The Trap of Powerlessness

My mind is racing. I can’t focus on anything. I’m exhausted. I can’t handle what I have on my plate right now. I can’t even start or finish anything. My relationships are being affected. I’m anxious about everything. I cry. I’m not myself anymore. I need help.

Maybe you can relate to these thoughts. If you have ever experienced this type of despair, feeling as if your life and emotions are out of your control, you know how powerless it makes you feel. Persistent stress can lead to this sense of powerlessness. All you want to do is avoid the tasks before you because of the fear you will fail or become overwhelmed in the process.

What could you do if you feel powerless?

Powerlessness is a belief that you do not have the authority to act or that you lack power to change. When you have a stressful work environment, family situation or health problem, it’s normal to feel and believe that you do not have the power to act. You may not have control over your work situation, family issues or health problems. That reality can be very overwhelming. That is why the first step towards regaining a sense of power is to accept the things you cannot control and the negative feelings that come with that reality.

Easier said than done. To feel powerless or out of control can be very difficult to accept. But start there and do not allow your thoughts to lead you to shame. When you recognize the things you cannot control, you may feel a sense of shame because of the expectation that you “should” be able to handle everything that comes your way. A person with a perfectionistic view of themselves and the world may struggle with this step. But allow yourself to sit with the thought that there are things you cannot control and refrain from any attempt to get away from it. Mindfulness meditation is a great practice to help get into this mindset (refer to my previous post, The Beauty of Mindfulness). Observe the thoughts that arise and write them down. This step can be very powerful if you have never acknowledged your limitations.

The next step is to observe the feeling of powerlessness as a feeling that you are experiencing. Powerlessness is not who you are, rather it’s how you feel. When you view your feelings as something you are experiencing, you are able to defuse from that emotion. But if you are fused to powerlessness, you will see your life from that perspective. This fusing can lead to lower confidence in your ability to cope with stressors you may face in the future. This step helps you answer the question: how true is your powerlessness? Are you really devoid of any power to act? Allow the reality of your limitations to fuel you to be proactive with what you can control – yourself!

Start by assessing what is important in your life. What have you avoided that is actually important to you? What do you value most? Family? Spirituality? Health? Career? Relationships?

Now explore how you can live out these values to feel more like yourself again. Make small goals and follow the SMART goals model. Specific-Measurable-Attainable-Realistic-Time bound. Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting vague or unrealistic goals. How would you know you accomplished the goal? Examples of SMART goals are:

  • Call a friend to get coffee this week.
  • Go to church.
  • Pray for 5 minutes.
  • Make a list of things you’re grateful for.
  • Sit in silence for 5 minutes.
  • Practice Mindfulness for 5 minutes.
  • Read one chapter of an enjoyable book.
  • Disconnect from your phone for 1 hour.
  • Go to the doctor.
  • Go for a 30-minute walk once a week.

Try to accomplish one item from your goal list each week. As you live out your values, you will feel like you regained the power you believed you lost. If you can’t even get out of bed to begin regaining your strength and power, then seek support from friends or family. Pick up the phone and ask for help or schedule an appointment with a therapist. Don’t dwell on the things that are out of your control. The way to get out of a powerless mindset is to make small, healthy choices towards a healthier more fulfilling life, despite your circumstances.

Emotional Fitness

“Let go of your stress and smile!” shouted the aerobics instructor over the loud music as she cheerfully encouraged the class to follow her lead. My first couple of negative thoughts were, “Are you kidding me? I’m lucky I made it here, and I’m not in a good mood because I’m really behind on several things that I had to set aside just to make it to class!” I won’t go into detail about my other negative thoughts but suffice it to say that I was tired, irritated, and stretched beyond capacity. As I mustered through the workout I wondered, “How did I let this happen?” I’m usually very good at time management but somehow I slipped this time around, and I was not in a good place.

Have you ever been there too?  You know, where your thoughts are racing a million miles a minute, time is running out, and it seems there’s absolutely nothing you can do to catch up???

As I looked around the room, I wondered if others were experiencing the same thing. There were a few individuals who looked intense—those who were at the front of the class—but others seemed to actually be enjoying themselves in the moment. I’m usually part of that latter group but not today. What happened?

