Category Archives: Parenting

13 Ways To Beat Stress In 15 Minutes Or Less

This was published in Huffington Post (9/19/14).  As parents of atypical children need to monitor and manage their stress, these tips are good reminders.  Read on for stress busting recommendations.


By Yelena Shuster

Ever felt like you just can’t unwind after a demanding week? That’s because stress triggers your body’s fight or flight response: your adrenaline starts pumping, your heart beats faster, and your blood pressure rises, explains Ash Nadkarni, M.D., an associate psychiatrist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital. “Long-term overexposure to stress hormones can cause increased risk of health problems such as anxiety, depression, heart disease, weight gain, and memory and concentration problems,” Dr. Nadkarni adds.

That’s not exactly a relaxing thought. So what should you do when calming classics like downward-facing dog and chamomile tea don’t work? Check out these alternative ways to de-stress recommended by experts and recent studies.

Wake up early.
waking up

It may feel counterintuitive to deprive yourself of sleep, but giving yourself an extra 15 to 20 minutes before you head out the door will leave you feeling more refreshed — and less frazzled. “Take time in the morning to center yourself,” says San Francisco-based psychologist Leslie Carr, Psy.D. “A lot of people shoot out into their days like a rocket ship and it never gets better from there.”

Consider that caffeine takes 20 minutes to be metabolized for you to feel its effect. During that time, think about your goals for the day or read something inspirational. You might find that your normally crazy day goes a little smoother.

Create a soothing space.
Research suggests that warm colors like red excite you and cooler, muted colors like blue, green, or grey relax you, says Molly Roberts, M.D., president of the American Holistic Medical Association — but surrounding yourself in any color you find soothing can help bring on calm. “The theory behind the use of color therapy is that colors enter the eyes, which then send messages along the nerve pathways to the area of the brain that regulates emotion,” Roberts says. “There are a lot of ways to surround yourself with colors that can ease stress throughout the day.” Her suggestions: at home, paint an accent wall; and at the office, drape a soothing-colored scarf over the back of your chair and change your computer screensaver.

Clean out your junk drawers.
When you’re feeling emotionally drained, chances are whipping out your Swiffer is the last thing you want to do. But the truth is, tidying up your home can also tidy up your mind. “Having a mindset of de-cluttering helps to manage stress,” says Lauren Napolitano, Psy.D., a psychologist at Bryn Mawr Hospital in Pennsylvania. “Purging unused items gives a sense of order to your physical environment, which helps you feel calmer about your stressors.” She suggests starting with a small project, like your kitchen junk drawer. “Tangible or visible organization leads to emotional organization,” Napolitano says. If you’re ready to take it up a notch, schedule monthly donation pickups with Goodwill to keep yourself in the de-cluttering habit.

Visualize your stressful thoughts.
mindfulness

Your coworker just threw you under the bus. Your husband forgot to walk the dog. When it’s that kind of day, try thought diffusion, “a sort of visual mindfulness meditation, a way to sweep out whatever is buzzing around unhelpfully in your head,” says Erin Olivo, Ph.D., an assistant professor of medical psychology at Columbia University and author of Wise Mind Living: Master Your Emotions, Transform Your Life.

Here’s how it works: Imagine your thoughts are like clouds in the sky, and let them drift by above you. “When you begin to observe your thoughts as mental objects that simply come and go, they become less unpleasant, less threatening and less emotionally powerful,” Olivo says.

Watch cat videos.
There’s a reason Buzzfeed links are popping up all over your newsfeed. There’s nothing that will relieve some tension like watching a baby masterfully dancing to Beyonce or a cat riding a Roomba in a shark costume.

“After a stressful day, looking at these funny things actually activates the part of the brain that delivers tranquility and a calm physiological response,” says Rose Hanna, a relationship counselor and professor of psychology and women’s studies at California State University Long Beach. “This decreases anxiety and helps tremendously with reducing stress.”

Sing your heart out.
The next time you’re feeling strung out, start belting it out. As sound reverberates through the body, your mind relaxes, whether singing in a chorus or meditatively chanting om, says Rita Eichenstein, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Towers in Los Angeles.

Singing has even been found to reduce levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body, and one case study revealed that singing prior to surgery reduced blood pressure (more research is needed). Not ready to unleash your inner Rihanna? Start by singing in the shower. “Singing tunes you love brings up positive memories and takes your mind off the stressors,” Eichenstein says.

