Help! My child won't do what they are asked and my home is becoming a miserable place.

To follow on from our series on stress, I thought I might shift into another problem we commonly see at HMC Launceston: unhappy homes and negative relationships between parents and their kids or teens. To the point where you love each other of course, but you really don't like each other sometimes. Obviously, this is a huge source of stress for all involved. And sometimes things get to the point when you need a bit of help. An outside perspective with some ideas about why all those things you are trying (time out, reward charts, negotiating like a rational person) aren't working. 

The thing is, kids and teens often aren't logical and rational. 

Especially when big feelings are involved. Add in some big feelings from parents, who may be struggling with their own emotions, thoughts, behaviours, and life-stressors, and it's no wonder things start going downhill. 

The thing is, most humans benefit from more structure. Most kids definitely benefit from clear behavioural expectations and routines, and parents certainly benefit from being proactive rather than reactive, and being confident in their parenting plan. This is where something called "Behavioural Parent Training" comes in. 

Behavioural parent training doesn't mean you need to be trained on how to parent. 

As parents, we are typically the ones who know our children the best of anyone. Especially in the younger years. And you definitely know your family. But parents typically don't have a background in a behavioural science, such as psychology, and this is where a health professional might come in. We walk the path together and combine our respective expertise; your expertise on your family and your child, and our expertise on the application of behaviour change theory.

Our next blog series will be all about the important things to know when things aren't going so well at home. We will be investigating some the works of a pioneer in this area, Dr Russell Barkley, a clinical psychologist in the US and international expert on ADHD, as well as a couple of other key researchers in the field. Follow our blog series through facebook (@hmclaunceston) or the HMC Launceston website for more tips and to find out more!

Olivia Boer is a Clinical Psychologist and Director of Healthy Mind Centre Launceston, a private allied health practice in Launceston, Tasmania. 


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Your bucket is overflowing...

So, you have worked out you are stressed, tried some basic strategies, and are now keeping track of your stress levels (if you haven't done this, go back and have a look at our last two blog posts here). But how do you put it all together?

One nice, neat analogy is the stress bucket. Essentially, most people have a bit of stress (or SUDS of 3/10). This can be thought of as a bucket 3/10th full. When your bucket is just under a third full, then you have just over two thirds left of capacity before your emotional bucket overflows. Now, not everyone starts at the same place. People who have very little stress, or great resilience, start off with a little less. People who have a lot going on, or lots of things topping up their bucket, start off with a bit more. Or a lot more.

If you are starting out with a bucket half-full (wow, that sounds optimistic hey!) or two thirds full of stress, then you have less coping capacity to deal with stressful things that happen. If you have a large amount of stressful things happening, and your resilience is low, you might find yourself sitting at 95%. Then, all it takes is one more (sometimes small) thing and whoosh, your bucket overflows. 

Now for some people an overflowing bucket looks like bursting into tears, or yelling at your children, or saying out loud that statement you have fantasised screaming at your boss. Or maybe it's getting into bed, turning over to face the wall and pulling the covers up. And for those who are struggling the most, thinking that there is no way out and our bucket will be like this forever. Or that the bucket can't be emptied. 

You CAN get your bucket levels down. Sometimes it's by reducing the amount of stress coming into your bucket (life), sometimes it's getting more effective at letting it out. Mostly it's a combination of both. But often we aren't sure how to do this on our own, and that's where someone like a psychologist, counsellor, or your GP can help you move into a less-stressed and healthier head space. 

Olivia Boer is a Clinical Psychologist and Director of Healthy Mind Centre Launceston, a private psychology practice in Launceston, Tasmania. 

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How much stress do you have in your life?

Stress can impact most, if not all areas of our lives. Every day. In fact, even things that we typically see as good, such as a new relationship or doing something exciting, add stress to our lives. 

No one has no stress (unless we are unconscious, and even then our brains and bodies can experience stress - nightmares, anyone?). Additionally, stress is a very individual and often internal experience. Other people might not know how stressed we are just by looking at us.

One helpful way to measure how stressed you are is using a Subjective Units of Distress Scale (SUDS). Using SUDS allows us to compare our stress levels across events, and at different times of the day. It's a technique psychologists and other counsellors often use, so we can accurately understand someone's internal experience. A SUDS scale can be 0-100 or 0-10. I prefer 0-10 for simplicity (and because I work with a lot of children, not all who can easily count to 100!). Generally, 0 = no distress (comatose) and 10 = extreme distress.

