How do you talk to your teenager about vaping?

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Two women vaping outdoor. The evening sunset over the city.

Two women vaping outdoor. The evening sunset over the city.

Though researches won’t know the true effects of vaping for years, unfortunately, it is not a big leap to say that vaping is likely to be harmful. We all know about certain drugs to be on the lookout for and talk to our teenagers about. For example, how widespread Opioid abuse has become — reaching epidemic levels — and how horribly it can affect our families. But how much do we as parents really know about Vaping? Sure, it’s recently gotten some attention in the news and you might think you have a handle on what it is, but I think it’s worth diving a little deeper into something that’s become such a part of mainstream culture for our teenagers.

My business partner recently attended a CPR training class taught by Dr. Christopher Byron, founder of the Nationwide Instruction for Cardiovascular Education, aka NICE. NICE provides both the AED equipment and AED/CPR training to thousands of organizations (schools, camps, corporations, etc) and to many First Responders. At the end of the class, Dr. Byron touched on Opioids and Vaping and their effect on First Responders. Based on Dr. Byron’s research, I put together a few highlights that I found pretty impactful.

How does vaping work? E-Cigarettes and “Juuling” devices heat a liquid into an aerosol that uses an inhaler. This vapor contains nicotine (an additive). Teenagers can use these devices in class because, since there is no smoke or smell, they can go virtually undetected. A common practice is to exhale into their sleeves.

In some ways, vaping sounds harmless because it’s vapor, not smoke. However, E-Liquid is NOT water. It is generally a liquid comprised of nicotine, flavorings, propylene glycol and glycerin. When it is heated by the coil, it changes to an aerosol. When measuring the metal levels in the aerosol, research has found traces of the following: chromium, nickel, zinc and lead. According to Dr. Byron, the amount of these metals that is acceptable in your system is ZERO.

Did you know?

  • Juuling and e-cigs are not regulated. The only protection is that they are not supposed to be sold to kids under 18. It is the Wild West at this point — no one knows for sure what is truly in them.
  • One e-cigarette “pod” has as much nicotine as a whole pack of cigarettes. Some kids are averaging 3-5 pods per day.
  • The potent amount of nicotine in e-cigarette liquids may be toxic if it is accidentally ingested or absorbed via the skin.
  • In a recent survey, 1 in 4 high schoolers (25%) said that they have used an e-cigarette in the last 30 days. So if your high-schooler has 8 friends, statistics show that 2 of them likely used an e-cigarette this month.
  • The same survey indicated 1 in every 10 middles schoolers have tried it.
  • Though retailers are not supposed to sell to kids under 18, there is nothing stopping companies from marketing to kids under 18, as evidenced by flavors like Cotton Candy, Tutti Frutti and Sour Gummy Worm. The sheer number of vaping stores opening around schools is further proof of the intended audience.
  • As we know, teenage brains are still developing, so they are uniquely vulnerable to addiction. Not surprisingly, vaping affects behavior, concentration, memory and the ability to learn.

As parents, hearing all these facts probably instills a healthy dose of fear, particularly since it’s something that is so relatively new and wasn’t something you dealt with as a teenager, or even as a young adult. And while you might be tempted to place vaping into the same category as other drugs and alcohol that you want to teach your kids to stay away from, it’s important to recognize how this specific problem might be the most pervasive at your child’s school, and they might not recognize it for the danger that it is.

So, what can you as a parent do about this? What is the best way to talk to your children about the risks of vaping?

For starters, learn as much as you can. It never helps to dramatize a situation, but all the facts are very useful. Once you feel informed, you should open a discussion with your teenager about the dangers. One way to do it is by simply asking them if they know what Juuling is. I tried this myself and discovered that my 16-year-old daughter tried it once last year. She claims that she hasn’t done it since, and because I simply asked her the question and did not judge her reaction, it enabled us to have a mature conversation about it.

Here are 3 tips for starting the dialogue:

  1. Learn as much as you can, read different perspectives and educate yourself on the dangers, as well as the ways in which kids are acquiring it. It helps to understand why something appeals to teenagers before you attempt to judge it.
  2. Open the conversation, don’t close it. Be curious. While the risks may be obvious to you, it is important to allow your child to know they can participate in the discussion. A good rule of thumb: Ask, “Why?” before asking, “Why not?”
  3. Discuss the risks and the long-term health issues. Walk through your concerns. You don’t have to share everything you’ve learned, but you can use what you have learned to shed light on the dangers they might not be aware of. Oftentimes, teenagers want to try something because they are curious about how it works — talking about how it works can assuage the mystery.

At the end of the day, you can’t control what choices they make. What you do have control over is how you respond when they need help. Be the person they can come to, no matter what. Let them know you are there to help them, and the concern around vaping is in their best interest (not in YOUR best interest, but theirs).

People always ask, “When is the best time to discuss this?” and our answer is always: Today is not too soon. As a parent, sometimes you just need to force the issue and have the discussion. You never know where it will lead.

I hope that reading this has inspired you to think critically about whether you could benefit from a therapist. I suggest reaching out and at least exploring the options that are available to you. Reaching out doesn’t always mean that you will find a psychologist the same day, but at least you are taking a step towards a happier, more fulfilling life for you or your loved one.

If you would like me to connect you with one of our expert therapists or dietitians, please contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!

What Keeps Us Happy And Healthy? The Real Key To Happiness

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Happy woman on the sunset in nature in summer with open hands

Happy woman on the sunset in nature in summer with open hands

What makes you happy? How is it that some people are happy while others are not? Is happiness related to wealth? Genetics? Environment? Culture? What do you think? Do you ever stop and ask yourself, “Am I happy?”

This is a question that I find myself thinking about from time to time, and I know I’m not alone. Not only in my line of work, but also among my circle of family and friends, I find that “happiness” is a topic of much consideration. We all know people who are unhappy and we’ve all felt unhappy at one time or another. But what I’m constantly asking is what makes someone happy. Is there a recipe for happiness that others can follow? Clearly there is a range of emotions/different levels of happiness, but from my experience and research it is evident that those who are happy possess a few common traits. It’s these traits that I really want to explore.

I’ve put a great deal of thought into this topic, and one of my biggest dreams — which has now become more of a goal and hopefully a plan that I can execute next summer — is to travel around the world and ask as many people as possible the essential question: What makes you happy? I want to travel to all different parts of the world and record two minute conversations with the random strangers I meet and then share these stories with everyone. It’s fascinating to me how different cultures and lifestyles and socioeconomic statuses can be, and yet, the desire for happiness is seemingly universal.

A recent survey asked millennials about their major life goals. The results? 80% said they want to be rich and 50% said they want to be famous. This got me thinking about the Harvard study that began in 1938 and followed 724 men for over 75 years. Today, 60 of the participants are still alive and are in their 90s. (Of course, the world was much different back then and unfortunately the study did not include women. However, women who were associated with the original participants were eventually asked to be a part of it.)

The study is still going on and now the researchers are studying 2,000 children of these men. At the beginning of the study, the teenagers were tested. Some of the participants were Harvard students and others were kids from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods. The results of the study are fascinating, but the overwhelming conclusion indicates that the participants’ life happiness was not based on their wealth or fame or working harder. The research strongly shows that it was relationships that kept them happy and healthy.

The three big takeaways about relationships?

  1. Social connections are really good for us, and loneliness kills. The experience of loneliness is toxic. People who are more socially connected to their environment and families are happier.
  2. It is not just the number of your relationships, but rather, the quality of the relationships that counts. Living in conflict without much affection turned out to be very bad for health. The people who were most satisfied in their relationship in their 50s were healthiest later in life.
  3. Good relationship don’t just protect the body, they also protect the brain. The memory of those in good relationships was much better than those who did not have healthy relationships.

Dr. Robert Waldinger, one of the directors of the study, did a TED Talk on the subject that I think is worth checking out. I actually got tears in my eyes listening to it, and I started reflecting on how in life, we stress about getting our education, and working as much as we can, and pushing our children to do well in school and excel in as many fields as possible, but we don’t always invest in fostering healthy, strong relationships with other people. Sure, most of us do invest in our relationships with either our spouse or our children or other family members or friends to some degree, but when you see the scientific evidence backing up the positive effects of doing so, does it make you rethink how you prioritize these investments?

How about you pause for a moment and think about your relationships. How strong are they? Do you invest as much time as you wish in those relationships? When I think about people who are important in my life, I know for sure that I am not investing as much time as I would like in fostering those relationships. Clearly, we can’t foster and have strong relationships with everyone we interact with, but I find that if you think about the five relationships that are most important to you, then you will be able to designate more time putting those people and those connections at the top of your priority list.

What if while reading this you realize that you don’t have meaningful healthy relationships and you identify feeling lonely most of the time? That’s ok — because you aren’t alone in that feeling. My takeaway is that it is never too late to form relationships and find strong connections with other people, but you have to be willing to put in the work. Instead of making excuses for why you aren’t closer with your family or why certain friendships have become strained, identify the people in your life who you want to build a stronger connection with and make concrete steps toward fostering those relationships.

I am here to help you learn how to form relationships in your life and how to strengthen those relationships that you want to invest in. Here’s a quick guide, but I’d love to discuss these tips further if this is an area you feel you are struggling with.

Tip 1: Make The Time To Meet With Friends, Family and New People

How many times in the past few months have you had opportunities to go out with friends or family and you gave some sort of excuse to get out of it? “I have to work, I’m finishing a project, I’m too tired, I’m too fat, I’m too poor…” and the list is probably much longer, but you get my point. I am also guilty of doing this and often feel that my to-do list is too long to meet up with people and that it will exhaust me further or stretch me too thin. The truth is, though, when I go out and meet people I love and spend quality time with friends and family, I am much happier. And that happiness gives me a different kind of energy. If you think of your relationships as a key component of your life — in the same way you think about work and the rest of your to-do list — that you need to put time and effort into, you’ll see how quickly you reap the benefits.

