Category: Educational

Talking With Your Kids About The Chaos In The World.

School shootings. Climate change. Poverty. Immigration issues. With all the chaos in the world, how do you explain it to kids when they come to you for answers?!

As parents, mentors and caregivers, kids look to us for answers. We would love to keep them in a bubble, protected from the negativity in the world. However, that is not preparing them for a life independent from you. It’s very important to explain to kids what is going on around them. After all, they’re the ones that will live on long after we’re gone.

But how do you begin to talk to your kids about the chaos in the world? Here are three suggestions to get the discussion started.

Actually talk to them about it. Especially if they’re bringing it up.

Many parents try to “protect” their kids by avoiding these uncomfortable conversations. But ignoring it is the worse thing to do because they’ll seek answers elsewhere.

Just because your child is home most of the time, does not mean that they don’t know what is going on in the world. Honestly, they’re probably more informed than us since they’re constantly connected to the world online. If you don’t address some of their concerns, they’ll most likely turn to Google or YouTube for answers, where you have no control.

I find that car rides are one of the best places to talk to your kids since there’s no direct eye contact, and they can’t go anywhere. Another good time is during walks.

You can start the conversation by asking “hey, did you hear about…. what do you think about that? Be curious about their point of view without judging.

How you explain things could make them either become more anxious, or feel secure. If you’re not sure how to answer a question, tell them that you don’t know and together you can do research.

Prepare them in case of an emergency.

Sadly, school shootings have become common in the United States. It’s important to have a plan in place as a family in case of a school shooting. Schools now have safety plans. But as a family, you should have a plan too. For example, I have told my teenaged son to keep his cell phone turned off but in his backpack, which he always has with him in school, not in his locker.

It’s also important to have an emergency plan in case you’re in a public place when something happens. Ready.gov is a website that helps you create a family plan.

It’s important to stress the importance of safety with your kids. You don’t want to be paranoid, but you want to be prepared. It’s like insurance. Hopefully you never have to use it, but you’ll be glad to have it when you need it.

Some parents have enrolled themselves and their kids in self-defense classes, in shooting ranges to learn how to safely handle a gun, and outdoor survival skills. Do what feels right for your family. The point is to be informed and prepared.

Have time to unplug.

Today’s kids were born into this technology. They don’t know a world without it. So it’s only natural that they’re going to want to always be on their phone or gaming system where they can play with friends without needing to leave home. Technology has it’s advantages, but it could also be scary as kids could seek out ANY information without you knowing.

It is our job as parents, ants/uncles and caretakers to provide breaks from technology. It could be as a simple house rules that NO ONE goes on their cell phones during dinner, for example. Or doing activities together that will keep kids busy. I hear from teens all the time that the main reason they are on their phone or other electronics is because they’re bored. Schedule time to take the food you cooked and eat it at a park, or have a movie night, or ask for their help with household projects.

Unplugging from the constant information that’s online is not only good for their mental health, but it’s an opportunity to connect with your kids.

I also recommend that you read your news instead of watching it on television where it’s repeated and has graphic visuals. If you’re constantly watching negative stories everyday, you can unconsciously pass on your anxieties to your kids. Unplugging from TV news is just as important as unplugging from the internet.

Remember, you are the adult in the relationship and kids are looking to you for guidance. Although you can’t control what’s online and what’s going on in the world, you can control what values and education you want to instill in your kids. Talking to your kids and providing reassurance helps them feel more secure in a chaotic world.

About the Author
Liza J Alvarado is a professional counselor in private practice. She serves adolescents, adults and Spanish speaking families in the Lehigh Valley, PA.

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THINKING STYLES KEEPING YOU IN A NEGATIVE LOOP

Everyone struggles with negative thinking from time to time. Some people have negative thinking 80% of their day. But how do you change this? The first step is to catch yourself doing it. The fact that you are aware of the negative thinking is a great first step. But then you have to challenge the negative thoughts.

The following are the different thinking styles that could be feeding your negative thoughts spiral. Therapists call these Cognitive Distortions. See if you can recognize the style that you tend to use the most and make a conscious effort to change it.

ALL OR NOTHING THINKING

Also known as Black and White thinking. This is where you see things as all or nothing or thinking in extremes. For example, thinking “either I do it right or not at all” Or “I stumbled on a question in the interview, I ruined it” Or thinking people are either a success or a failure, good or bad, etc.

