Tools For Managing School Anxiety

Post By Amanda Polster, LMSW

Test, essays, project deadlines, pop quiz! Whether you’re in high school or college, managing a rigorous schedule can cause a lot anxiety. People experience school anxiety in different forms - test anxiety, difficulty studying, trouble focusing which leads to procrastination. Anxiety is the most common mental health challenge of children, teens, and adults in the United States. (1)

Some stress is actually necessary (and can be helpful) for students. . Performance anxiety can actually motive us to prepare and focus harder to achieve our high expectations. The stress of poor performance can encourage us to study longer or prepare harder for say… a presentation worth 30% of our grade. This type of stress is called eustress - the feeling good stress! Eustress can actually help boost motivation, focus, and energy, and can improve overall performance and decision making. (2)

You’re probably thinking, “why do I not usually feel good when I’m stressed?” Eustress is often short-term in nature and only occurs when we are able to rationalize and organize the tasks we have to complete without feeling a sense of overwhelm. And…dondadadon! This is where distress seeps in. Distress is the experience of stress that feels like overwhelm, confusion and difficulty completing tasks.

When we think about the amount of work required of us in such a short period of time we often start neglecting self care. We might reach for that fourth cup of coffee because… who has time for sleep? It’s easy to understand why this would happen if it feels like our lives might literally be over if we don’t pass an exam. Many of us have been there, including me.

Perfectionism often accompanies distress. This can prevent us from actually enjoying the process. Doesn’t it seem unreasonable to think the quality of an entire year’s work is determined by one letter written at the top of a test page?

Now that we are on the same page (pun intended), I want to share why I love using cognitive therapy to help students with school anxiety. It’s amazing to see how a student’s life can change when they realize they have complete control over their school experience. Let’s take a look at some of the ways to gain more control of school anxiety:

 

1.      Breathe!

One way we can rethink the amount of work we have to achieve in such a short period of time is to take a step back and recognize when we begin to rush our thoughts. Breathing allows us to hear our thoughts more clearly. After we recognize them, breathing allows us to stop spiraling into self-defeating thoughts that counter our capability and resilience.

2.   Reframe Stress

When thinking about the two types of stress - distress and eustress, we often categorize all stress as problematic and want to run away from it as quick as possible. However, being mindful and present with our stress is a helpful way of shifting our stress from an unpleasant experience to a productive and motivating experience. Reframing our stress can help us begin categorizing our tasks and motivate us to learn effective time management tools, which leads me into the next possible strategy.

3.   Creating a To-Do List

My personal favorite! Some people prefer the standard planner, but I’m more of a color coordinated, few doodles on the side type or organizer. I began creating a to-do list after grad school when I recognized planners did not have enough space for me to write down the amount of tasks I needed to complete each day. Creating a to-do list not only helped me prioritize my most important daily tasks, but also it helped me feel accomplished each day when I was able to check off all the things I completed. Having this list also helped me enjoy the process of completing larger tasks because I could recognize the steps I was achieving along the way. Yes, there are times when I didn’t get to everything - I’m not superwoman unfortunately - but I was able to start my to-do list for the next day prioritizing those things first to ensure I got everything done in a timely manner.

4.  Develop Realistic Expectations

This is where cognitive therapy steps in. Cognitive therapy helps address the pressure of family and society to meet educational demands. Understanding our thoughts, feelings and actions more clearly can help in overcoming the apprehension of not knowing if we will get a job once we graduate. Cognitive therapy teaches us how to give ourselves a break, re-evaluate our expectations of what we need to accomplish to stay above water, yet the most important.

5.   Practicing Self Care

You may be thinking right now… who has time for self care when there are 4 essays due and 3 exams? The bottom line is we cannot do our best work if we are not energized and revitalized. Taking time for ourselves to recharge is the most important part of achieving our goals and sustaining a healthy learning environment and practice.

Does your son or daughter need help with school anxiety?

I’m happy to help! Connect with me here – amandap@ruschellekhanna.com

References:

1.      https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics#

2.     https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eustress

Lyme Disease, Kundalini and the Near Death Experience

Many people who have Lyme disease have experienced a condition that is part seizure, part convulsions.  Some describe a feeling of electrical shock and flashing lights or the sensation of a gunshot going off inside the skull. When taken to the emergency room, there is often "nothing" found wrong.  While this experience might seem completely dreadful (and it is), I can't think of anything more powerful than the sensation of electrocution to bring us closer to God.  That is why I love to tell people Lyme disease was the best thing that ever happened to me. The severe pain that accompanied Lyme disease completely and totally woke me up to my life.  I have never been the same. 

