Dr. Laura's Meaningful Psychological Services
Dr. Laura's Meaningful Psychological Services
Online Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, Mindfulness, CBIT, ERP, CBT-I, Behavior Consultation, and Treatment for Anxiety and Insomnia
Laura Van Schaick-Harman, Psy.D., BC-TMH
Ted Lasso: Part Two
|Posted on November 29, 2021 at 4:20 PM|
As promised, this is the next part of my review and recommendation of the series Ted Lasso. As usual, I will do my best to avoid spoilers. If you haven’t read the first part, you can access it here: https://meaningfulpsychservices.blogspot.com/2021/10/ted-lasso.html
The show Ted Lasso depicts a realistic experience with mental health issues, including (but not limited to) attachment, depression, anxiety, marital conflicts, and panic. We see the development of symptoms, the outpouring of support as well as the betrayal of rejection. We see the work of destigmatizing mental illness. We see the simultaneous love and hatred from others. We witness the never-ending effort yet inevitable failure to please everyone and make people like us. We see loneliness, redemption, and the quest for revenge. My favorite aspect is the development and maturity of several characters. In this respect, we see enemies become friends, hard hearts softened, and trust developed.
Ted Lasso is a worthy watch. I am eager to see what will happen in the future with these characters and themes!
Exposure is Important
|Posted on February 23, 2021 at 2:05 PM|
There are many opportunities for challenging your anxiety in everyday life. Many of you who have suffered with anxiety or OCD already know this because you see how often you encounter a trigger either at work, at school, in the store, on your phone, or on your TV screen. When anxiety rises in response, your first reaction may be to avoid the trigger. You look away from a scene, change the channel, turn the other direction, leave a store, avoid going to school, or leave work early. When you avoid, you may feel immediate relief and thus interpret that situation as something you needed to escape or avoid for your own safety. While you may feel better in the moment, you will still feel anxiety when faced with the trigger in the future. Avoidance reinforces anxiety in this way. The best way to manage anxiety when it takes hold is to work through it and not avoid it. This means saying: “I am scared, but I am going to do it anyway. I can do something that is hard and scary.” When you challenge anxiety, you will grow and learn to respond to anxiety provoking situations in a healthier way. You will learn to delay getting that relief that comes from immediate escape to get the healthier, enduring relief of healthy management of anxiety that comes from exposing yourself to challenging situations.
It is important to remember that anxiety is a valuable and a much-needed biological response. Before you decide to practice exposure, decide if your anxiety is giving you important information about getting to safety because you are actually in or about to be in danger (e.g., getting in the car with a drunk driver) or if you are dealing with excessive anxiety that is trying to prevent you from living in a meaningful way (e.g., calling a friend on the phone). Listen to your anxiety to keep you safe when in danger and stand up to it when it is sending you false alarms.
Remember that a psychologist can help you in this journey. Reaching out for help is a form of exposure too!
I hope you grow and do something that is scary!
Breathing As a Skill
|Posted on November 24, 2020 at 12:10 AM|
Deep breathing is an essential skill for relaxation and calming down anxiety. While we are breathing all the time, we often take shallow breaths or hold our breath for brief periods of time. Breathing this way can lead to higher anxiety. We are living during a stressful time and many people are reporting increased levels of anxiety. Changing the way we breathe can make a big difference. Take a look at this article with some ideas to help breathe better:
Election Related Stress
|Posted on October 30, 2020 at 12:15 AM|
Many people have expressed an increase in anxiety and stress related to the upcoming election.
This month, I am sharing some resources to help manage anxiety during this unique time.
Fear: A powerful motivator in elections
Presidential Election Anxiety and the Role of Psychiatry
2020 Presidential Election a Source of Significant Stress for More Americans than 2016 Presidential Race
If you feel you need additional support, seek the help of a mental health professional.
|Posted on September 30, 2020 at 4:30 PM|
With social media, TV, apps, e-mail, news articles, and mail, we can easily become overloaded with information. If left unchecked, we could have the news running all day in the background or fall into a rabbit hole of social media “doomscrolling.” For a more detailed look at this new phrase, read the Merriam Webster definition and origin (http://https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/doomsurfing-doomscrolling-words-were-watching).
Headlines are designed to grab our attention and ignite an emotional reaction. They are written to try and convince us that we need to know more and read on or watch longer. When we keep engaging with the information, we may experience a reaction because we strongly agree or disagree. We may feel a strong sense of needing to know. We may start applying what we read or see to our own life. Before we know it, we are scrolling and scrolling or watching and watching and time for more meaningful activities is passing by.
Information overload can lead to increased anxiety and stress. Here are some strategies to help manage this.
Allow yourself a designated amount of time per day or week for consumption of current events.
Access Trusted Resources
Find a reputable resource for unbiased and accurate information.
Find the Primary Source
This one is difficult but helpful and important. As best you can, trace back reported information to the original source.
Read Alternative Viewpoints
Learn about different perspectives to help more fully understand a situation.
Focus on Information Seeking Not on Reassurance Seeking
There is a difference between learning new information to advance knowledge and compulsively seeking confirmation or disconfirmation for reassurance.
Managing Anxiety with Relaxation and Mindfulness
|Posted on July 29, 2020 at 1:05 PM|
In this time of uncertainty, there is understandably heightened anxiety and stress. One healthy way of managing anxiety is with relaxation exercises and mindfulness practices. Here are some of my favorites:
Lake Meditation https://palousemindfulness.com/meditations/lake.html
Loving Kindness Meditation https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/loving_kindness_meditation
Soften, Soothe, Allow https://palousemindfulness.com/meditations/soften-soothe-allow.html
Progressive Muscle Relaxation https://stme.in/uTFO1pExkk
Deep Breathing https://stme.in/4p5E3q0mFn
I encourage you to give some a try. Take care of yourself.
Resource for COVID-19 Coping
|Posted on April 27, 2020 at 10:30 AM|
How are you doing and coping? I hope you are prioritizing self-care, having some fun, and staying healthy. This month I am sharing an excellent and detailed resource for coping with a variety of mental health challenges related to COVID-19, social distancing guidelines and recent changes in our daily schedules. I am hopeful that this resource will be helpful and supportive.
Holiday Coping Resources
|Posted on December 23, 2019 at 11:50 AM|
The holiday season can be merry, fun, and joyful for some people and depressing, anxiety provoking, and stressful for others. There are so many dynamics with family, friends, and activities at work. Here are some interesting articles about coping with some common cause of holiday stress.
https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/managing-holiday-stress-stressed" target="_blank">Managing Holiday Stress for the Stressed
https://positiveprescription.com/improve-your-business-negotiation-skills-or-just-get-along-better-with-your-family/" target="_blank">Feasting Together Can Help You Succeed in Business and Life
https://positiveprescription.com/the-paradox-of-the-perfectly-wrapped-present/" target="_blank">The Paradox of the Perfectly Wrapped Present
https://meaningfulpsychservices.blogspot.com/2018/12/let-your-heart-be-light.html" target="_blank">Let Your Heart Be Light
https://meaningfulpsychservices.blogspot.com/2015/" target="_blank">Just Be
https://meaningfulpsychservices.blogspot.com/2013/" target="_blank">Helpful Strategies for Celebrating with Special Needs
Wait it Out
|Posted on November 25, 2019 at 2:35 PM|
Have you suffered from an anxiety disorder? Have you experienced a panic attack before? Have you felt like anxiety would never end?
Feeling anxious is incredibly uncomfortable. You may feel sweaty. You may feel that you are not getting enough air in. You may feel sick. You may feel like your heart is racing. You may feel a tight chest, tingly hands, or sweaty palms. You may think this will never end. You may think you’re dying. You may think that something has gone terribly wrong with your body.
Anxiety is a normal human emotion. We all experience anxious feelings during our lives. Anxiety is supposed to show up when we are in danger, such as being chased by a mountain lion or driving during a white-out blizzard. Anxiety is also supposed to show up when we need to be motivated to prepare for something, such as a test, job interview, or meeting someone new.
Anxiety becomes problematic when it shows up and we are not in danger or needing to be prepared. Anxiety is problematic when it shows up in a very loud and excessive, noisy way disproportionate to the situation (for example, having your mind “go blank” when taking a test).
One of the best things you can do to cope with anxiety is to just let it be.
Wait it out.
Anxiety will not last forever. It is temporary.
One of the best ways I have seen this described was on a recent episode of This is Us. Real anxiety symptoms and panic attacks have been depicted on this show. One of the characters disclosed how he suffered from anxiety and how his mom helped him. His mother would pour seltzer into a cup and say that this represents anxiety. All he had to do was wait for the bubbles to settle.
Wait for the bubble to settle. Wait for the anxiety to pass. It will- that is how your body was designed.
Of course, anxiety can pass quicker if you use other coping skills such as deep breathing or telling yourself you’re not in danger. The key here- it passes even if you do nothing.
So, just wait.
When to Worry About Your Child's Worry
|Posted on August 19, 2019 at 3:45 PM|
Will you pick me up on time?
Can I sleep in your bed?
Am I going to get sick from touching that?
Are monsters real?
Do I have to go to school?
Has your child asked you one or more of these questions? These are examples of worries that are being communicated to a parent. How do we know which are normal and expected worries and which are excessive and disruptive? How should we respond to worries? Does my child need therapy?
For answers to these questions and detailed background information about anxiety, which is a normal human emotion, and anxiety disorders in children, watch this webinar for parents: https://adaa.org/webinar/consumer/when-worry-about-your-childs-worry
Wishing you all a healthy and brave start to the school year!
Do You Have Weeds in Your Life?
|Posted on July 22, 2019 at 3:40 PM|
We have weeds. Big, thick, and tall weeds. I have tried mulch, landscape fabric, and sprays, and it helps a good amount. This year, I thought I finally did it. No weeds! Yay!
I was wrong. After a few weeks, I saw the evidence. A few weeds either survived or new ones navigated their way through a tiny opening in the mulch and fabric. Untamed and free, they grow and grow to be thick and full and push out our pretty sunflowers attempting to grow.
Back to the drawing board...I think I will try to de-root the surviving weeds next and see if that helps.
Do you have any weeds in your life? Are you suppressing negative feelings? Are you avoiding taking risks to grow? Are you letting weeds grow wild? Are you forgetting to nurture your flowers?
Is anxiety, depression, anger, or jealousy taking over your life?
If your life feels full of weeds, look for the flowers trying to grow. Get at the root of the weeds and challenge yourself to face the scary and negative feelings. You may need to try different strategies to see what works best for you.
If needed, seek the support of a psychologist. We can help!
The Secret Life of Pets 2
|Posted on June 24, 2019 at 5:35 AM|
Do you believe the world is a terrible and frightening place? Are you nervous each time you go to a new place? Do you stress when your children separate from you? Are you scared to take risks? Do you have trouble relaxing?
These are just a few of the elements depicted in the new The Secret Life of Pets movie.
I won’t give you any spoilers in this post, so don’t worry!
Easier said than done, right? Worry is so common and a hard behavior to break. However, it is very treatable and it is possible to live a more worry-free life.
The Secret Life of Pets 2 depicts how anxiety can develop, how we can be overprotective of our loved ones, and how we can make our world really small. The movie also shows how important and beneficial challenging worries can be.
If you are a parent, child, or just movie-going lover, go ahead and see this movie. Then challenge yourself to face a fear!
|Posted on March 27, 2019 at 12:00 AM|
Reassurance seeking is a common anxiety symptom that both children and adults exhibit. When we feel anxious, it is a generally uncomfortable feeling, so we will want to try different things to alleviate the discomfort. One very common method is seeking reassurance to help calm the anxiety or worry.
Reassurance seeking can be done verbally or through physical behaviors.
Here are some verbal examples:
“Am I going to be ok?”
“Do you think she heard me?”
"Should I send this e-mail?”
“Do you think I sounded ok?”
“Are you sure you will be there to pick me up?”
Here are some behavioral examples:
Re-reading e-mails after they are sent
Replaying conversations in mind
Looking up health problems online
Checking to see if the door is locked
Seeking reassurance will help us feel better quickly if we receive the answer we want. How can this be a problem? Well, when we engage in seeking reassurance excessively (more than once), we are reinforcing anxiety.
There is a difference between reassurance seeking and information seeking. When we seek information, we are learning about a new topic, illness, schedule, plan, routine within an appropriate boundary.
For example, if your child is asking what time you will be picking them up from the birthday party because they forgot or they haven’t been told yet, this is not considered reassurance seeking. This is information seeking. If, however, your child presents with anxiety (possibly separation or social anxiety) and he/she is asking you what time they will be picked up multiple times and if you will remember to get them, this is reassurance seeking.
What do we do?
We limit seeking to information from approved and appropriate resources (e.g., avoiding misleading websites and forums). We limit re-playing conversations and re-reading messages, to once or not at all once originally checked. We stop asking others to participate in reinforcing our anxiety. For parents, make a plan with your child to discuss how the questions will be answered. We set a goal to answer each question only once so we can teach the child to learn to seek only information, but not extra reassurance.
There is so much to discuss around this topic. Let me know if you have questions or additional thoughts!
|Posted on February 21, 2019 at 12:25 AM|
Have you been swept up by the KonMari method and reorganizing your entire house yet? About 6 weeks ago, my husband and I decided to try this new show on Netflix that follows a professional organizing consultant author who helps people get their possessions in order. This was purely for entertainment, but my personality loves to learn and pay attention to the method behind the madness.
I don’t want to spoil the series or the books or your interest in learning more, so I will try to focus on KonMari elements that spoke to me personally and professionally.
I was hooked after the first few minutes of the first episode. What followed was interesting. I learned new ways of folding, storing, organizing, and choosing what to save. I was most struck by the idea of simplifying life. For many people, living a more simplified life seems out of reach. Marie Kondo provided me some very practical, simple, easy to implement strategies that have helped simplify so much. As a psychologist, this idea makes so much sense and helps reduce stress and anxiety.
Specifically, KonMari advocates for a “one look” strategy. This means that when we open a drawer or cabinet, we can see everything in an organized way, access items easily, and know what we have and what we don’t. This helps prevent us from purchasing items we already own (which many of us have done!).
I am really interested in seeing how this method may help parents and children. So many families report feeling overwhelmed by toys. Have you ever said or thought something like this: “but you have so many things to do choose from, why are you bored/upset/mad?” to your kids? Kids can learn to organize and fold using these strategies as well. My 4-year-old can happily help with laundry and my 18-month-old can clean up some toys according to categories. It is important for children to be a part of the day-to-day household tasks, have responsibility for their belongings, and not be entertained all day (I.e., be bored and use their imagination).
Let’s look at the importance of simplifying our bedrooms and playrooms, our schedules and agendas, and ultimately, our choices.
Personally, I have re-discovered some possessions that still bring me joy. I have felt good about donating items to organizations that help people who may be in need of just the item that no longer brings me joy. I emptied multiple storage tubs that were holding items that I don’t need, would be better as a blessing for someone else, or were not doing me much good being hidden in a tub. My oldest son helped me to label a lot of items, which helps us to identify what is what and also teaches word recognition.
Consider trying out an episode or read Marie Kondo’s book. Maybe you will discover something very helpful!
Can You Escape in Time?
|Posted on April 11, 2018 at 5:10 PM|
Picture this: You are locked in a room with no windows and can't get out until you solve a series of challenging clues, riddles, or simple math problems. If you are starting to get very anxious by this imagery, then going to an escape room might be a good exposure for you.
When we are anxious, our natural fight or flight reaction kicks in gear. As we have learned before, this response changes our physiological experience. We may experience shallow breathing, faster heart rate, sweaty palms, or tingling in our arms or legs. Because these sensations are uncomfortable or just plain scary, we tend to avoid situations that trigger our anxiety. While this seems like a great idea since the feelings seems to go away or dissipate and we feel better. However, this is only a short-term temporary fix. The next time we are faced with the situation or something similar, we are likely to feel the same level or even increased anxiety. Then we avoid, feel better, then worse again. The cycle continues.
Once we assess the true danger of a situation, we can work towards no longer avoiding situations that trigger anxiety when they are in fact safe.
Recently, I was locked in that room I described earlier as part of an escape room game. We had 1 hour to complete a series of puzzles, challenges, and questions in order to get the keys to be let out of the room. The puzzles were harder than I expected. We didn’t get out in time! Does that mean I am writing this now in the corner of that very room since I have been trapped there for several weeks? No. We were not truly trapped. Once the hour was up, an employee came in and explained the remaining answers to us and let us go.
This experience, while anxiety provoking, is a fun way of exposing us to a fear and worry. There are many types and levels of rooms and challenges. The themes vary too- from light and fun (we did one where you are stuck in a bakery) to scary (themes from horror movies).
If you worry about being in closed spaces, consider an escape room exposure. Grab some friends, challenge yourself, and have some fun! I suspect that you will grow and you will be able to cope with being "trapped." Remember, we are rarely every truly trapped in any situation. Anxiety can make us feel that way. Let's test anxiety and see if it is telling the truth or not. Good luck!
Dealing with Test Anxiety
|Posted on April 11, 2016 at 1:35 PM|
It's April, and for many of you college students you are preparing for finals in a few weeks. For those of you not in college, this post still applies for any type of test or work presentation. If you suffer from worry, anxiety, or panic symptoms before, during, or after an evaluation, continue reading for some helpful strategies to get you through.
Five Ways To Cope With Test Anxiety
Deep Abdominal Breathing
When we take deep breaths, it is important to make sure the air is getting deep enough. To know if you are bringing the air to the right spot, place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Both should be rising and falling as you breathe, but your belly should be rising higher. Picture a balloon inside your belly slowly filling with air and then slowly deflating when you breath out. Focus on the way the air feels or how your body feels taking in this nourishment as you inhale and exhale.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is still important to cover. Our mind and body give us feedback about our environment. This is necessary for survival and healthy functioning. It is why we become fearful in dangerous situations. If we do not prepare for the test/evaluation, our mind says "uh, wait a minute here. I don't know how to process this situation. Alarm, alarm, alarm!" And our body feels the corresponding anxiety symptoms. While taking a test is not necessarily a dangerous situation, there are negative consequences for not performing well on a test. Hence, our mind will react accordingly. Note that this is unlikely to occur if you do not care about the negative consequences or the outcome of the test.
Healthy, Realistic, and Optimistic Thoughts
The way we think affects the way we feel which in turn impacts our behavior. We can be responsible for the thoughts we have about a test. If we interpret studying for a test as boring and a waste of time, we are less likely to prepare. If we interpret the test as a challenge that provides a stepping stone to our career, we are more likely to prepare. Our thoughts about the test while taking it also matter and can influence our performance. It is important to be realistic. If you haven’t studied at all and really never had a good handle on the material, thinking you are going to ace it is unrealistic. Thinking that you will do your best with what you have is more effective. Thinking that one test will make or break your life is also unhelpful and most likely not true.
Mindfulness-Focus on Here and Now When Taking the Test
Every second you have an opportunity to be mindful- to be fully aware of your experience taking the test. This means getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, focusing on the test itself, and being aware of any distracting thoughts with non-judgment and acceptance. This is a skill that takes practice. It is a good thing that we can practice any time we want because there is always the current moment available to us. Why not live in it?
Awareness of Cycle of Anxiety and Panic
Sometimes we get so anxious preparing or taking a test that we experience feelings of panic or a full-blown panic attack. While incredibly uncomfortable and terrifying, panic attacks on their own are not usually dangerous. It is important to understand the cycle of panic to stop it before it starts. We may feel anxious and start to notice our breathing and heart rate increase. Once we have had panic attacks diagnosed, we can understand that our body is falsely alarming us to a danger that is not real. Using healthy coping skills (some of them are mentioned above) can make a big difference.
I hope you apply these skills and have some great performances on your upcoming tests!
What's Your Movie Theater?
|Posted on July 10, 2015 at 9:00 AM|
Several years ago, I experienced a panic attack (yes, psychologists can get them too). I was sitting in the middle of a packed movie theater with friends when another movie goer had a medical emergency that was very scary and yucky (I'll spare you the details) and involved 911 and several medical professionals. The scene played out in the theater and blocked the only non-emergency exit. Faced with sights and sounds of the other person as well as being in the middle of a row with people on either side of me, I panicked.
Panic attacks occur very suddenly and sometimes can feel as if they come out of nowhere. Other times, we are able to identify an event that sets it into motion. Let's break this down using my panic attack example. The trigger was the medical emergency. The way that I interpreted this event ("I'm trapped," "are they going to be ok?" "why hasn't the theater stopped the movie and gotten us out of here?" "what's wrong with that person?") affected the way that I felt (nervous, sweaty, breathing rate increased, dizzy, tingling). The cycle of panic continued. I then interpreted the feelings as being more severe or dangerous ("I'm going to be sick," "why do I feel like this?") and then the feelings intensified (sense of derealization, heart rate increases, lose feeling in hands, stomach upset). Thankfully, I recognized the symptoms as a panic attack and was able to utilize coping skills to break the cycle and prevent symptoms from getting worse. I was able to stay for the remainder of the movie, rather than leave once the scene was cleared. If I left, I would have reinforced my anxiety by escaping the situation.
For a long time after this experience, I struggled with returning to that theater. This is called avoidance. The problem with avoidance is that you feel better in the short term (e.g., "good thing I didn’t go to that mean and scary movie theater because I feel better now") but the longer we avoid, the harder it is to go back. Family and friends would invite me to go, but I would work hard to get everyone to choose a different theater so I could avoid going back. This was the wrong thing to do!
Once I finally decided that this was ridiculous and unhealthy, I went back. This is called exposure. The first time was pretty uncomfortable. Over time, it became easier and easier to go to this theater. This is because I had to actively work on breaking the connection between the movie theater and having a panic attack and/or witnessing a scary medical emergency. The more I went and nothing scary happened, the easier it was to go. I also paired the exposure with relaxation techniques. This is to help replace the scary environment with a relaxing one.
If you are avoiding a situation that has an uncomfortable memory for you and is a place where you should be otherwise safe in, I invite you to decide to change this. A psychologist can assist you with the necessary tools and skills to regain the courage and the strength to return to your movie theater, wherever that may be for you.
It feels great to be able to see movies in this theater again, and to be able to share this story with you (which is another form of exposure, by the way).
|Posted on April 1, 2015 at 7:55 PM|
"Hakuna Matata- it means no worries" (from The Lion King). This is a phrase I often sing to my baby. We even put a picture of the phrase on his nursery wall. As a Mommy, I never want my son to feel anything but happy and I don't want him to ever feel anxious. As a Psychologist, I actually do want him to experience worry and anxiety at certain points in his life, within reason. Why?
It is unrealistic and unhelpful to be happy and carefree all of the time. Negative emotions such as anxiety, sadness, and anger serve as motivation to make changes in our life. These feelings provide feedback to us that something is not quite right, very wrong, unsafe, dangerous, or not the right fit for us. It can also be an indicator that we need to develop better coping skills or seek professional help.
As parents, we might want to rescue or save our children from worries and anxious feelings. I believe this is a natural parental reaction. But attempts to save your child from anxiety can actually be making anxiety stronger.
Picture this. A child we will call Bobby is looking at a group of peers playing at a birthday party. Mom and Dad know that Bobby has concerns about playing with new people and is nervous to initiate play. Mom and Dad want him to have fun and end his anxiety so they bring him over to the group of peers and the parents initiate the play for him. They might say, "Bobby wants to play with you. Can he join in?" Sounds ok enough, right? Sure, Bobby can now play with his peers. But let's suppose there is a problem during the play such as a peer takes a toy away from him. Bobby becomes nervous and looks for parental support to solve the problem for him. In fact, Bobby learns to wait for his parents to initiate play for him in the future too. Bobby has just given his anxiety and worries a big reward by allowing his parents to speak for him. Bobby learns that he is not strong enough to deal with his worries, so he is likely to avoid situations on his own unless a parent is there to speak and solve problems for him.
This is one example of how anxiety can be reinforced. There are other ways anxiety can be reinforced and other circumstances when it is totally appropriate and helpful for parents to help their children initiate play and solve problems as described above. My goal in this month's post is to challenge parents to take a deeper look into their child's behavior and see if anxiety has been reinforced accidentally. You can discuss your observations and concerns with a mental health professional who can help you with managing your child's behavior.
I hope you and your children do not have too many worries and that you can recognize anxious feelings as providing you with valuable
And maybe sing a song of "Hakuna Matata" to someone today.
Live Meaningfully With Anxiety
|Posted on February 12, 2015 at 7:05 PM|
Living with anxiety can be overwhelming, smothering, and in some cases, debilitating. Living with anxiety can also be meaningful, purposeful, and embraced. Yes, that is what you just read. For those of you reading this post who suffer from anxiety, you may think I am kidding. I'm not.
The truth is that we all experience anxiety in one form or another. There are many purposes for the experience of this uncomfortable, yucky, and scary feeling. Anxiety is necessary for survival. Our bodies and brain provide feedback to us when we are in a potentially dangerous situation. Anxiety can motivate us to change our current situation. Anxiety prepares us for novel experiences and difficult tasks such as a job interview or test.
We know from research that a little bit of anxiety can be helpful, but too much or too little could hurt our performance. This is explained by the Yerkes-Dodson Law. A simple diagram can be found on this website.
Basically, anxiety can be used for helpful and purposeful activities, when in moderation. Too much anxiety is what leads to feelings of being smothered and wanting to avoid the world around us. Many students describe this feeling as their mind "going blank" when taking a test. Too little anxiety can lead to being unprepared for new and difficult tasks.
It is important to remember that anxiety has a purpose. We can check in to our surroundings, environment, habits, activities, and lifestyle. Is there a change that needs to be made?
This information is one of the reasons I created the Live Meaningfully With Anxiety Room. There are several recordings available that explain how to live with anxiety in a healthy way. These resources are completely and totally free. You can access them on my website under Anxiety Resources.
Please seek the support of a mental health professional if you experience increased anxiety.
Halloween and Anxiety: A Good Treat or a Bad Trick?
|Posted on October 17, 2013 at 9:40 PM|
It's October, which means that school has been in session for a while, the leaves are changing beautiful colors, the temperature is cooling, and the holidays seem to be just around the corner. October is also a month during which many children and families (and some grown-ups too) are getting ready for Halloween. They are shopping for costumes, candy, and decorations. Many kids like to do the decorating themselves, allowing them to express independence and creativity.
Some homes are decorated with spider webs and pumpkins. Others are grounds for mock cemeteries with RIP stones on the lawn or have elaborate haunted houses available. Some homes have human size fake bodies covered in blood or with missing body parts stationed in front. Many people will enjoy these decorations in the spirit of Halloween. Many will not.
What about people who suffer from anxiety? What about children who have nightmares at the first look of a scary cartoon? What about adults with a fear of dying, getting injured in some way, or getting lost where they can't escape? How are these individuals affected?
People with anxiety may experience Halloween differently. We are all individuals and can tolerate different types of stimuli. Some will have nightmares (yes, even grown-ups), want to avoid certain settings (trick or treating at certain houses, parties at school, scary movies), or become fearful.
This is important to remember as you decide how you will celebrate. If you are a parent and your child suffers from anxiety, you know your child best. If you are an adult, you know yourself best. It is OK and healthy to decide which festive activities to participate in.
There are many programs designed for children that are actually very scary. Many "kid friendly" shows and movies can present concepts that may be difficult to understand such as kidnapping, death, illness, witchcraft, and ghosts. As a parent it is important to be sure that you are permitting your child to experience material that is appropriate developmentally and emotionally.
Now, let's not be confused with exposure treatment for anxiety. A general rule of thumb is that when we avoid something we are anxious about, it reinforces our anxiety, making it more difficult to face that situation in the future. This is true. Within the context of Halloween, however, I believe it is OK to avoid certain stimuli that are not needed for healthy development or functioning. If your child cannot attend school during the season because he/she is afraid of the parties, decorations, or costumes, it is important for him/her to attend school anyway. This would be a case when anxiety can be inadvertently reinforced if the child is permitted to stay home. A talk with the teacher may help to modify classroom stimuli to make it safer for your child to be there. Working with your child on coping skills can also help him/her feel safe in school. If your child wants to avoid scary movies, then this is OK. Let them. One does not need to be exposed to scary or horror films in order to develop appropriately. One does, however, need to be educated. See the difference?
And for you grown-ups out there who love horror films and Halloween parties, have fun! For those of you who want to crawl into a hole instead of watching the "however many nights of Halloween" specials on TV, then read on. It is OK that you do not like this material. We all have different tastes, interests, and levels of tolerance. Decide how you would like the next few weeks to be for you and make a plan.
Trick or treating is another interesting activity for people with anxiety. Think about it. You dress up in a costume, walk up to a stranger's door (or hopefully someone you know and have determined is safe to trick or treat from), knock, wait for someone to answer, say "Trick or Treat," hold open your bag or bucket, say "thank you," walk away, and repeat. Also, you have to stay with your friends and family, possibly walk a long distance in unusual clothing, and accept whatever treat has been given to you. Not such a simple process, right? Trick or treating can be a great way to practice social skills, follow a routine, and be exposed to new and unpredictable situations. However, how important a life skill is it to knock on people's doors and ask for treats? You decide.
Consider all of this information as you decide, either for yourself or your children, how to participate in Halloween. You can choose the specific activities to join, consumes to wear, stores to shop in, parties to attend, houses to trick or treat at, movies to watch, or candy to eat. Utilizing your power to choose is a great skill to practice for healthy development and functioning.
So, what is Halloween for you? A good treat or a bad trick?