EMOTIONAL REASONING

Emotional reasoning is similar to all or nothing thinking. When you’re emotionally reasoning, you’re assuming that because you feel a certain way, what you think must be true.

For example, ” I feel nervous, I know something bad is going to happen” when in reality, you may just be feeling anxious because you’re doing something for the first time, which is normal to feel that way.

JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS

Jumping to conclusions is when you assume something. There are two types of jumping to conclusions: Mind Reading and Fortune Telling.

Mind reading is when you image that you know what others are thinking and feeling. Avoid this by asking questions to clarify how that person is feeling or what are they thinking. Fortune telling is when you try to predict the future. For example, saying to yourself, “I’m not even going to bother asking, they’re going to say no” Unless you are a fortune teller, ask for clarification. Assuming things will almost always get you into trouble.

LABELLING

Labelling is when you assign labels to yourself or to other people. Some examples of labelling are saying things like ” I didn’t get the job so I’m a loser”, “I made a mistake,I’m useless”, “She’s always late to work, she’s irresponsible”

When we label, we’re judging. Be aware of your judgements of others to help decrease labelling.

MENTAL FILTERING

Mental filtering is when you only pay attention to certain types of evidence. For example, only focusing on your failures and not looking at your successes. Or only looking at the facts that fit what your belief is and dismissing what doesn’t fit your belief.

OVER-GENERALIZATION

Overgeneralization is when you take one experience and generalize it to ALL experiences. If you have ever said “Nothing ever works out for me” or “I always loose” you have overgeneralized. This thinking style keeps you feeling low and unmotivated.

SHOULD

Using critical words like “should” or “must”can lead you to feel guilty or as if you have already failed. When we apply should to other people it can cause frustration.

Simply put, should thinking appears to make you think that there is a rule that you have to follow and if you don’t follow it, it’s bad. That’s when you feel guilty and get hard on yourself. This also leads to feeling disappointed with others because you have put on this expectation on them.

DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE

This style is when you discount the good things that have happened or that you have done. This thinking style is very common in people with low self-esteem and low confidence who tend to think that nothing they do is good enough.

MAGNIFICATION & MINIMIZATION

Magnification is when you blow things out of proportion making something seem more important or worse than it really is. This thinking style is a common symptom of Anxiety and Depression. With anxiety, you think of worst case scenario.

With depression, you can magnify things by thinking the worse of yourself or a situation when in reality there is a solution.

Minimization is the opposite, this is when you inappropriately make something seems less important than it really is. For example, you may be struggling with depression but explain it away by telling family you’re tired or “just in a funk”

PERSONALIZATION

Personalization is when you blame yourself or take on the responsibility for something that was not your fault or is not your responsibility to carry.

This thinking style is common when you feel guilty but in reality you did nothing wrong, so it’s not yours to carry.

Another example of personalization is when you assume that what a person does or says is directed towards you, taking things personal. If you’re experiencing this kind of thinking, you will also compare yourself to others, a sure way to keep your confidence low.

If you catch yourself stuck in any of these thinking styles, take a few deep breaths to physically calm down. Then question your thoughts by asking yourself certain questions. Common questions to ask yourself to challenge negative thinking are;

Is this 100% true?

What’s another explanation?

Is this a fact or my perception?

What’s another way to look at the situation?

Am I assuming?

With practice, you’ll become more self aware of your thinking styles and it gets easier to question them and shift your thinking. 

About the Author
Liza J Alvarado is a professional counselor in private practice. She serves adolescents, adults and Spanish speaking families in the Lehigh Valley, PA.

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Understanding LGBTQ

Regardless of your upbringing and personal beliefs, you can’t ignore that there’s a whole group of people that are still misunderstood at this day in age.

Once upon a time, being gay was considered a mental health disorder. It wasn’t until 1973 that “homosexuality” was removed from the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual (DSM)

All though we have grown and come a long way, there is still a lot of ignorance and judgements towards these individuals.

Here are some common questions I get from people who want to better understand LGBTQ individuals.

What is LGBTQ?

The letters stand for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning or Queer

Are Transgender people gay?

Being gay, lesbian and bisexual have to do with the sex someone is attracted to. Just like you have a preference of the people you find attractive; body build, height, color hair, etc., some people are attracted emotionally, romantically and/or sexually to men, women or both sexes.

Transgender has to do with the gender someone feels that they are. A male who feels trapped in a male’s body but feels like a female, is a transgender female. A woman who feels trapped inside a female body, but feels like a man, is a transgender male. Transgender individuals struggle with feeling comfortable in their own skin because psychologically they feel the opposite sex they were born as.