Thinking back over the week, I began to realize where I detoured: I watched a little extra TV a few days, I volunteered to help a friend at the last minute, and one night I stayed up late surfing the Web. While none of these things are detrimental in and of themselves, when added together they inevitably worked against me. Although I had fun doing each of them at the time, in the end I paid for it—dearly. As I said before, I wasn’t in a good place.

Yet right on time my compassion reflex kicked it and as I sent myself positive messages (“You made a good choice to focus on your health,” and “You are getting back on track”), I felt my mind and body slowly begin to let go of the anxiety and tension, and I was able to focus on the workout with thoughts of getting healthy and feeling better. Once I realized I didn’t feel so stressed, I began enjoying myself and wouldn’t you know it—I actually smiled. I guess the aerobics instructor wasn’t too far off after all.

≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈≈

Reflecting back later that day, I recalled two important life skills: boundaries and mindfulness.

While exercising relieves stress and keeps us physically fit, practicing boundaries and mindfulness results in improved emotional fitness. When we establish healthy boundaries, we inevitably protect ourselves, which enables us to be responsible stewards over such things as our time. In turn, having healthy boundaries frees us up to practice mindfulness—having the capacity to be present in the moment and to connect with our senses and the environment around us. Good self-care not only includes taking care of our physical bodies but also requires active management of our emotional health. When we make both priorities, we ultimately safeguard our well-being which results in a manageable and balanced life. Are we always going to be perfect in practicing good self-care? No, my account above shows anyone can make a mistake from time to time, but the key is to recognize when you begin to take a detour and then take intentional steps to re-route yourself back to the skills that will help you to restore your emotional fitness.

Am I Okay?

Am I okay? Is this feeling normal? Am I just too sensitive? Am I weak? What’s wrong with me? These questions are very common in my counseling sessions. Men and women, equally, ask if their feelings are reasonable considering their circumstances. How many of you have felt that way? Attempting to replay a scenario with a friend, describing word for word what was said and done to see if your friend reacts the same way. It is the best feeling in the world when a friend validates your story, subsequently confirming that you’re not overreacting.

But what about those circumstances with which you feel no one else could possibly relate:

A difficult marriage, for example, no matter how descriptive you are about a common scenario in your marriage, they don’t seem to get why you are struggling with your spouse and why it’s hurting you so much.

You may be battling with social anxiety, it intensifies when you’re out with friends and they don’t understand why you get so anxious.

Grief after losing a loved one is hard to talk about, those who knew him/her may understand, but it’s been months, you should feel better by now, but you don’t. Is something wrong?

A broken heart after a breakup, your friends seem tired of consoling you, it has been a couple of months now and you still don’t feel like yourself again.

Parenting can be very challenging, but all the other parents around the neighborhood seem to have it all together. This may be your first child, and you don’t really have a way of gauging whether this is harder than it should be.

Should be?

Who designates how you should feel about any given situation? You might encourage yourself to push through a tough new job, or tough first year of marriage, or that pit of anxiety in your stomach that doesn’t go away, or the grief of losing a loved one. But when is it too much to handle on your own? When is it time to seek help? And what if the difficulty in your life is external, meaning its not coming from you? What if the stress is coming from caring for a family member facing an addiction, terminal illness or mental illness?

Research has shown that consistent stress, depression or anxiety can lead to physical ailments such as back pain, headaches and even gastrointestinal issues. Your immune system can be compromised if stress is not dealt with properly. Is this catastrophizing? Not at all, the body and mind is connected, the emotional pain you feel has the potential to affect your health.

What if you’re all about pushing through, not letting things get to you? You’re tough! You may call it suffering well, what does that mean exactly? Suffering well is important, since disappointment or loss can be experienced in almost every area of life. The sweetest things in life require some suffering through sacrifice and hard work. But there is a difference between suffering well and denying your suffering. Suffering well requires acknowledging the feelings and struggle. It requires vulnerability. Inviting someone into your life to say “sounds like you need to take a break,” or “let me help you with that”. Suffering well does not mean ignoring the feelings of disappointment and pain. Ephesians 4:26 says “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” This biblical verse mentions a feeling that most people would describe as unhealthy. Most would say, it’s not good for you to be angry, but the Bible says, “Be angry and do not sin.” You are allowed to feel (fill in the blank with an emotion). But you must do something with that emotion. Suppressing that emotion is not the answer.

