Back to School

By Tonya Swartzendruber, MA

For many families, the fall represents a significant transition period. Returning to a school schedule can be daunting for kids and parents alike. Earlier bedtimes, packed morning routines, performance expectations, and more time away from parents are just a few changes kids face during the school year. A little planning can go a long way to help your family make this transition a smooth one.  Here are a few tips to consider:

Establish a school-like schedule gradually a week or two before the first day of school.

During the summer, many families relax bedtime, wake time, and meal schedules. Changing all of this at once on the first day of school can be a challenge. Try to gradually adjust sleep and wake times and bring more structure to the day 1-2 weeks before school starts. This can help the back-to-school transition feel more natural by the time Labor Day comes around.

 Address school-related anxieties with your child.

Even for kids that have already been in school for several years, the transition to a new grade can bring anxiety. Ask children about how they are feeling, listen carefully to any concerns they raise, and see if any can be addressed ahead of time. Normalize these concerns for your kids. Convey that transitions are hard for most people. At the same time, help them to refocus on what they are excited about in order to get into a positive space to face the challenges of school.

Involve kids in preparing for school.

This could be as simple as buying school supplies and new clothes together. The night before the first day of school, involve your kids in packing backpacks, lunches, choosing what to wear, and laying out their clothes. This will make the first morning of school much less hectic and stressful for everyone.

Convey excitement and confidence about this transition!

Kids are keen observers of their parents. They often take their cues from their parents to help them know how to feel about and prepare for new challenges. If you, as a parent are feeling anxious or uptight about any upcoming school challenges, find support and a place to talk about this with people other than your children. That way you can convey excitement and confidence about the new school year.

Staying Cool in Summer Heat

By Yoni Sobin, PsyD

In the winter, we face an increased risk of flu and seasonal depression, so we stay vigilant for contagions, stay warm, and keep engaged in activities with others (see my previous article on loneliness – http://www.centerforanxiety.org/2016/12/20/loneliest-time-year/). We typically overlook seasonal risks in the summer, but here are two concerns to be mindful of as the temperatures rise:

Dehydration

Almost everyone knows the value of protecting our skin against the sun, but protection against dehydration is equally important and often neglected. During the summer, the average adult loses over two liters of water daily through sweat (we have over two million sweat glands!) and other bodily functions. And this can impact our mental health – dehydration is associated with mood lability, poor concentration, depression, and anxiety.

A key strategy to combatting dehydration is using mindfulness to observe our body sensations and noticing early signs when we are running low on water. Low-grade headaches or muscle cramps, fatigue, lightheadedness, difficulty concentrating, and reduced urination or darker/yellower urine are some indications.

Behaviorally speaking, drink eight to ten glasses of water daily throughout the summer to facilitate an optimally focused and healthy mind. Eating foods like cucumber and watermelon are also excellent ways to stay hydrated. Sports drinks help restore electrolytes and body salts such as sodium and potassium. And if you’re exercising outdoors, drink at least 6 ounces of additional fluids each 30-minutes, and try to schedule activities in the mornings or afternoons when it is cooler outside. For beachcombers, while catching the sea breeze is a great way to cool down, remember to bring at least two liters of water per person since the sun’s reflection on the water surface significantly increases dehydration risk and ultraviolet ray exposure.

Lethargy

While seasonal depression tends to decrease during warmer months, many individuals still experience depressive episodes in the summer. One reason is that is easy to stay indoors and watch television or read a book in an air-conditioned room, and by contrast, the most effective tools for staving off depression are remaining active and maintaining interpersonal connections.

If you’re feeling blue during the days of sun, try to attend events or concerts outdoors. Go to a beach or find a water-based activity. Attend or even host a barbeque. Take a weekend vacation getaway with a friend or on your own. Google “free things near me today” and do one or two things that pop up. Try one new activity each week. Spend time in nature (while remaining hydrated, of course) and give yourself time to decompress your mind. Whatever you do, engage with your activities mindfully. Take note of sounds, sights, smells, sensations, and tastes.

