Blog

How to Cope with Anxiety by Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Techniques

photo of a sign and eyeglasses on table
Photo by Binti Malu on Pexels.com

Anxiety is powerful and persistent.  It can hit you as soon as you wake up in the morning and can keep you from going to sleep at night.  It can cause you to shut down, feel numb, and become immobile, but can also provide you with a burst of energy due to racing, and worrisome thoughts.  Anxiety is uncomfortable and consuming.  It impacts relationships, decision making, self-esteem, and confidence among other things.  Anxiety can be a symptom of environmental stressors and can also be caused by your biological makeup (i.e. genetics).  Regardless, it can be quite disruptive to your life.  Although anxiety is strong, it can be managed using a variety of techniques.  In this blog, I am going to cover one of these techniques, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  CBT is a method some therapists use to help clients cope with anxiety.  If you would like to learn some other strategies to help you cope with anxiety, you can read some of my previous blogs including:

Panic Attacks – Don’t Panic! Do These 4 Things Instead!

Anxiety & the Here & Now

Hike, Connect with Nature, & Break From Anxiety

CBT methods teach people to challenge their thoughts and beliefs which will then have an impact on their emotions.  Typically, when a person is experiencing an episode of anxiety, they are having automatic thoughts (i.e.: self talk, toxic thoughts, etc.).  The worst case scenario may play out in your head regardless of whether or not it is realistic or logical.  For example, for parents of young children, if your 2 year old child is climbing on a play set, you may think they will fall, break something, and then you will have to rush them to the ER.  As a result, you quickly tell them they aren’t allowed to climb or you stand directly behind them with your hands supporting their body so they most certainly won’t fall.  The result is a child who doesn’t learn risk assessing skills or develop confidence in their ability to climb.  For adolescents, failing a test or getting a poor grade on an assignment may trigger anxiety, which may result in negative thoughts including, “I’m not going to get into a good college,” or “I’m so stupid.”  Anxiety escalates and automatic toxic thoughts intensify.

Challenging your thoughts and beliefs can be a challenge in itself.  Anxiety is a bit more invasive than just a few negative, irrational thoughts.  Anxiety impacts your breathing, heart rate, digestion, and more.  It releases stress hormones including adrenaline and cortisol which feels like your whole body has been hijacked.  As a result, it takes a lot of self control, commitment, and will power to challenge the negative thoughts and beliefs that anxiety can produce.  It can be a constant thing as well.  In some instances, it may be more beneficial to redirect yourself first if you experience stronger episodes of anxiety.  Breathing exercises along with a mindful activity such as playing an instrument or doing a crossword puzzle can help relieve the physiological symptoms of anxiety enough so you feel like you are more in control of your thoughts.  The following are steps you can take in order to challenge irrational thoughts that surface from anxiety once you are more in control:

  1. Recognize your symptoms of anxiety.
  2. If your anxiety is significant, redirect yourself, breath, and participate in a mindful activity to alleviate the physiological symptoms of anxiety.
  3. Identify irrational, negative thoughts/beliefs that are produced due to your anxiety episode.
  4. Challenge these thoughts and beliefs.  Remember, just because your mind is producing the thoughts and beliefs does not mean they are true or realistic .
  5. Counter your irrational thoughts and beliefs with more realistic thoughts and beliefs.  For example, you can tell yourself that your 2 year old child most likely will not fall and break something if they climb a few steps on a play set.  Offer words of encouragement to your child, provide enough space for them, and be present should they fall and scrape a knee.

Predicting the worst case scenario (catastrophizing), overgeneralizing, and jumping to conclusions are all examples of cognitive distortions.  Cognitive distortions play a key role with anxiety.  It is essentially your mind convincing you of something that isn’t true or realistic.  Convincing is the key word here.  One way to put this into perspective is to compare this to a game of Texas Holdem Poker.  For instance, if you and I are playing a game of poker, you can have a hand that is much better than mine.  However, I can bet a good amount of chips, which will produce anxiety and fear for you.  As a result, your mind will convince you that I have a better hand than you causing you to fold.  If you are able to recognize your own anxiety, cognitive distortions, and challenge your thinking and beliefs, you will know to raise my bet which will cause me to fold since my hand isn’t as good as yours.  Similarly, if you challenge other cognitive distortions in your life, your decision making will be much more logical and you will not allow anxiety to dictate your life and actions.  It is a way for you to regain control.

