Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, Mindfulness, CBIT, ERP, CBT-I, Behavior Consultation, and Treatment for Anxiety and Insomnia

Laura Van Schaick-Harman, Psy.D., BC-TMH


Dr. Laura's Meaningful Psychological Services

Online and Office Based Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Blog

Meaningful Psychological Services: Really Useful Thoughts from a Psychologist (hopefully!)

Helpful interests, ideas, and resources about psychology, therapy, mindfulness, cognitive-behavior therapy, anxiety, living meaningfully and online therapy.

view:  full / summary

Wait it Out

Posted on November 25, 2019 at 2:35 PM Comments comments (4)

Have you suffered from an anxiety disorder? Have you experienced a panic attack before? Have you felt like anxiety would never end?

 

Feeling anxious is incredibly uncomfortable. You may feel sweaty. You may feel that you are not getting enough air in. You may feel sick. You may feel like your heart is racing. You may feel a tight chest, tingly hands, or sweaty palms. You may think this will never end. You may think you’re dying. You may think that something has gone terribly wrong with your body.

 

Anxiety is a normal human emotion. We all experience anxious feelings during our lives. Anxiety is supposed to show up when we are in danger, such as being chased by a mountain lion or driving during a white-out blizzard. Anxiety is also supposed to show up when we need to be motivated to prepare for something, such as a test, job interview, or meeting someone new.

 

Anxiety becomes problematic when it shows up and we are not in danger or needing to be prepared. Anxiety is problematic when it shows up in a very loud and excessive, noisy way disproportionate to the situation (for example, having your mind “go blank” when taking a test).

 

One of the best things you can do to cope with anxiety is to just let it be.

 

Wait it out.

 

Anxiety will not last forever. It is temporary.

 

One of the best ways I have seen this described was on a recent episode of This is Us. Real anxiety symptoms and panic attacks have been depicted on this show. One of the characters disclosed how he suffered from anxiety and how his mom helped him. His mother would pour seltzer into a cup and say that this represents anxiety. All he had to do was wait for the bubbles to settle.

 

Wait for the bubble to settle. Wait for the anxiety to pass. It will- that is how your body was designed.

 

Of course, anxiety can pass quicker if you use other coping skills such as deep breathing or telling yourself you’re not in danger. The key here- it passes even if you do nothing.

 

So, just wait.

Building Bridges with The Good Place

Posted on October 23, 2019 at 4:30 PM Comments comments (11)

I love it when our mainstream entertainment teaches good lessons. Check out this interesting https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/four_lessons_in_bridge_building_from_the_good_place?utm_source=Greater+Good+Science+Center&utm_campaign=241d4682e5-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_GG_Newsletter_Oct_9_2019&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5ae73e326e-241d4682e5-50850427" target="_blank">article about building bridges between people based on what we learn from the TV show The Good Place.

After you read the article, challenge yourself to answer these questions:

Who can you can get to know better?

How can you connect with that person?

What prevents you from interacting with people you perceive as different?

How can suffering help you grow?

Starting School For Parents and Kids

Posted on September 24, 2019 at 11:50 AM Comments comments (14)

My oldest started Kindergarten earlier this month. While I have seen many families make this transition professionally, going through it yourself is so powerful and can be very different.


There is so much for families to cope with during this time. There are grown-up anxiety, worries, planning, scheduling, and emotions. There are child-size worries about making friends, who to sit with at lunch, how much work there will be, and when will they be able to go back home again.


Letting go of your child is good, healthy, and important. We can prepare them to be strong. We can teach them to be a hard-worker. We can show them how to work through conflict. We can model how to cope with big feelings. We can show them how to accept other children. We can demonstrate compassion. We can help them solve problems.


We will grow right along with them. As parents, we can grow stronger, more hard-working, and a better conflict resolver. We can cope with our big feelings more effectively. We can accept others, even when they are different. We can show compassion. We can be better problem solvers.


Thank you to all of the teachers and school staff who are working so hard to develop resilience and academic strengths in our children and who are keeping them safe.


Have a great school year!

When to Worry About Your Child's Worry

Posted on August 19, 2019 at 3:45 PM Comments comments (10)

Will you pick me up on time?


Can I sleep in your bed?


Am I going to get sick from touching that?


Are monsters real?


Do I have to go to school?


Has your child asked you one or more of these questions? These are examples of worries that are being communicated to a parent. How do we know which are normal and expected worries and which are excessive and disruptive? How should we respond to worries? Does my child need therapy?


