depression

5 Simple Ways to Practice Mindfulness Everyday

Photo by  Eli DeFaria  on  Unsplash

We’ve all read the articles and heard our friends talk about mindfulness. Sometimes, it seems like a trend that will just pass. Hopefully, this is one trend that is here to stay. The benefits of a mindfulness practice are numerous - better sleep, reduced stress, increased positive emotions, improved attention, the list goes on. Who doesn’t want those benefits in their life?

So, what exactly is “mindfulness?” Brené Brown’s definition states mindfulness is “taking a balanced approach to negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. Mindfulness requires that we not ‘over-identify’ with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negativity.”  Zen master Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Don’t those definitions sound lovely? Less attachment to negativity and less judgment… I’m in!

I often incorporate mindfulness practices with my clients to address anxiety and depression. However, I often hear clients reflect on how difficult it is to just sit and “be” in the present moment when they are feeling so low. Below are my recommendations for those of us who either struggle to sit still and empty our thoughts or those who have busy and/or hectic lives with constant distractions (anyone have a toddler at home??). Try incorporating one mindfulness practice each day. Even if it just takes 10 seconds, the consistency over time will have positive impacts, I promise!

  1. 5 Senses Pause: Take a moment and just name (silently in your mind) what each of your five senses is experiencing. This doesn’t take long and is a concrete way to check in with the moment. This is great for grounding when you are stressed or even solidifying a memory you wish to keep. I did this during my wedding ceremony (when my mind wanted to drift to the awkwardness of so many eyes on such an intimate moment), and to this day, I can remember how my husband’s hand felt in mine.

  2. Intentionally Brush Your Teeth:  The next time you brush your teeth, notice each sensation as you brush each tooth. Direct your thoughts only to the task at hand. If you mind drifts, be kind to yourself and simply bring your mind back to brushing. Notice the sensations you feel. Bonus benefit - a sparkling smile 😁

  3. Listen with Attention: Next time you step outside, pause and see if you can notice all the sounds around you, whether near or far. Try not to label the sounds but simply take in the sound.

  4. Box Breathing: This one is especially good when you feel your emotions rising to an unpleasant state. Take 5-10 box breaths. A box breath is simply inhaling for 4 seconds, holding that inhale for 4 seconds, exhaling slowly for 4 seconds and then holding the exhale for 4 seconds.

  5. Mindful transitions: On a busy day when you’re going from one task to another, take a couple of seconds to end one task and begin the next. Simply put, acknowledge to yourself where you’ve come from and where you’re going. An example might be to take mental note in between tasks, “Okay, email to my boss is sent;” take a pause and a deep breath to finalize the task, so to speak, and then give yourself permission to move on to the next task, leaving the last one behind, “…and now I will make dinner.” If you notice yourself ruminating on a task you’ve let go of, simply come back to the present moment with a gentle reminder: “I’ve finished that already, there is no more I can do; now I am ______.”

The most important thing to remember when beginning (or continuing) a mindfulness practice is to be kind to yourself. Even meditation teachers with decades of experience will tell you that their mind wanders. It is not an indication of your effort, your motivation, or your ability to have a wandering mind. That is simply your mind trying to take care of you and protect you from perceived danger. Though often unhelpful, the intention is good. We simply have to build the muscle of mindful attention to teach the mind we don’t need protection from danger most of the time.

ParentTip: Helping Your Teen Through Anxiety & Depression

Teenagers: society often labels them as hormonal/moody, irresponsible, and addicted to technology. While some say these stereotypes exist for a reason, what happens if a teen is experiencing anxiety or depression? Do these labels change? How can you even tell?

For parents of teens, it can be incredibly difficult to recognize whether your teen’s behavior is “normal” or a sign of an underlying mental health issue, especially since many symptoms tend to be similar.

Take, for instance, common symptoms of anxiety and depression:

  • irritability

  • social withdrawal

  • changes in sleep patterns

Now for comparison, let’s look at common developmental milestones and indicators of healthy teen development, particularly in terms of establishing autonomy and independence:

  • increased concern regarding self-image

  • wanting to spend more time with friends

  • increased need for sleep

When you read these, it may not appear that the two examples are similar. However, behaviorally, they are commonly expressed in the same ways; especially from a parent’s point of view.

So, at what point does a teen’s behavior go from developmentally appropriate to something more serious?  The chart below provides a few (though, not all) common examples to keep in mind.

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*Please note that this chart is not a replacement for professional consultation, and any concerns should be brought up with your child’s mental health care provider or primary care provider. If your teen has told you that they are depressed or if their behavior is concerning, professional attention is warranted and should be sought out as soon as possible.



If you are concerned that your teen may be experiencing depression, it is imperative to seek professional treatment as soon as possible.  In addition to professional care, there are a few things you can do as a parent to help:

  1. Be Supportive

    • Build empathy by putting yourself in their shoes.

      • While you may be frustrated that your teen is irritable, remember that even day-to-day tasks require significant energy that they might not have. If they are exhausted, it’s understandable that they may want to just retreat to their room.

      • Recognize that if they could snap their fingers and feel better, they would.

    • Validate their emotions, NOT the behavior.

      • Try saying, “It seems as though you’ve been really down lately. Is that true?” Make it clear that you want to try and understand what’s troubling them without trying to problem solve.

    • LISTEN

      • Ask questions calmly, gently, and without becoming emotional. Listen calmly and without judgment.

