Category: Adult Mental Health

Brainwave Entrainment and Binaural Beats: Could They Help You?

I first discovered brainwave entrainment several months ago while desperately searching for something (ANYTHING!) to help my ADHD brain focus and be more productive at home and at work. As anyone in the mental health field can attest to, seeing and trying to help clients is only half of what we do. The rest of our time generally gets dedicated to documentation, and no or little focus doesn’t create productive progress note writing. At all. If you ever wonder why we always seem to look so darn busy, it’s because we seriously are! And other fields are finding themselves in similar conundrums. Paperwork and documentation are a large part of most people’s jobs in this day and age (ask any educator or business owner, or pretty much anyone else out there doing their best to make a living). Whether one has ADHD or not, the struggle is real!

So as I spent my time procrastinating, I happened to come upon a Udemy course on sale that day that assured me that they could increase my focus and productivity. I was skeptical, but it was on sale, and I was procrastinating… So I signed up. That’s when I first learned about one of the most effective productivity boosters and anxiety relievers I’ve ever been so fortunate to find. No prescription needed. Brainwave entrainment.

Brainwave entrainment actually isn’t a new concept. It’s been learned about and heavily researched for quite some time actually. The basic premise of brainwave entrainment is that by using certain tools and technologies, like binaural beats, isochronic tones, alpha waves, beta waves, and lots of other types of waves, for example, we can literally alter our brainwaves for the primary purpose of changing the way we feel or our current mood or behavior state. Oh yeah, I was intrigued.

Let’s say you have a very stressful job. Brainwave entrainment would allow you to be able to slow your brain down and operate from a more chilled-out perspective – legally! No drugs required. Or let’s say you’ve been assigned to brainstorm some new innovative ideas for work. You can use brainwave entrainment tools to change your brainwaves to help improve your concentration and actually enhance your creative juices. Need to study for that big college final exam? Brainwave entrainment can enhance your focus and studying so that you’re actually retaining all that information you’re reviewing. Any insomniacs out there? Brainwave entrainment can adjust your brainwaves to the same level they normally operate from when you do sleep, resulting in putting you to sleep in much less time.

There’s actually a lot of things you can use brainwave entrainment for. The research says that using brainwave entrainment tools and technologies, a number of mental and physical benefits can be attained or enhanced. To list a few:

  • pre-exercise energy
  • headache relief
  • hangover relief
  • pain relief
  • lower levels of anxiety
  • stress reduction
  • anger relief
  • improvement of concentration and focus (even in those of us who have been diagnosed with ADHD)
  • increased attention
  • memory boost
  • help with learning and studying
  • assist with improved problem-solving and brainstorming
  • improved critical thinking
  • improved lateral thinking
  • improved mental clarity
  • boost motivation
  • power nap assistance
  • deep sleep
  • lucid dreaming
  • night meditation
  • general relaxation
  • mindful meditation
  • assistance in waking up
  • improved confidence and self-esteem
  • enhanced creativity
  • boost in positive mood
  • improved energy levels
  • increased inspiration
  • improved insight
  • improved intuition
  • progressive brain training

To say I was amazed would be an understatement, but I was still pretty skeptical at first. Then I downloaded a couple binaural beats apps on my phone…

Binaural Beats

A binaural beat is an auditory illusion perceived when two different pure-tone sine waves, both with frequencies lower than 1500 Hz, and with less than a 40 Hz difference between them, are presented to a listener dichotically (one through each ear). The results can be so powerful, transformative, and healing, as your attention shifts left and right over your body’s midline. For anyone who has ever had EMDR therapy, crossing the midline is a major contributing factor to why it can be so effective.

Research shows that listening to binaural beats is an emerging and effective method to even stop migraines and aide in chronic pain treatment. Additionally, the healing frequencies of binaural beats are shown to help with symptoms of several other mental health conditions, including ADHD, anxiety, insomnia, and stress!

How Do Binaural Beats Work?

Find your headphones or ear buds and find a quiet place. Make sure that you use both ear buds, one in each ear. As explained by Banzai Labs, “This beat is indirectly perceived as opposed to directly heard since it’s below the range of human hearing. For each brainwave sequence, the frequency of this perceived beat has been engineered to precisely match a target brainwave frequency. The effect on the brainwaves depends on the difference in frequencies of each tone.”

Within minutes, the listener’s own brainwaves begin to fall into step with, and synchronize with, this binaural beat, inducing states ranging from intense concentration and focus to deep sleep. This synchronization process is referred to as “brainwave entrainment.”

Binaural Beats Apps

The best binaural apps will allow you to listen to your favorite music while the binaural beat plays behind it (remember, you can’t hear the beat). Other apps play sounds like ambient music in them, and yet others play various types of white noises or nature sounds. Which app you choose, should you decide to try brainwave entrainment, should be based on the type of music and/or sounds you prefer to hear and find most comfortable.

Personally, I find the binaural beat apps that allow me to sync my music playlists to the binaural beats more preferable than listening to rain and thunderstorms, but that’s just me. I work better listening to music I already know I like, but this is obviously a personal choice for everyone.

To find binaural beat apps, go to your phone’s App Store and search for “binaural beats.” You’ll find a number of these apps. I recommend reading the reviews and checking their ratings, as some seem to work better and are found more preferable than others. Also, decide what purpose you would like to use binaural beats to help you with. For instance, I sought out apps that specifically noted being able to help concentration and focus, creativity, anxiety relief, and stress relief. But if you’re an insomniac desperately wanting sleep, look for the apps that specify that they are for improved relaxation, mindfulness, and sleep. See, each binaural beat affects a different brainwave or set of brainwaves in your brain. If I’m looking to improve my focus but download a binaural beats app that specifies that it helps with sleep, those binaural beats apps are not going to help me in my desperate search to improve my concentration and be more productive.

