Self-Compassion: How Caring Can Stop Teen Depression in It’s Tracks

Whether you are a teen struggling with depression or a parent supporting your teen daughter through depression, suffering is likely a familiar concept. I work with dozens of teens whose feelings of pain, sadness, hopelessness, numbness and helplessness are a consistent repertoire. The way you and your daughter handle these painful thoughts and feelings probably ranges from trying to express your inner experience outwardly to diving deep into distraction. 

One of the approaches that can offer you and your daughter a way of handling the pain of depression is teen self-compassion.  This article shares more on how self-compassion can support you both and start to lift the fog of depression.

What is Self-Compassion?

One of the simplest ways I’ve found to understand self-compassion is to think of it as offering yourself the kindness and caring that you might offer a close friend or loved one. Self-compassion is equally valuable for support people, the ones caring for teens with depression (e.g. mothers, fathers, relatives, etc), as it is for teens experiencing depression.

As a parent, you’ve probably heard of the importance of putting your oxygen mask on first, in order to best help your child. Besides being explicit instructions on an aircraft, its generalization to the parenting experience is on point. If your teen daughter is experiencing depression, in order to be there for her for the long haul, you’ll want to ensure you’re in a good place, filling your cup consistently, so you avoid burnout or even spiraling into your own mental health issues.

Teen self-compassion is valuable for teens suffering with depression. Depression clouds your thinking. Your daughter probably has many thoughts similar to  “I’m wrong, I’m bad, I’ve done something wrong, something to upset someone else, etc.” and feeling lots of guilt and shame. The thoughts are harsh and critical and impact what they say and do. Self-compassion can really help teens take a step back from these thoughts and feelings and open more space for hope and self love.

Objections to Self-Compassion

Most teens I work with don’t outright say “I don’t want to try this self-compassion thing”. The resistance to buying into trying a little self-compassion is usually a little more subtle. 

Kristin Neff, self-compassion researcher and leader, talks more about the objections to self-compassion here.

I have heard things like:

  1. It sounds like a poor me pity party.
  2. Of course I wouldn’t talk that way to a friend. It’s just different because I’ve always talked to myself this way, I’m used to it.
  3. I don’t even know where to start to be kind towards myself.
  4. It feels weird.
  5. I don’t have time for that. By the end of the night I’m so exhausted (….being there for my daughter, worrying about her, etc.).

You can take a moment to check-in with yourself. Whether you’re a support person or a teen struggling with depression, what justifications, reasons, excuses does your brain come up with to resist the idea of self-compassion?  Are any of these objections above relatable? Recognizing your objections towards the idea of self-compassion is the first step in allowing it to work for you.

Myths About Self-Compassion

1. Self-Compassion is a “poor me pity party”.

Self-compassion is so much more. It’s not at all about pitying yourself or thinking your situation is worse or better than someone else’s. Stewing in your suffering is not self-compassion.

It is about acknowledging your humanity and being human means that we will all experience suffering at some point. Everyone experiences difficult things and you are not alone. It’s hard to be in pain. Taking those moments to acknowledge how hard it is to be suffering and then offering yourself some caring and kindness is what self-compassion is all about.

You might ask yourself…”What is something caring I can do for myself like encouraging words or actions I can take to get myself moving in a direction that is more supportive for me or my daughter?”

2. Self compassion practices take a lot of time.

Self-compassion practices have a lot of variety. Some practices take as little as a few seconds. It can be something as simple as placing a heart on your heart and taking a couple breaths while recognizing this is a tough moment. This sucks. This is hard right now. 

You can also choose practices that are more in depth and require more reflection. There are many different practices; there’s something for everyone.

3. If I’m focusing on myself then I’m neglecting others.

If you’re a support person you might think that by focusing on self-compassion, you’re not there for your daughter and what she needs right now. If you’re a teen experiencing depression, you might think that by focusing on yourself, you can’t be there for others who need you and that leads to more guilt and shame and bad feelings. 

Offering yourself kindness and caring actually creates more room to be there for and with others. The more I am harsh on myself or criticize myself, the more energy I’m actually spending on myself and my own problems- thinking about my troubles, difficulties, etc. So when you are unkind to yourself, you actually spend a lot more time thinking about yourself. 

When you practice self-compassion it leads to  possibilities such as problem solving, more love and joy, room for compassion towards others, and so much more. The more your cup is filled, the more freely you can give to others without being totally encumbered by your own thoughts and feelings.

A Case for Self-Compassion for Parents and Support People for Teens

As a parent supporting someone who is experiencing depression, you already know how much energy is required of you. It is taxing on your emotional, mental, psychological and physical energy reserves. It can quickly weigh you down. Of course you do this from a place of love and caring. A large part of you doesn’t hesitate for a moment to stay up late watching over your daughter or answering those panicked text messages throughout the day. It is important to realize that there are consequences to being present for someone with mental illness, and the impact can be mitigated. 

