How to Shift Out of the Endless Anxiety Cycle


Here's why anxiety "WORKS" and what you can do to shift out of the Endless Anxiety Cycle...

Having anxiety is normal and necessary.

It's what motivates us to get work done.

It's what keeps us safe from dangerous situations.

And when we can use our anxiety as a catalyst to solve problems...

Like studying for a big test

Or looking both ways before we cross a street

Well, then anxiety has done its job and we're happy.

BUT... when our bodies or minds perceive a threat when there is no actual danger, well...

We end up isolating

Or opting out of life events

Or feeling paralyzed to move forward or complete daily tasks

The truth is that avoidance "works" to manage anxiety. And that's what makes it so hard to change.

When we avoid a situation that makes us anxious, it makes the anxiety go away. And that makes us feel safe.

But it also maintains the anxiety.

Avoidant behavior confirms in our brains that the trigger for our anxiety actually IS a threat. And then it makes it even HARDER to face this situation in the future.

At the teen support center, we help teens learn that the only way to anxiety relief is THROUGH the anxiety itself.

We teach targeted coping skills to manage in-the-moment anxiety while also helping our teens to FACE the situation that's making them anxious.

As our amazing therapist Gabby Morale always says, "If you can't face it, you can't fix it... so let's face it together!"


Learn to LAUGH this school year...

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Does your teen need to learn to LAUGH this year? 😆

Many students are SO focused on the NEXT steps, like college and career that they create stress, anxiety and overwhelm in the moment that makes it difficult to enjoy time with friends, downtime at home and family fun too.

What's more... this becomes a HABIT.

Not only do these teens struggle with stress in school, they begin to take this perspective in all areas of life. (Both now and into adulthood.)

Constantly looking at what comes next.

Perpetually wondering, "Do I measure up?"

Dissatisfied with life and lacking joy.

Feeling like everything is SO hard because they are always focused on what they NEED to be and accomplish, rather than accepting and loving who they are right now while taking action steps to meet goals.

We teach our teen clients to use coping skills and mindfulness as a means to balance accepting life right now so they can actually enjoy it AND setting goals for future success.

This helps teens to learn how to regulate emotions and manage worry thoughts so that they don't take over and make life miserable.

When you're constantly focused on what you don't have, anxiety spirals into panic.

We know that change is impossible without acceptance, so let's help your teen learn to accept themselves AND learn to laugh this school year.

Here's an acronym that we'll teach in our Senior Year Strong Group:

😂 L.A.U.G.H.

Let go of worries

Apply yourself

Use coping skills

set Goals

Have fun!

This is the LAST week to apply for a space in the Senior Year Strong 12-week group series.

Inside Out Treatment for Lasting Results

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Our treatment works from the inside out!

At the teen support center, we focus on decreasing "target behaviors" that brought your teen to treatment.

Managing in the moment discussions and focusing on priority targets is what sets us apart from those therapy sessions where your teen may be having "nice conversations" that make them feel a little bit better or lighter right after treatment, but ultimately don't help them learn to change unhealthy patterns.

Our DBT skill-building approach is a science-backed system to help teens approach and address problems effectively NOW and throughout their lives.

We address behaviors in a hierarchy of 4 steps:

1. We help your teen stop the self-destruction.

Decreasing life-threatening behaviors is always the first priority. Self-harm, suicidal thoughts and any other safety concern is managed before moving onto step 2.

2. We help your teen stop self-sabotaging.

We look at what behaviors are interfering with treatment success and ultimately what's getting in the way of you seeing the best RESULTS for your investment in the process.

3. We help your teen create a life they love.

We look at and help your teen skillfully resolve any difficulties in relationships and in the way they take care of themselves so that they can truly begin to live a life they love.

4. We help your teen learn to love themselves.

Once your teen is routinely using healthy behaviors and having positive social interactions (so that everyday is effective) we help your teen build the skills to fully love and accept themselves even when obstacles and stressors make life more difficult.

