Tip for Anxiety

If you or your teen struggles with anxiety it can be miserable.  It’s a feeling of dread that is often in excess of an event.  An example of anxiety is having a lot of worry that you will fail your next test even though you’ve never failed one this school year.  People who struggle with anxiety really wrestle with believing a severe consequence is coming.  Usually people with anxiety are overly confident of a bad result, and do not have enough confidence that a good result will occur.

 

A tip for this is to honestly assess the reality of a situation.  One thing I tell teens who have social fears is that nobody judges you as harshly as you do.  I ask the teen, “Even when you hear someone say something stupid, how long do you think about what they said?”  The normal answer is, “Not for very long.  Not more than 5 minutes.”  I tell them, “This is the same for others when you say something you feel is stupid.”  Assessing the reality of a feared situation helps reduce anxiety.

 

It’s difficult to be realistic about outcomes that make us nervous.  I worked with a boy who ran cross country at his high school.  He was consistently the last person to finish team workouts.  He had a lot of anxiety about his first race because he was afraid he would finish dead last in the whole race.  He felt certain his teammates would make fun of him.  He thought he might even need to give up the sport.  He kept saying if only he could even finish second to last it wouldn’t be as bad.  When he ran his first race his fear came true- he finished in last place.  What he had predicted incorrectly was the reaction of his teammates.  They were cheering him into the finish.  They gave him a pat on the back when he finished.  He felt more a part of the team than he ever had before.  He was shocked they cared so much.  He discovered that his predictions about the future were partially true, but largely untrue.

 

When we have anxiety we go through the same process.  We think something is impossible to work though.  Later we find out that somehow we survived whatever it was we dreaded.  It is rarely as unpleasant in reality as it is in our imaginations.  Even when it is as unpleasant as we imagine, we have more strength to survive than we thought.

 

Next time anxiety creeps up on you, you might try a simple exercise.  It helps me to write out all the possible outcomes.  I then try to put down what percentage chance each one has of occurring.  My emotions make me want to rate negative outcomes highly, but when I’m being honest I know I’m inflating the negative.  I am able to see that positive outcomes can happen.  It calms me down a little bit.  I then write down how I will cope with the worst outcome if it does happen.  For example, when I was a teenager I always worried that Allison would make fun of me at soccer practice when I messed up (She was not a very nice girl).  If I had done this exercise I would’ve recognized that 1) Allison might make fun of me (20%) 2) Allison won’t notice (40%) 3) Allison will notice but say nothing (15%) 4) Allison will notice but say something encouraging (25%).  I would then try to work through how I would cope if Allison did make fun of me: 1) I will look at her and say nothing or 2) I will tell her that’s not very nice or 3) I will look at one of my other friends and just shake my head.  This would’ve reduced my anxiety about soccer practice a lot.  Unfortunately I didn’t have these tools in high school so I just dreaded practice for the 3 years that we were on the same team.  How sad!

I hope this helps you or your teen next time anxiety takes over because it really is an awful feeling.  Nobody wants to dread something, and this is especially true when it’s wasted worry.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Parents and Physical Affection with Teens

Teens need (and secretly want) affection from their parents. Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teens need (and secretly want) affection from their parents.
Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A lot of parents wonder when their child has become too old to kiss and hug.  By time your teen graduates high school you probably don’t kiss them anymore, and might not hug them.  This seems to be particularly common between dads and their sons.  Dads also often express feeling uncomfortable holding their daughters.

 

Physical affection is a very important aspect of love.  Part of the reason it is really important is because you are building a framework for your child in their older life.  Your kid is developing a sense of what they perceive as “normal” for their adult life based on the way things work in your home.  If you and your spouse never make physical contact in front of your kids, they are less likely to be affectionate with their future spouse.  If you are a divorced parent, and you have your date come home to spend the night, your kids will learn that this is acceptable for them too.  You need to be very, very intentional about how, and to whom you show physical affection in front of your kids.

 

When your child was young, you likely hugged, kissed, held, wrestled with, and tickled them without a thought.  Once your child hit puberty, this might have felt awkward.  However, if you continue to hug them and kiss them before they leave for school, sit right next to them on the couch, or rub their shoulders from time to time, you will maintain more emotional closeness.

 

What do you do if you are already pretty far down the path of not touching your adolescent child?  What if it’s been two years since you last hugged your son or daughter?  How do you overcome this unspoken rule?  Start small.  Help your teen put their jacket on.  Help your teen take their backpack off when they get home.  Look for small opportunities where it would be acceptable to make contact.  When you feel you won’t be rejected, give a quick side hug, or a squeeze to the shoulders.  Even try a high five.  Basically, make a purposeful effort to slowly increase the frequency and duration of your physical contact with your teen.  At first they might give you a look that says, ‘Are you an alien from Mars, what are you doing?’  Eventually though, most teens warm to attention and affection from their parents.  In fact, as hard as this is to believe, most teens crave affection from their parents.

 

Remember, even if you think your teen no longer knows you exist, they are watching everything you do.  Physical touch is one area where you can make a quick impact on how they feel.  So, make it your goal today to give physical affection to your kid; they probably want and need it.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

School Refusal in Teens

School refusal is often caused by anxiety about something particular. Photo courtesy of Marin from Freedigitalphotos.net

School refusal is often caused by anxiety about something particular.
Photo courtesy of Marin from Freedigitalphotos.net

As a therapist who works primarily with teenagers, it is not uncommon to see clients who have “school refusal.”  They might be willing to go to school on occasion, but it is a huge battle for parents to get them there.  School refusal has a variety of causes.  Some of these include drug use, general opposition, and anxiety.  Today I am going to focus on the anxiety component.  I believe this is the most common reason for school refusal.

 

Anxiety is an overwhelmingly unpleasant feeling usually associated with a fear of some future event.  Some teens are afraid of ridicule from peers, while others fear failing a test in class.  If your teen strongly does not want to attend school, try and find out what they are afraid of first.  There might be such a strong feeling of dread about school that a teen cannot stand the thought of attending.  Every single school day is torture and feels very scary.  I worked with one teen who was being pushed and cursed at by another boy each time he tried to get to his third period class.  He felt helpless to defend himself because when he had asked the bully to stop, he was made fun of even more.  He tried to seek help from school administrators, but then other kids started calling him a “tattle tale.”  This teen’s anxiety grew to levels that were unmanageable for him, and he began to refuse school.

 

What can you do about school refusal as a parent?  Firstly, you have to find out the reason for refusing school.  We all have days where we don’t feel like going to school or work, but we don’t adamantly refuse to go.  School refusal is normally caused by something much stronger than, “I don’t feel like it.”  Once you’ve identified the reason for school refusal, sit down with your teen and work out a plan.  If it is anxiety related, your teen needs to regain a sense of control over some situation; a plan can really help with this.

 

If you are unable to curtail the school refusal with talking and making a plan, it’s a good idea to call the school counselor and talk, and/or to seek outside help for your teen.  Usually they can’t overcome this on their own.  With anxiety, when something feels scary and then we avoid it, it feels bigger and more frightening.  Because your teenager is still relatively young, most don’t know to push through scary things in order to make them more manageable.  They tend to go with what feels most comforting in the moment, which is refusing to attend school.

 

You will face tension as you try and help your adolescent through their school refusal.  You will need to be both comforter and enforcer.  It’s a really challenging line to walk.  Your teenager needs compassion, but they also cannot be allowed to miss school.  It will really break your heart to send them to school when you know how awful it is for them, but if you continually allow them to miss, you’re doing them a disservice.

 

Sometimes loving our kids well means pushing them through emotional pain, but the good thing is we can walk beside them every step of the way.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Faith Helps Anxiety

Surrounding yourself with supportive community reduces anxiety. Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Surrounding yourself with supportive community reduces anxiety.
Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Anxiety is a huge challenge for many people.  It is an obstacle that keeps them from moving forward with goals, keeps them from being close in relationships, and imprisons them.  The intense fear that something bad is going to happen feels overwhelming and upsetting.  Often, the things we worry about don’t even make sense to anyone else.  Someone might worry about something going wrong on a vacation to the point where the vacation isn’t even relaxing.  Another person might worry about being a failure in life, when she has earned A’s and B’s in school all along.  Some worry that nobody will like them, even when they have a lot of friends.  Anxiety is typically illogical, but still can be hard to control.

 

One of the best ways to help with anxiety is to rely on your faith.  Most major religions teach not to worry.  Some even call it a sin to worry.  They all want you to focus on something bigger than that thing you are concerned with right now.

 

Even if you do not have a faith in a god, there are really good lessons to learn from religion on how to deal with anxiety.  While you might not know to whom you are praying, pouring out your fears and believing something is out there that cares about you still is immensely helpful.  Getting yourself into a community of people who care about you and the struggles you are facing will strengthen you.  You might try a support group for starters.  I know there are beliefs and prejudices some of you have towards support groups; there is a stigma about people who go to support groups.  Those beliefs are generally wrong.  You will find some of the nicest, most normal people in these groups.  Going to a support group also gives you the opportunity to encourage someone else, which reduces anxiety as well.

 

Coming from a Christian perspective, God wants you to remember that he will shoulder your burdens.  Jesus already took on all the punishment you deserved for every wrongdoing you committed, so there is nothing to be afraid of.  You aren’t alone when you go through painful things because God doesn’t abandon you.  Remembering that helps you hold on to a sense of peace and joy even in your darkest of days.  Christianity also teaches us to go through things in community.  If we are suffering, we are to share the weight of our sorrows and fears with others.  When you have people supporting you and praying for you it makes a world of difference.  Things are a lot less scary when others walk through them with you.

 

Psalm 28:8-9 says: “God is all strength for his people, ample refuge for his chosen leader; Save your people and bless your heritage. Care for them; carry them like a good shepherd,” (The Message Translation).

 

Facing your worries and then moving beyond them is definitely difficult.  It is made even more difficult because we tend to walk through our anxieties by ourselves.  Going through your pain in community, and in prayer, relieves some of the stress anxiety causes.  Relying on God to guide you gives you strength and hope.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS

Anxiety- Fearing the Worst Case Scenario

We tend to overestimate the worst-case scenario. Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We tend to overestimate the worst-case scenario.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Have you ever wondered what anxiety is?  We have all experienced it to an extent, some worse than others.  It often starts with overestimating the likelihood of a bad situation.

 

I will give an example from my personal life.  When I finished college I went out and got my first “career job.”  I put that in quotes because it was the first job related to my field of study, and I saw it as a place I could possibly work for years.  About four weeks after I began, my direct supervisor stepped down and an interim supervisor was put in place.  As management started to settle into place, it became clear that the department head was a micromanager; she was also condescending and cold.  As someone new to the staff, and as someone who has always confronted challenges in a personable manner, I struggled with the department head’s style.  It got to the point where I had intense anxiety and dread course through my body every time I saw her extension on my caller ID.  That progressed into me flinching whenever my phone rang because it might be her.  She kind of reminded me of Cruella Deville (a very stylish dresser, but self-serving).

 

At home I began to think about work all the time.  I started to hate my chosen profession.  I began to search for ways to avoid the situation that I found so untenable.  Worst of all were my beliefs about my future.  I felt certain “Cruella” would fire or suspend me for any minor infraction or patient complaint.  Given that I was working with drug addicts in their first days of detox, people whose physical misery means they do not tend to be a happy bunch), a complaint was inevitable.  The point is, my fear of the worst case scenario was causing intense anxiety.  Of course this fear never came to light.

 

If you find you or your teen is experiencing anxiety, then it is time to evaluate whether you are overestimating the likelihood of the worst case scenario.  Try to understand that people are not good at predicting the future, and neither are you.  While the worst case scenario could occur, whatever you are fearing will probably end up being just another mundane experience.  How many times have you assumed something would turn out so badly that you just couldn’t bear it?  And yet, you’re still here!  Now we even call those times “growing experiences.”

 

Try very hard to examine EVERY possible outcome.  While your teenage son might have intense anxiety that he will get an F on his next history exam, help him realize he also might get a D, C, B or even an A.  Help him know that somehow others have passed this teacher’s class.  You believe he will find a way to pass too.  Remind him of all the times he thought he’d earn a horrible grade, but didn’t.

 

I worked with a girl for a long time who was certain she would never get accepted into any college.  She thought her GPA was too low and her SAT scores were mediocre at best.  In fact, her grades were a little above average and her SAT score was a little bit above average too.  She was so surprised when she was accepted into 6 out of the 9 schools she applied to, and the one she chose even offered her a 75% tuition scholarship based on her grades.  She just couldn’t believe it!  Looking back she realizes she was terrible at predicting the future because her anxiety made her certain the worst-case scenario would come true.

 

Help your teenager look at the situation he is facing and be much more realistic about the possible outcomes; it will probably be better than he thinks.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

A Therapist’s Perspective On Teens Who Don’t Fit In

Bullying can devastate your teen. Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Bullying can devastate your teen.
Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The topic of bullying comes up a lot in my line of work.  It is brutally painful for tweens and teens to be picked on by their peers.  One 12 year old girl started counseling a few months ago because she can’t figure out how to fit in at school.  It turns out people clear the lunch tables when she sits down.  When I first met her, this was really difficult to understand.  She dressed appropriately, had normal hygiene, was friendly and altogether delightful.  What makes certain kids the outcasts?

 

After working with this issue for several years, it seems to me bullying occurs more frequently in middle school, and maybe the early high school years.  Middle school appears to be the worst time, especially for girls.  It also seems to me there are three types of kids.  There are the kids who are assertive (and sometimes aggressive), the kids who are neutral (and generally left alone), and the kids who are picked on.

 

In early adolescence, the children that are assertive tend to be popular.  These are the kids who don’t take crap from anyone.  If someone is talking behind their backs, these kids get mad.  They confront their accusers with attitude.  They sometimes pick on someone else a little bit and make the other kids slightly afraid of them.  On the surface they don’t seem to care what anyone else thinks.  They are a little bit louder, a little bit more socially advanced, and a little bit more willing to break the rules.  These teenagers do not necessarily make up the “bad crowd,” but they aren’t usually in the chess club or the 4.0 club either.

 

The neutral kids are the quieter ones.  They have their group of friends, and they are content with this.  They don’t have any ambition to move up to the next social group, or to be seen as popular.  They usually earn pretty good grades, and they don’t rock the boat.  These kids are probably what we’d think of as the “typical” middle school or high school student.  They are into their particular hobby, whether it be band, theater or sports, and they don’t cause a lot of trouble.  They also don’t get teased very much.