Self-compassion cares for those energy reserves ensuring you can show up to support while maintaining your own wellness. Self-compassion shows, models, and teaches your daughter that if you tend to yourself in a kind and caring way, you can actually propel yourself on a journey of wellness. 

Self-compassion can also be a way to relay important values to your daughter, about how to prioritize wellness and look after herself, in relation to herself and others. In practicing self-compassion, you put wellness as a priority while unconditionally loving others and loving yourself.

A Case for Self-Compassion for Teens Experiencing Depression

The inner critic, aka self-dialogue or negative self-talk can be so harsh… So mean! When you’re experiencing depression, the thoughts you have about yourself and how you behave are usually quite critical. It continues the spiral of depression.

Self-compassion is a way of offering yourself something completely different. Imagine that your brain and all the thoughts you have are like actors on a stage. People have so many thoughts each day, research says 6000+….that’s a lot of actors on stage lol. Some of those thoughts are heavy, harsh, and critical. Some are more neutral, random, even encouraging. Imagine all those actors of your mind on stage, all available for you to notice.

Now hopefully that doesn’t feel too overwhelming. You also have this part of your brain that you can call your observing self or noticing self or mindful self, that is like a spotlight director. This part of your brain shines the spotlight down on a certain actor (thought) and highlights it. The thing is, we can get kind of stuck on certain thoughts, leading us to feel kind of rotten about ourselves.

Self-compassion allows you to move that spotlight a little, focusing on some of these other actors. By recognizing this part of being human, you can also take stock in the fact that you can shine your spotlight on thoughts about things you are grateful for, appreciate, or even admire in yourself/others, shifting that focus and offering yourself a different way of treating yourself.

Self-Compassion Strategies

So if I have even slightly peaked your interest in giving self-compassion a try, here are a few of my clients’ favourites. Try them out and let me know what you think!

  1. Self-compassion break.
  2. Thinking from the perspective of what would say to a good friend or how you would  respond to a good friend.
  3. Compassionate friend visualization.

Next month, we are focusing on joy and happiness… Which reminds me of our signature teen life coaching program for teen girls – The Happiness Pill Program. The key to unlocking happiness in your life is within you already and you have the power to activate it. I’ve designed the program to have some 1:1 and group parts. Group can seem intimidating at first, and I get it- so I focus on creating a safe, relaxed environment for you (teen girls) to feel welcome so you get the full benefits of the group experience: 

  • Knowing you are not alone 
  • Feeling like people your age (not just an adult) get it
  • Connecting to a supportive group of peers 
  • More heads are better than one  ideas and strategies to try
  • Helping others out by showing up and sharing some of your experiences 

Email us to learn more, info@pyramidpsychology.com 

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 Link Between Screen Time and Teen Depression

As a parent, it can be easy to question the amount of time your teen is spending on their phone and be curious about the impact on mental health. Research indicates a correlation between increased screen time and teen depression (Association of Screen Time and Depression in Adolescence), but the situation is not completely black and white. Understanding the role that technology plays in teens’ lives and the pros and cons can help inform family decisions around screen time.

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Screen Time & Teen Depression: Factors to Consider

          There is a correlation between depression and screen time. It is true that excessive amounts of screen time can be a factor leading to depression, but teens who are struggling with depression are also likely to spend more time using technology as well (Association of Screen Time and Depression in Adolescence).

          The amount of time looking at screens is important to consider. Research indicates that both no screen time and too much screen time (usually defined as being over 6 hours per day) can have negative effects on a teen’s mental health and development. In contrast, screen time of around 2-4 hours a day is associated with cognitive and psychosocial benefits in the teenage years (Digital media: Promoting healthy screen use in school-aged children and adolescents)

          The content being viewed matters:

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*    If your teenager is frequently looking at photoshopped images of Instagram influencers or celebrities, they often start to compare themselves to these perfect images and lifestyles. In comparing themself to these unattainable standards, your teen’s self-esteem may start to suffer, and they are more likely to experience symptoms of depression.

*   Technology can also be used for learning and exposure to new ideas and perspectives. School and homework are also increasingly online or require varying amounts of screen time. 

        Technology and screen time provides teenagers with a way to connect, which is especially important during the socially isolating times of Covid-19 restrictions. Social connection, whether in-person or online, is vital in the teenage years and significantly decreases the likelihood of depression (Strong friendships in adolescence may benefit mental health in the long run).

          Excessive time spent on screens means that your teen is being less physically active and may be missing out on other meaningful activities. Exercise is a significant protective factor against depression at any age (Keep your teen moving to reduce risk of depression).