By following a science-backed structure, we can ensure that you see LASTING changes so that your teen doesn't return to behaviors that were self-destructive.

Our structured approach is the ultimate solution to "We didn't do anything in therapy!" << You'll see the positive outcomes to prove it!

Want to learn more?

Your Senior Year Roadmap for College Success

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Parents of rising high school seniors:

How’d you like to have smooth sailing for your teen’s senior year?

Many rising seniors feel overwhelmed, anxious and uncertain about transitioning to college.

Stressors from family, friends, peers, Netflix and social media can influence how successful your teen is in viewing their college experience or expectations. 

As a teen support center, we’ve worked with hundreds of teens who are college-bound and we’ve seen it all before…

“Senioritis” that kicks in October 1st.

Teens with a “bucket list” of risky behaviors to check off before they get to college. 

(Real talk… teens actually don’t want to be the only one in college who hasn’t had sex or tried substances so some begin to take more risks in senior year.)

Teens that put SO. MUCH. PRESSURE. on themselves to maintain perfect grades and extracurriculars that they miss out on the FUN that comes with being the top dogs in high school.

What happens when pre-college stress isn’t addressed?

You have a moody, unhappy teen.

You have a teen who doubts themselves and who isn’t sure about the next steps… and may even self-sabotage out of fear.

You have a teen who works so hard to get to that ideal next step that they hate their lives right now and then realize (often when it’s too late) that they don’t like the college they worked so hard to get into anyway. 

-- 1 in 3 college students don't’ return after freshman year and often times this is attributed to unrealistic expectations about school, based on idealizing a college.

You have a teen who shuts it all down because it’s just too much to handle, so they don’t do ANY of it and they end up with slipping grades and even lower self-esteem

That’s why support is SO important as a high school senior. It’s more than completing the common app and making sure your recommendations are sent off on time.

It’s so much more.

It’s learning to develop coping skills to manage stress and uncomfortable situations now so that when your teen is off on their own they’re equipped with the skills...

To say no
To ask for help
To cope with disappointment
To have a solid set of conflict-resolution skills for roommate troubles and group-work gripes

Defining a successful college experience starts in high school.

Our teens tell themselves that everything will be different once they’re in a new place and paying for their classes...

... but the truth is that without 

Changing communication styles
Reworking entrenched habits
and shifting patterns of behavior that are currently problematic,

you’ll just be paying for the same problems in a new place without the familiarity of home and family for support.

If you want to learn more about how to help your teen move from feeling overwhelmed and uncertain to feeling secure with the fully mapped out plan in hand for rising senior success, click here:

Licensed therapist (and college counselor) Julie Rodgers and I will help you clarify what stressors your teen is currently coping with (and help you decide how well they are actually coping) so that you develop a fully mapped out rising senior strong support plan.

Social Media is Your Teen's Friend (Sometimes)

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If your teen ever gets stuck on difficult images or memories, social media can actually be part of a helpful coping strategy.

Difficult memories or images may get triggered by a smell, a thought, an environment, or a song and can create painful or difficult emotions that make it feel difficult for your teenager to move past that incident.

One of the tricks that we teach in our groups and in our individual sessions at the Teen Support Center is the skill of diffusion, meaning getting yourself unstuck or gaining some distance from something that's difficult for you, like a thought, or a memory, or an image that's in your mind. 

We can make this more accessible to teenagers by comparing that difficult image or that triggered memory to a photo that you post on Instagram.

If you've ever used Instagram, you know that you can put the image onto the platform and then there are different filters that you can use to adjust the brightness of that image, to adjust the colors of that image, to adjust the shadows, or the contrast of that image. Teens are really familiar with this idea putting filters on an image or changing the way that it looks in some way.

When we can encourage our teens to hold an image that's difficult for them when they're in a safe place and have the support to do so, and give them permission play around with what it looks like, to fade the intensity of the image, to change the colors of the image, what we're essentially doing is teaching our teens to learn that they have power over their thoughts, and power over the images that emerge inside their minds.

