Think Your Teen Will Never Be Happy? You May Be Right!

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Our brains are wired for survival, not happiness. I like to bring brain science into what we do at the teen support center with our groups and our individual clients because when they can make sense of what's going on in their minds, it helps them to cope in more healthy ways and be willing to buy into actually trying new strategies that aren't just a theory, but actually science-backed and evidence-based.

When we, as humans, first appeared here on the planet, we had one job, and that job was to stay alive. This meant that our main priority was looking out for anything that might harm us and avoiding it at all costs.

In those times, being hyper vigilant of danger and negative situations was really helpful to keep us alive.  But today, this has evolved into us avoiding people, places, and situations, by numbing our feelings, and constantly distracting ourselves with our phones, and Netflix, and anything else in our lives so that we don't have to experience that discomfort or so that we don't have to feel struggle.

What helped us long ago as a species isn't necessarily serving us now.  We often help teens recognize that something that may have been put in place in their life in the past to keep them safe or comfortable may not still be helpful to them now and, in fact, this interwoven part of their story may  actually be keeping them stuck from moving forward or from living their fullest life.

Belonging was critical to survival long ago. Today it creates pain and suffering for many of our teens. 

Back in those cavemen days, belonging was critical to survival. If you weren't a part of the tribe, if you were left out and alone, this left you vulnerable to getting eaten, attacked, or killed, so it was really important that you constantly be evaluating, "Am I good enough to be in this tribe? Am I pulling my weight? Am I looking like the other people that are around me?" because that was a survival technique.

Fast-froward this to today, and we're constantly evaluating ourselves as right, or wrong, or good, or bad in an effort to belong.

One of our values at the teen support center is to really help each of our teens learn to shine uniquely for who they are rather than to try to dim their light to make themselves belong with other people. 

What's more, with social media and the ways we're all so connected makes it super easy to compare yourself to others, and it completely increases our fear of being rejected and not being good enough.  We're constantly reminded that we're either not being included, or we look different than other people, or we have different things than other people. Again, while long ago this brain function kept us safe, in today's world, constantly looking around and feeling inferior makes us feel more alone. 

What helps?  What we work with teens on is a goal of accepting their emotions and being able to cope with them. This means that we need to actively work to dispel the myth that we are always meant to be happy and instead help our teens to gain the tools that they need to manage life's ups and downs. 

This also means that you too, as a parent, have a responsibility to be curious about your teen's emotions rather than punitive about them. When you see your teen getting tense or angry, or sad, or slamming a door, don't automatically rush into punishment but instead get curious about what's behind that behavior. We always look at behaviors as a means of communicating an emotion. I want you start to get curious about what is it that your teen is communicating via their behavior.

Accept, Observe, Describe and Communicate 

This 4-step process helps our teens understand their emotion and effectively communicate it to others.  You can help your teen learn to actually become aware of and put their emotions into words too!

When you notice an emotion arise, don't jump to comforting them or trying to make it go away.  Instead, lean into the emotion by asking your teen:

  • What are the body sensations that come with it?
  • What are the thoughts that we have in our head?
  • What's going through your head when you're feeling this way right now?
  • How big is this emotion?
  • Can you put a number on it from zero to 10?
  • Does it have a color or a shade?

When you can commit to holding the space for your teen's big emotions, you're communicating the message to them that you trust that they can handle the emotion (and that you can too so that they come to you when they feel overwhelmed.)

4 Skills to Instantly Calm Intense emotions

When your teen is OVERWHELMED and agitated, it may be hard for them to actually use their everyday coping strategies and reminding them typically leads to them feeling even MORE frustrated... then you both feel upset and disconnected.

Watch this video to learn the 4 strategies that we cover in our groups this week that TIP the scales in the direction feeling calm and capable of coping.

5 Steps to Emotional Balance

Self-care is the foundation of feeling good emotionally and building the resilience necessary to manage life's ups and downs. 

Often times teens feel out of control of their emotions. and like there's nothing they can do to change that.

