May 24, 2017

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

This last lesson is one that is very familiar to those of you who have personally worked with me.  It came from a very difficult and dark time in my life.  I was miserable.  I realized that if I didn’t do something to inject some positivity in my life that some bad things were bound to happen. Furthermore, no one wants to work with a miserable and depressed therapist.  After much research, soul searching, and personal therapy, I figured this out:

Lesson #4:  Happiness is a Skill, Practice it

We often confuse skills and traits.  A trait is something that a person has that either is or isn’t.  Eye color, height, and the like are examples of traits.  Conversely, any quality of a person that can be changed or altered with effort and practice is a skill.

We often attribute traits to things that are skills.  Happiness is one of those things.  We say that so and so is a happy person or a not happy person like happiness is a something that is or isn’t.  Happiness is something that we have and that we can grow and cultivate.  It is an endeavor that is worth investing time in I assure you.

Happiness practice is important.  We humans are wired for negativity.  When something nice happens, we tend to enjoy and reflect on it for about 30 seconds or so.  When something negative happens, we can dwell on it for hours, day or even weeks.  The result is that the neurons in our brain associated with negative thinking tend to get more of a workout than the neurons associated with positive thoughts.  Practicing happiness is a way to give the positive neurons more of a workout and make them stronger.  It’s a way to balance our thinking.

How can we practice happiness?  Here are a few simple things to try:

  • Start a happiness journal. Get a notebook.  Once or twice a day, stop and reflect on your day to that point.  Pick out something positive that happened and write down what, when, where, who and why of what happened.  This should take about 5 minutes.  The positive events don’t have to be big events (I once journaled about buying a fancy cup of coffee when it was cold out and how good the warm cup felt and how nice it smelled).  If you can’t think of something positive that day, reread the journal and reflect on past positive events.
  • Set an intention to smile more that day.  Smiling is associated with happiness and the physical act of happiness will stimulate and connect with the pats of your brain associated with happiness.  Smiling purposefully, even if you don’t feel happy, can make you feel happier over time.
  • Give up self-criticism and self-judgement. Instead of calling yourself names or putting yourself down, rather, be your own best cheerleader. Talk yourself up.  Focus on things you are doing (as opposed to not doing) and give yourself credit for those positive things you are doing.
  • Take time out to play. Have fun.
  • Watch a funny movie.

There are many more ways to practice happiness.  The only limit is your imagination.

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 practicing happiness and reducing stress, then call 484-693-0582 or go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com to schedule a consultation.

Find part one of this series here.

Find part two of this series here.

Find part three 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 THREE

This next article is probably the most controversial of the bunch and may seem the most difficult to do.  Yet, like I mentioned in the previous article that you can read HERE, this is nothing but changing how you think about something.  A small change at that.  Putting this change into practice will have profound impacts on your stress levels, thus lowering anxiety and improving your overall physical and emotional health.  So, without further ado, here’s the next lesson!

Lesson #3:  Worry is nothing but a bad habit

When I say this to clients I got one of two reactions: “I know it is, but I’m so used to worrying that I don’t think I can stop” or “If I don’t worry then I won’t be prepared for what life throws at me.”  It is hard for people to wrap their heads around the idea something that is so pervasive and seemingly natural to life could be bad for you.  Then again, arsenic is natural and common in nature.

This thought was a total revelation for me.  I remember sitting down and really thinking about my life and doing a pros-cons analyses.  I concluded that for all the energy I’d put into worrying about various situations in my life, not a lot of benefit came from all that worry.  I talked to some people about this and realized that the fundamental problem with worry is that it takes anxiety about something and projects it into the future where it is impossible to do anything about it (because the situation hasn’t occurred yet and we can only impact the present).  Thus, worry just becomes a big old ball of anxiety that we are powerless to do anything about because it is effectively out of reach.

Right about now, I bet you’re wondering about the concerns vocalized by my clients in the second paragraph of this article.  To those who see worry as a benefit that helps them prepare I say this:

  • There is nothing wrong with thinking about the future, looking ahead, and being prepared. This, however, is not worry.  Simply being present and mindful of today and doing what you can to be prepared and then relaxing and letting the worry go is a great way to both be prepared and not be overly anxious.  However, catastrophizing and putting a lot of energy and thought into all the terrible things that might happen, regardless of probability, is just a great way to get yourself some ulcers and not really avoid the bad times that may or may not happen.
  • Is it worth it to put a lot of time and energy into preparing for something that never happens? Is it worth it to spend a lot of time and energy on something that hasn’t happened so that you are worn out, burned out and exhausted when the event finally occurs?
  • Being proactive is not worry. Worrying is usually not helpful to proactivity (it is simply a big emotional and physical energy drain…it adds to stress rather than resolves it.)

