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Jenny Yip

Productive, Successful YOU!: How to Bust Stress, Eliminate Procrastination and Increase Productivity

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Productivity is key toward leading a rewarding, fulfilled life. When you are productive, you typically experience a sense of accomplishment that increases your self-confidence to achieve further endeavors. However, any productive effort is dependent on motivation and morale – your belief in yourself to reach your established goals. Certain factors contribute to motivation and morale that can lead to either procrastination or productivity. More specifically, there is one culprit that directly zaps motivation and productivity: MENTAL THOUGHT TRAPS.

We have all fallen victim to such mind traps – negative self-talk that wreaks havoc to your drive, productivity, and self-esteem. Unfortunately, most people are oblivious to these unproductive thinking patterns that lead to stress and anxiety. Such statements as, “Why does this always happen to me?” “I should be better.” “I hate…” or “I can’t…” defeat morale and interfere with productivity. When we get stuck in these mind traps, we create an endless cycle of negative self-talk that results in unproductive behaviors. Consequently, goals that repeatedly go unachieved impair future motivation and lead to further avoidance and procrastination.

On the other hand, the emotional aftermath of beating yourself up for not being productive is often guilt and stress. The lack of productivity promotes even more shame, anxiety, and low self-esteem. As you can see, over time, a vicious cycle of faulty beliefs, negative emotions, and procrastination ensues as individuals accept their disheartening fate as procrastinators. However, what if instead there are specific strategies to help you develop a personal action plan to bust stress, eliminate procrastination, and reach your fullest potential?

Just over one third of Americans feel they are doing a good job handling stress, according to a recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association. When the bills pile up, a term paper is due in three weeks, or a project at work is inching toward a deadline, it can be all too tempting to avoid responsibilities.

We’ve all thought:

“I always procrastinate, so there’s no point in getting started,” or, “I’ll be fired unless I give this presentation perfectly.” Thoughts like these control our behavior, bringing us to the brink of a deadline, which frequently causes dire stress and poor performance. Instead of thinking like Negative Nancy, turn into Positive Paula by thinking: “Habits can be changed. Even if I do just a little work, I can still get something done to reach my goal.”

By reducing procrastination and changing our thought pattern, we can lead happier, stress-free and productive lives. Take a look at these three tips to decrease anxiety and boost productivity:

  • Break mountains into molehills: A task that is as large as a mountain may look as appealing as an ocean of sharks. Instead of thinking of the task as a mountain, break it down into several molehills. Approaching a task in smaller pieces brings a sense of triumph and accomplishment, motivating you to move forward.
  • Make a list: Schedule your tasks for the day on a Post-It note or in a day planner. Decide how much time you will spend on each item, and relish crossing off tasks once you’ve completed them. Write down even the most mundane tasks – like doing the dishes or running to the bank – and you’ll find more productivity in each day.
  • Visualize: Envision your success. Imagine: where are you? What colors are you wearing? Is it hot or cold? When you imagine every aspect of achieving your goal, your dream can become reality. By visualizing accomplishment, your senses award you with confidence, motivation, and energy to push forward.

Changing habits requires time, effort, energy, and above all – commitment. With the tips listed here, as well as others included in my book, Productive, Successful You!, you can discover how to manage time more effectively, and in turn, become more productive. Jump over hurdles and reach the finish line – with less stress.

Can your Child be Misdiagnosed? The Need for Child Anxiety Treatment

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Timmy is an 8-year-old in the 3rd grade. He has always been known to be a shy, nervous kid who prefers to keep to himself and wait for others to approach him. He favors routine, and becomes anxious to change or when he is in a new, unfamiliar situation. When Timmy is in the classroom, he gets bored easily, often stares out of the window, and even dozes off at times. He is frequently late to school and often complains of having headaches and feeling nausea. Although his vocabulary is quite high for his age and grade level, his academic achievement is below what is expected. Timmy spends an inordinate amount of time on assignments, and always needs extra time to complete assignments and tests. He has problems copying off the board, sitting still, and just staying on track overall. On top of that, Timmy seems to be quite forgetful, as he usually does not have the materials he needs to complete tasks. Although, his teacher reports that he has a hard time paying attention and often gets behind in his work, Timmy does make astute comments and show a great deal of general knowledge. In fact, he often talks about world problems and events seen on the news, and displays great compassion and empathy for them. At this point, Timmy’s parents are frustrated that he is not reaching his potential. They have heard time and time again that Timmy is an ADHD kid and his primary problem is that he just has difficulty focusing. His parents’ frustration continues, as they are at a lost when medication and behavioral methods aimed at ADHD have minimal effects for Timmy, and he continues to have problems focusing and sitting still.

How often have we witnessed this scenario? The fact is that inattentiveness can be caused by various factors, oftentimes unrelated to Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). However, over the previous decade, the media has trained us to identify and attribute any sign of inattentiveness to ADHD. The fact is that Timmy’s inattention, boredom, fidgetiness, forgetfulness, falling behind on tasks, academic underachievement, and difficulty staying on track has little to do with ADHD. This misassumption has led to many misdiagnoses, and resulted in numerous frustrated teachers, parents, and the child him/herself. Symptoms of inattention, distraction, fidgetiness, and what appears to be boredom do not automatically spell ADHD, and instead, can indicate anxiety in children requiring child anxiety treatment.