My personal favorite binaural beats app is called Brain Wave 35 Binaural Series, which is one of the few binaural beats apps that does come at a cost (this particular one cost either $1.99 or $2.99 and the buyer gains permanent access to the app). 35 Binaural Brainwave Entrainment Programs has binaural beats for things like focus, memory, relaxation, sleep, power naps, mediation, energy, positive mood, anxiety relief, stress relief, relaxation, meditation, and much more. With this particular app, I’m able to play my choice binaural beats with ambience, nature sounds, or sync to my iTunes playlists. It can be used on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, so I also liked that I could use it on many devices. I also understand that one could use this app with Spotify or even with an Audio Book Reader; instructions are provided in the app description. (Please note, I am not affiliated in any way with the company that created this app, nor am I receiving any payment for endorsing its product; I just really like this app!)

Are There Any Potential Negative Side Effects to Listening to Binaural Beats?

Based on the current scientific research available, there are no serious risks or side effects of listening to binaural beats that have been reported. Obviously, you don’t want to listen at a very high volume, as high volumes can damage your ear drums. It is recommended that you use over-the-ear headphones if you have them to minimize any potential damage, the best being noise-cancelling headphones, but I personally just use the earbuds that my phone came with.

Realize, however, that people are very seldom deficient in a certain brainwave type in all areas of their brain. We’re all different when it comes to the distribution of our brainwaves. Boosting a certain brainwave state may be beneficial for one person, but emotionally uncomfortable for another. So, it can be rather “hit and miss.”

If brainwave entrainment leaves you with any rare, but unwanted side effects or discomfort, you’re probably encouraging a range of brainwaves that are already excessive in some area of your brain. If you’re concerned about this and would prefer, a way to get around this is to attain a brain map to see what your brain’s strengths and weaknesses are, and see what, if any, brainwaves could use some binaural beat encouragement.

BrainWorks Neurotherapy offers a few general guidelines to follow if you decide to use brainwave entrainment tools and technologies; following these are said to “greatly limit your risk of any discomfort:”

  • Don’t overdo it; most cases of any side effects come after overuse. A fifteen minute session is sufficient to begin (or 3-5 minutes if using audio/visual entrainment). Everyone reacts differently, and this will help you determine your sensitivity before jumping in.
  • If you experience increased anxiety, overwhelming subconscious images, convulsions, nausea, headaches, dizziness, or increased heartbeat, discontinue use immediately and permanently. Note that these types of rare reactions are more associated with using audio/visual entrainment tools, not the app types I’ve discussed in this article.
  • Do not use brainwave entrainment if you have any brainwave hyper-arousal or instability symptoms.

BrainWorks Neurotherapy does note that “the vast majority of people have no ill-effects from brainwave entrainment.” The most common side effect is simply feeling a little unusual for a while. If you do happen to experience any unwanted effects, stop using it, give it a few days, and you will return to normal.

50 Therapeutic Journal Prompts for Teens and Adults


The benefits of journaling have long been determined to be helpful for one’s mental health. Whether writing using fun, creative prompts or therapeutic prompts, writing can help integrate both sides of your brain, thus creating a more balanced version of you. Here are 50 prompts I use with my teen and young adult clients.

Journal Prompts for Teens and Adults

  1. What is the best compliment you have ever received?
  2. In your opinion, what is the best song ever written?
  3. If you could know one thing about the future, what would it be?
  4. What is something you feel nervous about right now?
  5. What is your happiest memory?
  6. What is something that you did that you are proud of?
  7. I get mad when…
  8. What calms you down when you get mad or upset?
  9. What is something that went right today/this week?
  10. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
  11. Name two ways you can show self-control at school, at work, or at home.
  12. What would be the title of your autobiography?
  13. If you had to pick one song to play continuously, non-stop, in the background of your life, what would it be?
  14. What is one item you can’t live without?
  15. If you could add, change, or cancel one rule in your school/work, what would it be?
  16. If you could add, change, or cancel one rule at home, what would it be?
  17. Who do you trust the most and why?
  18. Where do you feel the most safe and why?
  19. What is one word you would use to describe your family and why?
  20. How do you think others view you? Why?
  21. If you could travel back in time to three years ago and visit your younger self, what advice would you give yourself?
  22. What do you like the most about yourself?
  23. Tell about a time when you felt sad. What helped you get through it?
  24. What is the first symptom you notice when you feel mad? Stressed?
  25. Who is someone you consider a real-life hero and why?
  26. Who do you wish you had a better relationship with, and what would make it better?
  27. List 10 things that make you smile.
  28. When things seem tough, I want to remember ____.
  29. What is something that you have overcome?
  30. What do you think you life would look like if you didn’t have anxiety or depression (or something else)?
  31. Write the words that you need to hear.
  32. What does your best day look like?
  33. What would you like to be remembered for?
  34. Build a list of 15 songs that can help change your mood.
  35. Write about three of your best talents.
  36. List three things that you would do if you weren’t afraid.
  37. What are five things that help you feel better when things are difficult?
  38. Write about 10 things you are grateful for.
  39. What is your favorite memory?
  40. Choose one thing that triggers your anxiety or depression, and write about a few ways that you can combat this trigger.
  41. What makes you happy?
  42. How do you define yourself?
  43. What is one fun fact about yourself?
  44. What is going right in my life?
  45. What’s bothering me? Why?
  46. One goal I want to set for myself this month…
  47. What does success look like to you?
  48. What makes you feel truly alive?
  49. What do you want your life to look like in five years? 10 years?
  50. What am I afraid of? Why?

My Life in Detail: An Inside Perspective

C.C. has been one of my closest friends for a few years now. She deals with depression and anxiety on a daily basis, so when she contacted me, wanting to write about her experiences on my blog, I welcomed the idea with open arms. One of the reasons she has decided to share her story is to show people that anyone, no matter how normal or happy they may seem, can be going through a hard time.

 

To those of you who actually read this, it is going to be long and very emotional. The things that I have decided to write about are dark, but I feel like they need to be shared. I’m not usually one to talk about my feelings or my personal experiences. However, I feel like I need to talk about what has been going on in my life in order for me to continue to heal and make progress. I also feel like we, as humans, decide to run from the things that scare us the most, which is why I’ve decided to share my story. I also feel like even though we hear about depression, we don’t think it will happen to us or to the people closest to us.

