Archive of ‘Healthy Habits’ 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

Teaching Kids to be Strong Problem Solvers

It started with just a few questions. “Why do I have to go to preschool? Why do you have to go to work? Why can’t I have a babysitter stay home with me?” To these, as I was bustling about the kitchen getting dinner pulled together, I answered in a matter of fact and validating way. “Preschool gets you ready for kindergarten and allows you to play with friends and grow your brain. I also miss you and wish I could be home with you. And, I love teaching my students and I feel passionate about the work I am doing.”

She wasn’t buying it.

The insisting got more intense until she was so worked up I started to wonder (and worry) especially when she said she did NOT want to go… at all. For a child that generally loved her school, this was the final sign so I asked, 

“Did something happen?” From there it spilled out: during the quiet nap time, the teachers didn’t allow students to use the bathroom, and if they asked, the whole classroom was punished.

Um.  What?????

In her four year old way, she described this rule, and how conflicted and uncomfortable she was with a) not being able to go to the bathroom and b) the social repercussions of any action on her part during this time. Obvi. So, clearly the solution was just to never go back.

At this point I had a few options. First, I could tell her I am SURE that is not the rule, and that with a swift (curt) email to the teacher I would have it cleared up by tomorrow and her bladder would be free. Or…

I could use this as an empowering learning opportunity.

Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott, from Teaching Parenting the Positive Discipline Way, give this definition of empowering: “Turning control over to young people as soon as possible so they have power over their own lives.”

We all want our kids to grow up to have a long list of life skills that will help them be successful as adults. We make this list together in my Positive Discipline classes and each time, the list looks so similar. Skills like responsible, independent, passionate, assertive, happy…these help to guide our teaching when we are trying to solve challenges with our kids. So in this moment, if I used the  magic wand to make it all go away, I would have missed an opportunity to add to that skill building.

Enabling = “getting between young people and life experiences to minimize the consequences of their actions.”  – Lott, Nelsen

Rescuing, fixing, bailing them out, doing too much for them, it all falls under that enabling category. The 10pm email to the teacher also falls in that category. You know the one, where you are so exhausted by how upset your child was and what a nightmare evening you had dealing with whatever issue happened at school that day (per your kiddo), so you take it all out on the teacher in an email to feel like you have some control.

By choosing instead to empower, I wasn’t going to abandon her, but I was going to show up with confidence in her capability. It was also going to take a little more time.

We discussed it as a family more at dinner, using curiosity questions to dig deeper. I still could not believe that it was actually the rule, (what preschool teacher does NOT want kids to use the bathroom?)  yet I knew in HER mind it was her perspective and interpretation, so there really was no arguing that point. We were going to have to really play it out.

“Can’t you just talk to the teacher?” she begged me. “It’s not my problem,” I replied, “I can go to the bathroom whenever I want.” She looked at me horrified. I went on, “This feels like such a big problem to you. It feels unfair. It would feel unfair to me too! We are here to help you. Let’s practice what you can say to your teacher tomorrow.”

We called all hands on deck and she started to relax surrounded by her cheering section. She took turns being the teacher and herself in the role play, practicing how to start with a greeting and request to discuss the problem and then how to assertively state “I feel confused by this rule and it feels unfair.” Her confidence grew and by tuck in time I thought we were really in the clear. Then the panic set in.

“Mama, what if this problem is never solved? What if it doesn’t work?”

Here, too, I wanted to just ease her mind, ensure her that everything would be ok. I also wanted to make all that time we had spent building up capability worth it. So instead I took her hand and said, “Here’s the deal. It might not be solved tomorrow. It might not work right away. And that is ok. Because when you come home, we will brainstorm another solution and practice and try something else until it is solved. I won’t give up and neither will you.”

Fortunately, I did not do the drop off in the morning. I might have caved. Instead, I watched the clock and winced right around naptime, then braced myself when I went into the classroom to pick her up after work.

Unexpectedly, she came running around the corner. Her face was beaming. “Mama mama! I solved my problem!” It was THAT moment that made it allllll worth it. The pride, independence, confidence and capability shone. Priceless. Her teacher immediately joined her, falling over herself to tell me that OF COURSE they are allowed to go to the bathroom and what a misunderstanding, but how brave of my daughter to bring it up. The teachers hadn’t realized the confusion from all the students. This led to a class meeting and greater discussion. She ended with explicitly thanking me for allowing this learning opportunity. 

