Archive of ‘Balance’ category

5+ Tips to Tackle Anxiety for Adults AND Teens!

If you are reading this post, you can probably relate to the feeling of anxiety or know someone else who is currently facing excessive worry or unease. ANXIETY IS NORMAL! Literally every client that walks through my door is experiencing some degree of anxiety, and the reality is that we are biologically wired to have these emotions! In the olden days, humans were faced with many different challenges than we are today, and anxiety was a feeling that made us appropriately respond to these threats.  Even though we are not likely to still face the threat of a lion attack, famine or plague as our early ancestors did, we do face a great deal of new threats (social media bullying, gun violence, climate change!) to which our biological response remains the same. As normal as it is to have these feelings, knowing what to do with them is a developed skill that most people have not yet mastered or even practiced for that matter. 

Now that we’ve covered a little background on the origins of anxiety, let’s dive into how to these universal human feelings can be best addressed and managed. 

My most favorite and personally effective tip is EXERCISE! 

Moving your body can stimulate the metabolism of chemicals that are naturally produced by your brain in response to anxiety and also stimulate the production of endorphins, which increase one’s sense of well being. This does NOT by any means necessitate you hitting the gym every day at 5am. It simply means that you should take regular opportunities throughout your day to move about. Yes, regular and vigorous exercise has the biggest impact of reducing anxiety, but something is better than nothing; take a quick walk outside if you have a break from work or to start your day. Stretch when you get out of bed. Do a quick yoga or cardio video if you have 15 free minutes (try these quick workouts)!

Take note of how you felt before and after this movement.  It is helpful to scale your feelings, with 0 being a state of super calm and 10 being anxiety through the roof! That way you have a concrete baseline from which to gauge.  Find an exercise that works for you and gradually incorporate this into your daily routine. The more you do it, the more your body will crave it in the future.  

SLEEP HYGIENE

This is another major player in the battle against anxiety. Insomnia is the most common condition that can intensify anxiety. There are books for days about this topic, and it can be very complex with many possible origins. 

Just to keep it simple here, some of the most common culprits in sleeplessness are the following: not enough exercise, over stimulation in the evenings, irregular bedtimes or wake times, too much caffeine, excess stress, deficient sleep environment, and loud partners (or children!).

In order to set yourself up for the greatest chances of regular sleep, try and follow these general guidelines: exercise in the day, wind down in the last hour of your day (avoid too much screentime or mental activity); don’t eat a heavy meal at least two hours before bedtime, and develop a sleep ritual before bedtime (ex: a hot shower, listen to relaxing music). 

Please be aware that exercise and good sleep are just a couple forms of SELF CARE – taking time and making time for other areas of self care such as nutrition, relaxation, mindfulness (see my colleague Katy’s blog here!), time with friends, etc. will also positively affect your quality of life and level of anxiety. 

Next tip, pause to consider what can you CONTROL? 

Sure, there are often many things about our families, jobs or life situations that we would ideally love to be a little different. But we have to realize that we can only exert total control over ourselves and worrying about other people or situations outside our circle of influence will only result in unneeded and unproductive worry. If you are able to let go of things you cannot control, you can decrease your level of anxiety considerably.

Try making a list of things, situations or people you try to control. Next to each item, note whether you have no, some or complete control over that item. Envision what it would be like to try letting go of the things over which you have no control. 

If you feel very challenged by the idea of letting something go, imagine that you do and the worst case scenario plays out. In many cases, this would bring negative feelings such as disappointment, embarrassment or inadequacy but you may also realize that you are capable of handling this, and chances are, it’s actually very rare that the worst case scenario happens anyway. 

Tip #3: Engage in more positive SELF-TALK

Have you experienced a breakup in a relationship and then blamed the whole downfall on yourself?  Or bombed an interview and told yourself what a failure you are? People who feel higher levels of anxiety are more likely to engage in this negative self-talk. Self-talk is our subtle (or sometimes not-so subtle) and internal dialogue that we quickly and instinctively think to ourselves.  We often don’t notice it and we certainly don’t realize how much power it holds. 