I’ve struggled with depression since the age of ten when my dad passed away. It’s only gotten worse since then. I struggle with Major Depression and Generalized Anxiety on a daily basis. Even when I’m not in a depressive period, my anxiety is always around. My anxiety feeds into my depression, so when I fall into a depressive episode, my mind is overwhelmed with irrational and negative thoughts. They practically run my life and control my thoughts. For example, when someone tells me that they care, my brain will twist that thought and make it seems like people care only because they pity me. Not because they might actually mean what they say. I know that isn’t the truth by any means. It makes my relationships much more complicated and I tend to push people away instead of allowing them to know what is going on in my life. Pushing people away is easier than trying to explain what is going on inside of my head. Despite everything that was going in the right direction in my life, I always found the downside to everything. Instead of being thankful to make it through the day, I focused on everything that went wrong.

I try to protect the people closest to me. That’s why many of my friends don’t know what has been going on in my life and how bad things have been. Some of my friends and family don’t even know that each day is a struggle to make it through. I hide everything. The happy C.C many of you know, isn’t really happy. I try to make people laugh so they don’t know what’s really going on inside of my head. Just because I am okay today, does not mean I will be fine tomorrow. I deal with this on a daily basis and my mood can shift very quickly. Sometimes the smallest thing can send me into a depressive episode.

When I fall into that deep pit, things usually get very dark and become scary. Within the last three months, I have been downing in so much darkness that I couldn’t see any light. I was stuck in a bottomless pit and no matter how hard I fought my butt off, I couldn’t seem to climb out of that steep hole. Every time I tried to pull myself back up, I would fall further down. At one point, the darkness had consumed every portion of my life. The negativity twisted every thought in my head and made me feel like I had no one, even though I had and still have tons of people who care about me and would miss me if I were gone.

My mind likes to play tricks on me. Less than a month ago I was ready to end my life. My suicidal thoughts weren’t passive anymore, they had become active. In case if you don’t understand what that means, my thoughts became so persistent that I couldn’t think about anything else but ending my life. Passive thoughts usually pop into the brain but leave shortly after arriving. They carry no urgency. They don’t feel like they need to be acted upon. Active thoughts, however, are persistent. They consume your life. They make you believe that there are no other options. That killing yourself is the only way. They make you feel like you’re downing. They make you feel like you are suffocating; like you can’t catch your breath no matter how hard you try. I secluded myself from everyone and just the thought of being around people would send me into a panic attack. I hated my life. I had nothing to look forward too.

This depressive episode wasn’t like any other I had experienced so far. I had been this deep in the pit before, but I had always cared about the people around me and how much it would hurt them if I were to take my own life. This time was different. This time, I didn’t care about anyone but myself. I wanted the pain to stop; I needed the pain to stop. Nothing I was doing was working. I had one of my medications upped and I still hadn’t seen any change in my mood. This time, I was 100% ready to be selfish. This time, I was set on taking my life. I had thought about every way that I could possibly end my life in detail. I even had a plan for after I got out of the hospital, although I never went.

As many of you may not know, I have been to a psychiatric hospital before. I was a freshman in college at the time. College is supposed to be a fun experience. It’s supposed to be about making memories and finding friends that you may have for the rest of your life. My freshman year was anything but fun and exciting. It was full of stress and pressure and chaotic moments where my mood was so low I couldn’t even get out of bed. I wasn’t just sad. It wasn’t just something I could “get over.” My life didn’t feel like my own. I didn’t feel like I had any control over my mind. My thoughts were so cloudy and dark. I had relapsed with self-harm because I couldn’t cope any other way. Although, I’m not holding that against myself because I am only human, and I make mistakes. My junior year in college I had actually attempted to take my own life. I had taken a whole handful of sleeping pills, hoping that I would wake up and that all of the pain would be gone. I told my roommate what I had done, and she didn’t tell anyone. I wasn’t successful because if I were, I wouldn’t be here writing this today.

If it weren’t for one of the people from my support system I had become close too, (I have decided to leave her name out of this, so she can’t be identified) I wouldn’t be here today. She saved my life even though she crossed so many lines to do so. She put her entire career on the line just to make sure that I survived. She is truly the reason I am here. She encouraged me when I needed it the most. She listened to me while I cried uncontrollably, without judgement. She reached over the edge of the pit I was stuck in and was determined to pull me out.

So much has happened in these last three months. I did a genetic test to find out which medications would work for my depression and anxiety. The test determined that all of the medication I were on for my depression and anxiety were all wrong for me. That I was more likely to have the negative side effects to those medications because of my genetic makeup. Meaning, those warning labels on the side of the bottle for potential side effects pertained to me. The medications I was on were making me have increased suicidal thoughts and had increased my anxiety levels.

I was put on a new medication for my depression and was given something to make me sleep at night to help with my insomnia. I have managed to survive. I have pulled myself out of that dark pit, with the help of others of course. I have managed to open up more to people about what has been going on. I know none of these sound-like big steps, but to me, they are gigantic steps. I have made more progress with myself within the past three months then I have in years.

I’m writing about my experiences because I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to just “deal” with how they are feeling. I can personally say that you don’t just “get over” intense feelings such as depression. There is nothing wrong with having a mental illness. It does not make me or you any less of a person. It does not make me or you unqualified for jobs. It isn’t who we are. It doesn’t own us. In fact, I wouldn’t change my life in order to avoid my depression and anxiety. It has helped me be a better person. It helps me understand how someone going through the same situation may be feeling. It helps me relate to people on a different level than others may be able to relate. I don’t see my mental illness as a downfall anymore. If anything, I wear it as a badge of honor because I am still here. I have managed to live when I didn’t feel like I could. I survived and that deserves to be acknowledged.

I may have struggled, and I will continue to struggle when falling into these episodes, but I am choosing to focus on the positive things instead of all of the negative thing in my life. I am choosing to look on the bright side of my mental illness. I used to be ashamed to have a mental illness. I was embarrassed to have such dark thoughts. When in all actuality, almost every person we know in our lifetimes deals with some kind of mental illness. I think it is time for us to stop feeling like we can’t talk about the bad things that go through our minds because we are worried about being judged. No one is 100% happy all of the time. Everyone has their own struggles. We are humans and we are flawed, but that doesn’t mean we have to let that control who we want to be. You can make it. You are important. People do care about you, no matter how much your thoughts try to tell you otherwise. You deserve to be here. You deserve to live because life has so much in store for you.

