June 26, 2017

A DAY IN THE ADHD LIFE: SCENES FROM A JAKE’S WAYBACK BURGER

True confessions time.  I have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.  To my friends and family, I am sure this does not come as much of a surprise.  I am 46 and grew up in a place (Texas, then New Jersey) and a time (the 1970’s and 1980’s) where ADHD wasn’t as well-known as it is now.  Basically, I grew up undiagnosed until well into adulthood.  This is why I like working with kids and families dealing with adhd…it’s something with which I’m intimately familiar with.  Today, I describe a recent event in my life where my adhd brain got the better of me.  I’m hoping this will both amuse and educate you guys about what it’s like to live with this condition.

Let’s set the wayback machine for two weeks ago.  My fiancée and I were out shopping, running some wedding errands, etc.  Truth be told, I’m not huge shopping fan so my interest level wasn’t at 100% (though getting these errands done was important).  Furthermore, I’d not slept well the night before and was not my best mentally.  I could tell it was a bad adhd day.  My mind was bouncing from thought to thought like an overly eager and friendly Labrador retriever.  What I’m saying is from an attention management perspective, I was nowhere near the top of my game.

During our outing, it occurred to us we should eat food.  We decided to treat ourselves by stopping in a Jake’s Wayback Burger.  For those of you not in the know, this place sells incredibly great burgers and awesome shakes.  They’re a little pricey, but very tasty.  Inside, my labrador mind immediately noticed the cool posters in the place.  Each poster represented a decade (from the 30’s to the 80’s) and I found that I had to put a lot of effort and energy to keep my eyes from wandering from my fiancée (who is a lovely woman) to studying the posters.

To make matters worse, the two guys at the table next to us were having a loud, weird and interesting conversation.  Near as I can tell, one guy was starting some sort go video game start up.  He actually said “we’re going to be the next Nintendo.”  He was selling hard to someone who appeared to be associated with some sort of community access cable channel.  They were talking very loudly and the selling was hard.  My fiancée and I both were giving each other silent looks regarding what we were both hearing. We weren’t sure if it was a business meeting or a date. Anyway, this was another thing drawing my attention away from my fiancée and our conversation.

The proverbial camel breaking straw came partway through our meal when from behind me, someone in the kitchen yelled something to someone else in the kitchen.  I had no idea what they said.  I was caught utterly and completely by surprise.  That it happened behind me in my blind spot didn’t help.  Immediately, my attention was pulled behind me.  The Labrador in my head went “HUH??!?!”  I was powerless to stop it for a good couple of seconds.

The result was that I totally didn’t hear what my fiancée said.  As she is an intelligent and observant woman, she totally noticed my attention shift and knew in that moment I didn’t hear her.  I knew that she knew I wasn’t paying attention.  The Labrador tucked his tail between his legs and started to whimper.  I felt terrible because it was clear her feelings were hurt.  This wedding stuff is important and its important I be a part of it.  In that moment, even though I’m totally invested in the wedding and the planning, that’s not how it looked.  Once again, I let someone I cared about down and there was nothing I could have done to avoid it.  Somedays, this adhd thing really sucks.

She called me out on my lack of attention.  I tried to be cool about it at first, but ultimately had to own up to the fact that I missed some of what she said.  Explaining what happened and apologizing, I did the only thing I could do.  Ask her to repeat herself. As her feelings were hurt, she did not want to at first.

We talked some more about what adhd is like for me.  I suspect many of you have had similar conversations with parents, partners and friends.  The neurotypical folks in our lives don’t understand the struggle of how easily our attention gets split.  They don’t see all the ways we must compensate for adhd mind.  They do, however, see the frequent lapses in attention.  When it gets personalized, they get hurt…we in turn, often get defensive.

If you love someone with adhd, understand these important points:

  • ADHD is forever. Don’t confuse an apparent lack of symptoms for a lack of ADHD.  Your loved one has probably learned to cope better.
  • Coping skills only go so far. Lack of sleep, environmental attention grabbers, etc. impact our ability to attend.  If stressors exceed coping, our attention will go bye bye.   Don’t take that personally.  Not to be cliché, but it’s not you, its us.
  • Know that we really want to pay better attention and most of us are trying really hard to stay engaged and attentive.
  • Help us by calling us out on our lack of attention to get us to re-attend. But do so without judgment or ire.  We may need the help, but the other stuff just gets us resentful and defensive.

For those of you, like me, who have adhd, try the following:

  • Be aware of how good or bad your attention might be. Be honest with your loved ones about when you might be struggling.   Help them understand.  Help them to help you.
  • Be honest with yourself when your attention is weak and try to implement appropriate coping skills.
  • When things go awry, don’t personalize it or get down on yourself. Apologize, reset, refocus.  It’s ok.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We tend to be the kind of people that don’t ask for help or assistance.  We’re often tired of being “failures”.  Failure only happens when you don’t get the support you need.  Doing yourself will ultimately end in the failure you’re trying to avoid.

I hope you found this article helpful.  Please share this with everyone you know.  Spread the positivity!

If you would like to work with me on dealing with your adhd symptoms or the adhd symptoms of a loved one, then call 484-693-0582 or go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com to schedule a consultation.

©Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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FOUR SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY TO BE A BETTER YOU IN THE NEW YEAR LESSON TWO

Let’s continue our quest for self-improvement.  The last article, which you can read HERE, focused on the difference between struggle and suffering and how to think about those things in a more positive manner.  As we go through these lessons, you may notice a theme developing.  Each lesson is not a big huge behavioral change requiring a lot of effort to do.  Instead, these lessons are small changes in how we think and look at situations.  These small changes in thought can really add up and lead to more permanent change.  The next article in our four-part series comes to us from the wisdom of Yoda.

Lesson #2:  Do or do not, there is no try

A parent said to me recently “if all you ever do is try to feed the dog, the dog will starve.”  Not only is this hilarious, but its completely true.  I hear “I’ll try” from clients all the time when we talk about change.  Hell, I’m guilty of saying it myself.  The thing is, people who say to me “I’ll do it” are more likely to follow through than the ones who say “I’ll try.”  I know for this is true for me.