Once you are vulnerable, the next step is to learn healthy coping skills. Healthy coping does not make the suffering go away, but it helps you get stronger, emotionally and physically to see that difficult situation with new eyes. It helps you stay grounded in the truth that you will get through that difficulty. Healthy coping may look like counseling, exercising, getting a massage, or all of the above. De-stressing yourself with either one of these healthy coping options helps your mind and body relax so you can think logically about your circumstances and make wise decisions.

Why don’t we give ourselves a break? Why do we need to be validated by others to then admit, “I’m struggling”? Life transitions like marriage, a new job, becoming a parent, losing a loved one, losing a job, a break up, family issues, the list goes on and on, all of these situations can be difficult. The only difference is how you face them.

I’ve wondered why it is so easy for us to pay as much as $50-$200 to get our car checked for that weird sound it keeps making, but we don’t put that much significance on the pain within that won’t go away. The condition of our heart, body and soul is so important. How could we be our best selves to everyone around us if we’re not doing well?

Galatians 6:7-9 says:

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. “

Don’t give up. Take care of yourself. You’re worth it!

Sometimes we need a good cry

So I recently went to see the movie Selma. I was warned ahead of time that it was emotional and I thought I was prepared to experience some sadness. But I wasn’t. It was an unbelievably moving movie and I don’t remember crying that much for any movie. Ever. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the movie, but I cried during and well after the movie was over! As I usually do when I see a good movie, I shared with my friends that it was a ‘must see’. But I also warned them to be ready to cry. What I didn’t expect was the overwhelming response of my friends of: “I don’t want to cry, I’m not going to see it”, or “I hate crying, I’ll pass.”

I don’t consider myself a crier, however, I do appreciate a good cry every now and then and usually feel better afterwards. So why do we hate crying so much? And where did the saying “have a good cry” come from? I dug a little deeper and here is what I found.

One of the most important functions of crying is protecting our eyes from irritants like dust. It also helps lubricate our eyeballs. However, crying can have healthy psychological benefits. Crying is a natural emotional response to feelings such as hurt, sadness or happiness. Crying is also thought to give us a psychological boost by reducing stress and giving us a sense of relief because it is a physical response to an emotional situation. Studies have found that tears (specifically tears linked to emotions) have a higher level of ACTH which is a precursor to the “stress hormone” cortisol. Cortisol is increased during emotional stress and we can literally cry out the stress. Crying also helps lift our moods and deal with painful experiences.

Crying can help express deep emotions that may be inexpressible in any other way. You may even feel cleansed or lighter afterward. In fact, 89% of people in a survey feel better after crying. Crying can also lead to some sort of physical contact when shared with someone. We tend to hug or hold someone we see crying, and physical touch has also been linked to helping stress reduction.

Researchers have also found that those who view crying as a resolution to a distressing event are most likely to find relief, so it helps to find peace in the situation. And if you don’t feel better after crying, don’t beat yourself up about it. Sometimes crying helps, and sometimes it doesn’t. However, frequent or prolonged crying may be a sign of more serious condition, such as depression. If you feel like you can’t control your crying, see your doctor or counselor.

The poet Ovid wrote “It is a relief to weep; grief is satisfied and carried off by tears.” So go ahead and have a good cry.

Life Lessons From My Lab (George) #3: Enjoy Every Moment

GeorgeDog#3

I walked into our back room to find our dog, George, frozen in front of the window. Every muscle in his body was tense and his concentration was locked in on something in the lower windowpane.   I was surprised that he didn’t turn his attention to me as I strolled through the doorway. No, at this moment he was 100% focused on the thing that had his attention. Very slowly, George inched forward, careful not to spook the tiny black speck on the glass. I almost busted into a belly laugh when I realized what George was doing.   My hundred pound yellow lab was, “hunting,” a house fly. I held in my laughter so I could watch as the pursuit unfolded in front of me. The small insect skittered a couple of inches across the pane and George’s nostrils flared a couple of times as he sniffed the bug.   Suddenly, the fly took flight, and in the same second, George’s jaws clamped down on the insect mid-flight. Almost immediately, George spit the fly out. He nudged it with his nose a couple of times, and cocked his head curiously to one side, but the fly didn’t move. I knew the, “hunt,” was over when George sighed and plopped down next to the window. He was successful. It was time to rest. He needed to regain his energy for the next big chase.

