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Anxiety Mental Health Recovery

Anxiety Doesn’t Have to Rule Your Life

Did you know that 8% of teens between the ages of 13–18 have an anxiety disorder? And did Lanternyou also know that of these teens, only 18% of them receive mental-health care?

 

Some anxiety is a function of being a human being. It’s not unusual for anxiety to present itself in predictable situations (going on a job interview, starting a new school, speaking up for ourselves), but for most, it fades as soon as the initial fear passes. Anxiety is our nervous system’s way of telling us we are overwhelmed and need to pause. Anxiety is also our sympathetic nervous system’s fight-or-flight response in action; the anxiety is the red flag letting us know we are emotionally under fire. If you don’t suffer from an anxiety disorder, chances are your parasympathetic nervous system will automatically engage, arresting the fight or flight response and engaging its remarkable rest-and-digest function. However, for someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder, the sympathetic nervous system gets stuck in the “on” position, forcing it to stay in its fight-or-flight response longer than is emotionally sustainable.  The parasympathetic nervous system, aka, the rest-and-digest function of our bodies, gets shoved to the side and is unable to do its job.

How is anxiety usually treated?

 

Medication is one option typically given to anxiety sufferers. It is not a cure, but rather a means of managing the symptoms.  Often patients are given:

 

Antidepressants

  • SSRIs, Tricyclics, MAOIs, anti-anxiety medications
  • Anti-anxiety drugs:
    • Benzodiazepines
    • Beta-blockers – which treat the physical symptoms of anxiety

 

Clinicians, on the other hand, use therapeutic modalities like:

 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
  • Exposure Based Behavioral Therapy
  • EMDR
  • Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

 

In addition to treatment, you can also try any one of all of these tools to help manage anxiety:

 

1: Mindful breathing: Practice exhaling on a longer count than your inhale. This is a wonderful tool to use to bring the heart rate down, provide oxygen to the blood and to the lungs, and also engage the parasympathetic nervous system.

 

2: Visualization: Close your eyes and visualize a place that elicits a state of calm. It could be the beach, the mountains, a forest, being in the ocean, or doing something else that you love. This is a way of accessing one of your resources—something that calms you and engages your body’s nervous system.

 

3: Get active: Studies show that exercising every day will increase relaxation, reduce stress, and make you happier. Go endorphins! So, go to the gym, go for a run, do a strong yoga class, do some jumping jacks, skateboard, or roller skate.

 

4: Create a gratitude journal or a gratitude list.  Write down 5 things you are grateful for and challenge yourself to write this list every single day. There’s been a recent Facebook chain going around, asking people to post three things a day for seven days that they’re grateful for and then tag three more people each day to do the same. It’s been a neat phenomenon to watch people share their gratitude.

 

5:  Focus on a meaningful, goal orienting activity: playing a game with a friend, building something, creating art, or singing.

 

6: Accept that you are anxious. Accepting how you feel doesn’t mean you like it or are choosing to be anxious; it means accepting how things are in the present moment. If we obsess about how anxious we feel, our anxiety will increase. Ajhan Sumedo, a Buddhist monk, says, “Right now, it’s like this.” This phrase encourages acceptance and allows us to stay in the present. When we are anxious, we are stuck in the future.

 

Ignoring our anxiety or self-medicating to relieve our suffering, leaves us vulnerable to persistent dysregulation and despair. When we address anxiety and face it head on, we cultivate the development of self-regulatory techniques. With ample clinical support (when needed), the establishment and consistent use of self-regulatory tools, and a broad support system in place, things can and will get better.

Categories
Adolescence Mental Health Mindfulness Recovery

Can Contemplative Practices Foster Recovery?

In addition to our therapeutic programs, Visions offers contemplative practices to our teens that teach and encourage skills for self-regulation and self-care. We have regular yoga classes and a weekly meditation group.

 

Jessica Rosen, founder of One Down Dog in Silverlake, heads up our yoga program. She brings in a playful element to yoga that the kids love. This allows them to reconnect with themselves in a profound way. I spoke to Jessica and asked her what she feels she brings to the clients, and how contemplative practices are helpful in recovery. She said, “Through the practice of yoga I hope to offer students the tools to get comfortable in discomfort. Through yoga and meditation we explore our challenges, we confront our inner critic, we gain clarity and find acceptance. For example, the ability to sit in a hip opener may help us sit through a tough breakup, or better handle confrontation and fights with our friends/parents, and gain confidence in ourselves and our appearance.”

