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7 Tips to Combat Covid-19 Anxiety

by Melissa Skinner, MA, LCPC

1. Limit Exposure to Media

Being informed is important. It allows us to make important decisions to keep ourselves and our families safe. Pick two reliable news sources and check in on them once a day. It is not helpful to stay plugged into the media, listening to news about the pandemic all day.

2. Be Intentional with Thoughts and Words

Be intentional about how much time you spend thinking about the virus and talking about it with others. Sometimes redirecting thoughts towards an engaging activity or some form of physical exercise can help to serve as a healthy distraction.

3. Focus on the Present

If you’re feeling stuck and experiencing negative thoughts, feelings and body sensations, try bringing yourself back to the here and now. To ground yourself, focus on your 5 basic senses. What do you see, smell, hear, touch and taste in the present moment? Try rubbing a soft blanket and notice how it feels between your fingers. With focused attention on what is happening to you physically, either in your body or in your surroundings, you’ll be able to bring yourself back to the present moment. This is a useful technique, when you are feeling trapped by thoughts that are causing anxiety. Once you are back in the moment, ask yourself some reframing questions such as, “What is safe right now in my world?” or “What is ok right now?” and “What am I grateful for today?”.

4. Be Kind to Yourself

Your first reaction to whatever you may be going through, is your own internal reaction. If that is one of kindness and acceptance, it makes things a lot easier. If you immediately judge yourself or your anxiety, it adds another layer of suffering. Would you judge a friend who came to you feeling anxious or would you treat them with kindness and love? Treat yourself with the same grace and compassion that you would a friend. If you are wound up and feeling anxious, put one hand on your chest and one on your heart and say something kind to yourself like, “These are very unusual and difficult time, but this will pass and I am doing the best I can under the circumstances.” Commit to continued self-kindness through this ordeal.

5. Be Kind to Others

If you know someone that is quarantined, reach out and extend emotional support. Call, FaceTime, email, or text. Let others know that you are thinking of them. Continue staying connected to family and friends and nurture your support system. One of the silver-linings of this type of community-wide crises, is the experience of unity, togetherness and support that we can gain from one another.

6. Tap into your Resilience

What emotional, mental, or physical mountains have you climbed in the past? What adversity have you been faced with before and made it through? If you’ve made it this far in your life, you’ve most likely had to overcome some obstacles to get to where you are. Know that the same grit and strength that got you through challenges in the past, will get you through this too.

7. Seek Help from a Professional

Reach out and get the support of a trusted professional. If you’re concerned about leaving your home, many therapists are now offering TeleHealth counseling sessions. Be aware there is always someone available to listen, do not be afraid to share your story. You are not alone. The National Crises Hotline number is 1-899-273-8255

Melissa Skinner is the founder of Northwest Counseling & Wellness and a Licensed Clinical Therapist working with children, teens and families. To schedule a free phone consultation call 872-222-3132. Now offering TeleTherapy. Call to inquire.

Learning Disabilities and Self-Esteem

by Melissa Skinner, M.A., LCPC

Throughout my career in the mental health field, I have seen many children and teens struggling with the consequences of a learning disability. One of the worst consequences of a learning disability is when it has devastating effects on a child’s self-esteem. Feelings of low self-worth and a negative view of one’s abilities is not uncommon. When these kids are left unsupported their feelings can lead to more serious behavioral and emotional problems. The most common learning disorders that I see in my practice are Dyslexia and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Dyslexia affects 20% of the population and represents 80-90% of all those with learning disabilities, while ADHD has affected more than 6.4 million children at some point (Ryan C., 2017). ADHD is not technically considered a learning disability; however, it does affect a child’s ability to learn in school. ADHD impacts a child’s impulse control and their ability to pay attention, while Dyslexia makes it hard to acquire specific skills, like reading or writing. Scientific evidence points to both being neurologically based conditions. These two learning impediments can be equally as challenging for a person, but they are different in nature. Unlike typical learning disabilities, ADHD can be treated with medications and behavioral therapies, while Dyslexia relies on instructional interventions. What both conditions have in common is that children or teens that are diagnosed with either one, very often suffer from poor self-image and an inferiority complex. As their peers begin to excel in their ability to read, write or solve math problems, they continue to struggle and feel frustrated and defeated. If left undiagnosed, feelings of frustration can escalate, leaving the child to conclude that they’re failing because they are dumb.

