Anxiety Spiralling Out of Control? 4 Easy Steps to Deal With it!

Many of the moms I work with report experiencing moments of anxiety that send them spiralling up and up, getting more and more tense and convinced that something bad is going to happen. Maybe it was triggered by the news (read the latest on the flu epidemic, anyone?), or a child's temper tantrum (my kid's temper is just like my dad's, did I pass this on to him!?). Or perhaps the anxiety has lodged itself in your brain for no apparent reason, but man, it wouldn't it be nice to evict that unwelcome guest?

So first let's look at what anxiety is. Just amped up worry? Sort of. Worry tends to me more specific, whereas anxiety tends to feel more diffuse and is felt in one's body. Having a pervasive sense of dread, the sensation that something bad is DEFINITELY going to happen, even if there's no real evidence, are common manifestations of anxiety. You might also experience insomnia, irritability, and inability to relax and enjoy, as well as physical symptoms like headaches, tension, and digestive issues. 

Why is parenthood so fraught with anxiety for many? I think in many cases there is a lack of support. People are away from their families of origin, so that built in help isn't there. Certainly financial stressors, the dearth of affordable childcare options, and precarious jobs play a role. So does having a history of trauma, such as birth trauma, or a history of past anxiety, where those neural pathways have been laid down and an anxious response becomes our natural go to when faced with stress. There's also that pesky perfectionist tendancy that can easily set us off because there isn't a perfect parent out there, and if that's the only acceptible standard, then you're in trouble! 

We all get anxious at times. It's easy to only see the worst case scenarios. So how can we learn to manage our feelings, putting us back in control instead of the anxiety controlling us? Here are four easy steps to remember, all of which revolve around self care. And how convenient that the steps happen to spell SELF! 

Sleep: Getting more sleep and rest is key. We all know that being tired has a multiplyer effect on negative feelings, making everything seem worse. If you have very young kids that still wake in the night, shoot for 5 hours uninterrupted. If you have older kids, get to bed a bit earlier and go for at least 7 hours. I know you have other stuff to do at night, but set it aside for a week and give yourself a much needed chance to recuperate. 

Exercise: Once you're medically cleared to exercise, do make the time. Studies have shown that cardio can be as effective as medication for improving moods. You'll feel more connected to your body, and that can go a long way to helping you acknowledge where you're holding your anxiety and letting it go. 

Laughter: It really is the best medicine. Laughing (or crying) can help dispell stress hormones and leave you better able to look at your situation and challenges realistically. So put on that comedy, and help shift your mood!

Food: What we put into our bodies, really does impact how we feel. Drink lots of water, eat a high protein, whole grain diet. And eat at regular intervals. Low blood sugar does not a patient, calm person make! 

You might also want to consider professional help. Therapy and, particularly, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), is extremely helpful in treating anxiety. There are medications that can also be very helpful in addressing chronic symptoms. 

As always, I'm happy to offer a free phone consultation if you'd like to see about getting some targeted help to work on your anxiety. Just email me (olivia@mommygroove.com) or give me a call (917.747.7017). Be well!

Warmly, Olivia

Activities to help teach your kids to be thankful

A guest post here written by Christin Perry of TheBump.com on a pretty timely topic: teaching kids to be grateful!

A lot of moms try to teach their kids good manners from a young age, making sure they say “thank you” when they’re given something—and that’s a great start! But every year, when Thanksgiving rolls around, we’re reminded of the importance of instilling our children with a deeper sense of gratitude, not just for the toys and treats they enjoy but also for the larger blessings in life. “Research shows that kids who are thankful for what they have tend to be less materialistic, less envious of others and less depressed,” says Olivia Bergeron, LCSW, a psychotherapist and founder of Mommy Groove Therapy & Parent Coaching in Brooklyn, New York. “Having gratitude in life allows you to be happier, healthier and more optimistic.”