To those who are so used to worry that they can’t imagine life without it I propose the following:

  • Try thought stopping. When you find your thoughts have turned to worry, do the following:
    1. Identify the irritating thought that is behind the worry.
    2. Yell stop in your head. (Do not argue with the thought, that simply gives it energy)
    3. Think a calming, more true thought. Focus on being present in the moment and doing things that you can do now.
    4. Repeat as necessary.
  • Set an intention to not worry and reset that intention every day. Over time you will find yourself worrying less.
  • Focus on proactive solutions as opposed to catastrophizing.

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 worrying less and reducing stress, then call 484-693-0582 or go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com to schedule a consultation.

Find part one of this series here.

Find part two of this series here.

Find part four of this series here.

©Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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Moving to new digs!

Starting Tuesday, November 1, my offices will be at a new location:

101 Manor Ave

Downingtown, PA 19335

With more space (two larger rooms than my current location) I will be looking to add new services including groups and therapeutic martial arts.

I’m very excited about the opportunities this new space may open up.  I look forward to seeing you all there!

 

Peace,

Erik

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3 simple things you can do today for a happier family

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3 SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY FOR A HAPPIER FAMILY

I see a lot of families in my practice. They are all different…different struggles, different needs, different backgrounds…and what seems to unify them all is their desire to simply be happier. Isn’t that what we all want on some level? This article will present 3 simple things that you can do today that will help your family function better and thus be less stressed.

Less Stress = More Happiness!

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TIP #1: MAKE AND POST HOUSE RULES
It seems obvious to this, yet I’m amazed at how often families neglect to do this. Sure, there are usually house rules. They are verbally taught to the children. What doesn’t happen is that the rules get posted up for everyone to see.  Here’s the thing. Kids are great. They’re funny, loving, and we as parents adore them to death. They are terrible at remembering stuff (especially when it’s stuff that might keep them from getting or doing what they want)!  Parents often tell me how they’ve taught the rules to their kids. They fail to realize that in the moment where they want their kid to follow the rules the drive to do whatever it is that the child wants to do might drive rules knowledge right out of their little brains.

A picture is worth 1000 words and kids remember what they see better than what they hear!

geograph-3461576-by-Christine-Matthews

Here are the guidelines for rules:
• Keep them few in number (I try to do no more than five)
• The rules apply to everyone in the house
• State them positively (they should tell you what to do instead of what not to do)
• They should cover about 85 to 90% of what might happen (imagine how great life would be if 85% of the time these rules were followed!)
TIP#2: MAKE A FAMILY MISSION STATEMENT
I got this from the book “The Secrets of Happy Families” by Bruce Feiler and I’ve used it with my family as well as families with whom I’ve worked. How often do families take stock of who they are and then discuss and write it down? Not very often. Having this discussion can really clarify moral and ethical beliefs of your family and negate assumptions and faulty beliefs.
Take a page from the corporate world and have a sit down meeting with everyone in the family. Discuss what you guys, as a family, are all about. What things are important to all of you? What traits define you? Write it up in two or three simple paragraphs.
Once that’s done, post it right next to the rules. Use this document as a teaching tool. Let’s say someone does something that isn’t captured in the rules? Refer to the mission statement and have a discussion as to how what happened did or did not fit in with the mission statement. Instead of a failure you get instant teaching moment.

TIP #3: MAKE A FAMILY MOTTO
This is related to tip #2. Distill the rules and the mission statement down into a simple family motto. For my family, when I did this, our motto became “We take in strays. No one is turned away.” This was based on the fact that we had fostered and adopted kids in the family and every single pet we owned was a rescue. It really summed up what we were about.

You can do these three things in a day or so. Once done, you can do things like tie reinforcement/reward strategies to them. You can know that with these things posted, you don’t have to keep repeating yourself…just point at the posters. This saves argument and aggravation. It decreases miscommunication and misunderstandings.  Besides, these activities can also be really fun.  It’ll help put everybody on the same page as to expectations and help everyone to feel more a part of things.
I hope you found these tips helpful. Please share in the comments section other exercises you have used to help increase your families’ happiness.
If you want to get access to more tips like this and worksheets to help do these exercises, consider joining my Super Parents Team. Go to www.erikyoungcounseling .com/superparent-team to sign up.
If you would like to work with me then call 484-693-0582 or go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com to schedule a consultation.
©Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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Counseling Today Article on Special Needs Family Therapy