Start a scrapbook.
organize

We’ll admit it: stickers and colored construction paper seem so kindergarten. But getting in touch with your crafty side has mental health benefits. Think of it as your adult playtime. “Scrapbooking helps you focus, which diverts you away from stressful and difficult emotions, and also helps you feel connected to the people you’re scrapbooking about,” says Nina Savelle-Rocklin, Psy.D., a Los Angeles-based psychotherapist. And no, Pinterest boards don’t count. “There’s something about the tactile element of scrapbooking — cutting, pasting, positioning — that is probably more relaxing that posting online,” Savelle-Rocklin adds.

Pick up a physical hobby.
If scrapbooking isn’t your thing, try to find another activity to occupy your time. “What stress does to someone’s mind is flood it with thoughts,” explains Nadkami. “All of these thoughts knock about your head and they make you feel overwhelmed.” Sound familiar? The best way to stop the stress spiral is by refocusing your mind on one thought: Gardening focuses you on the physical feeling of the soil that you can hold in your hands. Knitting concentrates your thoughts on the predictability of loops of yarn. “The important thing is that you channel your energy into one thing and this, in turn, relaxes your mind by eliminating all of the distracting stresses,” says Nadkarni.

Clench your muscles (then release).
This technique was developed in the 1930’s and has been recommended ever since. “The idea behind progressive muscle relaxation is to first create muscle tension, then relaxation, to provide physical relief. A relaxed body often leads to a relaxed mind,” says Savelle-Rocklin.

Start by getting into a comfortable position, like lying down in loose clothing. Tense and relax each muscle group for five seconds at a time, starting with your forehead, then moving down to your eyes, lips, hands, forearms, shoulders, back, stomach, hips, thighs, feet and, finally, your toes. If any muscle remains tense after the sequence, tighten and relax it three or four times. Massage, shmassage.

Take deep breaths.
guy relaxed

No matter if you’re checking out in the supermarket or waiting to pick up your kids from school, take one minute to breathe deeply through your nose into your abdomen, says Roswell, Georgia-based physical therapist Samuel A. Mielcarski. He advises resting your hands over your lower ribcage or abdomen to help cue deeper breathing. “Breathing fully and deeply into the abdomen brings about a sense of calm because more oxygen is getting delivered to the body’s cells, which helps the body to relax,” explains Olivo. “This type of breathing also helps to increase what is known as the ‘relaxation response,’ which is connected to the parasympathetic nervous system involved with calming the body.”

Write mental thank you notes.
Change the course of your stressful thoughts with a form of cognitive behavioral therapy, suggests marriage and family therapist Alisa Ruby Bash, who practices in Beverly Hills, California. “Before stress gets worse, it’s so important to learn to harness your thoughts,” she says. “For example, when you notice the tension in your body, picture a big red stop sign. Immediately switch your thinking to start mentally focusing on all the things you are grateful for. Look around you to include anything you find beautiful or pleasant in your present moment.” Store a gratitude list on your smartphone so you can reference it any time things get hectic.

Feel your pressure points.
You’re stuck in traffic and feeling like you’re going to explode. Time to try pressure point therapy, a form of acupuncture you can practice on your own. “Pressure to certain points on the body can help to release muscular tension and promote blood circulation,” says Mielcarski. It’s easiest to start with the Third Eye Point, the space between your eyebrows where the bridge of your nose meets your forehead. Place your middle and index finger on it and hold the position for one to two minutes using gentle to firm pressure.

Smell the roses.
roses

Research is mixed on scent therapy, but anyone who’s sniffed a bouquet of roses or breathed in the smell of the ocean knows that certain scents can be soothing. Brooklyn-based therapist and social worker La Shawn M. Paul recommends adding a few drops of your favorite scent to coconut oil after a relaxing bath so that the scent can linger longer. “It is believed that once inhaled, the scents alter the mood by stimulating various parts of the brain associated with emotion,” Paul says. Or try a scent that reminds you of nature, suggests Napolitano. “Smells like salt water or fresh rain are especially calming because they help you to think of life outside of your current stressor.”

What To Do When You’re At the End of Your Rope

by Rita Eichenstein, Ph.D. Reprinted from NY Metro Magazine November 21, 2013

As parents, we all have meltdowns now and then. Dr. Rita Eichenstein suggests key ways to deal with stress and frustration that will help you avoid the “end of the rope” and help you and your family feel happier.

