August 23, 2019

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

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

I.                   A headache THIS big

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

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

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

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

II.                 Putting the pieces together in the hospital

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

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

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

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

III.              … Then a MIRACLE happened.

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

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

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

IV.             Lessons learned

What’s the take away from all of this?

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

V.                You can do this too!

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

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

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

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

©Erik Young, M. Ed., LPC

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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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BABY STEPS – USING MICRO-CHANGE TO MAKE MAJOR CHANGES

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I.                   What about Bob?

I love movies.  Watching movies is one of my favorite off-task activities.  Since I’m a therapist, it probably comes as no surprise that I have a fondness for movies that involve therapists.  Of those movies, one of my favorites has to be the Bill Murray/Richard Dreyfuss comedy “What about Bob?”  True, the portrayal of Dreyfuss as a therapist is less than flattering… but the movie is hilarious.  At the beginning of the movie, Dreyfuss gives Murray’s super-neurotic character, Bob some advice.  He tells him to take “Baby steps.”  Do one little thing, then do another little thing…. Keep going until you get to where you want to go.  Using this advice, Murray is able to leave his apartment and make his way “on vacation” to New England where he then intrudes upon Dreyfuss’ family vacation.  Much hilarity ensues.

Now, it might seem strange to take therapy advice from a goofy comedy, but I’ve always said that good advice is good advice regardless of the source.  Frankly, the idea of making big changes by taking lots of little steps makes sense to me.  Back when I was a piano teacher, there would always come a time where my students would start freaking out over learning their first long piece.  “It’s TOO long!  I can’t do it!” Is what I would hear.  I would ask them a question my mom posed to me when I was young.  I would ask them, “How do you eat an elephant?”  Inevitably, they would scrunch their faces up, think about it… then say “I don’t know.”  The answer is “ONE BITE AT A TIME.”  Like baby steps in “What about Bob?” you eat an elephant (i.e. Tackle a big problem) by taking the first step (or bite) and then do the next thing and the next until you get to where you need to go (or there’s no more elephant left).  What if you aren’t hungry for elephant?  Then I guess you’re out of luck.

II.                 Defining micro-change

This idea of taking lots of little steps to solve problems is what I’ve come to term “micro-change.”  Big changes take lots of work.  Big changes take lots of planning.  Big changes take significant sacrifices and resources to make them happen.  This is why people often avoid making big changes or start but never succeed in completing big changes in their lives.  How many times have you thought how nice it would be to have something about your life be different, but when you sat down and looked at the situation you said “Nah, too much work.”  I know I’ve done this more times than I like to admit.

Using micro-change we take a different approach.  We decide on a goal (something big or long range) and then simply decide on what the first steps are going to be.  Then we focus our efforts on the first easily attainable objective.  We focus all our efforts like a laser on accomplishing that objective.  Once it’s done, we then move on to the next step.  We don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the end goal or how long it’s going to take.  We just focus on where we are at and what we are doing until we get the step done.

I like to use this strategy with diet and exercise changes.  Instead of saying “I need to lose 50 pounds, deadlift 500 pounds and get to 12% body fat.”  (All measurable and attainable goals… but pretty big and daunting all at once).   I might say, for the next week I’m going to go to the gym at least twice and stop drinking regular sodas.”  What seems less daunting?  It’s really hard to lose a lot of weight.  It’s really hard to lift heavy.  It’s easy to cut back on sodas (and thus calories) for a week and commit to going the gym a couple of times.  At the end of the week I can look back and see exactly how I did and then set new short term objectives.  If every week I lift a little more than the week before while cleaning up my diet a little more, I will lose weight and get stronger.  Making all the lifestyle changes needed to lose a lot of weight is scary and confusing, but making one small change at a time and giving the change time to become a habit is easier.

I’ve used this same strategy to teach kids how to organize for school and get on top of homework.  I’ve used this strategy to help people overcome anxiety and fears (also known as gradual exposure therapy).  I’ve become a big fan of doing “lots of little bits” to get “big bits” done.  My motto is “keep it easy.”

III.              Guidelines to implement micro-change strategy

So, here are some tips on how to plan out and use this strategy to make changes in your life or your child’s life.

A.                Pick clear, well defined goals (measurable)

For this strategy to work, you need a clear target…. Something to shoot for.  While having a goal of “being happy” is nice, what does that mean?  What’s happy for you?  How would I, as your therapist, be able to quantify and measure happiness?  Is it how often you smile?  Is it how many friends you have?  Pick a measurable goal.  “I will lose 20 pounds”  or “I will see 16 clients a week” are measurable.  Whatever it is you want to change, focus on those things you can count and craft your goals around that.

Additionally, make sure you make note of your baseline when you start.  It’s important to know where you are at so that you can see where you are going as you make your goals.

