Child and Adolescent Mental Health Statistics
In a recent survey of child and adolescent mental health issues in Australia, it was found that about 1 in 7 children aged 4-17 years old had a mental disorder in the previous 12 months. That is 560,000 children and adolescents. The most common issues were ADHD, Anxiety and Depressive Disorders. About 1 in 10 children aged 12 – 17 years had ever self-harmed, and 1 in 13 of the same age bracket had seriously considered attempting suicide in the previous 12 months. Children reported that the most aggravating issues for them were bullying, problems with their eating and weight concerns, smoking and substance use and internet use and gaming.
When to get help
These developmental years are important for seeking help as these are the years identity is formed, social networks are impacted and academic foundations are built. Seeking early intervention leads to much better outcomes. How do you know when to seek help?
The general rule of thumb is if your child or adolescent is going through a period of time of a few weeks where they are showing general signs of not coping, which cannot be alleviated by previous coping strategies, such as:
- Having more days feeling sad, anxious, angry and/or afraid
- Their eating and sleeping patterns are impacted much more than usual
- School performance and attendance is significantly deteriorating
- They are finding it difficult to concentrate not only at school but also in carrying out daily activities
- Avoiding playing with friends or activities and games they would usually find great pleasure in
- Young children who previously had by-passed bed-wetting, thumb sucking return to these behaviours
- Physical complaints – nausea, headaches, pains in their body
- For adolescents – use of substances, getting in trouble, and unusual pre-occupation with weight and eating, withdrawal and wanting to spend more and more time alone
- In young children – emotionally not coping and may want to be with parents more than usual
If your child is showing these signs, a visit to the family doctor is the first step. From there, the doctor can discern if there is anything medical going on. If it looks like a mental health issue, a referral to a mental health professional can be made.
At 7:30pm I was flopped on the bed - spent. My husband walked in and wondered if I was alright? Well...if you are going to ask a Psychologist this question, be prepared for the full analysis...
In the middle of office renovations, moves, lots of farewells, the general busy period, juggling personal and professional demands, planning for next year, I was aware of a kind of Passion burn. I described it as such:
Imagine there were various strands of thick paint. I can see every colour in the distance. The thick red of passion for our burnout prevention work, the bright yellow of excitement for our new office suites in Gordon, the purple, the blue, the green...all representing the different emotions I feel for the futures of very important parts of my life, work and world. For now, though, what I feel is the converging of all these emotions into a thick, muddy, unclarified mess of paint. Out of which will eventually ooze out into the clarified emotional future. For now, though, it is a thick clump of paint I feel I am wading in. The net result is a profound feeling of the double Ds - Discouragement and Doubt. Which leads to the major P - procrastination. Which leads to major impacts on motivation, negative self talk and (shock horror!) giving up.
Ever felt this way?
As we talked through the issues we decided it would be helpful for me to do the following, I share here with you:
1. Focus mindfully on each strand of emotion separately. Feel it, taste, breathe it. Embrace the positive face of each emotion and describe it fully in every detail.
2. Journal and reflect on each of the future versions of those strands. Build hope, build passion, build mental fortitude. This does not mean coming up with a PollyAnna future. It is a realistic view of what can happen, rather than focusing on what catastrophes could happen.
3. Chunk each emotional strand into "What do you need?" questions. Problem solve how to feed this and schedule it into my diary.
4. Have a chip away mentality. With each of those emotional strands clarified and anchored in hope, then chip away at the things I can have control over.
Are you the last person to take care of yourself? Does this mean you are skipping meals and thinking of feeding others? Take a look at how you can slow down and eat to thrive this busy season.
Most people are aware that postnatal depression and anxiety effect women, but few people are aware that up to 10% of new Dads can experience these struggles as well. In fact, depression affects 1 in 10 Dads between the first trimester and the year after the baby’s birth. Anxiety conditions affect 1 in 6 dads during the pregnancy and 1 in 5 Dads in the postnatal period. There are a number of ways that new Dad’s can care for themselves in order to manage the paradigm shift that a new baby can cause.