Tip 2: Understand Patterns in Your Relationships

This one might be a bit tricky to figure out on your own and you might need to consult with someone you love or a professional. A private clinical psychologist or therapist can help you better understand your relationship patterns if you would like to learn about them and change them for the better. If you have a history of sabotaging relationships, then I encourage you to take the time to reflect on why that might be. Understanding your previous relationships is an integral part of forming healthier future connections. Some patterns that are disruptive include:

  • Reacting to things in anger instead of being open minded
  • Being closed to new experiences and not welcoming new ideas
  • Lack of honesty
  • Lack of respect and overstepping boundaries
  • Not showing physical affection
  • Lack of empathy and consideration to the other person and their needs
  • Being controlling or manipulative

There are other patterns that could be preventing you from getting closer to people you love and care for, but if you don’t take the first step toward understanding what these patterns are, you might continue to find yourself lonely or in meaningless relationships.

Tip 3: Practice Acceptance and Appreciation

This is easier said than done, but as someone who has been in a relationship with my husband for over 20 years and has had ample experiences with challenging relationships, I can attest to the fact that acceptance and appreciation are extremely important. For example, my mother who is one of the most kind human beings I know, is also skeptical and can even come across as negative. For years I was angry about the way she responded to things and at one point I even made a conscious decision to stop being so open with her. As I was growing up, I felt she always put my career aspirations down and had strong opinions about how I lived my life. What I eventually realized was that I had to accept that my mom’s responses are her opinions and that I don’t have to perceive them all in such a negative light. Once I did that I was able to let the anger go, which allowed space for acceptance and even appreciation for who she is. That acceptance allowed me to understand that my mom’s responses come from a place of love and can be perceived as caring or protective, rather than negative or unsupportive. When you accept certain things about the person you care for, appreciate what is good about them and focus on why you love them, it will help you be grateful for who they are instead of focusing on what you don’t like about them and wish to change.

Tip 4: Focus on the Positive

Active senior couple on a walk in a beautiful autumn nature.

This can be challenging at times, but when you focus on what is positive in your relationships and why you fell in love or cared for someone in the first place, then you are more likely to enjoy your relationship and be happier. It’s so easy to focus on the hard parts of a relationship or what you don’t like in a person. This is only human! But when you focus too much on another person’s flaws, it can blind you to all of the wonderful qualities that make them a source of comfort in your life.

Tip 5: Be Supportive

With life being so hectic, at times we forget to make sure that we are supportive of those we love. My best friend in Israel lost her dad four months ago and had a baby on her own two month agos. She was always there for me when I needed her and supported and encouraged me even in my hardest days. As I was writing these words, I remembered that I hadn’t spoken with her for two weeks and I felt terrible for not being as supportive as I want to be. In fact, I had to take a few minutes break from writing this so I could call her and see how she is doing. I have to admit, I was calling to be a comfort to her, but speaking with her brought me a great deal of comfort and happiness as well. Sometimes, when you feel lonely, one of the easiest things you can do is offer to be there for someone else. It’s easy to get consumed with focusing on ourselves, especially when we are feeling down or are in a funk, but the power of reaching out to someone is so strong and therapeutic it can help pull you — and the other person — into a better, more positive place.

Tip 6: Allow Yourself to be Vulnerable

For some people, this is a given and they naturally allow themselves to be vulnerable and open with their opinions and feelings, and for others, it is extremely challenging. What does being emotionally vulnerable mean to you? Do you allow yourself to be open and honest with those you love and care about? How about with random people? Let’s take, for example, the first minute when you meet someone and they ask how you are doing. What do you tell them? You might actually feel great, and if that is true, then there is no problem with answering honestly. Clearly, though, there are some days that you feel sad, anxious or worried about something. If that’s the case, why do you think you don’t actually share that you are not doing well? What is behind hiding your true feelings? Is it insecurity? Shame? Do you think about what the other person might think if you reveal how you truly feel? How would it be for you to share your true and honest feelings? Brene Brown, author of “Daring Greatly: How the courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead” and a researcher of vulnerability for many years, states that the problem with distracting ourselves from shame, is that we also protect and distract the good emotions. She states the following, “Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”

What would it feel like for you to allow yourself to be vulnerable? If you knew that this could help you be happier, despite the fact that it is challenging, would you be willing to give it a try? This doesn’t mean you need to tell every stranger you meet or every random encounter about your most personal thoughts and feelings. I do think a good place to start, though, is really listening to the question the next time someone you care about asks you, “How are you?” Before simply saying, “fine,” pause, think and respond from an authentic place. Even if it’s someone you are close to and trust, this can be difficult. For a lot of people, maintaining a strong front is easier, but instead of worrying about burdening another person, think about the positive effects it can have on you. The key to vulnerability is honesty and openness.

Tip 7: Be Empathetic and Compassionate.

Empathy is one of the most — if not the most — important part of a healthy relationship. Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. The idea is for you to place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling. This doesn’t mean constantly telling people, “I know how you feel.” Instead, it involves being selfless and putting someone else’s feeling top of mind in order to really relate to them on a deeper, more meaningful level. Empathy involves sharing emotions and when you are able to do this, you strengthen a bond. Similarly, compassion is concern for the well-being of another person. It involves being sympathetic and also willing to go out of your way to help another person and alleviate their pain or their feelings of sadness or loneliness.

5 Ways My Psychologist Helped Me Overcome Anxiety

5 Ways My Psychologist Helped Me Overcome Anxiety

When I think about my psychologists and the important role that they have played in my recovery and my life, I feel very fortunate to have had them. My first interaction with a psychologist was at the age of 14, when I was struggling with anorexia nervosa. I don’t remember much about the experience, but I do remember that it was good to share my thoughts and feelings with someone who seemed to understand me. At the time, my dad was in jail and my parents had gotten a divorce — so clearly I was someone who could benefit from seeing a professional. But the truth is, the circumstances don’t have to be that extreme or warning signs don’t have to be that blatant for someone to benefit from talking to a psychologist they trust.

Before going to my psychologist, I thought that I was to blame for all my problems and for the problems my family was having. Not sure how I got to this conclusion, but I was like a lot of children and it seemed natural to blame myself. The one thing that I remember understanding from my first psychologist was that my problems at home had contributed to my eating disorder. My psychologist also scared me into understanding just how damaging my eating disorder was to my overall health and how it could affect me down the line. While I maintained my eating disorder for many more years, I had taken a very small step into understanding how my problems, family history, and anxiety were all interconnected. If you’re thinking about seeing a psychologist, I highly recommend it. Here are five important ways a psychologist helped me overcome the anxiety that plagued my life.

#1 My psychologist helped me understand that I am not to blame for my problems.

One of the first things that I was able to understand while working with a psychologist was that my problems were not my fault and that they were multifactorial. I didn’t fully understand this at such a young age, but I did know that the fact that I grew up in such a dysfunctional home without financial means helped perpetuate my eating disorder. I remember thinking that my parents sending me away to live on a kibbutz with a foster family was the result of me being a burden on my family and that I was too demanding. In reality, I was the kind of girl that would do whatever it took to please my parents and everyone else around me so that I wouldn’t be thought of as a burden.

Talking to a professional — someone outside of my family — opened my eyes to my reality. While I continued restricting my food intake for a few more months and would go on to deal with my eating disorder for many more years, I began to recognize my eating habits as problematic and took the first small steps in understanding how and why I felt the need for that control. Unfortunately, as I gained weight, I thought that I no longer needed therapy and was recovered from my anorexia. I know now that it was a big mistake to leave my psychologist and not continue with the journey that I had started, but I am grateful that I found my way back to therapy eventually. My next interaction with a psychologist was almost 13 years later, when I was in graduate school.

How my psychologist helped me stand alone without fear.

# 2 My psychologist helped me gain insight into my past & taught me to feel compassion toward myself.

We all have a past and different experiences that have helped shape who we are today. Some of us are able to live with our past and maintain a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle, while others have a more challenging time. Being able to process your past in a safe environment with a professional is extremely important.

When I was 20, I had a nervous breakdown after years of binging and purging. I actually started writing what I thought would be the memoir that people would read after I died. The first sentence was, “As I am writing these pages, I am dying from the horrible disease that has taken over my life and is now killing me…” I ended up writing over 100 pages of my feelings, allowing my thoughts to go as wild and free as I wanted. It was a very liberating experience that scared me and everyone around me, and while I wasn’t getting the psychological help that I desperately needed at the time, I did purge my thoughts onto the paper, which allowed me to have a lot of material to process with my psychologist almost 10 years later.

Sharing these intimate details of my life with my new psychologist in New York was a pivotal turning point in my recovery. I remember being fully aware that what I went through was horrible, but I had yet to fully process each and every event in the presence of someone who could help me make sense of it all. Understanding the neglect and abuse that I experienced and how it affected me wasn’t an easy journey. With every realization, I initially found myself more and more depressed and more anxious about the future. Sharing these experiences and feelings with a professional who was compassionate and understanding gave me the non-judgmental space to get to a place where I didn’t just understand my past experiences, but I was also able to feel again — and through a lot of tears — be sad for what I went through. This might sound counterproductive, but in fact, it was the only way to move on.

The most challenging thing for me has always been to feel compassion for the little girl who experienced what I did. When I first met with my psychologist and shared all the horrible things that happened to me in my childhood and adolescence I couldn’t help but blame myself and feel sorry for what I put my family through. When I was able to feel love and compassion for myself, it taught me how to be a comfort to myself when I encountered anxiety with current situations in my life.

Spending time with my psychologist going over various events in my past helped me gain insight into why I struggled with eating disorders and why I developed unhealthy relationships. I was able to become more secure in who I was as a person without being attached to my family and history. Clearly my history helps define me, and my family will always be a part of me, but I realized that while it will always be a part of me, it doesn’t have to define me. I can define myself and decide who I want to be.

# 3 My psychologist helped me realize that I am in control of my thoughts.

Feeling out of control and allowing our thoughts to control us can lead to very destructive patterns of behavior. Until I had worked with a psychologist and become aware that my thoughts affect my feelings and actions, it was as though I lived on auto pilot and allowed for things to just happen to me. During my teens, I cried myself to sleep night after night thinking I was a poor neglected girl who was sent away to live with a foster family. I thought that I was the only child born to parents with mental health issues and I also thought that I was the only girl who hated her body and felt stupid and ugly. Sure, all these things might have been true to some degree, but I made them a lot worse in my head and didn’t stop thinking about how miserable and sad my life was.

All these thoughts drove me to do things that almost cost me my life. I starved myself for almost two years and ended up in the hospital thinking I was going to die. I then gained some weight and binged and purged for almost nine years after that. Even at the age of 24, when I stopped binging and purging and abusing myself and my body, I allowed my thoughts to continue controlling me. I was driven by negative thoughts that led me to feel anxious and depressed, and without even being aware, I was debilitated and paralyzed by what was going on in my head. It was as though I was a prisoner of my own mind, which is really scary if you think about it. It’s also very common in people today.