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Peaceful Parenting 101: Discipline

So maybe you don't want to parent your kids the way you were parented.  Much love to mom and dad, but there's room for improvement on the parenting front! The adults in your life used threats, bribes, time-outs or even spanking when you were small. And you know that threats, bribes, time-outs and spanking are not the way to go. Studies show that physical punishment leads to kids who are more aggressive, more deceptive and who behave worse. Threats only work if you're willing to follow through, and then must be esclated as time goes on to elicit the behavior we want. Bribing has a similar pattern of escalation and certainly doesn't foster self-discipline: when the external reward is withdrawn, so is any motivation to continue behaving well.  Time outs are a way of sending our kids off to handle their big emotions solo, when they actually need a hand learning how not to get swept away.  Plus, do you think they're sitting on the naughty chair feeling remorse or more likely planning retaliation because they're still angry and ashamed? All of these punishments also eventually fail as soon as we can no longer physically impose our "consequences." And that's when it becomes clear that we cannot make our child do what we want them to do. They have to want to listen, want to follow our lead, want to please us. They have to want to preserve their warm, loving relationship with us.  This is our lever, our key to encouraging desirable behavior.

So while punishment erodes the connection that leads to better behavior, discipline --which comes from the word "to teach" -- fosters closer ties, and a relationship with you that children are desperate to maintain. It is most certainly possible to discipline, or teach, without punishing.

Do note that if you suddenly stop punishing without working on building that warm relationship with your child, laying the foundation for them accept your influence, you will likely not see much of an improvement in their behavior! However, if you've decided you want to teach your child how to be a responsible, caring person without inflicting harm (ie punishing), here are a few pointers.

So let's start with an example. What to do when you've repeated yourself 50 times and your child is still not listening and is instead ramping up for an epic meltdown? First off, calm yourself down. When your child is most exasperating, they need you the most. Tossing gasoline onto their already raging firestorm of emotion never ends well. So take a moment, take a breath (or 10) and pivot to seeing the behavior as a cry for help, and not something being done TO you. The little person in your life has an immature brain and cannot cope with the flood of emotions in the moment; and they are relying on you to show them how to regulate. Take them up on the opportunity! Teach them to self regulate by regulating yourself. Narrate what you're doing so they get a clearer picture of what to do when they get hijacked.

"I'm feeling pretty upset right now and I don't want to say something I'll regret. I'm going to practice blowing out some pretend candles a few times and then I'm going to give myself a big hug. Want to do it with me too?"

The goal is for you to feel back in control of yourself by modeling how to handle anger and frustration. Hence the slow breathing, the calming self-hug, the stretching and releasing tension in the shoulders, the glass of water, the shaking out of the hands...you get the idea.

Remember that there are still rules and limits. This is not permissive parenting where your child is in charge.  The key is to set limits early and often, and most definitely before you get frustrated. It's much easier to see things from your child's point of view, or to empathize, when you still have your good humor and reserves of patience. If a rule gets broken or a limit gets disregarded, focus on how your child can make a repair, particularly if your first instinct is to punish.  Instead of frog marching your little one to their room when they've called their sibling "stupid," ask them how it made their sibling feel, and wonder what they might do to repair the relationship.

Which brings me to the next point: don't try to teach a lesson when you or your child are in the throes of upset. Often the parents I work with report feeling caught off guard when they feel they ought to teach a lesson that the behavior is unacceptable right now. "How will they ever learn unless I make the point this instant!?" Take the long view-- you can always talk about what just happened later. After all, you live with your child! The sense of urgency often knocks us off message and results in things being said that we later regret. Morevoer, no one internalizes lessons when they are in a fight or flight or freeze mode, be they a child or an adult. Your brain's reasoning center simply shuts down until it perceives that the emergency has passed. As a guideline, it takes about 20 minutes for all the stress hormones to flush out of the system and the reasoning center to come back on line when you're upset. So go back and have that conversation when both you and your child have cooled down.

So now you're calm and ready to provide empathy and safety to your child, whose behavior indicates there is an unmet need. The physical needs can be the easiest to tackle. Is your son or daughter hungry? Tired? Overstimulated? A little forethought can certainly head a lot of problems off at the pass. Making sure your child gets adequate sleep, is eating quality foods regularly, and is not overscheduled can go a very long way in preventing over-the-top reactions to small bumps in the road. Realizing that there are physical factors at play can also make it easier for us to tap into our own compassion.

"No wonder she's cranky! She skipped her nap and must be hungry too."