The Basic Needs
It’s easy to forget the basics when you’re caring for the basic needs of another. Be careful to eat regular and healthy meals, exercise regularly and to be creative about managing your sleep. When these basic resources are low, it is much more difficult to cope with stress, anxiety and low mood.
Remember that you are still a couple and your relationship will also need to be nurtured. Set aside a block of time each week where you can spend quality time together. At the end of each day, debrief together for 10 or so minutes. Reflect on the challenges and successes of each day.
Take note of your self-talk. How we speak to ourselves can have a big impact on how you feel and cope. Start to notice if you’re falling into the trap of making thinking errors (See this summary of thinking errors for more information). Decide whether the way you are thinking is helpful or unhelpful, and start redirecting your thinking in a more realistic and balanced way.
Engaging the help of a professional can be greatly beneficial in supporting you to care for yourself and your family in the midst of this great time of change. Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia provide a national hotline supporting women, men and new families. If you feel you require face-to-face support, the Psychologists at the Centre for Effective Living are able to assist both men and women with adjusting to parenthood.
Do you ever avoid interacting with people because you are afraid that you are ‘too awkward’ or people won’t like you? Have these thoughts ever impacted on your ability to establish meaningful friendships? Or led to difficulties interacting with colleagues? Or difficulties participating in conversations with other mothers from school?
National Psychology week is here again from November 11-17. This year, the theme is the Power of Human Connection, with a focus on helping people to improve their social skills and connections, and enhance their relationships.
In my clinical practice, I have a passion for working with people who experience low self-esteem and social anxiety. I often hear from clients who experience such express concerns that they have difficulty interacting with people or avoid social situations because they are too anxiety-provoking. It seems that self-beliefs that they are “too awkward” or have “nothing to offer” mean that they often avoid interacting in social situations, whether it be at work, with friends or with family. Often this leads to further feelings of worthlessness and provides no opportunity to either improve their social skills or learn that the interaction may go better than they anticipate. Even more so, avoiding social interactions denies people the opportunity to build healthy relationships and experience the satisfaction that comes from quality human connections. Meaningful relationships are often crucial for people’s overall well being.
If you perceive yourself to struggle with social skills or building connections with people, and have for a long time, it can understandably seem hard to begin changing the way you have interacted with people. It can be perceived as too overwhelming to begin facing situations that you have previously avoided because you feel you are too awkward or won’t connect.
In my clinical practice, it has been a privilege to be able to see client’s who have felt helpless in regards to building connection and enhancing relationships, take slow steps to confront their anxiety and build their confidence. Psychologists can assist people through therapy and skills building to build more meaningful relationships and address the barriers that can get in the way.
Collaborative care, Dietetics as being a part Effective Living and our initiatives for caring for the whole person. Appointments now open through the main line 1800 832 588
Collaborative care, Dietetics as being a part Effective Living and our initiatives for caring for the whole person. Appointments now open through the main line 1800 832 588
Saying Goodbye Well
As a trainee psychologist a memorable moment was when it was time to say goodbye to one of the courses I was taking. The trainer of the group finished with a good deal of time spent on asking us to say goodbye "properly". He laboured the point that saying goodbye was a natural part of life, and we all needed to do this well.
I have been thinking a lot about saying goodbye lately. We are moving locations as a practice and in my personal life I am also transitioning to another place. I find myself thinking to an acronym coined by David Pollock who does his work in helping people who move from one culture to another. The acronym is RAFT.
R is for Reconciliation. Thinking through the relationships that perhaps there have been things unsaid or ruptures that have yet to be repaired. This does not mean digging up all kinds of worms for yourself! These may be relationships you would like to keep ongoing. Perhaps there are certain issues that have been side-stepped in other relationships. This is a kind of making peace before moving on to the next stage.
A is for Affirmation. This is a wonderful stage of speaking kind, encouraging and affirming words to the various people in this particular location whom have been connected to you. You could send a card, a letter, or be intentional the next time you meet, to speak words of affirmation. This is a kind of parting gift.
