September 18, 2018

10 Things I wish people knew about my ADHD (from a therapist) – Part 2

My feelings are big for a reason.

One of the common traits of ADHD that isn’t in the DSM-V is emotional hyperarousal.  That basically means that I tend to feel emotions more intensely than others.  I don’t just get a little mad, I get a LOT mad.  I’m not just a little happy, I’m over the moon giddy. It’s overwhelming.  It’s not just my own feelings that I’m sensitive to, but also the feelings of others.  What others are feeling tends to hit me harder.  This helps to make me a better therapist, but it can make the world “emotionally loud.”  It’s nothing that I’m choosing to do as it is a by-product of how my brain is wired.

Kids with ADHD struggle much more with emotional regulation and need a lot more support in this area.  So, parents, your kids aren’t out of control necessarily, but they need some understanding and support in learning how to calm down.  That’s why I find that yelling and punishment strategies tend to be less effective with these kids.  They stir up too many big emotions and impair the child’s ability to think clearly and stay calm.

For those of you struggling with hyperarousal, practicing meditation, mindfulness and other self-control techniques is crucial.  Learning to cool that hot temper makes life easier.

I need to do things differently sometimes, different isn’t always bad.

Here are some of my quirks:  I must always have a tv or radio going.  The background noise actually helps my focus.  I tend to have multiple projects going on at once.  As I wrote this article, I’ve got a book I’m reading at hand, my Rubik’s cube I’m learning to solve right here, and I’m listening to music.  I bounce from activity to activity.  I tend to like having things out where I can see them so I remember to use them.  I organize in piles.  I’m pretty much the only person that understands my organization, but it works for me.  This stuff drives people around me nuts at times.  They don’t get it.  They can’t work like that (the noise is distracting, the piles and things out in the open are like clutter, they can only do one thing at a time).

Here’s the thing.  Each and every one of those potentially annoying quirks represents a coping mechanism that Maximizes the characteristics of my unique neurology.  Bottom line is doing these things allows me to get stuff done…and that is the goal isn’t it?

If you love someone with ADHD, try to be understanding of their coping quirks.  Just because these things would never ever work for you doesn’t mean they are wrong.  If it’s your child, help her find her unique coping strategies that will let her succeed.  If you’re a partner or spouse, try to have some patience and make room for what helps your loved one work.  Perhaps talk non-judgmentally about the various coping needs and find ways to compromise around them so they are perhaps less intrusive.

If you have ADHD, be patient with those around you.  It’s hard for people to fathom how we think.  It is also important that we respect the needs and space of others if we want them to respect our needs.  So, try to make sure your quirks don’t overly impact or interfere with the daily living of those around you.  Instead of piles of organization all over the house, maybe agree on a specific place where you can keep things how you want.  If you need constant noise like me, wear headphones to not disturb others when they need quiet.  Those are just some examples, the important point is be willing to be flexible and compromise even though that may be a challenge.

I can’t “just pay attention”.

There is a saying I see on social media from time to time.  It is attributed to Albert Einstein (though I’m not sure how true that is).  It goes something like “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by Its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”  What does this have to do with my paying attention?  Simple, “Pay attention” is one of the most common things I’ve been told to do my whole life.  My inability to do this seemingly simple thing has quite literally driven me nuts.  It was like I was a fish being commanded to climb a tree.

At the end of the day, I can’t just “pay attention” as that’s not how my brain works.  If I could do it, I wouldn’t have ADHD.  My lack of focus isn’t some moral failing.  It’s not rudeness or stupidity.  Furthermore, more discipline, spanking, punishment won’t suddenly rewire my brain to be more attentive.  The same goes for your ADHD loved ones.  What does work is understanding how my brain works.  For those of you in the tribe, understanding yourself and letting go the self-judgements is key.  Learning how to create motivation to enhance focus, developing the discipline to let go distractors when necessary, make life a joy to live.  ADHD doesn’t go away.  It’s there got life, but it isn’t a life sentence.

Lots of little failures everyday leave deep hurts.

Inattention, disorganization, procrastination, anxiety.  These are some of the things that I struggle wth on an almost daily basis.  They lead to lots of little failures.  Forgetting my homework at home even though I did it.  Only doing one side of the worksheet.  Losing things I need.  Forgetting appointments.  These can happen to me more often than others.  Each one feels horrible when it happens.  As a friend of mine says, “It’s like being pecked to death by a chicken.”  The looks that others give me when I forget.  The teacher comments on the report card…”He can do the work.” Or “he not only marches to the beat of his own drummer, he’s got his own band.”  They leave marks that only I can see.