For answers to these questions and detailed background information about anxiety, which is a normal human emotion, and anxiety disorders in children, watch this webinar for parents: https://adaa.org/webinar/consumer/when-worry-about-your-childs-worry


Wishing you all a healthy and brave start to the school year!


Do You Have Weeds in Your Life?

Posted on July 22, 2019 at 3:40 PM Comments comments (3)

We have weeds. Big, thick, and tall weeds. I have tried mulch, landscape fabric, and sprays, and it helps a good amount. This year, I thought I finally did it. No weeds! Yay!


I was wrong. After a few weeks, I saw the evidence. A few weeds either survived or new ones navigated their way through a tiny opening in the mulch and fabric. Untamed and free, they grow and grow to be thick and full and push out our pretty sunflowers attempting to grow.


Back to the drawing board...I think I will try to de-root the surviving weeds next and see if that helps.


Do you have any weeds in your life? Are you suppressing negative feelings? Are you avoiding taking risks to grow? Are you letting weeds grow wild? Are you forgetting to nurture your flowers?


Is anxiety, depression, anger, or jealousy taking over your life?


If your life feels full of weeds, look for the flowers trying to grow. Get at the root of the weeds and challenge yourself to face the scary and negative feelings. You may need to try different strategies to see what works best for you.


If needed, seek the support of a psychologist. We can help!

The Secret Life of Pets 2

Posted on June 24, 2019 at 5:35 AM Comments comments (5)

Do you believe the world is a terrible and frightening place? Are you nervous each time you go to a new place? Do you stress when your children separate from you? Are you scared to take risks? Do you have trouble relaxing?


These are just a few of the elements depicted in the new The Secret Life of Pets movie.

I won’t give you any spoilers in this post, so don’t worry!


Easier said than done, right? Worry is so common and a hard behavior to break. However, it is very treatable and it is possible to live a more worry-free life.


The Secret Life of Pets 2 depicts how anxiety can develop, how we can be overprotective of our loved ones, and how we can make our world really small. The movie also shows how important and beneficial challenging worries can be.


If you are a parent, child, or just movie-going lover, go ahead and see this movie. Then challenge yourself to face a fear!

The Importance of Play

Posted on May 22, 2019 at 4:35 PM Comments comments (2)

Play is so vital and important for both children and adults. For several years in my practice, I have observed many families rushing from school to multiple after school structured activities for multiple children with multiple conflicts. Kids express feeling anxious and overwhelmed. Our high achieving students struggle with balancing clubs, sports, and HW and when to turn down additional responsibilities. Parents struggle with which opportunities to take and pass on.

This Ted Talk illustrates the importance of play from a biological perspective and the relationship between play and mental health.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bg-GEzM7iTk" target="_blank">http://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bg-GEzM7iTk

Whole Child Learning

Posted on April 22, 2019 at 1:40 PM Comments comments (8)

Yes, just yes! This month, I am sharing a presentation by Dr. Hynes, Superintendent of Schools in Patchogue-Medford. This talk provides some insight into whole child learning, mental health, physical health, social emotional growth, and raising children to be successful and healthy adults.

https://youtu.be/qczA5SLhxEY

Reassurance Seeking

Posted on March 27, 2019 at 12:00 AM Comments comments (2)

Reassurance seeking is a common anxiety symptom that both children and adults exhibit. When we feel anxious, it is a generally uncomfortable feeling, so we will want to try different things to alleviate the discomfort. One very common method is seeking reassurance to help calm the anxiety or worry.


Reassurance seeking can be done verbally or through physical behaviors.


Here are some verbal examples:

“Am I going to be ok?”

“Do you think she heard me?”

"Should I send this e-mail?”

“Do you think I sounded ok?”

“Are you sure you will be there to pick me up?”


Here are some behavioral examples:

Re-reading e-mails after they are sent

Replaying conversations in mind

Looking up health problems online

Checking to see if the door is locked

Seeking reassurance will help us feel better quickly if we receive the answer we want. How can this be a problem? Well, when we engage in seeking reassurance excessively (more than once), we are reinforcing anxiety.

There is a difference between reassurance seeking and information seeking. When we seek information, we are learning about a new topic, illness, schedule, plan, routine within an appropriate boundary.


For example, if your child is asking what time you will be picking them up from the birthday party because they forgot or they haven’t been told yet, this is not considered reassurance seeking. This is information seeking. If, however, your child presents with anxiety (possibly separation or social anxiety) and he/she is asking you what time they will be picked up multiple times and if you will remember to get them, this is reassurance seeking.