F is for Farewell. This is the markers of the time to say goodbye. Having scheduled events with key groups of people, more intimate coffee meets for those more significant connections, posting on your FaceBook page something symbolic and reflective to signify the farewell - these are all examples. Don't forget the children! Ask them who they would like to have some time to say goodbye to, and how would they like this to happen.
T is for Think about the next destination. This is taking the time to research about, talk about, envisage about where you are going to next. Sometimes we can be avoidant about thinking about the next place. It is painful to do so. Perhaps we are concerned about getting too excited in case we are let down. Having realistic ideas about where you are going next, and also starting to prepare yourself by talking about it is a helpful stage in saying Goodbye well.
Checking in on Carers
Caring for others is a privilege that comes at a sometimes very large cost. In particular the family
and carers of those with chronic illness can experience stress, overwhelm and isolation. They may be
unable to join in regular social activities, and have trouble maintaining regular contact with friends
and extended family. Friends and family can in turn distance themselves.
Often not knowing what to say prevents people from reaching out to those who may be struggling.
This leads to further isolation and further stress for such individuals. Carers and family members may
also be reluctant to talk for fear of being a “burden” to others, being judged, blamed or
misunderstood. They may also struggle to make time for themselves whilst caring for someone else.
R U Ok is an initiative that aims to encourage meaningful conversations with those who may be
feeling overwhelmed and / or isolated. If you know someone who is caring for someone with a
chronic illness, or if you know someone with a family member who has a chronic illness, simply
spending time with them can be useful. You don’t have to have solutions to their problems but your
presence and willingness to listen may be all they need. People often underestimate the power of
simply being there for someone, especially when they have no solutions for the problem at hand.
Simply having someone listen to them or spend time with them can reduce a person’s
sense of isolation and ease their pain. A simple question as to how they are with a genuine willingness to listen can make a lot of difference. They may choose to talk or not. Either way knowing that you are willing to listen and equally willing to simply spend time with them, asking the question and then giving them the opportunity to respond as they wish whilst still accepting them, can make a lot of difference to them. Sometimes all they may want is a distraction, doing something pleasant to get their mind off things. At other times they may simply want someone to listen to them. Either way your time and willingness to listen may be all the help they need.
Mindfulness Glitter Jar
Making a glitter jar is an activity you can do with your kids to introduce them to how their mind works when experiencing difficult emotions and how to calm down during difficult times. When the glitter jar is unshaken, the glitter is settled peacefully at the bottom of the jar. You can see clearly through it.
The glitter can represent thoughts. When we’re feeling angry or upset (shake the bottle), thoughts are swirling around so we aren’t able to think clearly. Watch the glitter though, it always settles. And as
you watch the glitter settle, notice the mind settling too. When the glitter returns to the bottom of the jar, you will feel more calm and can think more clearly.
I recommend creating a glitter jar with your kids as a fun activity, then explaining to them how this amazing thing they just made can represent their thoughts and feelings, calm them down and help them feel better. I tested a few recipes out and ended up coming up with my own recipe that has
ingredients that are easy to find and suspends the glitter in a solution of water and glue that allows the glitter to fall slowly. This, I believe, encourages longer periods of meditation and has a soothing,
Ingredients For Glitter Jar
1. Jar or bottle: For the jar, I use plastic water bottles so I don’t have to worry about glass breaking.
For durability and shape, I prefer to use 11.2oz (330ml) Voss Water bottles. The labels peel off fairly easily, but you have to go slowly.
2. Glue: I really like Elmer’s Clear School Glue for my glitter jars. If you’re using the 11.2oz bottles I recommend above, one 5oz bottle contains enough glue for about 2 glitter jars.
3. Glitter: Fine glitter works best. I’ve used glitter from a glitter sample pack and we added in a few of the larger hearts and stars spangles from this Sugar Sparkles Sample Pack.
4. Water: Warm water, straight from the tap.
1. Fill your bottle about 1/8 to 1/3 full with glue. The more glue you add, the longer it will take for the glitter to settle after shaking.