Picture yourself beginning a long roadtrip, with two whining children in the backseat and backed up traffic ahead. One version of yourself may be thinking, “This is horrible, I don’t know how I’m going to make it to the destination” or “Why did I agree to drive here for Thanksgiving?!” Imagine a different version of yourself saying, “I know we’ll get there eventually, why don’t I take some deep breaths and use this time to listen to a podcast or try that new album that was just released, or relive a favorite old memory”.  Take a moment to think of a personal example of yourself in a similar situation and imagine how you would feel after the first round of statements versus the second. The power of perspective is real! 

Try to take note of the self talk you engage in over the next several days and even jot it down if you get a moment. Were these positive or negative messages and how could you edit them to boost yourself up rather than cut yourself down? Remember that it will take practice to make these changes and that you must rehearse more positive statements to yourself consistently and repeatedly for them to sink in and make a difference. 

Another one of my favorite tips to restrain anxiety is to SPEND TIME IN NATURE! 

The idea of going outside to improve your mental outlook has been mentioned in several recent blog posts by my colleagues but it is so important in this discussion that its value cannot be overstated!!  Please see my colleague Amber’s blog here

Even better if you can combine the tips on exercise above with the suggestion of going outside for the ultimate release of negative energy.  How about a jog on Lady Bird Lake trail or a lap swim at Deep Eddy anyone?! 

Last but not least…Tip #5: NURTURE (or awaken!) your CREATIVE SELF. 

The grind of everyday life has a way of sapping our creativity. Whether that is managing loads of homework or work projects into the wee hours of the evening or caregiving for others, the responsibilities of everyday life force us to give up what makes us feel good about ourselves sometimes. 

When you are feeling super anxious, the path of least resistance can be to let go of things that seem unnecessary but it may be these same things that could most keep you sane if you let them. This tip relates to self care as discussed above but differentiates in the sense that stimulating a creative self can add personal meaning to your life and thereby protect against anxiety on another level.

Think about times before you were stressed or overwhelmed with anxiety. What things did you do to have fun? What activities made you feel most alive or grateful? Not everyone will consider themselves creative, but a spark of creativity hides in all of us. What can do you to bring it out? 

Some examples may be to work in a garden, cook a new recipe, bring a sketchbook to a park, cultivate your spirituality or pick up a long lost instrument.  Click here to inspire more fun ideas… 

In the end, it doesn’t matter what you choose to do, but how you can cultivate your interests to add meaning to your life. For many people it can take an entire lifetime to feel fulfilled in your purpose; enjoying the journey is what is important and not how fast you get there. If you are feeling disconnected with your purpose, consider taking a personal values inventory online such as this one! https://www.lifevaluesinventory.org

I hope that reading this post generated some ideas about how you can take control of anxiety in your life. These tips just scratch the surface, as there are many different ways to cope with such a universal human emotion. The good news is, the power is within you!  But as a reminder, here are the tips & tricks recapped:

  • Exercise, sleep hygiene and other self care
  • Consider what you can control
  • Engage in positive self talk
  • Spend time in nature
  • Stimulate your creative being 
By: Brooklie Gonzales, LPC-Intern
supervised by Emily K. Slaughter, LPC-Supervisor

8 Ways to Practice Mindfulness with Children

Often, when we think about mindfulness, we think about meditation or a formal, structured exercise that helps us tune into our thoughts or somehow clear our minds entirely. Perhaps you have heard that mindfulness is good for children, that you can even practice it with your preschooler. Maybe you have tried this and it worked, or maybe you tried and your child squirmed, wiggled, and complained that it was boring. For some children, particularly those who are young, have experienced trauma, or appear to be bursting with energy, sitting still for more than a few seconds may seem impossible. Today, I want to share some ideas for sneaking simple, fun mindfulness activities into everyday life and everyday play. While mindfulness can be a discipline, a way of moving through the world, it shouldn’t cause added stress or power struggles. 

So what is mindfulness?

According to Sylvia Boorstein, “Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.” It can be practiced at any time, in any place, during any activity, without changing a thing except the way that you relate to the present moment. 