52 Things I Love About You (A Keepsake to Make for Your Child That I Promise He’ll Treasure)

When my oldest son was seven-years-old I made him a “52 Things I Love About You” card deck. I placed a white label on each playing card of a new deck of cards and wrote something I loved about him on each card. My son is now twelve-years-old. I walked into his room a couple weeks ago and found the deck of cards lying on his desk and learned that he still sometimes gets them out and looks at them! I was surprised. My so-tough, strong-willed, almost-teenage son not only kept the cards I thoughtfully made for him all those years ago, he actually still pulls them out and looks at them!

After seeing how much the cards meant to my oldest son, I decided I would do the same thing for my youngest son, who is on the verge of turning six. This time I decided instead of using white labels and a sharpie, I would create a Word document to make my 52 labels for each of the cards.

At first the idea of thinking of 52 different positive things to say in general seemed a little overwhelming. It’s not that I wondered if I could come up with 52 things that I love about my son – give me time and I can come up with hundreds! But when you first sit and stare at your page of paper to do your brainstorming, it’s a little intimidating. Thus, I decided to use my Notes app on my cell phone and over the course of a couple hours, as I would think of something, I’d stop and make a note in my app. I personally found this much simpler and less intimidating than sitting at a blank sheet of paper or blank document on a computer screen. I was able to brainstorm 70 things (of the hundreds) that I love about my youngest child in no time!

That evening I sat and created a new Word document, inserted a table in the document and chose 52 of my brainstormed items to make sure to include in my deck of playing cards. After printing my table out, I cut each individual rectangle and glued one item onto each card with a glue stick. I also created a label for the card box: 52 Things I Love About JACK.

The next morning after my youngest woke up, I asked him to sit on my lap and I read each card to him while he alternated between looking at his new cards and hugging my neck, grinning from ear to ear.

I don’t know if he will save his cards like his stronger-willed older brother has, but it was definitely worth it just to be able to spend that time with him sharing so many of the special things I love about him. As I did with my oldest, I’ll get them out from time to time and read them to him again and again – because every kid deserves a reminder.

Variations

There are a number of ways you can vary this keepsake activity. You can use white labels and a Sharpie marker like I did with my oldest son. You could also just use a Sharpie marker to write on the actual cards themselves. If you want to get really crafty, you can print and cut out pictures to glue onto the individual cards. You can also hole punch your cards and bind them together with a ring or two to assure that the cards stay together.

Free Printable List of Ideas

For this post I typed up my initial 70-item brainstorming list to share in case anyone might need ideas or some help getting started. Just remember to personalize your own list for your child, as all of our kiddos are unique and special in their very own ways. Click below to see my own list.

52 Things I Love About You

Have fun!

Finding Your Passion

Passion (noun) – strong and barely controllable emotion

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

How I Found My Passion

It was in my senior year English class that I haphazardly figured out what I wanted to do with my life. Ms. Furkin was my Honor’s English teacher that year, and I was taking the course for dual credit – high school and college. She gave this crazy, what seemed like an almost childish assignment: to make a coat of arms. We were to section the shield into six individual spaces, and I honestly can’t remember what any of the sections were supposed to depict except for one: what we wanted to do with our lives if we could do anything – ANYTHING – in the world.

Most people used that space to draw or somehow otherwise symbolize their future career choices. I almost did too. But with more thought, I for some reason decided to be more ambitious and share what I really wanted to do: change the world. I drew a picture of the earth and with me standing beside it with a magic wand, poofing the change I wanted to see in the world.

It was just a simple picture, but it depicted something raging inside of me that I could no longer hold back. I didn’t have the best of childhoods, and everything I was seeing evolve around me…. well, it stunk. There was never any good news on the television or radio. My high school sweetheart’s brother had just died the year before in a horrible car accident with four others; he was only nineteen. I knew without a doubt that all I really wanted to do was somehow change the world. I had no idea how I was going to do it, but the very picture I drew that day is still as clear as the keyboard and screen in front of me today.

The cool thing was that when my assignment was returned to me, Ms. Furkin herself told me that she knew that somehow I’d figure out a way to change the world. Maybe she was just being nice, but to me, it was all I could do not to cry. Someone believed in me. Someone believed in my dream, my passion. I showed the assignment to my previous English teacher, Mr. Willis. He looked at me in all seriousness and told me he believed if anyone could do it, I could.

Needless to say, I had amazing English teachers in high school. They were tough but more sincere than anyone else I’ve ever met. To know that these people believed in me was just the motivation I needed to pursue what became my passion in life. Everything I’ve intentionally done in my life has been toward the pursuit of somehow changing the world. I still don’t know how to really do it, but when I think about whether I want to do something or not, I think about how I can somehow achieve this goal.

I’m older now and not naive. I know that there’s probably no chance that I’ll be able to somehow change the whole world. But I’ve learned that by helping to change one thing at a time, or helping one person at a time, I truly am changing the world… one act of kindness at a time.

What is passion?

Passion is defined as a strong and barely controllable emotion by the Oxford Dictionary of English. It is something that is desired intensely and may (or may not) involve what seem like irrational but irresistible actions.
I don’t know why I have the passion I do, but I’m sure it has to do with my past experiences and how they’ve molded me into the person I am. I want to be the person I needed when I was younger. I want to help the person who needs encouragement or a couple of dollars or a hot meal. I want children to know that they’re not alone because I know what it feels like to feel that loneliness. If someone is cold and needs a blanket or shelter, I want to help them, because for me, this is how I change the world.
One thing I know for sure is that this passion burns inside of me and even in my darkest moments, it just won’t die. We all have that spark for something. Figure out what it is, and let it guide you moment to moment.
I’m fortunate. I get paid for my passion. I was able to figure out what I love and what it is that burns inside me, and I made it my job. It is my calling.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

What is your passion?

Pay attention to each moment of your life. Take time to notice where you are. Pay attention to how you feel. In order to find your passion(s) and discover what you truly love, you have to let yourself feel your emotions.