What is it about saying try that seems to muck up the works?  I know that sometimes when people use the word try that they often are sincere in their desire to change.  Other times, try is simply a way to look willing to change while avoiding it all together.  It’s a polite way to say “Aw, hell no!”  In either case, “try” thinking seems to interfere with are ability to move forward and actually do stuff.

There is a lot of research done around motivation.  One of the things researchers have found is that when people announce their plans to others they are less likely to follow through and do what they said they’d do.  For instance, you tell all your friends that you are going to start going to the gym 4 times a week and work out for an hour.  You tell them so that they can hold you accountable and keep you honest.  What happens?  In many cases, the gym trips start out fine but then gradually drop off.

Saying “I’ll try” is very like telling our friends our plans.  It tricks our brain into thinking about what would happen.  We imagine the outcome and our brain (which doesn’t do a good job of distinguishing between what we think and what happens) into experiencing completeness.  This experience then gives us the illusion on some level that we already did what we said we were going to do….and then we don’t actually do it.  This phenomenon has been documented in research going back to the turn of the last century.

So, what’s the solution?  How do we not try?  Simple…listen to Nike and JUST DO IT.  Don’t tell everybody your plans, just start working your plans.  Hold yourself accountable.  If you don’t want to do something…be honest and say so.  If you do want to do something…DO IT.  The hardest thing about this is typically getting through the mental/emotional resistance.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve procrastinated, worries, and stressed out about something and once I finally started felt “that wasn’t so hard.”  Has that happened to you?  Probably.  So, remember that.  Remember the feeling of getting stuff done.  Stop getting in your own way and applying the brakes to yourself and start doing the stuff you want and need to do.

I hope you found this article helpful.  Please share this with everyone you know.  Spread the positivity!

If you would like to work with me on getting stuff done and getting out of your own way, then call 484-693-0582 or go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com to schedule a consultation.

Find part one of this series here.

Find part three of this series here.

Find part four of this series here.

©Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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FOUR SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY TO BE A BETTER YOU IN THE NEW YEAR: LESSON ONE

The old year has come to an end and a new year is upon us.  According to most of the social media I’ve been reading, this last year was bad.  I’m talking the fifth season of Night Court bad.  We all seem to be hanging our hopes that this new year will bring us some much-needed relief.  Despite the challenges the previous year presented us, we can’t lose sight of all the positive things that happened in the last year.  It wasn’t all doom and gloom.  I learned some very powerful lessons that have changed my life in positive ways.    These lessons have helped in my personal and professional growth.

I don’t generally subscribe to the idea of making new year’s resolutions.  If you want to change, then you should do that regardless of the time of year.  However, any chance I get to get out of my own way and become happier, healthier and less stressed I jump on it.  Over the course of the next four articles, I will share these ideas with you in hopes that you can be a better, more positive you in 2017.

 

Lesson #1:  Struggle in life is inevitable, suffering is optional

That phrase is purportedly something that stems from Buddhist philosophy.  While I can’t speak to the origins of that phrase, I find it to be profound and moving.  Struggle IS inevitable.  This is a fact that we can do nothing about.  No matter how we try hard times are going to happen to us.  We don’t need to pile on.  Yet, we do this to ourselves all the time.

We fear the struggle and go out of our way to avoid (a futile act) and then beat ourselves of with our thoughts and our behaviors when the struggle inevitably occurs.  If a boxer got into the ring and started to punch himself in the face, we’d think he was crazy.  Yet, we do similar things to ourselves all the time.  We judge, blame, shame, assume, exaggerate, downplay, and twist our experiences in such a way as to add suffering to our experience and those around us.

With a true understanding of this, we can make some profound changes that can bring peace and happiness to ourselves and our loved ones.

  • If struggle is inevitable, then change must therefore be inevitable as well. So, when we are in difficult times (struggle), we can hold on to the fact that the difficulty is temporary and good times are coming our way.  All we need do is take care of business without beating ourselves up physically, mentally or emotionally.  We should also avoid creating suffering for others.  Just try to stay calm and deal with what we can change when we can change it and nothing more.  It is the essence of the Serenity Prayer.

  • Conversely, when we are in good times, then we should appreciate and savor them because eventually, struggle will return. Be mindful and appreciate the blessings and the wonders that the good times afford us.  It’s like Ferris Beuller said, ”Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

I hope you found this article helpful.  Please share this with everyone you know.  Spread the positivity!

If you would like to work with me on increasing your positivity practice or reducing stress then call 484-693-0582 or go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com to schedule a consultation.

Find part two of this series here.

Find part three of this series here.

Find part four of this series here.

©Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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Are you taking care of yourself? Try these tips for parental self-care

give yourself a massage!

give yourself a massage!

I.                The importance of self-care

Confession time.  This was me a few years ago.  My days were spent working, running errands, getting the kids to and from school, sports practice, music lessons, doctor appointments, therapy sessions, cleaning the house, walking the dog, paying bills, answering emails, etc.  I’d wake up, go at 100 mph all day with barely time to eat or go to the bathroom.  I’d never have time alone or do anything for myself.  I didn’t sleep well enough or long enough.  My meals were on the go.  I was always exhausted.  Disconnected.  There seemed to be no end in sight.  My health suffered…weight gain, high blood pressure.  My mood suffered… repeated depression and burnout… anxiety and even panic.

Does this sound familiar?  I meet a lot of parents in this boat of doing everything for everyone but not doing for themselves.

Why do we do this to ourselves?  What does this crazy level of sacrifice get us?  What is it teaching our kids?

Parenting is hard.  That’s the tagline on my website.  It’s true too.  Parenting is frustrating, challenging, maddening, joyful, exhilarating, fulfilling…. the adjectives are endless.  No matter if your child has special needs or is neurotypical, parents are faced with an overload of demands on their time, emotions, and energy.