Why practice mindfulness?

You might wonder, why even bother? I often have parents tell me that their children don’t seem to know how to calm themselves down, or they’ll explode, seemingly out of nowhere. When the parent asks what happened, the child may shrug, or say that they were mad. While they may have been angry, there were likely other thoughts or feelings that led them to express anger. If children (and adults) can tune into themselves in the present moment and notice their emotional and physical states, without judgement, they may begin to notice when difficult feelings are just starting to bubble up. How much easier is it to calm ourselves down when we’re just a little bit upset than when we’re hysterical? Mindfulness can help us connect the sensations in our bodies with our thoughts and feelings, thereby increasing our understanding of ourselves and our reactions. Further, research is showing that mindfulness can help children and teens who struggle with symptoms of ADHD and Anxiety. It gives them an experience of stillness and calmness. It helps them focus on the present moment without worrying about the future or lamenting the past. 

While mindfulness is less about the specific activity, and more about our relationship with the present moment, the activities below can help facilitate the practice of mindful awareness. Ideally, these are practiced when your child is calm, and then can be used to help them return to calm when they begin to feel anxious, angry, or frustrated. 

Mindful Listening

Tell your child that you are going to play a game. They can close their eyes if they’re comfortable doing so, or just soften their gaze. Tell them that you’re both going to listen carefully and see how many sounds you can hear. Pick an amount of time that you think is doable for your child, up to about a minute, and set a timer. When the timer goes off, compare notes on the different sounds you heard. This exercise could be completed on a nature walk or while sitting at your kitchen table.

Nature walk

Take a walk in nature and ask them to notice what they hear, see, feel, and smell. You can also have them find an object in nature and then explore it together with different senses.

Bag of Objects

Fill a bag with objects of different shapes, sizes, and textures. Have your child reach in without looking and describe what they feel. Have them guess what’s in there.

Bubbles

Blow bubbles together and notice the colors, sizes, and how/where the bubbles float. Blowing bubbles is a great way to practice breath awareness too–have your child take deep breaths, filling up their belly like a balloon, then breathe out slowly. They can even see how big or small the bubbles get depending on how quickly or slowly they breathe out.

Strike a Pose

Do a yoga pose together, such as tree pose. Have them imagine that one of their feet is rooted to the ground, and slowly lift the other until it is resting on their calf. See if they can raise their arms up to “grow” branches. Can they sway in the wind? You can ask them what sensations they notice in their body. If you or your child loses balance (which will probably happen), laugh together!

Rocking a Stuffed Animal

Have your child lie down on the floor with their favorite stuffed animal or doll resting on their belly. Tell them that you are going to rock their animal to sleep. Take slow, deep breaths together and notice how the animal moves up and down with their breath.

Chime or Singing Bowl

Tell your child that they are going to practice listening. Tell them that you will ring the chime or singing bowl and that you’ll both listen closely and see how long you can hear the sound. When they can’t hear it anymore they can raise their hand.

Engine Checks

One way to help children tune into the physical states is to have them think of their body like a car engine. Ask, what happens if a car is going too fast? They might say it crashes or runs off the road. What about if it goes too slow? It might cause a traffic jam, or stop all together. What if it is going just the right speed? How would that feel? Tell them that our bodies are kind of like car engines. Sometimes they feel like they’re going too fast, sometimes too slow, and sometimes just right. What is it like when they are going “too fast”? (Maybe they have lots of energy, can’t stay still, get in trouble at school). What about “too slow”? (maybe they are tired, lack energy, it’s hard for them to do things). What does “just right” feel like? (calm, focused, in control, etc.) Check in with your child occasionally by asking how their engine is running. Once they get used to this language, you can ask them when you start to notice that they might be starting to run “too fast” or “too slow.” When children are more aware of their physical and emotional states, they are more likely to use calming strategies like mindful breathing.

Any of the above techniques can be incorporated into everyday life. These tools will help your child (and you!) become more aware of the present moment and their relationship with the here & now. What mindfulness technique are you going to try today?