Anxiety is the most common cause of mental, emotional, and behavioral problems during childhood and adolescence. However, it is often overlooked or misjudged in children and adolescents. About 13 out of every 100 children and adolescents ages 9 to 17 experience some kind of anxiety disorders. About half of children and adolescents with an anxiety disorder have a second anxiety disorder or other mental or behavioral difficulty, such as depression. If the necessary child anxiety treatment is ignored, anxiety disorders in children will likely progress into adulthood. Thus, it is foremost necessary to learn to identify the correct underlying cause of a child’s inattentiveness. A proper assessment is the first step to prevent long-term difficulties at school and minimize frustration for others involved in the child’s life. From a valid assessment, we can determine a proper diagnosis and establish an effective child anxiety treatment plan. Therefore, it is critical that parents and teachers understand the difference between anxiety disorders and ADHD in children.

Anxiety vs. ADHD

Although on the surface level Timmy’s difficulty with concentration and focus may appear to be the result of ADHD, a closer look at the clues reveal underlying causes that actually point to symptoms of anxiety that necessitate child anxiety treatment. Children with ADHD have a difficult time paying attention and focusing. They may also be impulsive and have difficulty with self-control, and be hyperactive. A child with an anxiety disorder may have symptoms that appear the same, however, the symptoms are actually behavioral manifestations of the child’s preoccupation with excessive worry, fears, and tension. Let’s take a closer look at Timmy’s specific symptoms that are caused by anxiety rather than ADHD.

  • Timmy is a shy, nervous kid who prefers to keep to himself and wait for others to approach him. Children with anxiety do not always understand why they have excessive worries and catastrophic thoughts that trigger intense fears. They cannot comprehend that the experience of the internal “fight-or-flight” sensation actually serves a survival purpose. From their lack of understanding of what is going on with their mind and body, they may attribute these symptoms to “something is wrong with me.” They may purposely keep their distance from others, especially peers, to keep their “oddities” hidden and prevent others from noticing. Child anxiety treatment will help Timmy understand the difference between his subjective experience of anxiety and his objective experience of the internal “fight-or-flight” response. Anxiety treatment will also teach Timmy to evaluate his catastrophic thoughts more accurately by looking to his environment for evidence of triggers to his “fight-or-flight” experience.
  • Timmy favors routine, and becomes anxious to change or when he is in a new, unfamiliar situation. Children with anxiety regularly feel apprehensive about their environment. They are constantly hyper-vigilant and on guard for any remotely potential catastrophic event to occur. They view their world as an unsafe place filled with unfamiliar and dangerous possibilities of harm, real or imagined. To maintain a sense of security and certainty, they prefer to be in familiar situations, leaving out the need to second-guess anything. When they are put in new environments, they feel intense fear about the uncertainties of their environment, and may even react with extreme temper tantrums. Child anxiety treatment will give Timmy a set of tools to manage symptoms of anxiety when he is feeling intense fear. As he becomes competent in utilizing this set of tools, he will feel more confident about approaching new environments. In turn, anxiety treatment will teach Timmy that being in unfamiliar environments does not necessarily equate to danger.
  • Timmy gets bored easily, often stares out of the window, and even dozes off at times. He is frequently late to school and often complains of having headaches and feeling nausea. Children with anxiety disorders often complain that their bodies hurt, and that they feel ill. These are physical manifestations of our internal physiological sensations of anxiety. Children with anxiety may also experience tiredness from lack of sleep at night. Morning and bedtime periods tend to be more difficult than midday for anxious children, making morning routines that much more time-consuming. Although they may appear bored or distracted, anxious children are actually too preoccupied with fears and worries to participate in activities and stay on task. Instead, their minds are elsewhere and lost in their worrisome thoughts, which can negatively affect their academic performance. Child anxiety treatment will target Timmy’s inattention indirectly by first addressing his preoccupations with fear and worries. As Timmy learns to apply the tools to manage his internal physiological sensations of anxiety, he will gain the mental capacity to stay focused and will generally experience less physical manifestations of illness.
  • Timmy spends an inordinate amount of time on assignments, and always needs extra time to complete assignments and tests. He is forgetful, and has problems copying off the board, sitting still, and staying on track. Children with anxiety are so consumed with their worries and fears of uncertainty and harm that they have little room in their minds for anything else. In fact, it is rather difficult to stop the train of apprehensive thoughts once the worry engine is triggered. This makes it extremely hard for anxious children who are in the midst of their worrisome thoughts to have the necessary attention span long enough to retain effective memory skills for their classroom tasks. It also makes is difficult for the anxious child to remain still and maintain calmness. As a result, the time needed to complete tasks if often prolonged. As Timmy’s ability to focus increases by addressing his apprehensive thoughts through child anxiety treatment, he will regain mental space for effective memory skills. As a result, anxiety treatment will help Timmy maintain enough calmness needed to complete tasks more efficiently.

After taking this closer examination of Timmy’s condition, it is clear that his behavioral manifestations stem from anxiety rather than ADHD, as it may have initially appeared. We now have a better understanding of his behaviors and symptoms, which actually require anxiety treatment versus ADHD treatment. Assessing for anxiety gives us a more complete perspective, allowing us to determine a proper diagnosis and establish an effective child anxiety treatment plan. Thus, learning how inattentiveness presents itself within the anxious child is the first step to gaining specific strategies for working with the child successfully within the school and with the family.