There was something about this entire scene that made me smile; and as I sat down to write this blog post I realized that I was smiling because of the way my goofy dog was demonstrating some of the mindfulness skills that I work on with my clients. If you are feeling stressed out, anxious, overwhelmed (emotionally, mentally, physically), and hurried, the following skills will help you to calm down and focus on what really matters NOW.

  • Prioritize – Really think about how you use your time. Does how you spend your time reflect what you truly value?
  • Use your senses – When we slow down enough to pay attention to each of our five senses, not only does it help us to relax, but it makes the task at hand more enjoyable. Touch, sight, taste, sound, smell
  • Don’t multitask- efficiency decreases when we try to multitask. Whether we are spending time with a friend, doing algebra homework, cleaning the house, or finishing a project, we will be more efficient when we focus our attention on one task at a time. You might find the task even more enjoyable.
  • Refocus your attention – When your attention wanders to something else, don’t beat yourself up. Just refocus… again, and again, and again.
  • Breathe – Taking deep breaths slows down our respiration, decreases our heart rate, and brings our blood pressure down. This helps us to stay present to the task at hand.
  • Practice – Don’t be discouraged if these seemingly simple skills prove to be hard to implement. Just like anything else, the more you practice mindfulness skills, the easier these skills will become.

Peaceful (School) Mornings…

Did you read the title of this and chuckle to yourself thinking…

  • “Yeah, right. She’s probably writing this from a beach chair in Tahiti.” (I wish!!!)
  • “She should try living in my house. We live in the real world.”
  • “She probably doesn’t even have school-age children.” (I do- 2 of them.   And 2 dogs. And a cat. And a tortoise. And a husband. But I digress…)

Your kiddos have likely been in school for about a month. If mornings in your house are anything but peaceful, hang on!! There is help and there is hope. Let’s reclaim peace- even on school mornings.

I like lists, so I’m going to give you a handy dandy, practical list of tips get your (school) day off to a great start.

  1. Understand that “leave time” and “load time” are two entirely different times. Read that again and really think about it. It differs for each family depending on the age/stage of each child, but typically “load time” is 5-7 minutes earlier than “leave time.” Give this a shot- it’s a game-changer, I promise!
  2. Eliminate morning clothing drama. This applies to uniform and non-uniform wearing children. The night before school, work with your child to lay out everything he/she will need for the next day. This includes all clothing, accessories, special sports/band equipment, shoes, etc. that they will need the next day. A plastic tub at the foot of the bed or in the closet works well for storing all of the morning necessities. And…the golden rule: NO mind-changing the next day!
  3. Think about food. Have your child decide what he/she will eat for breakfast the next day. Set out the dishes, cereal, etc. Have the milk/juice poured in cups in the fridge. Have lunch boxes pre-packed the night before with perishables ready to add from the fridge in the morning.
  4. Get backpacks loaded and ready to go the night before. Check with each child to be sure that all homework is finished and in the proper place in the binder. Check for any notes or forms that need to be signed and returned, locate library books and any “special” items that need to go to school the next day…you know, “special” things like four items that begin with the letter Q and fit into a brown paper lunch bag, the class pet, show and tell items, the science project with jars of growing mold,etc.
  5. Gather everything that will need to go into the car (backpacks, sports equipment/uniforms, gym bags, snacks, cell phone, purse, car keys, work bag, etc.) and put it in a central location (at my house this is usually on top of the kitchen table because a) it is big enough for all of our junk and b) the puppy hasn’t figured out how to pull stuff off the table and eat it…yet!).

A few final tips and tricks to restore peace to your rushed mornings:

  • Stay off all electronics in the morning (parents too!)
  • Plan to arrive 5-10 minutes early and use the extra time to play a game of I Spy, listen to a favorite song, ask Siri some goofy question, etc. This sure beats shoving the kiddos out of car and telling them to run to beat the tardy bell!

Remember that you are very likely dealing with “morning people” and “night owls” living in the same house. Be sensitive to personal preferences in the morning…and please don’t try to talk to me before I’ve even poured my first cup of coffee!