What do we do?

We limit seeking to information from approved and appropriate resources (e.g., avoiding misleading websites and forums). We limit re-playing conversations and re-reading messages, to once or not at all once originally checked. We stop asking others to participate in reinforcing our anxiety. For parents, make a plan with your child to discuss how the questions will be answered. We set a goal to answer each question only once so we can teach the child to learn to seek only information, but not extra reassurance.

There is so much to discuss around this topic. Let me know if you have questions or additional thoughts!

KonMari

Posted on February 21, 2019 at 12:25 AM Comments comments (2)

Have you been swept up by the KonMari method and reorganizing your entire house yet? About 6 weeks ago, my husband and I decided to try this new show on Netflix that follows a professional organizing consultant author who helps people get their possessions in order. This was purely for entertainment, but my personality loves to learn and pay attention to the method behind the madness.


I don’t want to spoil the series or the books or your interest in learning more, so I will try to focus on KonMari elements that spoke to me personally and professionally.


I was hooked after the first few minutes of the first episode. What followed was interesting. I learned new ways of folding, storing, organizing, and choosing what to save. I was most struck by the idea of simplifying life. For many people, living a more simplified life seems out of reach. Marie Kondo provided me some very practical, simple, easy to implement strategies that have helped simplify so much. As a psychologist, this idea makes so much sense and helps reduce stress and anxiety.


Specifically, KonMari advocates for a “one look” strategy. This means that when we open a drawer or cabinet, we can see everything in an organized way, access items easily, and know what we have and what we don’t. This helps prevent us from purchasing items we already own (which many of us have done!).


I am really interested in seeing how this method may help parents and children. So many families report feeling overwhelmed by toys. Have you ever said or thought something like this: “but you have so many things to do choose from, why are you bored/upset/mad?” to your kids? Kids can learn to organize and fold using these strategies as well. My 4-year-old can happily help with laundry and my 18-month-old can clean up some toys according to categories. It is important for children to be a part of the day-to-day household tasks, have responsibility for their belongings, and not be entertained all day (I.e., be bored and use their imagination).


Let’s look at the importance of simplifying our bedrooms and playrooms, our schedules and agendas, and ultimately, our choices.


Personally, I have re-discovered some possessions that still bring me joy. I have felt good about donating items to organizations that help people who may be in need of just the item that no longer brings me joy. I emptied multiple storage tubs that were holding items that I don’t need, would be better as a blessing for someone else, or were not doing me much good being hidden in a tub. My oldest son helped me to label a lot of items, which helps us to identify what is what and also teaches word recognition.


Consider trying out an episode or read Marie Kondo’s book. Maybe you will discover something very helpful!

Sesame Street

Posted on January 17, 2019 at 12:35 AM Comments comments (8)

Sunny days, sweeping the clouds away. Gosh, I really like Sesame Street. Maybe it’s the Nostalgia of familiar songs (“1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10..11, 12”;) and characters. Maybe it’s the high-quality programming that provides information useful and helpful to young children. Maybe it’s the fact that I don’t have to worry about inappropriate ads or content when my children watch or read a Sesame Street story. Whatever it is, Sesame Street is an approved and celebrated aspect of childhood in my book.



Sesame Workshop has a meaningful way of tackling difficult and serious topics and can really make a difference with the population who views it. There are many families and children struggling with hunger and homelessness right now all over the world, including our own neighborhoods. Take a look at the https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/12/health/sesame-street-homeless-muppet-bn/index.html?utm_source=CNN+Five+Things&utm_campaign=3fa1cedc8e-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_12_12_12_56&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_6da287d761-3fa1cedc8e-86111485" target="_blank">link to learn how Sesame Street helps kids to understand and cope with this part of life.



May you always find yourself with shelter, not be hungry, and be able to make this world a bit kinder.

Let Your Heart Be Light

Posted on December 17, 2018 at 11:00 AM Comments comments (21)

Let your heart be light. What do you think of when you hear this?



If you didn’t recognize this phrase, this is a song lyric in a popular holiday song. I got to thinking about the deeper meaning of this phrase within the context of well-being.



Is your heart light? What does that mean? What does a light heart look like? How can we describe, measure, or even observe a light heart?


 

For me, my heart feels light when I am tucking my children in bed at night and when I check on them when they are sleeping. There is a special and wholesome feeling watching children sleep brings us.


 

When do you feel that your heart is light?



