What’s the deal?

What’s going on with kids and stress?  Today, children are reporting more anxiety, depression, and worry than ever before.   If you Google “stressed out kids” you will find advice to rearrange your child’s schedule, improve diet and increase exercise.  While this is valid, it’s not enough for me.  I like to understand the big picture and have tools I can use anytime, anywhere, especially when I see my own kids showing signs of stress.

My experience coaching stressed adults, leads me to agree with Psychology Today‘s description of two “Waking states of awareness, Conceptual and Embodied.”  When our brains are in a “conceptual” state, they are busy thinking, evaluating, judging, questioning and worrying.  When we shift to a body focused awareness, our thinking takes a vacation.  Sensing movements and emotions engages the brain so fully that one cannot be aware of their five senses and worry at the same time.   Have you ever noticed that you cannot think yourself out of worry?  But when you engage in a “sense drenching” experience like rock climbing, dancing to music, or cooking, the worrying takes a break without effort?

Our brains cannot be in Conceptual and Embodied states at the same time.  This is why child development experts cringe with the “academic” focus pre-schools and Kindergartens take today.  Since I entered education 17 years ago, I rarely see puppets, felt boards, or  similar tools that help children engage their senses.  Singing, music, storytelling (with props rather than pages), time in nature, art and free play have all but disappeared from primary classrooms.  During the same time, anxiety and stress in children is increasing year after year, surpassing the complaints of stressed out adults.

Our schools praise these “left brain” thinkers and work to re-focus our “right brained” spacey, doodling kids.  I was proud of my “left brain” son who was so bright, so “conceptual”, that he learned quickly, memorized facts, asked a zillion questions and was always aware of what was happening around him. My husband and I considered putting him in a Waldorf, Sufi, or Montessori School (whole brain focused) but it so went against his nature that we chose a traditional school where his natural abilities would be rewarded.  Seven years later, we question that decision, as we are now homeschooling him to due to a stress related illness called Adrenal Fatigue.

The remedy for all types of stress is to re-engage the “right brain” or “Embodied Self-Awareness”.  Martha Beck has some great exercises in her new book, Finding Your Way in a Wild New World.  (Join me for discussions about this book in an over-the-phone book club starting in March.) For now, just try this “sense-drenching” exercise:  Remember the last time you had a moment of bliss where you allowed yourself to be completely present.  What sights did you see?  Recreate the scene (write it down or tell your child about it).  What smells were present?  What tastes do you remember? Sounds?  Remember what textures you felt against your skin?  Immerse yourself in this sensory experience and you will shift your brain state to the part of your brain capable of joy, peace, calm, and relaxation.  Read My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor to see how blissful life can be when you lose function of your left hemisphere.

We are naturally programmed to use both halves of our brains.  Providing our children opportunities to lose track of time and immerse themselves in art, music, imagination, nature and storytelling is the best way to reduce stress.  Throw out the reading log and let your child snuggle in to you while you tell them a story.  Throw out the clocks and schedules and dedicate a day to mindlessly wandering in nature.   Throw out the TV & video screens (which increase the stress response and help disassociate us from our bodies) and celebrate boredom.  Exercise reduces stress because it releases cortisol and can shift us to an embodied brain state.   If the exercise is listening to directions, running to point A, throwing to point B, and moving your body like this to point C, it can aggravate kids’ attempts to shift by continually being brought back to their thinking brain.   Keep exercise playful and unstructured when possible.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but I just have to say it:  GO PLAY.  YES, I’M TALKING TO YOU. Kids learn by imitation.  So get up from your computer and do something that feels like play to you.   Put on music and dance, sign up for that creative writing class you’ve been wanting to take, take your dog to the park, or play a round of golf…….it’s for the children!  What’s your favorite way to shift into your right brain, embodied self awareness?  Share it below.

Need more convincing?  Listen to the fabulous Christine Carter‘s persuasive argument that when adults have sex, it increases their children’s capacity for happiness!

Is Your Child Stressed?

I don’t know about you but when I’m stressed, it is OBVIOUS to everyone around me!  But what about our kids?  Children don’t always have the vocabulary or self-awareness to be able to articulate their emotions in a way that we can hear them.   In fact, their emotions are so strong that just labeling them with a word (“you feel sad, angry, over-stimulated, overwhelmed”, etc.) makes the feeling seem more manageable and immediately helps them calm down.  American kids are more stressed out than every before, how can we know if our kid is one of them?

