Friday, January 29, 2016

Grief and Anxiety Part 2: Regaining Control of Your Feelings

In my previous post, I shared some of the struggles our family has faced over the past six years.  I confessed that my husband and I turned to a child psychologist for help when our daughters' worries and fears began interfering with daily lifeI don't know why our loving and powerful God has allowed this suffering, but I do know that we can use our experiences to help others who are struggling.  Though I am not a psychologist or a counselor, I hope to reach others who are suffering so they might gain the confidence to seek the help they needIn this post I will share some helpful tools we learned during our counseling sessions to help deal with stressful situations.  These tools are not meant to serve as a substitute for professional care but to help you get through the tough days leading up to that first appointment.
Jeremiah 29:11  "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

In our family, anxiety manifested itself by disrupting sleeping and eating patterns.  We learned that falling asleep about 20 minutes after your head hits the pillow is a healthy goal for everyoneIf you are not getting an adequate amount of sleep, you will not be as successful when dealing with stress and anxiety.  Here are some suggestions that may help when anxiety is causing a disruption in sleep patterns:
  • Use a white noise machine.  It helps drown out the sounds that prevent you from falling asleep or those that wake you from your sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine for four to six hours before bedtime.  Caffeine is a stimulant that will keep you awake.  It can be found in coffee, tea, chocolate, soda, and some pain relievers.
  • No screen time two to three hours before bedtime.  Our computers and other personal electronic devices emit blue light which is stimulating and not conducive to a good night's sleep.
  • Sleep in a dark room.  Use a red night light which has been found to have the smallest effect on mood
  • Be active during the day.  Get some exercise, outdoors if able, to increase your exposure to natural light
As is required to change any behavior, we had to make short-term goals with our girls.  At first, they wanted the bedroom AND hall lights on as they were falling asleep.  We started by turning off the bedroom light but leaving on the hall light.  They did also have a night light, and it had a regular bulb, not a red bulb as recommended.  The following week we tried turning off the hall light as well.  A few weeks and a few setbacks later, the girls were able to fall asleep in a dark room with a night light on in the hallway.

As I mentioned in the previous post, dear friends of ours referred us to a child psychologist practicing at a Christian counseling center that focuses on healing the mind, body, and spirit through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy   
"The central premise of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is that thought patterns and beliefs, emotional state, and behavior are all interconnected...How individuals perceive a situation and interpret it often determines how they feel and what they do...Research has shown that the perceptions and interpretations of depressed persons are usually not accurate (Beck, Rush, Shaw, & Emery, 1979; Beck, 2005) and can initiate a vicious cycle. Those who are depressed have a greater tendency to engage in “cognitive errors,” such as jumping to conclusions, using a negative mental filter, all-or-nothing thinking, or catastrophizing. CBT teaches individuals to identify, challenge, and replace maladaptive thoughts and distorted thinking styles with healthy thoughts and behaviors... Religiously integrated CBT adheres to the same principles and style of conventional CBT and uses many of the same tools. What is unique to religiously integrated CBT is the explicit use of the client’s own religious tradition as a major foundation to identify and replace unhelpful thoughts and behaviors to reduce depressive symptoms. "
While our family was dealing with anxiety and not depression, the treatment plan followed these same principles.  Since we are followers of Jesus, and we chose to attend a Christian-based counseling center, the Bible served as our source of truth.  I borrowed the following information from handouts we were given by the psychologist during our sessions.  I will cite the sources if provided.