Parents often wonder whether diagnosing or labeling their child as Dyslexic or as having ADHD is helpful or harmful. Many times, parents do not want their child “labeled” for fear of what teachers, peers and ultimately colleges might think. There are in fact more benefits to “labeling” your child and using their diagnosis to help them. The earlier a child can get the appropriate interventions for a learning disability, the better. With a proper diagnosis, schools can develop education plans to best meet a child’s academic needs. Educators have come a long way in their understanding of learning disabilities and good teachers know that smart children can also have a learning difference and still be successful. Receiving a diagnosis can also be validating to a child who has struggled in school for a long time. Once these kids learn that their IQ is average or above average, but that their brains learn differently, they begin to let go of the fear that they’re simply “stupid” or incapable. When older kids are given a diagnosis, they can go into the scientific literature themselves and see that many others have the same diagnosis and some of the same challenges. If parents do not use the label dyslexic or ADHD, they run the risk of having their child find out later about their diagnosis and then assume their parents kept it hidden because the diagnosis was too awful to face. These are not doomsday diagnoses and the sooner the problem is addressed the better the prognosis.

So, knowing that children with learning disabilities are at risk for having lower self-esteem than that of their peers, what are we to do as parents? First and foremost, become your own expert on the topic of your child’s learning issues. You are the most effective advocate and ultimately it is your responsibility to make sure your child is receiving the services they need. Focusing on supporting your child’s emotional needs and helping them to overcome issues related specifically to learning problems and low self-esteem is your number one job! Reaching out for guidance from a licensed mental health provider may be a good option in some cases. Self-esteem and mental health are one of the most important aspect of helping a child with a learning disability. The reading and writing part can always be figured out, but once a child sees him or herself as someone that cannot learn, then the problem becomes much bigger.

Parenting a child with a learning disability can certainly be challenging but just like the disability itself, it is not insurmountable by any stretch. The following are a few tips to help a child with a learning disability increase self-esteem.

  • Make sure your child understands what a learning disability is and that it has nothing to do with intelligence.
  • Challenge negative thoughts such as “I’ll never succeed” or “I’m just not smart”.
  • Set your child up for success by setting achievable goals.
  • Validate tough emotions such as shame and frustration and talk through difficult situations which may arise at school.
  • Provide role models that can serve as an inspiration to your child. Many famous actors, entrepreneurs and sports players have struggled with a learning disability but have persevered.
  • Nurture and celebrate strengths. Find, focus on and nurture your child’s strengths and talents. (art, sports, music etc.)
  • Review classroom accommodations. Make sure your child has all the resources available to assist with successful learning.
  • Be your child’s best cheer leader. Offer encouragement while focusing on effort not outcome.  

Melissa Skinner is the founder of Northwest Counseling & Wellness and a Licensed Clinical Therapist who has been working with children, teens and families for over 15 years. To schedule a free phone consultation call 872-222-3132

4 Ways to Help Your Teen With Grief

By Melissa Skinner, M.A., LCPC

The teenage years can be a very turbulent time, but for those teens that have experienced the death of a family member or friend, it can be an especially challenging time. Navigating through their own grief, while trying to manage the roller coaster ride that is adolescence, is not easy. Since teens typically have less life experience and coping strategies then adults, they need the support of the important adults in their lives. Here are some ways adults can help teens to manage their grief.

1. STICK WITH ROUTINES

Adolescence is a time when most teens are very focused on fitting in with peers. When a death or tragedy occurs, they often feel singled out or set apart from the group. This compounds feelings of isolation and loneliness. Sticking to routines and helping to create a feeling of normalcy is important and will help your child feel less overwhelmed by their own sadness. Continue with their regular activities and encourage them to stay connected to friends.