If you think about what anxiety really is, it’s about fear and dread for what is coming ahead. More specifically, the American Psychological Association (APA) defines anxiety as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes, like increased blood pressure.” Because my anxieties affected my functioning, my psychologist helped me become more aware of my thoughts, write them down, and understand how unrealistic some of my worries and anxieties were. I then learned that if I could redirect my thoughts to a healthy, more constructive place, I could reduce my anxiety and feel much better.

Of course, this was a long process and I was a very active participant in my recovery. I was dedicated to my therapy sessions and motivated to improve. I remember my psychologist telling me that it takes about 12-30 weeks to change a behavior, and I felt there was no way that was enough time to undo all the years of damaging thoughts. The truth is, though, change is possible and you are in control. It often takes a professional to help you see that, though. Do you feel that your thoughts are controlling you? Are you thinking negatively and would like to change that? These are common, but serious problems, and you don’t have to suffer with them alone.

man walking on a tightrope

# 4 My psychologist helped me realize that there are patterns in my behaviors and relationships.

One of the most important things that I learned while working with my psychologist was that I was constantly seeking relationships that reminded me in some way of relationships from my past. Specifically, I was seeking relationships that reminded me of my relationships with either my mother or my father.

The first and most obvious one was the relationship that I had with my first boyfriend, who was much older than me. We dated for several years, but it wasn’t until much later that I realized how many of his destructive behaviors were like those of my own father.  A psychologist was able to help me see that what I was attracted to was the familiar — even if it was harmful. Even with my friendships, I was always seeking friends who needed me and my help and support. With the help of my therapist, I learned that I was most familiar with the role of the caregiver, which led me to the career that I now love. However, I needed to learn that in relationships there is a give and take and if I wanted to be involved in relationships that were healthy and fulfilling, I had to learn to set clear boundaries and also ask for others’ support when I needed it. When I met my second psychologist and talked about my husband and his traits, she asked me who my husband reminded me of. I remember thinking about his traits and realizing that he reminded me of my mother.

Just because there is a pattern in your relationships doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, but awareness is so helpful. Obviously hindsight is 20/20, but a psychologist can help you make sense of that hindsight in a way that leads you to more productive relationship building in the future.

# 5 My psychologist guided and supported me with finding my inner strength & helped me love and respect myself.

My journey to self love and respect was a long one. I always knew that I needed to be strong and giving up was never an option, but it took a professional’s help to actually make me see that I was capable. Understanding the root cause of my insecurities and my lack of self love and respect was one of the best gifts that I ever gave myself. Before I met my psychologist, I was too busy pleasing other people and doing whatever I could to help and support everyone else but myself. What I ended up doing was acting in ways and doing things that other people wanted me to do and not what I truly wanted to do. This hurt me in different ways because there was a gap between what I was doing and what I truly wanted to do. For instance, if someone asked me to help with a project that they were working on I would agree to help despite the fact that I had 10 projects that I was working on and didn’t have time for myself. I put others best interests before my own and the result was that I was unhappy and unsatisfied. With the help of my psychologist, I learned that I took on the role of the caretaker since I was a young child and I carried it to my adolescent and adulthood. Also, I thought that if I said no to people or disappointed people who I cared about they would not love me or want to be with me.

After years of being in therapy and working as a therapist I have a better understanding of why I acted in such ways. I am now aware that I needed to show myself the love and respect that I needed in order to live the life that I want to live and be happy. Learning how to love and respect myself helped with the reduction of my anxieties around not pleasing people as well as the fears/worries that people will not love me. I believe that if someone truly loves and cares about me, they will love me for who I truly am with all my flaws and imperfections.

I only included five ways in which psychologists have helped me become a better version of myself, but clearly there are many other ways that your psychologist can help you! If you would like to share how your psychologist helped you or how you would like your psychologist to help you, please feel free to email me with your comments.

If you would like me to connect you with one of our expert therapists or dietitians, please contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!

How A Mindfulness Coach Can Improve Your Life

How A Mindfulness Coach Can Improve Your Life

“Mindfulness is about being fully awake in our lives. It is about perceiving the exquisite vividness of each movement. We also gain immediate access to our own powerful inner resources for insight, transformation, and healing.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

How many times in the past few months have you heard the word “mindfulness”? It’s become a “buzzword” in today’s world. Many people talk about it, but few actually understand the true meaning of mindfulness. At its root, mindfulness is a form of meditation. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines it as follows: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

That might sound simple at first, but when’s the last time you can say you honestly practiced this state of being for any amount of time? Would you ever consider having a mindfulness coach to help you achieve such a state? I have to be honest and admit that when I was first introduced to mindfulness, I thought it was an impossible goal that I would never achieve. After all, I had much better things to do that didn’t require me to pause and think about the present moment, and I thought those things would place me ahead of the game. What I didn’t realize back then was that learning to pause and focus on what was going on in the present moment — without judgment! — would allow me to be more productive, happier, and more fulfilled in what I was doing. Mindfulness helped pave my way toward a better present and future, and I have no doubt that it can help you do the same!

Mindfulness has become very popular in the past few years, particularly after large companies such as Google and ebay started using it to help benefit their business by teaching mindfulness to their employees. Google took it a step further, and has a program called “Search Inside Yourself” that is helping its employees learn and practice mindfulness. The idea behind it is that we can improve our emotional intelligence by utilizing mindfulness and neuroscience. Basically, as humans, we perform better if we are aware of and able to grow our emotional intelligence, which is broken into five sections: self-awareness, self-management, motivation, empathy, and leadership.

Many scientists have also provided evidence that practicing mindfulness can actually lead to stronger connections in the brain that will eventually change the structure of the brain. Yes, it sounds kind of crazy, but it’s called “neuroplasticity.” It is a hot topic in the field right now, and it is helping millions of people become more and more mindful.

If I told you that you could improve your life and reduce your stress and anxiety by working with a mindfulness coach, would you consider working with one? Even for one or two sessions? I am hoping that by the time you are done reading about the ways that a mindfulness coach can help improve your life, you might consider making the investment in yourself. But first, let’s dive right into how a mindfulness coach can help you feel better!

# 1 Help You Create a Clear Direction For Your Life with Greater Passion

If you are feeling lost and unsure about which direction to take, or if you feel that you know the direction, but are currently paralyzed by your fears, then you might want to consider working with a mindfulness life coach. One challenge that many of us face is getting lost in our thoughts and feelings whenever we think about future plans, our true desires, and how we can achieve those goals. You know when you feel like thoughts are swirling around in your brain, but you can’t make sense of them? We don’t allow ourselves to trust that when we relax our minds and listen to ourselves and our wishes without the many life distractions that are in our way, we might actually find the answers to our questions.

Your mindfulness life coach can provide you with the insight and support to find and stay on your path of awakening to your authentic self so you can find out what you were truly meant to do. In order for you to be able to find your authentic self, your coach will help you declutter the thoughts that are sometimes toxic and unproductive, and help you pave your way to cultivating a mindfulness practice, where you can learn to notice and effectively clear your mind. This then gives way for attention and intention to emerge. As you become more present and aware of your thoughts, you will learn to redirect those thoughts to make room for more positive and constructive ones.

Throughout the process of working with your mindfulness coach, you will begin to engage in a more positive mode of thinking, and be able to let go of the distracting thoughts that prevented you from achieving your goal. As you become more present and able to achieve your desired goals, you will also be on your way to a more joyous and fulfilled state of being.

Zen Mindfulness Meditation

#2 Learn how To Express Your Inner Strength and Unique Abilities

Many of us tend to look at our own qualities as flaws or imperfections, but we look at other people’s qualities as unique abilities or successes. With the help of your mindfulness coach, you will develop an awareness of your strengths and unique abilities and invest your energy and time focusing on these traits — instead of constantly dwelling on your weaknesses or perceived flaws. Furthermore, your mindfulness life coach will help you realize that in every moment there are opportunities for change and growth.

Learning to express inner strength and unique abilities will help you feel better about who you are and help you develop true self confidence and self esteem. When you are younger — if you are lucky — you have parents, teachers, and coaches that help cultivate these qualities and build up your self esteem. However, as we become adults, we are often left feeling lost. It can feel selfish and indulgent to think too much about your good qualities, what separates you from your peers. This is where a professional can help. Investing in yourself is never a waste of time.

The incredible thing about the practice of mindfulness is that the more your practice, the more your behaviors become your default and your habits become something that serve rather than something that harms you. Your mindfulness coach will also provide you with practical tips techniques and skills that will support you in making lasting, meaningful change in your life.

#3 Help You Find Joy in Everything You Do

In life we don’t always do things that we want or love to do, but sometimes these things can lead us to other things that are more meaningful. Think about something that you did that you didn’t want to do because you had something else better to do.

One example that comes to mind for me is when Shiloh, my 8-year-old daughter, asked me to play the game Guess Who with her. Of course, I wanted to play with her for as long as I could, but it just so happened that that day, I had a long list of things to do, including cleaning the kitchen and finish working on an important project. However, I looked Shiloh in the eyes and said that I would love to play with her. I made a conscious decision that since I was having special time with her, I would be fully invested and committed to what we were doing. I got into the game and we ended up playing for almost an hour. At one point, I looked up and we were both laughing so hard, and she was looking at me with so much love. It reminded me how fun and innocent it is to be a child, and I realized how rewarding and redeeming it was for me to relish in my role as her mother. I truly enjoyed being in the moment and playing with this beautiful child of mine and sharing such important time.

The kitchen and my other work waited, and I don’t regret that time we spent together. It sounds simple when I outline it like that, but the number of times a day we prioritize the “wrong” tasks on our lists will become more evident as you practice mindfulness. A mindfulness coach can help you decipher what you need to do versus what you want to do versus what will bring you both temporary and long-lasting joy.

# 4 Connect With Your Inner Wisdom

You might be reading this and asking yourself, “What is inner wisdom?” Inner wisdom is defined differently by different people, but it’s essentially something inside of us all that is pure. It’s a light inside that we don’t always see. Inner wisdom is also sensory versus all the loud voices that we hear and rules that we obey. Some refer to it as intuition. I remember thinking that some people have a more developed intuition than others — which to me meant they had a very special ability. While some people possess a very developed intuition and might have so-called special abilities, I have come to believe and witness that with practice, we can all become more intuitive and better connected to our inner wisdom. This is something a mindfulness coach can help you cultivate.