BE CALM:  This is an acronym based on key principles from the Spiritual-Cognitive-Behavioral perspective.  In this post, I will focus on the "B" and "C," leaving the rest to the professionals.  These were the first tools taught to us, and they seem to be the tools we initially try when we become anxious.
B:  Breathing--In the midst of our worries, we feel out of control.  This breathing exercise helps us control our feelings when we begin to feel anxious.
  • Inhale slowly five times through your nose.  
  • Exhale slowly out your mouth.  Pretend to blow out candles.  Children can even hold up five fingers, lowering them as the breaths are completed.  Remember the exhalation is longer than the inhalation.  
NOTE:  Sometimes it's helpful to come up with a word or phrase that you repeat as you do the breaths.  Examples may include:  Be (inhale), Calm (exhale).  Chill (inhale) Out (exhale).  Relax--Re (inhale), lax (exhale).  My personal favorite is "Breathe in everything that is God, breathe out everything that is not God."  Because it is a longer phrase, the breaths are sure to be slower.  But this can be simplified as Light / God (inhale), Darkness (exhale).

C:  Call on God--prayer.
  • Be specific.  How do you want or need God's help in that particular situation?
  • When we believe God is there and that He's all-powerful, and we choose to turn to him with our troubles, we build our relationship with Him.  
Have younger children?  It may be easier for them to remember the acronym NAP.  Different letters and words here, but we're talking about the same principles.
N:  Nose--breathing
A:  ANTS--another acronym I will leave for the professionals.
P:  Pray

Lastly, I will discuss the idea of journalingAccording to one of our handouts, "research has found that people who journal during challenging circumstances have less depression, stress, and anxiety as well as better immune systems." 
  • Others should not read your journal entries unless you decide to share them.  Some people write in a notebook or keep their journals in a special folder or binder.  You may even wish to save your journal in a file on your computer or other personal electronic device.  Consider creating a password to protect this file.  A child may feel more comfortable knowing he or she is the only one who knows the password.  (In Microsoft Word, typically go to Save As, then Tools, then Save Options to find how to password protect your file).  
  • Journal at least three times a week for 15 minutes.  Reflect on the day and write down your thoughts as they come to mind.  
  • Don't worry about punctuation or grammar.  
Instead of recording your free-flowing thoughts, maybe write down three blessings that happened that day:  What went well?  What are you thankful for?  What made you happy?.  (The Three Blessings Exercise, Martin Seligman, Ph.D.).

A friend of ours implemented a journaling technique with her daughter, and they found it worked quite well for them.  The daughter seemed to enjoy having this special secret with her mom.
  • Explain to your child that you'd like to get a special journal to use so the two of you can have private conversations through your journal entries.   
  • If the child agrees, go to the store together and purchase a journal.
  • Agree on a hiding spot for the journal so the conversation remains private.  
  • Write the first entry.  You could share something you are thankful for or something that made you happy during the day.  Keep it fun and light at first.  Be willing to share when something doesn't go quite right during your day, but use caution, being sensitive to your child's fears and worries.
  • Return the journal to its hiding spot and make a mental note to check back the next day for your child's response.  
For our friends, as this "conversation" progressed over time, the daughter began to discuss her worries and fears with her mom in a way that did not create more anxiety for the child.  This technique was still working for them the last time we talked.  I tried this with one of our daughters, and we were successful until I asked a question she wasn't quite ready to answer.  After that, she was resistant to try again even after I tore that page out of the journal and promised not to ask the same question.  We began our counseling sessions shortly thereafter. Through these sessions, my husband and I learned the best way to communicate with our daughters about their fears and worries without increasing their anxiety.

Unfortunately I know what it's like to feel helpless when loved ones are hurting.  There was a point when I was willing to try anything to comfort our daughters.  If struggles are interfering with daily life, I strongly suggest making a sacrifice by reaching out to professionals for help.  In the meantime, I hope those of you in similar situations can implement these tools when faced with stressful situations or teach them to your loved ones when they become anxious.  It truly does help.  Blessings to you, and thank you for reading.       

1 comment:

  1. Great job Laurie. Truly God does promise a future full of hope.
    The passage from Jeremiah has been the foundation of my faith life for over 35 years. Even in darkness, I know God is with me although I don't "see" him or feel it. It's trusting that He will never desert me. Love, Aunt Judy