 

The third group of kids are the ones who get bullied.  These are teens who are naturally programmed to care what everyone thinks of them.  These teens cry when others gossip about them instead of getting angry.  They take it to heart when someone says they run funny, and then forever feel self-conscious in P.E. class.  They suck up to the more popular kids because they don’t want the popular kids to be mean to them.  These kids are easily taken advantage of because of their efforts to gain favor with everyone.  Sometimes they are naive.  These children are naturally non-assertive.  If they are assertive, they don’t do it in a way that earns the respect of their peers, only in a way that causes them to be mocked.

 

No matter which group your teenager is in, help them understand it is not their permanent position.  At some point we are differentiated from our peers in terms of our abilities and ambition.  Eventually it is no longer about certain personality traits that you were born with.  In general, middle school and high school years are years that can include a lot of insecurity.  Some of the more insecure teenagers I knew have grown up to be amazing adults.  Help your child know he or she is building character for the future.  Remind your teen that wisdom is born from suffering, and compassion is born from rejection.  Don’t let them lose sight of the big picture as tweens and teens are apt to do.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MFT, MS

Anxiety and Wanting to Quit

Anxiety is overwhelming and frustrating. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Anxiety is overwhelming and frustrating.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When you struggle with anxiety, it makes you want to quit.  Let’s take the example of Brandon, who has really bad test anxiety.  Perhaps he wants to go to college to become a teacher.  So, Brandon signs up for classes and starts going.  It is great at first because he is only listening to lectures and writing papers.  However, midterms start.  Brandon has such terrible test anxiety that he cannot sleep the night before, studies ineffectively, and feels as if his mind is blank during the exams.  His stomach aches the day of the test and he is too nervous to eat.  This becomes so unbearable that he starts to say to himself, “Maybe I don’t really want to teach after all.  I was much happier when I was working in retail.”  So, to avoid the horrible feelings of anxiety, Brandon quits.

 

Here is the problem Brandon now has: Because the test anxiety caused Brandon to quit, he now is more afraid of tests than before.  As miserable as it is, pushing through a fear is essential to overcoming it.  When things calm down again, Brandon then wishes he had pushed through because he really dreams of becoming a teacher.  Since Brandon quit though, school seems even bigger and more scary than it did the last time.  Each time Brandon repeats this pattern he is making his situation worse.

 

When your anxiety makes you want to quit or avoid a situation, just remember that if you give in, the situation will actually become more scary next time.  Sometimes this is really hard to do, so getting a little help is necessary.

 

One thing I have teenagers do who have anxiety about a situation is to make a list.  We write down the thing they fear most, then something slightly less scary, and something even less scary until we reach a level that isn’t scary at all.  For Brandon it might look like this:

  1. College Finals
  2. College Mid-terms
  3. An online mid-term or final
  4. A college quiz
  5. An online quiz
  6. A practice exam on the school campus
  7. A practice exam done at home

Brandon would then be instructed to start with a practice exam done at home.  He would repeat it until it was associated with absolutely no anxiety.  Next he would take a practice exam on the college campus.  He’d repeat this process until it no longer caused any anxiety.  He would continue to work his way up the list.

 

Let’s say Brandon successfully worked his way all the way to number 2, taking a college mid-term.  When he got to this one he was unable to complete it because of his fear.  If that happens it is important to break it down into a smaller step once again.  Brandon might need to visualize taking a successful college mid-term on a daily basis and then try again.

 

If your teenager is racked with anxiety about a specific situation, try to help them push through.  Do not let them quit unless the situation is dangerous to their health.  We build fortitude by pushing through emotionally challenging situations.  Adults who lack fortitude also lack success: don’t let this be your teen.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

The Power of Positive Thoughts

Positive thinking improves your whole life. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Positive thinking improves your whole life.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Feeling a little bit negative today?  Worried you’re not going to do a good job on your project?  Concerned you will make your teenager mad when you get home?  Focusing on negative worries like this actually makes them more likely to happen.

 

Trying to see things with a positive outlook is essential to a better life.  It is not always easy though.  Sometimes the things that are worrying us or dragging us down seem to overtake our thoughts.  In my office, I often hear about parents feeling completely overwhelmed with a negative choice their teen has made.  It seems to pervade every aspect of their lives.

 

There is an interesting phenomenon shown to be true through research in social psychology.  It is called the self-fulfilling prophecy. This means if you to say something is going to happen in a certain way, you will inadvertently behave in a manner that increases the likelihood of this being true.  For example, Justin says, “I am going to play terribly in my soccer game.  I can just feel it.”  To get comfort from the negative feeling he might eat comforting foods such as candy, or warm up poorly for his game because he has less focus on playing well and more focus on how big the other team looks.  Then he actually will play worse than normal.  This increases his anxiety next time he plays.

 

Self-fulfilling prophecies work in the opposite direction too.  If you think positively, you are more likely to behave in a way that creates a positive outcome, thereby lowering anxiety.  Positive thinking in one area also spreads to other parts of your life.  Melissa decides to think positively about her upcoming math test.  As a result she studies with more confidence.  She is also nicer to her parents because she is not distracted by worry.  Since she is nicer to her parents, they take a more encouraging tone about her test instead of their usual warnings that she study harder.  Melissa’s positive thinking has an impact on her behavior, which causes others to behave better, which reduces her stress, which helps her perform better on her math test.

 

Do you remember that guy in high school who always said he was going to be the next big thing?  You’d look at him and think, ‘Uh huh, sure…’  Then he pulled it off!  He lived out a self-fulfilling prophecy.  He increased his overall motivation by predicting something about his future.  Your prediction about yourself has to be made with conviction to have an impact on how you behave.  We often predict the negative with conviction; why not start predicting the positive with conviction?

 

It is not natural to think positively.  It’s important to remember things will very rarely be perfect all at the same time, so stop waiting for that day when all your ducks are in a row.  Start living positively (and with less anxiety) today.  It’s a choice.  If you make positive predictions for yourself, you will get there.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teen Anxiety…Are Our Teens Too Busy?

Being too busy is overwhelming and causes anxiety. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Being too busy is overwhelming and causes anxiety.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What do you do if your teenager seems generally overwhelmed?

These days the pressures on many high school students are off the charts.  The honors students are expected to maintain above a 4.0 GPA, a job, a sport and a social life.  They are told in order to get into college they will need incredible grades and SAT scores as well as a slew of extra-cirricular activities.  First of all, weighting a GPA on something beyond a four-point scale is a lot of pressure; you’re child might have straight-A’s and still not feel good about it because they only have one AP class.  I’ve heard some high school students tell me, “I’m not getting very good grades,” and they have a 3.6 GPA!
On top of all this most of the teenagers have phones with more capabilities than computers did five years ago.  They are constantly texting, emailing and posting on Facebook or Instagram.  While it is nice to stay in contact with friends, this is more noise in their lives.  More noise means more stress.
It is important to help your teenager understand the benefits of taking a day a week to be phone, homework, job, sports and stress-free.  Teach your teen how to enjoy reading a book or walking the dog.  Teach them the benefit of slowing down.  If all you teach them is to hurry up and get ahead they will never learn satisfaction with what they have.  As a result, they will always feel overwhelmed and like they’re underperforming.
If you want your teen to stop feeling so overwhelmed then you have to model what is important in life.  Get your priorities in order, which has to include time for fun and rest.  This will greatly impact your children in a positive manner by setting a good example.  Besides that, you will spend more quality time with them.  There is nothing better for a teen than that (even if they protest).
If you’ve gone “offline” recently, you know it is hard at first.  The first few hours, and maybe even the first few days feel like something is missing.  Being aware of this feeling will help you relate to your teenager when you tell them to go offline too.  They will feel disconnected and a little bit disoriented.  It’s not going to help if you tell them that you never had a cell phone growing up and you were fine.  Things WERE different back then.  Nowadays teenagers mostly make their plans through Snapchat, group chats and anything else to do with their personal phones.  When you have your teenager take a day off, they will be missing out.  It’s your job to help them understand it’s good for us to “miss out” sometimes.
Try not to overbook your child.  Our Southern California culture teaches teens to be extremely busy and involved.  While there is value in accomplishing things, there is also value in learning to be content and peaceful.  Keep yourself fresh and keep your children fresh- don’t have them doing 20 things that may or may not actually benefit them.  Keep perspective on when their grades are good enough.  Teach your children how to be content without being complacent.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

10 Tips for School-Related Anxiety

School causes so much anxiety for some teens. Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

School causes so much anxiety for some teens.
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

School causes a lot of anxiety.  There seem to be two areas where this is most true: socially and with grades.  For some teenagers school is so overwhelming that they can hardly handle it.  Towards the end of every vacation they start to feel intensely stressed and irritable.  It becomes difficult for your teen to remember they are at school to learn; they begin to think school is a place where they will be socially and academically scrutinized.  What follows are 10 tips that help reduce some of the nervous feelings.

1.  Study regularly over the course of the whole week before an exam.  Cramming causes more exhaustion and anxiety.
2.  Do not lose perspective, pray instead.  Just because someone says something rude about you does not make it true.  It also does not mean everyone else will believe it is true.  What God and your family think of you matter much, much more.
3.  Remember to breathe.  It is very helpful to take deep breaths when taking a test, or at any time when feeling anxiety.
4.  Talk to someone.  Letting a friend know when you don’t feel your best can sincerely give you relief.
5.  Choose wisely.  Your friends have a lot to do with how you feel.  Unlike your family, you can choose your friends.
6.  Get to know your teachers.  If you take the time to talk to them a little bit you will feel better in their classes.
7.  Watch the caffeine intake.  Drinking soda or coffee contributes a lot to feelings of nervousness.  It is better to get a little exercise.  That wakes you up too.
8.  Stretch.  If you are standing in the halls between classes lean back and stretch a little.  This usually feels good and is almost always calming.
9.  Smile.  If you struggle socially it is very likely you keep your head down and forget to smile.  Just by walking around with a smile more people will talk with you.
10.  Get enough sleep.  If you are not sleeping enough then it is a big challenge to maintain your poise when you need it.  You probably have to get up early for school so just go to bed sooner.
If you remember to employ these techniques you will feel a little better on your bad days.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

It’s Okay for Your Teen to be Introverted

Being an introvert is perfectly fine and normal. Photo credit: naypong via freedigitalphotos.net

Being an introvert is perfectly fine and normal.
Photo credit: naypong via freedigitalphotos.net

As a therapist who works with teens I get a wide array of calls.  These can range anywhere from concerns over a teen using drugs, to worries about grades dropping, to an adolescent asking mom or dad for help, but not telling them why.  One thing that parents sometimes bring up about their child, and teenagers often bring up about themselves, is a fear they aren’t social enough.

 

We live in a society that truly glorifies the person who has a lot of friends, and gets together with people in all their free time.  We admire a really popular, social extrovert.  We’re in awe of the person who can talk to anyone in a room.  We wish we didn’t have feelings of social awkwardness.  We imagine how much better our lives could be if we were an extroverted, life-of-the-party fun person.

 

If you imagine this about yourself, your teenager imagines it even more.  When they’re at school they notice who looks happy and who doesn’t.  Usually this is gauged by who is laughing, smiling and at ease around a good sized group of other teens.

 

There are many of us who don’t feel at ease in large groups though, and enjoy ourselves in quieter, smaller settings.  I should know, I am one of these people!  Because of this I feel it is really important to speak out on behalf of you teenagers who are naturally introverted.

 

How do you know you’re an introvert?  You may be okay with a lot of people and excitement…for a few hours…but then you need some quiet alone time to regroup.  You get your energy from being by yourself, or with a few close friends.  Extroverts are often bored when they’re alone, feel restless, and are energized by large groups of rowdy people; that’s your nightmare.

 

I have good news for those of you who are introverted.  There’s nothing wrong with you!  It’s completely fine to be someone who needs down time.  You live in a culture that is always on the go, values busyness, and thinks constant socializing is what it’s all about.  However, that is simply untrue.  Half of us out there need time to slow down, process what’s going on in our lives, think quietly, and just be alone for a few minutes (or hours).  There’s also nothing wrong with your peers who want to constantly socialize.  Being an extrovert isn’t bad either.  These are simply characteristics, like the color of your skin, eyes or hair.  You aren’t wrong for the way God made you.

 

If you’re a mom or a dad who is reading this, and this describes your teenager, then I hope you feel relief.  It’s another story if your teen is desperate to socialize more, but can’t because of anxiety, depression, or something else that’s going on.  That means they are really uncomfortable with themselves, and that’s a great time to seek out help.  However, if you’re just worried about the fact that your adolescent would rather spend Friday night reading a book or watching a movie at home than being out partying, but they seem fine in every other respect, stop worrying- that’s just who they are.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Major Depression in Teens

Teenage Depression often manifests as irritability. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teenage Depression often manifests as irritability.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Major Depressive Disorder is much more serious than people realize.  I often hear people come into my office complaining of “depression.”  While they might have some symptoms of depression, it is less common to meet the full diagnosis.

 

One thing that confuses parents is that depression looks different in teenagers than in adults.  It can still include all the classic symptoms such as a lot of crying, too much sleep or insomnia, not wanting to eat, less interest in activities, and a general feeling of hopelessness.  However, there are other symptoms that also mark depression in teenagers, which are easy to miss.  Teens do not necessarily have low energy.  What they will show instead is a lot of irritability.  The irritability will often be irrational.  They can snap quickly.  You might be thinking that teenagers can be moody anyhow.  This is true.  However, with depression, the moodiness is often coupled with hopelessness, a drop in grades, and social struggles.

 

If you notice your teen has become markedly more irritable, and it lasts for two weeks or more, it is time to have them evaluated. If your teen mentions wanting to die, or suicidal thoughts, do not wait two weeks for an evaluation.  Get them help right away.  While a lot of teenagers say these kinds of things to get attention, some of them are serious.  It’s too risky to assume they don’t mean it.  Please take suicidal statements seriously.

 

Depression can be mixed with anxiety too.  Many teens feel more nervous when they are depressed.  It makes sense.  The depressed moods lead to being more easily upset.  If things more easily upset your adolescent, then they are likely to be nervous about more situations.