          Using screens right before bedtime can also delay sleep and reduce total sleep time (Youth screen media habits and sleep: sleep-friendly screen-behavior recommendations for clinicians, educators, and parents). Sleep is especially important during the teenage years, and most teenagers are not getting enough sleep. Teens who do not get enough sleep are more likely to feel depressed (Teens and sleep: Why you need it and how to get enough).

Teen Depression: Making a Plan for Screen Time

In collaborating on a screen time plan, think about having screen-free times or zones and what that may look like. For example, maybe there is a family agreement that cellphones will be put away during dinner, or that cellphones will be turned off an hour before bedtime.

Educate your teen on the pros and cons of technology use. Help them develop a critical eye that questions the information they are reading and the images they are seeing. Online safety is another very important conversation to have.

Photo by Luke Porter on Unsplash

Role model what healthy technology use can look like, and encourage open and honest conversations with your teen. 

Consider incorporating more variety into the day or week, whether that be sports, a family walk, volunteering, or some other activity that encourages your teen to be present and engaged in the moment.

Use technology and screen time as a way to connect with your teen. Be curious about what they like about it and what they find meaningful or funny. If appropriate, maybe there is even a game to participate in together!

At the end of the day, each family needs to make their own decisions about screen time, knowing it will evolve as time goes,and find a way that best fits them. The key is to find a balance and to remember that screen time is neither all-good nor all-bad.

If you’re seeing your teen go through depression and are needing some support, my name is Jessa Tiemstra and I specialize in counselling for teen girls in Alberta, Canada. You can book a free consultation with me HERE.


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.

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. 

Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

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.

Photo by Katie Gerrard on Unsplash

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.

Photo by Andrés Gómez on Unsplash

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?’

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

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

Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

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.

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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. 

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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

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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. 

Self Esteem: How to Help Your Teen Live Confidently

 

Photo by Motoki Tonn on Unsplash

The other day a parent was saying how their 15 year old had no self-esteem and the parent was at a loss on how to help. Trying to support your teen who is struggling with their self-worth and thoughts that they are not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, strong enough, can feel like sand that just keeps slipping through your fingers. No matter what you do it seems, those self-defeating messages weight more on the scale of self-esteem.

Being a teen has ups and downs. There are moments when they may be feeling so aware and unsure of themselves and there are moments when they shine bright (or at least see glimmers). If you have a teen who is struggling with self-esteem (and didn’t we all as teens!) and you want to know how to support them, even if you’ve tried so many things already, check out the 7C’s:

 

Photo by Vonecia Carswell on Unsplash

Confidence Building

Being part of something that helps build confidence gives teens a chance to practice, practice, practice. The more a teen can take risks in the sense of stretching themselves in their self-esteem and experiencing success (and some failure) the more progress they will make in the self-esteem department.

​What does that look like? It could be being a part of a community group like cadets, girl guides, strong girls or Glow groupsIt could be participating in a boxing, martial arts, or soccer class. Find some things that your teen is interested in, even if it’s just a teeny bit at first, and give those opportunities a try.

Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash

Care For Parents

Don’t underestimate the need to care for yourself. It is hard to be a parent of a teen. You’ve got this! Make sure you have people and resources that empower you such as other parent-friends, on-line communities, parenting coaches, therapists, etc.

​You don’t have to figure this all out on your own. There is something to be said about more heads are better than one. I have found over and over again that in conversations with other parents, I learn about resources and ideas that I may have never stumbled across in isolation.

Photo by Anna Earl on Unsplash

Contributing

Being part of something and feeling a sense of belonging is key to the human experience. It is particularly important to guide during childhood and into the teen years.

​Volunteering and giving are incredible ways to build self-esteem and self-worth. Teens feel like they are part of something that makes a difference. It also grows their empathy, helps them gain some perspective on their own lives, learn new skills, and connect with others.

You can look for volunteering opportunities in your neighbourhood through your community center, through the school, through a local faith based community, or a local volunteer hub.

You can start here and here if you’re in Alberta.

Photo by Vana Ash on Unsplash

Constant Repetition of Affirmations

What we sow grows. Paying attention and shining some light on the positive qualities can help the brain start to notice those more. Humans have this thing called negativity bias, which evolved as a survival part of the brain. It notices the “bad”, the danger first over the “good” non-threatening stuff. This is great to keep us alive and protect us from danger… It’s not that great for our self-esteem.

A parent shared with me that they ask their teen to share 3 things they’ve done well that day and this strategy, although weird at first, has helped their teen’s self-esteem soar.

As a parent you can aim to notice, say or even write down the good things you observe that happen each day. Invite your teen to practice this as well.

 

Photo by Kristin Wilson on Unsplash

Coping

Help your teen figure out what kind of coping skills and strategies work for them. Some strategies may change over time, while others will stand the test of time.

Consider self-care practices like things that help them feel good (e.g. being in nature, spending time with friends,  reading, cooking some yummy food, etc.) Consider coping strategies for difficult moments (e.g. shape breathing, 5 senses exercise, using humour, talking to someone, etc.)

