Category Archives: Articles

Coping with Anxiety Using Mindfulness

anxietyYou know the feeling when it starts: an unpleasant burning in your chest or abdomen, a feeling of cold on the back of your neck, tingling in your arms, or tightness in the back of your throat. Anxiety is a physical phenomenon. Many of us are unaware of the specific physical sensations associated with our anxiety, but it sends a signal to our brain that we are in danger. On its own, anxiety tends to pass quickly and without much ado. It is the way we attribute meaning to the sensations in our body that causes anxiety to feel unbearable and to stick around. We interpret our anxiety as being “out of control.” We look to our environment for signals that we really are in danger, either physically or emotionally. And we beat ourselves up for feeling anxious, telling ourselves “What is wrong with me?” “Why can’t I feel calm?” And even worse, “I can’t tolerate feeling this way.”

But in reality, we can tolerate anxiety. By tolerating it and observing its physical manifestations, we rob it of its power over us. And over time, anxiety will diminish if we refuse to escalate it by letting it take over our thoughts.

Mindfulness is one of the most powerful tools for coping with and transforming anxiety. While it may feel like WE ARE anxious, bringing awareness to our body and choosing to focus on the specific physical sensations we are experiencing allows us to see that we are the observer of anxiety, not its victim. We can choose to halt self-defeating thoughts by returning awareness to our body and reminding ourselves “Anxiety cannot hurt me. It is only a feeling, and it is temporary. I am in control of myself. I can choose to be aware of the anxiety without letting it take over my thoughts.”

Practice doing mindfulness exercises such as this one when you are not feeling particularly anxious, as a way of being ready for anxiety when it comes. Learning to focus your full attention on your body rather than your thoughts takes some practice, but only five minutes a day can make a huge difference in reducing anxiety and helping you cope with it when it comes.

Anxiety is often associated with depression, even if the depression is not severe. Taking steps to address negative patterns of thinking, grieving losses, and learning to take better care of ourselves physically and emotionally is another important step in dealing with anxiety. If you need help to learn to identify and challenge negative thoughts, work through with past trauma or loss, or learn to improve your self-care and relationships, finding a therapist you trust is a great place to start.

Principles for Making Joint Custody Work: Being a better Co-Parent

joint custodyParenting together after a divorce challenges the most dedicated of parents. So many feelings get stirred up while we work through the difficulties of co-parenting. The following principles can help provide guidance for parents in being their best selves following a divorce:

1. Be flexible

To the extent possible, accommodate minor custody changes needed by the other parent. Being flexible allows everyone to get their needs met. This does not mean unduly inconveniencing yourself or your child, or being a doormat for an unreasonable ex.

2. Take the high road and keep your cool

Even if you are unhappy with your ex’s behavior, take the high road. Who do you want to be? What are your modeling for your co-parent? For your kids? Avoid escalating conflict for the benefit of your child, by noticing when emotions are running high and waiting before acting on them. (Such as – have a policy of letting all emotion-laden emails rest in your “Drafts” Folder for a day before sending.)

3. Pick your battles

Consider when it is constructive to bring up concerns with your ex, and when it will cause a fight that you can’t win. Some parents can coordinate rules, agree on homework expectations, etc. But if you have a less cooperative co-parenting relationship, be realistic about what will be accomplished by a discussion and save it for when it matters. There will be times when, despite your best efforts, your ex will say “no,” won’t cooperate, won’t respond or participate. At those times, grieving that which you cannot have may be a hard but necessary road to peace of mind.

4. Whose battle is it, anyway?

When a problem arises, spend some time to determine who is the best person to solve it. If the problem is primarily between your ex and your child, support him or her in addressing it with the other parent rather than stepping in.

5. Communicate directly with your ex to the best of your ability, or directly with your children’s providers (teachers, doctors, etc.)

