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Mental Illness

How to Help Your Teen Cope With Stress During the School Year

Posted by Sue Scheff on September 06, 2017  /   Posted in Mental Health, Mental Illness, Parenting Teens, Teen Depression, Teen Help, Troubled Teens

When summer ends and the school year begins, you can practically hear a symphony of teenagers simultaneously groaning. Who can blame them though? They need to wake up during the early hours of the morning, study for exams, complete homework for several different classes, balance extracurricular activities, maintain a social life – and in the midst of all of that, take care of themselves. That’s a lot on a young person’s plate! As a parent, you can expect them to be incredibly stressed out at having to manage everything all at once. Teens have a heavy amount of stress because not only do their high school years prepare them for college; they also begin to develop their individuality, learn how to be responsible, and get a taste of adulthood.

To help your teen have a more productive semester and reduce their academic anxiety, here’s how you can help them cope with stress during the school year:

Encourage them to focus on their well-being, first and foremost

Believe it or not, simple self-care methods such as taking showers, self-grooming, and relaxing can pushed aside in exchange for dedicating more time to school work. However, one never feels their best when they don’t take care of themselves! While your teen’s ambition is admirable, they should always consider the state of their emotional and physical well-being. Your teen should also always make time for hobbies and passions that make them happy as well. School work may take up most of their time, but they need to remember their personal needs and happiness is just as important.

Inform them of healthy coping mechanisms 

There’s a huge difference between dealing with stress in a healthy way versus an unhealthy way. Unhealthy coping mechanisms cause more stress and do more damage. Examples include suppressing emotions, purposely hurting others, self-harm and so forth. In the long run, unhealthy coping mechanisms can lead to your child developing depression, anxiety, and even an addiction to substances later on life. Factually, 1 in 8 Americans are alcoholics, and your teen does not need to be a part of that statistic, nor endure mental conditions that can be avoided. To prevent that, and many other unfortunate circumstances, inform and educate them on how to properly handle their stress with healthy coping mechanisms such as journal writing, articulating feelings to a trusted individual such as you or a friend, and meditation.

Help them establish a set schedule

With so many obligations that need to be fulfilled, your teen will get overwhelmed on where to focus most of their attention. Have them sit down to schedule a wake-up and sleep time, set aside specific parts of the day for studying, and adhere to it. However, they can be flexible on the weekends for friends and personal time. Fun is needed too! By following a schedule, your teen will be able to handle their responsibilities and live their life in an organized matter, rather than feeling lost or frazzled with what to do first.

Go grocery shopping for healthy food and meal prep 

A healthy and well-rounded diet affects a person just as much emotionally as it does physically. When overwhelmed with an endless list of things to do, it’s normal for a teen to eat whatever is available and neglect their diet. Educate your teen about healthier food choices, teach them to cook, and encourage them to prepare their meals ahead of time. If they meal prep healthy food, they never have to worry about spontaneous fast food purchases or unhealthy cravings! Over time, your teen will also naturally gravitate towards healthy food in general.

Encourage your teen to exercise

With stress taking a toll on both a mental and physical well-being, teens need a therapeutic outlet to release it! Exercise is one of the best methods of stress relief due to its ability to pump endorphins – nature’s pain-killing chemicals – throughout their body. Additionally, exercise helps stabilize their mood, improves overall brain function, and keeps them feeling energized and ready to take on the day. Regardless of the exercise they choose to do, such as weight training versus yoga, all exercises will contribute the same positive benefits. If your teen is up for it, suggest taking up an exercise together!

Tell them to take a break

When your teen needs a break from vigorously studying, offer to take them outside for some fresh air or remind them that it won’t hurt to relax for a few minutes. Despite sounding counter-intuitive, taking a break is actually more beneficial than harmful. The more your teen forces themselves to work, the less productive they become. With overexertion, they lose the ability to focus on tasks, become easily irritable, and rarely sleep. Some examples of breaks include spending fifteen minutes on the couch doing what they please, meditating, and even catching up with you about what’s been going on in their lives. By stepping back from the required readings and math notes, teens seize this moment to replenish their energy to study efficiently, absorb information, and demonstrate what they have learned onto their exams.

Remind them that stress is a part of life, and they will get through it just like everything else

Stress is inevitable. Truthfully, at times, it feels like it lasts forever – but that is never the case. Remind your teen that stress is always going to be a part of life, but they don’t need to fear it. What really matters is taking of themselves and always doing the best they can to succeed.