Faced with all of this, many parents throw themselves into their parenting role in the most selfless manner.  Giving of themselves for their family.  This is a wonderful thing to do… to a point.  Parents who do nothing but sacrifice for their family often don’t take care of themselves.  Sacrifice without renewal is a recipe for burn out, overwhelming stress, as well as health and emotional problems.  It eats away at one’s ability to be an effective parent.  When there is nothing left of you… who will care for your family?

Here are some basic ideas for taking care of yourself.  These are things I implemented for myself and I help my clients do for themselves.  Taking time to implement some of these things can help reduce your stress and increase your happiness.  This will give you more energy to take care of your family.  You will be more present and healthier parent.  You will also be modeling good self-care skills for your children, thus helping them to be happier and healthier people themselves.

Good self-care IS good parenting!

II.              Find time to exercise

If I could bottle the effects of exercise, sleep and sunshine… I’d be a Gazillionaire.  The benefits of exercise are too many to list.  Improved health.  Feeling better physically.  Outlet for stress.  It stimulates endorphins (your body’s natural feel good chemicals).  Improves your immune system. More energy.  Improved brain function.  The list goes on.

I consider having a sound exercise plan a crucial part of any stress management strategy.  If you aren’t exercising and moving around a bit you are missing out.

I don’t have the time!  I hear you say.  It’s too hard!  You cry.  I don’t like it!

Yeah… I hear you.  I get it.  Here’s the thing, if you make yourself a priority (remember, take care of yourself so you can take care of others!)… then finding time can be done.  Really, 20 or 30 minutes 3-4 times a week is all you need.  You don’t have to go crazy and live at the gym.  Just take time to go for a walk.  Take up a sport… maybe even something you can do with your kids.

Years ago, I did taekwondo with my kids.  We’d workout and train for competitions together in the morning.  It was a great family activity for years.  I got healthy, my kids got healthy… and we have a ton of great memories together.

The point is… if you make it a priority you can fit it in.  Try different activities until you find some that work for you… that you enjoy.  There aren’t any rules other than (as Nike says) just do it.

III.            Get enough quality sleep

You should be getting 6 to 8 hours of sleep.  If you aren’t sleeping well, then your health (emotional, physical and mental) are all compromised.  Try the following to improve your sleep:

  • Schedule your sleep. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Turn off the electronics (phones, computers, etc.) at least 30 minutes before bed. An hour is even better.
  • Try some slow, deep breathing as you prepare for sleep. Clear the mind and shed some stress.
  • Resist the urge to do projects late into the night… sleep time is important and should be sacrosanct. Putting some emotional and time space between work and activities of daily living and sleep time is crucial.  Allow yourself to wind down.  Whatever projects you are working on will still be there in the morning… and you’ll be better able to tackle them after you’re well rested.

IV.           Enjoy a hobby

It’s too easy for us parents to lose ourselves in our kids. You are more than your kids.  They’re important, no doubt… but they need not be your entire life.  To that end, spending time every week doing stuff that’s just for and about you is important …a hobby or something. For me, I play a lot of music.  It relaxes me.  It’s something I enjoy doing and is part of my identity.  I’ve also indulged in woodworking, chess and reading at various times in the past.  These are things that are important to me above and beyond being a parent or working.

When you engage in a hobby, you destress.  You create opportunities to be successful in ways that parenting and working won’t necessarily allow.  You exercise different parts of your brain and create new and positive neural connections.  Even just 45 minutes a week can be enough to give you a break and renew yourself.  It’s not selfish… because taking care of yourself will allow you to better take care of your loved ones.  You’ll also be more pleasant to be around (happiness is contagious!).

V.             Date night, intimacy, human connection

I can’t tell you how often I see parents who have forgotten why they got together and had kids in the first place.  They run from activity to activity, chore to chore, obligation to obligation and barely have time to say hello to each other in passing.  This is a rough place to be and often strains their relationship.

The fix is simple: get a sitter…go out on regular dates.  Hang out with each other.  Laugh.  Love.  Be adults without the kids hanging around.  Hold hands, hug, kiss.

Couples that do this make for stronger parents.  They have more resilience and warmth in their relationships.  They are happier.

As humans, we need connection to others.  It’s how we’re wired.  It’s a huge necessity.  If that goes missing in our lives, we suffer.  To the extent we suffer, we pass that suffering on to our children and other loved ones inadvertently.

Put the kids to bed a little early once in a while and make time for each other.  Don’t sit there worrying about the day to day…just look into each other’s eyes, make out like teenagers.  Do whatever it takes to stay connected and refreshed.

I have a special needs child…I can’t find a sitter! OR I don’t have the time!

That’s a definite challenge.  Reach out to trusted friends and family members.  Go to your local college and reach out to students in the special education programs.  They are often looking for ways to make money and are being trained in the skills you need for looking after your exceptional; child.  The bottom line is….do what it takes to get out every once in a while and have some fun and human contact with your significant other.

As to the time issue…make the time.  When you make something a priority, you will find the time.  This is important enough to you and those you love that it needs to be a priority. To that end, put something on your schedule.  Even if it needs to be a week or two out.  If you block off the time, then it’s harder to book the time with something else.

What if I’m a single parent?

Then I would heartily recommend you find time to go out with friends or even try dating.  It’s challenging as a special needs parent, yet it can be done.  This will be the subject of my next article in fact.

I hope you found this article helpful.  Please comment and leave other tips for ways parents can engage in self-care.  I’m always looking for new ideas to share.

Also, if you know of someone who might benefit from this article, share it with them.  Finally, if you want to work with me personally to work on a self-care plan, go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com or email me at erik@erikyoungcounseling.com or call 484-693-0582 to set up a consultation.

 

Helpful links:

https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-tools-tips/healthy-sleep-tips

http://www.brighthorizons.com/family-resources/e-family-news/2013-exercise-and-the-working-parent/

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STRESS BUSTER’S PART 2: HOW TO EAT THE ELEPHANT AND OTHER MINDFULNESS TRICKS

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       I.            Introduction

In the last article we discussed how to manage stress by recognizing that things change and bad times don’t last forever.  To do this we used a combination of linguistic awareness (“estar”) and awareness and focus on the now. The second trick is what we will explore today.  When we focus and stay aware of the now we are engaging in mindfulness.