If the physical needs are met, but the behavior is still outsized, dig a little deeper and see what else might be going on. Children who "misbehave" are often feeling disconnected, and that's an indication that there is work to be done strengthening the relationship with you. When you come home, are you able to focus 100% on your kids for a few minutes so they feel connected to you? Do you take the time to witness and point out how appreciative you are when they do behave well-- or catch them being "good"? Do you really listen when they tell you about the minutia of their day? Do small things often, so that you lay the foundation for a close, trusting relationship with your child.

A good question to ask when faced with a child who is acting out their emotions is, "What does he or she need right now?" A hug? Someone to listen quietly while they off load their litany of bad things that happened at school? A chance to cry and get all the ugly feelings out? Some roughhousing to get them giggling?

No matter what the circumstance, what your child does need is a calm authority to guide them through the turbulance and to model what loving compassion looks like. As Dr. Laura Markham says, the peace in peaceful parenting comes from you.

This is certainly hard work. If you'd like a hand getting the hang of peaceful parenting your little one, drop me a line. You don't have to go it alone.

Warmest wishes, Olivia

 

How to end the power struggle getting my child dressed

There are certain common friction points between kids and parents: getting up, getting dressed, getting out the door, meal times, bedtimes... geez, listing it out, it seems like there are A LOT of potential sources for frustration. Today I'm going to focus on a little example of how to gracefully manage just one of these, and that's getting your child dressed in the morning. Mind you, this is a suggestion for early to late school age kids, not your babies or toddlers. But if you're having difficulty with your wee one, drop me a line and we can talk.

We're changing seasons here in the Northeast U.S. and that means an awful lot of children being forced to some times bundle up, or some times not. It's confusing enough for adults to figure out the "how many layers or none at all?" question, particularly given that the weather has been strangely mild but with sudden dips in temperature. Unsurprisingly, children balk at being made to pile on clothes when bare legs and unencased wiggly toes can be more comfortable.  So what to do when you know they'll be cold outside and your darling child decides to dress for Miami weather?

Well, a dad I'm working with came up with an elegant solution for his daughter and wife's daily power struggle over getting dressed. The mom had been fighting daily with the daughter about putting pants on, usually ending in tears and aggravation. The child would go outside but the mom would end up pulling pants on her outside on the sidewalk, which was not ideal. And the upset it caused was not a great way to launch anyone on their day. 

So how to find a win-win solution? The dad proposed setting up a thermometer outside, and creating a routine whereby the daughter would check the temperature upon waking. Ahead of time, the family would set up a chart with pictures of appropriate outdoor clothing for each band of temperature. So 60 degrees would mean pants with a sweater and light coat, 70 degrees would mean a dress was ok. I love this idea because it sets limits, by providing expectations and guidance from the parents, while also having the child take control by checking the weather. Now it's the child's responsibility to consult the chart to see what to wear. Mom and dad are respecting their daughter's agency while guiding her to make good decisions. 

Have you tried this out? Have your own win-win solutions for getting your child dressed? Let me know! 

Is your anxiety making you a controlling parent?

"In an uncertain world, we often feel desperate for absolutes. It's the human response to fear."

--Dr. Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly

I think all parents feel a certain amount of "am I doing this right?!" anxiety. The stakes seem so incredibly high. We don't want to mess our kids up. And lets face it, when it comes to parenting, uncertainty abounds. So, we read pregnancy or parenting books. We ask the mom whose baby is napping what her secret is. We troll blogs or Facebook looking for answers or reassurance. Basically, we just want to know that it'll be ok. That we're doing the right thing for our kids. That we're not being too permissive, or too strict, too controlling or too lax. We're always waiting to feel like we've finally got this parenting thing figured out.

For some, a certain rigidity starts to take hold, as that fear of messing up wraps it's cold tentacles around our hearts. That fear is so uncomfortable, that we start to seek absolutes, clear-cut "must do it this way or else!" methods. As if there were one right way, one trick, one secret to getting kids to nap, or to potty train them or to get them to do their homework. Somehow if we could just figure out that trick, the rest would be so much easier. So in response, we get controlling and rigid, instead of flexible and curious. And guess what results when kids feel controlled? They push back. They whine. And everything feels like more of a battle. Pretty draining, right?

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