 

What can you do to help?  Firstly, sit down with your teenager and have a heart to heart.  Find out if there is something bothering him or her that hasn’t been shared.  Be prepared to hear something you won’t like.  You might hear about a few mean kids at school, but you are just as likely to hear ways they are unhappy with you.  The worst thing you can do is discount your teen’s emotions and experiences.  Keep in mind that teenagers interpret situations differently than adults.  They still live in a very self-focused world.  If you’ve been more short-tempered than usual because of stress at the office, a teenager is likely to take it personally.  Remind them gently that not everything is about them.  Help them also remember that other kids at school have struggles, which can make them rude; it probably isn’t personal either.

 

Once you’ve had the heart to heart observe your teen for a couple days.  If they don’t seem to feel any better, check in with them again.  Offer to get them help.  You’d be surprised at how many want to talk to someone, but are afraid to ask.

 

Things to take home from this blog post:

1.  Depression is a difficult emotional disorder.

2.  Depression is real in teenagers, and not necessarily made-up for attention.

3.  Take any comments about suicide very seriously.

4.  Try and address your teen’s emotions, but don’t hesitate to get them help if they need it.

5.  Don’t assume you or your teenager is a failure if they experience depression.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

What are Panic Attacks?

Panic attacks are miserable and terrifying. The fear of having another can be disabling.

Panic attacks are miserable and terrifying. The fear of having another can be disabling.

Panic attacks are awful.  Ask anyone who has really experienced one, and they’ll tell you they thought they were dying.  People with panic attacks often go the the emergency room because it feels like a heart attack.  The fear and physical symptoms that overwhelm a person are very intense.

A lot of people say, “I’ve had a panic attack,” and they really mean they have felt very anxious.  Panic attacks go beyond “very anxious.”  They usually last up to ten minutes (and sometimes longer).  They build up very suddenly, and then they pass.

Some possible symptoms experienced during a panic attack are:

  • dizzy
  • choking
  • shortness of breath
  • tightness in the chest
  • nausea
  • sweating
  • headache
  • heart racing
  • pain
  • smothering
  • trembling
  • depersonalization
  • fear of dying

There are other symptoms people experience beyond this.

To overcome panic attacks usually professional help is needed.  In many cases a combination of medication and therapy are successful.

If you are a parent, and this is happening to your teen, make sure to get your child help.  Panic attacks are really awful for the person who has them.  Sometimes the fear of having a panic attack in public will lead someone to feel afraid of leaving the house.  It becomes easy to avoid situations where panic has occurred before.  In my practice I have seen teens who do not want to go to school, or certain friends’ houses because they have panicked there before.  Make sure to get your teen the necessary help if they are struggling with panic attacks so that it does not become debilitating.

 

I hope you’re weekend is peaceful and anxiety free,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

5 Tips for Managing Anxiety

Extreme anxiety is a miserable experience.

Extreme anxiety is a miserable experience.

Feeling anxious is horrible.  It is a sense of dread that is extremely unpleasant.  Some people get headaches, tight muscles or stomach aches along with it.  It’s that feeling before a big test, or a speech.  Some people feel this way all the time, even when they cannot pinpoint a reason, and consequently they live with emotional misery.  Does your teenager feeling this way?  Do you see them stress out over things that you wish they wouldn’t worry about?  If so, you know the heartbreak of watching your child feel completely wound up while you are helpless to comfort them.

 

Here are 5 tips to help with anxiety.  These will reduce anxiety, but not completely eliminate it.  By the way, completely eliminating anxiety should never be the goal.  Anxiety is a motivator.  Some of the adolescents who come into my therapy office have too much anxiety, but some have too little.  The ones who have too little are the kids whose parents cannot seem to find anything to motivate them.  These teens don’t care about grades, getting a job, getting into college, etc.  So, for those of you who have teens with too much anxiety, keep in mind that the goal is to restore them to an appropriate level, but not to completely fix it.

 

Try these ideas, and if they aren’t successful, it might be time to seek out professional help:

1. Be mindful.  This means becoming present in the moment.  Notice the things you see, hear, smell, taste and feel.  Pay attention to the small details.  Find something beautiful to focus on in your environment and enjoy it.  For me right now I can look outside my window and see a tree that has some new growth on it.  If I hadn’t been intentionally mindful, I wouldn’t have even noticed it.  Looking at the new growth on the tree took me out of my own concerns for a moment, thereby reducing anxiety.

2.  Talk to yourself about the truth.  Most of the things we worry about come out differently than we predict.  That’s because we think of the worst case and then focus on it.  The attention given to the worst case scenario makes it start to feel real.  The truth though, is that most things are relatively easy compared to how we predict they will go.  It is easy for a teen to assume they will fail a test.  However, chances are, if they’ve been paying attention in class and studying, they won’t fail; they might not get an A but they probably won’t get an F.

3.  Get some exercise.  Our brains release calming chemicals when we get a good work-out.  It’s hard to be stressed when your brain is releasing calming chemicals.  The time spent working out, and therefore away from the cause of the stress, is also very important.

4.  Get busy with a consuming task.  Anything that requires focused attention will take you out of your anxiety for awhile.  This could be reading a book, calling a friend, playing an instrument, etc.

5.  Recognize what you can control.  Think about what you can do about your situation, and then do it.  After that you have to understand that it is beyond your ability to control.  Let those parts go because they are going to happen however they happen.  Your teenager worrying about it does not change it at all.  For example, I worked with one girl who had trouble with insomnia.  It was an awful problem some nights, and then others it didn’t bother her at all.  She started coming to counseling because she began to spend the majority of her day anxious about whether or not she would sleep that night.  I asked her whether her worrying at 9 am had any impact on her falling asleep at 10 pm.  She said it didn’t.  While the technique of only thinking about what you can control didn’t completely solve her anxiety, it was one of the many techniques we employed to reduce it.

 

Anxiety is overwhelming and frustrating.  Show your anxious teenager empathy, and keep reminding them to be mindful, tell themselves the truth, get some exercise, find something consuming to do, and recognize what they can control.  You will probably have to say this to them several times, but it should be helpful.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Social Anxiety

Social anxiety can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression. Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Social anxiety can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression.
Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Social anxiety is a struggle for teens.  They are often worried about what their friends think, and get nervous about social interactions.  It causes stress and depressed moods.  Learning to negotiate middle school and high school social politics is difficult for the most confident of adolescents.  For the socially anxious teen, it’s nearly impossible.  This is the teenager who desperately wants friends and to be part of things, but is too scared to make it happen.

True social anxiety is something different than just feeling nervous in social situations.  This is when a person cannot bring themselves to talk readily in front of peers.  People who suffer from social anxiety often do not have many friends.  They fear saying the wrong thing each time they talk.  When they have had a conversation, it is replayed in their minds over and over to look for mistakes.  Other people’s reactions to conversation are misconstrued.  A person might laugh at something funny that was said, but someone with social anxiety will believe the laughter is directed at them.  Dating is impossible.  Often someone with social anxiety will speak inaudibly when they do talk.  Social situations with peers are terrifying.  Developmentally this is problematic.

Fortunately there is help for social anxiety.  Through the process of counseling someone suffering from social anxiety can learn to manage their nervous feelings.  As they have successful interactions with peers, they are able to gain a little bit of confidence. Slowly they learn that others are indeed interested in what they have to say.  The advent of social media has made overcoming social anxiety a bit easier.  It is a safer place to start than in direct conversation.  This allows the person suffering from social anxiety to think carefully before communicating with a peer.  When they get a response, it is a positively reinforcing experience.

If you think your teen is suffering from social anxiety, please get them help.  Future success in relationships and their career depends on their ability to function in social settings.  A lot of what is learned in middle and high school is how to navigate a social world.  In fact, this is one of the most important lessons taken from school.  It is something every person who joins the workplace needs.  Not everyone will remember details about The Revolutionary War, or The Pythagorean Theorem, but they do use communication skills the rest of their life.

 

One thing you can do at home to help a socially anxious teen is to have them start answering the phone whenever it rings.  A lot of us no longer have home phones, but you can still have your teen answer your phone.  Even those brief interactions increase confidence.  When you’re at the grocery store, send your socially anxious teen up to an employee to ask where something is.  Make them order for the family at a restaurant.  Gently, gently push your teen to do more talking.  When they get the small talk down with strangers, start the discussion about how to apply it to their peers.

 

Dealing with social anxiety is a huge challenge.  Be patient and love your teenager through what can feel like crushing fear.  Stay positive and remind them that you believe they can overcome their struggles.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Too Much Busy

Down time makes stronger families and happier teens. Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Down time makes stronger families and happier teens.
Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Around here, in Orange County, it is a normal thing to keep kids very busy.  We enroll our kids in all sorts of extra-curricular activities.  They play one, two or even three different sports.  They might be part of Girl or Boy Scouts.  They attend church related activities.  The kids also have a Disneyland Pass, spend time with friends, and are encouraged to take the most difficult classes possible.  The pressure related to school is all about getting into the best college, and sometimes this pressure starts in middle school.

 

While some kids thrive on this, for others it adds a lot of stress.  Even though most of the above-listed activities are fun (except school), too much is still stressful.  It is really, really important for you to teach your kids how to manage stress.  You have to show them that saying no even to good things is important for your mental health.  We need down time (media-free downtime).

 

If you’d like to see your teen have less anxiety, consider taking one day a week and resting.  Turn off the electronics, don’t go anywhere with a schedule, and slow down.  At first you will get a lot of resistance like, “I can’t have my phone off.  Someone might text me about homework.”  Don’t buy into that.  Everyone needs to learn how to manage their time and when they can be contacted.  Eventually your teen will learn a positive coping skill (how to rest) that will remain invaluable for the rest of their life.

 

This starts with you.  You’re the one who has to lead by example.  You’re the one who has to turn off the TV during dinner and say no when your sister calls to see if you can go shopping.  Teens are starting to formulate their own values and opinions, but they’re still heavily influenced by you.  I know this is hard.  I completely agree.  It’s really hard for me too and I’m the one preaching it!

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Agoraphobia Part 1

Panic in teens can lead to debilitating agoraphobia. Photo Credit: freedigitalphotos.net/stuart miles

Panic in teens can lead to debilitating agoraphobia.
Photo Credit: freedigitalphotos.net/stuart miles

Agoraphobia in adolescents is difficult.  Agoraphobia in teens often looks like fear of leaving comfortable places.  These teens can suffer immensely.  Their anxiety is very high, even when they realize it’s not logical.  It becomes a challenge to go anywhere new, and sometimes becomes so extreme that your teen won’t leave the home.

 

This blog post is part 1 of a few blogs on agoraphobia in teens, and what can be done to help them.

 

What is agoraphobia?

Technically it means “fear of the marketplace.”  It is often accompanied by panic attacks, but not always.  The way it looks is your teenager experiences very high anxiety in either crowded places, or unfamiliar places.  There can be a fear of danger, a fear of being unable to escape, or a fear of experiencing a panic attack out in public.

 

When agoraphobia is combined with panic, it usually starts with panic attacks.  A person has a panic attack, which is an incredibly miserable experience.  Panic attacks can so closely resemble the feelings of a heart attack that many, many people go to emergency rooms each year thinking they are having heart trouble, but it ends up being a panic attack.  A person goes out in public somewhere, such as at the mall, and has a panic attack.  They avoid ever going back to that mall because there is now a negative association formed.  This happens in multiple places until the thought of going out anywhere produces anxiety.

 

The result of agoraphobia is an ever shrinking world.  Your teenager is willing to go out less and less, only with certain people, and to fewer and fewer places.  Eventually your teenager might not go out at all.  They might start to feel depressed because they just can’t bring themselves to do the things they used to.  They might even ask you about homeschooling and quitting their extra-curricular activities.  The relief of knowing they could be at home, where panic either doesn’t occur or is at least in a comfortable place, causes your teen to stop the things they used to do.

 

Oftentimes treatment for agoraphobia means having to find a therapist who will come into the home.  This can be an enormous challenge.  Most counselors are unwilling to do this because it can be unsafe, and is very time-consuming.

 

Thankfully, since technology has come a long way, teenagers with agoraphobia have an option.  Online counseling with teenagers is very effective for helping teenagers work through anxiety disorders.  Teens with panic disorder, and with agoraphobia are able to meet the therapist in the home through videoconferencing counseling sessions.

 

If you think your teen is struggling with agoraphobia, give us a call.  As long as you live anywhere in the state of California, we are able to work with you on helping your teen get his or her life back.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

How is OCD Usually Treated?

Anxiety Related to OCD can be very frustrating for you teen. Photo courtesy of Marin from Freedigitalphotos.net

Anxiety Related to OCD can be very frustrating for your teen.
Photo courtesy of Marin from Freedigitalphotos.net

For parents who worry their teen might have OCD, it has been stressful.  You’re feeling helpless as you see your teenager engage in obsessive thoughts and behaviors that seem ridiculous to you.  You might have responded in anger, yelling at them for wanting to fold all their clothes perfectly.  You might have tried gently to talk them out of their illogical thoughts that someone will die if they don’t leave the house right at 7:07 for school.  You may have gotten fed up enough to start working around their compulsive behavior, making sure there are exactly six bites of vegetables on their dinner plate.  Whatever the case, it has broken your heart to see your child controlled by obsessions and compulsions.  It has also caused enormous aggravation to the whole family.  Even your teenager knows it’s ridiculous, but they just can’t stop.

 

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder that has a fairly straight-forward treatment protocol.  There are some basic steps that are followed.  Normally the treatment team includes both a psychiatrist for medication, and a therapist for cognitive-behavioral therapy.

 

First, the OCD has to be defined.  This means that the person suffering with OCD works with the therapist to find out which obsessions lead to which compulsions.  For example, a person might be obsessed with the stove being left on.  The compulsion is then to check if the stove is left on several times before leaving the home.  The therapist also helps clarify what the person is really afraid of.  This person might be afraid that their house will burn down, which represents a loss of control.  The deep underlying fear is a loss of control.

 

The person suffering with OCD then goes to meet with the psychiatrist.  They explain to the psychiatrist how the OCD is manifested, and the psychiatrist prescribes medication accordingly.  Psychiatric medication is extremely effective with OCD.  The combination of medication and therapy are found to be even more helpful.  Most of these medications take 4-6 weeks to take full effect.