What this does is it loosens the grip that the image has over our teens as well as makes them feel like they have more power over their thoughts, that they don't need to get hooked in and triggered by these thoughts, that they can acknowledge difficulties and have control over how and when they view those thoughts and images. 

What's your actual problem?

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Why therapy doesn't work sometimes... 

Did you know that 90% of poor treatment outcomes in therapy are related to assessment errors?

This means that MOST times, what your teen may be working on in therapy is focused on a goal or behavior that's not actually the root of the problem.

The "problem" is actually most times the solution! 

When your teen engages in a behavior that you see as problematic, such as self-injury, school avoidance, arguments or risk-taking behaviors, most times, this behavior is the result of a prompting event that has triggered strong emotions for your teen.

Their "problem" behavior is actually the solution for your teen in the context of their life, their resources, the skills they currently possess and the habits and behaviors they have learned over time in their environment.

The problem is actually the prompting event and high emotions that come with that cue.

Unhealthy behaviors aren't the problem, they're a SKILLS DEFICIT. 

Our goals for your teen at the teen support center are two-fold:

First, we help your teen envision a life worth living and partner with them to build a commitment towards their goals that's so strong that unhealthy behaviors become incompatible with their lives and begin to fade away.

(Have a teen who swears they don't have a problem or that their cutting isn't the problem?  This is definitely the approach they need.)

We help our teens articulate what they WANT out of life... not just what they don't want, so that they can spend their time moving towards goals and enjoying the moment, rather than trying to escape or avoid difficulties.

Next, we help your teen identify what behaviors are getting in the way of their goals occuring and help them learn new behaviors that give them the same outcome (and at the same intensity) as the unhealhty beahviors that were providing them relief.

We're not just spending 45 minutes venting or talking about problems, we're supporting a structured process of behavioral change that will help your teen learn to act skillfully no matter what life throws their way.

6 Questions to ask yourself about your teen's behavior to find the root... 

  1. What happened BEFORE the problem behavior occurred?
  2. Was anything else happening this week that caused them to be more emotionally vulnerable, like less sleep, more schoolwork or illness?
  3. What did I do as a parent to respond to my teen's problem behavior?
  4. Did my response make the behavior better or worse?
  5. What was the ultimate OUTCOME for my teen of engaging in this problem behavior?  Did they find short-term relief, escape or avoidance?
  6. How can I help my teen achieve the positive outcome they desire (and at the same intensity) while helping them phase out unhealthy behaviors?

Help your teen act skillfully! 

Groups have been proven to be the best way to help our teens learn new skills because it allows them to practice in a controlled environment and get real time feedback too!

How to Foster Self-Compassion in Self-Critical Teens

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If your teen is self-critical, you may notice that they…

  • Hate the way they look
  • Make self-critical comments about their body or their appearance
  • Feel like a failure and say negative things about themselves or to themselves if they get a poor grade on a test or something doesn't work out in a social situation.

What we see with these teens who are self-critical and who are really hard on themselves is that they end of falling into  one of two categories:

  1. They may shut down and start to think, "What's the point? Why should I bother? I'm not even going to try anymore."
  2. Or the other end of that spectrum is they may overcompensate and work themselves to the bone, stay up until midnight completing work, never feel like it's good enough and continue to be super hard on themselves as a means to try and motivate themselves to perfection, which we know is not a possibility.

Why boosting self-esteem doesn’t work…

Most of the time parents and professionals will try to increase or to boost self-esteem.  But, boosting self-esteem is just a temporary fix. It's like putting a band-aid on a wound that doesn’t heal.

Most professionals will help your teen track their negative self-talk.  They'll help them learn to tune in to what they're saying to themselves, and then learn some thought replacement techniques to try and change those negative or critical thoughts with more positive or helpful ones. They'll help them learn to be their own cheerleader.