A quick internet search on the definition of mindfulness reveals this: a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

When one is able to achieve this state, stress and it’s associated symptoms pretty much go away.  It’s a wonderful feeling…especially compared to how crappy it feels to be stressed out, anxious and/or depressed.  This article will discuss some simple ways to help you and your kids to be more mindful.

     II.            How do you eat an elephant?

“Why would I want to eat an elephant?”  I hear you say.  Just roll with me on this one.  Imagine you are REALLY hungry.  Someone brings you a delicious whole roast elephant (perhaps Fred Flintstone style) and it is now your chance to dine.  How would you go about doing it?  Trunk first?  Tail?

I often pose this question to my clients…and they usually look at me like I’m out of my mind (kind of like I’m imagining you’re looking now.  It’s ok.  There’s a method to my madness).  The answer to this question is simple:  One bite at a time.  That’s it.  If you were to try to eat an emephant….as long as you take one bite at time, the elephant would be consumed by you.  Sure, take a break when you get full….we’ll assue you have elephant sized Tupperware for easy and convenient storage.  When it’s time to eat again, just keep taking more bites.  Eventually, you will run all out of elephant.

The elephant represents any large, seemingly overwhelming task.  It’s easy to look at something like a big project, a pile of bills, tons of homework, etc. and just see how big it is.  This gets your brain thinking “It’s too much!  I can’t do it!” and that trips your coping skills associated with avoidance.  However, if you stop looking at the whole and focus on the basic manageable parts (like a single bite, one problem, one bill, etc.) then you will notice that it’s all quite manageable.  If you just take each little manageable part as it comes and do that…then eventually the task will get finished.  Focus on the moment, focus on what you CAN do.  Stop worrying about how big, how long, how hard…all of that is illusion and just serves to hold you back and keep you stressed out.  This is a coping skill of approach which is what one often needs to get through difficult tasks.  Keep it easy and you’ll cruise through it.

  III.            No matter where you go…

…There you are.  (Thanks Buckaroo Bonzai!) You can only exist where you’re at.  You can only control yourself and your choices at this moment.  Energy spent crying over the past is energy wasted (the past can’t be changed).  Worry (anxiety projected into the future) is energy wasted as you can’t do much about the future until it becomes the present.  So, when you find yourself worrying and anxious, take a moment to ground yourself and focus on where you are.  (This is exactly what Yoda said Luke needed to do more of.  I’m reasonably confident that if Yoda thinks it’s a good idea then it probably is.)

There are lots of ways to ground yourself in the present.  I like doing the color game.  It works great for both children and adults.  Take a few deep breaths to calm that sympathetic nervous system…then pick your favorite color.  Look around you and find five things that are that color.  Next, look for four things that are your next favorite color.  Then find three things of another color. Two things, One thing.  DONE!  It’s shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.  You should notice an immediate reduction in your anxiety and emotional activation.  I call this the brain cooling effect.  A cooler brain allows you to think more clearly and hopefully cope with whatever is going on for you at the present moment (where you can actually do something about it).

 IV.            The mind’s eye

This last exercise is less about being mindful of where you are so much as being mindful of who you are and how you are connected to others.  Close your eyes.  Now picture the most important person in your life.  It could be a partner, friend, child….anyone to whom you feel close.  Now imagine sitting across from that person and looking deeply into their eyes.  Feel the love and connection with that person.  Feel their acceptance of you.  Feel safe in knowing they love you and you love them.  Try to hold onto this feeling for as long as can.

    V.            Conclusion

I hope you found something in this article that helped you get rid of some stress.  Please forward this on to anyone you know who might also benefit from a little mindful stress reduction.  I invite you to share and comment on your experiences with mindfulness (I love learning new mindfulness exercises!). If you wish to work with me directly then please call 484-693-0582 or email me at erik@erikyoungcounseling.com to set up a session.

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Stress Busters Part 1 – The Power of “Estar”

 

Stress Busters Part 1

The Power of “Estar”

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I.                   So, this one time in the emergency room…

About a year ago, I found myself in the emergency room with my daughter.  She was really ill…the last time this happened she ended up  hospitalized for the better part of three months (the year prior).  I could tell my daughter was really nervous…it was palpable.  Truth be told, I was equally scared.  It’s a terrible feeling when your kid is hurting and you can’t make it better.  All I could do was try to ease her anxiety.  I remember looking at her and saying “It’ll be ok.  This is just temporary.  We’ll get through this and be back on track befor you know it.”  It wasn’t exactly stirring speech I know, but it was pretty much all I had at the time.  After I said that, she looked at me, she smiled, and then she said the most remarkable thing.

“It’s ok Dad.  We’ll just use Estar from now on.”

Estar?  Huh?  What’s that?  That’s pretty much what I said to her.  She went on to explain that in the Spanish Language (did I mention my daughter has been taking Spanish classes since she was in Kindergarten and is very much in love with the language?) the verb “To Be” can be expressed in two different ways.  “Ser” which is for things that are permamanent and aren’t expected to change and “Estar” which refers to things that are going to and are expected to change.  As I never really studied Spanish (and posess a miserable facility for learning languages) this was a revelation to me.  What a marvelous concept…a language that has a verb to address things that are changeable!  What a help for situations like the one we were in….if we think of it as not changeable (Ser) then we’re stuck.  What’s the point of fighting on?  It’s not going to get better.  Sounds like the thought processes of somebody stuck in depression or overwhelmed by stress and anxiety.  On the otherhand, by labeling it as temporary (Estar) it has to change…get better….automatically, with this one linguistic shift, there is hope.  It’s optimism at it’s finest.  Also…props to my daughter…that was a fine bit of wisdom on her part.