Notice that the lyric says “let” rather than “feel.” This word choice suggests that we have more influence over our feelings than we think. We sometimes get caught up in a problem and we forget our internal capacity to cope and make healthy choices. We choose not to experience peace and joy. We choose unhealthy thinking patterns or to let our worry thoughts define us.


 

When you feel a light heart, are your troubles indeed out of sight?


 

Perhaps we can have a light heart even when we have troubles and struggles. Our mindset can make a big difference in our day-to-day mood. Allow yourself to breath and manage stressors. Your heart may be lighter and fuller.

 

Pay attention to those warm feelings. Look for the good. Focus on your ability to handle difficult situations.



Happy holidays!

Be Thankful

Posted on November 15, 2018 at 12:55 AM Comments comments (0)

Happy fall to all! I hope you have taken the time to notice the beautiful and varying colors around you during this harvest season. As we approach thanksgiving and the holiday season, let us take time to experience and show gratitude for aspects of our lives we are thankful for. Maybe it’s a friend we speak to every day, or a cousin we rarely see but often think about. Perhaps we are thankful for the ability to bring our children to school, purchase a cup of coffee, or stay home from work when we are ill.

I encourage you to look for the good in the bad, the happy in the sad, and the meaning in stress.

Have a happy, healthy, and meaningful holiday season.

What Would Someone You Admire Do?

Posted on October 15, 2018 at 1:30 PM Comments comments (0)

This month, I am sharing a podcast with Dr. Samantha Boardman, a psychiatrist who specializes in the use of positive psychology and has an excellent-worth-following blog.



This episode talks about the powerful thought-feeling-behavior connection- how our doing, thinking, and feeling matters. Dr. Boardman also discusses coping strategies for anxiety and how to apply meditation strategies.



I challenge you to consider these ideas:


In this moment, what would someone you admire do?


Have you been handling this situation differently?


How are your behaviors related to your thoughts?



I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Screen Time

Posted on September 18, 2018 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (61)

The question of how much time children and teens should be spending on screens is a common concern for parents. We live in a technology driven world. Children are immersed in advancements early on, both at home and in the classroom. But how much is too much? Where is the line drawn between appropriate, helpful, and purposeful time using screens and inappropriate, excessive, and harmful time engaged with screens?

 

These resources outline some recommendations and useful information regarding the use of screen time in families. It is my hope that each family can develop an appropriate media plan and can enjoy using technology to advance social-, emotion-, and cognitive-growth, and connection with the world.

Digital Guidelines: Promoting Healthy Technology Use for Children- American Psychological Association

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/media/Pages/default.aspx#planview" target="_blank">Family Media Plan- American Academy of Pediatrics

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Where-We-Stand-TV-Viewing-Time.aspx" target="_blank">Where We Stand: Screen Time- American Academy of Pediatrics

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/is_screen_time_toxic_for_teenagers?utm_source=Greater+Good+Science+Center&utm_campaign=0ed365ab9b-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_08_28_03_50&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_5ae73e326e-0ed365ab9b-50850427" target="_blank">Is Screen Time Toxic for Teenagers?- Greater Good Science Center


Lessons from Winnie the Pooh

Posted on August 19, 2018 at 1:35 PM Comments comments (9)

If you’re ever in need of a pick-me-up, you may find one in the stories of Christopher Robin and the Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. We recently enjoyed a movie trip to see the new feature film (I will do my best to avoid spoilers) and loved it!

 

The movie depicts the busy, stressed out, anxious, and worried life many adults experience day to day. We easily get caught up in work responsibilities, financial worries, parenting tasks, and chores. We lose touch with our imagination, forget to rest, and overschedule our families.

 

In this movie, we learn a few valuable lessons. First, work is important, but how important is it? Pooh wonders if work is more important than a balloon (see the movie for context). Second, relaxation and self-care matters. As Pooh says, “Doing nothing often leads to the very best kind of something.” And third, spend time with your family and tell them you love them unconditionally.

 

Do something fun and meaningful today! Just a tip-that may include doing nothing at all.

The Days are Long

Posted on July 17, 2018 at 1:35 PM Comments comments (8)

Happy July! This post totally snuck up on me. I can’t believe how quickly time can pass, especially as a parent.

 

I remember reading “the days are long but the years are short” (Gretchen Rubin) a few years ago and feeling impacted by this message. The days can feel so long, especially when we have so many activities to do, tasks to accomplish, people to see, and places to go.