But, in working with hundreds of teens in our community over the last 7 years, here’s what I’ve learned about why this doesn’t work:

  1. It doesn't work because the thoughts always come back. Yes, mindfulness of shifting your thoughts is  a practice and we can practice acknowledging that thought and then replacing it with a more positive thought,
  2. BUT, for teens especially this feels FAKE, and we all know that teens have that BS-meter, where they can notice something that feels fake immediately!  This leads to discouragement, because it's not a quick fix and it doesn't work right away. Who wants to replace the same thought over and over and over again, right?

Thought replacement is just a temporary fix!

If I said to you right now, "Try your best to not think about a pink elephant." You'd have to think about that pink elephant before you tried to not think about that pink elephant. It's the same thing with thought replacement, when we're talking about negative to positive self-talk, you still have to think about and feel the negative thought before you can replace it with a positive one, so that feels discouraging for our teens.

What's more is that when they have that thought and then they have to go through the action of replacing it, it inadvertently reinforces this idea that there's something wrong with them for having that thought to begin with because they are aware that they have to change it, and that further increases feelings of low self-esteem.

The Self-Esteem Solution

Here's the solution to low self-esteem:  let's foster self-compassion instead of self-esteem.

Self-compassion means is treating yourself with kindness, thinking about how you would talk to your best friend, and considering, “Do I talk to myself the same way?”

Now, this is a little bit different than thought replacement.  For example: if you got a B on a test you might say something to yourself like, "Oh my gosh, I'm such a failure, I can't believe I didn't get an A.  I can't believe I didn't study more." You'd start to verbally beat yourself up a little bit.

But if your friend got a B on a test, you might say something like, "A B is a pretty good grade. I know you wanted an A, but a B is acceptable, and you can try harder for the next one."

So why is it that we can talk to our friends in a way that's compassionate and kind, but when we don't measure up to our own expectations, it leads us into this spiral of shame and negative self-talk? It’s time to treat yourself with kindness and think, "How would I talk to a friend? And how can I learn to talk to myself in the same way?"

To doubt and question yourself is human.  Accept it!

Self-doubt and self-criticism are a totally normal part of being human. The goal for any of us isn't to get rid of these thoughts, but to recognize them without letting them define us. This is why groups can be so helpful, especially for our teens, because groups help them to recognize that they're not alone in thinking and experiencing what they're going through, and that there's nothing wrong with them for having these feelings.

It's a really beautiful thing when one of my teens can share an experience that they're having, and another teen, at least one, in the group can say, "Yes, I get that, I understand that, I feel you." They understand each other in a way that makes them feel like they're not weird, bad, wrong, or different for having self-doubt, for criticizing themselves, for feeling down on themselves, for being frustrated.

Normalizing these NORMAL feelings as part of a human experience is so, so important when we're talking about being self-compassionate, because it means that there's nothing wrong with you, it means that you're not broken, that you don't need fixing, that it's all about acknowledging these thoughts without getting attached to them or without letting them define us.

Getting a B on a test doesn't mean that you're a failure. Failing a test doesn't mean that you're a failure. It means that you didn't do as well as you wanted to, and there's a way to improve on that, but it's not defining you as a failure as a person.

Accurate self-perception is more effective than inflated self-esteem

The research says that having an accurate self-perception has been proven to be way more effective than having high self-esteem. Part of this is because when we focus on self-esteem as a metric and then we have an “off” day, we automatically believe that there's something wrong with us. It hinders our ability to have an accurate sense of self because we're always basing it on some kind of external validation or some experience that we're having in our lives.

The other end of that spectrum is that when we typically rely on validation or doing well to boost our self-esteem and then we don't excel at one of those tasks, it shakes the very foundation of our identity and who we are.  For teens, when their developmental task is figuring out who they are, this can become really dangerous, and it can lead to changes in mood and urges and behaviors that become concerning for us as parents and professionals.

Help your teen connect, cope, create and foster self-compassion!

