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At The Center for Stress and Anxiety Management, our psychologists have years of experience. Unlike many other providers, our clinicians truly specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of anxiety and related problems. Our mission is to apply only the most effective short-term psychological treatments supported by extensive scientific research. We are located in Rancho Bernardo, Carlsbad, and Mission Valley.

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Read our award-winning blogs for useful information and tips about anxiety, stress, and related disorders.

 

Filtering by Tag: mindful

DEALING WITH BACK-TO-SCHOOL ANXIETY IN YOUNG CHILDREN

Jill Stoddard

a guest blog post originally posted on SitterCity.com

As parents prepare their children for the school year to begin, it’s easy to get swept up in all the details: Are the school medical forms filled out? What’s left on the school supplies list? Have you found an after-school sitter yet?

Ticking off all the items on your family’s back-to-school checklist is important, but it’s equally important to pay attention to your child’s behavior during the weeks leading up to school. Anxiety about advancing to a new grade or starting a new school is normal; after all, people of all ages need time to adjust to a new situation. Here are a few ways you can turn those back-to-school jitters into excitement.

(Please note: If you suspect that something more than garden-variety jitters is going on, call your pediatrician who can refer you to a child psychologist for a consultation.)

Get some sleep.

A well-rested kid is a happy kid. While it’s fun to stay up late and sleep in during the summer, it’s important to get bedtime on track at least a week before school starts. Kids can feel grouchy, upset or fearful when they’re sleep deprived. Start practicing normal school day wakeups a week or two in advance so they get used to their new schedule.

Attend the open house. 

Schools often host an open house a couple weeks before classes begin. Be sure to clear your schedule for it — it’s an invaluable chance for your child to meet their new teacher and start feeling comfortable with them, as well as a chance to check out their new classroom.

Plan play dates. 

If you’re new to a school, open houses are also a chance for kids to mingle with their new classmates a little with the safety of you still being around, so they’re not making as many introductions on the first day of school. As you chat with the other parents, see if any of them are open to the idea of a play date, even if it’s just meeting up informally at the playground so your kids can continue to get to know each other.

Do a practice run. 

If your child is starting at a new school, take the time to do a dry run of the morning commute. On one of the mornings they’re waking up early, be sure to get them dressed and out the door on time, too. Practice walking or driving to school — whatever your normal commute will entail. If your child is taking a bus to school for the first time, drive along the bus’s route and answer any questions they might have about what school buses are like.

Eat at a cafeteria. 

Is this the first time your child will be eating a hot lunch at school? Go to a cafeteria-style restaurant to help them practice holding a tray, waiting in line, selecting from multiple options and sitting at a bench-style table. Even if you’re planning to pack a bag lunch, it’s doesn’t hurt to get your child used to a cafeteria-like environment.

Visit the library.

It’s time to do a little back-to-school reading! There are plenty of great children’s stories that address back-to-school anxiety. A few worth checking out are First Day Jitters by Julie Dannenberg; The Night Before Kindergarten and The Night Before First Grade, both by Natasha Wing; The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn; and Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten, by Joseph Slate. Talk to your librarian to see if they have any other recommendations as well.

Take care of the details.

Pay attention to little things that will help make the first week of school smooth sailing. Have them pick out some new clothes and a new backpack for the first few days of school so there are no morning wardrobe meltdowns. If they’re bringing their lunch, plan out a few of their favorite meals ahead of time. Create a morning “launch pad” for backpacks and coats. These may seem like little things, but they can add up to a lot of stress for a child, and they’re easy to prepare for in advance.

Listen to them.

Keep those lines of communication open! Ask you’re child if they’re excited for school, what subject they’re looking forward to most and what friends they’re excited to see. If they’re experiencing social anxiety this is a good time to start talking it out and reassuring them. Being understanding and supportive is the most important thing you can do to ensure your little one has a great back-to-school experience.

THE POWER OF BREATHING

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Whether or not you struggle with an anxiety disorder, we have all found ourselves overwhelmed by stress or anxiety at some point.  We each have slightly different stressors that trigger our body’s natural stress response, but we all know what the response feels like: sweaty palms, racing heart, tense muscles.  This bodily reaction can feel overwhelming, as if it controls us.  It is easy to feel powerless to our biological response to stress, but we have more control than we think.