So, back to no one has no stress. Average, everyday stress levels for the average, everyday person could be about 3/10. Enough so they look before they cross the road and make a bit of an effort in life. Netflix and Chill is around 2/10. At about 5/10, you are noticing signs of stress in your emotions and body, but you can still do the things you need to do. At around 7/10, your level of functioning begins to become impaired - you can no longer concentrate as well as you would like to, and it's getting tricky not to high-tail it out of there or scream at someone. By 9/10, you are on the verge of losing control. And 10/10, well, you've lost it. 

Try getting into the habit of checking in with yourself regularly (or your partner or children) at different times and working out what your number is at any given time. It's a very useful strategy as it can guide what you do next, as well as help predict the times you are likely to be more vulnerable in the future. Keeping note in a diary or on your phone is a great idea too. Have a chat to your psychologist for more guidance - we can help you work out what next. 


5 signs you might be too stressed, and what you can do about it

Stress is something that affects us all, at least some of the time. It begins when we are infants and continues throughout life. In fact, our brains and bodies are designed to experience stress. However, this very clever adaptive function (which we will explore more in a subsequent post) can sometimes become a little too sensitive... and that can be a problem. Here are five signs you might be stressed, and some helpful tips to feel better. 

1. You are having trouble sleeping. This fact is commonly known, and many (?most) people will have had a sleepless night at some stage. But why does this occur? One key reason is due to the release of the stress hormone, Cortisol. Cortisol helps your body to be alert for threats - not what you want when you are chasing zzz's. To reduce stress before bed, try having a warm bath or shower, practising some mindful deep breathing, and dimming the lights. Having a regular wind-down routine and staying away from screens can help too. 

2. You are more irritable than you would like. Face it, we all get cranky sometimes. And that's OK, irritability is a normal and valid human emotion after all. However, when we are stressed we can find ourselves being a little too cranky, and feeling guilty afterwards. Some time-out can be helpful here. Notice the ideas running through your mind and try and change them into something a little more helpful or balanced. Adding "My thought is" to the start of an irritable idea (e.g. "My thought is he just wants to annoy me") can give you a bit of emotional distance and new perspective. If you can't take a break, take some deep breaths and where possible recruit some supports to help you schedule a break soon. 

3. You lose your appetite... or you just can't eat enough. Appetite changes are another common effect of too much stress. Make sure you are hydrated - we often don't drink enough water anyway and when you are stressed, fluid intake is the last thing on your mind. And remember, treats are generally fine in moderation. Try filling up on healthier food first; it'll do wonders for your energy levels. Speaking of which...

4. Your energy levels drop. After an initial stressed "buzz" (thanks, Cortisol), our energy levels can drop. Cue sluggishness, low motivation, and not getting off the couch. Energy levels are a funny thing - often the more we do, the better our energy is. The steam train can be hard to get going, but even taking a gentle walk and practising mindfulness (being present in the here and now) can do wonders for how much spark we have. The trick here is keeping it regular and pushing yourself to do things, even when you don't really feel like it. 

5. Concentration becomes an issue. Stress has a huge impact on our ability to stay focused and on task, and we can find ourselves not achieving anything (which can be an additional source of stress in itself!). It's important to be kind to yourself, and be realistic with what you can expect from your poor old frontal lobes. If you can't take a break right now (hello, exams) then try and break down tasks into more achievable chunks and make sure you vigorously cross them off your to-do list, congratulating yourself as you go. 

Remember, if you are feeling too overwhelmed, have a chat to your GP or psychologist for further strategies that can help. 

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Welcome to Healthy Minds: A blog about all things psychology, mental health, and living a better life.

It's 2018, and we are mixing it up a bit this year. At HMC we strive to be bright, innovative, and creative... and we like technology. Therefore, this year, we are jumping on the bandwagon and starting a blog. 

You can expect a range of different content, from musings to step-by-step guides (and the occasional guest collaboration!). BUT, blog writing is a new thing for me. I figured I would start with some content that we see a lot of at HMC: the struggles that come along with stress and anxiety. Keep a look out for our posts, and feel free to share anything you find helpful or relevant. 

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