In my work with Lyme disease clients, this particular symptom seems to bring about an experience similar to a near death experience (NDE).   Let's take a look at some of the common language and experiences of those with (NDE): 

According to the International Association of Near Death Studies (IANDS) these are the common and reoccurring psychological changes of those post NDE:

  • Loss of the fear of death
  • Describe themselves as more spiritual and not religious
  • Increased abstract thinking
  • Tend to bouts of depression
  • Increased generosity
  • Unresolved childhood trauma resurfaces
  • Convinced of life purpose
  • Heightened sense of taste, touch, smell
  • Less detached
  • Reported increased intuition and psychic abilities

For all practical purposes I can stop the article here and just state that NDEs sound word for word like what has been experienced by those who have had a spiritual awakening due to Lyme. This was also very much my experience. 

Now, let's take a look at another shared experience from a different population - Yogis and the Kundalini Awakening. Here is what a Kundalini awakening looks like when it's happening: 

  • Involuntary jerks and tremors
  • Energy rushes and feelings of electrical shock
  • Surfacing of repressed emotions
  • Headache, migraine and pressure in the skull
  • Emotional numbness and depression
  • Pain in back and neck
  • Sensitivity to light, sound and touch
  • Feelings of blissful love and connection to all things

Any of these sound familiar?

As humans we really have a need to find patterns in things. I am also a therapist and have an even greater need to find patterns in words and gestures.  Lots of things can cause trembling and seizures, but from the stories of my clients and my personal experience, the seizures that came from Lyme were more than a physical jolt.  They were a shift in consciousness.  

Another writer who shares her experience with Lyme as a spiritual awakening is Lyme coach Jenny Rush.  Her book, Chronic Illness as an Access to Quantum Healing describes her own process of awakening. Through personal narrative, Jenny describes the spontaneous changes that come from having Lyme disease and chronic illness as well as those that came gradually as she continued to heal. Jenny eloquently reiterates the theme of turning toward pain, sitting with our own experience and gently letting go of all the things that continue to hold us back from a peaceful life. 

Not everyone has to experience a medical trauma to feel more connected to others or feel a deep sense of life purpose.  If we are open, our lives can be full of both spontaneous growth and the change that comes from being persistent.  When have you experienced moments of spontaneous growth in your life?  

References - 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kundalini

Artwork - 

Indigo Dreams (c) by Jo Jayson www.jojayson.com

 

 

How Hypnotherapy Can Help You Gain Time in 2018

Do you spend the majority of your time wondering where time went? What about wishing you had more time? Or how about the dreaded feeling of running out of time?  If you answered yes to these questions, then I might say you have some work to do on your relationship with time.  I understand thinking about your relationship with something like time might seem a bit crazy at first, but upon closer inspection, we find that our views about time, the things we say to ourselves about time and our ability to access things like the flows states of athletes and musicians can radically shape our day to day experience. That's where hypnotherapy comes in.  Hypnotherapy offers a framework to re establish a healthy sense of time.  Let's begin to take a look at all the benefits of hypnotherapy for improving our experience of time. The examples below are only suggestions.  I encourage you to try the ones you like and step away from the ones that don't resonate.  Hypnotherapy is all about moving in a direction of ease and flow. 

Explore the Past

Exploring the past is generally a reason for people to avoid therapy and hypnotherapy all together, so I understand this particular approach may not be for everyone.  But for those that are interested in how past relationships can impact our views of the present, exploring the past can be a game changer.  

Some ways hypnotherapy goes about this is to begin exploring the dialogues we have internalized form our parents and other caregivers.  How did your parents view time? Were they anxious or relaxed about schedules? What types of language did your parents use about time? Did they hurry you around in a rush or were they always late for everything?  None of these were necessarily right or wrong. But as children we internalize those experiences either in ways that helped us thrive or limit us.  Hypnotherapy allows us to explore these dialogues in a safe and relaxed space.  It also has the power to gently redirect internal dialogues no longer serving us. 