THE STRESS RESPONSE

Source URL: http://www.gestaltreality.com/2012/07/11/metabolic-diet-supplements-an-exploration/

Source URL: http://www.gestaltreality.com/2012/07/11/metabolic-diet-supplements-an-exploration/

Before we deem our biological reaction to stress bad, let’s talk about what happens and what purpose it serves.  When we get stressed out or anxious, our body begins preparing us to face threat.  Stress activates our sympathetic nervous system, triggering the fight-flight-or-freeze response.  This causes the sweaty palms, racing heart, panicky breathing and muscle tension (McGonigal, 2013).  We often look at the stress response as inherently bad, because it is not healthy to be in the fight-flight-or-freeze mode chronically (McGonigal, 2013).  However, it’s important to remember that when your heart starts racing or your palms get sweaty, your body is just trying to help prepare you.  Nevertheless, these sensations can feel overwhelming, and perpetuate our experience of anxiety.  So how can we calm ourselves down once this cycle is in motion?

DEEP BELLY BREATHING

Using our breath, we actually have the power to activate our parasympathetic nervous system.  The parasympathetic nervous system allows our body to “rest and digest” as opposed to the sympathetic nervous system’s fight or flight response (Hunt, 2016).  While “take a deep breath” is common advice, how we actually take that breath is important.  This is how to use the breath to calm down:

Source URL: http://goodrelaxation.com/2015/05/deep-breathing-for-headaches/

Source URL: http://goodrelaxation.com/2015/05/deep-breathing-for-headaches/

  1. Find a comfortable, relaxed seated position with your feet planted on the ground; alternatively, you can try breathing laying down.  Now begin to bring your focus to your breath.
  2. With each breath, your belly should rise as you inhale and fall as you exhale
  3. Your shoulders and chest should remain still.  If you notice your shoulders rise, or your chest move, drop the breath down to the belly.  Breathing into your chest is reminiscent of hyperventilating, which will only further activate your sympathetic nervous system (Hunt, 2016).
  4. Now focus on breathing into your belly for four counts.  Hold your breath for a second or two.  Now exhale for five counts and relax (Hunt, 2016).  Repeat this process, focusing on your inhalations and exhalations, and making your belly rise and fall.
  5. You may notice that your heart rate speeds up at first.  Don’t panic or give up.  Your body is not used to calming itself down, and is simply adjusting.  After a few cycles of inhaling and exhaling, you should notice your heart rate begin to relax. 
  6. If you begin to get distracted or thoughts pop into your mind, simply notice they are there and then come back to focus on the breath
Source URL: http://goodrelaxation.com/2015/05/deep-breathing-for-headaches/

Source URL: http://goodrelaxation.com/2015/05/deep-breathing-for-headaches/

See if you can practice doing four or five deep belly breaths a day.  Then see if you can work your way up to thirty seconds at a time.  Then maybe a minute.  Eventually, you will be able to sit in this space with your breath for a long period of time.

Being able to tap into your breath to find a calm, centered space, no matter where you are, is an invaluable resource.  This diaphragmatic breathing essentially turns off your sympathetic nervous system and turns on your parasympathetic nervous system (Hunt, 2016). 

This is not to say that you will never feel stressed again, or that you will never experience the fight-flight-or-freeze response.  But using deep belly breathing can help you to calm your body down and lessen the biological reaction to a stressful situation.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com.

REFERENCES:

Hunt, M. G. (2016). Reclaim your life from IBS: A scientifically proven plan for relief without restrictive diets. Toronto, ON: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.

McGonigal, K. (2013, June). Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend [Video File].  Retrieved from: https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend?language=e

Five Research-Backed Ways to Reconnect With Your Well-Being

Jill Stoddard

Feeling off-balance or disconnected from your well-being? There are many ways to reconnect -- here are just 5 research-backed practices that may help you cultivate a state of wellness.

Read More

Part I: Thriving through the Embrace of Life: To Thrive or to Suffer

Jill Stoddard

Part I

Thriving through the Embrace of Life:

To Thrive or to Suffer

By Lauren Helm, M.A.

 

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style” ― Maya Angelou

 

If you were to ask yourself, “Am I thriving in life?” what would your honest answer be?  Is there a palpable fullness, or a vibrant, colorful aliveness that paints the story of your life? There are as many different ways to thrive as there are individuals on the planet, and each person likely has a unique story to tell about what thriving means to them. What does thriving mean to you? You may not have a ready answer, but perhaps you have a general sense of what the experience is like when you are living a life that is full, satisfying, and meaningful to you. Is the experience of moving forward in life in a deeply satisfying way your current reality? Or do you only catch glimpses or taste brief moments of thriving, without being able to maintain this as a steady flow? These are challenging and potentially uncomfortable questions to ask yourself.  It may seem that living a truly vital life is without reach, where it is possible for others to attain it, but you cannot.  

“Pain is universal, suffering is optional.”

