Tag Archives: autism

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.”

Advertisements

Put On Your Oxygen Mask First

      Which way is your compass pointing?
Which way is your compass pointing?

“I have to admit that I’m suffering from a severe case of battle fatigue . . . If you work with families, please try to minimize the soul shattering disappointments you hand out . . . At least let me believe you’re trying to figure it out.”

That was the final blog post of Kelli Stapleton, who on September 3 attempted to kill herself and her autistic teenage daughter by filling their van with carbon monoxide.

Kelli Stapleton called her blog “The Status Woe,” and in it she described the despondency, frustration, and sense of hopelessness she and her husband experienced raising their daughter, who was frequently violent.

Most of us, thankfully, will never be in Kelli Stapleton’s situation, no matter how difficult the challenge of raising our kids. However, the relentless day in-day out demands of raising atypical children can be devastating to many parents’ lives.

Until recently, the emotional health of Moms or Dads has rarely been noticed, much less explored as a critical factor that affects the child’s well being. Both inside and outside of families, the attention is typically focused on the needs of the child. That’s understandable, but it is also a big mistake.

THE STRESS OF CARING FOR YOUR ATYPICAL CHILD ADDS UP

Parents tend to forget to take care of themselves; that is a fact of parenthood – but they may not notice that they are not the only ones who suffer when their emotional needs are ignored. Their children suffer too.

When parents first discover that their child is atypical, either receiving a diagnosis or a realization that their kid is ‘beyond quirky’ and will need more interventions, their instinct is to buy books about the disorder and search the Internet for everything they can find on the topic, be it ADHD, a behavior disorder, autism spectrum or a learning difference.  It doesn’t immediately occur to parents that they also need to take care of themselves and reflect on how this new information is going to affect their well being, equilibrium, outlook on life or emotional resources.  A parent’s sustained focus on the child’s well being is hardwired. We are pre-programmed to nurture and protect our offspring. The sense of self-sacrifice is built into our DNA. It is the normal, anticipated reaction, but this nurture instinct is also taken for granted.  Until parents start to burn out. And let’s face it, raising atypical children is often exhausting, discouraging and isolating.

Doctors, pediatricians, teachers, and all types of therapists all depend on parents to be the primary managers of their children’s treatment.  Like the parents themselves, these professionals seldom wonder how is the parent doing.  Often, the parent is handed a laundry list of therapies, interventions, medications or schools to try.  It’s overwhelming.

6 QUESTIONS YOU PROBABLY WON’T HEAR FROM YOUR CHILD’S  DOCTORS:
How are you doing?
How is your family holding up?
Do you need more respite care?
What resources do you have when things get too tough?
Who do you call upon for help?
How can I be of more help to you?

THE BIG IDEAS THAT NOT ENOUGH PEOPLE ARE THINKING ABOUT:

“How is this parent coping? What are the emotional ramifications of having this atypical child? Is this parent receiving enough respite care? Can I depend on this parent, or is he or she cracking under the strain? How can I help support this parent?”

Since these are the questions you probably will not hear,  parents, you must ask them yourself, and you must find the support for yourselves. It sounds like yet another job but it’s critically important.

IS IT SELFISH TO WORRY ABOUT YOUR OWN WELL BEING?

It isn’t selfish, narcissistic, or a waste of time. Your child needs to see a model of happy, competent, and optimistic parents. If they don’t see this attitude at home, where will they learn it?  It takes an enormous amount of mental resiliance to see your children through their day; it’s important to get your own needs taken care of, too!

YOUR CHILD DEPENDS ON HAVING A WELL FUNCTIONING PARENT AT THE HELM

It is entirely possible for your child to succeed in this world with ADHD, or a learning disability, or high-functioning autism, or a myriad of other disabilities!!
It is much less possible for your child to succeed with an outlook that is sad, defeated, and hopeless. We owe it to our children to work on our own mental health not only so we can be stronger people but also so we can be better parents. As they say on airplanes, “If the oxygen masks drop, put on your mask first, then help your child.” That is how you both survive.

YOUR NEW SELF CARE MENU

I believe that all parents of atypical kids need to examine their lives and start creating a self-care menu. This will be your oxygen mask, guaranteeing that you get enough air to breathe and to think clearly. Ask yourself right now, What are a few things that could make me feel more in control or make my life more tolerable? Am I making time for these things?

  • Is it the comfort of friends?
  • Is it having a night out with your girlfriends?
  • Is it getting a weekly massage?
  • Is it Saturday date night with your partner, where neither of you talk about your child?
  • Is it taking a class that has nothing to do with your child’s condition?
  • Is it talking to a sympathetic therapist or counselor on a weekly basis?
  • Is it hiring the housecleaner more often?
  • Is it a refreshing walk in nature?

Your self-care menu should include appetizers (a ten-minute walk around the block) and main courses (like the list above). These are not treats, they are sustenance!

One thing you will instantly realize is that in order to get your soul nourished on a regular basis, you will need to expand your circle of support. Seek the help of your friends, extended family, a faith-based group, or a group of parents like you. It does take a village to raise a child. In the case of atypical kids, it takes an army.

On Kelli Stapleton’s website, her friends have taken over the blog while Kelli is being held in jail without bond. (Kelli’s daughter is recovering at home with her father.) The “Friends of Kelli Stapleton” write:

We do believe Kelli deserves a fair chance to share her story—which most of [you] know has been difficult and faced with adversity from so many different angles. We hope that by bringing attention to this difficult issue, we will help those families who are in similar situations.”