I was interviewed to contribute to October’s cover story for Counseling today. It’s a huge honor and the article is fantastic. Please take a moment to look at it and pass it on to anyone who might benefit from it.

http://ct.counseling.org/2015/09/retaining-family-focus/

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3 tips to ease the back to school transition

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It’s been a good summer.  You’ve had some fun.  Everyone is (hopefully) feeling pretty relaxed. But, now, it’s time to get ready to return to school.  For you, the parent, you are probably looking forward to a little more time to get stuff done without having to manage child care duties.  However, for your exceptional child, back to school means a change in routine and can be a potentially stressful transition.  Bearing this in mind, here are some things you can do to help make things a little easier.

1.     Gradually adjust bedtime.

For many families, summer break is a time of decreased or changed structure. For many of my clients, bed times get a little more lax and are often pushed back.  Try to start nudging that bedtime up a few minutes a night before the school starts.  Shoot for having your child going to bed and getting up for at least a few days (if not a week) before the first day of school.  This will make the transition a little more gradual and help your child to start the first day of school more rested and ready to go.  Starting school is enough of a change without being sleep disrupted on top of everything.

2.     Be positive

Your child may be experiencing some anxiety as they think about starting up school.  This may be heightened if they are making a big jump (say from grade school to middle school or from middle school to high school).  Encourage your kid to talk about and process these feelings, but focus on the positives.  Focus on your child’s strengths and how they are ready to do well.  Remind them of good things to look forward to with the start of a new school year.

3.     Reach out to the teachers

Consider reaching out to the teachers before or at the start of the school year.  Send a brief email introducing yourself and your child. Let the teachers know your child’s likes and strengths.  Don’t count on an IEP or 504 plan to give them the important information they need to work with your child.  Most importantly, stay positive and present yourself as a resource to help them and support them in working with your child.  Make a positive connection and this will aid collaboration as the school year unfolds.

 

I hope these simple tips help you out. Please feel free to share your helpful back to school tips in the comments section below. Also, please share this article with any friends you think might find it helpful.  If you would like to schedule a consultation you can email erik@erikyoungcounseling.com or call 484-693-0582.

 

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ADHD: Disorder or Super Power? Part Four

       I.            Succeed from your strengths!

Partially because I didn’t receive formal therapy, but also because I needed to grow up, I did not get a handle on my ADHD until I was in my 20’s.  What happened is that I became a father.  All of a sudden I was motivated.  I looked at my son and thought “he deserves better than a slacker parent.”  I enrolled in college and started to apply all the study and organizational strategies I’d been taught but stubbornly refused to use in high school.  A funny thing happened, I started getting straight A’s.  In fact, I maintained a 4. GPA for 6 straight semesters in my undergraduate program.  It was hard work at first and I had to be very disciplined, but I didn’t want to let my baby son down.  Over time though, it got easier as I got habituated to doing these things.  Pretty soon I could tap into my super focus whenever I wanted.

Today, I’m still hyperactive (I cannot sit still).  I can be impulsive.  I talk too fast.  I procrastinate.  BUT I can control that when the circumstances call for it.  I run a successful private practice.  I pay the bills.  I have a good life.  As long as I have goals that motivate then my ADHD brain works FOR me rather than against me.

Here’s the bottom line.  If you have ADHD or think you might have ADHD, then here is what you need to do to be successful:

  1. Stop internalizing the bad messages from the world around you.  Stop internalizing the daily little failures as a measure of your self-worth.  It’s not necessary and it just drags you down. You may be forgetful at timesbut so what?  Focus on the positives.  Celebrate your strengths.
  2. Find your passion! Figure what things engage your focus and then work them into as much of your day-to-day life as possible.  This will help make boring activities more engaging.
  3. Always have a goal with firm deadlines.  This will help stave off procrastination.  Don’t just say “I’ll do _____ someday.” Or “I will get to it later.”  Set a day and time and then get it done.  You might do it last-minutethat’s ok as long as you meet your goal.  When you meet your goalset a new goal.  Never be without a goal.
  4. Look for new passions so you can change things up.  Remember, boredom is the enemy!  Keep it fresh.  It’s ok to rotate through interests.  Going through two or three things then returning to the first thing as you feel like it.
  5. Learn how to organize and engage your focus even in low-stim situations.  It’s difficult.  It takes time.  But, sometimes we just have to gut through the boredom.

If you want to schedule a free consultation please call 484-693-0582 or press the “schedule appointment” button to the right.