How to Find the Right Therapist for You & Your Family: 5 Tips for Individuals and Families New to the Process

Logo.jpg

More and more individuals and families are seeking counseling services today for a variety of reasons.  On the positive side, the stigma of mental health services is shifting a bit since it is becoming more typical that children, adolescents, and adults are seeking therapy.  However, since there is such a high demand for therapeutic services, the cost for counseling has not only skyrocketed, but it is challenging just finding a therapist that is accepting new clients.  Not to mention, for people who are new to the process of finding a therapist, it can be extremely overwhelming finding the right person/fit.

If you are new to the process

If this is your first time seeking help from a therapist for you and/or your family, you may not be sure where to start.  If you are concerned about finances, it may make sense to reach out to your insurance company for a list of local providers who are in your insurance network.  Unfortunately, many therapists do not accept insurance since it can cause a good amount of extra work and headaches for therapists.  Making cold calls from a list of local in network providers may save you some money but it may not be your best option to find a therapist who is a good fit for you and your family since you are going on chance as opposed to recommendations or preference/specialties.

Another option you can take is to browse through local provider directories.  Psychology Today is a popular and common one.  If you go online to this website, you can browse through local providers.  You are able to view pictures of therapists, descriptions of their services, what insurances they accept, and more.  Be prepared that many therapists that you call either will be full or will not be able to get you in for an appointment for several weeks.

It may also be helpful to look for recommendations.  You may have friends or other family members who are currently in therapy or have been in the past.  Do not be afraid to talk to people in order to find a recommendation of a therapist.  Talk to your doctor, reach out to friend groups, or even consider browsing social media on local community pages.  People use this common approach when they are looking for recommendations for plumbers, electricians, and tutors.  Looking for a highly recommended therapist is no different.

Finding the right therapist for you

Therapists have various specialties depending on their education and experience.  Some therapists are comfortable working with young children through methods such as play or art therapy while others have more experience working with adolescents and adults.  Some use psychodynamic philosophies while others use CBT or DBT methods.  Regardless of the approach, it is not only important to find a therapist that uses theories that you are looking for, but it is also helpful to find a therapist you can connect with and feel comfortable talking to.  If you do not feel connected to your therapist, the amount of content knowledge they have is irrelevant.  It may take two or three therapists before you find one that works well with you.  Do not be afraid to look elsewhere if you are not making progress with your treatment goals.  However, I would suggest attending a few sessions with the same therapist before making the decision to try someone else.

Our Approach

At Main Street Counseling, we understand that it can be very difficult to find the right therapist for you.  This is why we started a group counseling practice consisting of several licensed clinicians (Licensed Associate Counselors, Licensed Professional Counselors, Licensed Clinical Social Workers, & Licensed Clinical Alcohol & Drug Counselors).  Our practice consists of part-time and full time therapists with manageable caseloads.  As a result, they are able to provide more individualized attention and treatment to their clients.  The process of finding the right fit for you is streamlined.  All you need to do is complete our online form, explain a little bit about you and the services you are looking for, and we will connect you with a therapist that will best serve your needs.  We are currently in network with Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield and Aetna and accept out of network benefits as well.  Our prices are very competitive compared to what other local therapists charge since we aim to make services more affordable for individuals and families.  Since our staff is growing, we are able to keep up with the needs of local communities.  This means that the wait time to see a therapist is short.  If you would like to learn more about us, please do not hesitate to reach out!

Take Control of Your Emotions by Using These 4 Coping Strategies

atmosphere background beautiful blue
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“Emotions are meant to be in motion.  Do not hold on to them; let them move through you.  Emotions pass.  Decisions last.”

Negative emotions like sadness, anger, and frustration are like rain clouds.  They come and they pass.  Some stick around longer than others, but eventually the sun pokes through again.  Now don’t get me wrong, your emotions are valid and justifiable.  You may feel disappointed and angry if your friend cancels plans on you last minute or you may feel frustrated if your spouse forgets to take out the trash on garbage day again even after you reminded him!  From my perspective, your feelings of dissapointment, anger and frustration are justifiable.  However, how you choose to react to these emotions in the moment will determine what comes next for you and whether or not your negative emotions will remain, intensify, or pass.

Your Natural Reaction

When you are having a negative emotion, your brain will try to steer you in a direction that may make matters worse.  You may react with aggression or you may communicate with an accusatory tone in the case of a conflict.  However, aggressive reactions or accusations will only lead to more negative emotions which will not only prolong them, but can even cause damage in relationships.  Mean, hurtful comments may cause lasting memories and can negatively impact the dynamic of your relationship.  Don’t forget, your emotions will eventually pass, but your actions in response to them will remain.