B.                 Break goals up into smaller objectives

This is the essence of micro-change.  Figure out the steps you need to take to accomplish your goals.  Sometimes, you will be able to map the whole process out from beginning to end.  At other times, you may be able to figure out the first steps, but later steps may not be clear (depending on how those first steps go).  Either way, figure out small, attainable first steps and take action to accomplish them.  For that 20 pound weight loss goal, cutting out sodas might be a great first step, followed by cutting back on starchy carbs and then upping protein intake.  Making one change a week will lead to a virtual overhaul of one’s eating habits in the space of a month or two.  In the case of “seeing 16 clients a week” a goal might be to publish 2 articles this month (and then do it again next month) to get my name out there.  Another step might be to schedule a free community talk based on one of my articles in the next month to attract new clients.

C.                 Pick realistic target dates

Give yourself deadlines.  If you have an objective but no end date, it becomes very easy to procrastinate and put things off.  By giving yourself deadlines, you add a little bit of urgency.  However, it is crucial that your target dates are realistic.  Losing 20 lbs in a month is not a realistic target date.  Losing 6-8 pounds in a month becomes more realistic.  Cutting out soda for a week is easy…. Cutting out soda forever might be impossible.  I can always re-commit to no soda week after week as long as that change is helping meet my goal.  If anything, it is better to be a little more liberal with your target dates just to give yourself enough wiggle room for success.

D.                Collect data on progress

Since your goals are measurable, it makes sense to measure them.  If you don’t, how do you know if you are making progress?  I can make the goal of losing weight… but if I never weigh myself, measure my body, try on old clothes that did not use to fit… how do I know I’m making progress?  What if I’m making progress and then I choose a change that doesn’t work?  If I’m collecting data, that will be reflected and I can make adjustments to my plan sooner.

E.                 Reward yourself and celebrate your little victories

Finally, you need to make every effort to reward yourself and celebrate your successes.  It might not seem like a big deal that you cut out soda for a week.  It’s such a little thing.  However, you made a commitment and you met it.  That deserves a pat on the back.  We are creatures that thrive on reinforcement.  That’s what drives our behaviors.  So, reinforce your positive changes.  Celebrate your daily victories and be proud of yourself.  This will help keep your enthusiasm and motivation up while you transform your life.

So, take those baby steps.  Eat that elephant.  Celebrate the little victories and change your life!  I know you can do it.  Please tell me about times you’ve changed your life with micro-change in the comments section below.  I look forward to hearing from you.

If you wish to learn more about micro-change or would like to schedule a free consultation with me, please call 484-693-0582 , email me at erikyounglpc@verizon.net or click on the “schedule appointment” button on the right side of this page.

©2013 Erik Young Counseling LLC

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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

molehill-mountain

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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Media Roundup: Transition article, Askimo Videos and Video Sessions

It’s been awhile since I’ve updated the blog.  Things have been busy behind the scenes and I’m not ready to unveil some exciting new stuff.

Transitions — How to make them easier for your autistic child.

First, I have a new article up at GoodTherapy.org.  My latest contribution in an article on how to help your autistic child with transitions.  Anybody who cares for someone on the spectrum knows how challenging it can be to move from place to place or from activity to activity.  This article gives a few practical tips to make transitions and change a little easier.

Read it here.

I invite you to leave feedback or questions about the article in the comments section here or over at GoodTherapy.org.

Askimo video interviews

Back in March, the fine folks at Askimo.tv, an online video information resource, asked to interview me on a number of topics.  The videos are up and I hope you take a moment to check them out and that they prove informative and useful.  Again, I invite you to leave questions and comments here and at Askimo.tv.

Special Needs Parenting

Attachment Disorder

Stress and Tension

Stress Management

Foster Care

Foster Care for Children with Special Needs

 

New Services at the Office!

I’ve partnered with Counsol.com to add some exciting new services.  On the menu bar you should see a link to the secure patient area.  There you can register with me to schedule sessions.  Access Secure email and journaling features.  Most exciting is the secure video chat feature.  With this I will be able to conduct online video sessions for those of you who might be challenged to get to the office.  With this new feature I will be hosting online group parent consultation sessions once a month.  These sessions will be free for current clients (those seeing me for in-person sessions) and will cost $15 per session for anyone else.  With these sessions, I will cover general special needs parenting topics as well as answer more specific questions.  You will also be able to network and talk with other families who may be struggling with similar issues as yourself.  The beauty of this is you don’t have to worry about hiring a sitter, you can access this service from home.  If you would like more information about this, you can call me at 484-693-0582 or shoot me an email at erikyounglpc@verizon.net.

 

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USE DEEP MUSCLE RELAXATION TO MELT AWAY STRESS

relaxed_kitten

In the last stress busting article, we discussed the power of diaphragmatic breathing to reduce immediate symptoms of stress.  Today, we are going to explore another technique that complements deep breathing to reduce stress symptoms:  Deep Muscle Relaxation

You can’t be tense and relaxed at the same time

It’s true.  When it comes to stress, your body is either in a state or relaxation or a state of tension.  You switch back and forth between these states throughout your day. Stress is typically related to tension.  So, it makes sense that anything that induces relaxation will reduce tension and thus reduce stress.  Slow, deep breathing works because simulates the breathing of a relaxed state.  Similarly, inducing your muscles to release tension and relax will simulate and ultimately BECOME a state of relaxation.