2. Add glitter, start with a tablespoon or so. Take a deep breath as you watch your child pour glitter everywhere but inside the bottle. PS: a slightly damp paper towel wipes up fine glitter pretty well. A vacuum works even better.
3. Fill the bottle the rest of the way with warm water. At this step, before filling the bottle all the way, you can leave a little less than an inch of space at the top of the bottle, cap it, and shake it to see if you want to add more glitter, more glue, or just more water.
4. When the bottle is full up to the neck with water, glitter, and glue, cap it. I recommend using a hot glue gun to seal the cap closed. I did this by applying a single ring of glue all around the top threading and then screwing the cap on.
For how to use the Glitter Jar click here
Feeling anxious about change?
Check out these 5 simple tips
Finishing school, starting university, starting your first job, having a baby.. all of these are positive changes. They are changes people seek out. It can be quite a surprise when these changes cause anxiety. We usually associate anxiety with negative experiences and it can be a rude shock when a positive change brings about an anxious response in you. So why does this happen?
Anxiety is the body’s defense mechanism. It is the body’s response to our brains believing that we are in danger. When faced with something new, no matter how badly we wanted it, our brains can start to feel in danger. The fear of things not turning out as hoped, the fear of the unknown and doubts about our ability to meet the new demands are just some of the reasons that positive change can trigger anxiety in humans. How can you manage these transitions well?
- Write it out – when starting something new you can feel overwhelmed with thoughts about the change. “What if it doesn’t work out?” “What if my new teacher (boss etc) doesn’t like me?” “What if I make mistakes?” and “what if I don’t cope?” for example. Having these thoughts swirling in your mind can trigger an anxiety response in your body. Writing these thoughts down can be helpful. Writing is so simple and yet so powerful. Putting your thoughts on paper can operate as a form of download and also allows you to see your thoughts and decide which ones are real problems to work on, and which are simply fearful predictions with no real basis to them. Spend a few minutes dumping your thoughts on paper each day. The next day review what you have written and determine whether you need to take action on these thoughts or not.
- Maintain a balanced perspective – Often when starting something new your brain, in an effort to protect you, starts thinking about everything that could go wrong. In doing so it generally ignores all the ways in which things could go well. Remember to think about what could go right too. For example, you may think “what if my new boss (or teacher) hates me?” Acknowledge that this could happen, but is it not equally likely that your new boss or teacher may like you? No-one is asking you to predict the future but since your brain may naturally do that in an effort to protect you, it is helpful to balance the picture out by recognising that, yes, things could go wrong, but they are equally likely to go well, unless you have clear evidence that things are likely to go wrong.
- Get informed – if you don’t know what to expect your brain may take some poetic license and imagine all sorts of catastrophic outcomes. Gather as much useful information as possible so that you feel prepared for the change ahead. For example, if you are starting university check out the university’s website, visit campus a few times, work out how you will get there and learn where all your lectures will be held etc.
- Accept that there is no such thing as the “right” decision – often people agonise over decisions; “Is this the right job for me?” “Is this the right course for me…?” The fact is that none of our decisions come with guarantees and that’s what we are really looking for when we try to make the ”right” choice. Do your research, make your decision and then decide that it will be the right choice for you. Research has found that the more committed we are to our decisions the more comfortable we are with them, not the other way around. Once you’ve made a decision, commit to it and determine to make the most of it, being indecisive leads to less satisfaction regardless of the decision.
- Take care of yourself – self-care is important if we are to navigate change well. So as much as it is within your control get enough sleep, eat well, exercise and stay social.
The next time you embark on something new, no matter how much you wanted it, don’t be surprised if you feel a little anxious. If the anxiety feels overwhelming, try out some of the strategies above and see which ones work best for you.
Workplace Anxiety: Is Common
We spend a great part of our lives in some sort of work setting. Other than sleeping, this is probably a part of our day where we are engaged in a form of employment. For some the pressure to perform and stay on top of things is equaled to the fear of losing it all and not having income. Catastrophising takes over and soon we picture ourselves unable to pay the mortgage, disappointing our families and being ridiculed by our employer.