Practice self-control

Since your natural reaction to negative emotions can be damaging, it is important that you practice self-control.  This means going against what your brain is telling you.  Identify what you are feeling and acknowledge and validate what is going on from your perspective.  However, if your negative emotions are too strong to respond in a helpful and productive way at that moment, walk way and give them time to pass.   For example, If you feel angry due to a disagreement that occurred with you and your partner, rather than responding with aggression in the moment, take some time to redirect yourself and allow your anger to pass.  After your anger passes, if you still feel the need to address what happened, you will more likely find appropriate and rational words to help articulate to your partner how you felt.  You may even take it one step further by offering up solutions to resolve whatever the problem or disagreement was.

4 Ways to Cope with Negative Emotions

  1. Take time for yourself.  Negative emotions may be consuming at times, especially if you have a lot going on or are stressed out.  Work may be overwhelming and busy and additional life stressors may be weighing on you.  Take some time to relax and recharge.  Go for a hike, get a massage, or just break away from others.  If you take the time to care for yourself, your mind will be more equipped to care for others.
  2. Breathe & Meditate.  When negative emotions enter the mind, they can take you down a long and dark path.  Incorporating meditation and breathing exercises into your day will shine some light on your path and will help to clear your mind from negativity.
  3. Exercise.  Negative emotions are more prevalent when you are tired and lethargic. Exercise will help condition your body and subsequently strengthen your mind.  Not to mention, exercise will release endorphins in your brain which will make you feel more relaxed.
  4. Redirect and distract yourself.  When in doubt, remove yourself from a situation when negative emotions take control of you and your actions.  Rather than think about the reasons why you are feeling the way you are, get involved in a mindful activity like coloring, knitting, reading, or playing an instrument.  If you combine this activity with breathing exercises, your negative emotions will pass quickly.  Afterwards, you will be able to determine whether they need to be addressed or not depending on what the issue was.  Regardless, you will be in a better mindset to solve the problem.

Regulate Your Use of Technology to Prevent Overstimulation & Symptoms of Anxiety & Depression

apple applications apps cell phone

Anxiety and depression have become increasingly prevalent over the last few decades.  I am seeing more and more children, adolescents, and families with these issues in school and at my practice.  There are a variety of reasons why this has become a widespread issue.  However, in this blog, I am going to focus on the fact that humans are overusing technology (smart phones, iPads, etc.) which is causing their brains to be in a constant state of overstimulation.

What is Overstimulation?

When a person is overstimulated, their senses are overloaded by stimuli such as sound or light to the point that it can be challenging to cope with.  For example, if a newborn or infant is exposed to a loud toy with a lot of a lights for an extended period of time, they will become overwhelmed by the stimulation and end up crying.  The same happens for older children and even adults.  However, rather than crying like babies do, overstimulation manifests itself through anxiety, depression, and other mood issues such as feeling irritable or agitated.

Easy access to smart phones

Before smart phones existed, human beings were able to regulate their use of technology.  If they went to the grocery store, they focused on grocery shopping.  If they went to the gym, their focus was on their workout.  If they were in an elevator, they took a break to breathe.  Now, any sort of break in the day is filled with technology.  People are engaged on social media, email, videos, and texting and struggle regulating their technology use.  Even when they aren’t using screens, they are thinking about it and anticipating a text, like or comment on a social media post, or an email.  Their brain is in constant stimulation mode and their senses are being overloaded.  Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that produces the feeling of pleasure, is being released each time your phone rings or vibrates when you receive a text, email, or like/comment from a social media post.  This can create an addiction to technology causing people to chase the feeling of pleasure by continuing to post on social media.  Humans’ brains are constantly being aroused throughout the day with little time to break.  The result?  Symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mood related issues.

The solution

In a world that functions on technology, it can be challenging to navigate through life without it.  However, it is crucial for you to set limits not only for yourself but also for your children.  Since a lot of children don’t know what life was like prior to technology, they have become accustomed to instant gratification.  They struggle just being and embracing pauses and breaks in their day.  Many don’t realize that they are overstimulated and end up irritable, anxious, or depressed as a result.  It is important that rules are set that allow for technology breaks.  Set limits and times of the day when everyone in the family unplugs, disconnects from technology, and reconnects with one another.  Your children may resist at first but will eventually adjust to the new norms that you create.  Make sure to practice what you reinforce at home.  If you go to the gym, leave your phone in the car.  When you are eating lunch, turn your phone off or leave it behind.  Spend time focusing on people who are around you and disconnect from the online world.  Take time for yourself, allow for brain breaks, and decompress.  You will notice significant changes in how you feel.  You will feel relaxed, engaged, and connected!