Stop thinking about others for a bit. If you’re trying to find YOUR passion, you’ve got to let it be YOUR passion, not your parents’ passion for you, not your spouse’s passion for you, not anyone else’s vision of what you’re supposed to be or what you’re supposed to be doing. To find YOUR passion, you’ve got to think about yourself in order to figure it out.

Who are you? Get to know who you are. One piece of advice I’ve heard is to get to know yourself as if you were dating you… and fall in love with yourself while you’re at it.

Finally, think, if you could do anything in the world – ANYTHING – what would it be? Make a coat of arms if you need to. 🙂

 

 

53 Grounding Techniques for PTSD, Dissociation, & Anxiety

Working through trauma can be scary, painful, and potentially overwhelming. It’s common for people who have experienced trauma to have coped at least in part through some degree of dissociation. While dissociation was necessary for your survival then, continued dissociation, especially forms that are not within your control, is not adaptive once the abuse or other trauma has stopped. Now you have the task of staying present long enough to learn other means of establishing safety in the present. But how does someone who has relied on the automatic survival skill of dissociation learn to do this? Grounding is a skill that can help. In trauma therapy, learning grounding skills so that you can be present enough to develop a whole range of self-care strategies is crucial.

Grounding is about learning to stay present (or get present in the first place) in your body in the here and now. It consists of a set of tools to help you manage dissociation and the overwhelming trauma-related emotions that lead to it. Processing done from a dissociated state is not useful in trauma therapy; neither is it helpful to be so overwhelmed by feelings that you feel re-traumatized.

Grounding techniques can also be useful for those who may not have necessarily experienced past trauma. I recommend using many of these techniques for those struggling with anxiety and with controlling their anger reactions.

Every person is different, and different grounding techniques will work for different people. Some basic internet research and years of experience have led me to compile the following list of grounding techniques. Exploring the pros and cons of various approaches with your therapist can be useful.

  1. Practice the following sensory exercise:
    • Name 5 things you see. (I see a dresser, a bed, and a TV stand.)
    • Name 4 things you feel. (I feel the sheets between my fingers, a blister on my toe, the heat blowing from the vent, and a cat lying by my side.)
    • Name 3 things you hear. (I hear the rain falling, a baby crying, and cars driving down the road.)
    • Name 2 things you smell. (I smell flowers and coffee.)
    • Name 1 thing you taste. (I taste the coffee I drank earlier.)
  2. Bring up today’s newspaper on the web. Note the date and read something fun.
  3. Read something, saying each word to yourself. Or read each letter backward so that you focus on the letters and not on the meaning of the words.
  4. Smells are an incredibly powerful way of coming to our senses. If you’re deliberately paying attention to a smell, you’re truly in the present moment. Try to find a smell that has positive associations for you – maybe one that reminds you of happy times, or a smell which you enjoy. Carry it with you and use it to bring yourself back to the present moment if you get caught up in an unwanted memory. Helpful smells might include small bottles of essential oils, perfume soaked on a tissue, whole spices from the kitchen, etc.
  5. Breathe in a scent not related to your trauma.
  6. Practice diaphragmatic breathing (“belly breathing”). Trauma survivors and anxious individuals often hold their breath or breathe very shallowly. This in turn deprives you of oxygen which can make your symptoms more intense. Stopping and focusing on deepening and slowing your breathing can bring you back to the moment.
  7. Practice this relaxed breathing exercise:
    • Breathe in slowly and steadily through your nose for a count of 4 – don’t rush this.
    • Pause for a count of 1.
    • Exhale slowly and steadily for a count of 4. Breathe out gradually; try not to breath out with a sigh.
    • Repeat for a few minutes until you notice a change in how your body feels.
    • If you get distracted, of if your mind wanders, just bring your attention back to how it feels to breathe in and out.
  8. Trace your hands around your body and notice its outline. Experience the wonder that is your presence in the world.
  9. Play a “categories” game with yourself. Try to think of “types of dogs,” “rock musicians,” etc.
  10. Call a friend and have a chat.
  11. If you’re feeling stuck, change your position. Wiggle your fingers, tap your feet – pay attention to the movement; you are in control of your body right here, right now.
  12. Find the rainbow. Look around you and find each color, in order of the rainbow (remember ROY G BIV). Repeat until you feel calm.
    • Red
    • Orange
    • Yellow
    • Green
    • Blue
    • Indigo
    • Violet
  13. Eat or drink something; notice it. Is it hot or cold? Sweet or sour?
  14. Run cool or warm water over your hands.
  15. Hold a small stone, shell, piece of small wood, or worry beads; touch and look at what you’re holding.
  16. Imagine. Use an image:
    • Glide along on skates away from your pain.
    • Change the TV channel to get a better show.
    • Think of a wall as a buffer between you and your pain.
  17. Meditate.
  18. Practice a relaxation technique, like progressive muscle relaxation or guided imagery.
  19. Use distractions like TV or music to settle down.
  20. Listen to calming music.
  21. Move to a safe and comforting body position, like leaning against a wall or curling up.
  22. Use your voice. Say your name out loud or read the first paragraph of a book out loud.
  23. Utilize a tactile grounding exercise. This can be done by holding an ice cube in your hand, taking a cold shower, or snapping a rubber band on your wrist. Many people find that the discomfort helps them reconnect with the present mement.
  24. Look at yourself in a mirror and smile, even if it’s the last thing you want to do. Notice how you feel. What can you see? Note any negative thoughts in a diary or journal for later examination.
  25. Write out what’s going on/what you’re anxious about. Keep writing until you notice a difference.
  26. Take a shower or bath and notice how the sensation of the water feels.
  27. Write an email/text to somebody you care about.
  28. Describe an everyday activity in great detail. For example, describe the meal you last cooked for dinner.
  29. Imagine yourself in a comfortable, familiar place: notice, feel, and enjoy its safety.
  30. Take a look outside. Count the number of trees, the number of street signs, etc.
  31. Exercise. Jump up and down on the spot; do yoga; go for a bike ride or walk.
  32. Hold on to something comforting – a blanket or a stuffed toy.
  33. Laugh, even if it’s hard. The act of laughing can break the cycle of despair.
  34. When less stressed, make a list of things that provoke your anxiety. Discuss with your therapist.
  35. Lie on the floor with your legs up and against the wall. This is a restorative pose that is beneficial to the health of your heart, giving it a rest so it doesn’t have to pump as hard; it also helps to slow down your heart rate, leaving you feeling more relaxed with a calmer sense of mind. Spend 5 minutes here noticing the natural rhythm of your breath.
  36. Stretch. Roll your head around; extend your fingers…
  37. Walk around using self-talk to remind yourself of your name, the date, and the words of a positive song or poem.
  38. Walk slowly. Notice each footstep, saying “left” or “right.”
  39. Think of favorites. Think of your favorite color, animal, season, food, time of day, etc.
  40. Grab tightly onto your chair as hard as you can.
  41. List 5 really positive things in your life. Put the list somewhere you will see it so as to remind you that there is more to your life than panic and anxiety.
  42. Write a “grounding statement” to remind yourself that you’re safe; these help to remind us that we are safe in the present when unwanted memories in PTSD make us mentally “time travel” back to the trauma. You can carry the statement around with you and read it if you become upset. Useful statements talk about safety, or remind you of what is different now compared to then. Examples might include:
    • It is 2018, and I am safe. My trauma happened a long time ago and I survived.
    • My trauma happened in the past, and I am only remembering it now. The memories upset me, but they are just memories; they cannot hurt me.
  43. Think about your last week. Was there a day you didn’t have as much anxiety? Why? What was different? What did you change or do differently?
  44. Touch various objects around you: a pen, keys, your clothing…
  45. Dig your heels into the floor-literally “grounding” them. Notice the tension centered in your heels as you do this. Remind yourself you are connected to the ground.
  46. Carry a grounding object in your pocket, which you can touch whenever you feel triggered.
  47. Remember a safe place. Describe the place that you find so soothing.
  48. Pet your dog or other pet.
  49. Chew gum. If it’s bubble gum, blow bubbles.
  50. Stomp your feet on the ground.
  51. Imagine yourself by the ocean and visualize the waves going in and out.
  52. Do some gardening, or simply lie on the ground or lean against a solid tree to feel the earth’s solidity.
  53. Eating foods that are heavy in carbohydrates, such as bread, rice, and pasta can help ground you.

