Here are my top 5 tips for parents, stepparents and caregivers to consider while supporting their kids:
It’s a week before school starts in Ontario and back to school prep is in full swing! Teachers are setting up classrooms, kids are finding out who their teachers and classmates are, clothes are being picked out, snacks are being stocked up and backpacks are getting packed. While for many It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, its strikes paralyzing fear into the hearts of many of our students. Whether it’s a school specific anxiety, excessive worry about what other kids think, worry about fitting in or about teachers, the sore tummies and headaches might start ramping up for some of our kids. What is a parent to do?
Here are my top 5 tips for parents, stepparents and caregivers to consider while supporting their kids:
(Brief disclaimer: This article isn't meant to be used as a diagnostic tool. You should seek out your family doc or a psychologist for a formal diagnosis. If you want.)
Anxiety is the number one mental health reason Canadians seek out psychotherapy.
Low levels of anxiety can persist for years – and many people just get used to it. People tend to start to wonder if they need to see a therapist when it starts to interfere with their work, romantic, family relationships and friendships.
One of the reasons anxiety can be hard to understand, or identify with at first, is because anxiety is normal! Yes, you read that right. It’s a normal human response to a stressor or stimuli. Anxiety is an adaptive response that all human beings have, telling us when we are in danger. When our primitive ancestors were faced with the saber-toothed tiger, their bodies were immediately flooded with hormones and chemical messengers released from their brains enabling them either run, or fight. That physiological response enabled us to survive - to physically fight, or to run away, from danger – the famous ‘fight or flight’ response.
This makes good sense, right?
Anxiety starts to become a problem when you react as if there is danger, when there in fact is no danger.
There are a lot of things that can be difficult about having a condition that isn’t seen as much as felt. If you have suffered from depression in the past, or are living with it now, you might have questions at some point like,
When someone breaks their leg, we all know when they are better – they are walking again. When an asthmatic has an attack, we all know they need their puffer, and then they feel relief within minutes. When you have a cold, you know you are better when the fog lifts and you’ve stopped sneezing or coughing. But when you suffer from depression, what is the sign for everyone, including yourself, that it’s over? For a lot of other conditions, there can seem to be a more finite treatment and recovery endpoint.
Understanding how you were susceptible to depression in the first place is a good place to start, because it’s related to your recovery.
We all have those things in our relationships … That Thing we can’t get over. Maybe it’s a part of your partners past, or a fight that keeps coming up over and over. Or maybe its that time when things got out of hand, that neither of you are quite over. Maybe it’s that parenting moment you are sure has ruined your kid forever. Maybe you are living with something that is compromising your values, and you don’t know what to do about it.
Once you understand something, it’s hard to stay mad at it.
I am so pleased to share the news that I have received my acceptance as a Registered Psychotherapist (qualifying) to the new College of Registered Psychotherapists in Ontario (CRPO). After a grueling graduate degree while balancing work, family, school and clinical work, it’s gratifying to take this next step.
What is the new College and what does it mean for the average Ontarian?
Mental health has received unprecedented coverage and heightened awareness within the public sphere, which is very exciting for mental health professionals. More and more, we see people feeling safe to come forward as they consider being more proactive about their own mental health, as well as seeking treatment for existing disorders. In Ontario, we have to take our health care into our own hands. And when it comes to mental health care, our system is unfortunately, not universal.
Has someone figured out a way to get therapy with out talking about our childhoods yet?
In therapy, there are a few different approaches, and sometimes you can deal with an immediate problem at hand without a huge delve into the past. But when you want to more permanently solve a problem, typically, unearthing the cause is necessary. (Disclaimer: it should be said that as a client, you should only undertake to do so with someone you trust and feel completely safe with).
Do the trauma's we experience in childhood actually follow us through adulthood? What qualifies as trauma? What one person of one generation would call a "tough" childhood, we might now call "traumatic". And when it comes to preventative health care - including mental AND physical health - that is a pretty significant distinction.
Education is everything. Knowledge is power. There can be so much freedom and progress in understanding why.
This TED talk reviews the original ACE's Study, its groundbreaking results and encourages all health care practitioners to screen for childhood trauma and how to name those events that shape our length of our lives. Nadine Burke Harris does a great job describing the study, why its important for health care practitioners in particular to think about changing their practices.
Stories of childhood abuse are all around us.
I just finished reading Breaking Away, a memoir of NHL player Patrick O'Sullivan's devastating childhood experience at the hands of his abusive father. I could not put in down. Patrick tells his story in a way that any person who has experienced childhood abuse will instantly recognize: extreme isolation from community, not understanding why others did not help him, being emotionally isolated, being ashamed of the abuse and intuitively knowing to limit the amount you tell others for fear they would be too overwhelmed. Patrick's experience goes one step further in that he also went back to confront the bystanders. I would recommend it to anyone who has experienced childhood abuse, if only to crack the isolation of that experience.