 

As the medication is building up in the person’s system, the therapist and client work together to confront the anxiety that is playing a role in OCD.  This is normally done through a process called “exposure and response prevention.”  For the person who really wants to check if their stove is off 6 times, they might start by only checking 5 times.  Not checking that last time will give them a strong feeling of discomfort.  With the counselor they learn to tolerate the discomfort and talk themselves out of it.  Eventually the discomfort passes.  They would probably then move on to checking the stove 3 times, 1 time and then not at all.  In the meanwhile, a lot of work will be done in therapy to address the fear of losing control.  The person will learn to ask themselves, “So what if my house does burn down?  Will I be able to handle it?”  The answer is that although the house burning down would be extremely stressful, it could be handled.

 

For someone with an obsession with germs and a compulsion to hand-wash, exposure and response prevention would work similarly.  This person would be encouraged to touch things they see as “contaminated” in the counseling office.  They would be asked to leave it on their hands until the anxiety passed.  Then, if it is appropriate, it would be okay to wash their hands.  Sometimes things seen as contaminated don’t really require hand-washing, such as touching a door-knob.  In this case, the person would be asked to refrain from washing their hands until a more appropriate time.

 

This process is done somewhat slowly.  Someone with OCD cannot jump right to the finish-line.  They cannot fear germs and then immediately put their hands in mud and not wash their hands.  Every step is worked up to at a pace that is both slightly challenging and yet tolerable.

 

OCD is hard on everyone in the house.  It causes you stress, your teenager stress, and is frustrating all around.  The good news is that OCD is treatable!

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teen Sleep and Electronics

Too much screen time leads to exhausted teens. Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Too much screen time leads to exhausted teens.
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

As you’ve probably already suspected, if your teenager is on a tablet, smartphone, game console, watching TV, etc., they are not sleeping as much.

 

There are several suspected reasons for this.  Here’s a short article explaining a recent study that proved this to be true: http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/screen-time-means-sleep-teens-doctors-find-article-1.2101998

 

I’d like to add one theory to the reason teens who use electronics for at least a few hours per day are not sleeping enough.  I believe they are substantially more sedentary than generations past.  Movement and activity makes you more physically tired, which makes it easier to sleep.

 

So, parents now you have an excuse to police your children’s use of electronics.  It’s truly unhealthy for them to use electronics for more than a couple hours per day.  If your adolescent sleeps about 9 hours, they will have better immunity, learn more easily, are less prone to depression, will be nicer to you, have more friends, and have more energy.  Maybe this is why so many parents tell me their teen became much nicer after being grounded from their phone for a couple days.

 

Anyhow, I’m not against electronics.  I use a smart phone, I’m typing this blog on a laptop, and I watch TV sometimes.  However, like all things, moderation is key.  Your teens needs to sleep about 9 hours per night.  Do you think they could sleep more if they didn’t use their phones as much?  I bet you’re right.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

A Tool for Test Anxiety

Test anxiety can make a person miserable. Photo Credit: nenetus via freedigitalphotos.net

Test anxiety can make a person miserable.
Photo Credit: nenetus via freedigitalphotos.net

We’re starting to get into the season of AP and IB tests, so I thought you might appreciate a quick and easy tool for test taking.

 

I have several clients who do very well in school, but feel like they blank out on tests.  This affects their confidence and even their relationships at school.

 

A really simple tool is called “priming.”  This is a phenomenon psychologists use to influence how someone does on something in the immediate future.  Let’s have you try it out in order to understand how it’s done.

 

Step 1: Get out a pen and paper.

Step 2: Set a timer for 60 seconds.

Step 3: For the next 60 seconds write down as many words as you can think of to describe a Harvard professor.  Don’t overthink this.  Just write down ANYTHING that comes to mind.  If you immediately think of glasses and tweed coats, then write those down.  If you think of the word, ‘smart,’ then write that down.  Just let your mind free-flow.

Step 4: Attempt an intellectually difficult task such as a math problem.

 

The point of priming is that when we think of words and images related to what we’re about to do, we do better or worse based on how we think.  If I had you imagined a high school drop-out instead of a Harvard professor, you would have performed worse on the task instead of better.  This phenomenon has been repeated in psychological experiments many times.  It has worked well for my clients with test anxiety too.  Here’s how:  Instead of immediately beginning their exam in school, they take the first 60 seconds and prime with the Harvard professor example.  They have told me they performed about 10% higher on their test than expected.

 

Also, if you’re nervous before a sporting event, you can do a priming exercise imagining a top notch athlete.  If you swim and you imagine Michael Phelps and write down descriptors of his abilities before your race, you will probably go a bit faster.

 

Anxiety is a hard thing.  When you have test anxiety it can make school miserable.  It can bleed over into your friendships and even how you get along with your parents.  It’s awful.  Hopefully this little tool will help you relax and perform at your best.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

An Anxiety Management Tool

Anxiety can make a teen miserable. Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Anxiety can make a teen miserable.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teenagers, you know that anxiety is awful.  You know how terrible it feels when you worry about what a friend thinks of you, or whether you’re going to get in trouble with your parents for something you did last week.  Sitting, waiting, hoping for the best but dreading the worst is a really uncomfortable feeling!

 

Sometimes our anxieties (or worries) are realistic.  We know we’re terrible at Spanish, and we’re having a lot of anxiety about taking the next Spanish test.  Or, we know we did something really stupid at the part Saturday night and we’re dreading our return to school on Monday.  This kind of anxiety is realistic and common to the whole human race.

 

For some of us though, anxiety starts to pervade our thoughts.  It becomes this ugly overwhelming emotion that is hard to control.  It is often based on things that aren’t very likely.  Here are some examples of things I’ve heard teenagers tell me they’ve worried about, but know they shouldn’t worry about: 1) “I’m going to get cancer.” 2) “Everyone in the classroom will stare at me and think I’m an idiot if I raise my hand in class.” 3) “I’m going to fail my test.” 4) “No college will accept me.” 5) “My parents are secretly disappointed in me.” 6) “What if there’s a school shooter?” The list goes on an on.  The things people worry about come in all shapes and sizes.

 

Something I’ve found helpful in the past, and you might like too, is the acronym F.E.A.R.  It stands for False Evidence Appearing Real.  This is really what gives us anxiety, or fear about a situation.  We think there’s evidence proving what we worry about will actually happen.  It makes us feel scared and nervous.  Most of the time the situation turns out just fine because the evidence we used to support our fear was actually false.

 

Here’s an example.  I once worked with a very bright client who was terrified of giving another class presentation.  He felt completely certain all the other students were judging him and secretly laughing at him.  When asked to provide evidence that supports his theory, he told me that everyone was looking at him.  That’s a great example of false evidence appearing real.  Everyone was looking at him, he was right about that!  Where he was wrong is the reason everyone was looking at him.  They were starting at him because he was in front of the class talking.  Once he realized everyone started at each presenter, and stared at the teacher when she was talking, he recognized he had fallen prey to F.E.A.R.

 

Of course this tool isn’t strong enough to completely overcome all your anxieties.  However, it is one example of the kinds of things we think about and work on to cope with adolescent anxiety in therapy.  When you realize that many of the things you worry about aren’t totally true, it can sometimes be helpful.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

5 Keys to Happiness

Positive thinking improves your whole life. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Positive thinking improves your whole life.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Happiness feels like an elusive emotion sometimes.  If you’re reading blogs on this site, it probably means either you or someone you love deeply is struggling to find happiness.  I’ve been there too.  It really hurts.  It can be such a struggle to find more than just fleeting enjoyment.

 

We look to things like a new outfit, the latest video game, a trip to a theme park, or something good to eat.  We know these things are associated with pleasure.  For a few minutes, and maybe a few hours if we’re lucky, we feel happy.  These things keep us coming back.  Ultimately though, they wind up empty.

 

Here are 5 things that contribute to more lasting happiness.

 

1.  Actively demonstrating gratitude.  There are most certainly people in your life that you rely on.  Whether it’s that weekly call with your mom you use to vent, or your assistant at work who schedules your meetings.  If you’re a teenager, then it’s that one teacher who always actually listens, or your friend at school who sits next to you at lunch each day without fail.  Try your best to visibly thank someone each day.  Send a text, an email, write a note, etc.  If you just do this once a day you will truly increase your happiness.

 

2.  Control your thoughts.  It’s really easy to think nobody cares about you.  It’s easy to think you’re not as smart as the next person, or that you will never amount to anything much.  It’s harder to remind yourself of why these thoughts are simply untrue.  Happy people work hard to fight their negative thoughts.  The first step is to recognize them.  The second step is to honestly test them.  The third step is to reshape them.  If you think nobody cares about you, you need to test this theory.  You don’t need to actively do anything, you just need to look back at the last 24 hours.  Did anyone say hello to you, hug you, smile at you, give you a ride somewhere, send you a message, etc?  If even one person did any of those things, then you need to reshape your thought to something more positive.  You might change it to something like, ‘At least one person cares about me.’

 

3. Get in the habit of smiling.  People wait for someone to smile at them first.  If you’re both doing this, nobody ends up smiling.  Smile first.  It might feel awkward, but you get incredible results.  If you smile more, others interpret you as more friendly.  They want to be around you more.  You end up happier.  Also, the muscles we use to smile are linked to the “happiness center” in our brain.  When you smile your brain automatically feels happier.

 

4.  Exercise.  People who do some sort of daily exercise are happier.

 

5.  Prayer or meditation.  5 minutes a day is not much time.  If you stop for 5 minutes and slow down your mind, you will gain hours of a better mood.  Better moods equal increased productivity.  Increased productivity equals a feeling of accomplishment, which is linked to happiness.

 

Most, if not all, of these tips are things you’ve heard and read before.  What’s keeping you from actually putting them into practice?  It probably takes 1 week of actively doing these things to increase your overall happiness.  Happiness is the result of habits, not the result of luck.  This means it’s something you make.  As humans our natural state is one of complaint, irritation, and frustration.  This can be overcome, but you have to work at it.  You can do it!  Use that positive thinking to tell yourself you can!

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Overwhelmed Teen? Trim the Fat

Overwhelmed teens might be too busy. Photo Credit: nenetus via freedigitalphotos.net

Overwhelmed teens might be too busy.
Photo Credit: nenetus via freedigitalphotos.net

What does that mean- trim the fat?  I’m not talking about diet.  I’m talking about our pension to overschedule our teens.  We seem to think everything is important.  We’re all worried about building their resume so they can look good to colleges.  We love our kids and we want to give them the opportunity to build a good future.

 

What if we spend so much time making sure the chance to succeed exists that we forget to teach our teenagers what to actually do with the opportunity?  What if they get to the college of their (or maybe your) dreams but then they aren’t mature enough to make the most of their education?

 

Teens need to learn some very essential skills growing up.  They need to learn how to function in a working environment (usually accomplished through school and first jobs).  We are really good at focusing on that.  However, there is a lot more to being a successful adult than just knowing how to get a good job.  Your adolescent has to also learn how to take care of himself physically, emotionally, spiritually and relationally.  It’s important to have a child who knows how to make good food and exercise choices.  It’s important to teach your child how to cope with challenging emotional situations.  It’s important for your teen to have a relationship with their faith.  It’s also important for your child to know how to build and maintain friendships.

 

If you find your teenager is feeling overwhelmed all the time, it’s time to get back to basics.  Chances are there is too much emphasis on developing one area of their person.  Perhaps they are playing a high level of sports that requires 20+ hours per week of their time.  Unless your child is going pro (and they most likely aren’t), that’s excessive.  That’s too much emphasis on one thing.  Or, maybe your teenager is overwhelmed because they have 5 AP classes.  That’s also too much emphasis on one area.  Balance in life coupled with knowing how to achieve goals is ideal.

 

I know one young man who placed all his emphasis on developing the ability to work.  He took multiple AP classes and went to USC.  That’s quite an accomplishment.  However, when he got there he had never really worked on how to take care of himself in the other areas of life.  He didn’t know how to relate to people without succumbing to peer pressure because he’d never really worked on relational development.  He partied in college but didn’t know how to handle it; he failed out.  He ended up at community college and living at home.  He spent the next two years catching up on maturing in the other areas of life.  He then transferred to LMU, graduated and got a good job.  He ended up fine, but he had a massive struggle because he worked too hard on one area of life throughout his adolescence.

 

So, if you find your teen is consistently overwhelmed, take a look at the balance in their life.  See whether they might be working too much at one thing and neglecting another.  Help them establish goals to be a whole person instead of just one dimensional.  Once this is accomplished, check in with them again.  Hopefully that helps, but if they continue to be overwhelmed all the time, then it’s time to contact a counselor because they probably would benefit from therapy.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Some Thoughts on Teen Alcoholism

Teenage alcoholism does exist, and is a real problem. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Teenage alcoholism does exist, and is a real problem.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

When we think “alcoholic,” we really don’t picture teenagers.  We think they’re too young to have developed a dependency on alcohol.  We assume it’s not really that easy for them to get ahold of alcohol, so how could they have a need to drink on a daily basis?

 

Most of the time teenagers are not daily drinkers, if they drink at all.  If they do have alcohol with their friends, they’re occasional party-situation drinkers.  Still, if you ask your teenager, they can all name one or two other teenagers who has a reputation for “always” being drunk.

 

These are the teens I worry about as a therapist.  These are the teens who come back to school each Monday and tell everyone else about how they were “so f***ed up this weekend” that they can’t remember anything.  They don’t realize this is blackout drinking.  Blackout drinking has a very, very high correlation with future alcoholism.

 

These are the adolescents who don’t know how to stop.  Every single time they drink the only thing that stops them is their body.  They either start vomiting, or they pass out.  Otherwise they are continuing to take shots, sip a beer, or have a some sort of mixed drink.

 

The teenagers who often develop alcoholism are the ones who don’t know how to be at a social gathering without alcohol.  If they go bowling with friends, they bring a flask so everyone can take shots.  If they go to a school dance, they mix rum in their cokes at the restaurant before the dance.  They also know where the after party will be held.  They are completely convinced they are just being social, but they are actually developing a frightening alcohol dependency.

 

Most people who becomes daily drinkers start with binge drinking weekends while they are teenagers.  They get so they binge drink every weekend.  Eventually they look for a “kickback” or party during the week from time to time.  Before they realize it, they might steal just a few sips of mom and dad’s alcohol to relax at the end of a hard day.  Eventually they are drinking daily.

 

Teenagers can be completely dependent on alcohol.  They can have physical withdrawals just like an adult can.  They can be addicted enough to need a physical detox under the supervision of a medical doctor.  They can need rehab for alcoholism just like an adult.