Folks with ADHD carry these invisible hurts and it leads to poor self-esteem.  Hopelessness and helplessness are not far behind.  This can lead to depression and even more anxiety.  We become hyper sensitive to failure and rejection.  In some cases, we just stop trying…we give up and just focus on anything at all that might make us feel good.  Punishments don’t motivate us because they just reinforce the self-perception of failure and become objective proof that we can’t do what others seem to do easily.

Help us mend the hurts.  Help us to figure out our own coping skills.  Cheer us on.  That’s what we need instead of constant criticism.

I can be scared to fail, but also scared to succeed and that can leave me stuck.

At it’s worst, ADHD can leave me (and those like me) feeling stuck.  We don’t want to fail but keep getting tripped up by our foibles..,so the failure seems inevitable.  We fear the failure.  Ironically, this makes success scary too.  If my failure is inevitable, then success can seem either unattainable or unsustainable.  If I succeed, then there’s farther to fall when I fail.  Quite the catch-22.

The truth is, failure is inevitable.  We all fail at one time or another.  Learning to appreciate the successes when they come and to not get caught up in the failures is key.  Learning to appreciate the good and remember the bad is temporary is the most valuable lesson I’ve received.  It’s such a powerful coping skill.

Parents, teach your kids this.  Help them to stay in the moment and not get caught up in the kind of fear based thinking that paralyzes and leads to avoidance.

I need cheerleaders, not critics.

So all that being said, folks with ADHD need cheerleaders.  They need people in their life who accept them for who they are, the good, the bad and the ugly.  They need to be loved despite the foibles and quirks.  They need people who will celebrate every little win and when things aren’t going well will speak the truth to them, but also say “you can do it!”  Someone who will help put the lie to the belief of powerlessness, hopelessness and helplessness that all the little failures seems to create in us.

We don’t need critics.  Telling how we screwed up is simply preaching to the choir.  We know.  We are painfully aware of when we’ve messed up.  Our emotionality and sensitivity to rejection guarantee it.  Instead of telling us the obvious, help us learn to do better.  Remind us that we CAN do it (because we forget all too often).  Have high expectations, make us strive to be the best…but cheer us to the top of the mountain, don’t shame us away from the bottom.

ADHD is a superpower, not a disability.

Most of this stuff has been, admittedly, really negative and, truth be told, living with ADHD can be really hard at times.  The definition of ADHD is all about the deficits.  Large sections of our society are often not ADHD friendly.  However, I truly believe that ADHD is a super power.  I’ve got crazy energy and drive (thanks hyperactivity!).  Hyper-focus allows me to get more done in the morning than most people get done all day.

We have wonderful creativity.  We are passionate.  We can be a lot of fun (we’re experts at fun).   We’re youthful.  We can multi-task.  We’re great at coming up with big ideas and getting them started.

These are really positive traits that can make for a wonderful life.  All it takes is some self-awareness, some supports, some cheerleading, and some flexibility and ADHD as a disability virtually disappears.

 

I hope that you found this article helpful.  Please feel free to share your experiences about living with ADHD (either as the who has it or as someone who loves someone who has it) in the comments below.  If you would like to work on ways to turn ADHD into a super-power, please feel free to reach out to me. Erik@erikyoungcounseling.com  You can read Part 1 here.  You can read more about ADHD as a superpower here.

©2018 Erik Young Counseling LLC

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10 Things I wish people knew about my ADHD (from a therapist) – Part 1

I’m a therapist and I have ADHD

As the heading says, I have ADHD and I’m also a therapist.  I work a lot with special needs families and that means a lot of families struggling in some way with ADHD.  I also know that my family is impacted by my ADHD needs and behaviors.  It can be awesome and fun, and it can also be very frustrating for me and for them.  I’m living in a world built by and for neurotypical people.  Somedays it is hard to adjust to that.  It’s like wearing clothes that are both too big and too small.  There have been many times in my life where I wished others could understand what was up with me.  I couldn’t explain myself because at that time (especially as a child) I didn’t understand myself.  So, that is why I wrote this piece.  To help explain my experience and maybe help others who have or love someone who has ADHD to get along a little better.

I’m not lazy!

This is something I used to hear a lot growing up, and sometimes hear now.  It always hurt and, even more than that, confused me.  If I was so lazy, then why was I always scrambling so much and working so hard?  Sure, I’d get too lost in my hobbies and I often struggled to get boring stuff like homework done.  This was not out of a sense of not wanting to do it, not having the energy or wherewithal.  No.  It was because it was just harder for me to pay attention to all the little details.  To maintain my focus when there were a million other things clamoring and screaming for my attention.  It’s like trying to listen to a song on the radio as you drive through the mountains.  The signal keeps fading in and out, then a competing radio signal breaks in for a second.  It’s frustrating and difficult to follow the song, right?  That’s my brain all the time.  Can you imagine?  If it were you, you’d probably want to dive into something soothing and distracting too.  You might resent having to leave that safe headspace to go back to the frustrating radio station.