Parenting STINKS – How to maintain your sanity in those first weeks after baby…

As I stood in the middle of my kitchen holding a fussy four-week old, staring at a pile of dirty dishes, pondering when the last time was that I showered, I had a thought: Parenting STINKS. Where was MY new mom glow? Why didn’t my baby look like the perfect, giggly, Gerber ones on TV? Why did I feel like a ghost of my previous self? I was drained, sleep deprived, and seriously questioning God’s decision making skills in allowing me to care for another human being. I was obviously incapable of such a huge responsibility and the fact that I had made no immediate attempt to clean the poop sliding down my shirt was a clear sign that somebody should be driving me to an insane asylum immediately.

I could not, for the life of me, understand how I was not ROCKING this mommy thing! After all, I was the master of the multi-task. Why back in my day (6 weeks ago) I would have had this baby clean and primped, house clean, laundry done, and all while looking like I stepped out of Vogue magazine. Well, at least out of an H&M magazine – who am I kidding? What the heck happened to my life?? It was not one of my finer moments. Most of all, I was NOT enjoying the perfection of that tiny baby in my arms. I was not soaking in her smell. I was not memorizing the innocence in her face. I was not stopping to smell the poop scented roses ya’ll! And it was killing me. The thing is – the “stink” in my parenting had more to do with what was sliding down my shirt and less to do with what I was experiencing once I made a few adjustments. These tips helped me get out of a sleep-deprived fog and perhaps the can also make your new mom experience… well… a little less smelly.

1. TAKE THE HELP: Something about making it through the insanity that is labor and delivery makes us feel superhuman – as we should. You just went through one of the most excruciating experiences that you could ever put your body through. You did it! Your body did not fail you and you brought life into the world. WOW! You can do anything! Yes anything, but that does not mean you have to! It may feel like you can handle everything on your own after that, but the truth is it’s hard and you will only experience your child at this moment this ONE time in your life. You cannot get that time back once it’s gone. So when somebody offers to cook you dinner take that extra time to stare at that perfect little face you delivered. If somebody wants to do your laundry for you –take a nap so that you can enjoy every second with your little one instead of wishing you had some time for a nap. And when some saint offers to stay up with the baby over night so you can get a full nights rest…do a 30-second happy dance and get your tush to bed before they change their mind!

2. GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK: We have so much pressure in today’s society to do it all and do it well. We all have that mom-friend who makes it look so easy. The truth is all of us have different circumstances and I guarantee that just because that mom is not struggling with the same situation you are, she is struggling in another area. Stop comparing yourself to the supermom next door or on TV. Take some time to reflect on the challenges that are set before you and all that you have accomplished already…you already ROCK! So support the women around you who are struggling with their own issues and pat yourself on the back regardless of how many dishes you see or how much laundry there is to clean. You will get to it… but in this moment, enjoy the fruits of your literal labor—that bundle of joy.

3. BE REALISTIC: Having a new baby means you are not likely going to get a full nights rest or make it to most of those invites you keep receiving for showers and weddings and parties. Heck, going to the restroom for a few minutes can take some prayer and an act of God some days. Embrace it! One of my good friends told me words that I won’t forget – it’s just a season. One of the more challenging seasons but still just a season that will pass, and WAY faster than you want it to! You have a choice to focus on the sleep, sex, and “me” time you’re not getting or to try and soak in as much of it as you can before it all passes you by.

4. STOP GOOGLING: Being a new mom means a ton of unanswered questions. Heck sometimes you have a good answer but you want the BEST answer. Of course, we all want the best for our babies. The problem is when you are in a sleep deprived frenzy you check out all your apps, Google, BabyCenter, WebMD and any blog you can get your hands on to get an answer that might temporarily soothe you. You are so caught up trying to make sure you are doing something, anything, to get an answer you don’t stop to hear your own new mom voice. I encourage you to let the internet go, even for a week, and trust your instincts. You have some of those answers all on your own. Nobody knows your baby better than you. Seeking answers from so many different avenues can be more mind boggling than the question or concern at hand. Of course if you think your baby has a medical concern contact your doctor, but also allow your inner supermom to shine and allow yourself some room for mistakes. No mom is perfect but the mere fact that you would go to any length to find the answers for your child guarantees that YOU are perfect for YOUR baby.