What's important to note is that the way we take of ourselves physically 100% impacts how we feel emotionally.

Think about it...

When you don't eat, you get cranky.

When you get poor sleep, you're more easily irritated.

The DBT Skill PLEASE is an acronym that teaches teens how to control the physical aspects of their depression and anxiety so that they feel like they are contributing to all around wellness, rather than a victim of their circumstance.

Use the following 5 strategies to take care of yourself physically and ensure that your emotions stay in balance.

#1 Physical Health

TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF WHEN YOU'RE SICK

Go to the doctor when you're sick.  Get rest and don't push yourself too hard.  Take your medications as prescribed.  Drink enough fluids.

#2 EAT HEALTHY MEALS

Eat balanced meals and ensure that you're getting enough to eat!

Don't restrict yourself from certain food groups and focus more on adding in the healthy than taking away the unhealthy.  This will help you build a positive mindset around food.

#3 AVOID DRUGS AND ALCOHOL

While we understand that experimenting with alcohol, marijuana and cigarettes are a part of normal teen development, we don't condone these behaviors and encourage teens to be mindful of how these substances impact their overall mental health.

#4 SLEEP WELL

Aim to get between 7 and 10 hours of sleep per night and keep names to a minimum of one hour or less per day.

#5 EXERCISE REGULARLY

Plan to get 20 to 60 minutes of exercise daily.  Balanced exercise help with almost any symptom of your emotional health. Join a sport.  Take a walk with a friend, walk the dog.  Find ways of fitting in extra activity into your day like parking further away from a store or taking the stairs.

DBT Emotional Balance

It always starts with mindfulness! 

Helping your teen become more aware of their current self-care habits and attitudes (without being critical or nagging) is the best starting point.  Ask your teen to assess their current habits, then together you can work on ways to improve upon their current routines so that they can move forward healthier and happier with self-care strategies that stick.

3 Steps to College Success (Even when you have senioritis)

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It's the last semester of senior year

It may be "crunch time," but senioritis has set in.

Your teen has  already been accepted to college and now they're giving themselves permission to coast a bit.

“It’s senior year,” they say.

“I’m going to enjoy it,” they say.

But with the senior project work piling up and the assignment on top of assignment that every single teacher is throwing their way, they're beginning to feel like they've dug a hole that they'll never get out of by the end of May.

You worry as a parent that your teen's lack of worry has led to fudging that awesome GPA they worked their whole high school career to achieve.

There’s a nagging concern in the back of your mind that they could actually revoke that college acceptance if they don’t pull it all together.

But now that they cycle has started, you both feel a lack of control.

Where do you start?

How do you pull yourself out of this now?

How does your teen even find the time to get all the past due assignments done when school and activities just keep on going on top of it?

When work piles up, it can be easy for your teen to give in to paralysis and the belief that they will start doing better once they get to college because they'll care more then.

We hear it all the time…

I’ll be paying for it so I’ll care more…. Lie

I’ll only be taking classes that I like, so I’ll be more interested in school…. Lie

These are examples of magical thinking at it's finest. And they’re the lies that many high school seniors are telling themselves to give them permission to coast through the rest of the school year.

But here's the truth

Unless you COMMIT to a routine that brings you success right now, it's going to be super hard to change your internal motivation or day-to-day work ethic just because you've had a change of location (even when there's more money involved.)

IT'S TIME TO DEVELOP A SCHEDULE TO GET YOUR LIFE ON TRACK. (now, not then.)

Here's how...

SET SMALL GOALS

People tend to get overwhelmed with big responsibilities, so it helps to break them down into smaller steps. Make a list of overall goals, then schedule smaller objectives directly into your calendar. Small wins lead to big successes.

 

CREATE AN ONGOING STRUCTURE

Having a daily routine allows you to wash, rinse and repeat success in a way that feels normal and keeps you from getting stuck. Write down your weekly routine. Of course you can allow yourself to be flexible within this routine, but committing to an hour of studying per day, or physical activity daily is a way of creating a strong foundation for a happy and healthy life.