 

It’s really important to keep an eye on your teenager.  If you notice they want to party all the time, and seem restless when there isn’t a party, it’s reasonable to worry a little bit.  If all the friends surrounding them use alcohol, and have a cavalier attitude about it, it’s another reason to be concerned.  Be careful not to look the other way and just assume teenagers party.  It’s true, they do.  However, most of them that do party really only use alcohol once a month or so.  Even then, those that do rarely drink to the point where they are throwing up or passing out.  That tends to be reserved for the adolescents who are at high risk of addiction.

 

If this describes your child, I imagine you must feel very scared.  It seems like all your efforts to control their behavior are fruitless.  It is really overwhelming.  Oftentimes this is the point at which getting professional help for your teen (if they will cooperate) and for yourself (especially if your teenager doesn’t comply with treatment) can be really important.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Homework Tips and Tricks to Reduce Teen Stress

Academics overwhelm every teenager at some point. Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Academics overwhelm every teenager at some point.
Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Hi Teenagers,

 

This post is for you.

 

Are you completely burned out and sick of forever doing homework?  Does it seem like a never-ending pile of pointless worksheets, essays, math problems, projects and labs?  How I remember those days!  Sometimes I would have so much homework that I would spend an entire Sunday just trying to catch up.  On really, really bad days I remember staying up until I crashed, and then waking myself up at 3 or 4am to work on it again before going to school.  Yuck!

 

The good news is if you work hard now, it pays dividends later.  Once you finish school and have a job, you generally get to do your work at work.  Home is for just being home.  This isn’t always true as there are lots of jobs that require some extra stuff to be done at home, but for the most part you won’t have homework anymore.

 

However, being that you’re probably at least a few years of high school and several years of college away from no more homework, let’s talk about some things you can do now to ease the burden.  This information was given to me by a friend who tutors AP Physics students, and teaches at the high school level.

 

1. Take the appropriate classes:  Challenge yourself and do your best.  You don’t have to take every possibly AP class that’s ever been offered though.  Even if you’re trying to get into a top notch university, that doesn’t guarantee your future success.  What college you attend doesn’t actually mean very much even 3 years out of school.  Don’t over-focus on this.  What is important is how well you do at whatever college you do attend.  You will need to get to know the professors, and collaborate with one or two of them on projects and studies.  This makes you a stand-out whether you attend San Diego State or Harvard.  So, for now, take classes that get you where you want to go, but stop there.  Know your limits.  There is more to life than just academic success.

 

2. Work while your working:  Part of the reason adults don’t have homework is because they work while they’re at work.  When you sit down to do homework, focus on getting your work done.  If you don’t allow your mind to wander, phone to distract you, or TV to entertain you, you really do get things done A LOT faster.  You can probably read a page out of your history book each minute or two if you are really reading it.  Also, you will absorb more of it so you won’t have to study as hard later.

 

3. Work smarter:  So many students don’t know how to study efficiently.  It’s important to study what you don’t know, and just browse over what you do know.  Skim read when you can, and read in depth when you need to.

 

4.  Study regularly:  Cramming doesn’t work.  It also inhibits your sleep.  You perform better if you’re well rested.

 

From the perspective of a therapist, following my friend’s advice can really help you reduce your stress.  I want nothing more than for you to live a life you can enjoy, while still learning how to work hard.  I want to see you mature into an adult who can withstand some pressure, but doesn’t create extra pressure because of bad work habits.  School is an opportunity to learn how to work smart, and manage stress.  It doesn’t teach you these things if it becomes too overwhelming though.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Why do teenagers cut themselves?

Cutting can be a sign of depression. Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Cutting can be a sign of depression.

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Cutting seems like a somewhat recent phenomenon.  It’s been around for a long time, but it has grown in notoriety and popularity.  The majority of teenagers I work with who have tried cutting mostly did so because a friend told them about it.  They wanted to try and see if it was a helpful way to cope with emotional pain.  Most find that it isn’t, and do not continue to cut.

 

The teens who cut more seriously and regularly are much more concerning.  When I see a teenager in my office who cuts frequently and/or deeply, I worry.  I immediately begin the discussion of having the teenager see a psychiatrist for an evaluation.  This is not cutting for attention as much as a deep emotional disturbance.  Oftentimes medications are needed in these situations.

 

Teens cut in a variety of places.  The most common location is the inner forearm of their non-writing hand.  So, if they write with their right hand, the cuts are on the soft side of their left forearm.  Other common locations are the inner thighs, and the stomach.  Cutting on the thighs and stomach is done to avoid detection.  Often teenagers who cut on their arm want to be found out.  This is particularly true if they cut and then wear short sleeves.

 

Why do teens do this?  There are of course a variety of reasons.  Cutting is not a one size fits all venture.  However, the best explanation I’ve ever heard was by Richard Bautzer, MFT.  He told me he believes teens cut so they can control their pain.  You would naturally ask, “Why would they inflict more pain on themselves as a way to control pain?”  This is because there is some emotional stressor that feels uncontrollable to the teenager.  This stressor really could be anything.  An example might be parents going through a divorce.

 

Cutting to control pain works like this: A teen can control when they cut, for how long, with what device, and how deeply.  This is untrue of emotional pain.  For an adolescent, emotional pain often seems random and unmanageable.

 

What do you need to take away from this discussion as a parent?  The most important thing is that cutting is serious.  If your teen is self-injuring then they might be suicidal.  Self-harm, whether done for attention or something deeper, is abnormal.  Your teenager needs an evaluation by a professional.  Call a therapist, school counselor, pediatrician or psychiatrist.  Whatever you do, call someone.  Do not assume this is something you should or can handle on your own.

 

A final thought for parents who have children that self-harm: It is terrifying.  I realize that finding out your child, whom you love more than words can ever express, wants to inflict pain on him or herself is one of the scariest things you’ve dealt with.  Don’t hide this from everyone because you feel ashamed.  Talk to one or two close, trusted people so you can have support.  You have to make sure you’re not spending a lot of energy and time blaming yourself.  Instead direct that energy toward finding a solution.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

The Christmas Season

I hope your Christmas is relaxed this year. Image courtesy of cuteimage at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I hope your Christmas is relaxed this year.
Image courtesy of cuteimage at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I can’t believe it’s already the Christmas Season again! People have trees and lights up, and the radio stations are playing Christmas songs. My initial gut reaction this year was one that a lot of people feel, which is to be stressed because now I have to buy gifts. I don’t mind giving gifts, but sometimes finding the time to shop is a challenge. When it is rushed it can end up being a joyless experience.

Yesterday it hit me though that I was looking at the Christmas Season all wrong. Christmas exists because it celebrates the birth of Jesus. For those who do not celebrate the religious aspects of Christmas, it is still a time to focus on love and joy. It is no longer causing me stress because I know I will spend time with people I love, enjoy a peppermint hot chocolate, attend church, and decorate the house.

When you experience anxiety/stress about something like the Holiday Season, you will find a lot more joy if you direct your energy toward the positive aspects. There are pros and cons to most things we do, but we can live more peacefully if we try and see the pros.

 

Getting your kids to do this can be really challenging!  Some of them very naturally get excited about Christmas, and are a complete joy to be around for the month of December.  However, some of you parents have teens who have a truly rotten attitude this time of year.  They feel pretty convinced their social calendar is going to be hurt by so much time with family.

 

Remember that you have the final say.  Your teenagers often believe the friends they have now matter more than anything.  You know from experience though that family memories remain stronger when you look back as an adult.  Your teens will be off to new adventures in a couple years, and they will be close with a whole new group of people.  They will still stay connected with family though.

 

Work to help your family value traditions that bring your family closer together.  Make it fun!  If you have a teenager who loves to give, let them help you pick gifts for everyone.  If you have a teen who likes to eat good food (that’s most of them), let them help you prep and bake this year.  Do things together and be very pleasant.  It’s not the time to pick on them, but to just enjoy their company.

 

I hope your Christmas is blessed this year.  I pray you feel close with family, and are relaxed through the month of December.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Anxiety and the Holidays

Don't let Christmas stress you out, it hurts your relationships with your kids. Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Don’t let Christmas stress you out, it hurts your relationships with your kids.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

We stress ourselves out around the Holidays.  You’d think people would be excited for the Christmas Season.  It is meant to be a celebration of Jesus’ birth, and then hopes for the New Year.  However, I keep hearing people talk about feeling overwhelmed by Christmas.

 

The combination of buying just the right gift, attending multiple parties, and having kids out of school can make parents feel tense.  The unfortunate part is that when parents feel tense they tend to have more arguments with their teens.  This is a recipe for disappointing holidays.

 

Be very attentive to your mood this time of year.  Consider whether your teenager is grumpy or if it’s you.  It is probably a combination of both.  Make sure to keep yourself focused on the point of Christmas.  Be especially kind to your children.  It is much, much more important that you spend time with them and make good memories than buy them the latest gadget.  In the short run they would want the newest phone, ipad, etc., but in the long run it is better for them to learn to be content with what they have, and to enjoy time with you.

 

You will greatly reduce your own stress if you avoid getting caught up in the commercialization of Christmas.  Put on some good music, eat a nice meal, and laugh with your family.  For some of you this seems impossible because family relations aren’t great.  Try not to dwell on what you lack, but instead focus on the ways you can connect with family.  Play a game, watch a movie, take a walk and look at Christmas lights, or just have a cup of hot cocoa.  Even if you have to keep it light, remember that it takes two to argue.

 

Don’t buy every aunt, uncle, cousin, friend, co-worker and neighbor a Christmas gift.  It is truly okay to let people know you’re keeping it within the close family this year.  Honestly, how many people really want another candle or bag of potpourri?  There are lots of ways to acknowledge that people mean something to you without buying them something.  Keeping this in the forefront of your mind will keep that holiday stress in check.

 

Have an enjoyable, love-filled Christmas season,

Lauren Goodman

Helping Teens Cope with Academic School Stress

Academics overwhelm every teenager at some point. Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Academics overwhelm every teenager at some point.
Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One thing all adolescents have in common is that at some point or another school stresses them out.  They are given an assignment that really stretches them, or have to make a certain grade on a final exam to get a passing grade in a class.  Every kid runs up against a class where they don’t understand the material and feels completely lost.  Middle school and high school can be a huge challenge for your kids.

 

Here are 5 tips to help your teenager cope with school stress:

  1. Help them keep the big picture in mind.  A high school grade or class doesn’t in any way define who they are as a person.  The effort they make, and the ability to cope with challenges does define them.  That’s where your focus needs to be as a parent.
  2. Give them guidance on how to seek out the help they need.  As your teenager gets older and older, you should do less and less of the actual calling/emailing teachers and tutors for them.  Help them find the information they need to seek out help, but get them to do it themselves because that also builds character.
  3. Help them learn to break problems into small pieces.  If your teen is given a 10 page research paper, then it’s your job to help them learn to break it down.  Help them make a check-list of steps that get the paper done.  Kids who learn to patiently outline papers, research carefully, write a draft, edit their draft, and then turn in their papers get better grades.  They also learn huge life skills about time management and planning.
  4. Help your teenagers learn to pace themselves slowly.  A teen who studies consistently for a couple hours per day is a better student than one who studies in spurts.  It’s hard for teens to learn that there are days when they have no homework assignments, but they should still be working on school.  If they take the time to work when there’s no work assigned, then they can stay ahead a little bit.  This reduces future stress.
  5. Learn to study in groups.  It makes it more fun, and it makes it easier to stick with it for longer.  If your child is stressed about how to handle a difficult class, one of the best things they can do is get together with a few of their friends who also have the class.  Different students understand different parts of the material.  If they work together they can help each other learn.

 

The bottom line is that school is overwhelming sometimes.  It gets to every student from the 2.0 student to the 4.0 student.  One of the best things you can do is to help your adolescent have a strategy.  Recognize that teenagers aren’t always great at carrying out their strategies, so you will have to gently help them stay on track.  It’s also important for you to recognize the limits of your child’s abilities.  If your teen is working as hard as they can and getting a 2.5 GPA, then don’t push them to be a 3.5 student; they will start to feel like you are never satisfied with them.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Help for school anxiety

Dreading school can make life miserable for a teenager. Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Dreading school can make life miserable for a teenager.
Image courtesy of luigi diamanti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For some teenagers, school is exciting.  They cannot wait to see friends, and really don’t even mind being in class.  If you’re reading this though, that is probably not your kid.

 

For a lot of adolescents, Monday is the worst day of the week.  Going to school is terrifying.  This can be for different reasons.  For some kids the pressure of homework, tests, and getting up early is overwhelming.  For most teenagers though, the anxiety associated with school is social.  It is hard for some teens to imagine that anyone will be excited to see them.  All they can picture is either being teased, or being ignored as the other kids excitedly greet one another.

 

As a parent who loves your kid, and most likely thinks the world of your kid, what do you do?  When you see their heart breaking because they just don’t feel comfortable or confident, it breaks your heart too.  We all revert to one of two attempts to help our children.

 

The first thing you might be doing is trying to solve it.  You might be telling your child how to make more friends (or how to offend less people depending on your perspective).  You might say things like, “Just walk in smiling.  That always makes a person more attractive to others.”  You might offer to let your kid have a party, or you might buy your teen the latest clothing trends.  Realistically though, are you making a huge impact in this way?  Your children’s feelings on the inside won’t have changed much, and this reflects outwardly to the other students.

 

The second approach might be to diminish your teenager’s concerns.  You might tell them things like, “I bet more people like you than you think.”  You might also tell them they are imagining it, etc.  Here you are near the right track, although not quite on it.  You need your teenager to be the one who says, “You know, I bet more people like me that I realize,” instead of you telling them.  How in the world do you accomplish this?

 

The techniques I’m going to offer you aren’t foolproof, but they’re worth a try.  Firstly, try telling a story about yourself at that age.  Make sure it’s a story where you felt similarly.  If the end of the story is that you were better liked than you realized, then include that.  However, don’t make it up.  If the end of the story is that you really weren’t very well liked in high school, leave it there.  At the very minimum your child will feel understood; that is primarily what they are seeking when they talk with you about school related anxiety.  This will help them to feel a little better because they will know they are not alone.

 

The next thing you can try is having your teenager examine the facts.  Tell them, “We are going to look at both sides of this and then come to a conclusion.”  Have them first tell you hard evidence that proves they are correct in their assuming people don’t like them at school.  Do not allow things like, “I just know it,” or “Jennie likes Carmen better than me now.”  Next make your teenager tell you why they are liked.  Believe me, unless your child smells, is rude or never brushes their teeth, someone is friendly toward them.