Someone may be transgender and still be attracted to the opposite or same sex. Gender is how the person feels, sexuality is who they are attracted to.

Is being LGBTQ a choice?

There are some people that  discovered that they were attracted to a person who happened to be the same sex or became clear with how uncomfortable they feel in their body, later in life. But for most people, from a young age, they already felt “different”.

Think about the ignorance and discrimination that LGBTQ individuals have to endure. Everything from workplace and housing discrimination, judgements from family and strangers, having to defend who they love, and dealing with actual assaults or threats. Do you think that they choose to put up with these things?

How do people know what they identify as?

Usually during the middle school years, it’s very common for teens to question their sexuality and their identity as they are trying to figure out who they are, separate from family norms. Some people even report feeling different as early as pre-school, they just didn’t know what to label it as. Some people know that they are lesbian, gay transgender or bisexual for a long time before they actually pursue relationships with other people or begin wanting to live as the different gender.

A person can begin to have emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction to different types of people and be afraid of speaking up for different reasons, such as religion, facing prejudice and for safety reasons.

Through pursuing different relationships, as well as life experience, it becomes more and more clear of how they identify as.

At what age should people “come out”?

There is no simple answer to this question. The risks and benefits of coming out are different for young people for several reasons. For some young people, they have families that are supportive and accepting no matter what. For these youths, the risk of developing depression and anxiety are decreased just because they have that buffer of a supportive family.

However, for young people who live in a less supportive family, they may face more risks in coming out. Out of fear of not being accepted for who they are, they may come out later in life, or not at all. Everyone who comes out may experience bias, discrimination, or even violence in their schools, work places and faith communities. But when a person has supportive families, friends and schools, it’s so much easier to deal with the negative impacts of these experiences.

What causes someone to be gay or transgender?

There is no scientific evidence that says that sexual and gender orientation is genetic or some form of “defect” For most people, there’s little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.

I have had clients that say that they chose to be gay. However, I believe that that attraction to the same sex had to already be there because it’s very hard to force yourself to be with someone you are not attracted to.

And all of the Transgender clients I’ve had, all state always feeling different and uncomfortable in their body. Not due to weight or size, but either hating their penis or breasts.

Is it a sin to be LGBTQ?

Looking at it as a sin has to do with people’s personal beliefs and teachings, not facts. Looking at it as a sin is another way that contributes to hate and discrimination. Religion is supposed to preach love and unity, not hate and separation of one another.

 

It’s important to remember that  who someone is attracted to or how they feel about their own gender is only a part of who they are. Just as you  may be attracted to the opposite sex, thats not the only thing that defines you. You might also be a parent, a brother, a student, a dancer, a teacher, etc. Our sexuality is only one part of who we are, not wholly who we are.

Next time you notice your own prejudices towards someone because of who they love or how they feel, question where that comes from. Is this way of thinking something you were taught?  Are you against something you don’t understand? It’s important to recognize your own limitations in order to contribute to a more accepting, connected human race.

About the author.

Liza J Alvarado is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice. She serves Adolescents, Adults, and Spanish speaking individuals in the Lehigh Valley, PA area.

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A Therapist's point of view: THE STIGMA OF MENTAL HEALTH

A stigma is when there’s disgrace or shame around a certain circumstance, quality or person. Some examples of stigmas people have are, having certain physical disabilities, certain diseases such as HIV/AIDS, sexual orientation, ethnicity and certain religions, to name a few. One of the biggest stigmas people have is dealing with mental health.

Now, this is just my opinion, but I think the biggest reason for the stigma of mental health is due to ignorance. Ignorance is simply lack of knowledge. We’re going into 2017 and people are still not properly educated on what mental health or treatment for mental disorders is.

We’re not taught in school about maintaining good mental health or improving our emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and with empathy.

The little bit that we are shown about mental health is usually in movies and TV shows. Typically the picture they portray is of a character who hears voices, hallucinates, has severe mood swings or kills people. So the image of mental health we get is of someone being “out of their mind”

It’s no wonder that so many people are hesitant to seek help, out of fear that they’ll seem crazy.

Some mental health diagnosis are more debilitating than others, such as Schizophrenia or Severe Autism. With these disorders, it is believed that there is something neurological or developmentally wrong. There are many people that from a young age showed symptoms of these disorders. Is that their fault?