Feeling more connected to yourself will enable you to see what stands in your way more clearly and find/identify the appropriate solutions more easily. With the help of your mindfulness coach you will be able to seperate your rational voices from the emotional ones and access your inner voice that is beautiful and pure. This might sound like an impossible task, but with practice, you will be able to get there and find that you can live and lead a happier more fulfilled life style.

I remember that I when started working with a mindfulness coach over 10 years ago, I kept telling him that I had to get more and more training so that I could be as helpful as I could to my own clients. His response to me was this: “Your trunk is wide and full of information. From now on, you must focus on using what you know already and more importantly the skills and knowledge you possess that you never believed you had before.” These words stayed with me for a long time. I realized that when I was first working with clients, I spent hours and hours trying to find the answers to what they were going through, but always doubted my own intuition. As a new therapist, these doubts were probably normal, but what my coach helped me do more of was allow and trust my inner unique abilities to be used and expressed.

Providing therapy for my clients after that was a lot more enjoyable for me and more effective for my clients. I found that by making true meaningful connections with people I was able to experience life in a much more authentic way. More importantly, by demonstrating to my clients that I was present, I was able to connect with them and help them in new ways. I finally learned to trust that my education and skills were enough — and not just enough, but incredible tools to share that bring me much joy.

Calm relaxed woman meditating with laptop, no stress at work, mental health mindfulness coach

# 5 Help You Achieve Optimum Physical Health

There is much evidence for the the positive physical and health benefits mindfulness brings. There is a reason that so many people are drawn to the wonderful world of mindfulness. A study by Remmers et al (2016) found that mindfulness can help alleviate stress through improving emotion regulation, leading to a better mood and better ability to handle situations. Many other studies help support this finding by stating that when individuals induce a state of relaxation achieved through mindfulness, the benefits include higher brain functioning, increased immune function, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and increased awareness, attention and focus.

One of my most favorite experts in mindfulness, Dr. Daniel Siegel, published one of the first books ever to integrate neuroscience research with mindfulness. In his groundbreaking book he shows readers how personal awareness and attunement can stimulate emotional circuits in the brain, leading to a host of physiological benefits and improved cardiac and immune function.

It’s easy to put your physical health and your mental health into separate boxes in your mind, but when you realize just how connected they are, it will change your life for the better. Oftentimes, investing in your mental health is a vital step to improving your physical health.

The most important thing to take from working with your mindfulness coach is that it is possible to be fully present, fully engaged in life, and live the authentic life that you want to live. Your life can be full of purpose, and you can finish each day knowing that you lived it well.

If you would like me to connect you with one of our expert therapists or dietitians, please contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!

What Exactly Is OCD and How Do I Know If Someone Has It?

What Exactly Is OCD and How Do I Know If Someone Has It?

How often have you heard the phrase, “That person is so OCD”? Or how many times have you labeled someone as OCD, or even thought of yourself as being “OCD” in certain aspects of your life? I know that even as a therapist, I’ve found myself referring to other people who have certain behaviors that appear extremely particular as “OCD.” The truth is, though, society has latched on to this title to describe a large spectrum of actions, without really understanding what Obsessive Compulsive Disorder really is. What most people don’t know is that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a mental health disorder, which means an individual must present with very specific criteria in order to fall under that description. Because we all know people who seem “obsessive” about one thing or another, sometimes it’s hard to know when you should worry and what you should do. So I want to start by defining what OCD is and how one goes about being diagnosed.

As a warning, this post is rather technical, but I hope it helps give a better overview and understanding of OCD. You’ll see there are a lot of different forms of OCD, but you’ll also see that there are a lot of behaviors that might present as OCD but actually don’t merit that diagnosis. If after reading this, you are worried about yourself or someone you know, my best advice is to consult a therapist. This isn’t something you should try to solve on your own!

The Basics: What Is OCD?

First, it’s important to note that in order for someone to be diagnosed they need to have the presence of obsessions, compulsions or both. Now we need to define obsessions and compulsions. According to the DSM 5 (the bible of psychiatry), obsessions are recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges or images that are experienced, at some time during the disturbance, as intrusive and unwanted and that in most individuals caused marked anxiety or distress. The person must also be attempting to ignore or suppress thoughts, urges or images, or neutralize them with some other thoughts or action. Compulsions are defined by repetitive behaviors, like handwashing, checking several times or mental acts such as praying or counting. The individual needs to be performing these behaviors in response to an obsession or according to rules that must be applied rigidly. Second, the behaviors or mental acts are aimed at preventing or reducing anxiety or distress or preventing some dreaded event or situation. However, these behaviors or mental acts are not connected in a realistic way with what they are designed to neutralize and in many occasions, they are excessive.

The obsession compulsions must be time consuming and take more than one hour per day as well as cause clinically significant distress or impairment socially, occupationally or in another important area of functioning to the individual. It is important to be aware that sometimes obsessive compulsive symptoms can be attributed to other causes, such as to substance abuse or medication or another medical condition, so it is important to be aware of that. Finally, the obsessive compulsive disorder cannot also be explained by another mental disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder or body dysmorphic disorder, and so before making the diagnosis that someone is struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder, you need to rule out other related disorders that are similar in nature.

school supplies stacked obsessive compulsive disorder

What is considered obsessive-compulsive disorder?

Under the OCD umbrella, there are nine different disorders that are included. The first one is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, with the above criteria mentioned. The second one is Hoarding Disorder, which most of us are familiar with (particularly if you’ve seen the show Hoarders). Another disorder is Body Dysmorphic Disorder, where the individual is obsessed with one or more body parts, which causes repetitive behaviors such as checking oneself in the mirror often, grooming oneself excessively, picking skin or mental acts like comparing oneself to other individuals in response to the apparent concern. In order to reach the distinction of a disorder, that preoccupation with whatever body part must cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social circles or other area of functioning and it cannot be explained by another disorder such as an eating disorder.

If you have school-age kids, then you probably have noticed someone in the school who is missing parts of their hair. This is known as trichotillomania, which is also considered an OCD. In order to be diagnosed with trichotillomania or “hair pulling disorder,” the individual must have the following criteria: recurring pulling out of hair; the individual tried to decrease this behavior on several occasions; also,  just as with most of these disorders, that behavior must cause clinically significant distress or impairment in several areas of functioning; finally, the hair pulling or hair loss cannot be attributed to another medical condition and cannot be explained by symptoms of another mental disorders.

Another disorder that I think is extremely important to discuss because people are not as familiar with it is Excoriation — which is basically skin picking disorder. I’ve noticed many kids and individuals who are struggling with skin picking disorder and a lot of therapists don’t specifically ask about it. Excoriation involves recurring skin picking, which results in skin lesions; the individual tried to stop and decrease that behavior and couldn’t; the skin picking causes significant distress or impairment and, as in all these orders, it cannot be better explained by symptoms of another mental disorder or attributed to the physiological effects of substance abuse.

There are also substance and medication induced obsessive compulsive and related disorders, but I’m not going to get too much into those in this blog. However, there are also obsessive compulsive and related disorders that are due to another medical condition, which I think are worth noting — especially if you are a parent of young children and you notice certain behaviors. I recently had a mom call me in great distress because she believed her 9-year-old daughter was exhibiting signs of OCD. After talking with her pediatrician, she was told that the OCD behaviors could’ve been precipitated by a pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder that is associated with strep throat. This is more commonly known as pandas. I don’t write this to scare you, but it is worth noting that when strep is left untreated it can cause severe autoimmune disorders that can also result in cognitive and physical problems down the line.

Lastly, know that OCD can be treated. If you are a parent, you should be on the lookout for the symptoms mentioned in this blog post, but also understand that the symptoms need to persist and be severe. There are lots of options depending on the exact diagnosis, and there are so many resources that can help. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek treatment. Knowledge is the most powerful tool you can arm yourself with if you are trying to help your child.

What You Must Know Before Hiring a Sleep Consultant

What You Must Know Before Hiring a Sleep Consultant

Before we get to the juicy stuff, let’s answer a question that may be entering your brain right about now: “What is a sleep consultant?”

A sleep consultant helps you sleep better… that’s pretty obvious. But what wasn’t clear to me until I got into the wellness world was the fact that sleep specialists are medical doctors who have completed additional training and education in the field of sleep medicine. (And while we’re here, sleep medicine isn’t just a bunch of over-the-counter-knock-you-out-pills. The term “sleep medicine” refers to a specific field that focuses on sleep, sleep disorders, and sleep-related conditions.) We all know we’re supposed to get more sleep. We’ve been told since we were two years old that sleep is good for you. It’s a well-known fact that sleeping well makes you happier and healthier! Sleep medicine specialists diagnose and treat a number of sleep-related conditions, including excessive snoring, insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and circadian rhythm disorders.

Carolina’s bio: You never thought you could be so excited yet so exhausted with your new child. Sometimes it takes a little extra coaching to get your new baby on the right sleep schedule. Carolina is a Certified Child and Family Sleep Consultant, specializing in pediatric sleep hygiene and behavioral coaching. Carolina is based in New York City and has dedicated her career to reducing sleep deprivation. She has written for many popular parenting blogs, and has even used her own methods to help her own family get a good night’s sleep! Carolina is the go-to-expert for many new and working parents. So whether you’re returning to work or you just want a bit of shut-eye, Carolina will get your family on track for those Zzz’s. She has 2 toddlers of her own. And yes, they sleep. A lot.

And, without further ado, here is a guest post written by our wonderful provider, Carolina!

Firstly, before even considering hiring a sleep consultant, you need to understand the process and what an actual sleep consultant does. It is still a fairly new industry that is on the rise because of its huge demand. If you are thinking or currently actively looking for a sleep consultant for your family, there are several things you should look into before hiring one. Currently, this is an unregulated industry and more and more sleep consultants are emerging.