 

References:

www.healthyplace.com/blogs/treatinganxiety/2010/09/top-21-anxiety-grounding-techniques/

https://psychologytools.com/grounding-techniques.html

www.highanxieties.org

http://establishing-a-new-normal.tumblr.com/post/88538199798/types-of-grounding-techniques-for-ptsd-anxiety

 

Spend Meaningful Quality Time with Your Child while Instilling Kindness: 45 Random Acts of Kindness You Can Do with Your Child This Week

While checking out Facebook one day, I found a great video by Kristina Kuzmic in which she suggested an awesome activity to do with your kids. The video showed her and one of her children spending some good quality time together driving around town (which in itself is a good way to connect with your kid) and finding different ways they could do random acts of kindness together.

If you don’t know who Kristina Kuzmic is, I strongly recommend checking her out! Kristina is energetic and she’s really funny while she offers her perspective on issues of parenting and life in general. She does “mom-centric” videos about raising children and juggling all of life’s challenges. She really is great! And the video I watched about how she spends some good one-on-one time with her kids (individually) especially inspired me!

We all hope to instill kindness in our children. And we all know the benefits of spending good quality one-on-one time with our kids. Kristina’s idea offers both! After watching her video, I knew I had to give it a try with my own children. I have two kids – both boys – who are always vying for mom’s attention. Spending one-on-one time with each child can be challenging. Either we don’t have the opportunity or we aren’t quite sure what to do together – at least this is a roadblock I’ve found in raising only boys.

Okay, enough introduction. Let’s get to the acts of kindness ideas, right?! The following ideas are all free or pretty affordable, hence why you can do most of these acts this week if you want to – there’s no prerequisite of having a lot of money.

My challenge for you is to pick a time this week that you can spend some one-on-one time with your own child, then together choose at least three random acts of kindness to do during your special time. Brownie Points: Do something like this once or twice a month if you’re able! Hope you have fun!

photo courtesy of Pixabay

Random Acts of Kindness You Can Do with Your Child This Week

  1. Leave happy notes around town.
  2. Go to a fast food restaurant and grab a bite to eat. If you see someone sitting alone, strike up a conversation and maybe even eat lunch with them!
  3. Help an elderly neighbor take out the trash, mow their lawn, or shovel snow.
  4. Bring a box of donuts to the school custodians or drop them off at a local fire station.
  5. Spend time together making and/or filling out cards to send to soldiers serving in the military.
  6. Bake cookies together and deliver them to a neighbor.
  7. Donate warm coats or blankets to the homeless shelter.
  8. Surprise an older person or couple with dinner. (Drop it off, don’t stay.)
  9. Find someone who looks like they’ve had a bad day and give them a gift card. ($5 for coffee or an ice cream cone)
  10. Offer your child’s teacher your services and help clean or do other tasks for him/her together for the day.
  11. With your child, go through their old toys and donate those in good condition to a charity or local children’s hospital.
  12. Put together care packages for the homeless and distribute them together (either to a shelter or on the street handing them out to those you see in your own town).
  13. Put together care packages for children who have to stay in the hospital (a small stuffed animal, a coloring book, some crayons, etc.); distribute them together.
  14. Put together care packages for parents of children who have to stay in the hospital (toiletries, a word search book with a pencil, a $5 gift card for coffee at the hospital’s cafeteria).
  15. Make breakfast together and bring it to your child’s school teacher.
  16. Fulfill an angel tree request together.
  17. Go to a nursing home together and visit – if it’s a holiday, take something related to the special day and pass them out to tennants (like candy canes).
  18. Leave one dollar bills around a dollar store.
  19. Donate coloring books to a hospital or doctor’s office waiting room, distributing them together.
  20. Take the neighbor’s dog for a walk together.
  21. Challenge each other to smile at every single person you see for one whole day!
  22. Write thank you notes to special people in your lives.
  23. Have a bake sale and donate your earnings to a local charity.
  24. Leave some extra money in vending machines (or tape it to the outside) with a note that says “This treat’s on us!”
  25. Have your child go with you while you donate blood, showing them how easy and how important it is to do it.
  26. Babysit for a single parent or for a couple who desperately needs a date night; babysit together!
  27. Pick up litter together.
  28. If you both can carry a tune, go door to door and offer to do some Christmas caroling.
  29. Challenge each other to compliment at least 5 people in one day.
  30. If it’s Christmastime, help someone (or some place) in your area wrap Christmas gifts.
  31. Go to a local grocery store and together, round up carts and put them in the cart bins or take them inside so they’re not scattered and wandering around the parking lot.
  32. Recycle together.
  33. Wash someone’s car together.
  34. Go to the animal shelter together and offer to walk the dogs.
  35. Bury treasure at a local playground.
  36. Write positive chalk messages on the sidewalk together so you can brighten others’ day.
  37. Donate food to the food pantry.
  38. Tape change to parking meters.
  39. Go to the children’s hospital and offer to read books or otherwise volunteer together.
  40. Sing songs together at a nursing home.
  41. Make get well cards for children at a local hospital.
  42. Make kindness stones together and leave them at a local park.
  43. Volunteer at a soup kitchen together.
  44. Collect books for the library.
  45. Participate in a YOU MATTER Marathon. Click on the link to learn more!