Your 2014 Mental Health Resolution: Productive, Successful YOU!

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With the start of a new year, this is the time when people make resolutions for self-improvements. Goals are established, agendas are planned, and motivation is high. Yet, somewhere in February, most, if not all, of those early initiatives get lost in the shuffle of life.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t help your mental wellness when you set out to do something and fail to reach those goals. Self-criticisms add unnecessary burden to your mental health. And let’s face it, your mind and body go hand in hand. Whatever your mind experiences, your body feels; and vice versa. Thus, negative self-talk or blame will wreak havoc on both your mental and physical health.

To help you feel productively successful and foster your mental wellness, here are 4 strategies that will make it easier for you to stick to those resolutions throughout the year.

Break Mountainous Goals into Reachable Molehills

Many people know what they want to achieve, yet they have no plan of attack. If you want to accomplish a long-term goal, you must develop a realistic blueprint for each step of the journey. Let’s say your resolution is to get healthy and lose those extra 20 pounds of fat that your physician has been nagging you about. Simply signing up for a gym membership isn’t going to cut it. You must determine the frequency, duration, and type of exercise at the gym. You have to also establish the food categories, portion size, intake frequency, and total caloric consumption for your daily diet. Of course, there are many other factors that determine the likelihood of reaching your goal. Nevertheless, without this basic roadmap, you will likely get lost along the way and lose sight of the end objective.

Task Scheduling for Accountability

Now that you have a basic blueprint, the next step is to actually plan and schedule each agenda that will advance you toward the final destination – becoming healthier. When will you really go to the gym? How long will you train while there? What optimal times of the day will you consume your daily meals and snacks? Will you need to gather or prep your food beforehand? If so, when is a realistic time for that? Scheduling may initially seem tedious and like added work. However, with 1,440 minutes in a day and 168 hours in a week, there is just too much time to procrastinate while telling yourself, “It can wait” or “I’ll do it later.” Before you know it, a week has slipped by without progress toward your resolution. And as the weeks go by, you will be more inclined to jump off the wagon completely … Well, at least until it’s time for the next New Year resolution.

Identify Mental Thought Traps

If you find yourself making excuses for your lack of effort or beating yourself up for your lack of success, then you are only creating unnecessary anxiety and distress. Mental thought traps are basically negative self-talk that causes havoc to your emotional and physical health. It doesn’t help your motivation or drive to make such comments as, “I’m just too busy to exercise” or “I don’t have the willpower to eliminate unhealthy foods from my diet.” As Yoda once said, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Thus, rather than setting yourself up for failure, make sure that your goals are realistic and easily achievable. Of course, having a roadmap and scheduling each agenda will basically help you in the process.

Visualizing Success

Take 10 – 15 minutes each morning to visualize your day’s agendas. See yourself engaging in each task, and especially, completing each molehill as you reach the final destination. Feel the sensation of success as you visualize accomplishing each goal. The feeling of achievement enhances an “I can” attitude that will increase your motivation and drive to actually carrying out each agenda. In fact, many athletes train through visualizations to improve their performances. And you can do the same to achieve your resolution of becoming healthier. When you visualize success, it becomes more attainable simply because your mind believes it. Essentially, this is your mental rehearsal at work.

Similar to any new skill, each of these strategies will only become innate through repeated practice. As you utilize each tactic, reward yourself with praises for sticking to your resolution. Give yourself credit for even the little things. Just as self-criticisms can damage your mental wellness, self-acknowledgments can go a long way for your mental health. As you reflect on your accomplishments, congratulate yourself for the improved, successful you.

Strategies derived from Dr. Yip’s new book:
“Productive, Successful You! End Procrastination by Making Anxiety Work for You Rather Than Against You.”

For more details, visit: Click Here!!!

10 Tips to De-Stress Your Holidays

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1) Loneliness? Plan a Date with YOU!

Many people don’t have family to spend the holidays with. If this is the case, then use this opportunity to treat yourself to something you normally wouldn’t do. Keep yourself busy by looking in advance to attend events. Aid the less fortunate and volunteer at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. You can even find an organization to go caroling with. For the religious folks, seek solace at a place of worship. It’s a rewarding feeling when you can do something for yourself while also helping others.

2) Social Anxiety? Plan Ahead

Many holiday events allow you to bring plus one. So, don’t hesitate to bring a familiar face to ease the anxiety of meeting and socializing with new people. Think of conversation pieces beforehand, and ask open-ended questions, such as: “How do you know the host?” “Have you done all your shopping yet?” “Where are you spending the holidays?” Don’t be afraid to give a compliment. Most people enjoy them, and will be drawn out by a statement as much as a question. Most importantly, sound interested in the person you are talking to, be mindful in your response to others, and listen and reply to what is being said. At the end of the day, the spotlight is not solely on you. In fact, most people are too busy focusing on themselves to be concerned about anyone else. And if the event truly is unbearable, you can always bail early. Just remember to come up with a legitimate sounding reason first. “We’ve gota get back and tend to our sick puppy!”