Misbehavior – When you are seeing recurring patterns of misbehavior, try to figure out your child’s motivation for acting out:  power, revenge, attention, excitement.   If there isn’t one, it might be stress.  See if you can find an underlying cause:  overbooked schedule, stressful environment, lack of predictability or just misalignment with the child’s authentic self (too much coping required).

Forgetfulness – “I forgot my Math book and I have a test tomorrow!” can be a normal problem but if it’s happening regularly, the child may be either stressed or self-sabotaging.

Illness – Some kids have magic bodies that won’t let them detour too far off track.  Notice if your child easily gets headaches, stomachaches, excema, colds, flus, etc.  I know whenever I’ve had a job that wasn’t good for me, I was constantly dealing with one illness after another.

Checking Out – Some kids do a marvelous job at taking care of themselves when stressed.  If you notice your child daydreaming, mentally zoning out or shifting into a trance-like state, congratulate yourself on having such a self-reliant child, but note that they are probably stressed.

Clouded decision making – I remember seeing a Dad telling his 4 year old he could have any toy in the whole store and this kid proceeded to have a total melt down at Toys R Us.  Sometimes what we think is fun, can be too overwhelming for kids and you’ll know they are stressed if they are having a hard time making simple decisions like what to wear, they want for dinner, or who to play with.

Arguing & Whining – We all take our stress out on those who are closest to us (ask my poor husband!).  Kids are no different.  When they get in the car after school and immediately start bickering, you know they are purging all the negativity they picked up during the day.  Whining can usually be cured with loving attention or a nap.

Overeating, Under-eating, Difficulty Sleeping – Kids and parents alike.

Do you have a sensitive child?  Sensitive children can be like the canary in the mine, alerting us to problems we all may experience if we don’t pay attention and switch gears.  Luckily, there are MANY things you can do to reduce stress in kids, in fact too many for one blog post.  Until next time, try working on just one: your own.  We are all built to mirror the emotions of people around us unless we intentionally focus on holding a higher state.  It can be really hard to feel good when your child doesn’t but it’s one of the most helpful things you can do for her/him.  Your kids will automatically pick up on your worry, spoken and unspoken stress.  Instead, find out what makes you feel good:  exercise, sleep, yoga, healthy foods, life coaching, meditation, hiking, card games, gardening and do it.  The quickest, most effective way to reduce stress is to switch your thinking.  Say these words to yourself (if you can believe them) and to your children.  “There is nothing I (you) have to do right now”   “All is well”  “It’s ok to rest”  “Everything is unfolding exactly the way it’s supposed to”.

If you have another restful thought or mantra you love, please share it!

What I learned from a smelly, underwater, pothead.

In one week, I had four clients tell me that their work environments are going through rapid changes:  finance, government, health care, and pharmaceutical sales. If there is an industry that isn’t experiencing these kind of changes, I don’t know what it is.  Real estate, education, retail, computer engineering:  between outsourcing, budget cuts, and automation, it’s easy to assume the jobs you or your spouse hold today will not be around, or be dramatically different, by the time your kids are in the job market. When the world seems to be changing fast there are a few ways we tend to cope with these changes.

A common reaction is to panic.  When we see changes happening around us, we look for familiar structures to cling to:  “If I have an 8 month emergency savings, then I’ll be safe”.  “If I just work harder, I’ll be safe”.  We look for rules and systems to believe will make us feel secure.  This leads to generalized anxiety, stress, sleep disturbances, and health problems.  Worrying about an uncertain future and placing your security in rules that are constantly changing, can turn “making a living” into “making a dying”.

Another common reaction to change is denial.  (Imagine high pitched voice here) “Everything is great and peachy, nothing will affect me, I’ll just keep drinking, spending, overeating, blaming and whatever else it takes NOT to notice that I feel scared.”  This helps people by giving them something else to focus on “I need to lose weight, spend less, get my kids grades’ up”. This method distracts from, but doesn’t resolve the core issue.  Believing scary thoughts like, “I have no choice but to stay in this job I hate” causes you to feel fear.  Ignoring this fear by focusing on other problems, just leads to a lifetime of feeling crappy.

When panic and denial fail to solve the problem, there is one method left.  I learned this personally from a smelly, pot-smoking, scuba diving instructor who was the last person I expected to gain such wisdom.  (The stench of his body odor was so profound that they are embedded together in my memory). In order to get certified, I had to remove my face mask and snorkel, 30 ft. underwater, and put them back on.  To say I was scared was an understatement.  I reassured myself that I new “the rules”, I had memorized the procedure and was prepared.  But as soon as it was off, I started to PANIC.  I frantically swam toward the surface as fast as I could, crazy, flailing around in a terrible state.  My dive instructor firmly grabbed arm, held me down, and tapped the side of my head.  Somehow, that tap on the side of my head, ignited another part of brain:  my instincts.  I calmed down immediately, cleared my face mask and snorkel, and was fine without ever thinking about it.  It was weird, like “how did I just do that?” All it took was someone else to grab my arm and tap my head.  We are all built with these innate instincts to help us through times of fear, the problem is we don’t have access to them when we are in panic or denial.