Sleeping woman

Sleep consultants are non medical sleep health professionals who help their clients with achieving healthy sleep. We come in all different shapes and sizes, specializing in a vast number of areas. Some focus primarily on infant sleep. Some focus on infant and toddler sleep. Some focus on all ages, from pediatric to geriatric sleep. All the while utilizing sleep hygiene and behavioral coaching to help their clients achieve their sleep goals. A sleep consultant doesn’t and cannot perform treatments on sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and any other neurological issues. That needs to be communicated to a board certified sleep specialist that will be conducting sleep studies on how to properly treat the issue.
So how do we maneuver through the vast growing weeds of sleep consultants and specialists? How do you hire the RIGHT person for your family?
I will walk you through a few key points that will have you feeling confident in moving forward with the perfect sleep consultant for you.

Firstly, jotting down the qualities that you are looking for in a sleep consultant. Who is also your coach during the process. You want to make sure you can connect with them. That you mesh well 🙂 Not just through the help with sleep, but also in parent coaching. Their ability to call you out if you are going back to your old patterns. Many times, when parents reach out to a sleep consultant, it is because things have really hit the fan. They have exhausted all of their options, including waiting it out and hoping it will resolve itself. For example, one day your child miraculously slept through the night and you will hold that day on a shiney diamond platter and pray to the sleep gods that it continues and that it wasn’t a fluke night. Which then, in most cases it will not continue and you’re back to square one. So the first thing, is taking out a sheet of paper, and writing down verbatim what you expect in your sleep consultant.

Do you want them to sleep over and show you how to actually go through the entire process with you?

Do you prefer to learn through communication virtually, such as Skype or email sessions?

Do they need to speak another language because your nanny does or will google translate be sufficient?

Do you have other children, and you need help to create a schedule that will balance the entire family?

Are you the only one that can implement all the techniques or is their someone else that can be involved during the process?

Are you looking for someone that specializes in infant sleep, toddler sleep, multiples, or special need cases?

Do you want a sleep specialist that resides locally. Such as a sleep specialist in New York or New Jersey?

Do you live in another time zone and would like to find a sleep consultant virtually? Understanding the time difference is important when you are communicating.

How much communication and hand holding are you needing during the process?

Do you want to move gradually with the methods or something more direct such as extinction (AKA CIO)?

These are just a few questions you should Think about before hiring a sleep consultant.

You want someone that is a good fit, that will hold you accountable and someone that will say, “ hey, you know. I am seeing that you are going back into your old habits. “ Being willing to thoughtfully call you out. That is the KEY thing you need when you are in the mist of sleep fog and just going through the changes.

Now. Go ahead. Write down your questions. I’ll wait.

baby sleeping well through the night

Ok. You good? Great. Now that we know what qualities we want in our sleep consultant, let’s open up google or the mommy group you belong to and let’s find you your perfect sleep consultant. Now remember how I mentioned earlier that this is an unregulated industry? So when you start googling or getting recommendations. Please keep in mind that qualifications is KEY. Since it is currently unregulated, there are sleep consultants out there that may have their own wonderful children and maybe they have done pretty well sleep coaching their own children or their friends kids. Which may think that may qualify them to dive into this field. It’s like me saying, I have a car, but that doesn’t make me a mechanic.

You need to look into the other things that they can potentially bring to the table and what they have received in the form of sleep education. Here are a few questions you should ask during your get acquainted call with them. Or in my practice, our sleep strategy session 😉

What kind of specialized sleep education do you have with working with children? How many hours were invested in the education?

You would be surprised that some have a weekend crash course, or zero at all. This includes health professionals such as pediatricians, nurses and therapists in the health industry. Shocking, I know. Especially since they are the number one person you go to regarding your babies health.

Shocking Fact … “Surveys were completed by directors of 152 pediatric residency programs across 10 countries…Overall, the average amount of time spent on sleep education is 4.4 hours (median = 2.0 hours), with 23% responding that their pediatric residency program provides no sleep education.” Read the full study here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3621514/
I studied over 126 hours through Family Sleep Institute while pregnant with baby 2 and my oldest was 1 year at the time and working full time at a financial securities investment firm. I got you covered in sleep 😉

Is there continued education you are required to receive?
What ages do you work with?
What is your success rate?

If you get someone that says 100% success rate, run for the hills because that isn’t realistic. Sleep training is a team effort and some parents may feel that they are ready to begin when working with a consultant, and the process maybe not quite what they envisioned and they need to pause. Every family dynamic is different. This isn’t a race and your sleep consultant should never make you feel like it is.

5. What kind of health scenarios do you work with? Such as ADHD, epilepsy, autism,

Your sleep consultant should have a good connection, a good network affiliation with medical doctors in the field. It is important that they can refer out when the situation is out of their scope. Such as psychological or neurological sleep disorders for children. That needs to properly be evaluated by a medical practitioner that studies that in the field.

6. What is the follow up support they will provide you?

Sometimes it’s not so helpful to have a one time call or once a week check in when your current case is short naps, constant night wakings, rocking to sleep, or feeding to sleep. Within a weeks time, a lot of things can change and if they are not tracked on a daily basis, you might not see the results you expected. So a really great sleep coach will be available to you daily. Know what you need and don’t be afraid to ask for it. So if it isn’t included in the package, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

One main thing that I can attest for in being in this industry for several years now and a 98% success rate 😉 is that understanding your WHY, in why you want to hire a professional to help you in the first place is the biggest thing you need to. Because that is what will keep you motivated and on target to achieve your goals.

So, with ALL of this said, well, written in this case, there is some homework for you, my love, when hiring the right person to become a part of your family in getting you healthy sleep.

Wishing you sweet dreams,

Carolina, Sleep Consultant

We hope you enjoyed this blog by our fantastic provider, Carolina! If you would like me to connect you with one of our expert specialists, please contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!

Drive Away Your Nail Biting

How To Find A Psychologist To Drive Away Your Nail Biting

How To Find A Psychologist To Drive Away Your Nail Biting

In the past few years, I have noticed that so many people, both children and adults, bite their nails or pick the skin around the nail. As a teenager and during part of my twenties, I also had nail biting issues, and I never paid any particular attention to it. This week, while speaking with my 13-year-old, I noticed that she had some scabs around her nails, but I didn’t want to bring attention to it just yet. However, noticing the behavior in my own daughter, combined with seeing so many other kids and adults over the years who have had challenges with nail biting, it made me realize how this is an issue that doesn’t get talked about enough. It can seem harmless — and sometimes it is — but it can also be quite serious. In the following blog, I will address the questions that I have gotten from many of my clients, their parents, and readers over the years related to this topic.

What is Nail Picking? Nail Biting?

Nail picking or biting is a problem that plagues a lot of children and adults. When we talk about nail biting, the problem actually encompasses more than just what we typically think of as chewing on nails. Rather, there are several related behaviors, like cuticle picking and even toenail biting. Toenail biting might sound a bit strange, but I have seen several kids do it and heard from numerous parents who are concerned about their children biting their toenails. All of these behaviors are real problems, and having a stigma and shame associated with them does not help anyone stop. Bringing awareness to what is going on and speaking to a professional about ways to help and resolve these issues is extremely important. But first, I think it’s necessary to get a better understanding of what it is and why people engage in these types of behaviors.

With some people, it is obvious that they are nail biters (or pickers, etc.), but others become experts at hiding it. Often people assume that this is something that affects people who are insecure and nervous, but in the many years of working with people who suffer with these issues, I have seen people of all levels of functioning, ages, and professions struggle with these problems. Now, when I write about these behaviors as characterized as a psychological disorder, I want to be clear and state that I am not referring to the kind of little bites of rough nails or cuticles that everyone picks at or chews on from time to time. It’s also not the occasional blemish that you might pick or squeeze. The nail biters/pickers I am talking about will continue to bite their nails past the nail and pick their cuticles until they bleed. These people constantly walk around with red, sore, and sometimes infected fingers.

Is there a psychological term for that?

Many people might not know how to refer to these behaviors or even think of nail biting or skin picking as a psychological disorder. As a psychotherapist, I like to refer to the group of behaviors that include nail biting, hair pulling (also called trichotillomania), and skin picking as pathological grooming. These behaviors become automatic activities that have no relationship to external stimuli at all. Years ago, the DSM, which is the bible of psychology, treated pathological grooming like an afterthought and put it in a catch-all category called “not otherwise specified.” However, the new DSM 5 added a disorder called excoriation (skin-picking) disorder. It is estimated that between 2-4 percent of the population could be diagnosed with this disorder, but I personally think that the percentage is a lot higher.

If you start paying more attention to what people are doing with their hands when you are around them, you might be surprised to find out how many bite their nails, pick their skin, or do other related behaviors that damage their nails in other ways. Those who are clinically and medically affected have results such as infections, skin lesions, scarring, and even physical disfigurement. According to the APA (American Psychological Association), individuals with excoriation disorder must have repeated attempts to decrease or stop the skin picking, which must cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. They also add that these symptoms can’t be better explained by another mental disorder.

Nail biting and other related behaviors were categorized into another group of disorders called other specified and unspecified obsessive-compulsive and related disorders. These disorders can include conditions such as body-focused repetitive behavior disorder and obsessional jealousy, or unspecified obsessive-compulsive and related disorder. For the purposes of this article, let’s talk about body-focused repetitive behavior disorder. There is also a medical term that is called onychophagia, which involves repetitive biting, chewing, and picking of one’s fingernails and the cuticles around them. What’s important to note is that there are now several accepted terms and classifications because these behaviors have been recognized in the medical and psychological fields as actual disorders.The terminology can get a bit confusing, but it might help to read through the different classifications when determining whether you or your child has formed a bad habit or has a serious problem that requires treatment.

Why Do People Do It?

Person nervously playing with their hands and nails.

Different experts have varying opinions about why people might start biting their nails. For Sigmund Freud, known as the founding father of psychoanalysis, or the talking cure, which is a method for treating mental illness as well as a theory that explains human behavior, nail biting is an oral fixation that is a form of stimulation. Many experts believe that nail biting is associated with stress and anxiety and is a way for people to distract themselves from bad thoughts or feelings. The function of the behavior is to manage negative feelings. It is generally benign and learned as a habit, and may work as a way to manage distress.

Why Should You Want To Stop Doing it?

If you are one of those people who practices pathological grooming, then you might not be aware of how it looks from the outside. I suggest that you either record yourself doing it and then watch it, or watch a YouTube of someone who does it in public. Sometimes people don’t recognize it as a problem until they view it from a different lens. From clients and from personal experience of biting my nails and picking skin, I remember being very aware of how insecure or stressed I might seem to others while doing it (and I was under a lot of stress at the time!) but for some reason I couldn’t stop. It seemed like the act of doing it actually served as a form of self-soothing and stress reduction that was out of my control. Or so I thought at the time. When I realized that there were actually proven ways to help individuals stop nail biting or skin picking, I was excited to share this with others and help in any way I could.