Contributor: Trevor McDonald

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Missing Medicine? It Could Be a Sign of Medicine Abuse

Posted by Sue Scheff on May 26, 2017  /   Posted in Mental Health, Mental Illness, Parenting Teens

Does the scenario highlighted in the video below seem familiar?

I hope not, but the reality is that missing medicine could be a sign of over-the-counter (OTC) medicine abuse. It’s common to hear about teens abusing illegal drugs, alcohol and even prescription medication to get high, but many parents don’t realize that teens may also abuse OTC cough medicine.

If this is news to you, you may be wondering, why would teens abuse OTC cough medicine?

Teens often abuse OTC cough medicine because it’s affordable and easy to access. They may also mistakenly believe that it’s safer to abuse than illegal drugs.

The good news is that there are things you can do to help prevent your teen from abusing OTC cough medicine.

Educate yourself.

The first step is education. Learn about dextromethorphan (DXM), the active ingredient in most OTC cough medicines. Learn how to identify which products contain DXM by looking for the Stop Medicine Abuse icon. Become familiar with what DXM abuse looks like.

Monitor.

In addition to being on the lookout for missing medicine, it is also important to monitor your teen’s behavior for warning signs and side effects including:

  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Hostile and uncooperative attitude
  • Use of slang terms
  • Changes in friends
  • Declining grades
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion, slurred speech and disorientation

Communicate with your teen.

Have a conversation with your teen about the risks of medicine abuse. Ask your teen if he or she has ever been exposed to DXM abuse or whether it’s something that’s discussed amongst peers. The reality is that one out of three teenagers knows someone who has abused OTC cough medicine to get high. That’s scary to think about, but teens who learn about the risks of substance abuse from their parents are 50 percent less likely to use drugs.

Share what you’ve learned.

It’s also important to communicate with other parents, teachers and community members to spread awareness. These conversations can be had at sports games, school activities or parent events to help inspire other parents to become vigilant against cough medicine abuse.

Parents can’t protect their teenagers from all the dangers of the world, but with education, close monitoring and a supportive community… parents can prevent OTC medicine abuse.

You can get more information at StopMedicineAbuse.org or join the conversation by following Stop Medicine Abuse on Facebook and Twitter.

Contributor: Anita Brikman joined the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) in 2016 and leads the association’s communications and public affairs functions. As a member of the senior management team, she is responsible for establishing and directing the organization’s communications strategies and goals. Anita is passionate about healthcare issues, with over two decades of experience as a news anchor and health reporter in major television markets – making medicine abuse awareness and prevention efforts important to her. She is also the mother of three teenagers.

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The Nature Effect: How Getting Outside Benefits You and Your Troubled Teen

Posted by Sue Scheff on September 15, 2016  /   Posted in Mental Health, Mental Illness, Parenting Teens, Struggling Teen Help, Teen Help, Troubled Teens

teennatureIf there was a simple way to better the relationship you have with your teen, you would want in on it, right? Well, the simple solution is all around you — nature.

Your brain on nature

Does your family make time to get outside and spend time in nature? If not, you may want to consider it. Spending time outdoors for an extended period of time is essentially like hitting the reset button on your brain. Oftentimes, people just like you and your teen, cite feeling more clear headed, less stressed, more creative and even more alive after spending time outside. It’s true. Spending time in nature is restorative to mental health, and its effect can be described as a psychological process called attention restoration therapy. Spending time outdoors can even change the wiring in the brain, but we will get to that later.

Disorders, illness and their relationship to nature

There are a myriad of health problems that face our children and teens today, from ADD/ADHD, cognition disorders and depression to obesity, stress, Type II Diabetes and even something called nature deficit disorder. And while there is no single remedy to treat many of these ailments, there is something that can help. Now more than ever, kids and teens are widely disconnected from their natural outdoor environment and spending copious amounts of time indoors. A disconnection from nature leads to difficulties concerning concentration, a sadly diminished use of the senses and even higher rates of mental illness. Even creativity levels, attention spans and desire to explore suffer because of our kids’ limited exposure to the outdoors. But as a parent, you can help to prevent these outcomes by simply getting them outside in a natural environment more often. In recent years, “wilderness therapy” has emerged as a way to help troubled teens and adolescents with disciplinary or psychological problems get back on track. Some of these programs last up to eight weeks, completely emerging your teen into the wilderness. However, these programs are not for everyone and should only be considered after taking other measures first. They are also only recommended for teens dealing with serious drug, alcohol and other serious issues.