3) Yummy Sinful Munchies

Got a special diet? Find out what will be served from the host. If items don’t suite your preference, offer to bring a dish for your “dietary requirements”. The holidays are no different than any other day. So keep as close to your regular exercise regimen as possible. Some exercise is always better than none. Similarly, rigid restriction of treats is a recipe for diet disaster. Unless you have a life threatening health condition like diabetes, allow yourself to enjoy holiday treats… with moderation of course, as with all things in life. And if you fall off the wagon, it’s no excuse to stay off. Each day is a new beginning. Strive to be healthy each day.

4) Meeting the Partner’s Family… Yikes!

If you haven’t already inquired about your significant other’s family members and traditions, now is definitely the time to ask. You want to know in advance what to expect, such as cultural dos & don’ts. Do your research about wearing shoes in the home, appropriate greetings (i.e., handshake, hug, bow, kiss on the cheek), sleeping arrangements, etc. Dress appropriately; although business casual attire is always a safe bet. Be prepared to spend time with the family without your partner immediately present. And of course, make sure to be well-groomed and offer your help around the home. Proper etiquette will give you bonus points in the long run!

5) Seeing Your Own Family… Yikes!

Many movies have depicted the traumatic experience of visiting family for the holidays. The reality is family will always be family, along with their annoying habits, embarrassing stories, and complex dynamics. However, you can mentally prepare yourself beforehand. Practice relaxation exercises and mindful meditations. Give yourself an escape route, such as a walk around the block, if things get too uncomfortable. If possible, find a trusted relative, sibling, or friend who can accompany you during these events and who you can signal to when needed. Remember, the holidays won’t last forever even though it may seem that way in the moment. Woosah…

6) The Kids Are Home

Look into day camps before the holiday season hits. Schedule play dates or field trips with the neighborhood kids. Establish group activities for the kids to be involved in, such as putting up the tree, decorating the home, helping with cooking, wrapping gifts, or sending/making holiday cards. Their help can save you tons of time where you won’t mind their presence.

7) Traveling Chaos

Expect delays, long security check lines, and more delays! So, make sure to give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport, train station, or final destination. Have Plan B in place in case of weather cancellations. Check the weather online before packing, and try not to over pack. If you forget something, you can always purchase or borrow it from someone. Skip the fees and delays of checked baggage by packing travel-sized toiletries or purchasing forbidden items, such as razors, upon arrival. Bring along a bestseller book or the latest gossip magazine to keep yourself entertained. Purchase new songs online to make your waiting period less stressful. These days, you can even pamper yourself with a massage while you wait at (most) airports.

8) Dreaded Gift Buying Decisions

Determine in advance your total budget for gifts this season. Stay within budget by breaking this amount amongst your beneficiaries. Ask people for their wish lists, so you don’t have to stress over what to buy. And return the favor when asked. For mutual friends/family, consider pairing up with another to give a joint gift. It takes the pressure off yourself and spreads the responsibility. There’s no need to drive yourself mad trying to find the perfect gift, if one even exists. People will be appreciative of your gift. As cliché as it sounds; it’s the thought that counts.

9) Gifting on a Budget

Sometimes, hand crafted gifts are more cherished than those bought with excessive dollars. So bring out your creativity and make something instead of spending unnecessary money. Baking, knitting, homemade art, and framed photos and cards are just some examples of inexpensive yet very thoughtful gifts. Just because a gift is expensive doesn’t mean that it will be more appreciated. In fact, some of the most valued gifts are the ones spent with time, effort, and thought. Now comes the big question: which is actually less stressful?

10) Changing Family Life Cycles

Over time, every family will evolve and grow. This may mean that your children will want to spend some holidays with their partner’s family or travel with friends. Embrace these changes as part of life; not as a loss. With changes in the family structure, it’s important to consider other traditions. Perhaps have a joint gathering with the in-laws. Or take this free time to unwind and do some traveling of your own. Change is a necessary part of life and indicates progression. View it as the long-awaited opportunity to pursue new traditions. This could be the year to institute them.

The holidays are just another day. Like the rising and falling of ocean waves, there is always an end to it. And there will be next year to stress over it again. Happy holidays!

To Drug or Not to Drug? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and The Latest Research for OCD

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To Drug or Not to Drug? That Is the Question.

Many parents agonize over the dilemma – “Should my child be medicated for OCD?” To make an informed decision, let’s take a look at the latest research.

Drugs approved for OCD by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) include Zoloft, Anafranil, Luvox, Prozac, and Paxil. Overall, research within the past 25 years suggests that only slightly more than half of all patients taking these antidepressants for OCD show some improvement. However, even the average improvement achieved is only moderate at best. Moreover, reduction of OCD symptoms is only maintained as long as the drug is continued. In fact, when patients rely solely on medication to manage OCD, most of them relapse within weeks of the drug discontinuation.

What is OCD?

To get a better understanding of why medications have limited value, it’s important to first understand OCD, a mental health condition that affects as many as 1 in 200 children and adolescents.

As the name implies, there are 2 parts to OCD: obsessions and compulsions.
Obsessions are unwanted thoughts, images, or sensations that occur repeatedly. The content of the obsessions are often frightening, induces the feeling that something bad will happen, and leads to intense anxiety, discomfort, and fear. Essentially, it is equivalent to your child having a nightmare that keeps replaying in his/her mind relentlessly like a broken record.