 

If the anxiety stretches beyond basic nervousness, also consider getting a little extra help.  Counseling tends to work very well on school-related anxiety.  You can always start with what’s free.  Put a call in to your teen’s school counselor.  If you’re not comfortable with that, or the school counselor doesn’t help, then it’s probably time to call a licensed therapist.

 

It is my hope your teen has an amazing school year.  I hope they learn in the classroom, and grow as an individual.  Every year is a new chance for your child to blossom.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman

 

Do I call a psychiatrist?

A psychiatrist prescribes medication to help with your psychological struggles.  There are some certified to work with teens and children.

A psychiatrist prescribes medication to help with your psychological struggles. There are some certified to work with teens and children.

First of all, a lot of people do not know the difference between a psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor and therapist.  Let me start by clarifying what those terms mean.  Counselor is the most general term.  It can refer to a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist.  Counselor is also the term used for a person with an associates degree or certification in addiction counseling.  A therapist refers to either a psychologist or a master’s level person with a license.  A therapist is someone who will spend an hour with you on a regular basis talking about ways to work through your struggles, and can also do psychological testing.  A psychologist has a doctorate (either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D.), can do psychological testing, and can do therapy.  A psychiatrist is a medical doctor, who completed medical school and a residency.  The psychiatrist can do therapy, but typically chooses to refer out for therapy.  The psychiatrist evaluates patients to determine whether medicine can help a psychological condition, and if so, prescribes that medication.

 

Sometimes people hesitate to take medicine for a psychological condition, preferring to address the problem in therapy.  Usually your therapist will let you know when it is time to seek a psychiatric evaluation.  It is also a good idea to see a psychiatrist if you feel extremely depressed, are considering suicide, have been hallucinating, or have extreme anxiety like panic attacks.  There are other conditions where seeing a psychiatrist is advisable as well.  For example, if you suspect your child has ADHD, then you can get a diagnosis and treatment from a psychiatrist.  Use your therapist or primary care doctor as a guide in terms of when to contact a psychiatrist, and often they will have good referrals to give you.

 

When you go to your psychiatry appointment, come prepared.  Keep a list of your symptoms, what caused them, and what time of day they occurred.  Be extremely honest about any drugs or alcohol you use.  Your psychiatrist is required to keep everything confidential, so don’t be afraid to tell him or her.  If you smoke marijuana every so often, your psychiatrist NEEDS to know this.  The reason it is so important to give your psychiatrist this information is that you are being given medication.  Alcohol and illegal drugs interact with legal medication, affecting how well the medicine works.  In some cases you actually are putting yourself in danger by mixing certain medications with certain drugs or with alcohol.  Your psychiatrist isn’t going to be judgmental of you, believe me.  Your psychiatrist has heard it all, and I mean ALL.  You will not shock your psychiatrist.  He or she has seen some of the seemingly most normal looking people take drugs, have an alcohol problem, lose touch with reality, make poor decisions, participate in extremely risky behavior, and anything else you can think of.  Just keep in mind that your psychiatrist can only help you to the extent that you share everything about what is going on with you.

 

Also come to your appointments with a list of any physical symptoms you might be dealing with.  Remember, this is a medical doctor.  Sometimes psychological problems are caused by a physical problem or a disease.  Your psychiatrist is trained to look for signs of physical disease and help you connect the dots.  They are also trained to look for the opposite (physical problems caused by psychological impairment).

 

So, is it time to call a psychiatrist?  Perhaps, and especially if you’re considering taking medication to deal with a psychological struggle.  Consult with your therapist or primary care doctor to find out.  If you don’t have a therapist or primary care doctor, you can call a psychiatrist directly for an evaluation in most cases.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Tips for Test Taking Anxiety

Taking tests can really scare some teens. Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Taking tests can really scare some teens.
Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Taking tests is a miserable process for a lot of teenagers.  They feel nervous, overwhelmed, and stressed out.  There is a lot of pressure to do well, but it is really hard for some people to relax enough to let their mind work.

 

Here are some tips and tricks that can help:

1. Priming.  I put this one first because it is one of the most important things to improve test scores that nobody does.  A study came out that shows when adolescents spend 5 minutes writing down adjectives that describe what they think of when they imagine a Harvard professor right before they take a test, they score better by 10% or more on that test.  Your teenager will spend a little bit of time writing down words like “brilliant, smart, intelligent, and bright.”  After they spend 5 minutes doing this they’ve primed their brain to “think smart.”  This means they are overriding the negative assumptions they have about their own test taking abilities.

2.  Effective Studying. The vast majority of people spend time studying everything they need to learn for an exam.  They actually tend to focus on what they already know or understand even though this is a subconscious action.  They do this because it’s what feels comfortable.  However, effective studying means spending virtually no time on what is already understood, and a lot of time on the challenging concepts.  Your teenager does not need to review every section of the unit for their exam.  Your teenager needs to spend time on their more shaky areas.  It’s actually a waste of time to look over things they learned in class where they feel competent.

3. Study Timing. We’ve all heard this one before so bear with me if it’s a repeat.  It is far easier to retain information if it is studied for up to one hour per day for a week before a test than if it’s studied for hours the day before.  Cramming simply doesn’t work.  For one a teenager who is cramming has more anxiety, which blocks his ability to effectively remember information.  This takes self-discipline, but it also takes the yucky feelings out of taking tests.

4. Sleep. Your child needs 8-9 hours of sleep the night before a test.  This is more important than studying until 2am.  Our ability to retain, recall and utilize information is very, very directly linked to enough sleep.  When we’re tired studying is almost a complete waste of time, and especially when compared with the benefits we are getting from sleep.

5. Association. If your teenager walks while they study, even slowly, their recall improves dramatically.  Of course this isn’t possible for every subject, but walking while reviewing flashcards, or listening to a recording of the information they need to learn (anyone can do this by downloading a recording app onto their phone and then reading key passages from their textbook and notes), associations are made.  Your teen will subconsciously pair a certain tree with a certain phrase because as they were walking past it they were learning about a specific thing.  For example, your teenager might be listening to something about the Revolutionary War while they walk past your mailbox.  When it comes time to take their test and they can’t quite recall that specific fact, if they picture the mailbox the fact will probably come to them.  Isn’t it fascinating that the human mind works that way?

 

Try these five steps with your teen.  If you change nothing else, have your child get more sleep and spend the 5 minutes priming before the exam.  This should help them with their test-taking abilities.  It should also improve their confidence, therefore reducing their anxiety.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Good morals or fitting in…A teenager’s dilemma

Are you the same person with your family and with your friends?  Consistency lowers anxiety.   Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Are you the same person with your family and with your friends? Consistency lowers anxiety.
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

What do you do if your family is raising you to be a certain way, but your peers want you to be something else?  Your family has taught you to be responsible, kind, caring, respectful, avoid curse words, tell the truth, be honorable, try hard in school, etc.  Your peers are encouraging you to experiment with alcohol, marijuana, sex, and irresponsible behavior.  Your peers think it’s fine to lie to your parents, use the f-word in every sentence, and complain about school.  How do you reconcile these two very different environments when it’s no longer cool to stick with the morals your parents have instilled in you?

 

Living in this tension is a source of immense anxiety for some teens.  They kind of go with the flow at school and around their friends, but in their hearts they’d rather be the person they are around their families.  They feel guilt and sometimes shame.  It’s very difficult to keep up an appearance of being a great kid in front of certain people, and the appearance of being an edgy kid in front of other people.  After a while it is confusing and stressful.

 

It’s very normal for adolescents to try and discover their own identity until their in their mid-twenties.  A teenager may come home with blue hair or a piercing; parents, don’t make this the end of the world.  They’re trying on a new identity.  Usually, as they get older they settle more into what they’ve always been taught.

 

In the meanwhile though, teenagers remember that “normal” isn’t that great.  Fitting in with kids who are going against what you believe is only going to cause internal angst.  It takes a lot of emotional strength and fortitude to remain grounded in what is right, even for adults.  As a teenager it is much more challenging.  Teens are quick to give their peers a dirty look or a few harsh words when one of their friends doesn’t go along with everyone else.  If you prefer not to drink at a party, you probably have to deal with a few condescending comments.  Keep on track and don’t worry about what some drunk kid says about you; conformity doesn’t breed greatness.

 

Your overall anxiety will be lower if you are the same person in every situation.  Here’s where parents can make a huge impact: model having integrity in every area of life, and stick with good morals.  Parents, be the same person at work, home, in the dark and in the light.  Your children will benefit immensely from watching their your consistency.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Back to School Anxiety

Heading back to school can be scary for some teens Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Heading back to school can be scary for some teens
Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This is a time of year when I suddenly get an upswing in calls from parents worried about their teenager’s anxiety level.  Right around the time kids have to go back to school, things start to stress them out.  It makes sense, they are about to have social and academic pressure again after three months of relaxation time.

 

Here are some things you can do to help your teenager reduce their stress as school starts back up:

1) Help them go into school with an academic plan.  Some teens are anxious about school because they work really hard in school, and they anticipate too much homework.  Other adolescents are anxious about starting school again because they don’t work hard enough, and they fear poor grades.  Some kids need help understanding how to work smarter instead of harder.  Other kids need help learning how to study effectively.

 

2) Talk about any social pressures they might feel.  For a great number of middle and high school students, there are intense worries about fitting in.  They really want to be liked.  Some even wish to be popular.  For other teenagers, there is anxiety around dating.  It’s different for each one, but it will increase as school gets started again.

 

3)  Some adolescents worry about how they’ll get along with you when school starts again.  All summer you’ve been letting them hang out with friends, go to bed late, and haven’t asked too much of them.  You might have asked them to do a couple chores, but that’s the extent of it.  Now you’ll be back to checking on them daily about if their homework is complete, telling them to get off their phone and get to sleep, and waking them up early every morning.  When you have to force a teenager to follow a schedule they don’t care for, it’s bound to create some battles.  In general, I encourage you to turn over as much of this to your child as is appropriate for their age and maturity.  If it’s up to your teen to wake up for school, your role changes from irritating parent to sympathetic parent.

 

4) Some teens get anxiety about how bored they will be sitting in class.  It’s tough to sit for 6-8 hours per day listening to someone talk about things that don’t interest you.  It’s easy to make it through some classes, but others are dreadful.  I used to feel this way about math.  It was complete torture to sit through two hour block classes of geometry.  I found it very dull.  I was definitely in a worse mood on days I had math.  While there isn’t much you can do about this, you can certainly let your teenager know you understand how they feel.  Sometimes that is enough to help them feel better.

 

I guess most of what I’m saying is to talk to your teen about the start of school.  Sometimes their anxiety shows up in other ways.  They might tell you they’re suddenly stressed about their sports team, friends, death, or you name it.  A lot of times though, underneath all this is a worry about going back to school again.  If you can help them recognize this, you can work together to take steps to help control it.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Help With Depression For Teens

Help your teen combat depression by volunteering together. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Help your teen combat depression by volunteering together.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of the simplest things you can do to help your teen combat mild depression is to help them be more selfless.  These days the commonly held belief is that we all need to work on ourselves; we need to take time out for ourselves; we need to focus on our own internal growth.  If we would spend extra effort improving then we’d find happiness.  Since happiness is the opposite of depressed, everything would get better, right?

 

If this is such sage advice, why hasn’t it worked yet?  Why are people feeling lonely, purposeless, aimless, and easily overwhelmed?

 

The answer can be found by looking down and looking up.  If you look at ants you will notice they are almost always working in teams.  They are following one another in a line, and they live in a colony.  Ants even carry their dead back to the nest.  If you look all the way up the the heavens, you see that even God himself does not work alone.  He has Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

 

Nothing about the way the world works indicates that we are meant to fix ourselves.  Part of the reason I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE working with teens is that they are still living in a family.  While the family may come broken, piecemeal or otherwise, there are always people around the teens.  The healing in my clients has come from adjustments made to their relationships far more often than adjustments to their inner selves.  Even when they adjust their inner selves, they don’t seem to feel content until their relationships begin to change.

 

I see a great number of girls who come because they are struggling with body image.  They are trying to reach perfection on the outside.  A perfect body is a lonely, isolated pursuit.  Even if these girls achieve their desired appearance, they are unhappy and unfulfilled.  Again, we were created to be in relationship with others.

 

Now that you know the background, you can likely see how this will relate to your child’s depression.  Stop encouraging your depressed teenager to work on him or herself.  Instead, push your teenager to work on someone else or something else.  Take them down to the soup kitchen on Saturday.  Have them volunteer at the YMCA to play with kids after school.  Take them to the library and have them volunteer in the Friends of the Library bookstore.  Sign them up for the Big Brother/Big Sister program (as the big brother or sister).

 

The antidote to mild depression is to get into relationship and give of yourself (Please note, for more severe clinical depression the most important thing to do is seek professional help.  Clinical depression is not resolved with a simple change of attitude or change of scene.  It is dangerous and requires intervention).

 

So, when you see your teenager tonight, tell them you know how to help them perk up.  Don’t make this optional.  Get them involved in helping someone else and watch them begin to find a sense of joy.  If you work alongside them, you’ll get to experience that joy and you’ll strengthen your relationship with your teenager- even better!

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Have an anxiety-free day

A relaxing morning reduces anxiety all day. Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A relaxing morning reduces anxiety all day.
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Living anxiety-free means actively making choices to have less stress.  Everything about our lives is fast, and intense.  We’re always trying to get ahead.  We want the best grades for our teenagers so they can get into the best schools.  We push them into a lot of extracurricular activities because we feel we have to.  We work long hours and take short vacations.  We start our mornings off all wrong.

 

How we start our day is one of the key factors to reducing anxiety.  However, it is one that doesn’t get much attention.  We don’t realize a slower start to the morning is key.  We tend to fill our minds with a bunch of useless, negative junk while reciting our to-do list, and then hope to have a good day.

 

One thing a lot of people do is watch the news in the morning.  It is rare to find a news program that discusses progress and positive events in tandem with the negative.  Sometimes even the good things that happen are still spun in a negative way.  For example, apparently there has been a drought in the Midwest.  It was forecast to rain in the Midwest and the weather reporter talked about how it would be a relief because all those farms in the Midwest sure aren’t going to do well this year with the drought.  While that may or may not be true, the reporter found a way to increase the viewer’s anxiety.