70 Silly Art Journal Prompts for Kids, Teens, and Adults

In my last post, I gave you 55 Art Journal Prompts for Teens, a collection of some of my favorite prompts to use with my clients, as well as for myself. Art journaling can be incredibly therapeutic, and you don’t have to be Picasso to do it. Everyone has some creativity living inside them!

For this post I want to give you some silly art journal prompts, which I also make sure to give to my clients in addition to the more serious ones. It’s important to have fun. It’s important to allow yourself to be silly sometimes. Not everything in therapy (or outside of therapy) has to necessarily have some deep meaning attached to it except for the mere fact that it’s just something fun to do. Seriously, this is an important part of taking care of you. Everyone should make time for play (and I’m not just talking about kids and teenagers right now)!

So here are some of my favorite silly art journal prompts – be sure to definitely give some of these a try!

Silly Art Journal Prompts

  1. Draw you, as an animal, shooting down the moon.
  2. Draw a cat who’s dressed for an interview.
  3. Draw an agitated dog with aggressive body language.
  4. Draw an internet troll.
  5. Draw powerful spirits disguised as kittens.
  6. Draw your dream pet in his pajamas.
  7. Draw a fruity ninja.
  8. Draw a camel surfing the waves.
  9. Combine two animals to create a new one.
  10. Draw a shark eating a cupcake.
  11. Draw a dinosaur at a birthday party.
  12. Draw a horse throwing a horseshoe.
  13. Draw a koala bear sitting on a trash can.
  14. Draw a squirrel roasting a marshmallow around a campfire.
  15. Draw a butterfuly eating a steak.
  16. Draw a cat chasing a dog.
  17. Draw a dog playing ping pong.
  18. Draw your teacher (or boss) eating pizza while dancing.
  19. Draw your teacher (or boss) as a zombie.
  20. Draw yourself with a super power.
  21. Draw yourself as a fairy.
  22. Draw a Pop Tart lifting weights with a cow.
  23. Draw a food eating another food.
  24. Draw a dancing taco wearing a sombrero.
  25. Draw an annoying orange.
  26. Draw a turkey leg eating a turkey sandwich.
  27. Draw a banana in pajamas.
  28. Draw a donut talking to your teacher (your boss).
  29. Draw a garden of lollipops.
  30. Draw an ice cream cone eating a Popsicle.
  31. Draw yourself as a spoiled brat.
  32. Draw a super scary Valentine’s Day card.
  33. Draw a design for a $3 bill.
  34. Draw a pencil sharpener eating something other than a pencil.
  35. Draw a starfish eating a bowl of cereal under the sea.
  36. Draw a pair of scissors running.
  37. Draw your own version of Mount Rushmore.
  38. Draw your teacher (or boss) as a pirate captain.
  39. Draw a battle elf.
  40. Draw a troll riding a unicorn.
  41. Draw what your imaginary friend would look like if we could see them.
  42. Draw a dragon breathing rainbows.
  43. Combine two holidays to make a new one.
  44. Draw the moon fighting the sun over a turkey sandwich.
  45. Draw a crime scene where a donut lost its donut hole.
  46. Draw something really gross.
  47. Draw the moon howling at a wolf.
  48. Draw your name as an animal.
  49. Draw a modest unicorn taking a shower.
  50. Draw your teacher (or boss) in a fight with a small animal.
  51. Draw something from your pet’s point of view.
  52. Draw a dog taking its human for a walk.
  53. Draw the most adorable animal you can imagine.
  54. Draw the most terrifying animal you can imagine.
  55. Draw your teacher (or boss) as an adorable, cuddly animal.
  56. Draw the oldest thing in your refrigerator.
  57. Draw you, getting the last laugh.
  58. Draw your teacher (or boss) as one of Snow White’s dwarves.
  59. Draw a mysterious man in a sharp business suit.
  60. Draw a ballet dancer in a striking pose.
  61. Draw your teacher (or boss) sitting on a bench with a pigeon as they share an ice cream cone.
  62. Draw a shy mouse doing her grocery shopping.
  63. Draw a vampire astronaut.
  64. Draw an unenthusiastic fast food employee.
  65. Draw peanut butter eating a jelly sandwich.
  66. Draw a girl with chocolate skin and cotton candy hair.
  67. Draw a frantic tiger who sees that he’s losing his stripes.
  68. Draw your teacher (or boss) as a Lego figure.
  69. Draw a goldfish driving a racecar.
  70. Draw a snail on a skateboard successfully getting away from a curious puppy.
 
Have fun!