Workplace Anxiety: The Sources
Anxiety in the workplace can come from performance anxiety where we are afraid that we will make mistakes or somehow be responsible for significant breaches or negligence in our work. It can come from distressing situations with colleagues, supervisors or customers that keep replaying in our mind perpetuating our distress. It can come from harassment and bullying. Restructuring, redundancies and changes in our workplace can cause significant stress and anxiety. It can also come from the weight of our own expectations of ourselves.
Workplace Anxiety: The Consequences
Disrupted sleep, tense muscles, compromised immunity, impacted concentration - can lead to a vicious cycle of feeling under resourced and impotent at work. Yet, work can provide us with a sense of purpose and achievement when we feel well. We can start to avoid situations that impact our career progression. We can pull back from networking with colleagues and key stakeholders. Avoid the more complicated tasks, or simply the tasks that could highlight potential mistakes (emails, phone calls to customers). We procrastinate on key deadlines.
Workplace Anxiety: The Solution
- Recognise that anxiety is transient, and can be reduce by practicing some relaxation and mindfulness strategies.
- Practice self compassion. You are going to feel this way in your work every now and again, this does not make you a failure
- Identify the problem and engage in problem solving to manage the overwhelming helplessness.
Psychologists support individuals who go through all kinds or workplace anxiety, consider talking to someone who can help you with those 3 steps.
How to tell if they are anxious or just disobedient
Do you have an anxious child and struggle to know when to discipline their behaviour? Are they misbehaving or are they anxious? It can be very difficult to tell the difference, but it’s an important difference to make. Anxious behaviours don’t deserve punishment and this can make it really tricky for parents when it comes to telling the difference. Getting into trouble can be what anxious children want, because it can mean they avoid an anxiety-producing situation.
Here are some principles to help you tell the difference
Physical and Verbal Aggression are Not Acceptable: Regardless of how they are feeling, physical and verbal aggression are not acceptable. These behaviours are not acceptable for anyone, even if they are experiencing big emotions whether that be fear, anger or sadness. Permitting your child to behave this way will be unhelpful for them in the long-run. They need to learn to manage their emotions appropriately.
Check for Avoidance A key feature of anxiety is avoidance, and if a child is afraid they may be behaving a certain way to avoid a task. On the outside this might look like misbehaviour. For example, you might ask your child to get changed into their pyjamas and they refuse. Stepping back from the situation and taking some time to consider what is going on can help you discern if this is anxiety or misbehaviour. In this case, you may know that your child is afraid of the dark and at the moment, their bedroom light is off. This would be anxiety talking, rather than naughtiness. However, if your child is instead glued to the iPad playing a game and there are no signs of things that would cause your child to be afraid, it’s likely that this is a case of disobedience.
Knowing how to parent a child that is anxious can be really difficult. These are just a few principles that can guide you in parenting an anxious child. Childhood anxiety can be very limiting not just for a child, but their family as well. Fortunately, anxiety is well-researched and there are effective evidence-based interventions available. If you would like more support and guidance, seeking professional help from a Psychologist can be greatly beneficial.
This year the World Health Organisation (WHO) Gaming Disorder, of which problematic internet gaming comes under. Gaming Disorder is defined as having patterns of problematic gaming behaviour for at least 12 months, where there has been an increased priority given to gaming at the cost of other interests and daily activities. The behaviour also needs to cause significant impairment to daily functioning, such as interfering significantly with one's work, relationships and school. Such disruption could lead to jobs lost, or significant warnings for performance. This may seem like drastic definitions, however in a recent study from Finland, where they reviewed 50 studies on internet gaming, correlations between problematic gaming behaviour and depression, anxiety, OCD and somatisation were found. With increasing advances in technology and new games invented and being downloaded everyday, gaming disorder, whether accepted as a clinical diagnosis or as part of the landscape we live in, is here.
