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Depression Mental Health Recovery Self-Care Stress

New Study Talks About Stress and Teen Girls

Adolescents experience a lot of stress, more than we may even realize. Stress can come from the natural ups and downs at school because of academic pressure, or via social circles, or from an overwrought family system. For some kids, one thing leads to another, and they find themselves trying to process all of that at the same time. How often are these kids who are struggling in this way, boxed into the at-risk nomenclature? Naming the problem and doing something about it are very different things. Further, if we tell these kids they are at-risk, it evokes a negative connotation. These kids are, in reality, under-served and often ignored.

I teach a yoga class to tweens/teens, and I was warned that one of my new kids was a “problem.” I was told she would be a “nightmare” because she was caught smoking last year, implying that she was also a “bad” kid. I chose not to view her as a problem, or a nightmare, or bad. Instead, I approached her with compassion and kindness and boundaries. I recognized that this kid doesn’t need to be judged; she needs to be seen. She has become one of the most dedicated students in my class. She looks forward to being there. She is kind to her classmates and respectful to me, the teacher. This young lady has allowed herself to be vulnerable enough to allow the process of yoga and conscious breath to disassemble her stress–even if it’s in incremental amounts. The shift has been profound.

A new study talks about teenage girls being more prone to depression when they are exposed to a lot of stress. My class is comprised mostly of girls, most of whom share that they are under stress.  In this recent study, “Jessica Hamilton a doctoral student in the Mood and Cognition Laboratory of Lauren Alloy at Temple University hypothesized that life stressors, especially those related to adolescents’ interpersonal relationships and that adolescents themselves contribute to (such as a fight with a family member or friend), would facilitate these vulnerabilities and, ultimately, increase teens’ risk of depression.”

Researchers examined data from 382 Caucasion and African-American students in an ongoing study. Their findings corroborated Hamilton’s theory, showing increased levels of rumination, depression and emotional vulnerability. Seven months later, when they did follow-up testing, the girls showed higher levels of depressive systems than the boys did. The study also showed that the girls had been faced with more stressors than the boys had. The theory is that if boys and girls faced the same amount of stress, the results of the research would have reflected higher rates in depression regardless of sex.

Stress can be a direct result of consistently not having one’s needs met, feeling disconnected or alone, and from unmitigated change at home: divorce, job loss, violence, poverty, or chronic illness. Additionally, the new independence that comes with the teen years can also be stressful. As much as teens want to individuate, the reality that they have to suddenly do many things themselves can be overwhelming for some.

 

How can we de-stress? Try one or all of these on for size:

1: Time outs are a time in. They are an opportunity for us to reset our minds and bodies.

2: Ask for help.  You don’t have to do this alone.

3: Get some fresh air: go for a walk, or find a way to get outside!

4: Take a media time out: unplug for an hour, and dedicate that time to self-care. If you really want to challenge yourself, turn your phone off for the day!

5: Breathe: 10 deep breaths, extending the exhale each time. Do three or more cycles of this.

6: Say no. No is a complete sentence. Remember this!

Each of these tools encourages an emotional reset. They help turn that fight-or-flight response off and help your body engage its rest-and-digest system. Sometimes, we have to consciously remind our bodies to slow down, but we have to practice. Studies like the one above are a good reminder, a wake-up call, telling us that we have to slow down and process our emotions in a safe, reflective way. Teens need to know they will be ok.

Categories
Adolescence Feelings Mental Health Recovery Self-Care

Parenting Teenagers and Maintaining Our Self-Regulation

Teenagers are changeable creatures. Their moods shift rapidly, their bodies change non- stop, and it’s sometimes difficult to notice if something is really wrong or if the persistent eye-rolling, parental irritation is par for the course. In addition to the eye-rolling, teenagers are also not known for their critical thinking skills or wise decision-making. This might mean they will intentionally like/not like a person or situation you dislike, or they may do something just because you don’t approve. It’s frustrating for parents, but it may also be a subtle sign for us pause and look at the larger picture.

 

Sometimes, your child may align themselves with a friend or their family whom you view as undesirable. Perhaps you know something your teenager doesn’t know, but you have to keep it to yourself. Or perhaps you are relying on your parental intuition. Unfortunately, to a teenager, you’re just being annoying and reactive. This reactivity will only push your teen away from you and into the arms of that which you fear.

 

Parents are wise to take some steps to curb reactivity. As we encourage our teenagers to self-regulate, we have to self-regulate too! We have to mirror the behaviors we want.

 

Our reactions are often fueled by our experiences and the stories from the past. These stories inform our present, particularly when we are dysregulated. Bearing witness to our children’s difficulties is not easy when we haven’t been able to grapple with our own.

