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Sleep Solutions for Children with ADHD

Five Sleep Solutions for Children with ADHD

Children with ADHD often struggle with sleep. This is no surprise to the many exhausted parents. You’ve tried everything. You sang songs, read books, and sat outside the bedroom door as your child remained awake for hours. As a last resort, many parents use sleep medications meant for adults on their children. Sadly, those medications can actually disturb a child’s sleep. Instead of struggling to fall asleep at 8 p.m., your kiddo could be wide awake at 3 a.m. Fortunately, the strongest supports to a child’s regular and healthy sleep are pretty straightforward. Here are five sleep solutions for children with ADHD and anxiety disorders:

Commit to a Pattern (No Matter What!)

Children do best when they go to bed at the same time, the say way, every single night. Having leniency on weekends or vacation days, while seeming like a small tweak, just makes the weekdays all the more difficult. So think of what would actually work for your child, and stick to the pattern. The adjustment at the beginning will be a struggle (you will have to fight for it), but the result will be peace in the house and a well rested child.

Dark and Distraction Free Bedrooms

A singular tiny sliver of light coming from the window or the light from a bedside clock can keep your little one up. Anything with a screen or a flashing light (no matter how small it may seem) is just unhelpful for children with ADHD. Consider blackout curtains and facing the bed away from the light of doors. Also, while light can be an issue, so can noise (or the lack of noise). Consider investing in a white noise machine or a small fan to block out all the little distracting noises one can hear at night. We recommend the Marpac Dohm-DS All Natural Sound Machine (affiliate link).

Deep Breathing

Try sitting in bed with your child and show him how to relax simply by breathing. Close your eyes, breathe in deeply for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 5 seconds, and exhale slowly for 6 seconds. This slows the heart rate, focuses your child’s mind on one thing (breathing), and switches his body into sleep mode. Here’s a simple image to remember: “Smell the rose, now blow out the candle.”

Tangible Items and Rewards

Take a clock and color in the hours that your child needs to stay in bed. Any kind of visual clues give instant clarification of your expectations. Also, praise and rewards strengthen the pattern far more effectively than punishment. Make a morning of uninterrupted sleep a celebration. Tell her how proud you are, and ask if she feels so much better.

Take the Pressure Off

Remember, your child is tired, so his coping skills are down. You know how it’s hard for you to sleep when you’re stressed about work? It can be like that for your child every night. But If you take the pressure off of him and off of you, you can alleviate the intensity of bedtime. Try saying, “You don’t have to go to sleep right away, but I’d like you to try being still and closing your eyes.”  Also, it helps if there is a safe outlet for your child to work out his thoughts before bed. Having some one-on-one time before bed can be a great outlet for your child to share the things that cause her anxiety. Share a simple calming phrase your child can repeat when those anxious thoughts pop up. It can be as simple as: “I’m okay, I’m loved, everything will be okay” or it can be a prayer, a mantra, or a quote from her favorite book. Consider giving your child a journal to write in just before bed.

Rest easy, parents – most of the time, sleep difficulties are a developmental phase. It will get better!

Our clinicians specialize in assessment and treatment of ADHD at our offices in Fort Collins. Feel free to give us a call to learn how our services could be helpful or to schedule an appointment. You can reach us at (970) 889-8204 or contact@coloradocac.com.

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Anxiety at school

Dealing with School Anxiety

The homework load, the social pressures, standardized testing, all of these and more can cause your child to experience anxiety in school. While some stressors can be helpful (meeting deadlines, learning organization, understanding teamwork), too much stress will backfire and produce levels of anxiety that can be harmful. Suddenly the thought of a bad grade can produce outright terror of failing in life. Read on for practical info and solutions for school anxiety.

How is School Anxiety Different?

The school day as most children experience it is a microcosm of several societal environments crammed into one thing we call “school.” There is daily work, developing relationships and friendships, time management, intense learning, understanding authority, and navigating personality changes. All of these monumental and critical areas of life we navigate throughout our lives all occur simultaneously at school. Your child has to remember her Chemistry test while figuring out where to sit at lunch, who to sit with, and how she is going to have time for English homework after basketball practice. All of this happens in the mind of a 14-year-old middle schooler.