The days and months that were to follow that moment in the emergency room were tough to say the least.  Crazy highs and lows.  Unexpected twists and turns.  However, no matter how tough things were…my daughter and I could look at each other and just say “Estar” and we’d feel better.  Over time, things DID get better.  Now, when we look back a year ago it seems a lifetime.  So much has changed, so much is better….but it was hard to see the way out back then.  We needed a little faith and we prompted that faith by remembering “Estar”.  By a little creative use of language, we’d found a great way to manage stress.

II.                 Everything is temporary

A.                Bad times end eventually

Everything is temporary.  Nothing lasts forever.  So, when you are going through hard times.  It helps to think “Estar.”  Eventually, the hard times will ease up and end.  Sadly, it is often very hard to see how things will change and get better.  In fact, the more your resources are consumed by stress the harder it is to see past one’s expectations.  It’s a weird kind of tunnel vision that makes it more likely for you to focus on all the stuff that is overwhelming you today.  It obscures and hides options.  This can lead to a feeling of helplessness that feeds hopelessness.  In short, it sucks.

So, by adopting this language of “Estar” you can remind yourself that everything is temporary.  Then, you can hold onto the idea that even though you might not be able to see a way out or see the end of the hard times….the hard times willI end.  Solutions will present themselves.  By adjusting your thinking slightly you can give yourself a little bit of positive energy and keep hope alive.  This energy can help you deal with those things in your bad situation that you can manage.

B.                 Good times don’t go on forever

So, if the bad times don’t last forever then it stands to reason the good times don’t last either.  “That’s terrible Erik!  Why would you bring me down like that?” I hear you say.  Well, it means that you need to cherish the good times when they are happening.  Don’t take them for granted.  No mater how small the positive moment may seem….enjoy it to its fullest.  When you are feeling bad, take time out to remember and savor the good moments.  In this way you cultivate happiness within yourself and inoculate yourself against negativity.  Use the good times while they last to buffer and prepare yourself for the hard times.

C.                 All you have is this moment (the art of Mindfulness)

To do that, practice mindfulness.  Simply put, be in the moment.  Don’t spend energy worrying about what may come (that’s just anxiety projected into the future where you can’t do anything about it) or staying stuck in the past (the past can’t be changed).  Be in the moment.  I will talk more about mindfulness and discuss some ways to practice it and use it manage stress in future articles.

III.              How to model/teach this to your children

For you parents out there, you can teach your kids how to think like “Estar.”  This is especially important for children on the spectrum or with ADHD who tend to be more ridged in their thinking and see situations as being more permanent than they really are.

A.                Talk it out

Talk to your kids.  When you notice they are getting stuck…tell them about and encourage them to see the temporariness of bad situations and to appreciate the good things when they have them.  Better yet, talk out loud about ways you might be using this for yourself in your life.

B.                 Act it out

Walk the walk,  Don’t just say it but do it.  When your kids see you doing the same things you tell them to do that means more to them. They are more likely to internalize things they experience than things that are seem more hypothetical.

C.                 Reward and praise it

Make a point of commenting on, praising and rewarding your child for their efforts to be mindful, appreciate the good things and accept the bad things as temporary.  Children really respond to things that they experience and then are rewarded for doing.

 

I hope this article has been helpful.  The way we use words influences the way we think.  Language and thinking style are your biggest assets in managing stress.  I would love to hear about ways you have used tricks like this to manage your stress.  Also, if you would like a stress consultation, please call (484-693-0582) or email (erik@erikyoungcounseling.com) to schedule an appointment.

 

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The Punishment Spiral (and how to get out of it)

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courtesy of freedigitalphoto.com

How it starts… a familiar story?

Your child does something you’ve told him not to do. In fact, you’ve him not to do this thing many times before.  Frustrated, you snap at your child “how many times do I have to tell you?!  Cut that out!!”  Maybe you ground them for a year… because time out and losing video game privileges hasn’t helped.  Maybe you start ranting like a crazy person about how the child is irresponsible, disrespectful, etc.  Maybe you even engage in corporal punishment with a spanking.  Then, you look at yourself and how you are acting.  You realize that should things go any further, there’s going to be a visit from child protective services in your near future.  Your kid is in all likelihood experiencing a full on meltdown by this stage.  You are too.  You feel helpless to get your child to listen and you don’t know what else to do.

Welcome to the punishment spiral.  As a parent, I’ve been there…. more than once.  In fact, it’s at this stage that many parents seek out my counseling services.  They’ve gotten stuck in a repeating cycle of punishing “bad behaviors”, the child getting “used” to the punishment, and then having to escalate the punishments to maintain their effectiveness.  The end result, like those Bugs Bunny cartoons where he and Marvin Martian get bigger and bigger weapons until they are ready to blow up the moon with their planet busting bombs, is that things get quickly out of control.  Thankfully, with a little knowledge and planning, this situation can be changed for the better.

Punishment vs reinforcement

First off, it’s important to note the difference between punishment and reinforcement.  From a technical point of view, punishment is anything that happens after a behavior that decreases the chances of seeing that behavior in the future.  Reinforcement is anything that happens after a behavior that increases the chances of seeing that behavior in the future.  Thus, for practical purposes, when you deliver a consequence with the goal of trying to get your child to stop or decrease a behavior you are technically punishing him.  This also means that your intent is less important than the outcome.  You might intend something to be reinforcing or but unless it increases the behavior it is not a reinforce.  Also, if it goes so far as to decrease a behavior, your reinforcer is actually a punisher.

Here’s the thing bout punishment.

  • It works, and it tends to work fast.
  •  It’s also the cultural norm in western society.

However, there is a cost to using punishers.

  • They tend to leave both the person delivering the punishment and the person receiving it feeling poorly.
  • Over use of punishers strains and damages relationships.
  • They only teach a child what not to do in a specific situation…. thus you need to punish every possible behavior that you don’t want to see if you go strictly with punishment as a consequence.
  • Punishment only works when the threat of punishment is imminent (the child knows they will get caught right then).
  •  Finally, kids tend to get used to punishment so they lose effectiveness over time.  This leads to the need to escalate punishments. Over time, this can quickly get out of hand, leading to a punishment spiral.

Personally, I tend to prefer using reinforcement strategies when I deliver consequences.