 

As parents, we may struggle with maintaining the master schedule. We try to make sure our kids take every opportunity that comes their way and feel bad if they miss something. We arrange minute-to-minute schedules to accomplish the daily tasks of food shopping, laundry, and cooking. We say yes to extra work responsibilities. We try to find time to have our own fun, shower, and, yes, even time to use the bathroom.

 

In all of the busyness, are we savoring the moments of traveling, shopping, cleaning dirty little hands, making lists, or going to birthday parties? Are we slowing down from all of the doing and focusing on just being? Are we able to exchange one extra-curricular activity for a family game night?

 

Spend time together.

 

Right now, I am savoring this moment when my 3-year-old (as he is watching me write this) said this post was a “nice list” and when I send it to somebody they will say “wow and put it on their refrigerator.” I don’t know if you will post this on your fridge, but hopefully you will go out and enjoy the day!

 

Pay attention to those little ones.

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Posted on June 18, 2018 at 3:35 PM Comments comments (9)


It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood. Did you know that Mr. Rogers has had an impact on childhood development for over 40 years? I am sharing a briefhttps://youtu.be/fKy7ljRr0AA" target="_blank"> video of Mr. Rogers from the late 1960s that illustrates several important aspects of childhood and the impact us grown-ups have on children.



As you watch, consider the role of these factors in your and your children's lives: trust, media, violence, coping with emotions, problem solving, communication skills, and kindness.



Then, catch an old episode of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood or the newer spin-off, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood.



How do you want to raise your children? What lessons are we teaching kids with popular media today?

Our Struggles Can Be Beautiful

Posted on May 21, 2018 at 9:45 AM Comments comments (19)

On most of our walks as the season changed from winter to spring, my oldest son pointed out that the leaves are "trying to grow" in the sweetest most optimistic voice. At 3 years old, our perspective may not yet be influenced by negativity from the world around us. This observation has prompted me to watch how the leaves on one of my favorite trees along our route grow. For months, the tree was barren and devoid of liveliness , as were the neighboring trees. At first, we noticed tiny yellow buds on the edges of the branches. We were surprised by all of the details they displayed and how these buds did not seem to resemble the beginning of a leaf. As the weather grew warmer and the days longer, these buds grew more and finally peaked into a large green leaf. With this, the tree became alive again.


On some days, our life may feel barren and empty. These feelings may even last a whole season. With our weather adjusting between cold and warm days, the leaves were struggling to grow- or as my 3-year-old sees it, "trying" to grow. Our struggles teach us how to harness resilience, be patient, overcome obstacles, and transform something empty into joy.



Pay attention to the details and challenges in your life. With time, resilience, self-care, and hope, they may develop into something beautiful.

Can You Escape in Time?

Posted on April 11, 2018 at 5:10 PM Comments comments (5)


Picture this: You are locked in a room with no windows and can't get out until you solve a series of challenging clues, riddles, or simple math problems. If you are starting to get very anxious by this imagery, then going to an escape room might be a good exposure for you.



When we are anxious, our natural fight or flight reaction kicks in gear. As we have learned before, this response changes our physiological experience. We may experience shallow breathing, faster heart rate, sweaty palms, or tingling in our arms or legs. Because these sensations are uncomfortable or just plain scary, we tend to avoid situations that trigger our anxiety. While this seems like a great idea since the feelings seems to go away or dissipate and we feel better. However, this is only a short-term temporary fix. The next time we are faced with the situation or something similar, we are likely to feel the same level or even increased anxiety. Then we avoid, feel better, then worse again. The cycle continues.



Once we assess the true danger of a situation, we can work towards no longer avoiding situations that trigger anxiety when they are in fact safe.



Recently, I was locked in that room I described earlier as part of an escape room game. We had 1 hour to complete a series of puzzles, challenges, and questions in order to get the keys to be let out of the room. The puzzles were harder than I expected. We didn’t get out in time! Does that mean I am writing this now in the corner of that very room since I have been trapped there for several weeks? No. We were not truly trapped. Once the hour was up, an employee came in and explained the remaining answers to us and let us go.



This experience, while anxiety provoking, is a fun way of exposing us to a fear and worry. There are many types and levels of rooms and challenges. The themes vary too- from light and fun (we did one where you are stuck in a bakery) to scary (themes from horror movies).



If you worry about being in closed spaces, consider an escape room exposure. Grab some friends, challenge yourself, and have some fun! I suspect that you will grow and you will be able to cope with being "trapped." Remember, we are rarely every truly trapped in any situation. Anxiety can make us feel that way. Let's test anxiety and see if it is telling the truth or not. Good luck!


Rss_feed