Catastrophizing!

Perhaps you have experienced this with your children: You’re driving home from school and she’s dead quiet. When you ask how was school, or how was her day, you get a frustrated sigh and then she releases all of this information and panic all at once. It might sound like this:

“I think I failed my test. Ms. Beckett says the test counts for 40% of the total grade. I got a C- last week, and if I get an F this week, I might fail English. If I don’t pass English this year, I’ll have to retake it next year and then I’ll be behind. I haven’t even started on my report, and I don’t see the point if I’m going to screw it up like everything else. I’m going to flunk 9th grade! I won’t get into college! And my life will be over!”

While this might be a bit extreme, this line of thought is common in children experiencing school anxiety. This is “catastrophizing.” It starts with a belief of a negative outcome, and from that negative outcome, every other possible negative outcome follows until they arrive at a catastrophe based in a false negative reality. One negative line of thought results in a belief that says, “My life will be over!”

Finding A New Perspective

The biggest challenge to overcoming catastrophizing is finding ways to bring in good, true, and helpful perspectives to your child. The trick is finding the right time and place to do it. When your child is anxious, her brain is NOT in a place to be rational. You wouldn’t try to reason with an animal caught in a trap, right? That’s basically your kid in the middle of a school freakout. This is where it is helpful to just be present, not judge or react, and ask gentle questions rather than convince your child she’s fine.

A hug can go a long way. Or just sitting with your child and listening. A simple,”That sounds super stressful” can be helpful. Once she’s somewhat calm, questions like: “What do you think can help you right now?” and “What do you think is most likely to happen?” can help your child slow down more and think clearly. When emotions are high and the anxiety is strong, negative thoughts fly fast. But if your child has an opportunity to come down from all that energy and think, the catastrophes tend to become manageable.

If your child is struggling with anxiety and tends to catastrophize, it can be helpful to teach her to ask herself these three questions:

  • What’s the worst that could happen?
  • What’s the best case scenario?
  • What is most realistic?

 

Now, don’t try to have her answer those questions in the moment of her anxiety; give her some space, wait for things to calm down, and then ask her these questions. Eventually, your child will be able to think through the situation, have clarity of mind to see things differently, and then have a more reasonable outlook on school or whatever is causing this kind of anxiety.

Oftentimes, the anxiety and stress of school can be overwhelming for our students and in turn for our entire families. Sometimes it helps to discover new ways to navigate and understand anxiety. Counseling can be a simple conversation with someone on your side, who’s there to listen and understand, and provide support. We offer counseling services for students experiencing stress in school at our offices in Fort Collins. Call our offices today or email us to schedule an appointment for you or your child. (970) 889-8204; contact@coloradocac.com

Resources:

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The Power of Positive Self-Talk

The Power of Positive Self-Talk

One of the most common struggles I recognize in my clients, or humans in general, is the difficulty in maintaining positive self-talk. Self-talk is our internal dialogue. We speak to ourselves more often than others may speak to us. We have conversations about what we may need to do that day or noticing something within our daily interactions. There may often be conversations or comments about other people (good and bad), but we also have conversations and comments about ourselves (good and bad).

When our conversations and comments within ourselves tip the scale toward the negative side, we often find ourselves feeling anxious, sad, angry, depressed, fearful, or disgusted. This may be related to our character or our body image or even ruminating on mistakes from the past.

One of the things I try to remind my clients is that this is a normal part of human existence. As far as I can tell, everyone struggles with some low self-esteem or negative self-talk from time to time. Our world is created to make mistakes and to have failure a part of our existence. However, it is important to find ways to change those conversations, to begin to notice and emphasize our astounding and unique qualities; to praise ourselves. I have found in my work (personally and professionally) that often times we forget some of the “simple” ways we can increase our self-esteem and our self-talk. It can be helpful to be reminded, as well as, implement changes into our internal dialogue if we feel that the conversations we are having with ourselves are no longer motivating or making us feel good. Sometimes it can be hard to tell if our internal dialogue is what is causing our emotional symptoms, which is another post.