One significant impact internet gaming can have is on the quality of sleep. Unlike a tennis match with a limited pool of players, within your time zones, who have a limited physical capacity to keep going, internet gaming is boundary-less. It is difficult to identify clear finish times, and to manage gaming relationships. Sleep is impacted when it is difficult to wind down and "finish". Particularly if time zones mean that you could be disadvantaged if you stop while other players keep going. The temptation to load up on caffeine, push through natural sleep and tired cues impacts sleep. Conflict in gaming relationships can be toxic. What gets said in chat forms behind a screen can lack the civilities and appropriate courtesies than what is considered sporting behaviour. This too can keep you awake. We also know that flickering lights and blue light from screens impact sleep negatively.
If you are wondering where to go for help, speaking to a trained professional to help with problematic internet gaming behaviour, and therefore improve quality of sleep would be a helpful first step.
Symptoms of Depression in men can go undetected.
It is commonly thought that men are socialised to hold their emotions in check so as not to look weak and "unmanly". Yet emotions and the ability to feel makes us human. It brings the best of us to others as we express not only what we think, and in what we do, but also in what we feel. Emotions are a way for us to have a sort of thermometer to indicate to us what is going on deep within us. When our emotional life is in a state of constant turmoil and aggravation, the clinical signs of depression can surface. Depression in men can be difficult to detect.
As men may find it difficult to express just how despondent and despairing they are feeling (as in when they are in the grip of depression), they may not signal or seek for help at the early stages of depression. They may not themselves recognise the start of the downward spiral of mood. Added to this, is the uncommonly known symptoms that characterise depression in men. In addition to the typical symptoms of depression, low mood more days than not, change in appetite, impacted sleeping, gripping thoughts of low self worth, guilt, shame, loss of pleasure, thoughts of self-harm and suicide, there are some additional symptoms to look for in men.
Depressive symptoms in men include:
- Increased irritability, anger and interpersonal sensitivity
- Physical symptoms - headaches, body pains, impacted sexual functioning and libido, digestive difficulties
- Increased risky or self-harm behaviour: Substance use, reckless driving, aggressive sport playing inducing injuries, risky sexual behaviour
Men are far more unlikely to seek help for their mental health. Being aware of the risk factors for men, knowing the complete picture of depression in men can help with early detection, and awareness that could make the difference.
What you can do:
- Affirm their experience without trying to solve or fix things. Listening is a powerful affirmation of someone's experience and offers the hope that they will not be judged as being weak.
- Read some material together, exploring the commonalities of other men's experiences and recognising the experience of your friend or loved one as being common to many.
- Offer to be there for the next step - making an appointment with your family doctor.
- Make sure you have support for yourself as well.
Be sure to read some of our blogs on Men's mental health.
Men's Health - did you know?
We look at men's health in this post. Did you know that statistically men live 4.4 years less than women?
Did you know that 70% of overall health is controllable through factors such as regular exercise, balanced diet, sufficient sleep and having strong friendships?
Did you know that men who are physically inactive are 60% more likely to suffer from depression than those who are active?
Did you know that 54% of Australian men are insufficiently active?
(According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare)
Although exercise has been shown to play a huge role in men’s health, it can be hard to know where to start. Thankfully, there’s a whole field of psychology research dedicated to figuring this out. Phew!
What we do know
So what does this research tell us? Men need to be doing a minimum of 2 ½ to 5 hours of moderately intense exercise (i.e. brisk walk) each week OR 1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours of vigorous exercise each week (e.g. hiking, running, carrying heavy loads, and sports such as basketball and soccer). In addition to the options above, you also need to include at least 2 muscle strengthening workouts per week (e.g. weights, resistance training or body weight exercises).
Starting somewhere is better than nowhere, so start somewhere – Is it too ambitious to begin running 3 times a week? Start running once a week. Intimidated by the equipment at the gym? Learn how to use one new piece of equipment each week. Just aim to get your body moving. Increase exercise gradually rather than attempting to reach the recommended goals all of a sudden. Smartphone apps can help you gradually increase and track your exercise, like Couch to 5k (C25K), Runkeeper or Zombies Run.