 

Understanding how to self-regulate allows us to tap into our internal resources so we can be less reactive.  The process of self-regulation requires us to tap into our mind and body connection. When a person is dysregulated, they are disconnected. A fundamental tool in learning to self-regulate is learning to connect with our physical sensations and our bodies. When we are dysregulated, we are reactive rather than responsive. Likewise, when we are self-regulated, we are responsive rather than reactive.

 

A dysregulated parent is an ineffective parent. Perpetual negative reactions propel our teens to become dysregulated as well. This is where parents need to take their own time out and get to a quiet space so they can begin to self-regulate.

 

1: Walk away from the situation so you can check in with yourself.

2: Bring your attention to your feet, and your hands and notice your surroundings.

3: Bring your attention to your belly and your heart: are you angry? Why? Are you scared? Why? What’s present for you?

4: Take 5-10 minutes to allow your breath to settle. Count to 10 slowly, paying close attention to your inhales and exhales.

5: SHAKE IT OUT! Literally: stand up and shake your legs and arms.

 

When we are regulated, we can come to wiser, more succinct means of communication. Perhaps we can even find a way to persuade our teenagers from doing something we don’t like, or perhaps this is an opportunity to revisit the difficult situation at hand with compassion, kindness and a willingness to listen. One thing that I know for a fact is this: Teenagers all want to be seen, heard, and respected.

Categories
Adolescence Mental Health Recovery Self-Care Wellness

Emotional Sobriety: 5 Tools For Self-Regulation

Angry Kid (Photo credits: Giphy)

What is Emotional sobriety?

Is it perfection? Is it always feeling good or being happy, or optimistic? And what happens if you don’t meet perfection, or you have a bad day, feel anxious, angry, sad, or gasp, pessimistic?

 

Emotional sobriety is the ability to self-regulate– to self-soothe in times of duress. It is not a call to perfection. For an alcoholic, addict, or one with fragile mental health, learning to self-regulate is a foundational tool for their recovery and something they begin to learn in treatment. Therapists and counselors work tirelessly to encourage clients to begin the process of looking inward, learning to nurture themselves and hold space for the difficulties human beings often face.  Emotional sobriety is something that forms after the first stage of sobriety is attained. With it comes the ability to be present for your emotions and the ultimate goal is to become nonreactive. Sometimes, that may mean sitting with the discomfort of your emotions until they pass, and that isn’t easy.

 

Ingrid Mathieu, Ph.D, author of Recovering Spirituality talks about Emotional Sobriety with uncomplicated clarity. In her Psychology Today blog “Stop the Self-Diagnosis,” she says, “Emotional sobriety is less about the quality of the feeling (“good” or “bad”) and more about the general ability to feel one’s feelings. Being restored to sanity isn’t about getting the brass ring—or cash and prizes—or being ‘happy, joyous, and free’ all the time, but it is about being in the present moment, whatever it happens to look like.” You can enjoy the rest of her article here.

 

Here are 5 tools for self-regulation that can help you with attaining Emotional Sobriety:

 

1. Take a time out: Walk away, take 10 breaths or 20 if you’re still heated. Do some work to ground yourself and come back to your body. When we are not regulated, we tend to be outside of our bodies, placing our hands to our bellies, or on the ground or on something solid can help remind us to be present.

 

2. Meditation: I often suggest that one practices what are called the brahma viharas (a Pali word–the language of the Buddha–which means “heavenly abode”): they are often referred to as the heart practices in Buddhist meditation. They include: Metta (lovingkindess), Compassion, Forgiveness, and Sympathetic joy  and Equanimity (the ability to be like a tree in the wind: fluid and non-reactive to the “weather.”).

 

3. Yoga: Yoga can be a workout or it can be what it was meant to be: a moving meditation. Trust me, if you are not breathing, and focused, you will fall over in your tree pose. Yoga will allow you to learn to recognize your reactions to discomfort and respond to them differently.

 

4. Take a walk or go on a hike: Just moving our bodies can help us calm down. A walk around the block can make sometimes get you out of your anger and despair.

 

5. Stop the negative self-talk: This one is tough. We tend to berate ourselves on a regular basis, “ugh, I’m so dumb,” “I’m fat,” “I can’t do this.” I could go on and on. Think about it this way, would you say that to someone you love? I didn’t’ think so.

6. Find and work with a therapist if you need to. A skilled clinician can facilitate a path to self-discovery, healing, and self-care. There’s nothing wrong with seeing a therapist; if anything, it’s mental health insurance. Being human is tough work!

 

I leave you with one of my favorite stories, applicable to Emotional Sobriety and the work it requires to obtain:

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

 

Which wolf are you feeding?