Through my experience as a therapist, I have come up with a few “simple” strategies to implement in our daily lives to help increase our positive self-talk. Here are 7 ways to improve your internal dialogue.

1. Be honest with yourself

We are talking honesty, not negativity. It is important to identify the facts about ourselves in order to have full honesty. To be honest means that you recognize the strengths and limitations. Honesty also allows us to see the limitations in the most realistic way to help create change. For example: “I am really great at being compassionate, but sometimes I have trouble holding onto the past”.

2. Fact check yourself

Just like with most data, facts are necessary to help educate ourselves and to arm us with the best information possible. When our internal dialogue is telling us how bad we are, the facts we acquire can help us fight those internal thoughts and debunk the myths about ourselves. For example: “I do everything wrong”. Fact: “I do somethings wrong, but I also do somethings right like…”

3. Practice heathy self-care

Self-care is important for everyone. Healthy self-care is knowing where your boundaries are, being self-aware with your energy level, and practicing different tools to rejuvenate yourself. Examples include taking bubbles baths, going for a nature hike/walk, enjoying a hot beverage (tea/coffee), meditating for an extended period of time, petting an animal, playing with your children, going to the gym, or journaling.

4. Ask for feedback

If you are particularly struggling with a certain thought or a past mistake, it can be helpful to ask a friend, family member, or someone you trust for their feedback about their interpretation of the issue. Sometimes it can be helpful to hear another person’s point of view that you trust; it helps us get out of our own heads and see things in a different light.

5. Meditate or create quiet time

Meditation or prayer can often be a place where people find forgiveness, understanding, and acceptance within themselves. Contrary to what pop culture shows us, meditation does not have to be sitting in nature, sitting with our legs crossed, and for hours at a time (although that’s great too!). A simple 2-20 minute meditation can do the trick and you can do this sitting or laying in your bed. There are a lot of different apps out there for this, but my favorite is Calm.com.

6. Do daily affirmations

Affirmations are positive statements we say about ourselves. The more positive statements we say about ourselves, the better we become at self-talk. One of the most common worries I hear from my clients is “what if I say too many positive things that I then become too confident or arrogant?” My response is usually “we often fear of becoming something that isn’t in our nature to become.” Meaning, if you are someone who struggles with positive self-talk, the likelihood of you becoming too confident and arrogant is low. This is often something we say to ourselves to place a barrier from doing it (due to legitimate and normal concerns or fear). An example of a positive affirmation looks like: “I am strong,” “I am capable,” “I am really good at making people laugh,” or “I am proud of myself for being confident.”

7. Seek support if it becomes too hard

If at the end of the day, you feel that the tools you have tried have failed or if you feel like you need some extra support in this area, seek support from your friends, family, church community, neighborhood, colleagues, or even a therapist. You are worth the time and dedication in making your self-talk positive and motivating, not negative and limiting. Invest in yourself and let us know if we can help in any way.

Alyssa Wright, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker practicing in Fort Collins, Colorado. She specializes in counseling with tweens, adolescents, and young adults struggling with identity, self-esteem, parent/family relationships, substance abuse, trauma, and anxiety. To schedule an appointment or consultation with Alyssa, call (970) 889-8204 or email us at contact@coloradocac.com.

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Anxiety at work

Anxiety at Work

Seven Strategies for Overcoming Anxiety at Work

Having an anxiety disorder can impact one’s work and social life in a major way. Getting stressed out at work is perfectly normal. But when the anxiety is irrational, and you’re stuck feeling overwhelmed on the job, it may be time to make some changes. The difficulties can come from many areas, but we see these things most often in our practice:

  • Meeting deadlines and staying productive
  • Interpersonal relationships (fitting in)
  • Conflicts with management
  • Sudden problem solving

Sound familiar?

While the challenges are real, the good news is there are strategies that can help you stay productive, stay engaged, and work through anxiety. Here are seven strategies for overcoming anxiety at work.

1. Talk It Out

Most people don’t feel safe or comfortable discussing stress with their employers and coworkers. They fear if they do, they would either not be taken seriously or they would get passed over for promotions. So many people keep things hidden instead of looking for help. As we all know, that just doesn’t work.