2. LEAVE THE DOOR OPEN, BUT DON’T PUSH IT OPEN

As parents, we often just want to fix it and make things better for our children, but grief happens and unfolds at its own pace. Each person grieves differently and the process can’t be forced. Communicate to your teen, that you are always available, if or when they want to talk about the death. Do not force a conversation about their feelings, but instead follow their lead and be their “companion” on the journey.

3. ENCOURAGE THE EXPRESSION OF GRIEF THROUGH RITUALS 

Many teens find comfort in the act of doing something when they’ve lost a loved one. Rituals can serve as a way to acknowledge the reality of the death, while also giving testimony to the unique life of the individual who has died. Rituals can be simple, such as carrying a symbolic object, as a reminder, or planting a tree in honor of the person who has died. Other ideas include, holding a candlelight service, writing a letter or leaving something on the gravesite.

4. GET HELP FOR YOUR TEEN

Grief ebbs and flows. There is no timeline for grief and no predictable, linear path through grief. Each person experiences it differently. One day you may find that your teen seems ok and the next day, not so much. In general, some teens will struggle more than others and may need additional support. Therapy is beneficial to teens that worry they may be burdening their parents (who are also grieving) with their own sadness. Additionally, through grief support groups, teens can learn more effective ways to use social support. Teens in bereavement groups, have the opportunity to process their loss in a supportive environment, with peers who are going through similar experiences.

Melissa Skinner is the founder of Northwest Counseling & Wellness and a Licensed Clinical Therapist who has been working with teens and their families for 15 years. To schedule a free phone consultation call 872-222-3132

Teens and Suicide: What Parents Should Know

  • By Melissa Skinner, M.A., LCPC

Research has shown that suicide is the third leading cause of death among American adolescents. One million teens attempts suicide each year and the incidence of suicide attempts reaches a peak during the mid-adolescent years. More girls them boys attempt suicide, but more boys succeed in killing themselves. The statistics are terrifying and unfortunately there is still a stigma which surrounds mental illness, preventing kids from getting the help they need.

For those parents that have been lucky enough to spot the warning signs early and are seeking treatment, please know that family therapy is the most effective type of therapy. Adolescents with suicidal thoughts, have much better therapeutic results and a greater reduction in symptoms, when treated with family therapy, as opposed to one on one individual therapy. It’s incredibly important for the family, mainly the parents, to be involved in a suicidal teens treatment.

The goal of family therapy is to work on strengthening the parent-child relationship. The parents are a key component to helping the teen overcome their problem. In family therapy the teen will reconnect with their parents and with the help of the therapist, learn to articulate the immense pain they are feeling. A family therapist will facilitate a dialogue and encourage the teenager to begin to talk openly to their parents. Throughout sessions, the teen will learn how to process their own emotions, entertain new perspectives and develop better strategies to manage their feelings.

Once a teenager has opened up in family therapy, parents will learn how to respond in ways that encourage further and continued disclosures from their teen. Communication skills like empathy, curiosity, openness and an ability to handle a child’s anguish, all play an important role in strengthening the parent-child relationship. When a child feels heard, they feel less alone and more valued.  They will be more likely to turn to their parents the next time they need support.

Teenagers who take their lives exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say or what they do. If you think your teen might be suicidal it’s crucial to take immediate action. Talk with him or her and ask them directly how they are feeling and what they are thinking. Do not be afraid to use the word suicide. Using the word will not plant ideas in your teenager’s head. If you think your teen is in immediate danger, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK. The following is a list of some of the potential warning signs.