Kelli Stapleton’s actions were horrific—but they were not unimaginable. The most loving and devoted parents in the world are only human. And humans need air.

Positively Atypical! is dedicated to helping parents stay positive and loving toward their children, themselves and those around them. Please forward this to any parents who might benefit.

Parents: Don’t Let Your Disappointment Defeat You

Screen Shot 2013-09-22 at 6.06.00 PMIt’s a taboo feeling you don’t dare discuss: you’re disappointed by your child.

If you are like most parents of atypical kids, you may believe you’re supposed to take your child’s atypical development in stride and be grateful for your uniquely wonderful son or daughter—regardless of the behavioral, learning, or medical challenges you have to deal with every day.

You may think you’re not allowed to feel angry, resentful, or sad.

You may try to suppress your disappointment and condemn yourself because you believe it means you’re selfish and unkind. And you may never, ever talk about your “shameful” feelings with your friends or even your partner.

But denying your feelings can be bad for your mental health and could be dangerous for your child.

A recent study found that children with disabilities are at almost double the average risk for child abuse. How is this horrible statistic possible? One reason could be that parents who do not face their own feelings about their special needs kids are more likely to take out their resentment and disappointment on the children themselves. This doesn’t always mean physical abuse. There are other more subtle ways your buried disappointment may be harming your child.

How Disappointed Parents Take It Out on Their Kids

In my practice as a neuropsychologist, I’ve witnessed lots of parents with myriads of unpleasant feelings that they aren’t ready to deal with yet. Parents may love their children and work hard to get them the best care but often, their unacknowledged feelings get in the way. Here are a few common parental emotional responses to three types of special-needs kids.

Dyslexic child and ‘fix-it’ parent. This is the parent who is accustomed to solving difficult problems at work. He comes home every evening increasingly fed up by his child, who is experiencing repeated failures at school and whose self-esteem is falling. Dad decides to fix it by reading with his child every night, thereby “teaching him how to read.” Before bed. Every night. Dyslexia requires very specific teaching methods provided by trained professionals, but Dad either doesn’t know this or refuses to believe it. He feels angry and unnerved by the apparent failure of his child—he is not used to failure and doesn’t like it. He ends up in my office wondering if his child is lazy and manipulative.

High-functioning autistic child and the socially conscious parent. The set up for disappointment is the child’s lack of social skills. While many high-functioning autistic children are smart in school, they inevitably push other kids too hard, blurt out embarrassing statements in the most inappropriate places (“Mom, my butt itches!” “Look at that fat ugly person!”), or pick their nose during school choir performance. The parent feels humiliated and angry. Parents may be unintentionally gruff with their child, lecture them, or lash out.

Developmentally delayed or low IQ child and high achieving  parent. In a family of high achievers, the arrival of a child who is cognitively delayed almost always causes some disappointment, frustration, and embarrassment. A parent may think, How does he not understand that he is acting like a two year old? Why does he persist in throwing a tantrum…or playing with nursery-age toys…or not understanding what we’re talking about at the dinner table? Parents can descend into sarcasm, anger, or physical punishment, especially when they think their child is doing these behaviors to ‘test’ or ‘tease’ their parent.

You might think these parents must be heartless, but they are not. They are typical parents engaged in raising what they had hoped would be typical children. And the feelings emerge. What to do?

5 Ways to Tackle Your Disappointment, Starting Now

You can’t pretend your way out of disappointment—your child knows you too well. Even a seriously impaired child will inevitably ask the heartbreaking question, “Mommy, why are you so mad at me?” But there are actions you can take today to come to terms with your feelings and learn how to manage them.

1. Be honest with yourself—and then talk about it.

Examine yourself, and be totally honest. Do I harbor anger, resentment, disappointment, or embarrassment about my child? Many parents do—dig deeper if you can’t find it. Remember the cancelled ski trip? The tantrum at the neighbor’s birthday party? Find a confidante and talk about your feelings. (Make sure it is someone you really trust, because this could become fodder for gossip.) Better yet, schedule a few sessions with a therapist. The therapist can guide you toward self-discovery and suggest healthy outlets for your feelings, along with ways to rejuvenate. There are many low fee or no fee therapy centers so it needn’t place another financial burden on you.  But it can help a lot.

2. Find out more about your child’s strengths and limitations.

Many parents are better able to calm their emotional responses after they read a full diagnostic assessment that includes their child’s strengths as well as limitations. Learning more about your child’s condition may help you adjust your expectations, recognize signs of progress, and manage your emotions.  If you are not satisfied with your current evaluation, seek a second opinion. Hopefully, you will be helped by a professional that can offer you more than cookie cutter recommendations and can provide true insight.

3. Every night, think of one thing that makes you proud of your child.

Think about it before going to bed. Remember, you will need to think about that one thing the next day (maybe a lot). I’m sure your child has many things to be proud of. Start thinking about one thing at a time, and the list will grow.

4. Find a support group in your area.

Whether your child’s condition is rare or commonplace, there are support groups for almost everything. Many parents find that learning to commiserate, laugh, cry and share stories is the most healing therapy.

5. Know when to get help.

If you feel that your emotions or your spouse/partner/shared caretaker’s emotions get out of control, or you worry when reading this that you have crossed the red line into abusive behavior with your child, GET HELP NOW. Do not continue to avoid the need to take care of your feelings in order to help your child. Talk with a therapist or start with www.childhelp.org for more information.

Positively Atypical! is dedicated to helping parents stay positive and loving toward their children, themselves and those around them. Please forward this to any parents who might benefit.