If you have a teen who's experiencing a negative self-image and could benefit from learning the tools and skills to…

  • Be more self-compassionate
  • Learn how to treat themselves with kindness
  • Learn how to accept the ups and downs in life
  • Have the skills to cope with difficult feelings

I'd love to invite you to connect with us. We're enrolling now for our Connect, Cope and Create Summer Camp, that is a week of groups and activities that are designed to help your teen go from overwhelmed, stressed, and unhappy with themselves, to learning to cope with life's ups and downs, learning how to tune in to how they think and feel, and how to be in control of their feelings, rather than let the feelings control them and define who they are.

We all know that we can't change or make feelings go away, but we can learn to cope with them and create a life that's worth living and that your teen loves, fully engages in, and is effective for them so that they can learn to be kind to themselves and finally treat themselves like their own best friend.

CLICK HERE to learn more and apply for a space in summer camp for your teen:

Get Unstuck from Unhelpful Feelings (because you can't actually CHANGE them!)

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If your teen tends to get stuck on thoughts that cause undue stress, the DBT skill “Defusion” can help your teen stop, step back and get unstuck from painful thoughts and feelings so that they can can live life to the fullest and actually ENJOY the good times without worry thoughts.

Thoughts aren’t facts! 

Feelings are always changing and when we get caught up in a thought or a feeling, it sometimes leads to a decision or engaging in a behavior that isn't necessarily helpful in the long run and can lead to problems.

Using Defusion means is being able to observe your feelings to really notice what's happening in your mind, in your body, in your emotions and in your memories so that you can have more control and a little bit of distance from the process.

One of the ways that we teach giving distance from a thought that might be running through our head over and over again and doesn't necessarily feel helpful is for us to be able to label that thought as a thought.

SAY: "I'm having the thought that I might fail the test"

... rather than: "I might fail the test" or "I'm going to fail the test."

What that does it allows you to label a thought as just a thought, loosening some of the power it might have over you, and essentially not accepting that thought as an ultimate truth.

Don’t let your thoughts take the wheel! 

When you're learning to drive, you might have someone in the passenger seat or some backseat drivers that are telling you to do different things or telling you to go different directions and it can be really stressful!

But to stay safe, what you have to do is connect to your breath, connect to your center, and really decide which way you want to go and remind yourself that YOU are in control of the wheel. You need to make the decisions for where to turn or when to stop or when to use your turn signal.

Life sometimes looks this way when it feels like many people in our lives are being critical or making demands of us. When you can take some breaths, recenter and stay the course, you can make decisions that are ultimately in your best interest in the long term.

This is how you separate from your thoughts a little bit and allowing yourself to notice them just as thoughts rather than as facts or truth.

Ask: “What am I reacting to?” 

When you notice your emotions start to shift maybe into something uncomfortable or something that's difficult for you, ask yourself, "What am I reacting to?"

Then begin to reflect on what some of those thoughts are, what that prompting event was. Try writing it down or talking it out with someone.

Some of our teens have even mentioned that it's helpful to gain some distance from those thoughts by saying them in a different voice, using a different accent, saying them faster or slower, saying difficult thoughts to the tune of "Happy Birthday" or the alphabet or something like that.

While you're saying the same things to yourself, it's loosening some of the power that those thoughts have over you because it's making them a little bit silly.

Now, that's not to say we're invalidating the thoughts because some thoughts certainly lead to some difficult emotions, but that we don't have to feed into all of our thoughts and accept them as truth or fact...

...because thoughts are thoughts and facts are facts.

Manage overwhelm with visualization 

One exercise that can help with detaching from overwhelming or negative feelings is the "leaves on a stream" exercise.

Here are simple instructions:

Imagine you are sitting in the middle of a stream. The water is flowing away in front of you.

Notice if there is any sound from the running water. Notice if there are any trees on the banks of the stream.

Now see leaves floating down the stream away from you. They can be any shape, color, or size. As the negative thoughts come into your mind, be aware of what the thought is, and then place it on a leaf.

Now watch it float away down the stream. Do this with each thought as you notice it.

As you acknowledge each of your thoughts, you do not need to hang onto them. There is no need to become attached to the thought. Just acknowledge it and then place it on a leaf.

By watching it float away, it loses its hold on you and its intensity.