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Happiness for Teens

Happiness for Teens

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

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

Happiness For Teens: How do today’s teens seek happiness?

Happiness for teens is elusive.  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, something good to eat, or especially social media.  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.

5 things that contribute to more lasting happiness for teens:

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; you and your teen can find more happiness.

2.  Control your thoughts.  

It’s really easy to think nobody cares about you.  You believe 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.’ Happy teens are more successful at fighting their negative thoughts.

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. In fact, smiling is healthy.  When you smile your brain automatically feels happier. Happiness for teens is more achievable with a smile.

4.  Exercise: An Important Part of Happiness for Teens.

People who do some sort of daily exercise are happier. You will have more energy. Teens who exercise regularly also have a better body image. Consistent exercise is an important ingredient for happiness in teens.

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. Additionally, prayer accomplishes this. Plus, then you’re connecting with God and He loves you.

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

Help for  Teen Depression

Help for Teen Depression

Peaceful mountainside covered in purple flowers. Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
There are always things to be thankful for if you’re looking.
Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Finding Help for Teen Depression is Tough

Getting help for teen depression is hard. As a parent, your heart is breaking. You see your once vibrant adolescent struggling to come up for air. Your son or daughter is likely irritable, sullen, withdrawn, and does not feel zest for life. Consequently, you are left wondering what you should do.

A Story of Depression

I’m reading an incredible book right now.  It’s called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  The book is fairly auto-biographical, but only for a period of the author’s life.  She starts out by explaining how regret, sadness, and bitterness pervade her life.  More or less, she’s probably struggling with depression and some anxiety.  She looks back at past events that really hurt her family growing up, and continues to have fears caused by those events.

Does Regret Play a Role in Your Teen’s Depression?

I think if we’re not very conscious to control regretful thoughts, they can affect all of us.  There are always things to look back on that we should have done differently.  I must have thousands of those types of choices.  I’ve spent a good part of the last few days wishing I could redo last Friday, actually. Your teen needs help for depression because they fixate on regrets. These range from small things like a few poorly chosen words to big things like breaking up with someone. Adolescents with depression idealize how something ought to feel. As a result, they profoundly struggle with accepting that life is full of missteps and inequalities.

Ideas That Help with Teen Depression

One Thousand Gifts goes on to share how the author works through her depression and anxious moods.  There are a few lessons to take from her, which I will go over in the next paragraph, but first let me tell you the basics of what she does to move on from her past.  She leans hard into her Christian faith and recognizes one of the main tenants of Christianity is to be thankful IN all things (not FOR all things).  This means finding something to be grateful for no matter what.  She begins a list of 1,000 little joys that surround her.  The list has the smallest things, like how incredible the different colors are in soap bubbles or how beautiful the sound is when her children play together.  Surprisingly, these things are easy to overlook unless you’re paying attention; she finds she has been overlooking them for years.

1. Lean Into A Faith

The lessons from Voskamp’s story that can help with teen depression are as follows:  First of all, while not all of you reading this are Christian, most of you probably believe in something.  Teach your suffering teen to lean hard into it when they’re suffering. Faith is an amazing way to cope with stress, depression, and anxiety.  It might not solve it, but it also takes work.  Your teen can’t just vaguely believe in something and then never read about it, pray, and give it time.  If your teen does all these things, they will find some percentage of help with their teen depression in their faith.

2. Gratitude and Depression are Opposing Forces

Another huge lesson from Voskamp’s story is that thankfulness is really the opposite of depression and anxiety.  Actively looking for the small things in life that are beautiful, enjoyable, funny, loving, etc. leads to less time worrying and regretting. Honestly, there simply isn’t room in your mind to do both.  This isn’t to trivialize a legitimate depressive disorder or anxiety disorder, because often those are much deeper than just your teen’s attitude.  However, for many teens seeking help with depression, changing focus to a grateful posture alleviates some of the suffering.

3. Life Isn’t Linear: Depression and Joy Coexist

Voskamp teaches one of life’s most important lessons. Teens fighting with depression find help in knowing they have permission to grieve/feel anger/fret/feel sadness at the same time they feel joy. For example, many teen parents call and tell me their child requests counseling for depression or anxiety. However, the parent says it’s hard to understand because their teen still laughs and sees friends. These things do exist at the same time. For my part, I am grateful that’s the case because it means there is always joy to be found even on the worst of days.