If you find a trusted coworker, just ask for help. You can always return the favor. Sometimes, simply knowing that there is someone with you who accepts you and your condition can be all the comfort you need. Just knowing there’s “Jan in accounting” may be enough to get you through that panic moment of anxiety. If you simply have too much to handle, speak up; they may not realize you’re overextended and need support.

2. Be Realistic About What You Can Handle

Some people can fit a lot on their plate, some can fit less, and others don’t have a plate – they have a platter! If you have a more realistic awareness of what you can do well, it will help you prioritize and set the pitch for your workload. If you can only do three things really well in a day, then do those to your best ability. Multitasking is overrated.

3. Set Healthy Boundaries

Does your work stay at work or does it get in the car come home? Emails will still be there in the morning and most can wait until you’re back at the office to be answered. Start small if you need, but put in place boundaries that will give you the space to decompress after the workday.

4. Celebrate Success, No Matter How Small

Small victories are victories, so take a moment to celebrate your personal development! Oftentimes it’s easy to move past things done well, but taking a moment to realize that you handled that stressful situation really well can make all the difference in an otherwise hectic day. Sometimes it helps to think to yourself, “I would have handled that completely differently before.”

5. Fight for Organization

Everyone knows it’s good to be organized and manage one’s time well, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for everyone. Simplifying your workspace can not only save you time in the long run but may prevent a crisis later.

6. Know Yourself

The biggest hindrance to working through anxiety at work is not acknowledging how you are feeling in the moment. Jumping to action doesn’t always help, because those actions may not be the right choice. When you learn to recognize the symptoms of your anxiety, you can then move toward working through it, and then make clearer decisions. Overcoming anxiety begins with understanding and working with the symptoms you’re feeling, not against them.

7. Find the Right Strategies

Sometimes, the tools we think should work end up not working at all. If you ever think, “The harder I work, the worse it gets,” then maybe you’re using the wrong tools. Anxiety at work can be combated and overcome, but it does require intentional steps toward a healthier living. This is where it might be helpful to sit down with a professional who can provide both clarity and strategies that make sense for you.

Our clinicians specialize in treatment of anxiety and career concerns. If you would like support with anxiety or feeling overwhelmed at work, contact our office today to see if counseling could be helpful. Call (970) 889-8204 or email: contact@coloradocac.com

 

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Do I Need Therapy?

Do I Need Therapy?

You sat at the table surrounded by family, getting drawn into the same family dynamics (for better or worse), and as you ate you realized that maybe you need some help. Whatever brought you here doesn’t really matter. Whether someone recommended you look into therapy, or you came to that decision on your own, you have now found yourself looking into counseling. That’s a good thing.

Here are a few questions you may want to ask yourself as you think about starting counseling:

Do I Struggle With Stress and Anxiety?

The most common reason our patients schedule their first counseling session is struggling with anxiety. While we all experience stress in our daily lives and relationships, sometimes the feelings of anxiety can become overwhelming. If you ever feel helpless when you find yourself in stressful circumstances, it can make a huge difference to gain some tools and strategies to move through those feelings successfully.

Are My Most Important Relationships Strained?

Everyone says that communication is the key to healthy relationships, and while that is true, there is a big difference between healthy and unhealthy communication. Whether it’s a spouse, a sibling, coworkers, friends, or parents, sometimes these cherished relationships find themselves pushed and pulled and the people in them become hurt. Having a safe and objective third person to help untie all the knots that lock up relationships can be the change agent you need toward healthy, loving, and committed relationships.

Am I Stuck On A Traumatic Event?

Pain and trauma don’t just disappear after time has passed. Sometimes you just need to sit down with someone and talk through the trauma and pain. Life is hard, grief and loss affect us profoundly, and it can all get packed up tight inside your mind if you don’t work through it.

Do I Struggle With Compulsive Behaviors?

If you find yourself with thoughts or behaviors that interfere with your normal life, counseling can help you break out of the negativity. Also, if you find yourself drinking or using drugs more and more, it could be a signal that you’re numbing feelings that need to be addressed. Talking with a counselor can be a great opportunity to find new healthy ways of coping with stress.

