Panic Attacks – When Anxiety Makes It Hard to Breathe

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I had my first panic attack as an adult, not as a teen –  and it was a very frightening experience. 

My heart was racing. It felt like my throat was closing; like I couldn’t breathe. My thoughts were all over the place. Not knowing what to do created more panic… Thankfully I had a wonderful support person who I was able to reach out to and she calmly stayed with me until it passed. I don’t even remember exactly what she said to me – something simple, in a calm, gentle tone.

Having a panic attack can be terrifying for your teen. They are stress and anxiety responses that spiral into a really intense physical response that can include a racing heart, quick/shallow/rapid breathing, shaking, nausea, racing thoughts, and feelings of doom (thinking they are having a heart attack or even dying).

Generally, panic attacks only last for a few minutes, with some lasting as long as 10 – 15 minutes. However, the intensity of the symptoms for your teen can make it feel like they are much longer – forever.

Panic attacks are hard on your teen emotionally, physically, and psychologically. And well hard on you as a parent, knowing your teen is paralyzed with fear in those moments. Let’s take a look at what causes them, how to work through them, and ways to prevent them.

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What causes panic attacks?

There are some potential medical causes for panic attacks – stuff going on with your teen’s thyroid, respiratory disorders, etc. The Mayo Clinic lists some of the potential medical causes HERE. If your teen has experienced more than a couple panic attacks (they are happening regularly) or there is a sudden increase in the frequency, it’s important that they see a medical physician to consider underlying physical conditions .

If there are no medical reasons for your teen’s panic attack(s), the cause is often a response to anxious thoughts and stress. Your teen may have triggering events or circumstances that they find to be extremely stressful – such as crowded areas or school hallways, if social situations increase their anxiety. Triggers could also look like performance anxiety – when an important school test is coming up, or lots of assignments and deadlines, the overall anxiety can cause a panic attack as well. I’ve had teens I work with that respond to family arguments – continuous fighting – with panic attacks.

When panic attacks need further attention.

Some of the teens I work with have anticipatory panic about having another panic attack, which can ramp up into another panic attack. They worry about having a panic attack in a public space or somewhere they don’t feel safe, where they can’t get away or escape.

Others avoid situations and experiences with fear that they will have an anxiety attack – going to school,  social situations, things they used to enjoy doing, etc.

If your teen is avoiding these things, or fearing panic attacks in the future, looking into resources and support is definitely something you’ll want to look into. At Pyramid Psychology we offer therapy, as well as a coaching program designed specifically for anxiety. You can take a look at both HERE.

Panic disorders are good to be aware of as well – recognizing when your teen may be struggling beyond a reaction to anxious thoughts. Symptoms and descriptions of some panic orders are listed HERE. Seek support from a medical physician if you feel your teen may have a panic disorder.

How to support your teen during a panic attack.

Supporting your teen during a panic attack can be frightening for you, too.

Here are six strategies that may be helpful for your teen during a panic attack:

  1. Find a calm, quiet space. Not all teens will want to leave the space where they are, so you check in with your teen on what they would prefer if another panic attack occurs. Generally speaking, a change of environment is a good option. A safe space could be their bedroom, or if they’re at school, a zen room, or quiet spot in the counsellor’s office, etc.
  2. Tap into the five senses. Ask your teen to notice things around them, using their senses. What can they hear in the room? See? Hear? Etc.
  3. Breathing techniques. There are a few breathing exercises your teen can do the moment to slow their breathing, and pull their focus from the anxiety such as five finger breathing or box breathing. You can also ask your teen to put one of their hands on their chest and one on their abdomen – breathe in for four seconds if possible, hold, and breathe out for seven (physically slowing their breathing down).

It’s important to note that breathing techniques may be too hard for your teen at the peak of a panic attack. A good rule of thumb is to revert to the five senses exercise above, if breathing is triggering your teen further.

  1. Imagery. This is a strategy you’ll want to set up before the panic occurs. It is also called a mental vacation. Encourage your teen pick a favourite place, image, or memory that brings them calm and peace. They can imagine what space is like, what they are doing, seeing, hearing, etc. To feel the emotions of that place or memory. 

One of my mental vacation pictures is camping. I picture looking at the vast sky full of stars, hearing the fire crackling and smelling the marshmallows melting. I immediately go to a state of feeling calmer. To go to that mental vacation state your teen can come up with a keyword that can remind them of their place or memory – like repeating the word “camping” over and over during the panic attack, to help pull them through it.

  1. Support person. Having someone nearby for your teen, a person that can be a calm, consistent, relaxed presence can be helpful for them. This person might be a parent, sibling, friend at school, or other safe adult. Their role is just to be there, not to say too much – keep it simple things like “I’m here, you’re going to be okay, you’re safe”. Your teen’s support person can offer a glass of water. Or,  if touch feels safe and comfortable, they can have their hand on your teen’s shoulder or lap.
  2. Grounding. Not the bad kind that your teen hates. Grounding is doing things that help your teen be in the present moment- Stopping the spiral of panic. Small things can be done to help ground your teen – drinking a glass of water, they can try rubbing their knees, tapping their feet, alternating left and right. Counting is another strategy to try – counting backwards, or slowly counting to ten. 

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These acts will help your teen’s brain connect back to the thinking part of the brain (their prefrontal cortex) whereas in panic mode, their brain is completely hijacked by their emotions and survival mode.

It’s important to talk about these strategies with your teen, and try different ones. Every teen is different – and it’s important to find what works for them.

Reducing the chances of a panic attack.

There are things you can do – habits your teen can create – that can reduce the chances of a panic attack from occurring:

  • Limit the amount of stimulants – caffeine, drugs, alcohol (depressant with some stimulant effects), and nicotine in your teens system, as these things can contribute to panic attacks. Keeping things like vaping, cigarettes  etc. off the table as much as possible – with zero use being ideal.
  • Daily exercise and body movement is important for your teen. The release of endorphins is very beneficial and effective at reducing stress held in the body.
  • Relaxation techniques can be done on a regular basis (not just during a panic attack). Becoming a pro at practicing relaxation can go a long way to reducing the chances of a panic attack for your teen. Here are some techniques you can suggest to your teen:
    1. A little bit of yoga each day
    2. Stretching
    3. Taking a few moments to meditate
    4. Practicing calm breathing techniques.
    5. Laying down in their bed with no distractions. Just being.
    6. Progressive muscle relaxation
    7. Body scan from head to toe – what are they noticing in the different parts of their body?
  • Learning about panic attacks can bring clarity and understanding for both you and your teen; knowing what’s happening in the body.
  • Ensure your teen is connected to friends, family, support people etc. These relationships can reduce stress overall.
  • Sleep is a big one – make sure your teen is rested as much as possible. When your teen is not rested, it increases the chances of a panic attack. 

The Happiness Pill Program

As a teen life coach, I know it can take a lot out of you – and your teen – when they are experiencing intense responses to anxious thoughts, such as panic attacks. It can be exhausting, lonely, and frightening to see your teen so completely overwhelmed and stressed.

I created a 6-month coaching program for teens so they can not only survive the uncomfortable, difficult situations they experience with anxiety, but to thrive in their life. 

The parent component focuses on giving YOU the tools to navigate anxiety alongside your teen while building their resilience to create a life of joy and happiness! You have access to a community of parents like you and a place to gather tools and resources to ensure you are equipped with the very best for your teen.