Nature combats stress in teens and parents

One of the major draws of spending time in nature is its ability to reduce stress. While you may be thinking “What stress does my teen have?” right now, you should know that your kids are likely under a lot of pressure. From their peers, teachers, coaches and even you. Dating, sex, status, drugs and alcohol, school and other factors are big contributors to stress for teens. However, recent research has shown that our environments directly impact stress levels and our bodies. The University of Minnesota reports that nature soothes and restores, improving moods from stressed, depressed and anxious to more balanced and calm. Other studies that were also cited by the University of Minnesota claim that nature is all-around associated with a positive mood, meaningfulness, vitality and psychological well-being.

Using nature to connect with your troubled teen

Research out of the Human-Environment Research Lab has shown that time spent outdoors in nature connects people to each other and the larger world around them. If your teen is standoffish and distant, they may just need a little more nature in their routine. Use this time to put your screens away — yes, all devices, phones and tablets — and really connect with your outside environment and kid. You have to be genuinely invested in this activity and that means that you will have to power down. Whether you opt to take a weekend camping trip or just decide to go for an afternoon hike, being outdoors can help to foster a healthier relationship between you and your teen. When you’re ready to experience the great outdoors, make sure you’re equipped with the right outdoor gear. That way you can ensure you’re prepared for whatever adventure you have planned.

Walking outdoors has big benefits for adolescents and adults

Would you believe that a simple walk in the woods could actually change the wiring in the brain? You better believe it. Sure, people have cited that they feel better after talking a walk in nature, but recently both The New York Times and NPR reported that walking outside is truly beneficial for the brain. Researchers used brain scans and found that people who walked outdoors, even for a short period of time, actually had changes in their neurological functioning — for good. Something as simple as a walk in nature could change everything.

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Addiction and Teens: How Suicide Comes Into the Picture

Posted by Sue Scheff on September 06, 2016  /   Posted in Mental Health, Mental Illness, Parenting Teens, Teen Help, Troubled Teens

PixabayTeenThe teen years are difficult for many, although some young people are better equipped to handle stressful situations and therefore seem to have an easier time. For the most part, teens don’t have the emotional maturity to cope with some of the issues they face today, which can lead to substance abuse as they attempt to find a way through the situation.

Many parents fear that drug and alcohol abuse will lead to death by overdose, but there is also a risk for death by suicide when substances come into the picture, especially if there was already a mood or mental disorder present that is exacerbated by drugs or alcohol. With emotions already running high for young people, adding a substance into the mix can only makes things worse and, frighteningly, causes impulsive behavior that may make self-harm easier. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 15-34.

For this reason, the risk for suicide is heightened when a teen has access to a weapon, which is why all families who own guns are strongly urged to keep them locked up or secured in a hidden place, preferably with a lock on the trigger and the bullets in a separate area.

Teens–especially those who suffer from an undiagnosed condition such as bipolar disorder–may begin to feel as if there is no way out when they experience a difficult life event. These feelings are dangerous, especially if there has been substance abuse present that could make the individual impulsive. Drugs and alcohol can lead to depression, isolation, a decline in physical health, and can affect sleeping habits, which could lead back around to substance abuse as the individual tries to get rest.

The reasons a teen may turn to drugs or alcohol are myriad. It can stem from an unhappy home life, a recent big life change such as divorce or a death in the family, chronic illness, or it could be something unseen by friends and family, such as a struggle with sexuality or cyber-bullying.

In order for parents to help, it’s always a good idea to know who their child is spending time with and what they do in their free time. This can be useful when it comes time for the teen to open up about any issues they may be having.

Some of the warning signs of addiction in teens include:

  • Loss of interest in things that once brought joy
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Too much or too little sleep
  • Decline in physical health or appearance
  • Slurred or impaired speech
  • Detached emotions or being overly emotional
  • Being secretive
  • Lashing out
  • Getting into legal trouble

If you have a loved one who is exhibiting these behaviors, it’s important to open up a conversation with them and let them know you’re listening. Don’t be judgmental or introduce guilt; chances are, they already feel guilty about something, or perhaps they are suffering from low self-esteem. Let them know you’re there for them and encourage them to seek help in the form of counseling, or to make an appointment with a doctor. It’s a good idea to talk one-on-one, as too many people in a room can make the individual feel like they are being ganged up on.