On the other hand, compulsions are physical or mental reactions that you feel driven to perform to escape from unpleasant feelings and keep dreadful things from happening. Since the relief is short-lived, you must keep repeating the compulsion whenever an obsession arises. Eventually, the bond between obsessions and compulsions become stronger and more difficult to break. Some of your child’s compulsions may include checking and rechecking, counting (good and bad numbers), ordering and arranging, washing and cleaning, and other mental rituals with a lot of variation in kids.

Because medications only work to reduce anxiety, and don’t lessen the obsessions themselves, they have moderate effect against OCD. Medications are also costly over a lifetime, and come with a whole host of unpleasant side effects, such as weight gain, restlessness, fatigue, stomach upset, diarrhea, nausea, and insomnia. A more effective prescription for defeating the OCD Monster permanently is through training the brain with Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

How Does CBT Train the Brain to Defeat Your Child’s OCD Monster?

CBT is the evidence-based treatment for OCD and anxiety disorders. This type of treatment is short-term with lasting benefits. CBT is not simply traditional talk or play therapy. It provides your child with tools that need to be practiced in order to develop the necessary skills to defeat OCD.

More specifically, Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy is a particular type of CBT that helps your child confront fears in a stepwise manner in order to learn that the fears actually are not so threatening. ERP also helps your child to disobey those ritualistic behaviors so that OCD rules become weaker and weaker. This is essentially exercise for your child’s brain. The more s/he flexes those brain muscles, the stronger s/he becomes. Overtime and with enough practice, the sufferer can break free from OCD.

Over the past four decades, countless studies have replicated the effectiveness of ERP for OCD. Patients who complete ERP show the most progress, and maintain the improvements following treatment discontinuation as demonstrated by numerous brain-imaging research results. Although medication may be useful in certain situations, no study to date has found conclusive, long-term superiority for combined Rx + ERP versus ERP alone in treating OCD. Given the extensive amount of research on its effectiveness, ERP remains the “evidence-based treatment” for OCD today.

Still having a hard time deciding whether to medicate your child to get rid of the OCD Monster? Consult with an OCD expert. You can find one on the International OCD Foundation website.

Understand Anxiety in Children So You Can Take Action – Go!

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Many children exhibit behavioral and/or attentional problems. Some of these symptoms are age appropriate and disappear as the child matures, while others require further attention from professionals. However, when it comes to childhood mental health, school personnel, pediatricians, therapists, and other professionals are often quick to label a child simply from pure observation, rather than understanding the symptoms from the child’s experience. Unlike popular belief, anxiety, rather than ADHD or autism, is the most prevalent mental health disorder in children. Studies indicate that 13 out of every 100 children ages 9 through 17 experiences some kind of anxiety disorder. Furthermore, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 25% of 13-18 year olds will experience an anxiety disorder during their adolescence. Since parents are often left with confusion from all of the various childhood anxiety disorders, it’s crucial for parents to be well informed in order to advocate for appropriate services for their child.

What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is the result when a person perceives danger. Anxiety, in and of itself, is not unhealthy or abnormal. This is an adaptive, innate response that keeps you surviving when faced with real threats. The problem occurs when a person misinterprets innocent situations, objects, or people as harmful. Whenever you perceive a threat, the brain’s alarm system responds and floods your body with hormonal chemicals to help you quickly react via fighting or fleeing. However, this natural “fight-or-flight” response cannot filter the difference between a real danger or a false alarm. It simply reacts to whatever threat you perceive. Anxiety becomes a disorder when a person consistently misinterprets these false alarms as real dangers. As a result, the anxiety sufferer perpetually avoids the falsely perceived threats and/or overreacts with fearful responses.

As you can imagine, “anxiety” is a very broad term, and there are many different conditions under this umbrella. Want to learn more about the differences amongst the various anxiety disorders common to children? Follow these links for specific details of each condition:

Separation Anxiety Disorder

Medical – Dental – Specific Phobias

Social – Performance – Sports Anxiety

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Panic Disorder

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OC Spectrum Disorders

Signs of Anxiety in Children
Now that you have a basic understanding of the differences amongst the various anxiety disorders, here are some red flags that may signal excessive anxiety in your child. If these signs are present, it’s a good idea to have your child checked by an anxiety expert to determine the true nature of these symptoms and whether treatment is needed.

  • Constant tantrums, pleading, emotional meltdowns, anger outbursts, and irritability.
  • Obvious signs of worries and fears.
  • Refusal to go to school.
  • Fears of being alone.
  • Repetitive, ritualistic, or extreme avoidance behaviors.
  • A continual fear that something terrible will happen to themselves, loved ones, or random strangers.
  • An exceptionally long time spent getting ready for bed, leaving for school, or using the bathroom.
  • Constant nightmares and/or bedwetting.
  • Requests for family members to repeat specific phrases, behaviors, or keep answering the same questions.
  • Sudden drop in academic performance or avoiding peers.
  • Refusal to sleep alone or sleep away from home.
  • Excessive, unproductive hours spent doing homework.
  • Raw, chapped hands from constant washing.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Being easily startled.
  • Holes erased through test papers and homework.
  • A persistent fear of illness and diseases, or constant checks of the health of family members.
  • Physical complaints, such as headaches, fatigue, and stomachaches.
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep.