Check out The Happiness Pill Program HERE. And when you’re ready to move your teen through anxiety and into joy, send us an email at info@pyramidpsychology.com

Love,

Chantal 

 


portrait of Chantal outside in a fieldChantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

Six Ways to Support Your Teen with Social Anxiety Disorder

Did you know Social Anxiety Disorder is one of the most common anxiety disorders? According to Anxiety Canada, it affects between 7 – 13% of the population.

Teens with Social Anxiety Disorder have a persistent fear of being watched and/or negatively judged by others. These fears can arise in social situations themselves, or even when thinking about them.

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If your teen has already been diagnosed, or is experiencing early symptoms of social anxiety, this article is for you.

There are several components to symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder that you can look out for:

Physical: Sweating, shaking, heart racing, face turning red, nausea, muscle tightness, derealization.

Cognitive: Thinking thoughts such as “everyone is judging me”, “I look stupid”, “people can tell I am nervous and think I’m weird”, “everyone is going to notice and remember if I mess up”, etc.

Emotional: Feeling nervous, isolated, sad, frustrated, upset, helpless, and/or overwhelmed with anything to do with socializing (kids at school, meeting new people, making friends, co-workers, dating, etc.)

Behavioural: Avoidance, declining situations or events that cause anxiety, choosing to not participate in class or activities, getting upset or frustrated when a social situation is approaching, etc.

Common Situations When Social Anxiety Disorder May Affect Your Teen:

Social anxiety disorder is going to show up differently for everyone. However, there are several common situations your teen may experience it:     

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  • Public speaking, presentations, and oral examinations.
  •  Activities where performance may be evaluated, such as sports, creative expression, and recitals.
  • Unfamiliar settings or situations where there are a lot of new people.
  • Ordering food at a restaurant, talking to cashiers, talking to unfamiliar teachers, asking strangers for help, etc.
  • Participating in class discussions or group projects.
  • Meeting new people at school, or making friends.

Six Ways to Support Your Teen with Social Anxiety Disorder 

Social anxiety disorder can be overwhelming as a parent. Especially if you haven’t experienced it yourself and aren’t sure how to help your teen. Here are some ways you can support your teen with Social Anxiety Disorder:

1.      Knowledge is Power !

Providing your teen with greater insight into what may be going on, recommending mental health tools or strategies, and letting them know they are not alone can be invaluable. 

Understand for yourself and for your teen that Social Anxiety Disorder is relatively common and that there is hope for change.

Check out websites such as www.anxietycanada.com to access evidence-based resources and strategies. Encourage your teen to be curious and learn about their own experiences with social anxiety, including understanding their own triggers, sensations, and related outcomes.

2.     Be Supportive

Anyone who has ever felt anxious knows that it isn’t exactly a fun feeling and it can be isolating.

If you suspect your teen may be suffering with social anxiety, prioritize being a non-judgmental, empathetic support person in their life who genuinely wants to help.

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As fear of judgment can be high in teens with Social Anxiety Disorder, be extra mindful of how your own words and actions may come across.

  3.     Gradual Exposure

Symptoms of anxiety are often reduced by repeated exposure to the stimulus that causes the anxiety. Your teen’s heart and mind are probably screaming “run away!”  However, avoiding the cause of your teen’s anxiety tends to make it worse.

When supporting your teen with Social Anxiety Disorder, be sure to provide a lot of choice and gentle encouragement. Gradual exposure to social situations decreases symptoms of anxiety. The key is to pick situations where the anxiety does not overwhelm your teen, but ones where your teen feels mild to moderate anxiety and comes out the other side more self-aware and confident. 

4.       Target the Physical Symptoms

Anxiety can cause your teen’s body to become stressed, tight, and sore. Encouraging your teen to engage in progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, tai chi, or some other gentle, physical activity can do wonders in terms of reducing the physical experience of anxiety.

If you’re comfortable with it, these activities can even be done together or as a family!

You can try a guided progressive muscle relaxation exercise here.

5.      Target the Cognitive Factors

Anxiety has a way of making your teen’s thoughts and feelings feel like facts. If you hear your teen saying something along the lines of “something bad will happen” or “other people will have certain thoughts”, there is an excellent opportunity to be curious.

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Gently ask your teen how they know that something will happen (this is a cognitive distortion known as fortune telling, by the way!), or if there are any other possible outcomes or explanations. Often when these faulty thought patterns are called out it becomes easier to notice them when they reappear. 

6.        Outside Support

Social Anxiety Disorder is an isolating path to walk when you’re alone. Sometimes having an outside perspective that isn’t emotionally attached can be a helpful outlet for your teen’s emotions.

Seek support for yourself from other like-minded parents, Facebook groups with parents who also have teens with Social Anxiety Disorder, etc.

For your teen, a therapist or coach can provide an outside perspective to plan steps for when their anxiety arises. If you’re looking for one to one support for your teen, you can book a free consultation with me here. Our company also offers group coaching here. Email us any time with questions you may have, or blog topics you would like to see: info@pyramidpsychology.com.


Jessa is a counsellor that has recently completed her master of counselling degree through Athabasca University.

She is highly passionate about helping people become the best version of themselves and it is an honour for her to work alongside teens and their parents.

A few of her favourite things are spending time with her family, friends and pets, being in nature, cooking and eating delicious food. And also, she loves plants!

Once a month, she writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook.

Letting Your Teen Do That Hard Thing: 5 Ways to One Up Teen Anxiety

Parents often come to me asking for guidance with teen anxiety when their teen is facing an uncomfortable or challenging situation. Their teen suddenly wants to change class or stop doing an activity because they aren’t getting along with their peers, don’t enjoy the teacher, are falling behind or had something embarrassing happen etc.

In these situations, you then find yourself faced with a decision: ’do I help my teen fix this, or do I let them ride it out and face the challenge?’

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A while back, one of my kids was hanging out with a friend. They hit a car with their scooter. They freaked out and came back home. It was so obvious to me that something had happened.  Once we got the details, it was decided that they would go over to the house and let that person know what had happened. My kid felt so embarrassed and the thought of knocking on the door to admit the mistake and not knowing the outcome was super stressful. 

Part of me wanted to go with them, wanted to have the conversation for them, but I didn’t. It was hard not to step into rescue fix-it mode, my own anxiety flared up of what if the neighbour was rude to them, or judged my parenting decision. 

The desire to jump in and fix things for your teen may seem to be almost a reflex. Fixing the uncomfortable thing might feel like it’s setting your teen up for success, easing their anxiety and making things better. The thing is, oftentimes it isn’t what benefits them in the end. 

Allowing your teen to face challenging situations builds up their confidence and ability to figure things out- Read on to discover 5 Ways to One Up Teen Anxiety through the hard experiences.

In the end, the conversation with my neighbour went alright, and after a sigh of relief, my teen went on and had a great night with his friend….later on they even went back to the neighbors and brought over some cinnamon buns.  

Decreasing Teen Anxiety: Why Parents Want to Fix Hard Things

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As a parent, wanting to help your teen out in tough situations is natural. Learning when your help is supporting your teen’s growth and development vs. when it might be stunting that growth can be helpful to understand.