  • Reinforcers really teach your child what you want them to do and thus eliminate most other possible outcomes you don’t want to see.
  •  For example, I can punish my child every time he hits.  He might stop hitting, but he can kick,he can bite, etc.  If I teach my child to use gentle hands and feet or something along those lines…I’m focusing on rewarding the behavior I want to see and this basically gives no incentive to engage in all those other negative behaviors.
  •  Giving rewards ends to make the recipients feel more kindly and connected to you.
  • The downside with reinforcement strategies is that they often take a little bit longer and require a little more finesse.  You might have to teach a behavior or skill as you start to reinforce it.
  • You have to stop reinforcing the negative behaviors… and this might mean changing parenting tactics.

 

Also, a lot of parents often feel that reinforcement strategies look a lot like bribery.  The thing is, bribery is a money given to someone as an incentive to engage in illegal or illicit behavior.  It’s given BEFORE the behavior (so is not reinforcement) and I don’t know about you, but I’m not rewarding my kids for doing illegal and illicit things. Just keep the big picture in mind.  We want our kids to learn how to behave “properly.”  If a system of rewards will help them be motivated to behave, then that’s a good thing.  Over time, extrinsic rewards (money, toys, food, etc.) give way to intrinsic rewards (praise, doing it because it’s the right thing to do and it feels good) as the child grows and matures.

Break the cycle… Competency Based Parenting

What to do if you find yourself in a punishment spiral with your kids?  How do you get them to listen without killing a child?  First, take a deep breath.  Second, it’s simply time for a reset.  Look at the behavior and try to figure out what your child is getting from it.  Whatever that is, we need to provide that to your child, but only for displaying the behavior you want to see.  Once you’ve figured that out, you need to set the stage to elicit and reward those desired behaviors.

There are some assumptions that go along with this.

  • First, if your child is struggling with behaviors around certain items or activities (I often hear this in reference to computers and video games) then he is not competent or ready to handle the responsibility and privilege for access to that item or activity.  Access needs to be eliminated or cut back to something more manageable until your child has demonstrated the skills and competency to handle that situation.

 

  • The next assumption is that you, as a parent, have everything that the child wants and the child has absolutely nothing you want (thank you to Terry Levy and Michael Orlans for that concept!).  This means that everything you child takes as a given (video games, TV, etc..) is a privilege you ALLOW them.  That xbox isn’t your child’s…you paid for it.  You paid for the electricity to run it.  You pay for the wifi for it to connect to the internet.  When your child gets to play it… it’s because you are choosing to let them do it.

 

  • Your child should only have access to privileges that they have demonstrated the ability to manage.  So, if your child won’t do their chores because they are busy playing video games or get irritable or angry and act out around access to video games, then they are clearly not ready to handle the responsibility of video games.

 

So, to avoid going into a punishment spiral (which often starts with taking away “stuff” after kid acts out), we simply restrict access to activities to only those things the child can manage.  Give the child access to a limited number of activities and then as the child demonstrates responsible behavior over time (weeks and months… not hours and days), gradually add more privileges.

  • Add privileges slowly.  For example, don’t just give free access to the video games.  Maybe give them 10 minutes a day to a select few games (if they do their chores and get homework done).
  • Do not add privileges until you, as a parent, are dead certain your child will be able to manage it responsibly.
  • Don’t let your child guilt you with the “my friends get to do it” card. Your child is not his or her friends.
  • Your child will hate this at first, but will generally show improved behaviors very quickly under these boundaries.
  • By focusing on earning privileges for demonstrating positive behaviors and adding privileges slowly… you focus on looking for positive behaviors, rewarding instead of punishing, and you are teaching your child what to do (rather than what not to do).

I hope these tips help you live more harmoniously with your kids.  If you have further questions or would like to schedule a consultation, please feel free to contact me at erikyounglpc@verizon.net or call me at 484-693-0582.

Copyright 2014 Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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Want your child to listen better? Try the prompting hierarchy

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       I.            Does this sound familiar?

“Johnny, put on your shoes.”

“Put on your shoes Johnny.”

“Johnny!  Pay attention!  Put on our shoes!”

“Put on your shoes!”

“ARRRGGGHHH!!!”  (parent loses mind… Johnny is still shoeless)

If you have kids then you’ve probably had this interaction (or one like it).  Repeating the same command over and over as your child blissfully ignores you until you lose your mind.  Why does this happen?  They say that the definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior over and over expecting the same results.  So, parents MUST be crazy because we insist on repeating ourselves to our kids ad nauseum hoping they will suddenly listen to us.

Ok, so we aren’t crazy even if our kids sometimes make us look that way.  There must be a solution to though to what to do to get kids to listen when we want them to do something.  One answer is using prompts.  Prompts are assists that help someone to display a behavior we want to see. For example, demonstrating a behavior for your child and then having them copy you would be an example of a modeling prompt (you modeled the behavior).  If you make your prompts progressively more assistive, you can ultimately guarantee your child will do what you want.  More importantly, this makes sure that the child receives praise and reinforcement  from you for displaying the behaviors YOU want to see.

     II.            The different kinds of basic prompts

There are four basic kinds of prompts I like to use with my kids:

Gesture – some sort of non-verbal movement that will elicit the desired behavior. In the above shoe example, pointing the shoes could be a gesture prompt.

Verbal – a brief verbal statement meant to bring about the behavior. That’s all that was used in he above example.

Model – demonstrating the desired behavior.  In the above example, I might pick up the shoe and then put it down while saying “Like this, now you try.”

Physical – helping the child to physically do the behavior. So, hand over hand helping the child pick up his shoes and put them on.