Call a mate or find an exercise buddy – Research suggests you are more likely to make changes if others are changing with you. Get a family member, friend or colleague to join you. Start a culture of friendly badgering about when you will next exercise together. Perhaps join a sports team or your local Park Run (http://www.parkrun.com.au/) so that the exercise is goal-directed and social.
Celebrate your changes – Regularly look back at what you have achieved over time with your exercise buddy and make a big deal about it. Put up a victorious Instagram post. Take photos of yourself periodically and track the changes – they will happen with time and persistence!
Don’t just celebrate your physical changes – exercise makes your brain happier too, reducing symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety. Research suggests that even within 5 minutes of moderate exercise a noticeable increase in mood can be felt. Furthermore, the effect of exercise on depression has been found to be comparable to the effect of antidepressants in adults with major depression (Blumenthal et al., 2007)! So take note of your mental improvements and celebrate them, because exercising improves your mind as well as your body.
For more information on Men’s Health Week, watch the Centre for Effective Living Facebook page.
Mindfulness in teens has many benefits. It can help their focus and concentration, which can help with academic performance, it can improve empathy and social skills and even help manage stress and control impulses. Yet teens may resist efforts to introduce them to mindfulness. They may think that it is yet another adult attempt to tell them what to do and let’s face it, that’s the last thing any teen wants. So how can you introduce teens to this highly beneficial practice? Here’s a few tips from my experience teaching mindfulness to teens in our clinic:
Teach them the neuroscience behind it - you may think that the last thing a teen wants is more education but this is not so. I’m always amazed by the response I get from teens when I go into my mini neuroscience lesson. Teens who seem quite skeptical at first are quite intrigued by how their brains work. I think they appreciate the respect that they are shown when one explains principles to them rather than simply giving them instructions. Explain to the teen that our emotions are triggered by the Amgydala while rational thinking takes place in our prefrontal cortex. When the Amygdala mistakenly thinks we are at risk it hijacks the prefrontal cortex, which we need if we are to think effectively and rationally. Mindfulness helps kick the prefrontal cortex back into action, which helps us think rationally and effectively.
Invite them to try it out - tell them the science behind it and then invite them to test it out for themselves and see if it works for them. Encourage them to try it out each day for a week and reflect on their experience. Encourage them to be their own scientist, experiment with the practice and then decide for themselves if it is something they want to continue or not.
Make it simple and practical - Teenagers probably don't want to spend half an hour sitting on a mat and meditating, teaching them to do everyday tasks mindfully is likely to be a more practical option for them ,as it is for us. My favourite is the 5 senses exercise as you can apply it to any everyday activity and it doesn't require you to take time out of your life to do it. This exercise simply involves using all 5 of your senses to focus on whatever you are doing. For example, while walking to or from the bus you can notice 5 things you can see, then 5 things you can hear, 5 things you can feel in contact with your body and anything you can smell or taste.
The teenage years have their challenges but teens also have great capacity to learn and this is a time of significant brain development. Teaching teens practical life skills such as mindfulness gives them simple strategies they can use to help navigate the ups and downs of adolescence and adulthood.
For more articles on adolescent mental health look here.
Unpleasant emotions and Mindfulness
Do you ever think this way in regards to how you feel? Do you dislike feeling unpleasant emotions? Do you try to avoid unpleasant emotions in any way you can? Mindfulness can help with this.
"I hate feeling this way"
"I can't stand this feeling"
"It’s stupid and unacceptable to feel this way"
It is common for my clients to report disliking unpleasant emotions and to view them as unacceptable. It is common for them try to escape the uncomfortable emotion. However attempting to avoid and escape uncomfortable and unpleasant emotions can create significant distress and lead to a range of problems.
The problem is, we all experience emotions and they are an important part of being a human. Some emotions are pleasant, where as others are uncomfortable and we would prefer if we did not feel that way. We can't always avoid feeling unpleasant! There is a difference though between disliking unpleasant emotions, but nevertheless accepting that they are part of human experience and riding them out, versus experiencing an unpleasant emotions and perceiving it as unbearable and something to get rid of.