And today, the deeply sad story of harrowing abuse unfolds in Toronto courtrooms as Melonie Biddersingh's father stands accused of extreme abuse and ultimately her murder. Journalist Rosie DiManno's statement in this story, "To the death roll of Randal Dooley and Jeffrey Baldwin, children starved to death and grotesquely mistreated while alive, right in our midst, add now the name of this 17-year-old who lived and died with nobody taking notice" demands that we start paying attention to each other.
The more we understand about what constitutes "trauma", the better choices we'll make, the more we'll know about what to call it when we see it, when to tell someone, when to ask for help, and how to move forward.
For more information, check out Ontario's Association of Children's Aid Societies: http://www.oacas.org, or speak to a trusted friend, counsellor, therapist, clergy person.
Every now and then, I’m really struck by the enormous task our health care providers take on, in the service of the general public, adjudicator’s of sorts, of the physical and emotional lives of their patients and their families.
Patient after patient, day after day, and often with no time to eat, let alone to take ten minutes to reflect on how tough cases are affecting them. I work amongst doctors, nurses and pharmacists, and I also grew up with doctors (my mother is a family physician). Watching my mother totally and completely dedicate her life to her chosen profession was pretty educational; I know from living my childhood that “work-life balance” wasn’t a concept that actually existed for physicians or nurses back when she went to medical school (class of '73). I have witnessed first hand the toll its taken on her, and I’ve seen doctors I work with now, everywhere from being on the verge of tears to the other end of the spectrum, on total emotional lockdown, no doubt a difficult and unfortunately learned skill.
About 7 of my 15 years working in the healthcare system in Ontario, have been in oncology. Sometimes people would say to me, isn't it depressing, working in cancer? For me, it has never been depressing, but incredibly hopeful; however, I know that for many of the oncology professionals I know, it can be in fact, really, really hard a lot of the days.
How exactly are you supposed to do your job efficiently, accurately and with as much compassion as you can if you fall apart every time you lose a patient to cancer?
(potential spoiler alerts!)
I took my family to see the new Pixar movie Inside Out this evening, wishing and hoping that it would live up to all of the rave reviews I’ve heard since its release. Sometimes I’m totally swept up in a kids/family movie, sometimes I’m left really cranky as I fume about sexist stereotypes or standardized fairytale endings. As a therapist, our household is no stranger to talk about feelings, emotions, how to regulate, mindfulness and so on. So much so, that my family is just used to it …. we forget from time to time that other people don’t live with a constant stream of neuroscience talk happening in the background. I was thrilled to see a jam-packed theatre on a school night in our small town! Way to go families!
I’m not sure I can even yet appreciate just how innovative and exciting this movie is for kids and adults alike.
In Part I of Understanding Anger, we talked about anger as a healthy and normal emotion (at times). We also reviewed how anger unchecked can do a lot of damage in your life: on your physical health, your family and romantic relationships and on the job. We all get angry for different reasons – because we are all very different people, who have different life circumstances.
There is no one size fits all solution, but there are many strategies you can try until you find the one that works for you.
One of the first things to try and figure out, is what is your anger trying to tell you? Is your anger covering up for other feelings such as embarrassment, insecurity, hurt, shame, or vulnerability? It’s hard to have those feelings come to the surface. However, I would invite you to consider one thing: when you let yourself admit that you aren’t perfect, that you are in fact human, you begin to let the walls down that keep people from truly connecting to you. Shame is a loss of connection to people, and specifically, the people you love.
How do we repair this?
An issue I come across more frequently than not these days is anger. Turns out, there are a lot of misconceptions, old wives tales and armchair ‘experts’ talking about anger, and it really confuses people.
To be transparent, there is also disagreement within the world of psychology about anger and it’s role as an emotion. Some consider anger to be a “secondary” emotion – meaning the thing that triggered your angry emotions is not real culprit, but something else entirely. In this sense, anger is indicative of some other unmet emotional need you have buried deeper within. And some argue it’s not quite accurate to say its ‘secondary’, because anger has a healthy purpose and is part of our human evolutionary design. It’s there to alert us to something going wrong in our world.
Anger itself is a normal emotion. How you show your anger, and how long it takes to recover from a trigger are really where the heart of the conversation lies. In women, anger can be triggered by our hormonal cycles. Our fuses are shorter, we might be more argumentative, we might be more prone to making a “mountain out of a molehill”. Hormones also influence men and testosterone is known to play havoc with young men’s lives. Some cultures or communities in our society tell us that for the most part, it’s wrong to express our anger outwardly, so we work hard to suppress these emotions. However, when we suppress our feelings, rather than process and feel comfortable to talk about them, we can run into trouble. Its also important to remember, our hormones have a natural function – perhaps they give us the courage to let these emotions come to the surface – in essence saying – “hey, pay attention to me, I need your help.”
Is it really that harmful to get angry?
H.BSc., Masters in Counselling Psych, Registered Psychotherapist. Certified Canadian Coach Practitioner. Wife, Mom, Stepmom.