Anxiety, Depression, & ADHD: How to Get Support For Your Child at School

Unknown.jpg

I have been a School Counselor for over 13 years in addition to owning a private counseling practice.  When I talk to parents at my practice about issues their child is experiencing, whether it is anxiety, depression, ADHD, or something else, there is typically some sort of impact in school.  For example, a child with ADHD may struggle focusing on classroom lessons or may have a difficult time completing tests on time.  Children with anxiety may become very overwhelmed by the amount of homework they need to complete each night along with managing long-term assignments.  Kids with depression may struggle finding the motivation to complete tasks and may become very overwhelmed in a larger class size.  Whatever the issue is, there are supports that exist at school.  However, you may need to seek them out.  Most parents I speak to at my practice are unaware that these supports even exist.

Intervention & Referral Services (I&RS)

Typically, if a student is struggling in school in some capacity (i.e.: attendance, health, academics, social/emotional, etc.) and it is noticed by a staff member, the student may be referred to a committee known as the I&RS committee.  This committee consists of a counselor, a general education teacher, the school nurse, a child study team member, a special education teacher, and sometimes additional staff members.  Parents are informed of this meeting and are sometimes invited as well.  Teachers, parents, and the student are surveyed to gather information prior to the meeting.  At the meeting, presenting issues are discussed, a measurable goal is established for the student, and an action plan is devised consisting of various interventions intended to help the student become more successful in school.  Interventions are tracked over a 6-8 week period and a review meeting is scheduled.  At this meeting, data is collected and analyzed to determine if the interventions implemented were successful.  If they were, they are continued.  If they weren’t, a new goal may be established and new interventions may be tried.

504 Plans

Another type of support that schools offer is a 504 plan.  A 504 plan is for students with a disabling condition that has a substantial impact on a major life activity.  For example, if a child is diagnosed with anxiety, depression, ADHD, or any other disorder and it is substantially impacting the child at school, they may be eligible for a 504 plan.  A 504 plan has a bit more leverage than an I&RS action plan because it is a legal document.  This document includes the diagnosis, educational impact, and various accommodations that are created by the 504 committee.  These accommodations are intended to provide the support a child needs to put them at an even playing field as other students so they aren’t being discriminated against.  Anyone is able to request a 504 plan for a child.  That includes parents.  If your child has ADHD and is having a difficult time completing tests on time, an example of an accommodation would be extended time on assessments.  If your child has anxiety and is having a difficult time managing long-term assignments, an example of an accommodation may be breaking down the assignment into smaller chunks.  Each school should have a 504 committee so don’t be afraid to reach out and ask about the process.

Child Study Team Evaluations

If your child needs more support than a 504 plan or I&RS action plan would offer, it may be necessary to have them tested by the Child Study Team (CST).  The CST consists of a Learning Consultant, Social Worker, and School Psychologist.  Typically, if a child was referred to I&RS or is granted a 504 plan, and neither of these supports were effective, the committees may recommend that the child is evaluated by the CST.  Testing can take upwards of a few months and is very extensive.  It may include a social history as well as educational and psychological testing.  These series of tests would provide valuable information to determine if a student has learning issues, health issues, or other related issues that are impacting a child’s education.  If a child does not have a learning disability but their mental health issues are having a substantial impact on their learning, they may qualify for special education and other related services under the classification of emotionally disturbed.  If this is the case, it would be up to you whether or not you would give your consent for your child to receive special education services.  Special education services vary from student to student and may include a smaller group setting (i.e.: resource classes) or push-in (in class support/resource).  In class support/resource is a general education class that also includes a special education teacher.  This teacher would be responsible for providing modifications and accommodations for special education students according to their individualized education plan (IEP).  Usually, there is a process for a student to be referred to the CST for an evaluation.  However, any parent can write a letter to the supervisor of special education services requesting an evaluation.  If you decide to do this, the CST is required to meet with you.  However, they are not required to test your child if they do not believe an evaluation is warranted.  If a child was not brought up as a concern at school, they may recommend that your child gets brought up at an upcoming I&RS meeting first.