June 26, 2017

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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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

 confused-elephant425

       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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ADHD: DISORDER OR SUPER POWER? Part one

       I.            A confession

My name is Erik and I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.  Like many people my age (the “wrong” side of forty) I wasn’t ever diagnosed as a child and never received treatment.  As a child I was always on the go.  I learned to run before I could walk… I even have a small calcium deposit bump on my forehead from falling on my face so much during that time.  I had a terrible anger from being hypersensitive.  The most mild name calling would send me into full-out temper tantrums.  By the time I was in middle school, my straight A grades started to suffer due to poor organization, an overwhelming sense of boredom and my insistence that I read my favorite books rather than what my teachers wanted me to read.  I was the poster boy for “he can do the work…”

It wasn’t until I was well into my adulthood and was struggling to make sense of life, the universe, and everything that I finally figured out what was “wrong” with me.  Soon after, I realized that NOTHING was wrong with meI was simply wired a certain way and as long as I was aware of that and made the appropriate adjustmentslife could be amazing.  As a result, I am well-educated, successful and reasonably happy.  In fact, I attribute much of my success to my ADHD.  For me, today, life IS amazing.  I am so blessed.  Let me tell you why…

Go to Part Two

To schedule a free session, call 484-693-0582 or press the “schedule appointment” button to the right.

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

photo_funny_headache

 

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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I GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS: THE POWER OF THE “SOCIAL SAFETY NET”

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It’s been crazy at my house lately.  I’m talking off-the-wall chaos.  While I do need to vent a bit, that is not the purpose of this article.  Rather, the experiences of the past couple of weeks have highlighted the importance something I call the social safety net.  So, I wanted to talk both about what we have been going through at “Casa de Chaos” (my house) but also highlight how our “social safety net” allowed us to manage the chaos and deal with stress that would have overwhelmed us at any other time.

I.                   The Social Safety Net Defined

In my new book, The Special Needs Parenting Survival Guide, I discuss ways in which parents of special needs children can manage better and improve their quality of life.  One of the cornerstones of my system is the “Social Safety Net.”

To create a social safety net, parents identify, recruit, train and nurture key people who can provide needed support for them and their child.  The more key people added to the net, the more resources the family has at their disposal.  The more resources at the family’s disposal, the more stress they can manage because the stress gets dispersed throughout the net.  I recently was reminded of just how powerful this can be.

II.                 The crazy 2 weeks at my house

For those of you who don’t know my background, I have five children with special needs.  Two boys with Autism, an adult son with ADHD, a daughter with IDD and another daughter with significant health issues.  About a month ago, my daughter with the health issues had many of her conditions flare up.  We tried everything we knew might work, but to no avail.  Two weeks ago, when she was unable to keep any food down and was losing weight she was admitted to the hospital.

For any family this is a big deal, to have a child in the hospital.  However, with the significant needs of the other 4 children, there are several added degrees of difficulty.  My wife ended up staying at the hospital with my daughter and I stayed home to take care of the kids.  On top of this I had to juggle issues at work, with my practice as well as other medical and school appointments for the other kids.

The situation was terrible.  Each day we figured my daughter would be discharged, but then something else would come up and then stay would get extended.  For a week this happened and then she was discharged.  Unfortunately, after  a couple of days, her symptoms returned worse and she went back in the hospital for another week (this time to get a feeding tube put in).  More juggling of schedules and responsibilities.

With one parent out of the picture (at the hospital) we were unable to engage in our usual parenting teamwork to get things done.  Furthermore, having a parent and a child out of the home added stressors to all the other kids (based on changes in routine and worry).  Let’s face itno matter what‘s gone wronglife goes on.  The laundry needs doing, food needs cooking.  Life doesn’t stop for a crisis (no matter how much you might want it to do so).  If it were just Lorrie and myself, our resources would have been overwhelmed.  I shudder to think what might have happened.

Thankfully, I am a therapist who practices what he preaches.  For years, Lorrie and I have been building our social support network.  When everything went pear-shaped, we were able to draw on the resources of trusted friends and family to help disperse the stress and get things done.  It was still hard… terrible really, but the situation became survivable because of the support of our network.

III.              The key players and why it worked

So, here are some of the people who helped get us through this trying time:

My mom – she helped do laundry (did I mention our washer is broken at this time?  Yeah,when it rains it pours).  With 5 kids, laundry piles up quickly and without Lorrie around, I couldn’t easily get to the laundry mat.  She also was there to just talk and let me vent.  She and my step-father drove supplies or my wife to the hospital (changes of clothes, activities, etc.).  She also wrote some great letters to my daughter to help her deal with her anxiety and worry.