  • Threats to commit suicide or harm oneself in some way
  • Making a plan to commit suicide
  • Acquiring the means to commit suicide (e.g., gathering pills, getting a gun, etc.)
  • Rehearsing or practicing the act of suicide
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness
  • Talking about, joking about, writing about, or drawing about death
  • Withdrawing from social activities or friendships
  • Losing interest in normal, fun everyday activities
  • Giving away important personal items
  • Changes in personality or mood

For free and confidential support (24/7) call National Suicide Prevention Hotline  1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Melissa Skinner is the founder of Northwest Counseling & Wellness and a Licensed Clinical Therapist who has been working with teens and their families for 15 years. To schedule a free phone consultation call 872-222-3132

Why Teen Lies- How to Respond & Build Trust

by Melissa Skinner, M.A., LCPC


 

When I am working with teenagers and their families it’s extremely common for the issue of lying to come up. In fact 99% of the time it does. Lying, to a degree, is a normal part of the development of an adolescent. Yes, that’s right, it normal! It is not uncommon for children at all stages in life to tell lies from time to time. Research shows that children start to lie around age three, when they’re still unable to differentiate between fantasy and reality. When children are young, telling lies is an interesting way to test the boundaries. Once a child becomes an adolescent, a lie usually serves as a means to solve a specific problem. Perhaps it’s a way to get out of trouble, to fit in with peers or to protect their freedom. During adolescence the teenager is processing information with the emotional part of the brain, known as the amygdala. It is not until a person’s mid 20’s that they begin to process information with the rational part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex). Since this connection between the emotional part of the brain and the decision-making center is still developing, teenagers are not capable of thinking through consequences in the same way that an adult is.

So now that we’ve established that lying among teenagers, is to some degree very normal, we can all breathe a small sigh of relief. If however your teenager is lying consistently or compulsively, in addition to other behavioral problems, there is likely a bigger problem and you should seek professional help from a licensed therapist. There is a big difference between small lies and lies that are used to hide substance abuse and dangerous or risky behavior. So always be asking yourself. “why is my teenager lying, what is behind the lie and what problem is he or she trying to solve?”. Perhaps your teen is lying because they’re afraid of getting in trouble or they want to do something they think you won’t allow them to do. Or are they embellishing their own reality, due to a lack of self-esteem? Paying attention to what teenagers are lying about and why, often sheds light on what is going on in their worlds.

So how should parent’s respond when their teens lie? The most common reaction I see from parent’s is one of anger, which is the wrong response. This anger is motivated by their own fear; the fear that their child’s lying will become consistent and compulsive. Ultimately, on some level, parent’s fear they will fail at parenting and that their child will grow into an immoral adult. When parents react from this place  of fear, it usually displays as anger, driving them to shame their teen and overreact with harsh punishments. Unfortunately these reactions cause teenagers to shut down further and be less likely to tell the truth the next time. They may conclude that it is in their best interest to continue lying, to avoid facing the same retribution as the last time. Teens lie when they are stressed, so if adults fly off the handle when a lie is told, teens will disconnect further and parent’s will find themselves farther from the truth.

The single best way to respond when your teenager tells a lie, no matter how small,  is to say “when you lie to me it hurts my feelings and I really want you to know that you can trust me and that everything will be OK”. This response creates an environment of safety and security in which a seed of trust can begin to grow. The next time your teenager is feeling stressed, he or she will look to you and think okay there is someone who I can trust, talk to and tell the truth to.

Although we know teens will inevitably lie at some stage, we can actually minimize the likelihood of lying. One way to do this is for parent’s to take a leap of faith and trust their teenagers. When teens feel trusted, they also feel inspired to behave in a way that will continue to gain the trust of the important adults in their lives. Additionally, being willing to negotiate with your teen and make exceptions to rules, may help minimize lying. When teens feel heard, and believe they have a say in the decisions that impact their lives, they feel less threatened by adults and are less likely to lie. Lastly, parent’s need to model honesty themselves. Parent’s need to set positive examples by being truthful in their own actions and relationships. When parent’s demonstrate an honest character, they are helping their teens develop their moral compasses. The morals your teens learn as kids will affect how they see the world and ultimately how they behave as adults.

Melissa Skinner is the founder of Northwest Counseling & Wellness and a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been working with adolescents and their families for 15 years. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call 872-222-3132