5857078_s   Parents of kids with special needs don’t often think about how to take care of themselves. Instead, they’re constantly planning: If I can just get my kid bathed, fed, and in bed, I’ll be okay…. If I can just get through the parent-teacher meeting…. If I can just get my kid to the tutor… This single-minded focus on their child’s needs is understandable, but they don’t take into account how the stress wears on them. Then suddenly they’re shouting at their spouse, yanking their howling child by the arm, or sitting on the bathroom floor weeping. They are at the end of their rope, and it is a sad and scary place to be.

The best way to deal with being at the end of your rope is not to get there in the first place—more on that later. For now, here are two strategies that will help you calm down and refocuswhen you feel yourself nearing the edge.

1. Call for backup. They say it takes a village to raise a child. With a child who has special needs, it takes an army. Have a code word you can use with your partner that automatically buys you 15 minutes of alone time to cool down. If you’re a single parent, have a close neighbor or two agree to take your child for 15 minutes. Everyone needs a backup buddy—if you don’t have one, now is the time to compile your designated buddy list.

2. Use the S.T.O.P. technique. Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D., author of The Now Effect, popularized this technique of mindful awareness. I’ve found that it helps overwrought parents pause their spiraling behavior and reset it.

Stop what you are doing or about to do, and just take a moment to breathe and reflect.

Take a deep breath. Breathe in and out; use your breath as an anchor and become mindful of trying to slow it all down.

Observe your body, emotions, and thoughts. Scan your body and notice any sensations. Don’t judge them. Just notice them. Next, how are you feeling emotionally? Frustrated? Irritated? Let it be okay.

Proceed. Ask yourself what is the most important thing to pay attention to right now. Mindfully proceed with a prioritized and calm action.

 How to Avoid the End of the Rope

All parents occasionally lose control of their emotions—that’s normal. The goal, then, is to limit the number of times it happens. That’s tricky, because the very things that make a person resistant to meltdowns are scarce in the lives of parents: nutritious meals, exercise, and enough sleep. Parents tend to see these as luxuries from a bygone era, like those lovely Sunday mornings with the newspaper. Not so—healthy food, exercise, and sleep are absolute necessities. They are the fuel that enables you to be a tolerant and loving parent. Reaching the end of your rope is a psychological reaction to physiological stress. To avoid it, you must give your body what it needs to function better.

Even if your days of working out at the gym are on hold and fine restaurant meals are a distant memory, there are changes you can make that will instantly improve your mood and resilience.

Eat a high-protein breakfast. No sugar-packed smoothies or coffee and a granola bar. The old standard still works best: eggs, whole-wheat toast, fruit such as apple or banana, and bacon or sausage if you’re so inclined.See 4 other quick and balanced breakfast ideas

Notice how caffeine affects you. I’m not telling you to give up coffee, but do notice how it makes you feel. If you’re too caffeinated, it can jettison all your good intentions and push you to a massive emotional overreaction.

Love the body you’re in, but keep it moving. You probably do a good deal of walking every day. You can walk in a tense, hunched-up way, thinking about what you need to do next, or you can be in the moment—swing your arms and breathe in the air, and use it to get in a few moments of exhilarating movement.

See a sleep specialist if your child’s sleep problems are keeping you awake. Specialists can provide personalized plans for infants or even older children.

If your own insomnia is ruining your nights, turn off the screens (computer, cell, TV) an hour before bedtime. Cuddle with your kid or your partner instead. Physical touch (it doesn’t have to be sex) releases the feel-good chemical oxytocin, which will relax you.

Don’t hate yourself for melting down now and then. We’ve all been there! But if you can change the way you deal with your meltdowns and fortify yourself against them, everyone in your family will be happier for it—especially you.

 

Talking about Those Winter Blues

Does your child's mood affect everyone in the home?
Does your child’s mood affect everyone in the home?

It is the season of the blues. Whether it is caused by lack of sunlight, too little outdoor time or post-holiday season let-down, many people are starting to feel down in the dumps – right about now. It’s not just adults, but kids too. In fact, kids can begin to feel particularly edgy as winter progresses. There may be lots of reasons for that, but I want to look at how a child’s mood can affect your mood as a parent.
Parents are like most other adults: they are subject to bouts of happiness or sadness, euphoria or depression, optimism or despondency. However unlike adults without children, parents are more likely to feel these emotions based on how their children are feeling.

As the expression goes, ‘you are only as happy as your least happy child.’