 

I also asked Joseph Rogers, Visions Education Coordinator at the Visions Day School, Chaplain and meditation facilitator, how he feels meditation is helping the clients.  Joseph said, “The most immediate and greatest benefit is that the clients learn how to, as the Big Book says, ‘stop and pause when agitated.’ Additionally, I try to make a great deal of effort to put these kids on the path of compassion for themselves and others.”

 

The contemplative practices can have a profound effect on one’s ability to self-regulate, self-soothe, and connect with the present moment. Both offer a chance to pause, to look inward, and to come to a place of equanimity (mental calmness and composure) when faced with difficulty.

 

I too teach yoga to youth, and one thing I notice are the high levels of stress these kids face. The pressures of being cool, getting good grades, and the discomfort of the rapid physical changes can be overwhelming. This is where contemplative practices are useful. I’ve found that teaching kids the ability to take a deep breath and pause before responding or reacting to difficulty is hugely beneficial. Developing a sense of self-awareness helps eliminate the sense of perpetual urgency to respond or act on an impulse. The contemplative practices also engage the parasympathetic nervous system—the area within our nervous system that quiets the fight or flight response, quells anxiety, and brings things back into harmony.

 

There are three key tools for self-regulation, and the contemplative practices are the perfect conduit for them:

 

Grounding, Resourcing, and Orienting.

 

Grounding: Reconnecting to the present moment, your emotions and physical sensations. One grounds themselves by noticing their feet on the floor, or placing your hands on something solid in order to help themselves get back into the body. Taking deep breaths while you are doing this can help you track the sensations mindfully. Taking a time out when you are dysregulated is the first step to getting grounded.

 

Resourcing:  We all have resources within us or outside of ourselves. Resources are tools we can easily access that make us reconnect with calm. For example, breath can be a resource. Your hands on your belly or lap can be a resource. Your pet can be a resource. A resource is something that helps you feel good when everything around you is dismal.

 

Orienting:  Checking in with your surroundings. When we are not self-regulated, we check out. This is a disembodying experience–one that feels determinedly unsafe and out of control.  So when we orient, we do so by consciously noticing our surroundings and we do this by looking around the room, noticing where we are, where we are sitting or standing—Orienting is acute observation or present-time awareness.

 

The contemplatice practices of yoga and meditation provide a means of engaging the parasympathetic nervous system. They create a sense of awareness, and allow the practitioner to be ok with not being ok, and to accept where they are emotionally and physically in that particular moment in space and time.  Addiction and mental illness are dysregulating, but the use of contemplative practices opens the door to self-regulation, which does foster recovery.

Categories
Feelings Mental Health Recovery Self-Care Trauma Wellness

Helpful Tools for Self-Regulation

Calm Lake (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

Developing tools for self-regulation allows us to tap into our internal resources so we can be less reactive. Self-regulation will increase our ability to navigate difficult situations or work in challenging environments.  Self-regulation requires us to tap into our mind and body connection. When someone is dysregulated, they are disconnected. One of the steps to self-regulation is learning to connect with our physical sensations and our bodies. Think of it this way: When we are dysregulated, we are reactive rather than responsive. Likewise, when we are self-regulated, we are responsive rather than reactive.

 

Often times, parents have a tough time regulating their emotions. Imagine this: your child has done something infuriating—perhaps he’s lied, or she’s ditching school or doing drugs—and you respond by yelling. You are frustrated, and perhaps even triggered. You are dysregulated. At this point, you are ineffective in your parenting and your kids are apt to be dysregulated as well. You are essentially communicating with metaphorically closed fists. Stress and trauma both send the sympathetic nervous system into the fray.  However, self-regulation will engage the parasympathetic system, which is the body’s natural way of applying a salve. Your action here is to take a time out. Get yourself to a quiet space so you can begin to self-regulate.

 

The three main tools of self-regulation are:

Grounding, Resourcing, and Orienting.

 

Grounding allows you to reconnect with your emotions and physical sensations. Paying attention to your feet on the floor, or placing your hands on something solid can help you get back into your body. Taking deep breaths while you are doing this can help you track the sensations mindfully. Taking a time out when you are dysregulated is the first step to getting grounded.

 

Resourcing is the way in which you ground. We all have resources within us or outside of ourselves. Resources are tools with which we can reconnect with ourselves. For example, breath can be a resource. Your hands on your belly or lap can be a resource. Your pet can be a resource. A resource is something that helps you feel good when everything around you is dismal.