 

REMEMBER TO ENJOY YOUR LIFE

Productivity is great, but when you ignore what makes you happy, tasks and responsibilities get more difficult to complete. Build in time for fun and self-care every single day. Make a list of activities that you feel confident when you're engaging in and that you feel happy when you complete. Make doing at least one per day as routine as brushing your teeth.

When you can be mindful of how routines help you build a more satisfying life and you commit to taking the time to make routine a habit, you'll soon be soaring towards your goals and ready for college now, not crossing your fingers and hoping it happens when you get there.

If your teen is a high school senior, there are 28 weeks between them and college.  Get out that agenda book and start making a plan!  

And, if your teen needs support overcoming the barriers between high school and college success, we’re here to support you.  

Our therapists have opened up 5 spaces to see high school seniors in the second semester so that we can fully support your family in going from overwhelmed and “over it” at school to having the practical plan for coping with stress NOW so that your teen can navigate college and beyond in the happiest and healthiest way possible.

Click HERE to apply for a complimentary parent call so that we can connect and explore together the next best steps for your high school senior.  We look forward to speaking with you soon.

 

3 Phrases to Build a Positive Mindset + Boost Self-Esteem in Your Teen

IS YOUR TEEN A NEGATIVE NELLY?

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It's human to give more attention to pain and difficulty than to positive experiences.

Your teen likely has neutral or positive interactions and experiences in the majority of their day, but if one person gave them a "look" or said something critical, it becomes the ONLY thing they can focus on for the rest of the day.

 

And, this becomes a tailspin of negative self-judgments, self-loathing and harsh criticisms too.

 

Your teen begins to believe that they aren't good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, fit enough or talented enough.

 

And these comparisons become a dangerous foundation for basing our worth on other people's opinions of us... something that can create stress, illness, avoidance, procrastination and perfectionism... and ultimately depression.

 

The good news is, that when we can help our teens focus on the fun, encourage positive interactions, highlight strengths, show gratitude for effort and give attention to the work in progress, it helps teens to feel good enough for exactly who they are while still working on improving.

Because we're all a work in progress, but it doesn't mean that we can't love ourselves at every single step along the way.

 

Here are some phrases to help you get started in supporting your teen's self-esteem and shifting them into a more positive frame of mind:

"Thank you for taking the trash out.  I appreciate you remembering to pitch in and contribute."  

Even if it's an "expected" chore, attention and gratitude ensure that it's acknowledged and increases the likelihood that your teen will do it again without being asked.

 

"I'm super proud of how hard you worked in studying for that test last night.  You really put in a lot of effort and focused for a long time."

Notice how you're praising the effort and NOT the grade or outcome here.

 

"I love how kindly you spoke to your friend when she was upset in the car on the way home last night.  You're a good friend."

In this example, you're highlighting your teen's strength or positive quality in an interaction or situation, not the outcome of how they made the other person feel.

 

The more you can pull out and highlight strengths that you see in your teen and share them together, the more your teen will internalize these ideas and begin to think them too!

 

Finally, be sure to help your teen focus on the FUN in every situation.  Help them find joy.  Encourage them to take breaks and talk to friends.  When all you focus on is outcomes and responsibilities, not only will your teen see you as an adversary, but they will learn to focus on difficulties without prioritize self-care and life's positive moments.

 

It's all about finding and encouraging the balance so that your teen can navigate the hard times while still holding space for what makes life worth living too.

 

If your teen is having difficulty finding balance or seeing the good in life, there is hope.  We'd love to connect and explore the next best step in helping your teen find happiness.

Reach out to apply for a complimentary parent consultation call here:  www.creativehealingphilly.com/free-parent-call

 

 

 

 

 

3 Steps to Managing Teen Anxiety without Meltdowns or Overwhelm (for you or your teen)

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ANXIETY FEELS LIKE....

