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Benji’s Tip’s for Reducing Stress at Christmas

Hello humans, it’s Benji here!

Soon it will be Christmas, which is my favourite time of year! It’s the time of year that all of my favourite humans are around me, having fun, and giving me all their left-over turkey and ham! Yum!

But I’ve noticed that Christmas can be a stressful time for humans. It’s the time of year when people are running around, frantically getting presents, food and other things organised for the big day. Talk about exhausting! So, here are some tips for how humans can KEEP CALM this holiday season!

  1. Give yourself permission to do what you want to do. The holiday period can be filled with social gatherings and events, and it can be stressful to attend everything or see everyone. Acknowledge that it's ok to say NO and take time for yourself. But be careful that you are not isolating yourself from everyone too.
  2. Set boundaries. Let family and friends know when you will be available and when you will be unavailable. This will give you time to look after yourself and do the things that help you reduce your stress levels, like meditating or taking your dog for a walk! Woof.
  3. Set a budget. If you have a budget set, this will reduce overspending and the stress associated with worrying about finances. Unless you want to spoil your favourite furry friend, in which case overspending is ok! Hehe.
  4. Practice self-compassion. Understand that it is normal to be stressed during the holiday period. If Christmas is a time for loving and giving gifts, then we should be able to practice this kindness on ourselves. When you get stressed, remind yourself that it’s understandable to feel this way around Christmas.

I hope these tips help you during the busy holiday period. My humans at Drop of Life and I hope that you have a safe and happy Christmas and New Year! Woof.

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On regulating your emotions: A key ingredient for enhancing psychological well-being

Emotions are a central part of the human experience, and when individuals are challenged by the stressors of life and attend therapy for support emotions are also a key component of the work that is done in therapy. In my clinical work with individuals across the lifespan, one of the most common issues I have observed is the challenge individuals may have with regulating their emotions. Interestingly, this challenge with regulating emotions seems to manifest in several different mental health concerns, with some concerns being more commonly associated with specific emotion regulation difficulties. But, what is Emotion Regulation?

Well, to keep it as simple as possible, think about emotion regulation as a process whereby individuals influence which emotions they have, when they have them and how they experience and express them (Gross, 1998). These efforts at modifying emotional experiences and expressions typically have, as a part of their goal, the individual trying to respond to their environment in a healthy and acceptable way. Therefore, one’s ability to regulate their emotions impacts on their ability to adapt successfully to their environment and maintain a sense of psychological well-being.

On the other hand, when individuals are not able to do so effectively, they may be more vulnerable to challenges with their mental health. Moreover, it may not be surprising that there are several different strategies that people use to regulate their emotions – and while it’s tricky to say that a strategy is “good” or “bad” (since it really depends on the situation), there are some strategies that are more adaptive/healthy and others that are regarded as maladaptive/unhealthy. While there are probably too many different strategies for me to cover in this blog, I thought I would highlight some of the more helpful and less helpful ones that I speak about most frequently in my work with clients.

Less Helpful Emotion Regulation Strategies

Suppression – At times, individuals may engage in suppression of their thoughts and emotions, this means that they try to hide how they are feeling internally or push the thoughts and feelings as far out of their awareness as possible. But does out of sight really mean out of mind? Unfortunately, not in this case. What decades of research tells us is that when individuals suppress their emotions their experience of the difficult emotion is more intense than if they had not suppressed at all. This means that it might be more effective for us to develop pathways to working through an emotion rather than trying to “get over it” or otherwise push it aside.

Rumination – Many people may become trapped in a cycle of rumination, whereby the individual may engage in repetitive thinking about a situation and its causes which fuels the negative emotions that have arisen. This regulatory strategy is probably the individual’s best effort to try to analyse or solve a problem that is causing them a great deal of distress, except no solution emerges – especially in cases where the problem is “unsolvable”. To understand this strategy, I often use the metaphor of watching a washing machine – where all the thoughts and emotions just continuously go around and around and around and…well you get the idea.