5. VENT: Get out of the house for a few hours and get some fresh air! YES, you will think about your baby and it will be hard to walk away but give it a few minutes and you WILL feel better. Find a friend or neighbor and take a walk or get a manicure or even join a mom’s group that will allow you to get some things off of your chest. Talk about it with other mom’s-we totally GET IT. We have been there! Besides, dad and baby need some time to bond. A couple of hours away will do wonders to clear your head. A good chat with another mom will do wonders for your soul! Check out my new mom’s group below where you can meet other new mom’s, a therapist and even an MD. We are here for you too!

New Mommies Group Ad

The Mind-Body Connection

If you suffer from symptoms such as headaches, shortness of breath, chest pain or weight gain, your initial thought is probably not “I should evaluate my emotional health”. But in fact, our emotions have significant effects on our physical body. Psychological studies prove that our minds and our bodies are intimately connected. Therefore, good mental health can improve physical health and poor emotional health can cause a decline in physical health.

As a family physician, I would estimate that about two-thirds of my office visits are partly due to stress-related symptoms. What’s more, I have noticed that my patients with physical symptoms caused by stress-related issues almost universally have an extremely difficult time accepting that the root cause of the problem is mentally related.

For example, I have had numerous patients experience chest pain that, despite repeated testing, does not have a physical identifiable cause. Even with multiple visits to the emergency room, EKG’s, lab work and other testing, no cause for the chest pain is found. When I ask them about stress, 99% of the time they are anxious, depressed, or going through an extremely difficult time in their life. Yet generally these patients are reluctant to accept that the stress, worry and anxiety in their life are causing their physical symptoms. It often takes multiple visits, numerous tests and a lot time in discussion on how mental health can cause real physical symptoms. This phenomenon is called somatization – an unconscious process through which psychological distress is converted to physical symptoms.

What we don’t hear very often is that stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: 1) heart disease 2) cancer 3) lung disease 4) strokes 5) accidents and 6) Alzheimer’s. This is partly because the body does not distinguish between physical and psychological stress. Research shows that those who repress their emotions suffer more physically. One specific study shows that cancer patients who chronically avoid expressing their feelings die sooner and in greater numbers than those who freely express their emotions. The ways in which emotions are managed is one of the most relevant but least examined issues in medicine today. Despite all the evidence, unfortunately annual physical exams generally do not include an adequate assessment of emotional and mental health.

But, there is good news! You can take control of both your mental and physical wellbeing. The first step is to recognize the warning signs in order to prevent poor emotional and physical health. Symptoms such as memory problems, diarrhea or constipation, frequent colds, loss of sex drive, inability to concentrate and others could be a warning sign of poor emotional health. Once you recognize these symptoms, spend time reflecting on whether your emotional state could be contributing to these symptoms. Then, seek help from a medical professional, either a counselor or your physician. It is important that you express to your healthcare professional all of your symptoms including your emotional state. With ample insight into your overall health, you will assist your healthcare professional in properly diagnosing and treating you.

The Anxious Athlete: Practical Techniques to Help Alleviate Your Child’s Fear

Every parent of a child who competes in any sporting event has most likely witnessed some level of pre-game jitters. Sports anxiety isn’t just for the professional athletes, especially considering the emphasis that our culture places on success and competition. That’s right, kids are more than just a little susceptible to pre-game pressure. This nervousness can either be channeled as a driving force of motivation or as a paralyzing numbness they can’t seem to shake. It’s important to remember that at least some degree of nervousness before and during a sporting event is completely normal. But, if the anxiety gets out of hand, there are a few strategies that may be helpful to alleviate the stress. Three of the simplest exercises associated with sports related performance anxiety are visualization, mindfulness, and breathing.

We’ll start with the easiest of the three- breathing. I know this sounds like a suspiciously simple solution, but when you help your player learn how to exhale effectively, you may be surprised at the outcome. Sports psychologists call this “performance exhaling”. Teach your child to experience the relaxation response that accompanies an intentional exhale. This technique can be useful in situations both on and off the field and can be practiced nearly every day. Once your child is able to associate the intentional exhale with relaxation, he or she can apply it during a game as a part of settling into the batter’s box or while approaching the free throw line.