 Why is it that we don’t look at Type 2 Diabetes (a purely preventable disease by exercising, not smoking, and maintaining a healthy diet) with stigma? But when it comes to mental disorders, something that they didn’t create because it was either genetic or caused by difficult circumstances in their life, we want to look at it with shame?

SO WHY IS OUR MENTAL HEALTH SO IMPORTANT?

The short answer is, because it affects everything in your life.

The way that you talk to yourself, how you treat others and the way you behave affects everything else in your life; such as relationships, vocation, and health.You can be the most talented person in your industry, be with your ideal man/woman, make lots of money, but if your mentality is not healthy, you won’t be able to truly enjoy those things, or even worse, mess it all up.

Let me ask you this. Why is it important to maintain good physical health? Why maintain a healthy diet, move your body regularly and drink plenty of water? To have a healthy body of course.

So what is wrong with learning to control your emotions and behaviors? To understand your patterns of thinking and do something to change it? To practice relaxation techniques, learn to improve your mood and practice self-reflection? Well, nothing is wrong with that. Maintaining good mental health is a priority in order to live a healthy, satisfying, happy life. That’s because everything in life comes down to our mentality.

 

HOW DO WE LEARN TO MANAGE THESE EMOTIONS AND NOT LET OUR EMOTIONS CONTROL US?

You can learn on your own by reading or watching self-help materials. Here’s a great article on how to improve your emotional intelligence. 

Learning from your mistakes will naturally help you grow as well. Or if you’re lucky enough to have someone in your life that is emotionally healthy, they can be a great teacher. But one of the best ways for you to learn how to control those emotions is through outpatient therapy. I look at therapy as “school for your emotions”

You can read about the different levels of therapy here.

Seeking outside help with something you’re struggling with or want to improve is actually a sign of a mature person.

If you’re having suicidal thoughts, going to the hospital and getting help is a sign of health and maturity.

Not that people who don’t seek help are immature and unhealthy. Instead, the misinformation they’ve been given keeps them away from getting the help they want and need. If more people understood how therapy works, more people would get the help they need. And when they get help, other areas of their life also improve.

My hope is that one day talking about taking care of your mind, practicing good mental health, and seeking help and guidance is embraced and accepted.

 

About the author.

Liza J Alvarado is a professional counselor in private practice. She serves adolescents,  adults, and Spanish speaking families in the Lehigh Valley, PA area.

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OUR 5 NATURAL EMOTIONS: And How To Manage Them

We tend to think that feeling sad or getting angry is a bad thing. As if there’s something wrong with you if you feel sad, stressed out, anxious, or angry. But the truth is that feeling these emotions is not the problem, it’s how we express them that can get us into trouble. If  you try to ignore and push away certain feelings, you never truly let them pass, and this could create problems later on. You want to learn to control your emotions, not let your emotions control you.  The following are the 5 natural emotions we all have and how to manage them.

 

ENVY

Envy is that feeling you get when you desire what someone else has or has done. It is this desire that sparks us to create and work towards goals.

If expressed in a healthy manner, you’ll be inspired to go after that thing you want and start working towards it.

But if that desire is not channeled correctly, it can turn into jealousy. Jealousy makes you hate on what someone has. You’ll criticize them and you’ll make up excuses as to why you don’t have what they have.

What can you do to express it in a healthy way?

When you see someone that has something you would love to have, be it money, a relationship, a certain body type, a car, etc., in your mind thank them. Say thank you because they are living evidence that it is possible. If they could have or be whatever you desire, so could you. You just have to learn what the steps are, and take action.

Even more, by you hating on what they have, you push that very thing away from having it because you’re telling yourself on a certain level, that it’s bad to have that. For example, it’s common for people to talk negatively about someone who they perceive to have a lot of money. “Rich people are materialistic” is a common negative thought. In a way you’re telling yourself that you don’t want to have a lot of money because then you’ll be materialistic.

So next time you notice yourself feeling jealous, send that person love and admiration.

ANGER

Anger is a natural emotion we feel when we somehow feel threatened. The threat could be physical, emotional or psychological. Anger is what motivates us to protect ourselves from these actual or perceived threats.

An example of a psychological threat is someone strongly disagreeing with you. Their opinion is their opinion, but if you perceive it as a personal attack, you’ll get defensive.

