed (helicopter parenting). What parent wants to see their child in pain? None that I know. But teens don’t want to be fixed;  they want to heard and supported. Ask them what you can do rather than telling them how to do it. Take the time to listen to their stressors. Be a team and come up with a plan together.

4) Be the voice of reason

There may be moments when your teen feels like they are having a breakdown. “I am never going to get this all done.” “I will never get into a good college.” “No place will accept me.” “I am stupid.” Be the voice of reason. Remember that stress breeds stress. Remain calm and remind them they will be okay. There is no perfect college. They will survive the process.

5) Take a Stress Break

Nothing beats taking a break. Remind yourself and your teen that breaks are important. We work better and smarter when we are de-stressed.

Overall, I find that the best way to de-stress is with some laughter and fun. Try and find some humor in the process or in some of your reactions. College prep is the first step children take as they prepare for adulthood. Make it work for you, not against you and give yourself a break!

If your teen needs additional support with dealing with college or academic stress Mindful Healing, LLC can help. To learn more about our services click here or contact us today!

SMART PHONES: FRIEND OR FOE?

Teens today are growing up in a different world than any of the generations before them. They are the first generation to be born with Smart technology already completely in existence. Even the millennials to some extent grew up as the technology advanced. Though tech is always advancing, for the iGens internet, apps, FaceTime, and more have been at their fingertips from birth. I have watched my 2-year-old niece know how to unlock a cell phone and by 3 know how to use YouTube for kids.

There is a growing mountain of research that shows a correlation between the rise of smartphone usage and rates of depression, suicidality, and anxiety in teens. The pressure of always being connected to your social life doesn’t allow teens time to relax and decompress after school. Not to mention that social media is not an accurate representation of a teens social world. The pressure to “fit in” or be “perfect” is unrealistic (but I could probably fill a page on social media alone). So the downside of smartphones/technology seems overwhelming apparent:

  • Social media pressures
  • Seemingly unavoidable access to damaging or dangerous apps
  • Argument inducer between teen and parent
  • Increases rates of depression and anxiety/decreases ability to cope
  • Can be addictive

However, nothing is ever one-sided, there are positive aspects of smartphones. There are apps that help with mental health issues and teach coping skills. Many of them are FREE: Calm, Moodpath, SuperBetter, and Happify for example. There are also apps that help you as parents organize your life, which can make things less stressful. As a parent of a teen this can make a big difference. I personally use apps tracking grocery lists and weekly recipes, such as Yummly or Anylist. Taking as much work out of chores as possible is a lifesaver in any busy household. Teens often feel the same way, they use apps to help them study and organize their school/homework.

Sometimes, I think to myself, I wish there was app to make me want to work-out or stop me from eating sweets late at night. However, that is some of the downside again. Smartphones can do so much for us we stop practicing doing things for ourselves. That is where parenting comes in. Not only do the iGens, your teens, have it harder now than ever, as parents so do you. You have to set limits around screen time. You have to teach them how to wait and be patient; how to feel distress, how to fail and how to succeed. You have to teach them how to be in the moment not just take pictures of the moment, how to have a conversation not IM in code, how to enjoy activities and relax not just engage screen time to distract.

I was talking to one of the parents I work with the other day who stated that she feels that kids shouldn’t have phones until at least 7th grade. I don’t know that would ever happen. Kids today often have smartphones in elementary school. Then I heard about this school cell phone pilot program in Boston:

At the City on a Hill Circuit Street charter school in Boston, students entering school in the morning are met by administrators fanned out at the front door with their hands out. One by one, they take students’ phones, slip them into a soft pouch, and lock them closed with a snap that works like the security tags you find on clothing at department stores. Students take their pouched phones back, but can only unlock them with a special device at dismissal time, nearly eight hours later. 

Naturally, the students were outraged. How could this be happening? How can they live without their phones? How will they socialize? Connect? Communicate?

However, much to their surprise it turned out to freeing for them. Forced freedom!

One student reported that” she doesn’t reach for her phone as much anymore because if you don’t feed the habit; the habit eventually slows.” Students reported having more conversations and paying attention more in class.

Smartphones are a part of our lives. There is no way around that. As parents you can help your teen learn to not feel tethered to their phone. Ironically, there are apps that help limit screen time.

If you need help support your teen with screen time or other parenting issues I can help. Contact us to schedule your parent screening today!