Final Thoughts on Help for Teen Depression

Now for a personal note: I (Lauren) don’t struggle much with depressed moods.  I do however struggle with anxiety.  Worries about the future plague me at times, and it’s a battle to keep these thoughts at bay. However, Voskamp’s techniques are really helpful in my own life.  I am trying to be more active in my faith, and am looking for tiny things to enjoy. In the past 15+ years I’ve been counseling depressed teens, this technique has never failed to help them at least a little bit. My hope is that it will be a source of help for your teen with depression as well.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Overwhelmed Teen in a Busy Age

Overwhelmed Teen in a Busy Age

Is Your Teen Overwhelmed?

Many teens are overwhelmed in today’s culture (about one third). Constant activity exhausts them. The activity isn’t always physical. They can appear to be resting, but they are still stimulating their mind with screens. There is literally no downtime. Between screens, scheduled activities, and a highly competitive culture, yes, our overwhelmed teenagers are everywhere.

Overwhelmed teen girl sitting head down feeling depressed
Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In an America where we feel pressure to give our kids every edge, it’s hard to discern what is important and what isn’t. I’m a mom, and I struggle with this too. 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. But what does that mean? Is a good future just career opportunities? What about learning to balance passions with work? What about making sure adolescents learn self-control with how to budget time? It’s very hard to help teenagers navigate their future in this post-modern era.

Are Overwhelmed Teens Really Set Up for Success?

What if we spend so much time making sure the chance to succeed exists that we forget to teach our overwhelmed 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.  Your child has to know how to cope with challenging emotional situations.  You want your teen to have a relationship with their faith.  It’s also important for your child to know how to build and maintain friendships. There are so many facets to a “successful life.”

What Can I Do to Help My Teen?

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, in other cases teens experience overwhelm 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. Work on balance. Work on helping your teenager think through what matters for THEIR life instead of what their friends are all doing.

A Personal Story of an Overwhelmed Teen

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, the rest of life caught up with him.  He didn’t know how to relate to people without succumbing to peer pressure. Between partying in college and not knowing how to handle it, he failed out. So, he ended up at community college and living at home. Likewise, he spent the next two years catching up on maturing in the other areas of life. Finally, he 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.

Wrapping It Up

So, if 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. Hopefully that helps, but if they continue to feel overwhelmed, please feel free to reach out. Usually overwhelmed adolescents are simply too busy, but sometimes there is something else going on. In those cases, therapy can be helpful.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Teen Sleep: How and Why This Must Improve

Teen Sleep: How and Why This Must Improve

Sleep is vital to your teen. Boy asleep on keyboard.

Sleep is vital to your teen.
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Importance of Good Sleep

I’m bringing up teen sleeping habits because I hear parents express concern over this in my therapy office all the time.  I have to admit, how well and how consistently your adolescent sleeps is a really big deal.

Good sleep has very strong links to happiness, immune functioning, ability to perform in school, memory, safe driving, and the list goes on.

Why Are Teens Short on Sleep?

Teenagers are notorious for foregoing sleep in order to complete homework assignments, text their friends, play video games, and go on TikTok.  However, none of these are a good excuse not to get about eight hours of sleep per night.  If your teen is occasionally staying up late to finish an assignment that’s one thing, but if they do this night after night, this is a problem.

Surprisingly, adolescents still need a hard and fast bedtime.  Furthermore, you have to enforce it.  It’s essential for their health and well-being.  If they have trouble waking up in the morning for school, then it means they aren’t sleeping enough.  That’s their body telling them to get to bed earlier.

The Family’s Role in Good Teen Sleep

Interestingly, there’s a good chance if your teen has poor sleep habits you do too.  So what steps can you take? Firstly, get yourself on a good sleep schedule, and stop watching late night TV.  Your sleep is absolutely more important!  As a result, you will be more productive at work, nicer to your family, a more enjoyable friend, and you will quite possibly shed those few extra pounds that have been nagging at you. Essentially, people who sleep well actually crave healthier foods and exercise more easily (they are more energized).

Secondly, prioritize this aspect of health in your family culture. There is a tremendous emphasis on the foods we eat and the amount we exercise in today’s culture. Obviously that’s reasonable. On the contrary, there’s not nearly enough discussion about the value of sleep in one’s overall health. Getting enough sleep improves immunity, thought clarity, lowers disease risk, and prevents injuries. And, it feels good!

What if My Teen Sleeps Too Much?