When expressed in a healthy way, anger can give someone motivation and strength when they need it most. For example, you might share a goal with a friend but instead of supporting you, they put you down and try to tell you why it’s not going to work. Instead of getting irritated and discouraged, use that energy from the anger to motivate yourself and prove them wrong.

Or you’re arguing with someone and they say something hurtful. If anger controls you, you become enraged and hurt that person back, physically or verbally by insulting them.

What can you do to express it in a healthy way?

Anger is an intense emotion so the first step to do is take 2-3 really deep breaths, exhaling longer than your inhale. This calms down your body by slowing it down from releasing more adrenaline. Then, either walk away to get space between you and the person who is upsetting you, or communicate clearly to them how they’re making you feel. To calm down even more, try doing something physical like going for a long walk or hitting something. Just try not to break anything.

GRIEF

Grief is the feeling we get when we loose someone or something close to us. It could be saying good bye for now, or forever. Grief can be triggered by the death of a loved one, a break up, moving away from friends and family or loosing contact with someone close to us.

With grief comes sadness, although everyone expresses grief differently and some people instead of getting sad, they get angry.

But if grief is not expressed right, it could turn into depression.

What can you do to express it in a healthy way?

If you’re sad, feel sad. It is completely healthy to cry, to be angry and feel lost. What is not healthy is pushing those feelings away and trying to ignore them. If you try to ignore your sadness, it will show up again later, and next time the feelings could be even more intense.

Writing in a journal, crying, taking a walk in nature, or spending time with supportive people, are some things that could help you express the grief. During this feeling, one of the best coping skills is to be around people and allow others to support you.

FEAR

Fear is our body’s way of protecting us from getting hurt. If we didn’t have fear, we would cross the street without looking or not run away from a loose wild animal.

We even feel fear as newborns. Babies are actually born with two fears; fear of falling and fear of loud noises.

For the most part, we live pretty safe lives. Unless you actually live in an unsafe environment, many of the fears that you face are created by your thoughts.

Fear not expressed correctly causes a lot of anxiety. Anxiety is fear, or worry, about something that hasn’t happened yet, so we make up stories about it in our head.

What can you do to express it in a healthy way?

When you feel threatened,  your body will go into fight-or-flight response and it will know what to do. You will automatically respond by fighting, running, and sometimes freezing up.

But if you are not in actual danger, most likely you’re worrying about something, causing you to feel afraid. Just imagining something can activate the fight-or-flight response.

Just like anger, you want to take a deep breath to calm down the fight-or-flight response. Then ask yourself questions to challenge your thinking. Some good questions to ask yourself are:

What are the chances of (your fear) happening?

What can I do to lower the chances of it happening?

Is this under my control? If no, let it go. If yes, try to find a solution to the problem.

LOVE

Love is our natural state, that’s why it feels good to show it and receive it. When allowed to be expressed and received, you need nothing else. Love is pure and doesn’t require anything from anyone.

Love that is not allowed to be expressed or received becomes obsession and controlling/possessiveness. In relationships, when someone acts jealous, it’s not out of love, but out of feeling possessive over that person.

Children who were not shown love and affection as children, or was somehow made to feel bad to express love, have a hard time expressing love as adults. For example, if a child  tries to hug a parent and the parent pushed them  away, they learn that it’s not good to be affectionate.

What can you do to express it in a healthy way?

True love doesn’t need or ask anything of someone. We donate our time and money because we care about others. We hold the door for someone because we want to be polite and kind. We don’t necessarily do those things expecting something in return or to get attention.

Show yourself and others love by showing that you care, verbally and/or physically. For yourself, take time to take care of you, set boundaries, and let that voice in your head be a friend, not a bully. For your loved ones, express your love to them. Try to show them, not just tell them, that you love them.  And for complete strangers, just be kind. Showing kindness, patience,  appreciation and consideration is a form of expressing love.

And this world could always use a little bit more love.

 

About the author.

Liza J Alvarado is a professional counselor in private practice. She serves adolescents,  adults, and Spanish speaking families in the Lehigh Valley, PA area.

 

 

 

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Helping A Loved One Struggling With Mental Health

It can be confusing and frustrating when someone you care about is struggling with mental health symptoms and you don’t …

Talking With Your Kids About The Chaos In The World.

School shootings. Climate change. Poverty. Immigration issues. With all the chaos in the world, how do you explain it to …

THINKING STYLES KEEPING YOU IN A NEGATIVE LOOP

Everyone struggles with negative thinking from time to time. Some people have negative thinking 80% of their day. But how …