 

It is really important to realize that most of what is reported on is out of your control.  Try and focus on what you can do something about, and leave the rest alone.  Replace some of the news with looking outside at the beauty God has created, and take a minute to say thank you.  Then you might remember that you live in an amazing place and are generally blessed.

 

Start your day with something positive and encouraging.  Take time to read your bible, pray, call a friend, slowly enjoy your cup of coffee, or anything else that gives you a sense of calm.  It has been said that your first ten minutes are a huge predictor of what kind of day you will have.  If you begin your day with anxiety, then you are much more likely to feel anxious the whole day.  Be very intentional about starting your day with something that leaves you feeling positive and energized.  Help your teenagers do this as well.  Make your teenager a good breakfast, have them sit down to eat, and be very pleasant if you sit with them.  Do not talk to them about classes, a test they need to take, or anything else on their to-do list.  Keep it light and positive.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Why Your Teen Daughter Should Play Sports

According to research, girls who play sports make better life-choices.  Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

According to research, girls who play sports make better life-choices.
Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teen girls who play organized sports get into a lot less trouble.  According to a large body of research (http://www.education.com/reference/article/Ref_Not_Just_Another/) conducted in the last ten years, girls who play sports have substantially lower rates of risky behavior.  Girls involved in athletics are less likely to try drugs or alcohol, have fewer sexual partners, and become sexually active later.  There are increases in positive behaviors as well.  Girls who play sports have higher GPAs, and higher rates of graduation.  They have a more positive body image and higher self-esteem.

 

Athletics provide a sense of structure, accountability, and a group of friends.  Exercise is very good for the mind and body, and it decreases rates of depression.  Girls who play on their high school sports teams have a sense of belonging to the school.  They tend to have more school pride, which leads to an increase in caring about their community.

 

Playing sports also reduces anxiety, generally speaking.  There are instances where anxiety arises because of the pressure in sports, but for the most part it is helpful for the anxious teenager.  Getting exercise, going outside, being with friends, and focusing on something intensely all helps lower anxiety.  Besides that, sports are fun!

 

If your daughter has been struggling with self-esteem or is tempted by risky behavior, consider signing her up for a sport.  It can make a huge difference.  It gives you both something to talk about too.  If you’re discussing the most recent track meet, you’re communicating.  For many parents, communicating with their teenager is difficult.  Sports provide an avenue for relationship.

 

Be careful not to put too much pressure on your child when they are playing their sport.  There are very few high school athletes good enough to compete at the collegiate level.  There are very few collegiate level athletes good enough to compete at the professional level.  It is okay if your 13 year old daughter isn’t on the top team.  It is much more important that she is having fun and making friends.  Your top priority needs to be her character development, not her athletic career.  That said, getting her involved in a sport is good for her mental health.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Using Exercise to Manage Your Teen’s Stress

Exercise is a critical factor in managing your anxiety. Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Exercise is a critical factor in managing your anxiety.
Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It is very, very important to take good care of yourself physically.  You already know this though.  What you probably also already know, but maybe haven’t been thinking about, is how critical it is to exercise.  As a whole, we Americans like to procrastinate exercise.  We generally don’t do it often enough, or with enough intensity.

 

Did you know that if you set aside 30-60 minutes to exercise, you will actually get more done during your day?  That seems odd because by time you exercise and then shower, 2 hours are used up.  It’s true though.  Your ability to focus and stay on task is greatly increased with exercise.  Your ability to push through a work-out you don’t feel like doing also increases the mental toughness needed to get other things done.  When you exercise regularly you aren’t just flexing your physical muscles.  You learn to have more will power.  It takes will power to jog up the hill that is seemingly never going to end.  It even takes will power to get up off the couch and get your running shoes on.  Forcing yourself to do so when it’s not really what you want to do is a form of discipline.  It teaches self-denial.

 

Self-denial (in a healthy dose) is extremely important for anxiety management.  When you learn to do more of what you should do instead of what you feel like doing, your life is usually headed in a direction that you choose.  This means you have more control.  The antidote to anxiety is a sense of control.

 

Consistent exercise not only releases chemicals into the brain that are calming and pleasant, it also teaches discipline and self-control.  It is a critical factor in the alleviation of anxiety.  It is also an important part of time management.  So, to help get your anxiety under wraps, hop on your bike, jump in a pool, or go for a stroll.  Do this several times a week and watch what happens.  Oh, and you also just might find you end up enjoying yourself.

 

When you think about how to specifically apply this to your teenagers, think social.  Teens (as a generalization) love to be around their friends.  Help them figure out a way to get in a work-out with a couple friends.  Maybe they can join the same gym as their best friend, or organize a common goal with their friends.  When I was in college a couple of friends and I set-up a work-out plan.  We were only able to exercise together a couple times per week, but we held each other accountable for the rest of the time.  It made a big difference in our ability to stick with it.  I still think this is because we enjoyed the social aspect of doing it together more than anything else.

 

Exercise is a great, healthy coping skill for anxiety and stress.  You can model this for your teenager and invite them to join you.  You may or may not get a yes, but they are definitely paying attention to how you handle your stress.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Physical Affection Helps Reduce Anxiety and Depression

Help your teen combat depression and anxiety with physical touch. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Help your teen combat depression and anxiety with physical touch.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It has been said that you need affectionate physical contact approximately ten times per day for your well-being.  Does your teenager get that?  If you’ve noticed your teen feeling anxious or depressed lately, you might ask yourself this question.  Some teens hug their parents, siblings, and friends multiple times per day.  They seek you out on the couch and sit right next to you.  They are naturally very affectionate.  However, these are not usually the kids who feel depressed or anxious.

 

It’s ironic that for the depressed or anxiety-ridden teenager, the thing that can help them to feel better is something they might hesitate to seek.  Mom and Dad, this is where you come in.  You can be conscious about giving your teenager affection.  This doesn’t mean you necessarily have to wrap them in a big hug.  It can be a pat on the back or a quick rub of the head.  Just making the extra effort to have contact with your children can really help them thrive.

 

You now might be thinking one of two things.  One possibility is that your are thinking it is inappropriate to touch your teenager.  While you are probably not going to have the same sort of physical affection with your teen that you had when they were two, it is acceptable to show physical affection towards your children, irregardless of their age.  Yes, now you should knock on their bedroom door before you enter and probably won’t be wandering into the bathroom while they are taking a shower.  However, while they’re doing their homework it can be of tremendous benefit to their attitude and mood if you give them a quick squeeze of the shoulders.  It also softens whatever you were about to say to them.  For example, if you were going to say, “I’m glad to see you working hard on homework,” think about how that could be perceived sarcastically.  Now think about how it’s likely to be perceived if it includes a quick affectionate touch, probably as a positive comment.

 

The second thing you might be thinking is, “My teenager won’t let me touch him.”  You’re one of those parents who would love to hug your son or daughter, but they’ll have none of it.  Just start where you can comfortably start.  Maybe for a few weeks you’ll ask if you can help carry something they are holding.  They will probably have incidental contact with you when they hand it to you.  Perhaps you will offer to fix an out-of-place strand of hair, or help your teen into his jacket.  You also might consider simply changing the rules around the house to require a hug before leaving and before going to bed.  While it will be met with disgust and complaint, know that it is benefiting your teenager tremendously and that they secretly like it.

 

Physical affection toward your adolescent helps you too.  Remember when your child was really young and sometimes screamed or threw tantrums?  For a parent those moments are very frustrating.  Picking your child up and holding her helped you reconnect the bond that was slightly damaged with the tantrum.  Things are no different with your teen.  They still throw tantrums (although they look a little different).  You still need to work at reconnecting the bond.  For a parent, physical affection is one of the best ways to do so.

 

Have fun being more affectionate to your teenager this week!  It’s good for you; it’s good for them; it helps everyone’s mood.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Approval-Seeking Teens

Wanting approval isn't a bad thing unless it goes too far. Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wanting approval isn’t a bad thing unless it goes too far.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This post will not apply to every parent.  Some of you have kids who are very comfortable with who they are.  They seem relaxed and self-assured.  What a blessing!

 

There are a large number of you though who have teens that really want approval.  This can take on multiple forms.  Some teens long for the approval of their peers.  Others desperately want to hear “well done” from their parents.  Wanting approval is not actually as bad as it sounds.  It is part of what motivates teens to do their homework and chores, and to comb their hair.  Sometimes though the desire for approval becomes excessive, and leads to anxiety or depression.

 

I have seen teens in counseling who wanted approval so badly that they developed eating disorders, tried drugs or alcohol, or became sexually active before they were ready.  It is really important to recognize a teen who is trying too hard to be liked because sometimes it means they are making unhealthy choices.  A lot of these teens actually do get a substantial amount of approval, but they do not feel it.  Even when there is a lot of evidence to the contrary, these teens feel disliked or negatively judged.  As a parent, what are you supposed to do in this situation?

 

One of the most important things you can do is to help your teen realize the meaning of that famous first line from Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life, “It is not about you.”  Help your child gain some perspective.  It is very hard for teens to remember that there is a world beyond their school and social group; expose your teen to it.  Get them out into the community to serve someone else.  Usually once a person dedicates some time and energy to others they stop focusing on themselves.

 

A second thing to try is not allowing your teen to voice the things they dislike about themselves if those things are unreasonable.  Do not let your 3.5 GPA student tell you they are stupid, and do not let your normally sized daughter tell you she is fat.  Learn to respond only when your child is honest about themselves.  One thing we do in therapy is stop believing everything we feel.  What I mean by this is that a teen will tell me, “I feel like nobody likes me.”  Once we establish that there are in fact people who like the teen, we no longer allow that to be said.  Instead the teen has to tell the truth, which is, “I feel disliked by some people.”

 

Try these two tips for approval-seeking teens.  If your teen’s desire to be liked is overwhelming your teen, and you for that matter, call for help.  There is often a way to change their focus.  Sometimes you need help to help them too.  Most parents, even the very best parents, have tried a number of different ways to encourage their adolescent without success.  Sometimes a little tune-up makes a big difference.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

The story of a girl who overcame her fears

Overcoming Anxieties and Overcoming Fears  Image courtesy of scottchan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Overcoming Anxieties and Overcoming Fears
Image courtesy of scottchan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This week I conducted a session with a 14 year old girl who has really worked hard to overcome her anxiety.  I felt so incredibly proud of her, that I asked her permission to write a little bit of her story here.  Just to help you understand what kind of person she is, she answered, “Sure, you can write my story.  Especially if it might help someone else.”

 

A few months ago she was finishing Freshman year of high school.  She says she was struggling with her attitude toward school, and really toward life.  She had days where she felt very anxious about attending school.  The anxiety could be bothersome enough to cause physical symptoms, or make her want to miss school.  She says this really affected her grades.

 

A lot of kids in this situation just give in to the anxiety.  They let it wash over them until they become fearful of any social situation.  This girl did the exact opposite.  She decided to walk straight towards her fears with a rare tenacity.  She has a dream of becoming an editor someday.  So, she applied to become the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper.  She told me it was a longshot because that’s typically a position reserved for upperclassmen.  She also decided to join the cross-country team; this is a girl who told me she’s not sure she could have run one lap around the track when she made this decision.  She said she wanted to get healthier and have the chance to make more friends.

 

All summer long she worked on building endurance.  She stuck to a running schedule and joined the summer team practices as often as she could.  She frequently had to walk, and sometimes felt sick.  She said she was usually coming in last on the runs.  Sometimes she felt discouraged and thought she didn’t add any value to the team.  After a short time of struggling with self-doubt, she gathered her courage and decided to play a different role on the team; if she couldn’t be the fastest runner then she was going to be the spirit of the team.  Imagine for a second how difficult it must feel to be inwardly shy and even socially anxious, but outwardly be consistently cheerful and encouraging.  She’s done such a good job at it that other teammates have started to notice.  Now you are beginning to see why I felt so proud of this girl!

 

She also was just named the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper as a sophomore.  Thought she had felt terrified to try, she decided she had nothing to lose.  You can’t get what you want if you don’t at least ask.

 

This 14 year old has something most of us don’t get until we’re much older, if at all.  This 14 year old girl has learned to swim against the current of her anxieties to pursue her goals.  She wanted more school involvement, experience editing, a chance to make some friends, and a way to get in shape.  All of these things scared her, but she went after them anyhow.  It has not been easy at all; she says she is just starting to feel the reward for several months of going outside her comfort zone.  She has come to understand what it means to work hard for a goal even though the payoff takes awhile to realize.  She is learning lessons that will bear fruit for the rest of her life.

 

How does this story help you help your teen?  Hopefully your child can realize that even though risking failure and facing fears is overwhelmingly scary, it can be done and it can be rewarding.  So, for those of you facing tough situations, hang in there because the payoff is somewhere around the corner.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

5 Pieces of Advice I Wish I’d Had in High School

Don't take things so seriously in high school. Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Don’t take things so seriously in high school.
Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

1.  You’re not going to be a professional athlete.  There are so few of us that have the talent, resources and support necessary to become professional in any sport.  I spent hours and hours working at becoming the best soccer player I could be.  I was convinced that soccer was my ticked to free or reduced college tuition.  Eventually there were some scholarship offers, but they were very limited.  It was part of my tuition, or only one semester, etc.  When it came down to it I had to use a lot of my own money to pay for school, and a lot of the academic scholarships I was able to earn.  I put tremendous pressure on myself in my sport and it turns out the main purpose of youth sports was for making friends and staying in shape, not paying for college.

 

2.  You will not marry him.  I took my high school dating relationships far too seriously.  It seemed to me that having a long-term boyfriend was some kind of sign that I was worthy.  I dropped friends for him, ignored morals for him, changed hobbies for him, etc.  It is extremely uncommon to marry your high school sweetheart.  Though you’ve heard it before, really and truly, just have fun and don’t take the opposite sex too seriously yet.

 

3.  Get more sleep.  It was so normal to practice sports until dinner, eat, and then do homework until midnight.  Sleep was considered a low priority.  It’s not surprising then that sometimes immunity was low and exhaustion was high.  I now understand that a full night of sleep has more to do with happiness and productivity than almost any other factor.