It’s not lazy, its coping.  It’s not willful (though it often seems as if it is), its survival.

For those of you who belong to the ADHD tribe, learning how to mindfully and consciously find your brain soothers to calm the frustrations.  Learn to cultivate motivation where it is lacking to get things done.  How to leave the fun stuff and get back to it later.  These are important goals and are skills to be learned.  Never accept the label of lazy.  It doesn’t fit, and you don’t deserve it.

I care deeply.

When I was younger, I was accused often of not caring about things such as chores, homework, others’ feelings and the like.  This hurt deeply because I really did care.  That I couldn’t seem to do the simple things that everyone else did to get through the day was a mystery to me, and then to be blamed for it like I was doing it on purpose really just sucked (to put it mildly).  To this day, I look at people who are organized, never late, always have everything they need to do what they have to do and it just seems like magic.  I can do that stuff too, now, and it takes a lot of effort and coordinated outside structure for me to give the illusion of togetherness.

Back in the day, maybe I didn’t seem to care because I couldn’t get it together.  So, when I was accused of not caring I just stuffed those feelings deep inside so as not to show the hurt.  Also, it’s possible not that I didn’t care but that whatever it is that I was supposed to care about, that thing that everyone else thought was really important, simply didn’t make it onto my radar.  I remember getting chewed out by my boss at work once when I was in my 20’s.  I showed up to work on time, but there was a staff meeting going on.  I had no idea.  I don’t remember being told.  I don’t recall seeing a memo or a note posted anywhere.  Obviously, word got out, because everyone else was there.  I missed it.  Was probably distracted by something or too focused on something for that information to get into my head.  So, it looked like I didn’t care about my job.  I assure you I did.  Just because I struggle at times to keep eye contact (because something shiny moved in my peripheral vision) or because I can’t sit still, just because I forgot something because it was out of my routine or because I don’t attend to the obvious because it was not obvious for me does not mean I don’t care.  I do.  A lot.  I feel awful when I let people down.  I feel awful when I fail.

For those of you who have been through this yourselves, give yourselves permission to not be perfect.  It’s ok to mess up so long as you work to make it right and make it better.  Don’t get caught up in the comparison game where you feel bad about what you do compared to everyone else.  Just do your best.  Show your caring through action.  Don’t let the uninformed opinions of others take up space in your head.

There is NO attention deficit.  ADHD is mislabeled.

Anyone who has seen me for ADHD treatment has heard me get on my soapbox about this.  First, I dislike the diagnostic criteria for ADHD in general.  They are deficit focused, missing out on the things that folks with ADHD can do and are good at.  They are incomplete, missing things such as rejection sensitive dysphoria.  Academic (classroom) oriented and missing aspects of living in the wider world. Secondly, as the title suggest, there is NO attention deficit.

The core “symptom” of ADHD is labeled wrong and thus misunderstood.  It’s not that people with ADHD can’t pay attention.  I know that I can do something I like (make music, play video games, do therapy) for hours.  I lose track of time doing it.  I see my clients having similar issues.  Anyone that can single-mindedly focus on doing anything and do it for hours at a time is not lacking in attention.  I suspect that the very name of the condition leads to the misperception of who we are as people (see the above sections about laziness and not caring).

The attention is there.  Its just that the threshold of stimulation needed to activate that attention seems to be much higher than in neurotypical people.  Basically, those of us with ADHD need a lot more stimulation to feel normal and pay attention than other people.  The world does not provide, so we walk around in a state somewhat like perpetual boredom with our brains going “What’s that!  What’s that!  What’s that!”  trying to find something interesting to make that stimulation happen. When the stimulation we are receiving meets our need for stimulation then we don’t just get focused, and we get this hyper-focus, the super power of ADHD.  It’s amazing when it happens, and it doesn’t often happen easily.

One of the most important skills someone with ADHD has to master is creating motivation where it is lacking and unlocking hyper-focus.  Learning how to pay the toll for focus and make it work.  It can be done.  It simply takes practice and effort.

I hope that you found this article helpful.  Please feel free to share your experiences about living with ADHD (either as the who has it or as someone who loves someone who has it) in the comments below.  If you would like to work on ways to turn ADHD into a super-power, please feel free to reach out to me. Erik@erikyoungcounseling.com Part 2 will be published in a few days.

Read Part 2 here

©2018 Erik Young Counseling LLC

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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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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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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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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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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!

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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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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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