Effective Treatment for Anxiety Disorders
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the evidence-based treatment for anxiety disorders. When combined with Family Systems Therapy, it is highly effective for treating childhood anxiety. This type of treatment is usually short-term and has long lasting effects. CBT is not simply the traditional talk therapy or play therapy. It provides the child with tools that need to be practiced in order for him/her to develop the necessary skills to defeat anxiety.

In CBT, children learn to identify negative thinking patterns that aren’t serving them. This allows them to change their perspectives about themselves and the world, so they can engage with the environment in healthier ways. Exposure therapy is a specific type of CBT that helps children confront fears in a stepwise manner in order to learn that the fears actually are not that threatening. CBT is essentially exercise for the brain. The more you flex those brain muscles, the stronger you become.

For childhood anxiety, CBT is the first route to take, especially when the young brain is still developing and growing, and there are so many negative side effects to medications. Only when a child’s symptoms are very severe are medications used as an adjunct. However, once symptoms lesson as the child is able to apply the CBT tools, the medication regimen is slowly reduced and eliminated. The ultimate goal is for sufferers to rely on their own skills, rather than depending on medications for the rest of their lives.

In Family Systems Therapy, the goal is to teach family members about anxiety and how to be supportive of the child without enabling the condition. Many symptoms of anxiety cause havoc on the whole family by interfering with healthy family dynamics and boundaries. When symptoms are chronic, family members wind up inadvertently expressing emotions in negative ways harmful to the relationship with the child. As such, Family Systems Therapy helps to reduce family conflict, re-establish healthy boundaries, and improve effective communication.

Most importantly, even if symptoms are currently minimal, it doesn’t hurt to see an expert early on and begin learning the tools to defeat anxiety before it becomes overwhelming and uncontrollable. Without treatment, anxiety tends to persist into adulthood, and generally becomes more severe and difficult to manage in the long run.

Mindfulness Demystified

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According to Merriam Webster, the definitions for mindfulness are: 1) bearing in mind; 2) inclined to be aware. Neither of these truly captures the Eastern tradition of simply “to be”. The fact is that there is no one specific word in the English language that encapsulates the state of ‘moment-to-moment awareness of present events that is absent of judgment’. Sadly over the last few decades, the Western world has been inundated with the word “mindfulness” without a full understanding of its notion. This has caused much confusion of the true nature of the practice. Let’s demystify the concept of mindfulness to lessen the confusion and return to the Eastern root of its true meaning.

Mindfulness is not relaxation. In fact, to cultivate a state of mindfulness, you must be alert and focused in the present moment. Many mindfulness practices instruct you to refocus your attention onto the breath. However, this doesn’t mean to use breathing as a relaxation exercise. Breathing is simply a target to bring your awareness back to the present, since the present is where the breath occurs. Although you will “feel” more relaxed over time through mindfulness practice, the relaxation comes as a result of your focused attention versus merely your breaths. This brings us to the second point.

Mindfulness is not ‘full of mind’. It isn’t rumination on thoughts, sensations, or emotions. It isn’t “mindlessness” either. A better phrase for the purpose of this mental state is ‘watchful or attentive mind’. When your mind is attentive to the present moment, you foster awareness of reality absent of confusion or delusion. This reality-based awareness minimizes those negative emotions triggered from faulty perceptions that often spiral out of control. Cultivating an attentive mind keeps you grounded in the present, so you experience reality for what it is rather than where your insecurities and defenses take you.

Mindfulness is not a capture of thoughts. It is not a state of obsession or holding onto experiences. It is observing thoughts as they come and go without appraising them with significant meaning. People often attach excessive importance to trivial thoughts and experiences. However, thoughts are just that… thoughts. Nothing more, nothing less. Having this awareness allows you to let go of troubling thoughts, emotions, or sensations that have no basis or evidence for their existence.

On the other hand, mindfulness is not thoughtlessness. The goal is not to be without thoughts. That is an impossible task unless you’re brain dead. Some mindfulness practices instruct you to “empty your mind.” This doesn’t necessarily mean to be mentally blank. Rather, the goal is to have focused intentions in order to remove yourself from distracting, pointless thoughts. In other words, purposefully attend to the moment without judging your experience. This includes your emotions, sensations, AND thoughts.

Mindfulness is not solely to keep focus on the presence. It is also about learning and remembering the practice of being with an open heart for the future. This doesn’t mean to keep your mind focused on the future. Cultivating a state of mindfulness itself requires training and remembering for the future. In fact, the Chinese character for mindful is 念 (niàn), which when translated, literally means to study and remember.

Mindfulness is not rigid or critical. As you think, “I should be more mindful of this or that…” you are already forgetting the true nature of just “being” without adding unnecessary judgments of good or bad value. Dichotomous thinking keeps your mind imprisoned to unconstructive evaluations of your experiences. In reality, whatever it is, it just is. You have no control of the past, and there is no point in getting caught up in one negative thought after another. Remember the lesson in this moment and move on to the next.

Mindfulness is not just about letting go. It is more about remembering the needlessness of holding on. Whatever emotion or thought you are experiencing, whether positive or negative, over time, has to pass. Every moment is moving toward the next. No one thing can ever be static. Everything evolves and passes. Holding on to what is actually beyond your control is a futile effort and goal. Remember, time is valuable and cannot be recycled.