This next technique involves visualization. Have you even been lining up a putt while thinking “don’t hit it left, you hit it left last time, don’t hit it left”? Chances are good that you ended up hitting it left. Think about it- the only information your brain was getting was left, left, left. Teach your child to 180o those thoughts and visualize what they DO want to do, instead of what they don’t want to do. When the night before the big game comes, encourage them to focus on and actively visualize not just hitting line drives, but the specifics of what goes into hitting that line drive: where the ball hits the bat, head down, elbow in, and “squishing” the bug with their back toe. Encouraging your child to visualize the positives, or what they would like to happen, also offers them that mental training that no amount of time in the cages can accomplish.

The third technique for reducing your child’s pre-game anxiety is mindfulness. I realize this concept sounds a bit “new age-y” or possibly too advanced for a younger child. I assure you- helping your child develop mindfulness in age-appropriate ways is an excellent strategy for regulating any emotion, including pre-game jitters. For most of the older kids, the act of being mindful involves not just intentional breathing and visualization, but being actively aware of these experiences. Encourage your child to pick a moment before a sporting event. This can be breakfast the morning of a big game, loading up on the bus before heading to the stadium, or crossing the white line while running out onto the field. This is the moment that all the tension, all the anxieties, all the fears get put on the back burner and focus is turned onto the task at hand. The act of narrowing down the field of focus can result in your child reaching a peak-performance state, or what pros call “the zone”.

Helping to ease your child’s sports related anxiety can be achieved in a lot of ways. Sometimes, a child may only need a reassuring smile to feel better before the big game, and the best way to get to know the needs of your child is by creating and maintaining open communication. Whether you’re raising a 6 year old athlete or a 16 year old athlete, helping to reduce the pre-game jitters using these techniques will instill in them personal coping skills that will last a lifetime.

10 Stress Busters for Finals Week

Finals are just around the corner! But there’s no need panic. In fact, when studying for finals, panicking is totally counterproductive. So if you feel your blood pressure start to rise, try some of these strategies to stay calm under pressure.

1. Breathe!!! – When you hold your breath, you increase the neurotransmitter adrenaline. Adrenaline is great for regulating your metabolism, making roller coasters exciting, and helping you run quickly if you are ever chased by a tiger. But, adrenaline is the enemy when you are anxious, it can induce panic!  Try breathing in for 7 seconds, holding your breath for four seconds, breathe out for eight seconds.  Then repeat four more times.

2. Start studying early – The earlier one starts studying, the better. There is nothing worse than cramming the night before the test and realizing that you are out of time and you can’t find your study guide. Insufficient study time is one of the biggest underlying problems for students who suffer from test anxiety. When you start studying early and hit a roadblock, you will have time to ask for clarification or tutoring.

3. Find a furry animal – Playing or snuggling with a dog or cat has been so effective in reducing stress that many universities around the world have started having a “puppy room” during finals week.  It’s a room full of puppies!  How can that not be relaxing???

4. Go for a walk or a run – Whether you are a marathon runner or a strolling through the park kind of a person, get outside and go.  It’s great to step away from the books intermittently and moving around will increase the blood flow to your brain.

5. Drink plenty of water – Many people overload on caffeine during finals week.  Caffeine has been linked to increased anxiety and panic attacks.  Drink plenty of water!

6. Make time for your passions – Take a 15-30 minute break to do something you are passionate about.   Taking time for music, dancing, friends, and sports can rejuvenate your soul.

7. Get plenty of sleep – People think that it is wise to pull all-nighters when studying for finals.  It’s real simple: you don’t sleep, you can’t think.

8. Take a social media break – Anxiety is contagious.  If you are reading all about your friend’s anxiety about finals, you will start to feel it too.

9. Study with friends – Choose a (not completely anxious) friend and study together.  You can divide the work, quiz one another, and help each other when the work is confusing or difficult.  Also, one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to someone else.

10. Get your parents to chill out! (Tell your parents to read this part.) “Are you studying?” “Why aren’t you studying?” “Do you care that finals are just around the corner?” “You don’t have time for that, start studying!” CHILL OUT PARENTS!!! Anxiety is contagious! Students are hearing about finals from every teacher, all of their friends, their friends’ parents, and all of your neighbors, etc. Your child is fully aware that finals are approaching and EVERYONE is anxious about them! In a calm manner, ask your child what you can do to help them. Offer to bring them healthy snacks, quiz them, take a walk with them, and help them get organized. Finally, find something absolutely ridicules to laugh about. Laughter is a wonderfully fun stress reducer!