Six years later,  I think of that day often. It gave me the courage and mindset to put in the intention and energy on days I didn’t think I had it. When it would have been easier to overprotect or rescue. When I see the payoff, in my responsible, independent, happy, confident ten year old, I know it is worth it.

It takes courage to teach courage.

Empowering can and should look different in families, depending on the age, stage of development and your own values. What makes YOUR little one beam with confidence? And what kind of practice do they need to get there? Is there a small step they need to learn first?

Lott and Nelsen describe these empowering responses:

  • Listening and giving emotional support and validation without fixing or discounting. 
  • Teaching life skills. 
  • Working on agreements through family meetings or the joint problem-solving process. 
  • Letting go (without abandoning). 
  • Deciding what you will do with dignity and respect
  • Sharing what you think, how you feel, and what you want (without lecturing, moralizing, insisting on agreement, or demanding that anyone give you what you want). 
  • Sticking to the issues with dignity and respect.

 Learn how to be solution focused, teach important life skills and find the joy in everyday moments.  Purchase your How To Grow Remarkable Kids online series today, and experience Positive Discipline through videos of real families practicing the tools.

Julietta is a Certified Positive Discipline Advanced Trainer with an Ed.S Degree in School Psychology and a Masters Degree in School Counseling from Seattle University. She is the co-founder of Sproutable, science backed online parenting insights for pregnancy to preschool, helping multitasking and sleep deprived parents everywhere. 

Her trauma informed expertise includes early child development, autism, learning disabilities, anxiety, behavior disorders, Positive Discipline, Social Thinking and mindfulness.  Her popular keynote speeches, classes and workshops in Seattle have been described as rejuvenating, motivating and inspiring. Julietta has learned the most from her own three daughters.


Household Chores and Why They Matter for Children and Teens

What characteristics and life skills do you hope your children develop?  These are some that I often hear from parents in our workshops and parenting sessions:

  • Responsibility                        
  • Self-discipline
  • Empathy/Caring
  • Adaptability
  • Accountability
  • Respect for self and others
  • Creativity

Believe it or not, one way that you can begin (or continue) to help these characteristics develop in your children is by involving them in household chores. It is never too early or too late.  Kids need to know they are important, useful, contributing members of your family. Helping with chores builds the skills above and many more.

Many families I work with feel like kids have “too much on their plate” or say that “school is their job” and they don’t want them to be overwhelmed with responsibilities at home.  So instead, parents carry the heavy load of household chores on their own, missing an amazing opportunity to instill contribution.

Another barrier is that parents don’t realize that it is normal and expected for children and teens to lose interest in chores and get distracted by other things, such as friends, their phone, and school (much like we do).  Children are born with the desire to help and contribute (see video below), but they are not born with the skills needed to do so perfectly.  Parents have to teach, model, and reinforce household chore expectations again and again in order for them to stick.

Get started today involving your kids in household chores:

  1. Brainstorm a list of daily and weekly chores that happen in the home with the whole family.
  2. Choose a few important chores to rotate – one per family member- and make a list or chart to post the chores on.  Here is an example of the one we have at my house.
  • Take time for training – spend the first week doing the chores together so that you can teach skills such as spraying the dust spray, how much to feed the dog, how long to water the grass in the front yard, and so on.  Be collaborative and have fun with it! 
  • Decide upon frequency and what time it should be done based on the chore.  If your child (or partner 🙂 ) forgets, gently remind them with a kind smile and friendly body language, and a point at the chore chart to job their memory.
  • Resistance is NORMAL!  Don’t expect your kids to cheer and thank you when you remind them of their chore, but no matter how much they grumble, be KIND and FIRM – “I know you would rather play your guitar, AND it’s time to do your chore.” 
  • Use the Chore Chart below, a resource adapted from Positive Discipline, to determine the chores that are age-appropriate for your child. 

Check out this video that shows very young children (and chimps) demonstrating a desire to help!

By: Lora Ferguson, LPC-S, CPDT

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