Most importantly, mindfulness in its purest sense is not religion or philosophy; nor is it psychology or a type of science. It is not a new trend, and it is not to be admired, esteemed, or worshipped. Neither is there a need to despise or scorn it. The concept of attentive mind is simply a way and view of life. And there is never a “right” or “wrong” way of living.

Mind Training: Positive vs. Optimistic Thinking

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Welcome to the New Year. This is the time when many people make resolutions for self-improvement to achieve a new, improved ‘you’. Whether it is a new exercise regimen or a new diet craze that you must stick to 7 days a week, the truth is that most resolutions fail before February even begins. Many of us get stuck in unrealistic thoughts and beliefs that lead to disappointment, anxiety, and stress when our expectation doesn’t come to fruition. To fix this, I’d like to suggest a New Year resolution that involves mind training to foster healthy, realistic thoughts and emotions for many years to come… Not just for 2013. I call this “optimistic thinking”.

We’ve all heard the term positive thinking or positive affirmations. Many of you have even been advised to practice more of it. However, to attain healthy, realistic thoughts, positive thinking won’t get you there. Positive thinking is not the same as optimistic thinking. Let’s compare two scenarios of a positive versus an optimistic thinker to illustrate the difference.

The positive thinker wakes up in the morning with affirmations saying, “Today is going to be a wonderful day and everything will go smoothly. I am strong and confident. I choose to be happy. I am worthy, and joy overflows in my life. People respect and admire me. I only have positive mental thoughts. I love and accept all parts of myself. I deserve to succeed. My wealth is increasing more and more. My future looks great.”

So what is wrong with the positive thoughts? For one, they’re too dichotomous and delusional to be based in reality. Unless you are looking to be a narcissist, the affirmations are not substantiated and only give a false sense of reality. When your beliefs are distorted in this categorical black & white fashion, they do not prepare you to deal with life in the real world.

In fact, what will happen to the positive thinker if all hell breaks loose on this “wonderful day” where everything was supposed to go smoothly? Since the positive thinker did not make room for life to happen, chances are he did not expect hell to break loose on this wonderful day. As such, he also is unlikely to be prepared to deal with any unforeseen situations. When you fall short unexpectedly, it has a negative impact on your self-esteem and confidence to manage future obstacles effectively. This lack of self-assurance only reinforces your need to further rely on a false reality. And so, this vicious pattern recycles.

On the other hand, the optimistic thinker wakes up saying, “I am grateful to awake to another day where I am given the opportunity to meet life’s challenges. When I fall, I know how to get back up, because I have failed and triumphed over many obstacles in my lifetime. I do not know what the future holds. However, I know I have the strength to tolerate and overcome whatever life has to offer.”

How is this different from the positive thinker? The optimistic thinker does not have to rely on a false reality to feel confident. He anticipates the uncertainty of life and believes in his own capacity to deal with life’s curve balls. He lives in the grey of not knowing what the future holds, and is prepared to face challenges that naturally come with life. Moreover, he accepts that there will be failures as well as successes, and is open to learning from the failures to be better equipped to manage future obstacles.

If you regularly practice optimistic thinking taking reality into account, then you will begin to feel better about yourself and your world. Rather than kid yourself with a false reality that you do not truly believe in anyways, be true and honest with yourself. The sooner you can accept your failures AND successes, the sooner you can free yourself from the constraints of fabricated beliefs.

Applying this to your New Year’s resolutions, be honest and accept that you will not likely meet all of your regimens 100% every single week. Just because you exercised 3 out of the 7 days this week does not mean you have failed and should get off the wagon completely.

Most importantly, any change including mind training takes time. Expecting overnight change is the first delusional thought to correct.

Happy New Resolution!

Red Pill or Blue Pill? What You Don’t Know May Hurt You!

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If you are one of the millions of people who have seen the Matrix, then you would remember that Neo was given a choice to take either the red pill – which would open his eyes to reality, or the blue pill – which would keep him living behind rose-colored lenses. What would you have chosen? To live in eternal ignorance or in constant awareness? Let’s weigh the pros and cons.

Living in ignorance may protect you from much of the ugliness of the world. You won’t have to know reality for what it truly is. You can avoid experiencing worry and anxiety. In essence, you would be fearless, because you won’t know any better. However, this also means that you won’t be aware of all the potential dangers that may harm you. Take young toddlers for example. They are blank slates with very few experiences of their environments. In other words, they are innocent yet ignorant. Toddlers who have yet to experience a burning stove will not know that touching it will hurt. They do not have the awareness until they experience the limitations of reality. Thus, ignorance may be more harmful than blissful.

On the other hand, living in awareness will inform you of all the sufferings in the world. You will know reality for what it truly is, which may trigger worry and fear. You will experience discomfort and anxiety, because you are mindful of the limitations that exist. However, you will also have the awareness to take appropriate action when necessary to minimize potential harm. Take your health for example. We all know that healthy foods + exercise = healthy lives. Although this awareness may trigger anxiety and guilt for some of you, for others, learning what constitutes healthy food and exercise gives you direction to take appropriate action.