  • That critical voice that's always nagging you in the back of your mind
  • That weight on your chest that makes it hard for you to breathe
  • That belief that others don't like you, don't want you around or secretly hate you
  • That urge to run away, hide in the corner, avoid eye contact or to stay super duper still and hope that others don't notice you
  • That fear that something horrible is about to happen, whether it's failure, loss, danger, rejection or embarrassment
  • That shaking, sweating, crying sick feeling
  • That thought that cycles through your mind again and again with no end in sight

Anxiety can be a bit of a bully and when your anxious teen is faced with discomfort or difficulty, the natural tendency is often to avoid.

They may want to run away, avoid or procrastinate... because let's face it: Facing your fears is hard work!

In DBT we teach a skill called Opposite Action to help teens learn HEALTHY ways to manage difficulties without making the situation worse.

This means that...

...one day of homework doesn't pile up into a week's worth of overwhelm.

...one bad interaction with friends doesn't lead to arguments and isolation that trigger depression and safety concerns.

...one critical sentence from a parent doesn't lead to big blow ups and days of not speaking to each other.

It's about acknowledging how you feel in the moment, taking a breath and step back and making a CHOICE to effectively manage the situation.

When we're talking anxiety, the following suggestions are helpful when your anxiety or fear is not justified by a legitimately dangerous situation:

STEP ONE
Stop avoiding and reassuring. Approach what makes you anxious by being brave AND afraid. Do it over and over and over again. 

It's going to feel uncomfortable. Expect it. And do it anyway. It's the only way.

STEP TWO
Approach events, places, tasks, activities and people that make you nervous. Take it one step at a time and expose yourself to these difficulties while taking note of how it impacts your thoughts, your emotions and your body sensations. 

Make a list of the experiences that make you nervous and place them in an order from least scary to most. Start at the bottom and work your way up.

STEP THREE
Do something every day that gives you a sense of control and mastery over your fear. No matter how small it seems, find a way to feel empowered. Engage in activities that make you feel confident. Tell yourself you can do it.

^^ This is all SUPER hard and can often feel overwhelming or make you feel paralyzed without a professional to walk you through it and support the process each step of the way.

If your teen needs help going from anxious and overwhelmed to confident and coping with ease, we've got you covered. Reach out to us for a complimentary parent call to get clarity on the next best steps here: http://creativehealingphilly.com/free-parent-call

A Resource for your Procrastinating Teen

How to help your teen overcome procrastination... 

One of the most frustrating concepts we hear from parents for their teens is completing work that seems overwhelming, attending to chores when they have an "I'll do it later" attitude.

Just ONE more episode of Netflix, they say.
Just ONE more scroll of the Insta feed, they say.
Just ONE more snap to friends, they say.

But it never ends at one and then the work never gets done.

Which leads to MORE stress and overwhelm as the workload piles up and then your teen asks to go in late to school (or avoid it altogether) since they haven't completed the work they stayed up until after midnight trying to complete. >> Then skipping class stresses them out MORE because they're missing more work.

It's an endless cycle. And we have an end.

When teens don't learn the tools to manage procrastination in high school, they take these poor habits into college and beyond and life becomes an overwhelming collection of tasks that makes you feel like you're constantly at the bottom of a hole trying to climb your way upward.

This comes with physical illness, emotional distress, snapping at friends and family when you're on overload and more.

And that's no way to live.

What can you do?

* Learn the REAL reasons you procrastinate (What's behind it all and what's at the root of it?) Here's a hint... a lot of times it's connected to perfectionism and self-worth.

* Create structure and routine so that you can learn how to organize and use your time more effectively and prioritize the tasks that need to get done NOW.

* Develop a world-class support and accountability team of family, friends and professionals to keep you on track. We're all counting on you FOR you until you learn the skills to be self-sufficient in meeting your expectations.

Our goal for your teen...

+ Get organized

+ Stay focused

+ Reduce stress

+ Feel GOOD about yourself and your accomplishments

Check out this great resource on overcoming procrastination for teen:

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If your teen needs more than a book to get going, we're here... 