Of course there will be times when it is really helpful to step in as a parent and support your teen through a difficult situation (which we’ll talk about later). However, a lot of development opportunities come from naturally riding out something that is difficult and going through it. You may even get a lot of resistance from your teen when you try to step in and ‘fix’ difficult situations.

But why is it so tempting to jump in and resolve the problem for your teen!? Why is there often such a strong instinct to  fix problems – ex: talk to the teacher when they’re behind, let them drop that sports class, etc.?

I sometimes hear from parents “I don’t want my teen to struggle. I don’t want them to have a rough time.” I get it. It’s hard to see another person suffer. In particular if it’s someone you love very dearly. Your role when your teen was younger was based largely on protecting them and helping when needed. It can sometimes be hard to loosen that role and allow your teen to make mistakes, mess up, and face something difficult.

“I just want my teen to be happy” is another reason parents share for why they want to ‘rescue’ their teen from emotional or difficult experiences.  And of course you want your teen to feel joy and to have positive experiences in their life! In fact, it is really important for them. Something to keep in mind, though, is the importance of feeling all the emotions (including happiness). There is a broad range of them – excitement, boredom, anger, sadness, love, etc. I think if we experience the range, there can be a deeper appreciation for certain feelings and a knowing that they can get through the tougher ones.

Avoiding a fight or protesting from your teen can be another reason to enter into rescue mode; you want to avoid the stress of the ‘teen tantrum’. It seems easier to simply solve the problem; it isn’t worth it to push your teen through difficult situations. As a parent, you simply don’t want to face the argument.

I know there are lots of times with my own teen where I think to myself ‘do I stand my ground here? Or do I just let it slide?’ It can sometimes be tempting to make the problem go away ASAP!

Being judged on parenting decisions is something parents often don’t talk about, but societal pressures around parenting exist. The layers of- What would other parents think of me if my teen fails this class or loses their job? I don’t do it that way, am I doing it wrong? What does that say about me if I force my kid to stay with a teacher they can’t stand? How will this reflect on my parenting? It’s very challenging as a parent to face these judgments. Sometimes these are conscious thoughts and other times it is more in the subtext of how we parent. 

How Often Are You Rescuing From Teen Anxiety?

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If you often find yourself rescuing your teen – doing things like letting them drop their sports, cleaning up after them continuously, talking to their teachers when they struggle, bringing them a project they forgot, etc. – consider the message that sends. 

Sometimes, the message your teen takes in when they are being rescued (although unintentionally) is that they aren’t capable. They truly believe they can’t handle things; that they need someone else to do it for them.

By allowing teens to do their own thing instead, you’re giving them a different message – “you can handle difficult experiences, you’re resourceful, you can face hard situations.” And these are messages that you most likely want your teen to be carrying.

What kind of lessons are you teaching your teen around their capacity to handle hard things? Their ability to face challenges?

One Up Your Teen’s Anxiety – Make the Most of Difficult Situations

You can use conflict and undesirable situations as a way to help your teen build their capacity to handle them, build resilience, and manage their anxiety.

Here are 5 things you can do to support your teen’s growth through hard things:

  1. Allow your teen to make as many choices and decisions as possible – inside and outside the home.

Some areas for decision making:

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  • Making their school lunches 
  • Organizing their study schedule
  • Choice around clothes and fashion
  • Plan their own routines (e.g. bedtime)
  • Selecting their hobbies
  • Negotiating responsibilities and contributions in the house
  • Choosing a family activity 

You can give suggestions and guidance – but let them do the deciding. As they get older, you increase choice making opportunities. The more comfortable they get with choice making, the more confidence and resilience they build. They will have more experiences that send the message: “I can make decisions, and no matter what the outcome is I can handle it.”

Your teen may choose an outfit that someone at school comments on. Or maybe they’ll pack a lunch that is too small and come home hungry.

They will be okay. And they will learn about themselves and others from those experiences.

  1. Let your teen ride out the consequences

You don’t want your teen to fail everything of course, or to act like you don’t care what they do. Experiencing natural consequences is a way to build their resilience, so when things don’t go well or there is a negative experience they know they will be okay. They will know from experience that they can learn from mistakes and glean a lesson next time.

Let’s say they break their phone because of what you consider negligent behaviour (aka it finds itself underneath the dirty laundry piled on their bed and gets knocked off during a frantic phone search and rescue mission….just saying it could happen). The hard thing: they have to

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earn the money to fix it and go without in the interim. 

As a parent you can use natural consequences as an opportunity to reflect with your teen – here are some questions to consider:

  • What can they do differently next time? 
  • What are the expectations around the situation going forward? 
  • How can they handle a similar situation in the future?
  • What did they learn about themselves that might help them in the future? 
  • When might they need a little help?
  1. Find the areas where your teen shines and get them to do it as often as possible. If they enjoy sports or art, encourage them to join community activities. Or they have a passion for something, consider volunteering opportunities. Or maybe, your teen is drawn to social issues, get them to organize a rally or do something at their school. 

Having your teen dial into opportunities to highlight their strengths and develop new skills will build their confidence. Then, when things come up that they struggle with, it’ll be that much easier to tackle it.

  1. Let them know about your own failures. This is a really important piece of parenting when it comes to building resilience. Share with your teen times when you faced challenging things, did things outside of your comfort zone, failed, or made mistakes. Tell them what you did to get through it and what you learned. It’s good for your teen to see that you’ve messed up and survived.
  2. Challenge your teen to do something that scares them every day. I’ve known a few people to use this as a daily practice and it can be hard at first, and then transforms into something creative and kind of fun! 

Challenging yourself to do something that scares you every day, builds that belief that “I can do hard things!”. It also minimizes the acuity of anxiety, by creating new patterns in the brain that look a little less like: I feel anxiety- I can’t handle it- I avoid the situation or default it to someone else to handle it AND a lot more like: I feel anxiety- I take action- I can handle it- I keep doing things that I want and know I am capable.

They can truly start to see that most often, regardless of the outcome, they’ll be okay. It doesn’t have to be a huge scary thing – it can be things like talking to someone next to them, wearing something eccentric or fun, trying out for the volleyball team, etc.

When to Step In

If your teen is at risk of being seriously hurt – bullying, threats (physical, emotional, psychological), or harassment of any sort, you certainly want to step in. There will be times like this when parent support will be absolutely necessary.

If none of these serious things are on the table, then step back and allow your teen to figure things out on their own. You can let them know you’re there to talk to, validate their feelings, answer questions, or provide some guidance.

The Happiness Pill Program

As a teen life coach, I know it can take a lot of practice as parents to support your teen through their anxiety. A lot of questions and concerns come up along the way. It can be a heartbreaking, lonely journey to see your teen lose their confidence, motivation, and joy as anxiety ramps up. The urge to continue fixing it for them can be strong!

I created a 6-month coaching program for teens so they can not only survive the uncomfortable, difficult situations they experience with anxiety, but to thrive in their life. 

The parent component focuses on giving YOU the tools to navigate anxiety alongside your teen while building their resilience to create a life of joy and happiness! You have access to a community of parents like you and a place to gather tools and resources to ensure you are equipped with the very best for your teen.