Michele – A good friend of the family and fellow therapist (http://www.michelepaiva.com) not only kept in touch with my daughter through texts and phone calls.  She put together several care packages.  She even gave me a chance to sit and talk, putting the worry aside, for about a half hour in the middle of a particularly bad day which was perhaps he greatest gift of all.  Her thoughtfulness and support were and are outstanding.

Angela – Our foster care social worker.  She helped deal with various scheduling and school issues.  She answered emails and diverted some of the usual BS we have to manage freeing me to focus on what I needed to do.  She came over and sat with the kids when I couldn’t get home in time from work or other obligations. She went above and beyond.

Rand – Another therapist and colleague.  He also let me vent.  He even took over therapy on some of our co-therapy casesfreeing me up to do my parenting thing without guilt.  He was a kind voice of support and reason.

Dr. Chang – Our allergy specialist.  He helped coordinate doctors within various departments to make things run a little smoother at the hospital. He didn’t have to as his specialty wasn’t really needed for what was being done.  Despite that, he stepped up and helped sort things out.

Anthony – A co-worker and friend.  He kept me in the loop with stuff at work and ran some interference as I tried to juggle parenting and work.

My son, Zak – He stepped up and helped with housework and helped keep things stable when I couldn’t be home.  He really stepped up his game and I am grateful.

My sister  — She also let me talk and vent.  When I asked her to run some stuff up to the hospital he immediately said yes. When it turned out she couldn’t do that, she sorted at the situation and arranged for my Mom to do that without involving me (other than letting me know about the change in plans).  She saved  from having to solve yet another problem and helped alleviate a little bit of stress.

These people stepped up and helpedmany without my having to ask.  Why?  Because Lorrie and I have spent time educating them as to our needs and our “reality.” We spend time nurturing and renewing connections with these people (and others) so there is not a sense of “using” them.  They are valued friends.  The work that made things work the past two weeks started years ago and will be on-going (because I am sure there are more crises coming down the pike).

To all the people in my netI am filled with gratitude for all that you do.  Your help and support is invaluable and will be returned someday.

IV.             Make connections and disperse the stress

With “neurotypical” families, the social safety net often naturally develops.  Family, friends, and other people just seem to connect and offer support.  When the family has an exceptional child, these natural supports are often ill-equipped to provide support.  They typically are inexperienced with the child’s needs (much like the new parents).  This can leave the parents isolated and without support when they need it most.

To combat this tendency towards isolation, I counsel my parents to identify their resources and actively train them to be supports.  Once identified and trained, these supports can be nurtured.  The ore people parents can train and nurture, the more help they will have when they need it.

The people with whom you connect, the deeper and sturdier your net.  The effect is when stress hits, bits and pieces of that stress can be sent out into the net for others to manage thus making the load a little lighter on the parents.  More people bring more skills and knowledge to the table allowing for the entire team to be more responsive to a wider variety of situations.

V.                Final Thoughts

If you are the parent of a special needs child and you don’t have a social safety net, then I urge you to start doing the work to create one.  Start fostering those crucial connections. This, more than anything will reduce your stress load and make life more manageable.

Be critical about the people with whom you surround yourself.  Only keep those who will build you up, help you, nurture you.  Distance yourself from users and those who bring you down.

To learn more about how to create a social safety net, check out The Special Needs Parenting Survival Guide. You can also contact me for a free consultation at 484-693-0582 or erikyounglpc@verizon.net

© Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC 2013

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What is your life worth? The importance of connections

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I.                   Actuarial tables and a radio program

The other day, I was listening to a radio program on NPR (a therapist who listens to NPR I hear you say?  Shocking!).  I forget which program, but the host described going to see a person who did actuarial work for insurance companies.  This person’s job was to figure out how much a life was worth so if they were injured or killed the insured parties would be properly compensated.  Pretty cold, I know…but it’s a real thing.  In any case, the guy doing the piece was shocked to find he was only worth about $35,000.  The piece went on to talk about how people with families and kids tend to be worth more, because they are connected to and valued by others.

 

II.                 Let me google that for you…

This radio piece got me thinking.  On the one hand, life is priceless.  The whole actuarial process is pretty cold and ruthless.  Then again, the idea that one’s connections to others adds value to ones life is a profound and fascinating truth.  I decided to explore the idea further.