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ADHD: Disorder or Super Power? Part Three

       I.            Hidden gifts

Having ADHD confers some distinct advantages.  First, lets do away with the myth of the attention-deficit.  The name of this condition is a misnomer.  It’s not that we can’t pay attention, quite the contrary.  We have super, laser-like focus and attention.  The problem is that the cost of entry is very high to engage that focus.

I explain it to my private practice clients like this.  Everyone has a “goldilocks” zone of stimulation.  When the environment stimulation is in this zone then we feel comfortable.  For neurotypical people, the world generally puts us in this comfort zone.  However, for those of us wired for ADHD, our need for stimulation is very highmuch higher than the norm.  Most of the time the world is not giving us what we need.  We are under-stimulated.  So, our brains seek out stimulation to make us feel normal. So, we seem distracted because we are constantly going “whats that!  What’s that!  What’s that!”  seeking normalcy.  Our existence is one long battle with extreme boredom.  However, when our need for stimulation is met, then our focus kicks inand it is much stronger than that of mere mortals.  When I’m doing something that stimulates me and I get in the zone….I lose track of time.  I can get more done in a couple of hours than most people do all day!  The problem is that it can be difficult to access that focus when others expect that of us.

Other good things that come with ADHD:

  • Creativity
  • Energy
  • Sociability
  • Independence
  • Fun
  • Quick thinker
  • Decisiveness
  • Passionate

So, ADHD shouldn’t be considered a disorder.  It’s a rough descriptor of neurology.  We don’t pathologize shorter than average people.  We don’t say they’re broken.  We give them access to stools to reach the top shelf.  Whether or not you need meds.  No matter what behavioral/organizational strategies you need to get through the daythese are simply “stools”tools to help us adapt.

Go to Part Four.

If you would like to schedule a free consultation, please call 484-693-0582 or press the “schedule appointment” button to the right.

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ADHD: DISORDER OR SUPER POWER? Part two

       II.            The problems with the diagnosis

The DSM-V is the official manual of mental disorders.  If you have a formal diagnosis of ADHD (or any other mental health disorder), then it should flow from the criteria laid out in that book.  Here is what the DSM-V says about ADHD.

DSM-5 Criteria for ADHD

People with ADHD show a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development:

  1. Inattention: Six or more symptoms of inattention for children up to age 16, or five or more for adolescents 17 and older and adults; symptoms of inattention have been present for at least 6 months, and they are inappropriate for developmental level:
  • Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities.
  • Often has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities.
  • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
  • Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (e.g., loses focus, side-tracked).
  • Often has trouble organizing tasks and activities.
  • Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
  • Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities (e.g. school materials, pencils, books, tools, wallets, keys, paperwork, eyeglasses, mobile telephones).
  • Is often easily distracted
  • Is often forgetful in daily activities.
  1. Hyperactivity and Impulsivity: Six or more symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity for children up to age 16, or five or more for adolescents 17 and older and adults; symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity have been present for at least 6 months to an extent that is disruptive and inappropriate for the person’s developmental level:
  • Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in seat.
  • Often leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected.
  • Often runs about or climbs in situations where it is not appropriate (adolescents or adults may be limited to feeling restless).
  • Often unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly.
  • Is often “on the go” acting as if “driven by a motor”.
  • Often talks excessively.
  • Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed.
  • Often has trouble waiting his/her turn.
  • Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games)

In addition, the following conditions must be met:

  • Several inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms were present before age 12 years.
  • Several symptoms are present in two or more setting, (e.g., at home, school or work; with friends or relatives; in other activities).
  • There is clear evidence that the symptoms interfere with, or reduce the quality of, social, school, or work functioning.
  • The symptoms do not happen only during the course of schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder. The symptoms are not better explained by another mental disorder (e.g. Mood Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Dissociative Disorder, or a Personality Disorder).

Just take a look at that.  Pretty dismal huh?  Can’t sit still.  Can’t pay attention.  Can’t control oneself.  Totally out of control.  What a mess!  This is the only picture the mental health community uses to diagnosebut it is a very incomplete picture.  The diagnostic criteria focus on the “negative” aspects of ADHDwhich really revolve around the struggles with school and “typical” work environments (where sitting still and doing seat work are prized).  The definition neglects to look at the positives of being wired for ADHD.  It totally misses the amazing strengths we have.  Thus, we are pathologized and often made to feel inferior when we are simply different.  Allow us to capitalize on our strengths and we can do amazing things and be very successful.

Go to Part Three.

If you would like to schedule a free consultation, please call 484-693-0582 or press the “schedule appointment” button to the right.

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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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