My work as a life coach is similar.  I hold my clients down by making them relax and stay calm on the phone. Then, I tap into their instincts by asking them to question the thoughts they have been thinking. “Is it true that security comes from your job?” “How do you know the changes that are happening are bad ones?”

Once we let go of the old ideas that are no longer working for us….

”Government work is stable”      “No one quits in this economy”      “It’s ok to suffer if you are close to retirement”,

then, we can allow in some quiet wisdom we didn’t even know was there.

“I’m more capable than I thought.”    “Now’s the time for change, everyone else is scared.”   “I only have to please myself.”   “The possibilities for my future are endless.”

Think about times in your life when you have been genuinely scared.  (Being robbed at gunpoint, seeing a bear in the woods, crashing a car).  How did your instincts step up to help you?  Maybe in our cushy lives, we don’t encounter enough real fear and we forget that we have this built in, instinctual system to help us out.  Look at the difference between fake fear (stress, anxiety) and real fear, and tell me about times when you felt your instincts kick in.

-Instincts are quiet and easy to ignore.  Anxiety is loud and takes over your ability to think about anything else.

-Instincts offer a clear, actionable step to take.  Anxiety suggests pacing, eating, general yuck…oh, I just hate anxiety!

-Instincts can be a thought that pops into your head but usually just one (not 1,000) and it’s often funny and always clear and calming.

-Instincts can be a physical sensation in the body (hairs go up on back of neck, goose bumps, nausea, etc.) but again, easy to ignore.  Anxiety is a runaway train that you can’t get off until your brain thinks it is safe.

If I can find wisdom from a smelly, underwater, pot head, I am confident you can find your quiet wisdom, too.

Welcome to the Land of Crazy

Do you have friends telling you to take a break, relax, get a massage, hire a babysitter?  Do you have a doctor telling you your ailments are related to stress?  Or maybe you relax too much and your friends keep encouraging you to get out more, exercise, do something exciting.  It’s easier to notice other people living in the land of crazy than it is ourselves.  Yvonne just had her first baby and is completely in love and so grateful to be a Mom.  She also is a wreck and feels completely out of sorts.  She can hardly think straight.  She feels stressed and anxious all the time. She is quick to complain or get mad at those around her.  Friends keep telling her she needs to sleep when the baby sleeps, but it’s too hard.  Her husband sends her for a massage but she can’t relax.  She tries to take deep breaths and she just can’t do it.  Something is lost.  Is it her sanity?  Is it her sense of herself?  Sleep?  A feeling of accomplishment?  Social circle?  Support?  Confidence? YES, YES and YES.  She is missing all these things and more.  Even though she wanted to be a Mom SO desperately, she is in a stage I have learned to call, SQUARE ONE.

Square one sucks, even when you it’s a change you really wanted.  It feels like everything you once knew has changed and you are hanging on to sanity by a thin thread. If we were to record Yvonne’s thoughts it would probably look something like this.  “Holy &%*#!”  “What the #%&@ am I doing?”  “Why did I do this?”  “How am I going to do this ?”  It’s what I call “the land of crazy” and my teacher, Dr. Martha Beck calls it, “nobody nowhere with no one and nothing.” If you haven’t been through this stage yourself, I’m sure you’ve witnessed others going through it.  It is a qualitative change in who you are in this world and it’s really normal.  Most people go through about 5 or 6 of these transitions in their lifetime.   Becoming a parent for the first time is a major change in identity and involves grieving the loss of your old, pre-parent self.  If you’ve ever seen anyone who can’t get past an old relationship or keeps recreating the same bad situation over and over, you know what being stuck in square one looks like.  Moving through square one requires patience, kindness and acceptance.

Perhaps you survived new parent crazy land, but you are finding yourself in square one due to economic changes, the housing market, divorce, family illness or death. The best way to get through the crappiness of square one, is to allow yourself to be completely in it.  To grieve the loss of your old self and feel the feelings of sadness, fear, anger, frustration, resentment, or whatever else comes up.  Pour it out in a journal, find a compassionate listener, and stop “shoulding” all over yourself.

