Archive of ‘Being Present’ 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

Summertime: 7 Ways to Maximize Free Time with your Kiddos

With summer’s arrival, as a parent or caregiver you may find yourself with anxious feelings about the long warm days and idle time coming – you may be thinking, how in the world am I going to keep these kiddos entertained all summer? How can we keep TV and video games to a manageable level? How can we help our kids feel engaged in activities that are exciting, but simultaneously include some aspect of learning (or at least not staring into a screen)?

If you are like me, these thoughts have been crossing your mind a lot lately. You are in the right place and hopefully this post can spur some ideas to help your family thrive in downtime together this summer!  

~This is by no means an exhaustive list, and with some adaptation, the below activities can be appropriate for mostly all ages of children~

Cultural Events

  • Attend a cultural festival or event of any sort, such as an art, music, or theatrical performance. Not only can these events be engaging for the whole family, they can spark creative interest in a subject area your child may not have had before.

Reading

  • Read (anywhere!) and join the Austin Public Library! Reading together is one of the best ways to spend quality time, increase vocabulary + introduce concepts for younger children and avoid the summer slide for school-age kiddos!
    • There are of course many ways to do this – in your favorite park, cozy spot at home, or at many of the public libraries in Austin. https://library.austintexas.gov/events/calendar
    • If you haven’t yet visited the new central library downtown, it is a site to see!  It even includes a special Teen Lounge devoted to adolescents and many special events.
    • Book People also offers many events and storytime for younger kiddos; events calendar here https://www.bookpeople.com/event

Museums and Historic Sites

  • Visit a museum or historic site. Here are some favorites!  
    • Laguna Gloria – bring a picnic or pick up food onsite from Epicerie and enjoy on the lawn
    • The Blanton Museum
    • The Thinkery Children’s Museum + Mueller Lake Park
    • Bob Bullock History Museum
    • Austin Aquarium
    • Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
    • Austin Nature and Science Center

Gardening

  • Plant a small plant or garden to tend; even an indoor plant for when it’s too hot outside! Gardening with your child will give you a sense of shared purpose and responsibility! Here are some of my favorite nurseries to help get you started:
  • Shoal Creek Nursery
  • The Great Outdoors
  • East Austin Succulents  / Tillery Street Plant Company

Photography

  • Practice photography – Even some of our smallest kiddos will enjoy taking pictures with a Polaroid. It can give you a few free minutes while they explore the house or backyard and then provide you with some quality time as you review their gems together! This can create a sense of pride for your children in their work!
  • Spend time making a collage or photo book together of your favorite memories.

Donate to Charity or Volunteer Together

  • Host a lemonade [popsicle / cookie / whatever] stand together and decide on a charity to which to donate the profits.  This activity really stands out as you can teach entrepreneurial skills, create awareness around money, engage in social skills with neighbors, and give to others in need.   

Get the Wiggles Out

  • Austin Bouldering Project – Indoor and outdoor rock climbing for all ages Austin Bouldering Project
  • Play for All Park – This amazing park is located in Round Rock and was made with children with special needs in mind. It is massive and children of abilities will enjoy the many features it offers. Play for All Park
  • Marathon Kids: Walk and Talk – over the summer, walk the total distance of a marathon with your child and talk along the way. Sign up and receive a mileage tracker and conversation topics for each walk! https://marathonkids.org/walkandtalk/
  • Hamilton Pool – beautiful, historic swimming hole located about 20 miles west of Austin. Don’t forget you need reservations for summer visits!  https://parks.traviscountytx.gov/parks/hamilton-pool-preserve
  • Deep Eddy – take a cool dip in Texas’ oldest swimming pool.  This “beach entry” pool is awesome for small kids and adults alike!
  • Zilker Park – an Austin dream day – Ride the Zilker Zephyr miniature train, hang at the park / playground and take a dip in Barton Springs (this one’s better for the older kiddos)
  • Your backyard / a neighborhood street: For a quicker adventure with littles, cruise around the backyard or walk the block to collect some sticks to turn into snakes (try to find some with a fork that can be the mouth!).  Set your child up with paint and paintbrushes and see them transform into snakes. You all can also paint rock families!
  • Play at a Splash Pad! https://freefuninaustin.com/austin-area-splash-pads-2016-schedules/

Making Meaning From Your Time Together

Now that you’ve invested time and energy in an activity together, remember some ways to make it even more meaningful while you are engaged in the event or afterward.  These tips are easy and can really strengthen connection between you and your child.

  • Actively listen! Ask open-ended questions!  When your child is talking, listen for feelings they’ve expressed. Notice these and dig a little deeper.
  • Ask your child to name Three Positives at the end of the day or as you’re tucking them in at night.
  • What are you thankful for in your [day / time / activity we shared]?
  • What was your favorite part of the day?
  • Tell me more about your photo [the book we read / the place we visited/ etc.].
  • Don’t forget the nonverbals! Make sure you are making eye contact, getting down on eye level or putting your arm around your child as you are having conversation.

Know that not every adventure will go exactly as planned (or be free from tears, for those with smaller humans!). Just remember that it is the love and attention you are giving your child and the time you are investing in your relationship that will mean the most.  Have fun and see you out there!


Written by:
Brooklie Gonzales, LPC-Intern supervised by Emily K. Slaughter, LPC-S

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