  III.            Putting the prompts to use

Putting everything together is pretty simple.  After the child is told to do something, you wait a bit for them to process and comply.  Then, if they don’t do what you want, you give them a prompt.  Personally,  like to start with the gesture prompt as it is the least intrusive.  Wait a bit, then go to the next level of prompt (verbal) if the behavior doesn’t happen.  Keep working up the hierarchy until you get the behavior you were looking for.  As soon as the behavior occurs, make sure to deliver reinforcement in the form of praise.  With this system, you guarantee you don’t repeat yourself forever trying to get your child to listen,  Also, you guarantee that the child gets praised for doing the behavior.  Finally, you only give as much help as the child needs to do what you want.  So, you might start out having to physically assist but over time that will naturally fade to verbal, gesture and hopefully with no prompts (child does the behavior when first directed to do so).

If you wish to learn more about prompting strategies or to schedule a free consultation with me, call 484-693-0582 email erikyounglpc@verizon.net or press the schedule appointment button to the right.

©Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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New Year’s Resolutions versus The Stages of Change

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The Christmas holiday is over.  Surrounded by the carnage of torn wrapping paper and mangled boxes, we look to the future.  Soon, it will be New Year’s eve.  Maybe because it’s a “natural” transition…or maybe because it’s tradition, we tend to start thinking about the past and looking to the future.  From this has arisen the idea of the New Year’s resolution…the promise of change that we make to ourselves to hopefully make the next year a little better than the one that just passed us by.

Truth be told, I’m not a big fan of the resolution.  Well, that’s not true…I’m all about making resolutions and change for the better.  I just don’t see why we should only do it once a year.  I figure if you need to change…then change.  Don’t wait for an arbitrary date to do so.  However, that’s not the point of this article.  No…I want to speak to you about HOW to change…not when or why.

I.                   Ever struggled with making changes?

If you answered “no” to that question, you are either the luckiest, most enlightened person in the universe…or a total liar.  Everyone struggles with change.  Change is difficult.  It’s stressful.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve decided to make a change in my life.  Committed to the process…only to fall on my butt.  Sometimes it’s because life got in the way.  Other times I wasn’t really ready.  Still other times I changed, but it just didn’t “stick”

I tell you this now because I often reflect on how ironic it is that I as a mental health professional whose job it is to facilitate change in others struggle personally with making changes myself.  In fact, all my colleagues seem to have the same dilemma.  However, in my studies I have learned a thing or two about change…things that have helped me personally and certainly helped my clients to change.  So, in the spirit of making changes for the new year, I offer you this look into the theory of “stages of change.”

II.                 Prochaska and DiClemente — Stages of change

I came across this change model while I was finishing up my degree.  I’ve found it to be incredibly helpful in my own efforts at change as well as those of many of my clients.  Here it is in a nutshell:

  1. “I don’t have a problem…YOU have a problem”– (Precontemplation) – Not considering change.  Doesn’t recognize there’s a problem.  “Ignorance is bliss.”  You probably won’t recognize if you are in this stage…but you will know if a loved one is here.  If your child, spouse, friend, etc is here, then your goal is to raise awareness.  Make connections between the person’s behaviors and the problem at hand.  I often find myself saying “How’s that working for you?” to clients stuck at this stage.
  2. “I know I have a problem, but what can I do about it?”—(Contemplation) – Recognizes there may be a problem or a need to change, but doesn’t know what to do about it.  Most of us become aware at this stage.  We often try to force a change here but this is a mistake.  Because we don’t know everything about the problem any solution we come up with is liable to be inadequate. It’s like trying to bake cookies without reading or understanding the recipe.  The goal here is to be patient and really understand the problem thoroughly.  Once you understand it, then you can change it.
  3. 3.       “I know what’s wrong, just need to figure out what to do about it.” – (Preparation) – Recognizes a need for change and is starting to explore the problem and come up with a plan to address it.  Here we start putting together a plan for change.  We draw on all our resources to get ready to change. 
  4. 4.       “I’m working my plan!” – (Action) –  Recognizes a need for change.  Understands what needs to be done, has a plan and is “working” that plan.  Pretty straight forward.  This is where most of want to be but try to get here too soon.
  5. 5.       Maintenance – Has achieved the desired change and is now actively maintaining that change for the long haul.
  6. 6.       Relapse – Due to unforeseen circumstances, has reverted to old patterns of behaviors and regressed.

It is important to note, while most people go through the stages in order, one does not have to go through ALL the stages.  One might go from precontemplation to action in a short period of time if a plan comes together.  One might also move backwards through the stages if bad things happen.  Also, one can be in different stages of change with different problems all at the same time.  The bottom line is, change can be complicated and messy (no surprise there, right?).

III.              Match the intervention to the stage

What does this have to do with you and your New Year’s resolution?  Everything!  If what you are trying to change does not match up with your readiness to change (the stage you are in) then you are most likely doomed to fail from the get go.  So, take a good long look at what you are planning to do.  Examine where you are at…be honest with yourself.  What stage are you at?  Once you figure out that, then the next steps become easier to figure out.  Match what you are going to do with the stage you are in and work towards the next stage your chances for success are increased.

So, let’s say you are in the contemplative stage.  You know that you need to change but are not sure what to do.  Your task then is to understand the whats, whys and wherefores of your desired change.  How did the problem come about?  What are the resources you bring to bear?  Once you gain enough understanding, then you can move towards preparation and make a plan.

Let’s say you are at the action stage.  Great!  Work your plan…but how are you going to maintain the change?  What are you going to do if things go off the rails?  Figuring that stuff out ahead f time can increase your chances of success.

What if you are in maintenance?  You’ve made that change and are successful?  What happens if you relapse?  How are you going to view yourself?  Do you have a plan to get back on track? If you do, then your chances of overcoming a setback are much greater.

I hope you’ve found this information helpful.  If you want help in navigating a life change, then please contact me for a free consultation. erikyounglpc@verizon.net  or 484-693-0582

 

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HEADACHE? WE DON’T NEED NO STINKIN’ HEADACHE! A Stress busters that works!

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Friends, I don’t normally put out articles within a week of each other.  I like to give my articles time to breathe (and I don’t want to overload your inboxes with my email blasts). However, based on the events of the last few weeks, I feel moved to share the positive experiences that have occurred to me and my family.  This article is a direct follow up (a coda if you will) to the article I recently published (you can read that one here).