These compulsive behaviors can also have a significant negative impact on your emotional and physical well-being. Emotionally, self-mutilation behaviors can produce feelings of shame and low self-esteem. You might also feel guilty for being engaged in behaviors that are compulsive that you know are not within the normal range of behaviors. Also, in some serious cases, the physical injuries can take their toll in the form of lesions, infections, and scarring that may also carry risks of life-threatening complications. So while I’ve seen people be quick to dismiss the problem, I strongly suggest learning more about the behavior and looking for a solution to the underlying issues. It might seem like a fairly low-impact way to manage stress, but there are much healthier options out there, and getting to the root of the stress or other stimulus is important for overall well-being.

How Do I Treat It? (Best Treatments)

The most effective type of treatment for compulsive self mutilation behaviors is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). You will probably read about CBT in many of my blogs as I am a strong advocate of this type of therapy. Sure, sometimes you will need to include other types of therapeutic methods or modalities, but CBT is one of the most effective and evidence-based techniques. Understanding and practicing it helped change my life. I will write more about it in other blogs, but for now I want to briefly explain what it is and how It can help you stop biting your nails.

The goal of CBT is to help you identify unhealthy and irrational thought patterns and “re-wire” your thinking. By doing so, you will learn to replace self-harming behaviors (like nail biting or skin picking) with healthy ways to cope with your anxiety, emotional pain, or other triggers that cause you to do the behaviors you wish to stop. Research has found that CBT is more effective than only using medication. In one study from Johns Hopkins, CBT was found to be more effective — and have longer lasting implications with fewer side effects — than traditional antidepressants when used to treat social anxiety disorders in adults.

This doesn’t mean that I think all medication is bad. Of course, in some severe cases, clients might need medication to help with reducing or eliminating symptoms. Antidepressant Fluoxetine, for example, may help reduce compulsive skin picking. People who struggle with nail biting or skin picking often have other psychological issues, though, so it’s important to have a full assessment in order to get the best diagnosis and treat with the appropriate methods. Since self mutilation behaviors can lead to physical symptoms, it is important to also work closely with a medical doctor who can help and treat the physical symptoms. Besides working with professionals who can help reduce and eliminate the symptoms, there are some self-help strategies that you can employ as a starting point.

Stress has been found to be one of the most common factors that leads to these behaviors, so stress management is key in treatment. Try turning to activities like yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises to help lower stress. Even things like volunteering or spending time on a hobby can provide your brain with some physical and emotional relief that will help with the urge to perform the destructive behaviors. Another great place to start is learning to express your emotions. Talking to a professional can definitely help, but also talking to a friend or family member whom you trust to start learning to identify what feelings cause you to pick or nail bite can be really useful. I’ve personally always found that journaling helps me manage stress. It’s a way to express myself emotionally. It also involves using your hands so it can serve as a form of physical and emotional release. That brings me to another important thing to try: Keep your hands busy! Look for other ways to keep your hands stimulated and release stress or tension. Things like a fidget spinner or a stress ball will keep your hands busy and redirect your focus.

how to treat nail biting

I want to reiterate that just because someone is ashamed of their behavior or embarrassed by how their hands look, it’s usually not enough to get them to stop. Awareness is definitely a necessary first step, and often these actions are done without really thinking about them, but simply knowing it’s abnormal or destructive won’t fix the problem. Be careful when talking to your children about it, as you don’t want to make them feel shame. If you have more questions about how to approach your child or the best ways you can help someone in this situation, we at LW Wellness would love to help. If you have found something that has worked for you or someone you know, we’d also love to hear about it, so leave a comment or send us an email.

If you would like me to connect you with one of our expert therapists or dietitians, please contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!

4 Mental Health Challenges Teenagers Face

4 Mental Health Challenges Teenagers Face and How a Therapist Can Help

4 Mental Health Challenges Teenagers Face and How a Therapist Can Help

Being a teenager these days is extremely challenging. As a therapist working with teenagers and a mom of two teenagers, I am aware of the many psychological issues that they face and the stress that this causes many parents. According to Mental Health America, the rates of depression among teens is increasing at an alarming rate. Each year, almost 5,000 young people between the ages of 15-24 take their own lives. In 2015, about 3 million teens ages 12 to 17 had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 2 million reported experiencing depression that impairs their daily function. About 30% of girls and 20% of boys totaling 6.6 million teens have had an anxiety disorder according to data from the National Institute of Health. In the past 15 years of working with teenagers, I’ve noticed an increase in rates of depression and anxiety and requests from parents seeking mental health therapists for their teenagers. In the following article, I will discuss the four main mental health challenges that teenagers face with the hope that it will increase awareness of these issues that cause many of our teens to experience mental health illnesses. It’s also my hope that awareness will lead to action. In many cases, a mental health therapist can provide a teenager with the support they need to work through their struggles, but it’s difficult for a young person to recognize when they need help and even more difficult for them to ask for it.

Challenge # 1 Peer pressure

teenagers walking together in school

Primarily during middle school and high school, many teens feel very stressed because they are trying to be like their peers and fit in. This is nothing new, and I’m sure you can remember it from your own high school days. These pressures lead to teenagers dressing and behaving in ways that may surprise you as a parent or caregiver. Middle and high school teens are well known for forming cliques and groups that have their own norms and rules that people have to follow to fit in. Those who are not included feel a lot of pressure to be in certain groups so they may do things out of their comfort zone to fit in. Since the adolescent years are filled with teens struggling to define and discover who they are as a person, this pressure leads to feeling confused, stressed, and overwhelmed. Just because peer pressure is “normal,” it doesn’t meant that every teenager is going to be able to cope with it in healthy ways. For some, the pressure is too much and can lead to destructive behaviors.

One of the most prominent figures in psychology, Erik Erikson, proposed a psychosocial theory comprising of eight stages of development. I am not going to bore you with all the stages — although I think they are very interesting and can add great value to your knowledge as a parent, educator, or anyone who is interested in human development — but I want to give a basic overview as it relates to teenagers. Basically, during each stage, a person experiences a psychological crises, which could have a positive or a negative outcome for personality development. For the purposes of this article, I will jump right into the fifth stage that is relevant to adolescence.

During the fifth stage (ages 12-18), the adolescent searches for a sense of self and personal identity, through an intense exploration of personal value, beliefs, and goals. This is an important stage where teens are becoming more independent and begin to look at the future in terms of career, relationships, and families. They also have the desire to belong to a society and fit in. Erikson suggests that two identities are involved during this stage: The Sexual and the Occupational. (Yes, he is influenced by Freud for those of you who are familiar with Freud’s work). Erikson also claims that if adolescents are successful in this stage, it will lead to the virtue of fidelity, which involves being able to commit oneself to others on the basis of accepting others, even when there may be ideological differences. If adolescents fail to establish a sense of identity within society, this can lead to role confusion, which can result in identity crisis and most likely feelings of unhappiness. The good news for you as a parent or a caregiver is that while your child is going through whatever it is with relations to their peers, including negative feelings, stress, or anxiety, it all should somehow help him or her learn how to function in our society and grow into the person that they are meant to be. This might not make sense if you are currently a parent of an adolescent child, however.

During such an important stage, a mental health therapist can provide an outlet to process emotions. In addition, a mental health therapist has coping mechanisms and strategies that will help an adolescent deal with societal peer pressures.

Challenge # 2 Grades and school performance

teen experiencing mental health issues

Teens are under constant pressure to perform well academically while trying to become their own person and be independent of their parents. This pressure to succeed and the comparison to other students who might be doing better can lead to depression and other mental health issues. A study by NYU examined the top high school stresses of 128 private school students in 2015. The results showed that nearly half (49%) of all students reported feeling a great deal of stress on a daily basis and 31% reported feeling somewhat stressed. Females reported significantly higher levels of stress than males related to grades, homework, and preparing for college. And 26% of participants reported symptoms of depression that were clinically significant.

Sometimes as parents, we don’t realize when we are part of the problem. Wanting your child to succeed academically is normal, but how do you know when you are adding too much pressure? It can be easy as an adult to be consumed with your own stress at work or with taking care of your family, and oftentimes we dismiss how much pressure our kids are under at school. A mental health therapist can help a teenager when the pressure gets to be too much.

Challenge #3 Physical and hormonal changes

The adolescent years are characterized by rapid physical and emotional changes that affect teens in different ways. This period is marked by increased attention to body image, sexuality, and acceptance that often leaves the teen feeling confused, stressed, and depressed. Teenagers are known for their “raging” hormones and drastic mood swings. If you are a parent of a teenager or if you are around teenagers in any capacity, then you must have noticed the mood fluctuations between excitement, anger, anxiety, and depression. Teenagers’ self-esteem is often affected by their appearance or how they might see themselves. The combination of your body changing so rapidly with peer pressure and the desire to fit in is a lot for someone to deal with.

Challenge #4 Family issues

All families experience varying degrees of stress at different times and for different reasons. Being a teenager is hard enough as it is, and when you add familial stresses such as divorce, illness, abuse, separation, merging of families, and financial struggles, it only makes the stresses greater. All these stresses can cause many mental and physical illnesses. Some examples of common triggers and types of stress include career stress, financial stress, personal health concerns, managing parenting responsibilities, and marital and relational stress, among others.

How Can a Mental Health Therapist Help Teens with these Issues?

Now that you are aware of some the biggest challenges that teens struggle with, you might wonder how mental health therapists can help them. A mental health therapist can help your teen learn how to better manage their stress, get more sleep, and make healthier choices. One of the best gifts that you can give your teen is to provide them with a safe space that they can share their thoughts and feelings so that they can reduce their stress and  anxiety and focus better on school and other important areas in their life. In this era of social media where both teens and parents spend so much of their time staring at screens, providing your teen with 45 minutes of quality talk time with a professional can help tremendously.