Written by: Magdalen Marrone, LCSW

Animal-Assisted Interventions with Rio

For many of us, being greeted by your pet after a long day at work is a highlight of our day. Our stresses and worries can float away a little easier when there is an easily excitable animal waiting for us behind the front door. Our pets have the magical capability of helping us forget about all the bad stuff. It’s not surprising that many of us refer to our pets as our “babies”!

As an animal-assisted therapist, I am lucky enough to bring my “baby” with me to work at Austin Family Counseling. Rio, my border collie, is the friendly therapy dog you may have seen around the office. He is usually wearing a bandana and will greet you with a kiss or a full downward-dog bow. He spends his days with me, working with children, tweens, teens, and their parents. With lots of pets and belly rubs throughout the day, it’s safe to say he has a pretty sweet gig.

Rio and myself are certified in animal-assisted counseling and completed our trainings at the Animal-Assisted Counseling Academy at Texas State University (Eat ‘em up, Cats!). Throughout our training, we experienced how powerful and therapeutic the human-animal bond can be.

In my previous blog post, I shared about animal-assisted counseling and how is can be therapeutically beneficial for clients. For this post, I want to share some animal-assisted interventions that I incorporate into sessions with my clients.

Highs and Lows with Rio:

To check in with my clients at the beginning of session, we start with our highs and lows. A “high” is the best thing that happened to you that day. A “low” is something we wish went a little differently. My client shares, I share, and we often speculate about what Rio might share if he could speak. Sometimes clients guess that Rio’s low is that it’s raining outside, that he’s feeling sleepy, or he only got to eat 2 treats instead of the client’s proposed 50. More often than not, my clients theorize that Rio’s high is spending time with them in session (and they’re not wrong!) 🙂

What Would Rio Do?:

I adapted this intervention from a fellow animal-assisted therapist, Wanda Montemayor. Wanda and her therapy dog Chango work with middle schoolers in Austin. Sometimes it is easier for kids to imagine what someone else might do in a situation instead of guessing what they themselves might do. You may have experienced this when your kiddo effortlessly recalls what their sibling did wrong, but find no fault in their own behavior! Not surprisingly, kids are very aware of what a dog might look like when they are scared, angry, or tired. Sometimes, it is more difficult to know our own physical reactions to stimuli that make us scared, angry, or tired. My clients know that if Rio were to ever huddle in a corner, wimper, or hide under his blanket during a thunderstorm, he would be feeling frightened. By guessing how Rio might react to relatable situations, clients are able to verbalize what their own emotional and physical reactions could be.

Emoji Balls:

Dr. Elizabeth Hartwig, the director of the Animal-Assisted Counseling Academy, knew that Rio would be a good fit for this intervention because of his energy levels, intelligence, and eagerness to please. I have about a dozen stress balls with different emotions depicted on them. While Rio and I wait outside of the office, my client will hide the emoji balls throughout the room. When the balls are in place, my client invites us back in. Because Rio is very motivated by anything that can be thrown and retrieved, all my client has to do is ask, “Rio, where’s your ball?”. Rio will then tirelessly search the room for each emoji ball. As he finds each one, he will bring it back to us. My client and I each share a time in which we felt the emotion that is shown on the stress ball. These emotions range from scared, angry, calm, loved, sad, and more. We often like to guess a time when Rio felt that emotion, too. This is an active intervention for all participants, and definitely a favorite of my kids.

I hope this sneak peak into animal-assisted counseling gives you a little more insight into the therapeutic work canine counselors are capable of. If you have any questions for myself (or for Rio), don’t hesitate to reach out to [email protected] or (512) 893-7396.
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To learn more about Rio’s certification and training, check out Animal-Assisted Counseling Academy!

Morgan Rupe, LPC-Intern
Written by: Morgan Rupe, LPC-Intern under the supervision of Kirby Schroeder, LPS-S, LMFT-S
Follow Rio on Instagram at @animalassistedtherapist
Check out the work Morgan & Rio are doing at http://AnimalAssistedTherapist.com

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