If you feel that self-harm is imminent, don’t leave the individual alone. Remove any items that could be used for harm from the area and call for help. Remember that you won’t have all the answers, and you may not be able to reach your loved one the way they need to be reached. There are professionals waiting to help when this is the case.

National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK

Contributor:  Michelle Peterson has been in recovery for several years. She started RecoveryPride.org to help eliminate the stigma placed on those who struggle with addiction. The site emphasizes that the journey to sobriety should not be one of shame but of pride and offers stories, victories, and other information to give hope and help to those in recovery.

 

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3 Alternative Ways to Treat Mental Illness That Eliminate The Threat of Addiction

Posted by Sue Scheff on July 28, 2016  /   Posted in Mental Illness, Parenting Teens, Struggling Teen Help, Teen Help, Troubled Teens

PillsFor some people with mental illness, the idea of relying on pharmaceuticals and therapy sessions is not acceptable. Because of concerns about pharmaceutical companies and addictive, dangerous, and expensive medication, more and more people seek alternative treatments for their mental illnesses. The guidance of a trained counselor is important, and there are plenty of counselors willing to work with an alternative treatment plan. Be sure to do your research before starting an alternative treatment. Suggestions based on pseudoscience very easily can lead a well-adjusted individual to a path of increased symptoms and negative side effects. We present a few alternative methods for treating mental illness here, so that you can begin to educate yourself about alternative treatments.

Tried and True Herbal Supplements

If you step into any natural foods store, you are bound to run into a wall of various supplements, all claiming to be beneficial for this or that ailment or illness. While some herbal supplements can help alleviate your symptoms, it is important that you do the research, find valid studies, and make your decision wisely. Some well-tested supplements include St. John’s Wort for minor depression, Kava Kava for panic and anxiety, and tulsi (Holy Basil) for stress.

Be sure to avoid anything that uses homeopathy. The basis of homeopathy comes from the flawed, ancient concept that an ailment can be cured by a herb that would cause the ailment. The substance is then diluted hundreds of times, leaving, at most, a single molecule of the original substance. Though this water “solution” may not cause adverse effects, the cessation of treatment may cause symptoms to return.

Diet and Exercise

As always, improving your diet and scheduling regular exercise can help a number of issues people often experience. For those with mental illness, a good diet devoid of nutritional gaps can work to even out chemical imbalances. The exercise component keeps the body fit while generating endorphins, which boost your mood.

If you decide to take this treatment path, it is important that you work with a counselor. For some people, good diet and exercise simply are not enough to counteract the mental illness. A counselor will be able to monitor your wellbeing and decide whether or not the treatment is effective enough to stand alone.

Psychiatric Service Dogs

A psychiatric service dog differs from a companion animal. While companion animals can be an excellent form of treatment, they help only by providing love, affection, and a reason to get out of bed and get moving. Service dogs are specially trained to perform tasks such as providing pressure during panic attacks, retrieving medication, leading someone from a crowd during a PTSD flashback, and a number of other helpful tasks. Though a service dog alone is not a complete treatment, they can be extraordinarily beneficial for those struggling with mental illness.

Service and companion animals also can provide the added benefit of preventing addiction and suicide. For some people, mental illness is isolating, fostering depression and suicidal thoughts. An animal standing by to provide love while simultaneously offering a reason to live can make all the difference.

The world of alternative treatments can be difficult to navigate. Misinformation is published very easily and falsely backed by poorly conducted studies. The importance of research and professional guidance cannot be ignored. If you want to refuse pharmaceuticals in lieu of a more natural treatment for your mental illness, be sure you are acting responsibly. Get the help of a professional and investigate all claims thoroughly. With these two precautions, it will suddenly become easier to pinpoint a truly effective alternative treatment.

Contributor:

Adam Cook has a strong understanding of the devastation that can be caused by addiction. He recently lost a close friend to an addiction-related suicide. In an effort to better educate himself and to help others, he created AddictionHub.org, a site that provides addiction and mental health resources. When he isn’t working or adding to his website, he’s prepping for his first triathlon.

Image via Pixabay by PublicDomainPictures

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