The first thing I did was go to google and type in the search “how much is my life worth.”  Go ahead…try it.  What I found was mostly fun, time-waster sites (although there were a couple of insurance sites that came up in my search).  They all let me take little surveys that purportedly placed some sort of value on my life.  I spent some time playing with these.  I know the results aren’t remotely valid or scientific, but is was interesting.  One thing I did was enter in data as a single man (keeping age, income and health stats constant) and then as my true self as a married father of 5 kids.  As a single man, I was worth about $50,000 but as my true married self, I was worth anywhere from 1.5 to 1.8 million dollars.  Quite a difference, eh?

What does this mean?  My life is enhanced by being married to my wife.  My life as further enhanced by the birth of my two children.  When Lorrie and I set about doing foster care, my life was enhanced further.  Everytime I make a new friend or help out someone else, it leaves me feeling good and thus enhances my life.  There’s something to the idea of being connected to others adding value to one’s life.  How much is it worth when I help one of my clients resolve some personal issue and live a happier, healthy life?  That person now interacts more positively with their friends and loved ones.  How much is all that worth?  How much does a teacher helping a student discover their passion and talents add value to that student’s life?  How much does that student then add to others as they pursue their talents as a functioning adult?

golden gate bridge

III.              The story of a bridge

If you are still not convinced of the importance of the connection to others, then let’s talk about suicide.  It’s one of my areas of specialty interest.  When I was a young therapist doing his internship at the Lehigh University counseling center, the director of the center told me that to save a the life of a person who was suicidal you needed to get them connected to at least one person.  He felt that single connection would often be enough to keep the suicidal individual from going from ideation to attempt or completion.  Later on, as  Devereux clinician, I became a gatekeeper instructor in the QPR suicide intervention system by Dr. Paul Quinnet (http://www.qprinstitute.com/).  As part of the training that I received (and the training I give on this topic), we tell the story of a bridge.  Here is a condensed version of that story.

There is a bridge in a major western city (it’s the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco).  This bridge is a magnet for people who are suicidal.  They come from miles around to leap from this bridge.  It’s a pretty long fall that is almost always fatal.  However, every once in a while someone leaps from the bridge but does not die.  In all the years the bridge has been in existence, never has a person who survived the jump climbed onto shore, gone back up the bridge and tried to jump again.  Some researchers were examining this phenomenon came up with an elegant intervention.  They met with all the people involved in the upkeep and maintenance of the bridge.  All the workers, security, administration, etc.  They trained these people to be on the look out for people who might be suicidal (lone people hanging around the edge of the bridge, people looking forlorn and sad, etc.)  They then tasked everyone who worked on the bridge to approach anyone acting suspiciously and ask them if they were ok.  They were to offer their help and listen to them…no threat, no intimidation. In short, they were to connect with these people.

The results of this intervention were surprising to say the least…incidents of suicide attempts on the bridge were reduced by something like 40% (I’m not sure of the exact results as I don’t have my training materials at hand right now).  Just think about that for a second…by simply asking people if they were ok and offering to listen to  them, there was a dramatic reduction is suicide attempts.  How many lives were spared by the mere act of connection?   How much value is added by that?

IV.             Ways to connect

I want you to add some value to your life.  Go out there and make some connections with people.  You could go out and make new connections.  You could also go out and re-connect with someone with whom you’ve lost touch.  In either event, add some value to your life (and their life) by making those connections.  Still not sure how to do that?  Here are a few simple tips to grease the wheels of connectivity.

A.                The 8-5 rule

I learned about this while researching ways to teach my Asperger’s clients how to socialize more comfortably with others.  In a book by Craig Kendall, he discussed the 8-5 rule. The 8-5 rule is used by high-end hotels. These hotels instruct all their staff to smile at customers when they are 8 feet away from them.  When they get within 5 feet, they are to say “hello.”  A nice simple guideline to give a friendly greeting.  I‘ve found that not only is this a good tool to teach my Asperger’s clients how to greet  others, but a handy way to be more warm and friendly towards others in my own life.  Try this out for yourself and see if you don’t make those connections a little easier.

B.                 Two ears, one mouth – listen

It has been said that we are gifted with two ears and one mouth…and we should use them proportionally.  We should listen twice as much as we talk. People like to feel they are being heard.  When you spend the time to listen to them, they feel like you care about them.  This increases your connection.

C.                 Ask lots of questions

Finally, when you do speak to someone with whom you are trying to connect, ask questions.  Asking questions shows that you are interested in them and what they have to say.  It encourages them to give you more information that you can use to deepen your connection to them.  I guarantee that if you listen more than you talk and that if you ask questions when you do talk that you will find yourself easily connecting with others and thus adding life value to you both.