Although it makes sense to avoid any unpleasant emotion or distress, what generally happens though, is the more we fear or struggle with, or attempt to avoid the distress, generally the worst the distress gets. By attempting to avoid the distress, it actually makes it worst.
For my clients who find their emotions distressing, I help them to understand that their feelings can't hurt them and to see them differently. A skill I teach them is mindfulness. Being mindful can help them to observe their feelings and begin to accept them; to let them be there and ride them out versus pushing them away.
If you find your emotions distressing here a few tips to start being mindful:
- Stop and observe how you feel
- Do not judge how you feel as 'good' or 'bad'
- Label what you are feeling as just a feeling ("It's just my anxiety again")
- Imagine your emotion to be like a wave that will pass
- Engage in mindfulness meditation. Start with a mindfulness of breath recording then try recordings on being mindful of thoughts and emotions
If you have enjoyed following my Facebook Live videos – then follow on to my own personal page where I will continue to live stream, Click here, Like and Follow! Valerie Ling
If you have enjoyed following my Facebook Live videos - then follow on to my own personal page where I will continue to live stream, Click here, Like and Follow! Valerie Ling
On my very last post in my vlog challenge..leaving you with wisdom from Guy Sebastian. Good night FB land! #guysebastian #letterstomyteenageself #groupie
On my very last post in my vlog challenge..leaving you with wisdom from Guy Sebastian. Good night FB land! #guysebastian #letterstomyteenageself #groupie
Supporting friends and family who care for children with autism
“It must be upsetting to see such small successes.”
“I don’t know how I could do it”
“My friend had a child that was a late talker, but now the parents can’t stop him from talking!”
These are just a few of many unhelpful comments I’ve heard people say in an effort to empathise with parents who have children with Autism.
Prior to my career as a psychologist, I worked as a behavioural therapist with children on the Autism Spectrum (ASD) and their families, and I myself have friends and family members who care for ASD children. I have often observed families feeling isolated and misunderstood by their friends and family, even though they were trying to be supportive. In light of autism awareness month, I asked my friends and family who care for children with Autism what they have found helpful and unhelpful. From their reflections and my own, here are a few pointers on how to support your friends and family who care for a child with Autism.
Keep Up Social Interactions – Taking the time to call or meet with your friend to hear about their experience as a parent. If your friend/family member is bringing their child, ask them what would work best for them. For example, often children with ASD can get distressed by certain environments, be understanding if your friend wants to avoid these places. If the child does get upset while you’re meeting, realise that parents can feel concerned that those around them may become judgemental. In those situations, reassure parents that it’s fine, you understand that their child can become stressed or anxious, and that you aren’t concerned about their child’s behaviour.
Join with them - Join with them in the difficulties but also celebrate the successes, these can be things as simple as their child being able to walk through a supermarket without becoming distressed. Don’t think that these changes are insignificant, if a parent is sharing it with you, it’s likely that it’s taken them a long time to get to that point. Don’t always assume that parents of children with autism are struggling, despite the challenges, parents can often be coping well and delighting in their child. Delight alongside them!
Learn – Seek out information about autism and ask your friend what has been helpful for their family and how you can best support them. Be willing to get to know their child and delight in their strengths and personalities. Teach your friends and family to do the same. Try to avoid telling your friend or family member facts you’ve discovered about ASD. Even though it may be unintentional, this can give your friend the impression that you think they don’t know enough to help their child. More often than not, they have committed a large portion of their life to seeing specialists and learning how to care for their child.
Watch your language – Before we know it, we can slip into language that implies someone with Autism is defective. This can be hurtful to parents and their children even if it is unintentional. A helpful way to watch how we speak is to focus on the positives and spend time investing in these unique children.
Don’t compare their child with other children – I have observed people trying to give carers hope by telling them about success stories they have heard about other children with Autism. For example, “I know another child who was a late talker but now the parents can’t get them to stop talking!”. This can bring parents to feel misunderstood and unheard. Every child with Autism is unique and different, the development of one child does not necessarily reflect the development of another. Rather than compare children, share in the joys of your friends child and celebrate their strengths.