The problem with tension

There are a number of problems with having chronically tense muscles.  Tense muscles use more energy and fatigue our body quicker than relaxed muscles.  Chronically tense muscles get damaged easier.  Tense muscles tend to lose some of their elasticity and thus can inhibit your range of motion and your ability to move quickly and easily.  Tense muscles also tend to ache more.  This then becomes a suck on your mental energy as you have to manage the creaks, groans, aches and pains of tense muscles.  This isn’t to say that tension is bad.  Tension is necessary. Without it we would fall to the ground like so much quivering jelly, unable to move.  The trick is to have just enough, but not too much tension.

When we carry tension in our body for a long period of time, we tend to become blind and unaware of this tension.  The feeling of tensions and achiness becomes normal.  This is the real problem.  We train out body and brain to accept excess tension and then let it inhibit out daily activities. Over time this builds up and can gradually erode our quality of life.

It is important to do things that allow you to get your muscles to relax (and let you re-learn what relaxed, tension-free muscles feel like).  By making a practice of these exercises, you can learn to stay relaxed throughout more of your day.  Your heightened sense of relaxation will also let you activate tension when you need it much more quickly (because your muscles won’t be tired all the time from maintaining a chronic state of tension).  Top athletes are masters of utilizing the power of relaxation and tension and can thus demonstrate incredible feats of speed and power as a result.  For the rest of us, I’m just suggesting master relaxation and tension to give us more control over our stress for a happier, healthier life…if this also give a faster 100 meter dash, all the better. J

Techniques to induce relaxation and retrain our sense of tension

1.      Massage

Without a doubt, one of the best treats you can get for yourself is a good massage. Getting someone who knows what they are doing to knead your muscles is a fantastic way to induce deep muscle relaxation.  Now, I know that this can get pricey.  An alternative is to get a book on massage (such as Massage for Dummies) and convince a significant other to read it and then practice on you.  You could reciprocate.  Also, for parents, learning basic massage techniques can give you another tool to help relax reactive children.

2.      Progressive Relaxation Training

This tried and true technique is generally a part of any good stress/anxiety management protocol.  Here, you sit or lay in a quiet, comfortable place.  You then tense each muscle group in your body and then let it totally relax.  Doing this mindfully and in conjunction with deep breathing can help you learn to distinguish between muscles under tensions and muscles in relaxation.  Purposefully making muscles tense and relaxed highlights the differences between the two states.  Also, tensing the muscles helps wear them out so they are more prone to be relaxed.  Doing this on a regular basis will allow you to learn to quickly get your muscles to relax with but a thought.  Parents can teach this to children by having them practice being like uncooked spaghetti then being cooked spaghetti.  This fun game can help teach them how to induced muscle relaxation on command.

 3.      Sauna/hot shower/hot bath

Long exposure to hot water can also induce deep muscle relaxation.  Taking a long hot shower or bath is great way to sooth and relax sore muscles.  If you have access to a sauna or hot tub, all the better.

 4.      Self-massage/foam roller

Weight lifters have known about the benefits of this for a long time.  They use this technique to recover from strenuous weight training sessions and to speed recovery.  They get foam rollers and then roll their body over the rollers to relax and massage their muscles.  If you google the terms “myofascia release” and “foam rolling” you can find all sorts of videos demonstrating this.  You can use anything from long foam rollers to tennis balls to accomplish this form of self-massage.  It should be noted that this can be uncomfortable at first and may take some getting used to.

 5.      Neuro-feedback training

Also called “biofeedback.”  This method will involve the help of someone trained in neuro-feedback.  Special sensors are connected to your head and body that then send information about your brainwave patterns and muscle activation to a computer.  This information is displayed graphically.  You can use the graphic display as a means of feedback as you practice relaxation.  As you successfully relax your body and mid, you will be able to see your progress on the computer monitor.  This can be very effective in learning how to induce a deep, relaxed state.  However, it can also be costly.

 

Conclusions

The methods listed above are not in any particular order (other than that’s the order I thought of them).  Any or all of them might be effective to help you learn to induce deep muscle relaxation.  The list is also not all-inclusive.  There are probably many more methods that could be used to learn to relax.   Please share other relaxation methods with me in the comments section below.

At the end of the day, it is important to pick a method or two and practice it.  The more frequently you can practice, the better.  Eventually, you will be able to sense when your muscles are getting tense and induce them to relax with a thought.  This, combined with deep breathing will allow you to combat the effects of stress inducing situations much more effectively.

I hope this information proves useful.  Breathe….You got this.

Please leave your tricks for managing stress in the comments section below.  For more information or to make an appointment, go to www.erikyoungtherapy.com or email me at erikyounglpc@verizon.net

Copyright 2013  by Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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