When your child is struggling, it’s hard to not let it get you down.  It’s only natural to be upset by seeing the challenges that your atypical child encounters daily.  But if you let it affect your mood, then you can’t help your child regulate his or her moods, right? Grouchy kid, grouchy mom? Not a good combination.  You have to be at your best,  so that you can help your child learn how to regulate their moods and their mental outlook.  We naturally help children self regulate; one way is by  modeling encouraging self talk:  “you can do it!” or “it’s going to be ok, just relax”, or “it will only hurt for a minute, you can handle it”, these are important prompts to help encourage kids to model appropriate reactions.

But what happens when your mood becomes so submerged with your child’s mood   that you can’t distinguish your bad mood from their bad mood? Does this mean that your own mood regulator is broken or simply you have lost the divider between what is your own mood and your child’s mood?

Separating your mood state from that of your child is important. Adults often submerge their individual identities as they raise children, they become “a family 24/7” rather than an individual in a family. This is partially a normal response but it can go too far.

Here is an example: you are on a double date with another couple and you haven’t  been out with adult company for months.  You want to enjoy yourself but you can’t because you keep remembering your child’s morose face when you left and you keep ruminating on how much homework he has and wondering if he is able to do it without you and if she was able to eat dinner without you monitoring and if they are going to get to bed, it’s a school night and they can’t be tired tomorrow morning…….and on your brain runs, unable to enjoy your adult company and special time away from your kids.

Because what happens next is that when your kid has a bad day, your mood plummets like a stone down the well. When your mood becomes dependent on whether or not Timmy has had a good day or bad day, you lose the ability to be the anchor to the family instead of a reactor. And atypical children often have moods that need to be managed, not reacted to.

Parents, work on your mood tune-up!

It is important that parents find their emotional set-point apart from how their children are doing. That way, you remember that you are still YOU, and not just your kid’s mother or father.  This will come in handy both in helping your child self regulate as well as keeping you with one foot firmly planted in your individual life as a grown up person.

5 Quick and Easy Mood Tune-Up Tips

1. Listen to a happy tune:  Research has shown that people who listen to cheerful music can improve their mood.  Listening to music actually improves people’s moods  so turn that radio dial to a happy music station!

2. Smile:  the physical act of smiling has also been shown to improve mood.  Even fake smiles reduce stress. Studies by Paul Eckman and other researchers has shown that smilers exhibited lower heart rate levels after a stressful activity than non-smilers. So even if you aren’t feelin it, paste that smile on your face!

3. Do good:  do something good for someone else. Even a small gesture, such as giving a coin to a homeless person has been shown to lift a person’s mood.  Try it for yourself and see.

4. Do good for yourself: when is the last time you took a moment to treat yourself?  No, I don’t mean that bag of chocolate chip cookies. Maybe invite a friend out for coffee or excuse yourself after dinner to go for a long walk. Alone.

 5. Shake it up: exercise raises your natural endorphin levels.  The link between exercise and mood is well researched. Studies show that within five minutes after moderate moving produce a better mood.  Too cold to go outside? Turn up the radio and dance! Even for a few minutes will raise the mood barometer.

The Best Gift of All

Courtesy of Ikar, Los Angeles
Courtesy of Ikar, Los Angeles

THE BEST GIFT OF ALL

Now that the gifts are unpacked and family celebrations are winding down, is it possible to include an often overlooked dimension to this winter season?

This might be the right time to introduce to your child an extra awareness of the world around us and to cultivate your own version of spirituality.  Recent research has found that children who are more spiritual are happier – and healthier.  This doesn’t necessarily mean typical religious practices but the research included qualities such as a child’s sense of personal meaning and their sense of basic values as kindness towards others, altruism, meaningful relationships and volunteering.  All of these things, the research found, were associated with a spiritual life and ‘enhanced well being.’

It is often said that children are more open to spirituality than adults who have become hurried, cynical or just too busy to consider adding a spiritual dimension to the day.  But children also need to be exposed to the possibility of expanding their consciousness outward, not just downward into the face of an ipad tablet, but outward to notice the gifts of nature and the wonder of living a life that transcends the material world.

When we elevate our children’s sense of wonder, we also open the possibility of having a child who just might be more contented, less hyperactive and more open to other types of  thinking that is not found automatically from living in the grind of the daily routine or found on TV.

Children who are atypical are often more vulnerable to the commercial influence of the shopping ‘gotta have it’ culture.  And parents of atypical kids are more stressed, and more invested in trying to make their children happy so they also may buy into the culture of ‘more’ while forgetting that there is another side to life.