Many teens are struggling with issues related to control. A therapist can help them understand that their thoughts affect their feelings and behaviors. By explaining that concept and practicing this with teens using examples from their lives, the therapist can help redirect their thoughts to a healthier more productive place. Mental health therapists can work with teens individually, in groups, and with their families. While some teens benefit from individual attention, others might benefit from taking part in group therapy or getting support with the whole family. In some cases, teens might need to work with a therapists individually, in group, and with the family. For example, I am working with a 14-year-old who is struggling with bulimia, and at the same time, one of our family therapists is working with the whole family as well as the teen participating in group therapy with other teens who struggle with bulimia and binge eating.

If you are wondering about the length of treatment the answer is not always easy. Some teens might need to be in therapy on a regular basis as they benefit from speaking to a professional and need the guidance and support. Others can benefit from a shorter term therapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavioral therapy. Regardless of what you might think your teen needs in terms of the length of the time, it is paramount that you know that it takes anywhere from 12-30 weeks to change a behaviors So if you start working with a mental health therapist, you have to make a commitment to yourself and to your therapist in order to see a change in your behavior. If you are not sure, you can always get another professional opinion, but whatever you decide, you must know that it takes times and commitment for your teen to see a change in behaviors.

It is also important to know that while your teen is the one who will be going to therapy, parents play a very big role in the psychological treatment. When your teen is displaying a challenging behavior, parents often need to take an active role and be just as committed in working in collaboration with the therapist and the teen for best results. Furthermore, the therapist can provide parents with techniques and ongoing support to help them with their teen. For example, if the teen is working on anxiety related to his/her parents constantly fighting and screaming, then the therapist might provide the parents with some skills and tools that might help them change the behavior that causes the teen anxiety.

Some therapists will include some less orthodox ways of working with teens, like getting out of the office and doing some activities that can encourage the teen to open up and feel more connected to the therapist. I once worked with a teen who always worried about not looking proper and if she didn’t have time to fix her hair or put makeup on, she would get stressed and depressed. After spending a month with her in my Fifth Avenue office, I realized that she needed something different. So I decided for our next session we would meet at Central Park and spend the time walking around in super casual clothes. I wasn’t sure if my client was going to actually listen and show up casual, but I promised her that I would also be super casual and wear my sweatpants and hair back without makeup. Of course my client stared at me in disbelief, but our next session in the park was spent practicing mindfulness. It was one of her best sessions yet. After that, she said that she felt the most connected to me and that she was able to see me in a different light and be more open and honest. My point is, with teens and adults too sometimes, we have to think outside the box and come up with creative ideas to help and support them. If you or anyone you know has a teenager who is in need of guidance or support, don’t hesitate to ask for help.

If you would like me to connect you with one of our expert therapists or dietitians, please contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!

Top 5 Reasons Why You Need A Life Coach

Top 5 Reasons Why You Need a Life Coach

Has the thought, “I need a life coach” ever crossed your mind? Are you not sure you need one, but still feeling like you need help of some kind? Maybe someone recommended that you get a life coach, but you are skeptical? Before you write the idea off, let’s first talk about what a life coach is.

A life coach, also called a personal development coach, is someone who counsels clients on anything from career obstacles to personal challenges. But a life coach isn’t just anyone off the street. Personal life coaches are certified professionals whose job it is to equip you with the tools you need to succeed in whatever areas in which you are struggling. The International Coach Federation (IFC) is an organization dedicated to the advancement of coaching throughout the world. It is a highly respected organization that certifies life coaches. The organization is dedicated to making coaching “an integral part of society.” While it is not the only certification program for life coaches, it is one of the most reputable. The takeaway, though, is that coaching has rapidly evolved into a structured, nuanced profession, and the people who go through the certification process are highly trained and qualified. It’s a profession that is regulated, so you can look up a potential coach’s qualifications, as well.

At the end of the day, asking for help and leaning on the support of professionals is a true sign of strength, not weakness. In fact, there are a lot of reputable organizations who make use of some form of “coaching” for their team members. The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) did a study in 2009 of the professional coaching industry. Of the organizations surveyed, 90% reported using coaching. What’s even more interesting is that even as the economy took a hit, 70% reported continuing and even increasing their investment in coaching for their teams — proving many businesses feel like their ROI for coaching is high. Many professional sports teams also use a form of coaching off the field. Teams often hire coaches for leadership and character development for their players. So if all these large organizations are using coaching, why not try it on a personal level for your own unique needs?

If you are doing some soul searching and feel like you need a little help, consider these five reasons on why you should find a personal life coach.

# 1 Get selfish

It’s time to think about yourself! Yes, you read that right. When we think about the word “selfish,” it usually brings up negative connotations, but the truth is, being selfish can sometimes be very productive and healing. When’s the last time you paused to ask yourself what you need? Your list of needs can include everything from material needs to physical needs to mental and spiritual wellness and fulfillment. Working with a life coach will give you the space to first and foremost figure out what those needs are, and then to form a plan to figure out how those needs can be met. It’s easy to say you are going to set aside time for yourself to meditate, journal, or come up with a list of goals. However, the reality is that we often put ourselves last on our to-do lists. A coach will give you the freedom and the time to put yourself first and then hold you accountable to your goals, while offering guidance and support. If you think investing in your own personal happiness is selfish, then it’s important to stop thinking about being selfish as a bad thing.

Personal Development Coach

#2 Get happy

You can lead a happier, more fulfilled life. This seems like a cliché, but all too often, people give up on their own happiness and settle for less. Everyone tells you it’s true, and it is, but you have to make time for it! We know that as humans, we like to be working toward something — to be moving forward in life. We also know that as humans, we crave happiness, even if we can’t define what that means in our lives.The study of happiness — how to get it, what factors play the biggest role, how to measure it — has actually become an area scientists and researchers are studying more and more. Why? Because it’s kind of like a universal goal. If you think the pursuit of happiness is a waste of time, there is science that would disagree with you. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that certain types of happiness can actually have an effect on our genes, specifically antibody and antiviral genes. A Finnish study used body maps to show how emotion is expressed throughout the body, and happiness was the one emotion shown to activate every part of the body from the head down to the feet. Other interesting research reveals that age also plays a factor in determining what makes one happy. As we change, sometimes we need help discovering how to get back on our own personal path toward a life that brings us joy.

A life coach is there to guide you on your personal journey toward happiness — at whatever age or crossroads you find yourself. To use a sports metaphor: “You are the player in this relationship, and it is the coach’s job to help you succeed in the game.” So, if you’re feeling like you are missing out on joy in life, a coach can teach you the fundamentals to take your fulfillment to the next level. Stop and think for a moment about your own happiness. Have you lost sight of what makes you happy? Or do you feel like you are in rut? Are your days comprised of going through the same monotonous motions? Professional athletes invest so much into their physical abilities. Perhaps it’s time you started treating your life like the ultimate game. Isn’t your life worth investing in?

Life Coach

# 3 Get unstuck

According to the current edition of The Conference Board Job Satisfaction survey, less than half of US workers report job satisfaction.

“In 2013, the percentage of workers satisfied with their jobs was 47.7, well below the historical level of 61.1 percent in 1987. Increasing by a mere 0.4 percentage points from the previous year, overall job satisfaction continues to improve from its lowest point (42.6 percent in 2010), albeit at a disappointingly slow pace.” -The Conference Board

why you need a life coach

Considering how much of our lives are spent at work — and the fact that we depend on jobs for our income — it’s discouraging how many of us feel like we are at a roadblock. You don’t have to accept job dissatisfaction. When you feel like you’ve done everything in your power to achieve your career goals, a coach can offer up new and different strategies to get you on a track that makes you feel both challenged and accomplished. It’s easier to believe that nothing will ever change, but if you feel like you are wasting your days — STOP! You don’t have to figure out everything alone.

#4 Get through major changes

Facing life transitions is difficult on your own. Change is hard. That’s just a fact. At different points in our lives we all face life transitions, which can result in feeling lost, confused, sad and even depressed. These feelings can cloud our judgements and affect other areas of our lives, particularly our relationships. Working with a coach who is able to offer an outside perspective will help you organize your thoughts and feelings, as well as provide a consistent voice in the face of chaotic changes. Life changes can happen at any time. Whether you are transitioning from school to employment, changing careers, going into or getting out of a relationship, starting a family, moving, or going through any other life-changing event, it can feel like your entire life is spiraling out of control. Even small transitions, like a promotion at work, can cause other areas of your life to seem confusing. It’s normal to crave stability, but it’s also not practical to think that everything will always be stable. It is ok to ask for help when you find yourself attempting to navigate the uncertain waters of life.

#5 Get the vital tools you need

You may not currently have the skills you need to execute your plan or get to the next level. Some people have very specific ideas and goals for their life, but they feel like they aren’t attainable. A coach can equip you with new skills that will allow you to do more and reach your full potential — whether that’s in your relationships, your job or your mental well-being. You are already creative. You are already whole. You are already resourceful. You might just need to harness a few things to be able to put everything together to rise above your current situation. Think about all the things we learned as toddlers and young children. We learned so much every day and progressed at such a rapid rate in everything from motor skills to emotional intelligence. At some point, that learning curve plateaus, but does it have to stop? The answer is no. A coach is a resource that will allow you to keep growing, keep learning and continue to acquire new skills. We’d never tell a child who just mastered crawling that there was no need to learn to walk. Don’t cut your potential short by not taking the time to see how you can grow with more guidance.

A life coach means you have someone “in your corner” at all times — someone who will listen (and truly hear you), educate (and not judge you) and see you (while viewing you at your highest self)! Whether or not you believe it, you can absolutely be your best self, and a personal development coach is a great way to help you get there. A life coach is an adviser, friend, confidant, consultant, navigator and facilitator. They are trained in this, so why not let them help you reach your highest self? Get happier, more free and more on task to achieving your goals.

If you’re thinking, “Yes, I already have friends and family members who are always in my corner,” that’s great — but often that might not be enough. Our loved ones are vital components to our everyday lives and our happiness, but it’s impossible for them to offer a completely objective perspective because they know us on such a personal level. It’s also not fair to treat our family and friends as though they are paid professionals. They are also trying to navigate life and haven’t studied or been trained in how to dole out advice and guidance. So while building and nurturing personal relationships is always a great thing, a life coach is a unique relationship, one that cannot be duplicated by an already existing friendship.

Yes, a life coach is an investment, as they aren’t free, but consider how much your happiness is worth. It’s just as important to take care of our mental well-being as our physical well-being. This is not a short-term investment, either. The whole idea behind life coaching is that the benefits will last a lifetime. Factoring in your long-term mental health, how much are you willing to spend to get back on track?