More Helpful Emotion Regulation Strategies

Cognitive reappraisal - refers to changing the meaning or interpretation of an experience to manage the emotional response. The reappraisal is typically centred on the situation itself or the individual’s capacity to manage its demands. In other words, HOW we think about the situation and our ability to manage it can very much change the emotional experience we have while going through it or change the way we feel about what has already happened.

Acceptance - The individual is aware of the thoughts and emotions they are experiencing, and they remain open to these internal experiences without feeling the need to change the thoughts or emotions that are present. There is a recognition here that neither thoughts nor emotions are dangerous, and we have control over how we respond to them. Developing acceptance as a strategy can be challenging, especially when we are so used to wrestling with thoughts and emotions that come up in response to life’s challenges. However, we can indeed develop a more accepting style of coping. When individuals view thoughts and emotions as inherently negative, they are more likely to engage in problematic behaviours like avoidance and withdrawal.

The role of parents in developing a child’s capacity to regulate their emotions

From the very beginning of life, parents have a crucial role to play in children’s development of healthy emotion regulation. Early aspects of a child’s emotional life are guided by their parents’ selection of situations for them, especially while they are infants. Parents take the lead on deciding what children can and cannot manage emotionally, simply because at this stage children do not know enough about the world to make such determinations for themselves.

Parents generate routines that are comfortable for the child. Such practices are a normal part of the early parent-child dynamic. However, as children get older and mature, and their pool of life experiences expand, they are expected to take more responsibility for such regulatory processes and parents are expected to oversee and guide this self-regulation. Therefore, as children mature, they learn which situations to avoid or approach, when they can modify situations externally, and when they may need to make internal modifications in order to cope. Parents ideally model healthy emotion regulation as well, by way of their responses to situations which children observe and learn from overtime.

If you would like support with developing more healthy strategies for regulating your emotions and reducing the tendency to use unhelpful strategies contact us at Drop of Life Psychology Clinic.

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Self-esteem in Teens

A common underlying theme that I notice when working with teenagers, especially teenage girls, is problems with self-esteem. Self-esteem can be described as someone’s opinion of themself. Those with high self-esteem think positively of themselves, are not as judgemental of themselves and value their achievements. Those with low self-esteem tend to lack confidence, feel unhappy and are highly critical of themselves. Self-esteem is terribly important because it influences our decision making in day to day life, encourages us to look after ourselves and allows us to challenge ourselves so we can discover our full potential. Low self-esteem has also been shown to correlate with depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

Self-esteem is especially important in the adolescent years, as this is a time for children to explore their limits and discover who they are as a person. If they are held back by a fear of their own shortcomings, then they miss out on discovering what they can achieve, which may limit success (professionally and personally) later in life. Low self-esteem can also lead to other problems like relationship troubles and early sexual activity. Unfortunately, when you look at data that compares across the lifespan, there tends to be a drop in self-esteem during the teenage years, presumably due to maturational changes and complex social relationships.

So, how do you know if your teenager has low-self-esteem? Here are some signs:

  • They avoid new experiences and opportunities
  • They are unable to deal with normal levels of frustration
  • They find it difficult to socialise and make friends
  • Their motivation levels are low
  • They get uncomfortable when they are given a compliment

The good news is, self-esteem can be re-built. Here are some tips that you can do with your teen to improve their self-esteem:

  • EXPERIENCE NEW OPPORTUNITIES. Encourage your teen to try lots of new activities and hobbies. This will help them to discover what they are good at and enjoy. They will also learn that not everyone is good at everything, which is a normal part of life.
  • ENCOURAGE AND PRAISE THEM. If your teen fails or is reluctant to try something new because they think they might fail, keep gently encouraging them to try. It is important to learn that even though we may fail at something, the fact that we tried is the main thing. Praise your child, regardless of their performance, so that they are encouraged to give it another go.
  • BE A MODEL OF CONFIDENCE. The teenage brain is predominately overrun by the amygdala, which is the part of the brain linked to survival instincts. Therefore, your teen’s brain is constantly scanning their environment, studying people’s behaviours, including yours. This is the perfect time for YOU to be a good model of confidence, so that your teen may follow suit. You can do this by being acting confident in day to day activities and by reflecting with your teen about what you did to succeed at something, and they ways you bounced back when you didn’t succeed.
  • PRACTICE SOCIAL SKILLS. Social skills and self-esteem go hand in hand. You can teach your child basic social skills, like body posture, smiling, giving good eye contact etc. You can practice this with your teen in role-play scenarios.

 

If you or your teenager are struggling with low self-esteem and would like some more information on how we can help, call us on 55 207 705 to make an appointment with one of our psychologists.

 

References:

Brown, G., Bifulco, A., & Andrews, B. (1990). Self-esteem and depression: Effect on course and recovery. Social Psychiatry And Psychiatric Epidemiology, 25(5), 244-249. Retrived from https://link-springer- com.ezproxy.library.uq.edu.au/article/10.1007/BF00788643

Confidence in teens. (1st Oct 2019). Retrieved from https://raisingchildren.net.au/pre-teens/development/social-emotional-development/confidence-in-teens

Robins, R. W., Trzesniewski, K. H., Tracy, J. L., Gosling, S. D., & Potter, J. (2002). Global self-esteem across the life span. Psychology and Aging, 17(3), 423-434. doi:10.1037/0882-7974.17.3.423

Self-esteem and teenagers. Retrieved from https://parents.au.reachout.com/common-concerns/everyday-issues/self-esteem-and-teenagers

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Benefits of knowing and understanding your family

When people are asked about what really matters in their lives, relationships are usually mentioned. After our basic physical needs are met it is the quality of our relationships that most influences our quality of life. How do we think about this? Is it just the current relationships we are in that matter to us and to our mental health?

In my previous blogs, I have discussed the benefits in terms of mental health of knowing your intergenerational family story. Here we delve further into this drawing on Dan Siegel’s research into how our brains and minds work.

Dan Siegel is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine with training in pediatrics and child, adolescent and adult psychiatry. He is a pioneer in the field of interpersonal neurobiology an interdisciplinary field that invites all branches of science and other ways of knowing to come together in order to understand the human experience.

His research has led him to conclude that:

1. we are profoundly interconnected

2. relationship is essential to our development

3. interpersonal relationships shape our brains from infancy to old age

4. mind is not something you own, it is shared between people

5. mind is a relational process that essentially regulates the flow of energy and information

6. identity is not contained so much within an individual but between individuals

It has long been thought that our early experiences define who we are. The relationships we have with our parents have a big influence on our development. The research on attachment between parents and children shows that the nature of this attachment influences how a person relates to others and their relationship with their child, passing on patterns through generations.

Dan Siegel points out something really interesting about this: the best predictor of a child’s security of attachment is not what happened to their parents as children, but rather how their parents made sense of those childhood experiences.

This highlights how knowing and understanding your family is shaping both your own relationships and that of the future generations. This challenges the long-held idea that our early experiences defined who we are. Interpersonal neurobiology holds that our brains are constantly being reshaped by new relationships.

I think this is good news we can change our brains, lives, and relationships as well as the relationships of the future generations by working on understanding our families and relationships.

I would like to leave you with something to think about. People seem to think of anxiety as a personal quality, something within them. When you think about how profoundly interconnected we are, how does this impact on your thinking about anxiety?

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Anger Issues

 Some of the most common issues seen in children who come in to the clinic are behavioural. Aggression in the form of yelling, throwing things, and hitting out are the most common complaints.  

Such behaviours cause frustration at home, damage to items, loss of friendships and at more extreme ends can result in the loss of school placements.

So what can you do about it? 