“I should be happy”,  “Something’s wrong with me”, “This should be easier”,  “It shouldn’t be this way”, “My husband should be more helpful”, “My Mom should be ____” ,“My kid shouldn’t be so ________.”  “My boss should be ______.”

When you argue with reality, you never win.  If it’s hard, let it be hard.  If you are sad, let yourself be sad.  If you miss that job you couldn’t wait to leave, so be it.  If you are mad, be mad.  Be where you are and feel what you feel.  A forced smile and pile of denial will only keep you stuck in square one longer. Instead, start reclaiming some of your power.  The feeling of helplessness is one of the worst things for the human psyche and we do it ourselves all the time.

Write down a list all the things you feel you “have” to do.  Here is mine:

I have to do the dishes

I have to pick the kids up at school

I have to make dinner

I have to write my newsletter

I have to pay bills

Now change “I have to” to “I intend to”, “I choose to”, or “I will” and see how much better you feel.  In reality, there are very few things we have to do, but when we think that way, we feel trapped & awful.  Realizing you have choices helps to move you into a feeling of personal power.

Here is my revised list:

I will do the dishes because the thought of them piled up for days creates a feeling in me that is worse than doing this repetitive task.

I choose to make dinner because I believe in healthy eating, table manners, and family dinner conversation.

I intend to pay my bills because I don’t like late fees & extra charges and ignoring them will not make them go away.

I will up pick my kids up at school because it is aligned with my values of the kind of Mom I want to be.

I will write my newsletter, oh look at that, it’s done.  Now it’s your turn.

 

Want to give life coaching a try? Schedule a free discovery call at www.LifeCoachingforParents.com/work-with-me

Summer Camp Paranoia

I just put my son on the bus for a week of sleep away camp and I have had lots of emotions rising for me today:  sadness, sentimentality, and excitement.  Last year he asked to go, and I told him, “Mommy’s not ready yet.” I knew I had work to do on my fears around sending him.  I had all these thoughts swimming around my head like, “I’m the only one that can care for him” and “I will miss him too much” and “There’s too many things that can go wrong”.  I also anticipated many horrific situations like him drowning, being attacked by a bear, feeling like an outcast by other kids, you name it.  Before I could even think about letting him go, I had to deal with all these scary thoughts and limiting beliefs.
When we picture horrible things happening, our bodies react as though bad things are actually happening.  Our hearts beat faster, our blood pressure rises, our stomachs turn, we sweat, we enter the physiological state of “fight or flight”, JUST FROM OUR THOUGHTS.  Then our feelings become so uncomfortable that we shut them off by distracting ourselves with something else.  The problem for many parents, is that we imagine horrible things happening ALL THE TIME!  Constantly thinking, then avoiding these thoughts, puts us in a perpetual state of ‘fight or flight’, even in the absence of a legitimate threat.  The longer we stay in this sympathetic nervous system without having time to ‘rest and digest’, the harder it is on our bodies, our health, our weight, our ability to sleep, relax, and play.  This habit of worrying, then avoiding, is so well ingrained that we don’t even know we are doing it.
In order to work through my fears about summer camp, I had to calm myself down first.  Breathing (seems basic but you wouldn’t believe how foreign it is to worriers) is the most important thing you can do to move your body into ‘rest and digest.’ Other parents calm down with yoga, journaling, running, relaxing music, hot baths, even petting a dog can help.  Once you can notice your breathing is deep and regular, THEN can you access your logical brain and ask yourself the following questions.
1.  What is the worst thing that can happen?  (In my case that summer camp = imminent death.)
2.  What is the probability of this horrible thing happening? (the scared part of my brain says 1 in 1,000 although it’s probably rarer)
3.  Can you think of specific evidence or examples of times when nothing bad has happened?(although I’m sure bad things have happened at summer camp, I don’t know anyone that had a bad experience and most, including myself, loved it).
4.  Isn’t it just as likely that something good will happen?  (For this one I try to lighten the mood by making it a little absurd).  I decided it is just as likely that my son will be discovered by a talent scout (he HATES singing and dancing), as it is he will face death by summer camp.
Once you can laugh at your extreme thinking, you know you’ve got your power back.  Worry only gives us the illusion of power.  Real power (and you know we Mamas like to feel in control!) comes from being able to control your THINKING.  So take a deep breath, relax for a minute or two, and ask, isn’t just as likely good things will happen?

 

Want to give life coaching a try? Schedule a free discovery call at www.LifeCoachingforParents.com/work-with-me