If you experience a regular sense of enlivenment, this is excellent. The chances are, however, that life has peaks, and it has its valleys too. In our society, we may often misconstrue what it means to live fully and thrive. Often we equate successful living with happiness. If we feel pain, we assume that something is wrong, and we must immediately fix the situation in order to feel happy again. Unfortunately, pain simply is going to be experienced throughout our lives. It will occur, again and again, in various domains, including our relationships, career, and other life experiences. We will experience psychological pain   (i.e. painful thoughts and emotions) and physical pain (e.g. back pain or migraines). Does this mean that we will never be able to truly thrive, or live a deeply rewarding life? Certainly not! Pain, in and of itself, is just that – the experience of discomfort (in its many forms). Though it may not sound pleasant, pain is not the problem. Rather, our reactions or responses to the pain, is what leads to suffering. Suffering is pain’s more dramatic and pervasive cousin – suffering often wrenches, grips, and gnaws at us—and typically stems from our efforts to move away from our pain. It draws in all of our attention and sucks away all of our vital energy or life force. Generally speaking, to suffer is not to thrive.

It is within our nature to attempt to avoid, escape, or prevent pain. As a species, this is how we survived and persevered. However, in our modern day society, we are rarely threatened by actual physically dangerous situations that we need to remove ourselves from to survive (e.g.  if you see a rattlesnake, you turn and walk the other way instead of stepping onto it to avoid the painful bite which may also lead to physical damage). Many painful experiences that we currently face are internal experiences – the worried thought that your boss is negatively evaluating you, the anxiety in the pit of your stomach when the bills are difficult to pay, or the sadness that results from the loss of a friendship. Often, the mind reacts to these painful events in more or less the same way that it would react to a painful physical experience (such as stubbing a toe) – avoid this pain, and get rid of it right away, or else survival is threatened! Unfortunately, as our minds get to work at problem-solving how to control and get rid of a painful thought or a painful emotion, it often unsuspectingly steps onto the path of suffering.

 

 

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dream.” – Paulo Coelho 

As the mind begins to systematically focus more and more time, attention, and energy to ridding itself of painful thoughts and emotions (like anxiety, sadness, guilt, anger, etc.) a paradoxical effect occurs – it begins to feed the beast. The very labeling of an emotion or a thought as “bad” creates a spiraling effect of distress. For example, if you experience anxiety, and then believe that it is a bad or harmful thing to experience anxiety (i.e. it is threatening), then you will likely feel an increase in anxiety or distress (because now you are anxious about anxiety), and also begin to do whatever you can to get rid of this threat (the escalating anxiety). You may try to control it by distracting yourself with drugs or alcohol, or perhaps you try to control it by avoiding whatever triggers the anxiety in the first place (e.g., not going to a party for fear of being disliked). Though this may reduce anxiety in the short-term and you may experience some brief sense of relief, the anxiety is unlikely to permanently disappear. In fact, it is guaranteed to reappear and your mind will likely respond to the reappearance of anxiety in a similar way, becoming like a rat on a wheel, running with all of its will and might to escape the relentless pursuit of anxiety (or any other uncomfortable thought or emotion). Thus, suffering grows, as more and more time and energy is needed to escape growing discomfort that returns again and again. Most importantly, the more attention is spent on avoiding, the less it is spent engaged in areas of life that may be important to you. “Life” can be put on hold while you invest your energy in “managing” the pain of life. Sometimes, in more minor cases, this works. But often, it can become a bottomless pit, and we can lose our way. To merely survive does not mean to thrive.

Though many of us would rather not fully acknowledge that this process occurs in our lives, it often characterizes the human condition. However, with awareness and recognition, we can begin to consciously alter how we respond, and thus begin to craft a way of living that supports thriving and fullness.

Part 2: Thriving through the Embrace of Life: Learning to Open through the Pain is the second segment of our blog which continues the discussion of thriving versus suffering, and introduces an alternative approach to responding to emotional or physical pain or discomfort.

 

 

If you'd like to speak with someone at the Center for Stress and Anxiety Management for help learning about how to thrive and relieve psychological suffering, please click here.

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References

Harris, R. (2006). Embracing your demons: an overview of acceptance and commitment therapy. Psychotherapy in Australia, 12(4), 70.

Tags: anxietycognitive behavioral thearpyanxiety therapy san diegoanxiety therapyacceptance and commitment therapyworryACTCenter for Stress and Anxiety Management,therapy in san diegoemotion regulationanxiety disordersvaluessteven hayesCSAMmeaningfulfillmentmindfulsufferingthriving

The Case for a Value-Driven Life

Jill Stoddard

By Lauren Helm, M.A.