 

4.  You look how you look.  Yes, it is a good thing to groom, keep up with styles to some extent, and care about physical appearance.  However, in many high school age teens it goes way too far.  Teenagers (I was one of them) are overly self-conscious about their skin and their weight.  Unless it’s recommended by your pediatrician, don’t start dieting and trying to be thinner.  Don’t let yourself believe the world is coming to an end because you have a zit.  These things happen to everyone in the school.  If you look at the adolescents who have a lot of friends, they all have their flaws.  It truly is what’s on the inside that counts.

 

5.  The most prestigious college isn’t necessarily the best college for you.  Like so many, I was caught up in the belief that I had to be accepted to the best school possible.  If I fell short of one of the top universities then I would be forever at a disadvantage.  What a bunch of crap!  The best college is the one that is the best fit for each individual student’s life and personality.  That varies tremendously based on finances, personal circumstances, preferences and academic ability.  Harvard (even if I had been accepted) would have been a horrible school for me because it is too far from my family.  Seeing my family a few times per month is essential to my mental health and quality of life.  If I’d moved to Boston for college I would’ve wilted.  It is better to spend your time attending to all the facets of life (physical, emotional, spiritual, familial, etc.) than just your academic future.  Otherwise, you might end up like I did.  I was Miss AP class, straight-A student.  However, I missed out on a lot of personal growing opportunities and a lot of fun because I was doing homework.  In hindsight the brand name of the university has had absolutely nothing to do with my professional success.  With rare exceptions, this is true for you too.

 

At the end of the day, what is most important is that you responsibly enjoy your time while attending to your growth as a person in all areas of life.  Work hard in school, but even this can be taken too far.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Do Youth Sports Increase Anxiety?

Youth sports have positives and negatives.  Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Youth sports have positives and negatives.
Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Depending on where you live this may or may not be relevant to you.  Here in Orange County, California, youth sports are competitive.  It’s pretty tough to make the Little League All-Star team.  It’s intense if you play club soccer, especially if you’re on the 1st team for your age group.  High schools use various methods to recruit football players to their school, even outside of their school district.

 

A huge number of parents have their kids in one, two or sometimes three very intense athletic programs.  They have a running coach, private lessons, strength and conditioning work-outs, and year around leagues to compete in.  Weekends are dominated by travel for games.  If there are two or three kids in the family the parents are often split up at two different athletic events on Saturday AND Sunday.  Sometimes there is travel involved.  There is always an expense involved.

 

I played club soccer growing up, which took up most weekends of the year.  When I wasn’t playing soccer I was playing softball.  Once I got into high school I also added field hockey into the mix.  In high school I took honors and AP classes too.  At the end of 10th grade though it all came crashing down.  Apparently I wasn’t cut out to have a rigorous academic schedule and 3-5 hours of sports per day.  After a pretty extended period of illness, I finally threw in the towel and played one sport.  I cut back to one or two AP classes per year.  The other parents and a lot of my friends thought I was crazy.  They would say to me things like how would I get a scholarship for college now?

 

Ask yourself what your goal is if your child is intensely playing sports.  Are they really, truly talented enough to make the top professional level, where only the tiniest sliver of athletes get to play?  Do they love the sport so much that you can’t stop them from practicing extra even if you tried?  Or, are they complaining about practices?  Are they saying they feel tired, and struggle to complete all their homework?  Do they say they wish they had more time with friends?

 

Around here many of us lose the forest for the trees.  The goal of youth sports is for kids to learn cooperation, work-ethic, make friends, have fun and get a little exercise.  It’s part of how we help them build character.  Once they show a little promise though we often forget these goals.  Instead we are whisking them to practices, spending thousands of dollars and traveling all over the Southwest United States.  We are not spending relaxed time at home with our family all together.

 

Highly competitive youth sports is adding stress and anxiety to your child’s life.  It isn’t giving them the release you think it is.  On top of that, many adolescents are now developing injuries that used to only be seen in professional athletes.  Some spend a lifetime dealing with the problems caused by those injuries.  In fact, out of the friends I have who played collegiate level sports, three are healthy and five have chronic, lifelong injuries.  Four of those injured five have had surgeries to try and repair the injuries, and one has had three surgeries.

 

The point of this blog isn’t to condemn youth sports.  I think they’re wonderful…in moderation.  They just shouldn’t take priority over faith, family, academics or physical health.  Please carefully consider your teenager’s future health and current well-being if they play competitive sports.  Please also consider your family’s quality time.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Panic Disorder

Panic is overwhelming and terrifying.

Panic is overwhelming and terrifying.

I think this poem someone wrote adequately sums up how someone feels who suffers from Panic Attacks.

Mental Illness Poem

Just wrote how I felt when I have a panic attack.

Panic Disorder

© Brittany
Tightness in my chest
I cant breath.
The only time I can escape
is when I fall asleep.Constant nausea
constant fear.
How did this happen
knowing I’m safe here?It’s a constant worry
another will strike.
I worry about it all the time
it makes me lose my appetite.My sight darkens
my life flashes.
My worries control my thoughts
my heart crashes and burns to ashes.

You have no idea what its like
to live one day in my shoes.
Maybe if you did
you wouldn’t judge me as you do.

Source: Panic Disorder, Mental Illness Poem http://www.familyfriendpoems.com/poem/panic-disorder#ixzz1p2zuo1rq
www.FamilyFriendPoems.com

 

Panic Disorder is miserable for the teens and adults who deal with it.  Panic attacks can be so frightening that people truly think they might be having a heart attack or dying.  Many cause severe enough physical symptoms to land someone in the emergency room.  If your adolescent is dealing with panic attacks, they need some help.  This means for whatever reason, their anxiety has moved beyond their control.  Try your best to be really sensitive to them, and yet don’t allow them to avoid scary situations.  Although that feels better in the moment, it increases anxiety overall.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

How to end a codependent relationship

 

He finally had the strength to end a toxic relationship! (Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

He finally had the strength to end a toxic relationship! (Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Okay, obviously that is a cheesy photo.  However, once you’re out of a codependent relationship, and have gotten beyond the grief, this is how you’ll feel!

 

Anyhow, let’s get to the point.  Ending a relationship from a codependent position is one of the hardest things you will ever do, or have ever done.  You have recognized your friendship, dating relationship, sibling relationship, etc. has reached very unhealthy levels.  You now realize that you are often drained of time, energy, emotional well-being, and a general feeling of joy after you are around the toxic person in your life.  You feel manipulated, guilty and exhausted after you are with the person.  You have asked yourself repeatedly, ‘Why do I continue to answer their phone calls?’  The person calls you whenever they are in crisis.  The person always needs something that “only you” can give, whether it is money, time, a place to stay, or you name-it.  When you can’t break out of this cycle, you are in a codependent relationship.  Other terms you will frequently hear are enabler and coaddict.

 

So, the big question is, ‘How do I stop this crazy in my life?’  That’s really what it is too: crazy-making.  You always leave a conversation feeling like the crazy one, but your friends all tell you it’s the other person.  To end this kind of relationship takes very drastic measures.  You have to come to a place of strength and reality.  You need to take a very honest look at what has been happening between you and this person.  Is this a truly reciprocal and healthy relationship?  If the answer is “no” or, “It used to be,” then it is time to move on.

 

Once you have really looked at the relationship, you have to tell yourself, “I will no longer enable bad behavior.  I am not responsible in any way for the outcome of this person’s life.”  Truly, the person will get better or get worse with or without you.

 

Next, surround yourself with good friends or family who will keep you busy and keep you grounded in reality.  The crazy-maker in your life is going to call you with a crisis because that has always worked.  You will have to either not answer the call, or simply say over and over again, “You will have to call someone else with this problem.  I have been unable to help in the past because you have not chosen to help yourself.”

 

Finally, you need to maintain firmly whatever boundary or rule you’ve set.  If you told the toxic person you will not call them back in the middle of the night anymore, then turn your phone off at night.  You get the idea…

 

Again, ending an enabling relationship is challenging beyond belief.  However, once you’re through the mud and the muck of it, you’ll feel free.  You’ll feel like the guy in the picture at the beginning of this blog post!

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Help for anxiety

Here are some tips for anxiety management.  It’s a good topic for today because I am having an anxious kind of day (yes, even therapists get anxious).

anxiety-management-tips

A peaceful place

 

1.  It’s not as bad as you think it is.  Truly.  You are worrying about something that is very unlikely to play out exactly the way you think it will.  Things usually go better than we predict.

 

2.  Be in the moment.  If you’re anxious then you are likely living in the future.  If you just choose to exist in the moment, you will find there are things to be grateful for right now.  If you are asking, “What if?” about some upcoming situation, you are missing out on “right now.”

 

3.  Do not panic.  You have more time to think through and act than you realize.  If you are experiencing test-taking anxiety for example, even during the exam you have 60 seconds to close your eyes and breathe.  If you are worried about what to say to your friend after an argument, you have time to write out your thoughts before you see your friend.

 

4.  Respond thoughtfully.  One thing that makes us anxious is a sense of urgency.  We believe we must respond immediately to a text message, email, or phone call.  This is simply untrue.  Taking an extra 5 minutes to think through what you will say can calm your anxiety.

 

5.  Do something enjoyable.  I know this sounds very cliche.  However, it’s over-suggested because it has a lot of merit.  It’s hard to be anxious when you’re sitting in the sun with a glass of lemonade.

 

6.  Bounce your concern off someone honest.  Don’t call a friend who always tells you everything will be fine because you won’t know whether or not you can believe them.  Call that friend who is very candid.  If they tell you it’s fine, you will feel better.  If they agree that it’s not fine, they will give suggestions on how to make it better.

 

7. Remember to breathe.  Deep, slow breaths are the complete opposite to anxious breathing.  If you can take deep, slow breaths then your brain registers relaxed feelings.

 

8.  Force a smile.  This is for the exact same reasons as number seven.  It is incongruous with anxious feelings.

 

9.  Do something for someone else.  When we’ve overly anxious, we’re often worried about ourselves.  We’re not too focused on others.  Doing an act of service really helps other people feel cared for, and helps you feel better.

 

10.  I saved the best for last.  The thing that is most helpful for me is prayer.  Giving up my fear or concern to God, who knows more and has more control than I ever will, and who has my best interests in mind, is a huge relief.

 

Now, don’t you feel a little better?  I know I do!

 

Most of you already have heard these things.  If you’re teenager has anxiety you’ve probably asked them to try some of these things.  It takes a little while and it takes practice.  We’re not usually good at things until we work at them.  One of the things therapy does that is helpful for teenagers is forces repetition of coping skills.  A lot of teens will try something once, say it doesn’t work, and then not give it another shot.  A counselor is kind of like your anxiety-reduction coach.  If you’re not at the point where you think therapy is needed, try and encourage your adolescent to work at anxiety-reduction skills over and over until they really can do it.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

A Good Article on Stress and Anxiety

http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/symptoms/stress-and-anxiety/overview.html

 

This article gives a general overview of anxiety, its causes and some things to do about it.  A lot of these things are common knowledge, but it is really helpful to review.  For example, this article reminds you that caffeine increases anxiety.  It also helps you to remember that exercise is a great coping mechanism.  Finally, the article addresses when to seek professional help, which is hard to determine sometimes.  So, if you are struggling with anxiety, take some time and read this article.  You might find it helpful.

Cutting In Teenagers

Self-injury is a very loud cry for help. Photo courtesy of Marin from Freedigitalphotos.net

Self-injury is a very loud cry for help.
Photo courtesy of Marin from Freedigitalphotos.net

Janelle sat on her bed.  She was crying because her best friend told some girls that she thought Janelle was annoying.  She also told the girls she thinks Janelle is “all drama all the time.”

 

At first Janelle was in shock.  She couldn’t believe Sara would say those things about her.  Hadn’t she been there for Sara all last year when Sara was fighting with her mom?  Then Janelle turned inward.  Negative thoughts started running through Janelle’s head.  She began to think, ‘Nobody likes me,’ and ‘All my friends are fake.’  She also started thinking things like, ‘My own parents don’t even care that I’m hurting.’  With these negative thoughts came an even deeper surge of anxiety and hopelessness.  Janelle turned to the only coping skill she knew could make her feel numb.  She went into her desk drawer and took out a razor blade she had set aside specifically for this purpose.  She began to cut shallow lines across her left forearm until a little bit of blood showed.

 

I know this is awful to read.  I know it’s even worse if you are concerned your teenager is cutting.  While this story is made up, it’s based off the many, many teenagers I’ve sat across from in therapy who self-harm to cope with emotional pain.

 

Generally parents find self-injury really difficult to understand.  It’s hard to imagine how inducing physical pain can relieve emotional pain.

 

There are usually two reasons teenagers cut themselves.  The first is a cry for attention.  These teenagers are hurting inside, don’t know how to effectively express it, and so try cutting themselves for someone else to notice.  If they cut on their arm they might continue to wear short sleeves.  They wait and see how long it takes Mom or Dad to make a comment.  This is to be taken seriously and requires help from a professional counselor and/or a psychiatrist because it means the teenager isn’t able to communicate their emotions in a healthy and productive manner.

 

The second reason an adolescent might self-harm is to control their pain.  If they are a teenager who becomes flooded with emotional distress, then their pain feels unmanageable.  At least if they are cutting they control when they hurt, how deeply, where, how long, how much blood, whether or not the pain shows, and how much the wound scars.  These are teenagers who feels as though emotional pain happens to them at random and no matter what they try to do, they are helpless to stop it.  These teens are desperate to have control over something.  This second group doesn’t usually want their wounds to be noticed.  They do not want to be stopped from cutting because it’s their primary method of coping and they don’t trust anyone to love them through their hurt.  They will often cut in locations on their body that are difficult to see such as hips, stomach, inner thigh, or arms if they always wear sleeves.  In these situations professional help is a must.

 

If you have worried that your teenager is self-harming, please get them help right away.  This is a cry for help that is loud and clear.  It is also quite possibly beyond your ability to stop your child from this behavior without some guidance.  It is very dangerous to just hope your teenager stops this behavior.  I worked with one teenager who accidentally cut his wrist too deeply and he nearly severed an artery in his wrist, which could have killed him.  He wasn’t trying to commit suicide, but he almost did so by mistake.  Another problem with leaving the teenager to resolve this on their own is the risk of infection.  If they don’t treat the wounds properly and/or use unsanitary objects to self-harm it could cause them to become ill.  Finally, it is important to address self-injurious behavior because your child is in deep emotional pain and they are navigating it in an unhealthy manner.  They need your love and support, but not your tolerance of their self-harm.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT