When does "normal" anxiety become a actual mental health illness?

Anxiety treatment for individuals experiencing various anxiety disorders in Schaumburg and Oakbrook Terrace, IL. Life Balance Counseling in Schaumburg and Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois offer Anxiety treatment services to children, teens and adults experiencing various concerns. Please give us a call at 847.220.6981 or email info@lbcounseling.com! 

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Coping with Back to School Stress

The time has finally come. Summer is officially over and you are probably in denial that it is time to head back to school. Where did the time go? Did you do everything you said you were going to do over the summer? Do you feel like you made the best use of your time on your days off? These are all questions you may be thinking about when the summer has come to an end.

Heading back to school after being off for a long period of time can present various challenges, thoughts and emotions. Going back to school can be exciting, anxiety provoking and a stressful time for children, teens and parents. Getting back into a scheduled routine can present challenges. Getting up early, prepping lunches, making sure homework is complete on top of doing all of your daily tasks, working and so forth. One recommendation is to use a calendar. Whether it is paper or on your phone, it is essential to get organized and know everyone's schedules and deadlines. Staying organized helps eliminate stress and prevents you from running around like a crazy person trying to get everything ready. Don't be afraid to ask for help from another parent, grandparent or even your children if they are of an appropriate age to help. Most kids can make their own lunches and check to make sure they have their homework and books they need for school.

Take one day at a time. I know, easier said then done. We tend to look at the huge list of things we need to do instead of taking one task at a time. The more we think about all the things we need to do the more stressed and anxious we become. Take each task, focus on it and if those irrational thoughts keep popping in your head that you will "never get all of this done", do thought stopping. Stop the thought in its track and reframe your thought by reminding yourself that you have to get through your current task before you can move on to the next one. Getting overwhelmed and worried that you won't get it all done takes up more time then if you would have started the task in the first place.

Maybe you have figured out your whole scheduling routine and are managing your endless task list. Lets shift the focus to our children and teens and how they are coping with back to school stress. What if you or your child/teen is struggling with the transition beyond the normal transitional time period and is having a difficult time adjusting? Listen to your child. Listen to what they are thinking and feeling and validate their emotions. Acknowledge that going back to school can trigger various emotions of excitement, anxiety, or fear. Empathize with them what they are experiencing and provide support for them during the transition. It is also important to find a solution with your child to help them transition effectively. For example, if your child is struggling with separation anxiety and misses you during the day. Do a craft together that reminds them of you or send your child with a picture and let them know that you are always with them even if not present. As parents we are here to help our children grow and overcome difficult challenges and times in their lives. If you feel like your child is really struggling beyond the transitional time period, is experiencing anxiety that is disrupting their functioning at school or home, have them assessed by a counselor to identify what is going on and what helpful tools and techniques your child can learn to help the adjust smoothly and enjoy their overall school experience.

 

The 1-2-3’s (and “4”) of Thought Stopping: How to Stop Your Negative Thoughts from Snowballing

If you’re like most people, you probably find yourself on the occasional “hamster wheel” of negative or unhelpful thoughts; that is, the thoughts just keep going around and around and around and around until you’re so dizzy and exhausted that you just about fall down from thinking about it. Even worse: your thoughts snowball. It start off as a small, somewhat negative or unhelpful passing thought, but then it gets a little bigger, occupies a little bit more of your mental energy and time, and continues to grow until it’s all consuming, self-defeating, and downright exhausting.

Many of my clients relay to me this all-too-common cycle of thinking and how it almost inevitably ends in a panic attack, a sleepless night, or an unproductive day filled with nothing but worry. When I hear this, my first line of defense is always Thought Stopping.

As you can probably gather from the name, the act of Thought Stopping is exactly that: putting a stop to all those unhelpful, negative thoughts. As with anything, it’s easier said than done, but with enough practice and consistently applied application, you’ll be well on your way to getting off your own hamster wheel.

Step One: Catch the negative thought. Okay, this seems really obvious, but it needs to be said. Throughout a day we all have thousands of thoughts, whether we are aware of them or not. No, I’m not about to go off on a long and drawn out Freudian “unconscious thought” tangent, but the statement is worth exploring. How long into your negative thought cycle are you until you realize you’re back on the hamster wheel? For some people, this step is easy. If it is, high-five to you and move onto the next step.

 If it isn’t, try keeping a simple “thought log.” You can practice this in five-minute increments, or you can track your thoughts throughout the day. For instance, take 5 minutes out of your day to write down every thought you have in a time span of five minutes. It can be as simple as “I’m hungry” or “I’m thinking about this activity” to as deep and complex as “I’m not really sure what I’m doing with my life.” This five-minute kick-starter activity will help you to become more aware of the thoughts you have, and will hopefully help you to identify your negative thoughts as they crop up.

To track your thoughts throughout the day, keep a sheet of paper or a little notebook with you, and jot notes on your thoughts anytime you’re aware of any thoughts you have. Again, they can either be profound or simple. This act of acknowledging your thoughts and taking note of them will bring awareness to the thoughts you have throughout the day, and will increase your likelihood of catching your negative thoughts before they snowball.

Step Two: Stop the negative thought. I must be joking, right? Seriously though, we need to cut that sucker off until it snowballs into something unmanageable, right? There’s a number of ways to go about cutting off your thoughts in their tracks. Whenever I teach this to my client, I always make the “chopping” gesture with my hands (you know the one- left hand flat, palm up, and parallel to the floor, right hand perpendicular to the left and comes down the middle of the left in a sort of “chopping” fashion), and I’ve done this so much so that now any time I think of thought stopping I automatically think of that gesture. For me, I might either think of that gesture or actually do the gesture if I wanted to stop a negative thought. When I teach this method to kids, I tell them to think of a huge red stop sign- one so big that they can’t see anything else. Some people like to say “STOP” out loud or in their head… anything to distract your mind from continuing down the path of your negative thought.

Step Three: Challenge the negative thought. In most cases—not all, but most—our negative thoughts are irrational, unhelpful, and biased toward one side of the argument. In this third step I challenge my clients to think of the evidence that doesn’t support their negative thought. For example, if a client tells me they feel like they don’t have a support system, I’ll ask them to challenge that thought and find that evidence that the thought isn’t true. When they think about it, they might say, “Well, I do have my one friend who says she's always there if I need her, but I’ve never actually tried leaning on her for support when I need it.” If they continue thinking on the matter, they might also add something to the effect of “my co-workers are always asking how I’m doing, but I never actually open up to them.” Okay, good. Now we’re getting somewhere. In most cases, there’s some counter-evidence to our irrational, negative thoughts, and we just need to dig a little deeper to find it. Keep pulling up evidence that negates your negative thought until you don’t feel its effects anymore. Once we acknowledge the counter-evidence and “let it marinade,” then suddenly our original, negative thoughts don’t have much ground to stand on.

Step Four: Change the thought and move on. This is the point that you jump off your hamster wheel. In step three, we’ve put the negative thought to rest by knocking down some of its validity. At this point, it’s time to move on. Think of something else unrelated. Think of something happier, more helpful.

If the thought crops up again, repeat the steps until it’s laid to rest yet again. Thought stopping isn’t always perfect, and it certainly isn’t a “once-and-done” sort of deal. It takes practice and persistence. The more you do it, the more likely you are to find it to be a successful tool to add to your box of coping mechanisms. Give it a few weeks and see if it’s a good tool for you. Good luck!

If you have questions about thought stopping, application of this skill in your life, or to schedule an appointment to explore more useful coping mechanisms to help you manage, please don’t hesitate to contact me at lauren@lbcounseling.com

 

Written by: Lauren Buetikofer, MA, LPC

Helping A Loved One With Anxiety

It is a normal part of life to worry. But when the worrying interferes with your job, family, friends, and other activities, you may have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can cause physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, sweating, heart palpitations, insomnia and other concerns that impact your day to day functioning. 

It can be difficult for family and friends to know how to support someone that is experiencing anxiety. You may not know what to say to make it better or how to help talk someone out of having a panic attack. The good news is that with treatment and your support, your loved one can overcome anxiety symptoms that impact both of your lives. 

Some recommendations to help a loved one with anxiety:

Don't Be Judgmental. Try to be as supportive, understanding, empathetic, and patient as you can be. Try not to minimize your loved one's feelings and experiences and remember that it takes time for an individual to learn tools to help them cope with their anxiety. 

Encourage your loved one to seek professional help from a Professional Counselor, Psychologist, or Psychiatrist. If you are unsure of whether your loved one has an anxiety disorder, a professional can help you identify their diagnosis and create a treatment plan to help lessen the impact of anxiety. This is also helpful in gaining support from a non-judgmental professional that has experience with treating anxiety.

Get informed about anxiety. Try to learn as much information about anxiety disorders and symptoms so that you have a better understanding about what anxiety is and try to put yourself in their shoes. Knowledge is power!

Take Care of Yourself. Supporting someone with an anxiety disorder can be difficult so it is extremely important to take care of yourself to avoid burnout. Build your own support network and learn healthy ways to cope with your stress.

A professional counselor can help you learn ways to cope with anxiety. If you are looking for counselor in Schaumburg, please call our office at 888.234.7628 or contact us online.