If your teen needs support in breaking free of procrastination and beginning to meet life's challenges effectively so that they can be fully prepared for college and beyond, we've got you covered.

Complete an application form to speak to one of our counselors about the next best steps to support your teen: 
www.creativehealingphilly.com/free-parent-call

7 Reasons Depression is Like the Common Cold

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In our sessions at the teen support center, we often will use metaphor to talk about depression because when we can put a mental illness in physical terms, it helps teens to look at their situation in a whole new way and helps them to take action and effectively change their behaviors and routines so that they positively impact their mood at its core (and not just mask the symptoms.)

Here are our 7 Reasons Depression is Like the Common Cold:

  1. Some days it’s just a nagging tickle in your throat and a stuffy nose and life can proceed as usual -- even though it’s always there as a dull reminder.

  2. Some days your head hurts so badly and your nose is so clogged that moving or getting out of bed feels next to impossible.  You feel like bed is the only option and that you “just can’t do life” today.

  3. Sleeping all day helps you to cope with it but it’s still totally there when you wake up.

  4. You can laugh with your friends and still have a cold.  The awesomeness of friends does not negate the suckiness of a cold.

  5. You try not to complain about it to others, especially when you’re up and completing daily tasks because you don’t want people to judge you, tell you it’s not that bad, relate to you by telling you about their most recent sniffles, or worse… tell you it’s mind over matter and you’ll get through it.

  6. You’d love to be tucked in by a loved one, brought chicken soup and nurtured but you don’t want to feel like a burden on others.

  7. Cold medications may work to mask some of the symptoms, but they don’t make it go away and you hate that you have a cold.  You wonder how you got it, why you have it and when it will go away… and in the deepest midst of it, it’s hard to imagine that you’ll ever feel any other way again.

Just like with any physical illness, when you don’t acknowledge and effectively treat the problem, it tends to get worse.  Or at the very least, it sticks around a LOT longer than is comfortable or helpful.

And, what starts as a dull sadness or a tearful night or two over homework can quickly lead to overwhelm, hopelessness, loss of motivation or isolation.  When an emotion isn’t validated by parents, the behaviors that come with that emotion will escalate until your teen feels heard and understood.

Having a safe space to explore, express, communicate and cope with emotions BEFORE they become overwhelm is an effective way to manage a “cold” and not just treat or dull the symptoms.

What’s more, when you can communicate to your teen that you truly understand how they feel (either by validating them with your words and with listening wholeheartedly or by connecting them with a therapist for more support) it allows your teen to FEEL understood by you and opens up communication and an opportunity for a closer bond with them.

If you have a teen who is experiencing:

  • A low mood, feeling “blah” or numb and lacks enjoyment in everyday activities

  • Feelings of worthlessness or hopelesssness

  • Isolation or withdraw from friends

  • Fatigue, exhaustiion, difficulty getting out of bed or getting motivated

  • Thoughst or urges to harm themselves

Complete an interest form here and let’s connect to explore the next best steps for how to support your teen.

We currently have appointments available for depressed teens who want to learn how to...

  • Actually implement effective skills to manage their mood on a day-to-day basis
  • Understand and “catch” how they feel in any given moment so that they can make positive choices in how to respond, rather than acting impulsively or destructively and making the situation worse
  • Learn how to handle overwhelm in healthy ways now so that stress-masking habits don’t become a way of life
  • Learn how to appropriately ask for support and not use manipulation tactics or fall apart so that others take care of them

But, these appointments are certainly not for everyone :)

Your teen MUST:

  • Be open and excited about working with a counselor who will “get” them and who will help them understand that they are not alone
  • Be willing to learn new skills to help them manage their mood
  • Be ready to let go of the excuses and negative thinking that have been keeping them stuck

If this sounds like your teen, I’d love to personally connect.  

Click here to complete an application form and I’ll reach out soon to explore the next best steps.