On the other hand, if your worries about your teenager’s sleep come from the other side of the spectrum, there are different concerns.  For example, if your teen naps often and also sleeps eight plus hours per night, then I have a different set of concerns.  Excessive sleep is a symptom, but there are many differing problems that cause hypersomnia in adolescents.  Here are a few: depression, drug use, endocrine issues, and physical illness.  It’s very important to talk with your doctor in this situation.  Your doctor might recommend psychiatry or therapy, but your doctor might also catch something else that’s wrong.  In any case, for your teenager to need a total of more than 10 hours of sleep per 24 hour stretch warrants a conversation with a doctor.

Once you get the family back on a good sleeping schedule, everyone’s life will be better, and everyone in your household will be happier. Our therapists at TTOC love to talk about sleep! We want to help everyone in your family sleep more and sleep better. We especially believe in its importance for your developing teenager.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

PTSD and Grief

PTSD and Grief

Sea churning, much like the emotions of living with PTSD.
Living with PTSD feels like a sea churning within.

Grief and Loss and Trauma

Five years ago, I was referred a client for an anxiety disorder. However, it became clear pretty quickly that she had PTSD. Also, the client had a separate therapist for grief because she had lost her father to cancer. Tragically, it was a long and ugly battle. At points he wasn’t aware of who his family members were. He dealt with many physical indignities, which were sometimes witnessed by his children. Sadly, it was cancer at its worst.

Eventually, this client’s PTSD symptoms showed. They came after witnessing the suffering her dad endured. So, not only did she have to work through tremendous grief, but she had nightmares and startle responses and avoidance and hypervigilance all related to the healthcare system. One day, a grandparent went into the hospital. When the client came to her therapy session, she endured a complete panic attack at the thought of visiting.

Unfortunately, trauma and grief often go hand in hand. If your teen is dealing with trauma related to the situation that caused grief, then your teenager may struggle to even start grieving. The act of grieving can trigger a trauma response.

What causes PTSD?

By technical definition, PTSD is when someone witnessed an event causing immense suffering or potential death to the self or someone close to the self. The traumatic response occurs within 3 months of the traumatic event(s). For the first month after the event occurs, we call it “Acute Stress Disorder.” However, if it hasn’t resolved by the 1 month mark, then it becomes PTSD.

If your teenager loses someone close to him or her, your teen has the possibility of developing PTSD related to the event. However, the majority of teenagers do not develop PTSD after a death. This means you cannot automatically assume your teen was traumatized by the death of someone close. Being traumatized means having an extremely distressed response after the fact.

What are some symptoms of posttraumatic stress?

Adolescents with posttraumatic stress exhibit a mixture of symptoms. Common ones include nightmares, flashbacks (reexperiencing the event after a trigger), hypervigilance, paranoia, panic attacks, trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating, and guilt or shame. One of the first things I notice as a therapist who treats PTSD is a strong avoidance of certain situations. For example, in the case of the client from the beginning of this post, she strongly avoided doctor’s offices and especially hospitals.

What do I do if my teen has grief and traumatic stress?

You get help. Typically, PTSD and grief become complicated. PTSD responds to treatment, but the treatment is complex. Thankfully, if a therapist helps your teen calm down their whole mind and body instead of remaining in a stress state, then your teen can start the grieving process. Getting through some of the grief also lessens the stranglehold of guilt and anxiety that PTSD has on its sufferers.

How is PTSD treated?

There are several methods for therapeutic treatment of PTSD. The two discussed here are primarily what we use at Teen Therapy OC. Firstly, we use EMDR (usually done by Carrie Johnson). This is a form of treatment that should establish different neural pathways for trauma cognitions. The idea is that the sufferer of PTSD no longer runs into the same emotional dead-end when trying to process trauma.

Secondly, we utilize CPT (cognitive processing therapy). Veterans with PTSD often use CPT, but it also works well with the non-military population. CPT seeks to reduce the shame and guilt associated with PTSD. This reduces the power of negative thoughts in the trauma process, which relieves the cycle. Typically, teens who complete the CPT protocol show marked improvement in their PTSD diagnostic scores. At TTOC Lauren or Mark does this therapy.

Call if You’re Unsure

In any case, if you are reading this post, then your family may have been through something very difficult. Our hearts go out to you and your teen. Please feel free to call and talk about your situation to see if therapy makes sense for you. The phone call is free.

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