The truth is that awareness without appropriate action equals anxiety, which is a crime that we have all committed at one point or another. We have all made up excuses to avoid taking action – “But I have no time” or “This small dessert won’t really hurt me”. If you are mindful and accepting of your excuses and their potential consequences, then you have taken attempted action to minimize experiencing anxiety. If your awareness and action (or lack of) contradict, then you are not doing what it takes to minimize anxiety and suffering. Better yet, if you have the awareness and take appropriate action to reduce the potential risks, then you are eliminating worry and anxiety. Ultimately, knowledge IS power! And you have the power to be aware and make improvements when necessary.

In fact, fear and avoidance of awareness actually create anxiety. What do you think happens when you avoid certain fearful or uncomfortable situations, emotions, or sensations? You are actually evaluating the situation, emotion, or sensation with more meaning than what it deserves. You are giving your fears more credence than what is necessary. And you are appraising the perceived consequences with more value than what is rational. Essentially, you are creating an anxiety monster. And the more you avoid the anxiety monster, the bigger it gets.

Let’s take panic attacks for example. The hallmark of panic disorder is a fear of the fear. This means that you fear experiencing the physiological sensations of your biological fight-or-flight response – heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chills, sweatiness, nausea, etc. Sufferers will usually avoid feeling these sensations at all costs, which keep them safe and comfortable in a box. Or so they think. By refusing to step outside this box, you actually become weaker while the anxiety monster gains power waiting to attack at the next opportunity.

To take back this power means that you will have to step outside of your comfort zone, face your dreaded fear, and fight the anxiety monster. To grow stronger means that you will have to behave in ways that are counterintuitive to your fears by becoming very familiar with those panic sensations. To be resilient means that you will have to expose yourself to those uncomfortable sensations, so that you learn they are harmless. If you are willing to endure these challenges, then you will overcome anxiety and irrational fears.

Remember awareness generates relief and power, while avoidance leads to anxiety and suffering. Neo chose the red pill, because ultimately what you don’t know may hurt you. What will you choose?

SOCIAL PHOBIA ≠ SHYNESS

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Social Phobia versus Shyness

Social phobia also known as Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is not simply extreme shyness. Many people experience some shyness and discomfort, especially in new situations or with unfamiliar people. However, it’s generally tolerable once you warm up and relax after a while. Unlike shyness, such conditions are intolerable for SAD sufferers who find it nearly impossible to relax in social or performance settings.

The Myth

In fact, the belief that people with SAD typically retreat into the background, are often silent, tend to be socially unsophisticated, and generally isolate themselves is a myth. Of course, there are social anxiety sufferers with such characteristics. However, many patients I’ve treated with debilitating SAD are quite competent socially, and some of the adolescents are even the popular kids or star athletes at school.

Features of SAD

So, how are these socially competent, popular individuals diagnosed with SAD? The often misunderstood component is the “performance” condition. Social anxiety sufferers intensely fear being rejected, criticized, judged, or simply perceived unfavorably when having to perform. Although these presumed negative consequences can occur in “social” situations, not all social environments require you to “perform”. Thus, an individual with SAD can be socially sophisticated until s/he imagines the possibility of being disapproved while having to perform (e.g., giving a speech, playing piano at a recital, kicking a goal at a soccer competition). As such, social phobia does not equal mere shyness.

Reverse Narcissism

Individuals with SAD experience what I call “reverse narcissism”. While those with narcissism have an inflated sense of self and direct the spotlight onto themselves, people with social anxiety have a deflated sense of self and avoid this illusory spotlight. Because SAD sufferers believe all attention is focused on them with ready criticisms toward any mistake made (real or imagined), they often exert much effort to avoid social/performance situations at all cost. If unavoidable, they may become overwhelmed with intense anxiety that can lead to physiological reactions, such as racing heart, hyperventilation, sweating, nausea, dizziness, headache, stomachache, etc., and result in a panic attack.

Consequences of SAD

The most distinguishing feature between SAD and shyness is that social anxiety disorder debilitates one’s functioning, and not just socially. In adults, social anxiety can impair one’s work functioning and cause conflicts in family life. In children, social anxiety can interfere with academic achievement, school attendance, social hobbies, and making friends. Furthermore, the lack of self-confidence of social anxiety sufferers tend to result in poor assertiveness skills, and often lead to other psychiatric conditions, such as depression, other anxiety disorders, and substance abuse.

Effective Treatment

The most important precursor to any successful treatment is psychoeducation. Once the sufferer and involved family members or significant partners understand the vicious avoidance-reinforcement cycle of the disorder, Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is the evidence-based treatment for SAD. CBT teaches patients what causes them to feel anxious and provides tools to control the anxiety. Patients learn effective skills through relaxation and mindfulness training, role-playing, and social skills training. Systematic exposures increase sufferers’ ability to face their fears, while cognitive restructuring teaches them to identify negative thinking patterns that contribute to anxiety.

Conclusion

Although SAD is the third most common mental health disorder affecting as many as 10 million Americans, there is effective help! Social anxiety doesn’t have to result in debilitating impairments. If you suffer from SAD or know of someone who does, there is no time like now to get the relief and freedom to live an engaging life. Summertime is the period of the year that’s filled with outdoor activities, festive celebrations, and social gatherings. Why let social anxiety get in the way of all the possibilities of LIFE?