Communicate with your co-parent rather than passing messages through your child. Communicate in a factual, business-like manner. A voicemail or email on “switch day” can cover information about homework, medical information, current disciplinary issues, and upcoming events or needed supplies. If contact = conflict, then you can communicate with your children’s providers directly. When making requests, do so in simple and direct language. If your ex tends not to reply or to say “no,” consider in advance what you will do in these cases and whether to let them know in advance what you will do in these instances.

6. Provide both love and limits

Kids need nurturing as well as structure and stability, especially during stressful times. Maintain consistent routines, and set and enforce firm and fair rules, even when it’s hard. Consistency helps children feel secure. Age-appropriate responsibilities build life skills and empower kids to find solutions.

7. Make it easy for your child to have what he/she needs

To the extent possible, have everything your child needs at both homes, rather than expecting your child to transport what he/she needs. Schools will provide extra copies of textbooks for their second home. Kids should have age-appropriate responsibility for managing their belongings among two homes.

There are no simple solutions when it comes to the long, hard road of parenting after divorce. It is so important that you make space for all the emotions that are triggered by interacting with your ex-partner. Getting support from friends, family or a therapist can make the path an easier one. Making an effort to apply these principles, and having compassion for yourself when you inevitably fall short of complete success, is a step toward successful co-parenting.

This article was written by Meri Levy, M.A., MFT and Lena Glaser, M.A.

People-Pleasing Moms: At Risk

Sad new mom holding baby - people-pleasing momsOne of the common themes I come across when working with mothers experiencing depression and anxiety is perfectionism and people-pleasing. Moms get worn out when they are trying to make everyone happy all the time.

There are often good reasons for a tendency to be over-responsible for the feelings of others. Many of us come from families where there was an unspoken expectation that a child must be “good,” because one or both parents were unable to tolerate the challenge of even normal childhood misbehavior. Or sometimes, children develop an unconscious habit of caretaking for others as a way to get their own needs met.

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Letting Go of Parent Guilt

pregnant mom sonThere is no guilt quite like the guilt of a parent. We feel so uniquely responsible for the care of our children. Every lapse in our parenting weighs on us.

Throughout life there are always reasons to feel guilty: the call we forgot to return or the birthday card we forgot to send, or the time we snapped at our partner for no good reason. But when we feel we have failed with our child, this guilt weighs even heavier on our minds.

Guilt is an emotion with a conscience — it helps us try to do our best, and it reminds us of what is important to us. But too much guilt can rob us of enjoyment. And as a parent, there is so much to feel guilty about! If we dote on our child, there’s the house, friends, partner or even job to feel guilty about, and if we try to meet our other obligations, it is easy to feel that you have failed as a parent. It’s a Catch-22!

I wonder sometimes if our parents felt as guilty as we do, or if it is unique to our generation to expect so much from ourselves. And guilt in itself is purposeless. It doesn’t help anyone, but only makes it more difficult to do our best.

When you are feeling guilty, it is important to look at this feeling from some emotional distance, seeing it objectively instead of being its victim. Decide whether your sense of guilt is justified. Sometimes sharing your feelings with a fellow parent can help you sort out what is legitimate and what is perfectionism.

When you feel that you have truly let someone down, it is important to do what you can to make it right. Apologize to the friend you neglected, or the partner or child you yelled at. Try to learn from your guilt to change your priorities and do things differently. Then let the guilt go.

When the guilt is baseless, or unavoidable, like when you feel guilty for a feeling you have, or because you cannot do more than you are capable of, then you need to practice using your “interior parent” to counter those feelings.

If you had a beloved friend who told you she felt terrible because the baby cried while she was on a much-needed outing with her partner, what would you tell her? Probably you would reassure her that she is a wonderful mother, and that she must nurture herself and her relationship in order to be the best mother she can be. You would tell her she has nothing to feel guilty about, and you would also empathize with her pain. This is the role you must also play with yourself.

Listen to your own thoughts, and when they are self-defeating or judgmental, respond to yourself the way you would to a loved one — being a good parent to yourself is part of being a good, loving and joyful parent to your children.