Search for Resources

The process of hypnotherapy is an exploration in internal resources.  When trying to change our relationship with time, a hypnotherapy session might have you recall memories in which you felt like time expanded, those moments when time lasted forever or you felt you had plenty of time to get everything done.  I would imagine that even reading these prompts starts to cause you to recall such memories.  Combine this with the physical state of deep relaxation which is part of the hypnotherapy experience and you've really hit gold.  Time just magically expands.  Clients often even say they feel a sense of time expanding in the session.  It's really an amazing process. As the session comes to a close, you might be prompted to link these memories (or internal resources) to a simple gesture like touching your hand or an object.  Then, in waking life, when you touch your hand or the object, you can begin to easily recall these memories (resources). 

Play Around With Scale

A very specific technique we can use to speed up or slow down our experiences are to contemplate scale.  So what do I mean by that? Let's take a look at picturing the vastness of things.  If we spend time contemplating things like the vastness of space or our size in relation to the rest of the planet, time seems to go by slowly. 

Conversely if we imagine ourselves very large compared to all things around us we may feel as if things are moving fast (Imagine watching ants working or other living creatures much smaller than us).  They are moving so fast.  This causes us to feel that things are speeding up. 

What would happen if you imagined yourself smaller in a pleasant situation and much larger during a situation that feels uncomfortable? 

The imagination is a very powerful thing.  This type of technique works great for athletes to cause the appearance of baseballs slowing down as well as time to speed up for those with chronic pain. 

If you are struggling with finding enough time, I encourage you to let your imagination and the power of hypnotherapy help you have the type of expereinces you deserve in the year to come. Happy New Year!!

 

 

The Art of the Breakup

This article is for anyone dragging out that overdone relationship to the very end of it's very sad existence. Yes I said it. Some relationships are just plain sad.  The joy has left the building (or it was never there in the first place).  Maybe you just recently woke up to the realization that your current romantic relationship isn't working.  Possibly you've known this for a really long time but chose to deny your feelings and keep participating. Either way,  you know who you are.  You are the woman (or man) that just cannot seem to end the relationship that is clearly not in her [his] best interest.  That's ok.  All relationships are about learning.  They are a way to understand ourselves better and ultimately become the people we strive to be.  

It's almost the new year and you are probably reading this because you want to refocus your priorities and let go of all the things (especially relationships) that no longer support you. Because relationships are such an important part of who we are, I want to spend some time on finding ways to make leaving a bad relationship a bit  easier. 

Acknowledge Relationships Are An Inside Job

When someone comes to me wanting help ending a relationship, they often enter therapy with a desperate sense of urgency to change their current arrangement.  You see, most people don't call a therapist until the stuff has hit the fan.  By then it's a matter of stopping a crisis rather than preventing one.  Outside of just telling people what to do (which is not what therapy is for), a quick resolution is not usually the case when it comes to relationships. 

Everyone coming into therapy wants results.  Me included.  However, relationships are tricky things that first require us to take a look at things like motivation, the way we relate to others, our communication style and how we experience pleasure (just to name a few).  I like  to explain to someone first coming into therapy that relationships always start with our relationship with ourselves.  They begin with an acknowledgement that the things driving our interactions ie thoughts and feelings often occur so quickly that we are unaware of why we do things at all. 

Therapy is about REALLY slowing all this down so that we can start improving the root cause of our relationship struggles - ourselves. When we start to understand this, then we can start to cultivate patience for the fact that our behaviors have yet to match up to our desires.  The more you understand your thoughts, the more you can make better choice. In the meantime, support yourself.  Be kind and patient along the way. 

Address Your Fear of Being Alone

The majority of people prefer not to be alone. There are clear biological reasons why being alone is legitimately not a good idea.  We know that feelings of loneliness can lead to serious chronic health conditions.  On a cellular level, our body gets terrified when we are isolated.  

But there is a difference between social isolation versus being content enough to stay home alone all weekend and occupy yourself...or be alone with your thoughts for a few hours with no distraction. Many clients are initially unable to understand how they can be alone both physically and emotionally.  That's where I am reminded why I love my job.  I get so excited knowing that once they realize they can have complete control over their emotional experience including how to induce feelings of support and safety without a partner, that they will look back on their current toxic relationship and wonder how they ever allowed such a thing to stay in their life. 