Are you ready to step into a life of choice?

Have you ever thought, ““I need a personal life coach?”

Are you ready to nurture your personal self?

It’s time to take the leap!

If you would like me to connect you with one of our expert therapists, coaches or dietitians, please contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!

Advice from an NYC Sports Psychologist

competitive anxiety, sports psychologist

How To Deal With Your Competitive Anxiety: Everyday Advice from an NYC Sports Psychologist

 

“The ball’s in your court, now.”

“She really hit it out of the park!”

“He’s down for the count today.”

“Help us score one for the team.”

“Don’t drop the ball on this one.”

“We’re down to the wire!”

 

Sports metaphors are everywhere. In business, in the classroom, in the movies, in finance, in our day-to-day life. Lots of us don’t play a sport anymore, or never even did, but the competitive anxieties still remain in our modern life, well beyond the field or court. We judge and compare ourselves to others, whether it’s through a co-worker’s career advancement or a traveling friend’s Instagram account.

Competitive anxiety is real. It’s so hard in today’s fast-paced world not to feel like we aren’t performing at a high enough rate, or like we aren’t falling behind the group. We want to keep up, and sometimes it feels like we’re drowning. Everywhere we look, we are asked to be “better versions of ourselves,” which can be a good thing, but it can also cause a whole lot of stress. Enter the sports psychologist

One of our providers, Dr. Itzik, a Mental Performance Consultant, frequently deals with competitive anxiety with his clients. Itzik teaches athletes and high-performing individuals of all ages and backgrounds strategies to break down barriers and achieve great performance. He is a Sports, Health and Exercise Science professional who specializes in the mental and physiological elements associated with peak performance. He “believes that educating people on how to be mindful of their emotions and how to manage and channel them during a peak performance environment is a key factor in performance enhancement.” Sounds like this could be helpful in our day-to-day experiences, too, right?

What Is A Sports Psychologist?

But first, what does a sports psychologist do? Well, that’s a pretty general question with a pretty all-over-the-place answer. They may be a trainer, a consultant, or a therapist/counselor/psychologist. They might work with career transitions. Or with eating disorders. They can help with team building, team dynamics, and group leadership. They can work with rehabilitation after an injury, or the psychological impact of an injury. They might work in research or as a service provider.

All this to say… they don’t just work with professional athletes.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “The same strategies that sport psychologists teach athletes — relaxation techniques, mental rehearsals and cognitive restructuring, for example — are also useful in the workplace and other settings.”

Athletes also use a psychologist to help them with concentration, goal-setting, controlling their temper, communication with teammates, keeping up an exercise program, motivation, and working with a team.

They’re awesome, is what we’re trying to say. They’re really awesome. For you, for me, for Lebron… we can be lumped into the same sentence as him, right?

It’s a relatively new field. The man regarded as the “Father of Sports Psychology,” Coleman Griffith, only starting research in the field around 1925. He first was an educational psychology professor at the University of Illinois, where he broke barriers by conducting research on athletic competition and how it related to psychology. Eventually, he was hired as the sports psychologist for the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs went to the World Series the following year, but Griffith was still distrusted by many, and often not listened to by various employees of the team and in the professional sports world. They fired him the year after. If only he could see where sports psychology is today!

In under 100 years, Sports Psychology has gone from being poo-pooed by professionals to being utilized in top competitive environments, such as the Olympics. Why the drastic change? Well, psychology in general has gained much respect in the past century. More people view therapy as an important part of life now than ever before, and it’s finally being recognized in the performance sector, as well. A wider swath of people are beginning to realize that our heads and brains are just as much a part of our bodies as the rest of us… who woulda thunk?!

It’s still hard to categorize performance related to the brain, though. Athletes can see visible physical results from training with a fitness coach. They can feel when their injuries are healing after many sessions with a physical therapist. But what they can’t see or feel directly, and what they cannot see on a gameday chart, is mental work. They can’t literally see any progress from countless therapy sessions. This makes the importance of sports psychology more difficult for some to grasp, because we can’t view immediate tangible results.

Alas. People rejecting therapy. Brushing aside anything having to do with **gasp** THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS. Well, we know it’s helpful, so that’s a start, I suppose!

Anyway, onto the fun stuff from the pro!

Itzik’s Work

Dr. Itzik

Mental Performance Consultant

Member of the American Psychological Association

LWWellness Provider

As a former fighter in the Special Forces unit of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Itzik was drawn to learn more about the individual and team dynamics that affect performance. He has extensive hands-on experience working with top-notch athletes, military personnel, and business clientele from a diversity of backgrounds, cultures, and ages. He has also worked with athletes from the U.S. Olympic team, U.S. Karate team, and the Israeli National Judo team.

Below is some advice from Itzik to help you with team dynamics and competitive anxiety. Enjoy!

We all know that technical and physical skills are important in sports, but there is also a mental aspect that is just as crucial. Technical and physical skills are the foundation of performance, but mental ability is what shifts, shakes, or empowers that foundation.

As sports psychology professionals, we utilize a set of tools to improve an athlete’s performance: mental skills training, assessments, regular sessions, biofeedback, emotion regulation, among others.

Some common cases we see are clients who experience challenges with either Competitive Anxiety or Team Dynamics. Below, we’ll give a brief overview of what these challenges may look like and how they can be addressed.

Competitive Anxiety

Let’s talk about something that many people have experienced: Competitive Anxiety.

One thing I often experience is clients who come in and perform really well in practice but fail to deliver during competition. It can be due to fear of being criticized or their inability to manage emotions. There can be many factors that affect an individual’s ability to perform well under pressure.

So, in this situation, we perform an assessment where we try to identify the true, underlying cause of what is affecting their ability to compete or play to their full potential. The experience of not being able to perform on the field as well as in practice can be extremely frustrating and confusing. People just don’t know what to do, and they often can’t see a way to fix it. They’ve tried many different things over and over again, but with no result.

Many times, I see these kids after they have exhausted all other possibilities and methods. In this case, we first have to identify the problem and then start work on targeting that issue (or issues) which can include anything from mental skills to managing emotions. We have many tools available to address this issue, but they must be tuned to the individual. Usually clients begin to notice changes in their ability/behavior after a couple of months of therapy.

These kids, and the people around them, are going through this experience together. It is not an isolated incident, but it is one that affects everyone within that circle. It can almost become a vicious cycle of frustration, confusion, and fear.

Team Dynamic

The second most common includes challenges with the Team Dynamic.

In team sports, the athletes must (of course) deal with their own challenges, but they must also deal with being part of a team. The first requires overcoming challenges individually, and the other demands overcoming challenges as a team and collaboratively. One could say that our work could be divided into two parts: helping an entire team by improving their cohesiveness and communication, and helping individuals to address their personal struggles. This could include anything from miscommunication with coaches, fears of inferiority, or challenges with sub-groups or ‘cliques’. I help these individuals to identify their specific challenges and provide them with the tools needed to become an active part of the team, while navigating and managing these problems in a positive way. Sometimes, these individuals are already very good players with plenty of potential, but the only thing that’s holding them back is their social environment. They go to practice and put in the work, but they don’t get along with their teammates and often feel isolated. There can be many small things that affect the individual and team dynamic.  

..And?

Alright, so you’ve read the stuff. But how can this help you in your intramural league? In the office? In your family relationships?

Here are some basic tools that sports psychologists use with their clients to help them with anxiety related to competition or performance. You might be surprised by how seeing a psychologist can help you.

Focus On What You Can Control

What is in your control? Practicing. Eating well. Getting enough sleep. Being as prepared as possible. What is out of your control? What other people think. How other people do in life. What other people say. Who wins or loses. What you cannot control is impossible to control — I repeat, IMPOSSIBLE! — so take this off your plate. Set your mind on what you can control, instead.

Practice Self-Confidence

Instead of focusing on past failures, focus on past successes. What brought you here today that put you in this competitive position? There are things in life that you did well to get you here in the first place. The more you prepare, the more confident you will be, because at least you won’t be worried about not having done the work.

Set Goals

Set very specific goals that you know you can accomplish. “Having two kids by the time I’m 35” is not an example of something you know you can accomplish. “Exercising for 30 minutes of every day for two weeks” is.

Practice Relaxation

What relaxes you? Is it aromatherapy? A bath? A run? Specific breathing techniques? Start to narrow down the things that give you relaxation (hint: it usually has to do with the mind and body together), and use them leading up to the event.

Find Distraction

It’s ok to distract yourself before a competition if it helps you with your anxiety. You can read a book, talk with coworkers, listen to music, stretch — find something that works for you!

Visualization

This is also known as imagery or mental rehearsal. Imagine each moment of your event, including physical movements. Try to imagine it from your own perspective (not someone watching you), and at the speed in which you will actually do it. Make it as real as possible in your mind and do it step by step.

How Can A Certified Psychologist Help Me?

Think you might be interested in working with a sports psychologist? It bears repeating here that you don’t need to be an athlete to work with one. You don’t have to be anything special to work with one. (Although you are special, I promise.)

When choosing a psychologist of any kind, it’s important to know what you’re looking for. A therapist or psychologist should specialize in whatever you need. The best psychologist for you might be a local psychologist — ask for psychologist recommendations and do your research.

Looking For A Psychologist Around Me

  • Do an online psychologist search to find a psychologist locator/psychologist lookup tool.
  • Look up your options in a psychologist directory for a licensed psychologist in the area.
  • Ask a psychologist office! Many can point you towards a good psychologist/psychotherapist.

Psychologist Vs. Therapist

What is the difference between a therapist and psychologist? Well, both strive to improve people’s lives. And after that, it gets a little murky. One main difference is that psychologists have advanced degrees (often PhDs) in psychology, whereas therapists can have any number of degrees in specific disciplines, such as social work, family counseling, or substance abuse. A psychologist is a social scientist, often having dealt with research or clinical settings, who is trained to study mental process and human behavior. A psychologist and psychiatrist often work together. A therapist is a broader umbrella that many fields fit into, including psychologists.

Alright, there you have it! Sports Psychology in a nutshell. Many thanks to Itzik for his words of wisdom! All this talk about healthy competition almost makes us want to join a soccer league… almost.

If you would like me to connect you with one of our expert therapists or dietitians, please contact me. I look forward to hearing from you!