Yet, just as spirituality is good for kids, it is also good for you, the parent. Even the most secular and least religiously affiliated parent can consider the possibility of connecting children to forces outside their own sense of self.  When we experience living as connected to the world as a whole, rather than the “me-me-me dimension” ,  lives become enriched.  Consider, for example, how you might feel after a morning volunteering at a homeless shelter rather than another trip to the local mall?

Providing perspective on life is important, especially for atypical children who are struggling in their own way and are confronted with a great deal of inner stress.  In this season of wonder and change for the new year, consider the possibility of adding an extra dimension to your life as well as that of your children.

5 tips to cultivating spirituality in yourself and in your children.

  1. Gratitude –   give thanks before you eat, not just for the food but for everything that allowed the meal to get to the table.  The farmer, the store, the truck that brought the food and the blessing of being in a country that has food in abundance. Get in the habit of pointing out your blessings, from the big things to the little things we all take for granted.  Children will learn what they see, and gratitude will help a child be more sensitive and appreciative.
  2. Practice wonder – a mindful contemplation.  Experiment with having a moment of silence and pay attention to how you are feeling.  Do this with your children.  Report to each other how it felt to be silent and what you were thinking and feeling.  You can do this before before bedtime, including breathing and stillness as a practice.
  3. Helping others – practicing kindness and giving are experiences that children can learn to model.  Volunteer as a family or just perform random acts of kindness, such as helping an older person open the door or take their groceries to the car for them.  It can open conversations for children that would not occur otherwise.
  4. Connect with nature – consider spending your evening with a contemplative walk outside and appreciating the stars.  Experience along with your child  a walk in the forest or a picnic at the beach. Take the time to look at the shore, the waves and the sky and point out details that might get overlooked. Consider the snowflakes as being unique and draw parallels to your unique child.  By having these conversations, you are exercising your child’s ‘spiritual muscle’ and are building more calm and resilient children as well enriching your self.
  5. Provide a spiritual role model – If you don’t feel like you can be a positive spiritual role model, try to find one for your child.  This will help your child connect outward and learn from others a more purposeful and positive outlook.

For more information on building spirituality in children, visit these websites:

www.Spiritualityforkids.com

http://www.livescience.com/3198-spirituality-religion-kids-happy.html

http://www.amazon.com/Spiritual-Life-Children-Robert-Coles/dp/0395599237

Learn How to Play with Your Child: Support for Surviving Winter Break

Keep play simple!
Keep play simple!

Everyone deserves a break from their daily routine. That includes both parents as well as children.  For atypical kids, it’s especially refreshing to be released – if only for a few weeks – from the regimen of school, tutors, therapies and commitments.  It is also a time for parents to refresh their relationship with their children.  Too often, parents end up feeling like drill sergeants, marching their kids from one activity to the next, day after day of the unforgiving lineup of  daily activities.  Winter break is a time to replenish your bond with your child, to change hats from drill sergeant to an attuned parent who can actually engage, have fun  and  creating lasting memories.

“I HAVE NO CLUE HOW TO HAVE FUN WITH THIS CHILD”

How to play with your child  can be tricky. How does a parent suddenly switch hats, and rebound from their own sense of burnout in order to have a few great weeks of bonding time?  The simple release from daily activities is insufficient, in fact, some  kids can feel rudderless without their daily routine and don’t know what to do with themselves.  Parents, too, have often lost the art of play as they have slid into adulthood with its myriad of responsibilities, deadlines and managing little one’s temper tantrums.  Atypical kids are notorious for having difficulty with ‘typical’ fun activities, either from sensory overload, a preference for their own comfort zone or fear of the unknown.  If you are a parent of an atypical child, you know all too well the disappointment from previous attempts as ‘having fun’.

DON’T FAKE IT 

Here is an article in the Christian Science Monitor in which I and other professionals and parents discuss the options available to rediscover your sense of play.  In short, you can’t fake it.  Your child knows you well enough to know if you feel awkward playing catch or find a video game monotonous.  Finding an activity that both you and your child mutually enjoy together can become a cherished memory. It doesn’t have to be Disneyland or a trip around the world to click.  Sometimes, a mindful walk through the park picking leaves can be bonding, nourishing and…. fun!

KEEP IT FUN, KEEP IT SIMPLE, AND GET IN TOUCH WITH YOUR INNER PLAYFULNESS

Read on for more tips on learning how to play with your child and how to keep it fun and simple:

http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Family/2013/1216/Parents-and-play-re-learning-to-play-with-your-kids