Check out The Happiness Pill Program here. And when you’re ready to move your teen through anxiety and into joy, send us an email at info@pyramidpsychology.com


portrait of Chantal outside in a fieldChantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

How Control Can Help Your Anxious Teen

I was listening to a podcast this week and they were talking about choice and control being such an important part in helping your anxious teen manage their anxiety. And it really is!

… Technically, control is an illusion; there is very little we can truly control. But, before I send you running into despair with that thought, let me tell you how you can help your teen (and yourself) learn how to manage that aspect of their mind – and create their own sense of control.

girl in orange sweater sitting behind a couch

Photo by Joice Kelly on Unsplash

What is control for your anxious teen?

Having a sense of control for your teen is a big deal. It’s about having agency – choices, decision making power, actions, plans, etc. Such as things they truly have some say about.

Ever had your teen pushback when it comes to helping out around the house because you’ve “forced” them to do something they don’t like or feel like doing? If you’ve found yourself cleverly giving them options, like the time they complete the chore or which responsibility they’d like to take on, you might have noticed that resistance just fade away. Because, as soon as your brain sees choices and options, it reduces stress and anxiety around a circumstance. It also provides a sense of safety, knowing there is an action you can take- something to be done about it.

Think of when your teen is preparing for a presentation. There will be some things that aren’t in their control – their teacher’s expectations, parameters around the project rules, due date, etc.

Thus, encouraging agency and control for your anxious teen is about helping them see where they can control things… What are the elements of choice with their presentation? – the theme, who they can work with (if the teacher allows this), the time and effort they put in, the type of project delivery (creative, visual, digital), etc.

So, if your teen is experiencing social anxiety, worrying about being judged, or not liked, they can look at it like this: What is within their control? What situations they put themselves in? How they might respond? Or how often they want to challenge themselves, their perspective, their attitude, etc.

How is control related to your anxious teen?

young teen girl covering her face

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Anxiety happens when your teen believes their capacity to handle a situation is far smaller than the issue itself. It Minimizes your teen’s belief that they can handle difficult situations or the unknowns –  “I can’t handle meeting a new person” … “I can’t handle getting a bad grade”, etc.

Anxiety lives in the future, meaning a lot of the thoughts your teen has are thoughts and feelings about things that haven’t even happened yet. So it instills the uncertainty and “what ifs”. 

Therefore, creating control for your teen – showing them they have choice – is so important to counteract some of the effects of the anxious brain. If your teen has agency (choice, decision-making, actions, etc.) over their life it gives them a sense of control, which minimizes their anxiety. It reinforces the concept of, “this is my life and I can do something about this”.

Strategies for Control.

Hula Hoop

girl with hula hoop and explanations around her.

Photo from Canva

The Hula Hoop is an exercise for your anxious teen to see the control and choice they have.

Ask your teen to imagine a hula hoop all around them. Everything within the circle of the hula hoop are the things within their control; things they can change, take action on, etc. The things on the outside of your teen’s hula hoop are things they have very little influence or control over.

The more energy, time, thought and effort your teen puts into things on the outside of their hoop – the things they have little to no control over – the more it feeds the machine of their anxiety.

It is more effective for your teen to concentrate on what’s in their hula hoop – the things they have a say over, actions they can take, choices they can make, etc.

Because, mapping out a specific situation is something I often ask the teens I work with to do. I will ask them to draw an inner and outer circle and write out the things they feel are in and out of their control. It is a visual that often surprises teens. Teens will say things like “I didn’t see the things in my control”, “I didn’t realize how much I was overthinking on the things  I don’t have control over”, etc.

Thus, the  “I” or “my” stuff… I can control my thoughts – which thoughts I pay attention to- my opinions- my behaviours- these find themselves within the hula hoop. I get to choose my actions – what I am going to do (or not do) about this. I get to choose my attitude – which perspective or mindset am I going to have? My perspective. My opinion. Etc.

The stuff on the outside of the hula hoop is “other people stuff” – things others are doing that we can’t control. And then of course the usual things we have no say over – the weather, traffic, etc.

One thing that may come up for your teen is “I can’t control my feelings”. And yes, it’s true… Your teen can’t control feelings that bubble up for them. However, there is definitely a choice and say in terms of how they are going to react and respond to their feelings. They can choose what to do with them.

Is This True?

dark haired girl lying down on the grass

Photo by SHINE TANG on Unsplash

Encourage your teen to take a moment and think about the truth behind their anxious thoughts. Guide them to find the truth behind the things their anxious brain is telling them.

So, your teen can ask themselves: “how true is this thing? What is the evidence of this thing you’re afraid of/anxious about? What’s the likelihood that this will actually happen?” Invite  your teen to ask themselves these questions to challenge the anxious brain a little bit.

You can also ask how your teen can respond to the situation. What can they do about it if the fear comes up?

Some of the anxious thoughts your teen may have are considered ‘Thinking Traps’ – thoughts that play tricks on them, bend the truth, or alter reality. You can get an in-depth understanding of these different types of thoughts – and what to do about it – with my blog article ‘Thought Distortions: You Have the Power to Choose Happiness

FEAR Acronym

The FEAR stands for False Evidence (and sometimes Emotions) Appearing Real. You can use it to remind your teen  that the anxious part of their brain has all kinds of things to say, and some of the time (a LOT of the time) those  fears are based in uncertainty. They are things that have a very small likelihood of happening. Or, if they do happen, are things your teen can do or say something about. 

Brian Clark wrote a great blog article on fear and anxiety using this acronym. You can read it here.

So, in addition to these tools, you can also find opportunities to build your teen’s sense of control, choice, autonomy, and agency.

Inspirit their capacity to handle stuff through small choices every day.  Allow them to make decisions around chores, organizing their homework, choices with friendship issues, contributing to the family, etc. Encourage them even if it ends up being a non desirable outcome . Because this shows them that they can make a mistake and still be okay. It builds resilience and helps them grab onto the belief that they are in control with decisions in their life.

So, the older your teen is the more you want to get them to do this. Thus, this is a great strand of development that’s so necessary for our kids, and reduces their anxiety.

The Happiness Pill Programthe happiness pill logo

Anxiety is hard on your teen (and can be for you too). It takes away energy and motivation, stops them from enjoying friends, family, activities, etc. As a parent, it can make you feel helpless.

I developed The Happiness Pill Program – a 6-month coaching program – to give both you and your teen hope. It gets your teen from a place of stress and anxiety to a place of contentment, motivation, and confidence.

We start by mapping out what your teen desires their life to look like, and how to get there – including communication with you. Then, we practice creating agency and control with weekly calls, for both you and your teen.

The Happiness Pill Program is a community of parents and teens going through the same thing as you!

Read all about it here. Email info@pyramidpsychology.com to register or ask any questions.

 


portrait of Chantal outside in a fieldChantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

Back to School Anxiety: Coping Skills for Your Teen

If you’re noticing your teen is a little edgy lately or seems less than keen to talk about school they may be struggling with ‘back to school anxiety’. The usual pre-jitters and mix of excitement and nervousness of going back to school could be prompting thoughts like these for your teen:

  • Who will I be in class with?
  • What if I get that teacher again?
  • I can’t wait to see my friends again!
  • I hope I will get good grades.

On top of this, teens have spent  the last year and half contending with  alternative forms of schooling in response to the pandemic – online, on and off in-person (with masks, shutdown sports, etc.), hybrid between online and in-person, etc. For some teens, this adds an extra layer of worry.