As always, I hope you’ve found this information entertaining and useful.  I welcome your stories and tips on how to connect. You can post them in the comments section below.  Also, please feel free to share this or any of my articles with others.  If you are interested in working with me to learn more about how to connect with others then contact me at erikyounglpc@vrizon.net to schedule a free consultation.

©Erik Young, M.E., LPC 2013

 

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New Article “The Power of Play” and Online Parent Support Group

Play therapy at work

Play therapy has become a very important element of my work with families and children.  In this article, I hope to give you parents some idea of how powerful play can be as an intervention as well as some ideas of how to utilize play with your own children.

It is Father’s Day as I write this article and I am reminded of one particular case where play therapy had a profound impact on a family.  This family had a child with severe autism.  They were unable to manage him at home and he was living at the residential treatment facility where I worked.  The child in question was very routine oriented and had an extremely restricted range of activities in which he would engage.  Basically, if he wasn’t repeatedly watching small snippets of Disney videos, he wasn’t happy.  To make matters worse, if he wasn’t happy, he tended to tantrum, hit and bite those around him.  As a result of these behaviors, not only could he not live at home but the family was challenged to even have him home for short visits.  They literally had to put the entire house on lock down to prevent their son from wandering away and at least one of them had to take time off of work to stay up all night to supervise their son.

Read more…

 

Starting on Tuesday, July 16 at 8:00 pm to 9:30 pm, I will host an online special needs parent consultation and support group on the 3rd Tuesday of every month.  As a special needs parent myself, I know how hard it is to get help and support.  It takes a lot to find time and childcare to go out to a support group.  For this reason, I’m bringing the group to you.  Through a secure video chat I will host a discussion on “How to get your child to do more of what you want and less of what you don’t want.”  This is your chance to get together with other parents and share your stories as well as learn about my system of Functional Behavior Analyses made just for parents.  These sessions are free to current clients seeing me for sessions and only $10 for all others.  Simply sign up for the sessions in the secure patient area of this website.   I look forward to seeing you then!  If you have any questions, please email, call or leave them in the comments section below.

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Irritating thoughts

Irritating thoughts:  Change your thinking to reduce you stress

irritating thoughts

I.                   What are “irritating” thoughts?

It happened to me during an end of semester performance at music school.  I’d been working all semester on three pieces that my teacher thought would showcase my talents and stretch me a little bit.  I had two pieces down solid, but the third piece, a Chopin etude was not fully memorized.  My teachers said I should go ahead and just play it with the sheet music out as it highlighted my technical skills at the piano.

On performance day I made one crucial mistake.  I did not have someone act as my page turner for that etude.  As usual, nerves were high.  I knew I was being graded and judged, so I was more anxious than usual.  The first two pieces went well but it all changed during that etude.  It started out OK.  But then about half-way through my performance, I heard a thump in the ceiling and then felt a warm gust of air wash over me and the piano.  It was the heat system kicking in.  The air caught the corner of the page I was reading and started turning it.  Next thing I knew, I was staring at the next piece in the book five pages from where I was playing.  Did I mention I DID NOT have the piece memorized?  I lost my place and my fingers started stumbling over the keys like drunken Irish clog dancers.

It was terrible.  Immediately, my legs started trembling.  I lost sensation in my hands.  My heart was beating so hard I thought it might burst out of my chest like that creature for the movie “Alien.”  I was in full-on panic induced adrenalin dump.  As I tried and failed to finish the etude gracefully this is the stream of consciousness that was running through my mind:

“#*&^$!! Oh no!  I lost my place.  My performance is ruined!!  I’ve just been exposed as the worst pianist in the school.  Everyone will know what a fraud I am.  I’m going to fail this course.  I’m going to fail the semester.  I’m getting kicked out of school.  I won’t be able to get a job.  I’ll lose my apartment.  My family will leave me.  I will die alone and broke.”

Pretty crazy huh?  In fact, everyone loved he performance and felt terrible that I had the bad luck to have my sheet music get disturbed by the heating vent.  I got an A for the performance and kept my 4.0 gpa (I was never in any danger of failing anything).    The thoughts that stampeded through my mind were examples of what I’ve come to call “irritating thoughts”

Cognitive behavior therapists call them “irrational” thoughts.  I prefer to call them “irritating” thoughts, a concept I picked up from a fellow therapist.  I find the former term implies something wrong with you while the latter term is more focused on what the thought does.  We all have them.  We pick them up throughout our lives like a long-haired dog picks up sticker-burrs running through a field.  Sometimes they are thoughts that were necessary to mentally survive a particular situation that no longer fit the current circumstances For example, your thoughts on the opposite sex from when you are seven are not applicable to dating in your 30’s.  Other times they are messages we’ve absorbed from other people in our lives.  Often, these thoughts are sub-conscious and automatic.  They pop in and out of our head without our being aware of them.  But these thoughts impact our behaviors and emotions in subtle yet powerful ways.