  2. Accentuate the Positive

    • Notice your teen when they are doing something positive, and let them know verbally and directly that you see the effort they are putting in.

    • Don’t weigh these behaviors on what they “should” be doing. We all like to be noticed for our efforts, even if they are expected.

  3. Help Them Get Treatment

    Some teens will want help, and some won’t. This is normal and expected when asserting independence.

    • If they don’t want help:

      • Respect their space and respond with something like, “I’ll give you more space, and know that I’m here for you if you ever want to talk or hear my suggestions.”

    • If the do want help:

      • Be prepared. Do your research. Find 2 or 3 therapists they can interview and let them know that they can choose who they feel most comfortable with. Finding a good fit is very important, and letting your teen choose gives them ownership over their treatment, setting the stage for it to be more effective overall.

  4. Take Care of Yourself

    • It can be emotionally exhausting to be a parent of someone struggling with depression.

    • Make time for yourself and ask others for support.

    • Remember the airplane mask rule: put your mask on first before you assist others. If you can’t breathe, then there is little, if anything, you can do to help. Same goes for emotions. Make sure there is enough in your tank to give 🙂  

TeenTip: The List

Photo by  Amy Treasure  on  Unsplash

Photo by Amy Treasure on Unsplash

Oh, coping skills. The two words that you hear over and over again from your therapist, your teacher, your mom and dad, social media, self-help books… You get told to make lists of things to do when you get unhelpful urges, make a list of things to do when you feel angry, when you feel sad. If you are like me, these lists quickly get discarded or put in the bottom of your nightstand drawer, as another list of things that DON’T WORK.

Why?

Why do we have such difficulty finding coping skills that actually work for really intense urges or behaviors? My theory (and it’s a working one, only, I’m open to suggestions!) is that when we feel really sad, or mad, or feel like using an unhelpful behavior, our nervous system is on high alert. Meaning, we go “off-line” and super-quick. We get into our deep down protective states, and the only thing we can do is run, or hide, or cry, or yell, or use the behavior. That’s the fight or flight or freeze instinct that you might have heard about, and it happens when our nervous systems get overloaded by a trigger. That overload happens and the list of coping skills gets thrown out, because who has time to take a bubble bath, or play with putty when you just want to scream or punch a wall?

Your therapist is hoping to guide you to use a coping skill so as to help you get you back “on-line.” The goal with the skill is to help you gain 10 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute- that gain may help get your brain back into a space where you can make a more helpful decision.

The trick is that the coping skill has to match the intensity of the urge, or the intensity of the feeling.

The best coping skills are ones that involve a mix of intensities, that can flood your nervous system, but in a more positive/helpful way. Here’s my running list:

  • listen to any music that feels right, VERY LOUD and in your ears with headphones if possible (I love Eminem/the National/Brandi Carlile/Kesha for nervous system off-line moments)
  • go outside and run hard to the end of the block (with your parents permission if possible)
  • draw 10 flowers on your body. Draw 10 more.
  • take a warm shower (sometimes heat can be too much for your nervous system, so try warm at first)
  • lay under a tree and take 10 deep breaths
  • quickly look at pictures of the ocean, of trees, of mountains
  • watch a funny tv show. Wait 30 minutes before you take any action (tell yourself you have the option of doing the action, just wait 30 minutes at the end of the show and check back in with yourself). I like Parks and Rec, The Office and Seinfeld for this.
  • write in your journal (a tried and true method for many clients, this just seems to work for so many people!)
  • text a friend before you take action, and tell them that you want them to tell you it’s going to be ok
  • tell your parents you need help and a hug. Have them hug you hard. Let them stay with you.

There is freedom in knowing you have a choice. You have a choice of whether to act on unhelpful behaviors or not.

You have a choice of whether to use coping skills or not. You can try them a little bit, or a lot. Even trying them one time (even if the next time, you decide not to try it) is a success. You have to take small steps to get started in this life.

xo~Jules   

 

moodiness: when is it more than just "being a teenager?"

The transition from tween to teen consists of emotional, mental, physical, social, familial, and academic changes. Teens often feel overwhelmed by changes and haven't yet learned the tools to cope in a healthy way.

Girls may be at risk for developing anxiety and mood-related health issues. An article by the Huffington Post describes the findings of several studies that find that girls are 2 times more like than boys to show signs of a mood disorder during the teen years, at 14-20 percent. The discrepancy continues to into adulthood, when women are twice as likely as men to have Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Another article explores why we may be more likely to see signs of anxiety and depression in adolescent girls. Some potential risks include the biological changes and hormonal changes that occur during puberty as well as psychosocial pressures.

What do you look for in your tween or teen? Notice changes in appetite, signficant friendship losses or changes in peer groups, withdrawal from activities, and a loss of interest in formerly pleasurable pursuits. Irritability, tearfulness and mood swings can be hallmarks of adolescence, but can also be signs that something more serious is going on in your daughter's world. Check in with teachers, the school counselor and friends' parents to help build community support and keep tabs on any signficant changes in your daughter's behavior, demeanor and appearance.

Group and family therapy are supportive options to help destigmatize what your daughter is feeling, and learn healthy ways to cope with challenges. In group, girls learn that they are not alone in their struggle. In family work, girls learn how the whole family can be a support network and that her experiences and challenges are not occuring in a vacuum. With early intervention, girls can thrive through social and emotional challenges.