Categories
Adolescence Feelings Mental Health Self-Care Stress

Art: A Healthy Outlet for Difficult Emotions

Art is a wonderful outlet for your difficult emotions like stress, anxiety, depression, anger, and frustration. You don’t have to be Basquiat or Banksy, Ruth Bernhard, or Diane Arbus, Steinbeck or Tolstoy; you just have to be yourself. One definition of art is: “works produced by human, creative skill and imagination.” In other words, your options are limitless.

 

Earlier this week, I wrote about self-regulation and self-care.  Finding your artistic outlet is a wonderful way to self-regulate.  So, what will it be?

 

  • Are you inclined to write? Start a journal. Or write a short story or poem.
  • Is painting your thing? Maybe start with a skeleton of an idea (a feeling, smell, site, or sound) and let your paintbrush or fingers lead the way.
  • Maybe music is your emotional salve. Play for the sake or playing, or sing for the sake of singing.
  • Perhaps photography moves you. Make a random list of things (pirate, horseshoe, laughter, etc.) and go on a photo adventure to find those things.

 

All of these artistic endeavors create space within. Allowing yourself to be creative is a great way to get out of your head and into your heart. Creating art is a magnificent, non-verbal way of processing feelings that can otherwise be too big.

Susan the Art Lady guides and encourages our kids to get into their “art brain,” so to speak, and some of the pieces I’ve seen as a result of their creative sessions have been phenomenal. It’s amazing what happens when we let go. It’s inspiring when we can set aside our judgments of others and ourselves and feed that energy into creating something that is uniquely ours.

 

So as we continue this path of self-regulation and self-care, we can add art to our list of resources. There’s something truly wonderful when we access our right brains and relinquish some of our control. There’s infinite healing in paint, in light, in putting pen to paper, and in a coloratura. Art is part of heart, after all.

 

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 Recovery Self-Care Stress

Stress: Take the Reins Back

Most of us have stress in our lives. It comes with being a human being in a busy world. As parents, we have the stress of running a home, working, and raising children. As teachers, we have the stress of providing safe, nurturing, educational forums for our students. As therapists and mental-health workers, we have the stress of the role of caretaker. All of these are wonderful and virtuous roles and the stress that comes with them is tolerable when there are outlets to discharge it and refuel. Where stress becomes intolerable is in situations where there is no relief. Long-term stress will eventually create larger issues like:

 

  • Headaches
  • Neck, Shoulder and Back Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Digestion issues (stomach aches, heartburn)
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Compromised immune system
  • Depression
  • Worry
  • Irritability and/or anger
  • Eating too much or not enough

 

There are many ways in which we can manage stress. We can:

 

Breathe. Our breath is one of the most magnificent tools we have. It is something we can do without effort, but it is also something that can be done with focused effort. When we practice controlling our breath, and raising our consciousness around it, it can greatly benefit our nervous systems. Taking deep, meaningful breaths nourishes and invokes our parasympathetic nervous systems, the part of our brains responsible for relaxation and calm. In fact, if our nervous system had a fire department, the parasympathetic nervous system is it. We have to engage in activities that support our parasympathetic nervous systems so we can learn to self-regulate.

 

Slow down. Do you really have to do everything RIGHT NOW?  Prioritize your to-do lists and figure out what needs to be done immediately and what can wait a little bit. Do one thing at a time. Multitasking, though it may seem efficient, can sometimes slow you down.

 

Exercise. Take more walks, do yoga, go surfing, jog. Do something that gets you into your body and allows your mind to rest.

 

Get enough sleep! 5 hours a night won’t cut it, folks. Your body and mind need time to recharge. Anything less than 6 and more than 8 hours of sleep increases inflammation in the body, which will increase your levels of stress, and decrease your ability to self-regulate.

 

Turn off your electronics and go outside! Vitamin Nature is a phenomenal way to get grounded and recharge.

 

Be silly. Laughter is magical. It really is. A good case of the giggles can be incredibly liberating.

 

Stay in the present moment. The more we can accept where we are and what we are dealing with, the better equipped we will be when it comes to managing our stress. My favorite quote from Ajahn Sumedo really illuminates present moment awareness: “Right now, it’s like this.”

 

When we are rigid around our issues, we resemble a stiff, inflexible tree with brittle branches that break with the least amount of pressure. But when we are grounded and our needs our met, those rigid branches become fluid and move with the rustle of the winds. We become simultaneously grounded and flexible. Stress is considered the “silent killer,” but it doesn’t have to be. We can actually restructure our brains by being kinder to our nervous systems with mindful practices of self-care.

As the Buddha said, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”