Photo by Matt Ragland on Unsplash

If your teen spent the last year learning online , they may be wondering what it will be like to go back to school like “normal”. They may be thinking,  “Do I even want to go back in person??”

This year may be especially hard for teens if they struggle with social anxiety and enjoyed the online aspect of schooling. On top of the regular ‘back to school’ worries, your teen may  be thinking:

  • What if it’s really hard?
  • What if I’m behind?
  • What if it’s weird to not be wearing a mask?
  • What if we have to wear masks again?
  • What if things shutdown again? 
  • What if they do cohorts again and my friends aren’t in the same class as me?
  • What if I don’t like it?

Sometimes teens don’t have an exact grasp on the specific thoughts but their worries  manifest physically. You might notice complaints of physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, general flu like symptoms with no illness related causes, etc. You may also notice changes in behaviours – more irritability, sleep disruptions, etc. 

Worries about going back to school – especially this year – are to be expected. But that doesn’t mean your teen has to white knuckle through it. 

Here are five anxiety coping strategies you can implement to help your teen transition back to class as smoothly as possible:

Anxiety Coping Skill #1

Breathing can be a secret weapon for your teen. Dialling into their breathing can help activate their rest and relax system (parasympathetic nervous system). This sets off a domino effect of calming. 

Photo by Lutchenca Medeiros on Unsplash

There are various breathing techniques you can try. Sheryl Ankrom, MS, LCPC shares eight different breathing exercises you can try here. Square breathing, or 4×4 breathing is one I find works well, and can be done anywhere anytime – including on the way to the school, in the hallways, and even in class. The Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto shares a really great video on how to do this exercise here.

Whichever exercise your teen chooses, I recommend going through it at least 4 times to allow their nervous system to catch up.

Breathing exercises aren’t for everyone. If your teen can’t focus on their breathing, or doesn’t enjoy it – try having them focus on some of their other senses. Here are a few ways they can do that:

  • Look around the room and (in their mind) name objects they can see
  • Pick a colour and try and spot it as much as possible
  • Listen for sounds near or far
  • Name one thing from all 5 senses – something they can see, hear, smell, feel and taste

The key is to bring awareness to the present moment and be less hyper focused on the anxiety.s.

Anxiety Coping Skill #2 

We all have objects in our lives that immediately bring comfort. They serve as relaxation prompts. It can be helpful for your teen to have an object like this with them as they begin the new school year. Here are some ideas, or things I have seen work well:

  • Favourite piece of jewelry

    Photo by Firmbee.com on Unsplash

  • Extra comfy sweater
  • Stone/crystal around their neck, or tucked in their bag
  • A note/quote/message on their phone
  • Putty
  • Favourite playlist on their phone (if permitted)
  • Doodle a small heart on a knuckle
  • Fidget ring around their finger

Having something that reminds your teen of comfort and calm will cause their brain to put out some chill alpha waves.

Anxiety Coping Skill # 3

Photo by Rosie Sun on Unsplash

Encourage your teen to find at least one person they can rely on that has got their back – a coping buddy. They can have more than one of course! It might be a teacher, guidance counsellor, friend, sibling, etc. Someone they can seek out and connect with when needed. This person can provide a nice distraction, or some comfort.

If your teen really can’t think of anyone that is accessible at  school, see if you can find someone remote who can be available for a call or text during an anxious moment – you, their auntie, etc.

 

Anxiety Coping Skill # 4

Use the F.E.A.R. technique. This stands for False Evidence (or Emotions) Appearing Real.

Anxiety can trick your teen’s mind to make them believe they are small and incapable in the face of the problem or thing they fear. The F.E.A.R technique is a way to bring balance in the other direction – with anxiety being small and your teen being big and capable.

Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

Step One: Identify the worry (fear) – e.g. ‘I’m worried that I won’t be in the same class as any of my friends.”

Step Two: Dig deeper – what would happen if your friends weren’t in your class? What’s anxiety telling you? – e.g. ‘I will have no one to talk to all year. I will be lonely.’

Step Three: Flip it around – what could you do if your friends aren’t in your class? How could you respond? How could you solve this? – e.g. ‘Could be a total loner and not talk to anyone all year, 

I guess I could make new friends, I could find my friends during breaks, I could join a club or something at lunch, I could ask to be switched classes, I could talk to the person sitting next to me, etc.’

This technique gives the worry clear words and takes your teen down that FEAR acronym. It lets them know that even if the scary thing does happen, they have a lot of control and choice to do something about it! 

Anxiety Coping Skill # 5

Photo by Prophsee Journals on Unsplash

Create a plan and a routine so your teen knows what to expect. It is helpful to focus on what is in your teen’s power to control (their routine) and what is not.

A routine for school starts the night before – with a good amount of sleep, taking time to relax before bed, etc.Encourage your teen to include some things in their routine they enjoy.

You can also help your teen plan ahead for when they get to school – who will they meet up with? Do they know which classes they are in? What time does school start and end?

Having a plan around things that your teen can actually control (e.g. their responses, behaviours, what thoughts they tend to, etc.) can help quell some of that anxiety. 

Things to Make Note Of

Your teen is not alone in their anxiety – going back to school can be an anxiety-inducing experience in ‘normal’ times. Never mind the times we are in now! Let them know they are not the only ones.Ask them about their back to school thoughts.

What are they most stressed/worried about? 

Another thing you can do is focus on the things they are looking forward to. Get them to pay  attention to the friends they may get to see again, the school club they will join, etc. 

Anxiety can be a big deal but it doesn’t have to take over yours or your teen’s life – Share this blog with a parent of a teen and spread the support! 

The Happiness Pill Program is a 6-month teen life coaching program that supports teens to shift beyond anxiety, depression, and overwhelm and into confidently living the life they want by providing ongoing support. There is a built-in parent program and community to support you, too. Get on the path to freedom from teen anxiety here.

Love,

Chantal 


Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

Thought Distortions: You Have the Power to Choose Happiness

Sometimes, your brain can play tricks on you and create thoughts that bend the truth, or alter reality –  these kinds of thoughts are called Thought Distortions. They can also be called Thinking Traps or Cognitive Distortions.

Having these thoughts doesn’t mean you can’t trust your brain, but you may want to ask yourself how you can look at these thoughts differently… The ability to find happiness in your thoughts and experiences is already within you. There are techniques and strategies to activate what I call your ‘Happiness Pill’.

Photo from Canva Pro

Getting Hooked

According to the National Science Foundation, the average person has between 12,000 – 80,000 thoughts A DAY! over 6,000 (can we please reference) thoughts A DAY! Your brain brings your attention to some of them more than others; the thoughts you believe in the most..

Giving your attention to some thoughts can be helpful – like if you think you are a great artist, or you believe you have good support in your life. Of course you want to believe these thoughts! They make you feel really good. You want to let yourself believe in them.

However, there are other thoughts that can get you hooked or hijack your brain and don’t serve you as well. Things like “I”m going to mess this up. I ALWAYS make mistakes here. People don’t actually like me, they just feel bad for me.” These thoughts can make you feel really down, or bad about yourself, and they impact your behaviour negatively. You might not step up and do the things you want to do because you’re stuck in your thoughts (or trapped). It happens to all of us!