Are My Parents/Friends/Relatives Right?

If the people closest to you have mentioned that counseling might be a good thing for you to consider, they might be right. It may be time to spend some time with a professional who is invested in supporting you and guiding you toward growth. The holidays with relatives can be challenging, but sometimes they can be good motivation for personal growth as well.

The Colorado Center for Assessment and Counseling offers therapy services for adults in our Fort Collins office. We can schedule a free 30 minute consultation or an hour long initial counseling appointment. Call us at (970) 889-8204 or email us at contact@coloradocac.com to set up an appointment.

 

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Child Psychologist Fort Collins

What Happens to a Child’s Brain Under Stress?

…And How You Can Help Your Child Work Through Anxiety

Every child deals with stress and anxiety. Most stressors are a common part of your child’s development, and most children learn how to do deal with them appropriately over time. But if a child tends to hold onto stress and anxiety, circumstances that keep a child anxious for long periods of time can trigger “…extreme, prolonged activation of the body’s stress response system.” In other words, even after the stressful moment has passed, your child can still feel stuck in fear and anxiety. And when a child stays in that place for too long, it can negatively affect their learning and social development for years to come.

Here’s How It Works:

To get an idea of how your child may feel, it may be helpful to understand what is actually happening in their body. It’s basically when the nervous goes on overdrive unnecessarily.

When a child experiences stress, the hypothalamus (above the brainstem) releases a hormone that rushes to the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland then mobilizes the production of a second hormone that swims via the bloodstream to adrenal glands. The adrenal glands activate adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline accelerates the child’s heart rate and elevates the blood pressure. Cortisol pumps up the blood sugar level, elevating the child’s muscle and memory power and boosting the pain threshold.

Even though you may think having a sudden increase in muscle and memory power would be helpful for your child, this response is only needed for life-threatening emergencies that only last about 30 seconds. Constant stress and anxiety can do real damage to a child’s brain. Stress chemicals reroute or disconnect helpful brain pathways and can leave children depressed, anxious, fearful, overly reactive, and unable to learn new behaviors.

Imagine if you are in a deep state of anxiety, and someone asks you do to a simple task like cleaning your room or going to school for a week of standardized testing? No matter how simple it may seem, when a child is in the midst of anxiety, everything can become overwhelming.

Here are Two Free Ways to Help Your Child with Anxiety

  1. Don’t Be Anxious Yourself

One of the best things you can do to help your child work through stress and anxiety is for you to work through your own stress and anxiety. Stress is contagious, so taking the time to “de-stress” and have a peaceful home can do wonders. John Medina, author of Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, says this: “If you want your kid to get into Harvard, go home and love your spouse.”

  1. Exercise

If there was ever a “cure” to stress and anxiety it would be exercise. It’s one of the best things kids can do to combat stress, especially if the exercise is with a group. Start by walking the neighborhood with your child, inviting them to talk through anxieties. Try a weekly karate class or dance class, jump rope, swimming, hiking, or basketball. Whatever makes them sweat and breath hard will help strengthen your child’s ability to handle stress.  

Final Thoughts

Your Child Is Strong and Will Likely Be Just Fine

Our kids are incredible and resilient and they have parents who love them. Every parent does what they can to protect their child from unnecessary stress and anxiety, but there will always be circumstances that make stress unavoidable. If you think you or your child could use some tools in working through stress, it may be helpful to schedule an appointment with a mental health professional. We offer both comprehensive assessment and counseling for children and their parents.

When your child has the right tools and a safe space to navigate stress and anxiety, they can overcome these concerns and learn more about themselves along the way!

Dr. Jeremy Sharp is a licensed psychologist practicing in Fort Collins, Colorado. He specializes in psychological & neuropsychological assessment with children and adolescents.

Resources:

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2010). Persistent Fear and Anxiety Can Affect Young Children’s Learning and Development: Working Paper No. 9. Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu.

John Medina: Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School: http://www.brainrules.net/about-brain-rules

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