I have a free Mental Health Book for teens available with several different coping techniques your teen can try out for themselves. I can email you a copy! Sign up on my website to receive your copy.

Finally, consider hobbies. What kinds of things does your teen do or can they try that might build new skills, be fun, and provide an opportunity to flip the switch from feeling down to feeling happy? (E.g. cooking,  painting, photography,  sport, drawing, etc.)

Photo by Prudence Earl on Unsplash

Consider Lifestyle

Taking inventory on lifestyle can be a great way to find things to take action on right away towards building self-esteem. Consider things like what sleep is looking like, stress, nutrition, down time and exercise.

It doesn’t need to be an overhaul, but try targeting one of these areas together and making small, achievable changes that will make a real difference. I started adding more fruits and veggies to each meal instead of processed sugars and it significantly changed my moods. Try checking out some of these resources:

Photo by Priscilla Du Preeze on Unsplash

Communication

Being able to effectively communicate builds self-esteem and confidence.  If your teen struggles to express themselves, whether that’s to talk to new people, ask for help, advocate at school,  or manage conflict with peers and family members, this is probably an indicator of self-esteem issues. Modeling communication skills can be a good place to start.

Child Mind Institute writes about communicating with your teen and shares some great tips like validating their feelings,  showing trust, and tuning in to your own emotions as ways to have a healthy and trusting parent-teen relationship.

Another part of communication is supporting your teens to become more confident and more capable in their communication. Check out my blog on bullying that covers a piece on building assertiveness skills.

Empowering your teen to take action to building their self-esteem and confidence will pay off in dividends as they navigate the ups and downs of this time in their lives. In your supportive and loving way, you will benefit from that heartwarming feeling as you see their self-esteem improve.

If you want to talk more about supporting your teen with their self-esteem, reach out to me for your free 20 minute consultation call 403.812.1716

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.

10 Ways to Survive the Holidays with Your Bestie During a Pandemic

I was taking a socially distanced walk with one of my best friends the other day and I felt so grateful to see her in person, hear her voice, and laugh and complain about life – especially during the holidays –  with one of my favourite people in the world.

It got me thinking about friendships and how important it is to connect with friends and people who bring us up, especially in your teen years! Friends can be the anchors that help you get through everything. They can be the fuel that encourages you to go for it. They can be the rock that is there for you, kind, genuine, trusting, and loving you just the way you are.  With a lot of the country going into some form of lockdown over the holidays, those moments of being together and hanging out with friends are going to be trickier to have.

Photo by Harold Wijnholds on Unsplash

Here are 10 ideas on how you can get through the holiday season with your besties this year (in no particular order):

1. Go For a Walk  Find a spot and go walking or hiking together. You can explore and talk and there’s the added bonus of moving your body which is a great mood lifter.

2. Bake Cookies Together (virtually that is) – Set a time to meet virtually and pick an activity whether it’s baking cookies, decorating gingerbread houses, painting a picture, making an ornament, etc. Once you have the activity in mind, each of you gather materials or one of you gather materials for both and do a drop off at the other’s house. Hop on-line and let the magic and laughter begin.

3. Try a Class Together  Another virtual option is to try a class together. You can challenge yourselves to a workout, dance, yoga, art class and much much more. You can start here for some upcoming events.

4. Enjoy the Snow – Skiing, snowboarding, sledding, skating… Getting out there in the snow gives you some face to face
Chantal

Photo By Nicolas Gras on Unsplash

5. Gaming Together – Need I say more?

6. Do Something for Others – Inspired by my friend (thanks Mel!) Helping others feels good over the holidays is even better alongside a friend. Meet up with your friend and shovel driveways together or break up the ice on the sidewalks. You can find ideas that easily allow you to be distanced and safe while helping others. The community will appreciate your good deed. And bonus – you get to hang out with your friend.

7. Start a Group Chat – Having a group chat can be a great way to stay connected. Make it a place where friends can drop funny photos, memes, and quotes to get you through the day. Your group chat can put a smile on your face and let you know you are not alone.

8. Drop Off a Gift – Doing a little surprise drop off for a friend can make their day and let them know you are thinking of them. You can even consider making something yourself, so it’s extra special. There are some great DIY ideas you can start with here.

9. Make a Tik Tok – Make a Tik Tok video and dedicate it to your bestie. You can also make a Tik Tok together or come up with friend challenges that you can participate in together in a fun way.

10. Mail Something to Each Other – You and your friend can agree to write each other a letter or make a card and then send it by snail mail. It can be fun and different to receive mail this way!

Add to the list – Let’s keep the list going! What other ideas do you have to get through the holidays with your friends this year?

If you are struggling with your friendships and you want to learn who to let into your squad of BFF, follow me on Instagram for weekly ideas and tips: @therapywithchantal


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. 

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