Archive of ‘Emotional Regulation’ category

Anxiety: Protective or Problematic?

By: Caitlyn Weeks, LPC-Intern Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

By: Caitlyn Weeks, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

You step out into the street. Suddenly, you notice a car speeding toward you. Just in time, you move out of the way and into safety. Your brain, constantly monitoring situations has acted almost instantly to protect you.

This protective action is possible due to the way our brains have developed to respond over time. The older part of our brain is designed to help us in “survival mode” and focuses on preparing our bodies to fight, freeze, or flee. The newer part of our brain allows us to think logically, process emotions, problem-solve, and be self-aware. When our brains detect threat, the newer part of the brain goes “offline” and the older part of our brain takes control. Once we respond to the threat, our newer brain comes back online and we are again able to communicate and think flexibly, creatively, and rationally.

In terms of a speeding car, this process is obviously very useful. Sometimes, however, we perceive a situation that is not actually threatening in the same way. Think about that example of narrowly avoiding a speeding car. Close your eyes and imagine the sensations you would feel. Your heart might beat much faster than normal. Maybe you feel short of breath, dizzy, sweaty, or sick to your stomach. These are reactions our bodies have developed to keep us safe and alert and are very normal. Now imagine feeling these sensations when you are looking at a test or a crowded room full of people instead of an oncoming car. That’s anxiety.

These perceptions lead to us to feel tense, irritable, restless, tired, or shaky. Often, it can be difficult to concentrate, focus, and fall or stay asleep. When feeling anxious, we might not even notice some of our symptoms, because we are focused on what we think is happening or fear might happen. These perceptions can be disruptive in any setting – at home, at school, with friends and family. With school, this might mean we shut down during a test we prepared for or can’t fall asleep because we can’t stop thinking about the next day. Socially, we might stop doing things we used to enjoy, avoiding hanging out in groups, or responding to texts because it feels too overwhelming. When our fear or worry significantly interferes with our daily life, we describe it as anxiety.

HebbianYerkesDodson.svgIt’s important to note here that a little bit of academic or social anxiety can be helpful. For those of you who like psychology, this is known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law and looks like this:

The middle of this curve is where we do our best work, nail our performances, or even ask someone out on a date. Clinical anxiety kicks in to the right of the curve. If you find yourself to the right of the curve often (and you’re not just running around dodging cars on Mopac,), I’d recommend talking to a professional because there are many ways to manage anxiety – with and without medication.

I love working with anxiety because we can really bring a lot of creativity to the process. It’s always helpful to start with what’s already working (maybe just a little bit) and build on it. For example, you might notice a greater sense of calm when your favorite song is playing. From there, we can build a playlist to turn on when studying for that test. Maybe you are artistic and enjoy the feel of oil pastels on paper when your heart starts racing. We can create an art journal to explore ways to cope expressively. There are also wonderful ways to help our brains come back online once they’ve gone into fear mode – through breathing, mindfulness, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery. In addition to coping strategies, it is important to explore those fears, thoughts, and things we say to ourselves when we feel anxious. When we name these fears in a safe space and develop an understanding of what’s involved, we can discover new tools to manage these feelings.


When Self-Harm Hits Home

As parents, we never want the “scary” things to happen to our kids.   We want our kids to be happy, healthy, confident and caring. We spend so much of our time and energy trying to protect them from baby falls to bullying, but sometimes the “scary” things hit close to home. One such thing is finding out that your child is harming themself.

Christel Gilbreath, LCSW

By: Christel Gilbreath, LCSW

These acts of harm against oneself is what we call self-injury or self-harm. Teens typically do this through cutting or burning their skin. You may notice cuts or burns on their forearms or thighs, which they may try to hide with long-sleeve shirts, pants, or bands or excessive jewelry around their wrists.

According to several studies, self-injury seems to be on the rise. School counselors, college professors, and parents are all noticing what some call a “psychic epidemic.”

So, what should you do if you discover that your child is engaging in self-harm?

Here are a few ideas both from my own work with individuals who self-harm and from several authors I have noted below.

    1. In the words of one adolescent, “Try not to totally freak out.” Your heightened emotional reactivity and/or anger only works to increase your adolescent’s anxiety. You want to show your adolescent that you are willing and able to tolerate their disconcerting emotions and are able to offer assistance.
    2. Avoid threats, yelling, breaches of privacy, and discouraging remarks.
    3. Try things that help calm your child such as making eye contact, letting your adolescent tell their story of what provoked the self-injury, respectfully listening, offering hugs, using an attitude of empathy, being nonjudgmental, and encouraging your child that you can all get through this together.
    4. Matthew Selekman, in his book noted below, suggests asking the following questions:
      1. “Now that I know that you are cutting yourself, can you help me understand what it means to you?”
      2. “How has it been helpful for you to do this?”
      3. “Is there anything really stressing you our in your life right now that I might be able to help you out with?”
      4. “If you don’t wish to talk about it right now, I understand. I just want you to know that I care and am here for you when you are ready to talk about it. Would you like me to check in with you or would you prefer to come to me when you are ready to talk?”
    5. Have the courage to ask your adolescent what you may be doing to contribute to the overwhelming feelings that lead an adolescent to self-harm.
    6. At the same time, recognize that your adolescent’s decision to harm themself is a choice they made and is not your fault.
    7. If school bullying or academic pressures are a leading cause of the self-harm, advocate for your child within their school.
    8. Ask your child if they would like to speak with a professional counselor.   Allow the adolescent to be part of the process of selecting who this professional may be.



Brumberg, J. (2006). Are we facing an epidemic of self-injury?. Chronicle of Higher Education, 53 (16), B6-B8

Plante, L. (2007). Bleeding to ease the pain: Cutting, self-injury, and the adolescent search for self. Plymouth, UK: Rowman and Littlefield

Selekman, M. (2006). Working with self-harming adolescents: A collaborative strengths-based therapy approach. New York: WW Norton & Company

The Mind Jar: A Tool for Creating Calm in Chaos

A lot of folks talk about the need to create calm in the midst of chaos, whether that be the chaos of your mind and your thoughts, or when experiencing intense emotions that seem to take over. I’d like to share with you how to actually make one of these tools that can help you when you are feeling overwhelmed and need something tangible to help you focus and calm down.

Watch how to make a Mind Jar!

Optional blurb to place on your Mind Jar: “A Mind Jar is a relaxation tool to use whenever you are feeling stressed, overwhelmed or upset. Imagine the glitter floating as your thoughts or emotions. When you shake the jar, imagine your head full of whirling thoughts or your body full of whirling emotions and then watch them slowly settle while you calm down.”

You can learn more about Susanna and the services she provides by visiting her therapist page.

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