 

Orienting is a way of checking in with your surroundings. When we are not self-regulated, we check out. It can be a very disembodying experience–one that feels determinedly unsafe and out of control.  So when we orient, we do so by consciously noticing our surroundings: looking around the room, noticing where we are, where we are sitting, et cetera.

 

All of these tools help us self-regulate and all of these tools can be taught to our kids regardless of their age or stage of development. In very young children, it starts with self-soothing and bringing awareness to feelings. As kids get older, the language can shift and become more detailed. Being a teen is frightening developmental state; they experience life more intensely because of where they are developmentally. Teens can learn to slow down. Count to 10 before you respond to something provocative, or take a deep, mindful breath. You may find that what you thought you had to say changes. You may discover that what you need to say comes out softer and kinder. Using your breath this way is a means of grounding and resourcing. When we do this, we are developing skills to be in relationship with our impulses and feelings. By reinforcing this awareness, we gain opportunities to change.  Self-regulation is a doorway to self-care. In caring for ourselves, we can more aptly care for others.

 

Parents, you can act as the conduit for this shift. Your kids want to learn from you, even as they push away. By developing these self-regulating tools yourself, your kids may follow. Teach by example, not by hard hands. By doing so, you will no longer communicate with closed fits; you will communicate with open palms and an open heart.

Read this for inspiration:

Getting to the Root of it All – Hala Khouri, M.A.

Categories
Mental Health Mindfulness Recovery Trauma

Finding Resilience Within

jumping (Photo credit: Coubert)

What is resilience anyway?

To be resilient/to have resilience is to be able to quickly “bounce back” or “recover from” a traumatic/stressful experience. It’s the ability to self-regulate, self-soothe, and get grounded when times are tough.

How do you find your resilience?

Resilience develops when we learn to effectively self-regulate. When we develop the ability to recognize the interconnectivity between our minds and our bodies, noticing their effect on one another, we give our nervous system a chance to reset itself. As we gain resources, our resilience increases, allowing us to “bounce back” more readily than when we are dysregulated. Ultimately, your resources should come from within, because wherever you are, there you are. You can’t escape yourself (trust me, I’ve tried).

Tap into your resources:

  • Breathe – Breathing is our most magnificent resource. It’s portable and it’s always with us. Exhaling longer than your inhale can trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, our internal ER.  Try this simple breathing exercise:

Sit in a quiet space where you can relax. Softly close your eyes and begin to notice your breath:

Inhale – one

Exhale – two

Inhale – three

Exhale — four

Do this until you get to 10. Repeat 3 times.

This is a simple mindfulness technique that invites calm. Your parasympathetic nervous system can jump in here, slowing the heart beat and cooling the breath.

  • Meditation and yoga: both of these are contemplative practices that invite you to get back in touch with your internal mechanisms. With practices like meditation and yoga, your internal resources have permission to flourish.

Do we all have it?

Stressful events happen…to all of us. How we recover from them and process them is contingent on our personal histories.  For example, if we are raised in an environment where we are silenced and unheard, then managing stress will be reminiscent of that: we may squash it, bury it, or set it aside. We will try to “deal with it.” In reality, we aren’t dealing with anything when we do that; in fact, we are denying it and allowing it to fester.  At the same time, if we are raised in an environment where communication is encouraged, and feelings are met with understanding, one’s resilience to stress will tend to be higher.

Is it easier for some to access resilience than it is for others?

I believe that most people can develop resilience if they have a support system in place and encouragement to work with their shadows and unpack their traumas. However, there needs to be an opportunity available to do this work, or the desire to seek help.  If one comes from an impoverished environment, their ability to resource would be limited. At the same time, someone with more options would be more likely to have access to resources, making resilience more easily attainable.  I often use myself as a reference when talking about overcoming adversity because I wasn’t provided with the best hand of cards. I definitely had a few jokers in there.  What I did have was a deep desire to change my circumstances. This gave my resilience a chance to develop and for that I am grateful. Being an at-risk teen didn’t provide me with a lot of outside resources.

 

At Visions, we have a remarkable staff of trauma-informed therapists to help families develop resilience. We are forward thinking in our approach to trauma, recognizing that each person requires an individualized process, and understanding the challenges people are faced with when doing this work. At the core, we are lighting the internal fire of hope and healing in our families, empowering each client to discover their ability work with their difficulties in more sustainable, healthy ways. Our nervous systems respond well to kindness and compassion, and with support, these actions can begin to come from ourselves. It means we have to muddle through the shame and grief that plagues us, and give ourselves permission to heal. Recovery is possible; resilience is possible; you are possible.