 

 

“Values are what you want your life to be about, deep in your heart. What you want to stand for. What you want to do with your time on this planet. What ultimately matters to you in the big picture. What you would like to be remembered for by the people you love.” – Dr. Russ Harris

 

What guides you in deciding how to act from moment-to-moment, and day-to-day?  When you come to a fork in the road, how do you decide which direction to go?

Many of us may be unaware of the processes that underlie our daily actions and the forces that shape how and why we make the decisions that we do. Often we may just go through the motions, paying little attention to what we are doing and what is happening around us. We go through the routines:  get up in the morning, have breakfast, brush teeth,  go to work, come home, make dinner, go to sleep…and repeat. Sometimes we may reflect on the day and wonder where our time went, feeling almost as though we were not really there. Have you ever driven somewhere, only to realize once you’ve arrived that you barely remember driving at all? It can be as though we were merely on automatic-pilot, with little attention devoted to “steering” ourselves throughout our lives.

And yet, there are times when life really DEMANDS our attention; when it quite literally forces us to focus on the issue at hand. Life is full of flux and change; there are sorrows and pain, joys and celebration. What then? How do you decide how to respond?

When we have little conscious awareness of who we are and who we want to be, we can act quite haphazardly. Automatic-pilot does not necessarily turn off.  If something stressful or threatening happens, we may react reflexively. Perhaps a loved-one makes a comment that rubs us the wrong way, and we lash out. Maybe we have been assigned an important project, and the deadline looms in the near-future, but we automatically procrastinate and avoid thinking or doing anything about it until the last minute because it is anxiety-provoking.

In a sense, automatic or reflexive behaviors can be thought of as “mindless.” There is little conscious or intentional thought behind them. They are like habitual ways of responding to life. However, not only does a “mindless” approach not create the fullness of life that many people desire, it also can get us into trouble when challenging situations arise. For example, most of the time we automatically avoid uncomfortable or painful situations. It makes sense that human beings would avoid pain. Avoidance of pain or threat has allowed us to survive as a species –  avoidance of tigers and bears kept us alive. However, in our modern age, we rarely, if ever, encounter predators that threaten our survival. Threat and discomfort tends to show up for us in our jobs, relationships, traffic, social activities, etc. What if “mindless” avoidance of discomfort costs you a sense of meaning in life? What if it interferes with or prevents you from engaging in activities or life experiences that are deeply rewarding to you, albeit challenging or difficult at times?

If this has been your experience, it may be time to pause and clarify your values. Your values help define who you want to be in each moment. What you value is what gives your life meaning. When we are disconnected from our values, we can go through life somewhat aimlessly and “mindlessly.” But when we take the time to learn about what is really important to us, we can give ourselves a great gift. By knowing your values, you can begin to craft your day-to-day experience in a much more conscious, intentional way. In a way, it can be a creative process. You get to decide during each metaphorical fork in the road, who you want to be and what you want your life to be about.

 

“What if what was at stake is a kind of self-liberation -- the liberation to be about what you most deeply would choose to be about--- not to avoid guilt, or get applause, or otherwise objectify yourself but just to be in the world how you choose to be in the world.” - Dr. Steven Hayes, co-developer of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

 

 

 

Dr. Jill Stoddard likes to ask, “What is this in the service of?” This is an exceptionally helpful question to ask yourself during the mundane activities of life, and during the momentous ones. Is what you are doing serving to avoid discomfort? Or is what you are choosing to do serving you in living a valued-life? The practical nature of identifying your values is that you can begin to create action-plans and goals that line up with your values, instead of goals that purely focus on fending off the pain that inevitably is a part of life. The fact is, pain IS a part of life, and so is joy. Life is a myriad of experiences. We can live meaningful lives when things go smoothly, and even when life feels like a bumpy ride. It is up to us, however, to decide if we want to consciously respond to life and take back the steering wheel. We can begin with our values. Who do you want to be today?

 

 

 

If you'd like to speak with a professional at the Center for Stress and Anxiety Management about clarifying your values and living a more meaningful life, please click here.

 

Check out these free resources on values and related topics: 

http://media.psychologytools.org/Worksheets/English/Values.pdf

http://www.thehappinesstrap.com/upimages/the_complete_happiness_trap_worksheets.pdf.pdf

http://www.thehappinesstrap.com/free_resources

 

 

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References

Harris, R. (2007). The happiness trap: Stop struggling, start living. Exisle Publishing.

Hayes, S. C., Strosahl, K. D., & Wilson, K. G. (2011). Acceptance and commitment therapy: The process and practice of mindful change. Guilford Press.

Tags: acceptance and commitment therapyACTCenter for Stress and Anxiety Managementvaluessteven hayesCSAMmeaningfulfillmentmindfulpainlifeRuss Harrispersonal valuesmindlessavoidanceautomatic pilot