If the weather is too hot to comfortably enjoy the outdoors and you find yourself binge-watching the West Wing or Big Bang Theory while sitting on the sofa, be sure to take at least a 10-minute break after each episode to walk around the block or call a friend. Research shows that sedentary activities increase depression risk, and punctuating the day with active blocks can make a big difference.

On the whole: While summer is a great time to relax, it’s important to remain mindful and never relax attitudes towards protecting our physical and mental health!

The Science of Acceptance (and How to Get “Unstuck”)

By Aliza Dinerstein, LMSW

Throughout life, many of us experience periods of time when we find ourselves feeling stuck. We may feel stuck in an unfulfilling job, stuck in a conflict with a good friend, or even stuck in our own feelings of depression, panic, or fear. Understandably, our instinctual response is to try everything in our power to fight the reality as it is, in the hopes of rewriting the past and present according to the script of what we feel reality should be. Although on the surface this approach appears to be constructive, it is often the very act of not accepting the facts of reality which can cause us to become even more fastened to the problems that we are trying to rid ourselves of.

What is Acceptance?

Acceptance, the willingness to fully experience reality as it is, is a fundamental aspect of evidence-based psychotherapy. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a behaviorally oriented approach to psychotherapy that places emphasis on the combination of acceptance and behavioral change. Within the ACT framework, acceptance is considered the impetus of change in regards to our actions, thoughts, and feelings. Similarly, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) also focuses heavily on “radical acceptance” as a primary intervention for tolerating, decreasing suffering, and increasing our capacity for change.

Why is accepting reality so important?

When we reject reality we focus our energies on trying to change things that are beyond our control, which then causes us to feel stuck and helpless. Non-acceptance leads us to getting tangled up in our distressing thoughts and feelings, and we may notice ourselves trying to undo the past and control the future. Furthermore, refusal to accept our challenges causes us to avoid experiences of pain or fear, and before we know it we are no longer able to do the things that matter to us most. This concept is illustrated with the following metaphor (adapted from ACT): Imagine that you were blindfolded and placed in a large field, and you were given a small bag with some items to help you in the darkness. Unbeknownst to you, this very field was full of large holes, and soon after you began walking around the land you fall into a deep pit. You don’t know how to get out, so you take out your bag and find a shovel. You feel a sense of relief knowing that you have found the “perfect” tool, and you began to dig. However, as time passes, you realize that not only are you still in the hole, but it is actually much bigger. You continue to dig, even more fervently, but somehow the hole just continues to grow… Non-acceptance of reality may seem like the only tool we have, but it only creates the illusion that we are working towards solving our problem while we are actually just digging ourselves deeper into a hole.

How can I start to work on Acceptance?

Here are four steps you can take today:

  1. Accept with your whole self. Instead of just thinking, practice acceptance by engaging your heart and your body, as well as your mind. Use relaxation techniques (such as mindfully counting your breath), prayer, or go to a place that makes you feel calm while you think about the challenge of fully accepting reality for what it is.
  2. Use an acceptance (or self-acceptance) statement. Choose a phrase that helps you feel closer to accepting reality such as “this is what it is”  or “I accept myself as I am.”
  3. Fake it until you make it. List the things you would actually do if you were more accepting, and then act as if you have already accepted the unpleasant realities in your life. Choose one thing on the list and do it each day, even if you don’t feel motivated in the moment.
  4. Ride the wave. Allow sadness, disappointment, and/or grief to rise within you, while acknowledging that life can be worth living, even with pain. Often, after the emotions heighten they will naturally fall again, just like a wave.

Accepting reality is both a choice and a skill. The more we engage in the practices of acceptance we can build resilience to handle life’s challenges without getting “stuck,” and increase our capacity to not only tolerate difficulty but to grow through it as well.