These thinking distortions are kind of like those mirrors at the carnivals, you know the ones that are curved, and wobbly. They make your body look bizarre, and wonky; distorted. Your thoughts will sometimes do things like that – they will distort reality.

The difference between the mirrors at the carnival , and the thoughts in your head is that sometimes you don’t know you’re looking through the wonky mirrors, so you believe what you’re seeing/believing is true.

The key to seeing through thinking distortions is to recognize times when you are standing in a mirror like this; when you are hooked on a thought. To bring awareness to what it is leading you to think and feel about yourself. If you look into the mirror and see something you don’t like, then maybe that’s not a thought you want to hold onto. You have the power to choose which mirror you want to look into.

There are many different types of Thought Distortions. Here are the six most common ones I hear from the teens I work with:

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Six Types of Thought Distortions

  • Catastrophizing is when you think about something that has happened and immediately jump to the worst case scenario – “I got a bad grade, so now I am going to fail the whole class. I said something that wasn’t cool, so now I’m never going to have friends; everyone is going to hate me.”
  • Minimizing is when you take your accomplishments and your successes and dismiss them. If you believe you aren’t good enough, you minimize any thoughts that could prove that wrong. Like if you got a part in a play, or a new job and you say things like “Oh, I only got the part because the teacher didn’t have other options” or “My friends works there, that’s why I got the job.” You dismiss that any successes may actually be because of you! Who you are. Your personality, characteristics, talents, skills, etc.
  • Labelling is when you put a label on yourself, about who you are, rather than it being something you did, or that may have happened. You label yourself as something, rather than labeling the behaviour.

    Photo from Canva Pro

    Instead of thinking “oh, I made a mistake” you’re thinking “I AM stupid, or I AM lazy.”

  • Mind Reading/Jumping to Conclusions is when you think you know what another person is thinking or feeling, without having any proof of that; nobody is actually saying that. Let’s say you’re at a party, and you’re feeling a little awkward, so you’re hanging out in the corner, not really talking to anyone. Mind reading could look like: “they all hate me, nobody wants to talk to me. Everyone here thinks I”m so weird.You jump to conclusions!
  • Black & White Thinking (AKA all or nothing thinking) is when there is no grey zone in your thoughts. It’s either/or; can’t be anything else. This shows up in ‘always’ or ‘never’ type of language – “I ALWAYS mess up new conversations. I NEVER get picked first for the team.” Oftentimes, you might have thoughts that begin with “everyone” or “no one”… If your thought begins with some of these, you’re likely in all or none thinking.
  • Personalization is when you make a situation about you, when it isn’t really about you. You take the blame for things that have very little to do with you or are outside of your control. It is different from taking accountability or responsibility for something you’ve done; this is where everything is your fault.Let’s say you and some classmates at school got a bad grade on a group presentation. A personalization thought would look like “this is all my fault because I didn’t draw the poster well enough. I caused everyone to have a low grade, because I was so terrible at presenting.” The truth here is likely that everyone had a part to play in the low grade.

 

Photo from Canva Pro

Alternative Thinking

Now that you can recognize the different types of Thought Distortions, you can begin to notice when you are thinking in this way. Here are some questions you can ask when you notice these thoughts:

  • What situations are these types of thoughts showing up in? ( E.g.: do they show up more when I’m at school, or when I’m with my friends?)
  • What are the most common thinking traps for my brain?
  • Is this actually true?
  • What’s the evidence for this thought?
  • What’s the value in standing in front of this mirror? Why do I want to stand here?
  • DO I want to???

Photo from Canva

The next step is to think of alternative thoughts – if the thought you’re currently thinking is a possibility, what else could it be? Ask yourself:

  • How does this thought make me feel? Is this how I want to feel?
  • What is the behaviour – or the way I am acting – because of this thought/how it makes me feel? Is this the behaviour I want?

If your answer is no to either of these questions, what could be an alternative, another thought that would lead to a different feeling or behaviour?

For example, you could be thinking “I didn’t get invited to the movies because nobody likes me” which is making you feel really crappy about yourself… You may choose to stop talking to your friends (the behaviour), or isolate yourself from others. Or instead, you could think: “what else could it be? Could there be something else that is true?”

You want to find thoughts that may lead you to feeling better, or taking a different action.

Imagine all of your thoughts in a day (12,000+, remember!) are all in one big glass house that is covered in the mirrors we talked about earlier. Which ones do you want to stand in front of? What is a mirror you would rather look into?

Photo from Canva Pro

That could be a mirror of confidence – if you want to stand in front of that mirror, ask yourself what would it look like?

A mirror of confidence might look like: “They didn’t invite me this time, maybe they didn’t know I wanted to come to the party/find it fun. I really like hanging out with people and can’t wait until the next opportunity to join them!” Where does thinking these instead lead you to feeling? It may help you feel better; motivated, and confident.

Your actions will look different when you feel differently – you might go talk to new people, or be active in the social media group your friends are in.

Being aware of your thoughts, asking these questions, and thinking alternative thoughts is the power you have to make a choice about what you think and feel. It is how you find happiness in your experiences – your own ‘Happiness Pill.’

This work is not easy. There might be a lot of mirrors in front of you with distortions and images you don’t like! You have to work to find mirrors without the distortions, the ones that will support you. It takes effort and work, which can be discouraging. But I promise – it is so worth it!

The Happiness Pill Program is a program I created just for you and all the other teens who are also feeling anxious and thinking worried thoughts. It is a program designed to give you the power to find, create, and choose your own happiness. You will get to connect with me personally to map out the life you want, and build a friendship circle (online) of friends who are building the same skills as you are. Send me an email for more information – you can feel light, and free with the things you will learn in the program!

You can also follow me on TikTok (@therapywithchantal) or Instagram (@therapywithchantal) for daily tips, resources, and quotes.

As always, reach out any time!

Love,
Chantal


Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

The Miracle of Teen Feelings

This could apply to all humans really, but my passion and purpose are all about helping teen girls build bulletproof mindsets and believe in themselves, so I’m writing for you today.

Feelings (emotions) can fill your heart with love and joy, steady your body with calm relaxation, or claw at your chest with heart rippling anxiety. Feelings can be raw, intense, and totally hijack your body and brain.

 

Photo by Orkun Azap on Unsplash

 

Even though they can be pretty powerful at times, your feelings are also a practical and important barometer (measurement tool) for how you are doing in any given moment. They give so much information and if you can be curious enough to learn about them, they can be a guide to your inner world and what you are needing.

Here are 5 things you must know about feelings:

Photo by Ilya Shishikhin

1. UNDERSTANDING THE EMOTION:
​THOUGHT-BEHAVIOUR LINK

Feelings are the body’s response to your thoughts. Feelings can seem like they are happening in response to something outside of you like a breakup, a test, a fight with a friend, etc. The truth is that it is not the situation or event that causes the feeling. It is actually the mental filter which it is interpreted through. So the mental filter (your thoughts about the thing) which you see a situation through leads to the feelings you experience.

You may not feel a lot of emotion if I tell you that Sarah is no longer best friends with Jude, but if it is you that is no longer friends with your best friend, you will probably have a lot of feelings about this. The meaning we give to situations and events cause our feelings. Why is this important to know this? Well it means anytime you are feeling a feeling you can check-in with yourself by asking:

What is the story I am telling myself right now (e.g. I’m not a good friend, I’m not smart enough, I will screw this up, I am strong, I can always try again, I am a good friend)?