Let's start looking at your fear of being alone. 

  • What are some things you use as distraction? 
  • Why did you pick these things? 
  • What are you afraid of happening if you are alone with your thoughts? 
  • Are you having negative or critical thoughts about yourself? 
  • If so, how can you start to address that interal abuse?

 

Work on Being Honest

If you are in a relationship you identify as unhealthy, toxic or unsupportive, there is an element of deceit occurring from your side.  I am not trying to pass judgement and I completely understand that there are many reasons we stay in difficult relationships.  These can range from fear of being alone to fear of physical harm from our partner.  That said, it's best to acknowledge there is something stopping us from being 100% honest with those around us and ourselves.  

Set Yourself Up For Success

If you are in a relationship which is safe to exit, start to think about the reasons why you choose not to be fully honest with the person. Then start to make a list of the things you would need in order to step up and say what needs to be said. We always want to put ourselves in a position where we will be successful.  And success doesn't just come out of thin air.  There are always resources in place to help up achieve.  For example, do you have friends you can call for emotional support after a difficult conversation? Do you feel you have the internal support to build up your confidence after an argument? Do you need to work on saving up actual resources like money in order to safely leave? 

 

Focus on Your Future You

This is one of my all time favorite techniques taken from my training in hypnotherapy.  In hypnotherapy sessions we often have clients start to make a connection with the version of themselves they would like to be in the future. 

Is this relationship one you would want to be in in 5 or 10 years? 

When we start to use the power of creative visualization to shape our future, we start to feel drawn to do behaviors that line up with that vision. Your future you would want the very best for you.  She would want you to make the best choices for your growth.  She certainly wouldn't want you to waste your time (or your partner's time) in a relationship that was going nowhere. 

2018 is going to be a great year for you.  It is going to be a year where you step into the life you have always wanted and deserve. 

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If you are in a dangerous relationship please find safety.  Contact http://www.thehotline.org/

If you need counseling to work on improving your relationships, contact us here. 

One Day With Mama Gena and Her School of Womanly Arts

You Are Perfect

The quote above was the first note I took from this past weekend's escapade into the world of Mama Gena and her School of Womanly Arts.  I had been invited by a friend who described the Mastery program to be a life affirming and life changing experience. At first glance it sounded a bit like a man bashing vagina party.  Women in bright pink boas greeted me through the door while Madonna and Katy Perry blasted over the speakers. Nevertheless my skepticism and I found a seat next to three lovely young women inside the womb of the Javitz Center for 8 full hours of women's empowerment. 

All kitch aside, I realized right away that the presence that is Mama Gena is anything but. From the moment the day began I knew this event was one of substance. Mama Gena had done it.  She tapped into the desperate need for women to have a safe place to be validated, feel connected and heard. As she worked the audience making connections with woman after woman, Mama Gena allowed everyone a chance to share a story of pain, self doubt and insignificance. She also encouraged a dialogue about women's desires and strengths. It was a good reminder to me that sometimes validation is all it takes to remember that we are perfect just the way we are. 

Words Have Power

One of the first questions Mama Gena asked the audience was what our caregivers had encouraged us to call our female genitals. To my surprise, most women were encouraged to either call it a childish name like "hooha" or to simply not give it a name. Mama Gena then took this opportunity to explain that unlike our male counterparts, we are not encouraged to respect and admire our genitals.  In fact, it is quite the opposite. By not giving them a respectful or honorable name, we are systemically taught to disregard the anatomy that makes us uniquely woman. 

This was pretty mind blowing.  I am a full believer in the power of words to change our lives.  The fact that as a culture we have no respectful way to refer to womanhood is completely absurd. It was also a reminder that ALL words have power.  Possibly it's time to redefine how we speak about the development of young girls?

I also couldn't help but notice that almost every woman that stood up to share or participate apologized for her existence. "I apologize for my accent." "I apologize for saying this..." When we apologize we immediately enter into a deferential relationship with whomever we are speaking.  I felt overwhelming sadness for everyone's need to lower themselves, even in front of a group that was brought together to support each other. 