The first thing to understand is…that all behaviour serves a purpose. That means, that in the absence of an alternative, the ‘undesirable’ behaviour will rear its ugly head…to get a point across - loudly!

Of course, there are many reasons why children (and adults) show anger, frustration, and other challenging behaviours; but notwithstanding more serious causes, the most common reasons children use challenging behaviours are:

-    As a way to communicate: “I don’t know how to express my inner feelings using words, so if I yell… I will let you know about the anger I feel!”

-    To escape an overwhelming situation: such as “I can’t handle all of the busy-ness of the classroom and I need to leave - asap! When I begin to scream or throw things…i can predict that someone will get me out of here.”

-    To have a need met: such as “I am tired….and I don’t want to keep shopping….so if I have a tantrum in the supermarket… then you will take me home.”

Parents are often lost as to what is causing their child to behave in ways that result in so much chaos. They can blame themselves, or experience a loss in confidence. Difficulties in a child’s behaviour can sometimes also be a reflection of what is going on around them, at home or at school. A good way to begin solving the behavioural puzzle is to understand the way our brain works. As Dr Daniel Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson describe in their book “The Whole Brain Child”, the following formula will help.

Left Brain = Logic

Right Brain = Emotion

Upstairs Brain = Thinking (Reasoning)

Downstairs Brain = Safety (fight-flight)

Some tips for using the whole brain child approach include:

1. CONNECT (left brain) before REDIRECT (right brain):

Listen to your child’s feelings, empathise…”I can see that you are sad…”, use touch “let me give you a hug”. Once they have calmed down because they feel understood, cared for, seen and heard by you - then they are more likely to comply. Only then, involve them in problem-solving.. “so what could you try different next time to help mummy /daddy understand what you need?”… offer some solutions using minimal words if they are stuck. If they begin to get upset once again, then try connecting again. Wait 20-30 minutes or so before approaching the subject again.

2. Name it to tame it: help engage the logical (upstairs) brain - tell them what is happening so they understand and develop the emotional language to talk about it again in future. “ I can see that you are angry because you had to put that toy away…your arms are crossed and you are scrunching your face”.

3. Use it or lose it: giving your child opportunities to practice their problem solving skills will build their rational brain and help them to gain confidence in their ability to come up with good solutions.

4. Engage don’t enrage: remember, that once calm, it is possible to accidentally trigger another reaction (downstairs brain). Therefore use logic to keep the upstairs thinking brain engaged.

5. Move it or Lose it: use exercise and play to keep their bodies moving, get rid of excess energy from the downstairs brain and help them to stay calm.

6. Rewind and Remember: Later that day..but whilst still fresh, try “replaying the movie”. Talk about what happened, pause, rewind and fast forward to the parts that you need to process with them.

7. Remember to remember: Help your child by practicing the new skills they have learned. “Remember when we get angry…we can try to breathe in through our nose and out through our mouth”.

8. Feelings come and go: use mindfulness skills to teach your child to let go of thoughts…by watching them float by. Make it a game.

9. Sift: What sensations…images…feelings….thoughts….do you notice..when…you are happy?…..sad….angry…..

10. Exercise mindsight: practice self regulations skills - deep breathing, relaxation…make it fun. Give them tools they can use when needed.

11. Enjoy each other: Connection is the most fundamental human need. If your child and you do not feel close to each other, then your influence will not be well accepted. If you have a good relationship then discipline is easier.

12. Connect through conflict: When experiencing conflict, use it as a teaching moment…

b2ap3_thumbnail_SummaryofTheWhole-BrainChildbyTheMontessoriNotebook.png

 

Seeking support when normal strategies do not seem to make a difference is important. There is no parenting manual…there is only a school called life. Remember each day that as long as what you are doing is ‘good enough’, then you are doing great. Children are resilient and will blossom given the right circumstances - as Dr Daniel Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson teach “Connection before Redirection” can result in many difficult behaviours being avoided!

Credit: Montessori Notebook and Shutterstock for the images.

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