 

Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

2. NAME IT TO TAME IT

When something is unknown or uncertain, our human brains see it as a threat of danger. The danger can be physical, but it can also be emotional or psychological danger. So if you don’t know what you are feeling or you are not sure how to express that feeling, you might end up getting totally overwhelmed. Being able to name your feelings might sound way too simple to make any difference, but it can really help your mind and body start to feel better.

​I like to use the emotion wheel below as a tool to practice this skill. You can start at the centre (these are the 6 primary emotions that have been researched and pretty much found globally across cultures and ages.) They are Happy, Angry, Scared, Disgusted, Sad and Surprise. Then from there you can branch out to other feelings that might help you better understand how you are feeling in that moment.

​I like to print it out and have it around. You can circle different feelings that you notice coming up for you often.

 

3. OBSERVE YOUR FEELINGS

It can be really easy to get caught up in your thoughts and feelings, kind of like being swept up by a storm. Once you calm down or it is over, do you ever realize that you can look back and see things much more clearly?

Imagine your thoughts and feelings like a big aquarium full of sea life. When you are caught up in your thoughts and feelings it is like swimming in the aquarium along with all of the sea life. It can feel pretty overwhelming to imagine swimming in the water with sharks and stingrays beneath you! (Did I mention the aquarium was really big?)

Being able to observe your feelings and taking a step back can give you a whole new perspective. It is like standing outside of the aquarium and looking in. All of the sea life is still there (your thoughts and feelings), but you can now look at it with curiosity instead of overwhelm. It often opens up the possibility of choice on what you want to do and how you want to respond when you are observing your feelings.

Photo by Silas Hao on Unsplash

 

One exercise that can help you practice observing your feelings is an exercise introduced by Daniel Siegel, called SIFT. You divide a piece of paper into 4 (see below) and take 1-2 minutes to write or list anything you notice. Start with sensations and work your way through.

Sensations – Any body sensations you are noticing in this present moment (e.g. tense, tight, tingling, numb, warm, cold, shaky, etc.)

Images – Any images that you are noticing. Some people see them as pictures, moving images like a movie, colours, shapes, symbols, or nothing at all. All of these are ok!

Feelings – Any feelings or emotions you are noticing in this moment. It may be one dominant feeling, or different feelings mixed together.

Thoughts – Any thoughts you are having right now. They can be repetitive thoughts, questions or random thoughts. Anything goes!

4. YOUR BODY CAN SOMETIMES FOOL YOU

Your brain and body are pretty amazing. They take in everything that is happening in your environment – what you see, feel, hear, smell, and taste – and within fractions of seconds, decide if things are safe, dangerous, good, bad, liked or disliked.

The thing is our brain can’t tell the difference between an actual situation and a thought. Weird right?! Meaning we can think ourselves into worry (and other emotions) and our body will feel it like a real danger or threat.

Next time you feel worried, scared, or anxious yourself: Am I in real danger at this moment? What is the evidence for this? Then take a couple slow breaths and see how you’re doing.

 

Photo by Evelyn Paris on Unsplash

 

5. THE POWER OF FLOW

The more you resist a feeling, the more it will keep coming back. The expression “what we resist persists” means that if you try to avoid anxiety or ignore anger, it gets bottled up until it basically explodes in ways you are not meaning to. Allowing yourself to feel what you’re feeling helps it flow through instead of getting stuck.

Think of your emotions like houseguests. If your anger houseguest comes to the door and you pretend like you’re not home, anger keeps knocking. Then anger knocks louder and maybe starts trying to find other ways to get it. Your feelings are like really persistent houseguests. Or you may have your joy houseguest that comes by and you invite in and you never want it to leave. Eventually joy is like, “I need to go home now” and you may cling to it and ask it to stay just 5 minutes more.

Learning that feelings come and go constantly is important, and if you allow them to stop by and hang out for a while, they always leave.

Photo by Seyedeh Hamideh Kazemi on Unsplash

I love this translated poem, written by Rumi –

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

​You are the miracle that is a Teen and I feel so honoured to write to you today. Here’s to hoping your feelings can be your guide.

Love,

Chantal

If you found this post helpful, pass it on by emailing a friend or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook – Thanks!

– Chantal Côté, R.Psych, Pyramid Psychology – helping older children, teens, and young adults learn how to build bulletproof mindsets.

 


Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

The Hate Kids Give in School – How to Help When Your Teen is Being Bullied

Your daughter comes home in tears because a peer said some nasty things about a picture of her on social media. Teens will be teens? No. This kind of thinking isn’t going to cut it. ​Whether it is verbal, social, physical or cyber, Bullying Canada states if someone is hurting or scaring another person on purpose and that person is having a hard time defending themselves- This is bullying. ​

I’ve definitely heard the concerns from parents- if I get involved will I not making make it worse?  If I get involved, am I not just enabling them to never learn how to figure out their own problems? There are ways to get involved that can empower teens while letting them know they are not alone.

As a parent you might notice a gut wrenching feeling taking you back to your teen experiences with bullying. Whether you were a bystander, the one doing the bullying, or the one being bullied, everyone has a story of bullying.

Just the other day, I was sharing with my kids about my experiences of being teased about my curly hair when I was younger. My kids responded to this story with empathy and a desire for justice. This reminded me that as parents, you and I can be a part of the solution when it comes to bullying.

If you want to help your teens stand against bullying, even though it’s a complex social issue, here are some things to consider:

SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCES AND VALUES

You can use your experience, even if you were a bystander or the person bullying. There are lessons and insights you can put forth for your teens to consider.

Focus on sharing your values and on how you want to behave as a human and let those guide these conversations (e.g. kindness or caring). Actions speaks loudly- consider how you are showing and living your values daily.

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

TEACHING ASSERTIVENESS AND CONFIDENCE SKILLS

Assertiveness is different from aggression. Being assertive is standing up for the things you think, feel, and believe by expressing yourself in a way that is honest and respectful of others thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.

This includes being open, listening to others, being accountable, apologizing for mistakes, expressing yourself, seeing your fellow humans as equal, sharing your appreciation of others. The best way to do this is by modeling it!

Consider the way you talk about others in front of your teen (or in general). Think about the interactions between your teen and yourself- are you open and listening? Do you name it when you make a mistake? Are you ok with disagreeing on viewpoints? Do you let them know when you appreciate something they’ve done or the way they’ve behaved?  

It’s a work in progress.

The next best thing to modeling is capturing teachable moments and jumping on those brief  but important conversations.

Remember teens are really orienting to their peers so knowing their friends and the groups where they spend their time will also help you have an idea of what they are learning and being influenced by.

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BUILD ALLIES

Always encourage your teen to tell someone they trust if they are being bullied or witnessing bullying – you, a teacher, coach, guidance counsellor, etc. It can be really hard to share if someone is hurting or scaring you, so be patient with your teen and keep those invitations open.

Remind your teen they are not alone- and reassure them that you are part of their squad. Proceed in a collaborative way with your teen by asking them how they would like to handle the situation and who they think could help support.

*** Ok this may sound contrary to what I just said but it is important to know there will be times when your teen will ask you to tell no one. Listen to them and their concerns about sharing, show them compassion, and let them know that you may still have to reach out to others in order to change things and support them.