55 Art Journal Prompts for Teens

In counseling children and teenagers, I must tell you that I’ve seen some incredible talent. Some kids are talented musically, some are talented in sports, some are great writers, others are great artists, and some can tell you every country’s capital as though it were as easy as making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. In every kid I’ve ever worked with, I’ve found an amazing amount of creativity flourishing inside them.

creativity (noun) – the use of the imagination or original ideas

Everyone is creative in their own way. Don’t believe me? Those kids who can rattle off facts like it’s nothing to them? They had to use some creativity in order to be able to memorize and remember those facts, such as using mnemonics or using music. You have to be creative in different ways if you play a sport, remembering all the moves and such.

I hear a lot of kids (and adults, especially) tell me that they’re not creative. They think that because someone told them back in second grade that their drawing wasn’t “good enough” that they themselves are not “good enough.” I say those people that told you that don’t know what creativity is. Everyone is creative!

 

There’s something cool about using art in therapy. Please note that while I know some various art therapy techniques, I am not a fully trained or certified art therapist. I do, however, use quite a bit of creative expressive techniques in my work as a therapist. One technique I use to help show people that they are creative and that creative expression is remarkably healing is assigning them to journal. Whether it’s through writing, music, art, or any other creative expressive technique, we can find healing in our lives.

Let me say that you don’t have to be an “artist” to do an art journal. There is no “wrong” way to do art; there is no “bad artist.” Art is an outlet for the thoughts from your soul to your hands and onto paper. For art journaling, you can draw, you can color, you can paint, you can collage… the possibilities are endless. I’ve included in this post some of my favorite art journaling prompts that I use especially with teens (and even adults!). Please note that just because the prompt might say “draw,” doesn’t mean you have to draw. If you’d rather collage or do some other form of creative expression (like knitting or writing or sculpting, etc.), you can still use these prompts! Don’t overthink them. Just let yourself be in the moment and do it. Draw in the dark if you think you’re “not a good artist!” Just let yourself be. Just try it.

55 Art Journal Prompts for Teens

  1. Draw a picture of yourself as something other than a person.
  2. Draw a picture of your family doing something.
  3. My perfect day looks like…
  4. Draw the monster you struggle with (i.e., anxiety as a monster, anger monster, depression monster).
  5. Make a picture of the person you let other people see and a picture of the person you really are.
  6. Draw a picture of how you think others see you.
  7. What makes me unique…
  8. I feel happiest when…
  9. I wish I could…
  10. Draw or paint your emotions.
  11. Create a picture using only colors that calm you.
  12. Create a collage related to a quote that inspires you.
  13. Create a picture of what freedom looks like to you.
  14. Document an experience where you did something you didn’t think you could do.
  15. Draw or collage someone you admire.
  16. Draw a place where you feel safe.
  17. Create a motivational collage.
  18. Create a timeline and journal the most significant moments in your life, with the most important moments highlighted visually.
  19. Create a picture of an important childhood memory. Try to understand why it was so important to you.
  20. Illustrate a fairy tale about yourself. If you could put yourself into a happily ever after situation, what role would you play? How would the story go? Create a visual story that tells the tale.
  21. Create your own coat of arms. Choose symbols that represent your strengths.
  22. Draw a comic strip about a funny moment in your life.
  23. Create a picture for someone else.
  24. Who are the anchors in your life? Make an anchor and decorate it with the people and things that provide you stability and strength.
  25. Make a mind map that is a visual representation of all your thoughts.
  26. Draw your dreams.
  27. What do you need right now at this time in your life? Draw a picture or make a collage depicting this.
  28. Draw or collage a picture showing what you are currently worried about.
  29. What smartphone app would you like to create or see created? Represent this visually.
  30. If magic was real, what spell would you try to learn first?
  31. What problem are you currently grappling with?
  32. Create a picture of what helps you feel better when you’re feeling down.
  33. What is something you really wish you could tell or explain to your family?
  34. What is something you really wish you could tell or explain to the teachers at your school?
  35. What is something you really wish you could tell the other kids at school?
  36. What do you wish would get better?
  37. Draw your superpower (or the superpower you would like to have).
  38. Create a vision board.
  39. What is your good luck charm?
  40. Draw a picture of something that is better broken than whole.
  41. What do you need help with right now?
  42. What question are you afraid to ask?
  43. What people or activities leave you feeling drained?
  44. Create a picture of how you would like your home to feel.
  45. Draw or collage 10 things that make you feel loved.
  46. Design your own logo.
  47. Create a picture depicting what keeps you up at night.
  48. If I really loved myself I would…
  49. I’m afraid people won’t like/love/accept/want me if they knew ____ about me.
  50. If you came across a genie in a bottle who could grant you three wishes of anything at all in the world that you want, except for more wishes, what would you wish for?
  51. Create a picture of what everything would look like if you woke up tomorrow and everything was better.
  52. I think I’m really good at…
  53. Draw a picture of where you would be if you could be anywhere right now.
  54. What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
  55. Draw a self-portrait WITHOUT drawing your face (make it symbolic).

There you go. Have fun! 

The Worry Worm Game

Children with anxiety sometimes have a hard time opening up about what they’re worried or anxious about. Enter the worry worms. Worry worms are simply construction (or cardstock) paper worms that look like… well, little worms. I use them in play therapy, but you can easily make your own worms at home and play the worry worm game.

The Game

Worry worms are pretty easy to make. Simply draw or trace a worm onto brown construction paper (or cardstock paper works well too). Make several worms, and cut each of them out. Wa-la! Worry worms! I laminate my worms, simply because this allows me to keep them durable for multiple children to play with.

Next I hide these little guys (the worms) around the room for the child to find. For each worry worm the child finds, they are asked to tell one worried thought they have or have had.

Simple right?

It looks like a game of hide-and-seek to them, but let me tell you what really happens when you play the worry worm game:

  • The child is identifying their worried feelings. This is a huge thing. The mastery of this skill is a major foundation to helping children learn how to cope and regulate their emotions.
  • The child is able to begin tolerating the idea and practice of sharing uncomfortable thoughts out loud because they are motivated by the challenge, reward, and fun of finding the hidden worms.
  • The game itself offers a titrated set of exposures to anxiety producing content that is completed while remaining grounded in the safety of the worm prop.
Have fun playing the worry worm game! Do you have ideas or strategies that you use to help kids talk about their feelings? Please feel free to share in the comments. I’m always looking for new ideas to use in the playroom!

 

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