Reconnect With Desire

There were so many wonderful elements to the day. We covered a history of the female archetype in religion, we connected to each other through community building exercises, we danced, but we also kept coming back to the need to (as Louise Hay says) love and accept ourselves fully.  Mama Gena explained that our femaleness has over 8000 nerve endings dedicated to the ability to feel pleasure. I was reminded that there is nothing more loving to do for ourselves as women as to connect back to the ability to have a desire and then feel pleasure around that thing.  The most obvious example, the orgasm, is only the beginning of a woman's relationship with desire.  All day we were encouraged to tap back into the things that filled us with joy in our daily lives form connecting with loved ones to re engaging in all the things we love to do. What have you done today to cultivate desire? 

Take Action

Overall I really loved the time spent with Mama Gena and her staff.  Mama Gena meets a need in the world today like no one else I have ever met.  It was very clear that I personally needed to take more action in my own life to tap back into pleasure, to encourage others to do the same. Professionally I also felt called to focus on the prevention of abuse toward women and girls. After working in corrections for 5 years, I really wanted to search for resources that supported boys in making better decisions when it came to interactions with girls.  The following day, Mama Gena's dear friend, Marie Forleo posted a link to a charity which was exactly what I was looking for.  If you are looking for an incredible cause to get on board with to help reduce violence in young girls and boys, check out No Mens No Worldwide.  This organization has seen a 51% decrease in rape in populations which have completed the dual gender training program. 

Additionally, if you or a loved one need support for sexual violence, please contact: 

National Sexual Assault Hotline

Provides support and information to sexual assault survivors as well as supporters and allies seeking resources and information.

Call 1-800-656-4673

Available 24 hours everyday

Lessons from Lyme: Getting Back to Work After Chronic Illness

Going back to work after chronic illness or during the treatment process can be an emotionally overwhelming experience. 

I remember walking home from the grocery store in the Spring of 2015. At that time my day was filled with daily tasks most people take for granted: groceries, laundry, mail...etc. In the  midst of Lyme disease, I was focused on detoxification, supplement protocols, food elimination diets and combating insomnia.  While I was unable to work a full time job, but certainly had plenty to do.  Days seemed a blur going from one treatment regimen to the next. This particular cold spring day, my body was completely wracked with pain. I was in such a painful depression that I couldn't help but weep the entire walk home.  

My neighbor saw me coming in the building. The look on her face signaled she had seen a ghost.  Her reaction set me off into an uncontrollable, ugly cry that was thoroughly embarrassing.  And the cascade of critical self talk began: I can't even carry groceries to the elevator.  How am I ever going to get back into my life?...Yeah that's probably not going to happen. In that moment I viewed myself as completely and totally pathetic.  

Looking back on that version of me, I have a tremendous amount of empathy.  I can empathize with her pain and suffering.  I can empathize with her feelings of defeat.  I can even empathize with her near daily feeling of just wanting to turn in my batch and check out of life. 

The process of coming out of that level of pain is just that - a process.  Many of us are left with deep feelings of trauma associated with isolation and loneliness, excessive medical procedures, and neurological damage associated with our illness.  Physically recovering is only half the battle when it comes to re joining the workforce.

Have you processed your physical crisis? 

Anyone who has been through a severe medical trauma owes it to themselves to take time to debrief and process their experience.  This is a courtesy we extend to anyone who has been through a physical disaster. Lyme and other chronic conditions can be a physical disaster.  They demand the same level of recovery and care. 

When I looked and felt well enough to return to work I still had unfinished emotional business. This led to falling back into some of the same behaviors and relationships that contributed to me getting sick in the first place such as setting clearer boundaries and limits to prevent burnout.

How has your medical experience impacted your personality?

What new things do you believe you need to feel supported at work? 

Have you developed a plan for managing panic or overwhelm that might arise during the transition back to work? 

Are you feeling comfortable stepping into the same role you had before you were ill?

 The thing that Lyme and other disabling chronic illnesses take away is our ability to have perspective. The more planning we can put into place for our emotional health, the easier the transition.  Having a plan for emotional crisis is as important as a plan for any other type of emergency.  With some attention and support, you can have a successful transition back into the workplace.  

I would love to hear your feedback on this article! Plus if you want a brief intro into feeling more confident at work, sign up for my FREE 10 Day Confidence in the Workplace Mini Course.