Encourage your teen to find friendships that are supportive (on-line and in person). If your teen does not have those friendships already, consider how you might support them in that area. Encouraging them to join a group, club, trying a new hobby or volunteering can be great ways to meet new people.

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CHECK OUT ONLINE RESOURCES

The internet has so much information on bullying as well as specific steps to take to help resolve situations. Do some research and share the really interesting stuff you find with your teens. Here are a few ideas:

There are also great resources online with the aim of letting teens know they are not alone in their experiences. Here are a few resources you can check out:

​*** This is nowhere near an exhaustive list- please find and add in the comments what you find 😊


portrait of Chantal outside in a fieldChantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

When the World Feels Like its Falling Apart a Little (a lot!). Understanding Phases of Disaster Model and 6 Things You Can Do About It Today.

When I transitioned to working from home after the schools closed on March 16th of this year, I was feeling optimistic! I was thinking to myself- I will have quality time with my kids, get a good exercise routine going, see my clients virtually, and maintain a clean home.

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Well that idealistic dream burst when I started to realize that triple duty; mom, teacher, and psychologist, within a 12-14 hour day is…..um…..ludicrous! It turns out I’m not alone and there is actually a fair bit of research on this whole responding to pandemics and crisis stuff. I’ve learned a lot over the last couple of weeks and I’d like to share one thing with you all that has helped me gain some perspective. ​

​It is called “The Phases of Disaster Response” or sometimes called “The Emotional Phases of a Disaster Response” and “Phases of Collective Trauma Response”. This model has helped me understand the ups and downs that my family and I have been experiencing as well as given me hope for what might come next.

As I am learning about this model and its 4 phases (heroic, disillusionment, rebuilding and restoration, and wiser living), I have also been considering different ways to cope. This is not a rigid model and everyone’s experience is unique so you may not follow the exact flow of what is described and that is OK!

THE 4 PHASES OF DISASTER RESPONSE

Heroic Phase – The heroic phase generally happens right after a disaster has hit.  A disaster such as a crisis or a pandemic. One of the main qualities is a rush of endorphins. It is like having a surge of energy where we take action almost automatically. We jump in, doing whatever we can to help. We can tend to hyperfocus on “necessary” tasks and be in “get it done” mode. This might look like planning schedules for school and work at home during the pandemic, making to do lists, buying lots of toilet paper, and tightening control over things we have a say in. Lists, routines, and planning are the name of the game.  We may feel resourceful and come up with creative ways to spend our days with self and family.

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Disillusionment Phase– This is where the endorphin train halts hard! We may notice constantly feeling exhausted, like a burnout of “this too much and there is nothing I can do to make it better”. This usually shows up as physical tiredness and lethargic feelings. It might be hard to get out of bed. Our emotions are running high. We might be feeling grief, stress, helplessness, frustrated, irritated, and these emotions might be wearing us down. Some people may experience different types of feeling like appreciation and gratitude for some of the changes. There can be a sense that there is nothing we can do to change what has happened and that there is no going back to the way it was.

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Turning– This is not a phase but lies between disillusionment and rebuild/restoration. This is usually described as coming to two truths- one where we acknowledge the loss and grief of the old normal and at the same time feel that there is still good in the world. There may be a balance in productive energy and rest/recovery. We might give ourselves permission to not know everything. We feel a sense of acceptance of some of the more negatively experienced emotions (sadness, confusion, anxiety, frustration, boredom, etc.) and know that there are still positive emotions to be experienced (joy, fun, excitement, gratitude, etc.).

We may miss things from our “normal life” like friends, teachers, routines, learning a certain way, and activities. We may also start to adjust to a “new normal” with new routines, different ways to connect with friends and family, etc.

Rebuilding and Restoration Phase – This phase is considered an action phase. It is one that is collective and collaborative. Families coming together, professionals, community, government, etc. Is it marked by a focus on the “best interest of the most people”. We may see that this phase strikes creativity and an invitation for many voices from the community. This phase takes time and we experience the ups and downs of grief with a sense of moving forward.

Wiser Living Phase – This phase occurs when communities are well into their “new normal”. Families and communities have considered measures and preparation to help with future experiences. There is an acknowledgement of what has changed for people in more permanent ways. There is an awareness of existential questioning and a recognition of our mortality. This phase is an oscillation between scars and healing.

6 THINGS YOU CAN START DOING RIGHT NOW TO COPE

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1. Recognize this is a collective trauma response – Many of us have heard this or something like this “We are in this together”. As social creatures, knowing we are not alone and that everyone is impacted by this global experience is an important coping strategy. There are others who are badly wishing they could hang out with their friends, go outside, play on their sports teams, and not constantly be frightened of someone they love getting ill. ​

2. ​Have a sense of what phase you are in -If you identify where you most closely find yourself in this model, it can help you decide what you need next. For example, if you are in disillusionment, care and rest are so important as well as giving yourself permission to NOT do. Also, knowing where you are right now, might give you a sense of what might be ahead.

3. Everyone’s experience is unique – ​Know that this model is just a guideline. In some ways this might contradict my second point. It is important to recognize that this is one model with some good information and that our experiences are unique and may not follow a linear path. As a role model of mine often says, “take what fits and leave the rest”.

4. Start with safety (bottom up approach) – If we think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the very basic needs must be met before we can tend to other needs. Our physical needs are first, followed by safety, love and belonging, esteem, and finally self-actualization. Basically we need a roof over our head and food in our belly before we can “desire to be the most we can be”. Think about your physical needs and what you might be needing right now. Are you tired? Are you hungry? Are you staying somewhere that is not safe right now?

Two truths- One where we acknowledge the loss and grief of the old normal and at the same time know that there is still good and hope in the world.

Our nervous systems work the same way. If we start from the bottom-up, we can help kick in our parasympathetic (rest and relax) nervous system. This can help us feel calmer and manage moments that are overwhelming. Start with something simple, like finger breathing (tracing your breath on one hand using a finger from your other hand), finding 10 items in the space where you are that are the colour blue, imagining a calm place and tapping gently from side to side on your upper legs. The more you practice these types of tools, the more automatic they become.

5. Nourish yourself throughout the day -I feel like you can’t overdo this one. Find moments, even slivers, throughout your day that bring calm, well-being, laughter, inspiration, creativity, play, exercise, rest, and more each day. You can begin by focusing on one of those and peppering your day with activities that bring that into your life. If you choose laughter for example, Facetime someone who puts a smile on your face, watch a stand up comedy show, funny cat videos (are those still a thing?), or try not laughs, fake laugh for 10 seconds- and it shouldn’t take long before it becomes a real laugh. Let me tell you by experience it is super contagious to fake laugh, as my 12 year old said between giggles, “stop mom you’re being so weird!”.

Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Unsplash

6. Know your village​ – Who are the people that you feel good around. Do they live in your home with you? Are they elsewhere? What is about them that makes them important to you? List those people, think about them, and think about ways you are connected to them right now. You might be meeting up on video games or during virtual games nights. You may be part of a WhatsApp or Marco Polo group. You might call them once in a while. You might sit down to a meal together every day. Be intentional about connecting to your village, to your people. ​

 


portrait of Chantal outside in a fieldChantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

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