I.                   A headache THIS big

My daughter has given me permission to share with you, kind reader, some of what has been going on with her.  She has a complicated medical history going back her whole life. She is diagnosed with Eosiphilic Esophigitus (EE) which is an allergic condition that causes inflammation in the gut (rather than in the lungs and sinuses like typical allergies).  This leads to chronic vomiting.  We have had this under control, but my daughter came down with a stomach virus that went around our area.  Where most people got over this in about 24 hours, my daughter never really got over it.  Her stomach started spasming and she couldn’t keep food, medication or water down.  This is what ultimately led to her being admitted to the hospital.

In addition to the EE, my daughter suffers from migraine.  Yes, that is not a typo… I said migraine.  Three years ago in October, she got a migraine headache and it NEVER WENT AWAY.  On a pain scale from 0 (no pain) to 10 (worst pain you can imagine) she spends most days at a 5 or 6… with 4 being a good day.  She spikes several times a week to an 8 or 9.  Can you imagine that? Despite all the stomach and head issues, she’s been able to maintain good grades and make the honor roll consistently for years.  She is a remarkably resilient and strong young lady.

Finally, last year, she developed symptoms related to the migraine where she would “zone out” sometimes falling out of her chair or losing track of time.  She might sit in class and remember nothing that happened.  Her teachers would literally have to shake her to bring her back to present.

No amount of medical treatment seemed to help.  We tried every treatment the neurologists at the headache clinic had to offer (they eventually just said she was depressed and said we needed to give her Prozac).  We didn’t accept that diagnosis as it was weak and did not really address the issue (her depressive symptoms were a result of the pain not the other way round… NOT depression). We tried alternative treatments including chiropractic, acupuncture, and cold laser therapy.  We watched her diet… nothing worked.  Finally, we got referred to a rheumatologist who said she had Reflexive neuromuscular dystrophy and got a treatment consisting of physical therapy and neurofeedback.  This got us some relief… but the headache still didn’t go away.

II.                 Putting the pieces together in the hospital

So, in the hospital, we had to put my daughter on a feeding tube.  This was an uncomfortable and painful process for her.  She spaced out four times after the procedure.  For the first time, medical professionals were present to see what we were reporting.  Neurology was back in the picture and wanted to keep her another few weeks to do sleep/wake EEG’s to try to capture absence seizures.  We decided to hold off on that treatment and give our daughter a break from the hospital.  We took her home to heal the  feeding tube/gi issues with the intent to follow up schedule the EEG soon.

I got some interesting data from the hospital though. All four of her zone outs were preceded by great stress and a spike in her migraine (8 or above).  Her blood pressure also spiked for the entire length of the episode.  She had no memory of what occurred just prior to and during the episode.

I started questioning how we were conceptualizing this case.  This was due in large part to my recent training in a trauma treatment called EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). RND (the pain condition we figured was behind the migraines) is a disorder that arises from trauma. My daughter is sensitive (wouldn’t have EE otherwise).  What if her zone out episodes weren’t so much medical as they were psychological.  What if she was dissociating?  In trauma work we see this quite often, where a person “goes away” in some fashion to protect themselves from pain and hurt arising from a very stressful situation.  What could be more stressful than having a headache that never goes away? I know I would want to get away from that in any way possible.

The more I thought about this, the more convinced I became that maybe some of my daughter’s symptoms were best explained from a trauma perspective.  I put this to the test the next day after she got home  She was in a lot of pain and hurting.  I decided to try some Alternating Bilateral Stimulation..hereafter called ABS (a core treatment in EMDR) along with some resource installation work.

III.              … Then a MIRACLE happened.

Honestly, I figured my daughter’s headache might go down a couple of points.  If that was all that happened I would have been ecstatic!  However, that’s not what happened.  After a few minutes of ABS, her headache was at a 7.  Pretty soon it was a 6.  Here we were, sitting on the couch watching Halloween Wars on Food Network and her headache was going away.  Another round and we were at a five.  I then had my daughter do some acupressure tapping and we did another rounddown two more points to a 3.  I then had her create a mental container to store her worries and headaches in until such time as she could deal with them and had her put the rest of her headache in there. That did it… another round of ABS and her headache was gone.

Let me repeat that…a headache that she had for three years…that resisted all sorts of expensive and complicated medical treatments was gone.  She healed it herself.  My daughter started crying… my wife was crying… hell I was balling like a baby myself.  It was amazing!

Her headache stayed gone the rest of the night.  When she woke up, it was back, but at a 4… eventually I got her to sit down with me for another ABS session and within a minute her headache was gone again.  It has yet to return as of this writing.

IV.             Lessons learned

What’s the take away from all of this?

  • The body/brain has a remarkable healing capacity.  The trick is stimulating it to do this.
  • It’s important to never give up on looking for solutions, even when the experts have done so.
  • Good therapy often means the therapist simply needs to get out of the way.
  • There is no better feeling than  the sense of relief you get as a parent when your child stops suffering.
  • It is hard to put pieces together (I was thinking about my daughter’s condition as medical and that was separate from my knowledge of traumait was not until I put these to disparate things together that the way to a solution became clear).

V.                You can do this too!

Would you like to try out Alternating Bilateral Stimulation?  It’s easy.  Try this exercise.

  1. Give yourself a gentle hug and hold it.
  2. While taking nice deep belly breaths, gently tap your arms or shoulders (right, left, right, left…)
  3. While tapping and breathing… scan your body from head to toe.  Take note of any pain or discomfort.
  4. Maintain the breathing and tapping and just note the discomfort. Let it melt away. You can even tell yourself you don’t need the pain anymore.
  5. Repeat as necessary until you feel better.

Why does this work?  There is a logical explanation that goes beyond the scope of this article but I will address it in a future trauma report.  Just try this out and see if it doesn’t help you settle your mind and maybe mitigate some aches an pains.

If you want to learn more about EMDR or maybe work through some trauma, please feel free to contact me to set up a free consultation.  erikyounglpc@vrion.net or 484-693-0582

©Erik Young, M. Ed., LPC

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