II.                 Mountains and Mole Hills

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In my piano performance, I experienced a cascade of irritating thoughts that took a small situation and a little panic was kicked up a notch by another thought that in turn led to more panic which led to more thoughts…with the whole thing spinning out of control in my head.  It’s the classic “making a mountain out of a molehill” situation.  It’s like your brain gets hijacked.

The problem is that when these cascades of irritating thoughts run amok, it activates the fight-flight-freeze reaction.  The physiological response to this is fine if one is in a true life or death situation, but the limitations on language, planning, forethought combined with the effects of things like the stress hormone cortisol on our system are problematic when we are NOT in a life or death situation.  In my case, while my disrupted performance was embarrassing, it was not life threatening.  Reacting as if it were did not improve the situation and caused me undue distress.  The fact of the matter is that many people have similar reactions all the time.  In a sense, we pile unneeded distress and stress upon ourselves in addition to the actual stress that life throws our way as a matter of course.  There is good news though.  Just as our thoughts can trigger a stress response in our body, our thoughts can also trigger an anti-stress relaxation response.  We can take control of that which feels out of control.

III.              Thought stopping

Thought stopping is a technique used in Cognitive-Behavioral psychology to change these irritating thoughts and thereby change your mood and behaviors.  It starts by identifying when these thoughts are present.  As a rule of thumb, when you feel nervous, anxious or irritable (especially when these feeling are not in proportion with what is going on around you) you can bet irritating thoughts are present.  Learn to identify the early warning signs of an activated nervous system (for me , I usually feel it in my stomach first).  Once identified, check in with your thoughts and listen to your self-talk.  What are you saying to yourself?  Are the thoughts logical? Do they fit what’s going on?  Are they leading to increased emotionalism or are they calming?

In my example, the thoughts of how bad I played and how that would destroy my career and life were clearly illogical.  They were out of proportion with the situation.  Not only that, they were totally unhelpful.  I needed to calm my mind and focus on my performance, but the thoughts running through my mind made that task darn near impossible.

So, be critical of your thoughts.  They might not be true.  They might not fit the situation.  They may be true, but also unhelpful.  In any of these cases you need to stop cascade in its tracks.  The procedure to do this is pretty straight forward.  Once the irritating thought is identified, you need to mentally yell “STOP!”  if you are someplace where you won’t be embarrassed feel free to say that out loud.  To add an extra degree of impact, some people add a physical sensation to the stop to help interrupt the thought.  I like wearing a rubber band on my wrist.  I snap it a little bit as I think “STOP.”  This serves to distract my brain briefly and stop the thought.

IV.             Calming thoughts

calming thought picture

The next thing to do is to replace the irritating thought with a calming thought.  If you don’t, the irritating thought will just start-up again.  By putting a competing thought in its place (one that is helpful and relaxing) you make it harder for that irritating thought to hijack your brain.  For example, if the irritating thought is “I’m stupid.  I can’t do this.”  You should think about ways in which that thought is inaccurate (perhaps you’ve done this thing before with no problem so clearly are capable).  In my example, the thoughts that I was a terrible piano player ere inaccurate because I had just played two pieces well…something a poor pianist could not do.  If I’d tried to keep that fact forefront in my mind I might have been able to stay calmer and recover easier.

Admittedly, this technique takes some practice.  If you are not used to thinking like this it will seem strange at first.  For this reason, I invite you to take some time and practice it.  Don’t wait until you are feeling anxious and out of control…take time to check in with your thoughts when you are feeling relatively calm.  You’ll be surprised at what kind of automatic thoughts pop into your head.  In doing this you will be able to start becoming aware of your irritating thoughts.  Once identified, it is easier to notice when they are present.  When you are calm, it’s also easier to figure out what kinds of calming thoughts will best  take the place of your irritating thoughts.  By practicing when you are calm, it will be easier to put this technique into practice when you are not calm.

One final note on thought stopping, you should combine this technique with the stress management skills I have talked about such as deep breathing and deep muscle relaxation.  By combining calming techniques you will be better to reduce your current stress and inoculate yourself against future stress.  All it takes is a little practice and patience to take control and improve your quality of life.

I hope you’ve found this information helpful.  I invite you to comment on how irritating thoughts have impacted your life and ways in which you’ve managed them.  I also welcome any questions you might have in the comments section.  Until next time, remember, Breathe…You got this.

©2013 Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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