Q: I have ADHD, anxiety, and Depression. I need tools to help me. I get upset for no reason and lash out at my family. Can you help me?
A: I absolutely can give you some ideas on tools and strategies to help you manage your feelings. These are just suggestions, and finding a therapist to work with you is really the ideal way to make long lasting change. First, have some self-compassion and recognize how great it is that you want to make a change and improve the relationship with your family. Most strategies sound simple and unlikely to make an impact, but consistently using one or two strategies really will make all the difference. It may feel like you are lashing out for no reason, but if we do a little digging, I can promise there is a reason. Knowing the reason is helpful because it forces us to look deeper into our thoughts and beliefs about ourselves. The next time you “lash out,” find a moment later when you’re calm and reflect on what happened. Ask yourself “why” three times to try and uncover your true thoughts about the event. For example: Let’s say your mom asked you why you haven’t cleaned your room and you yelled at her. Ask yourself “why” three times?
Why did I yell at her?
Because she made me mad.
Why did she make me mad?
Because I was going to clean it but have been putting it off.
Why have I been putting it off?
Because cleaning my room feels overwhelming to me right now.
You can keep asking ‘why’ to get at deeper levels, but this helps create a framework where you can understand where some of these emotions are coming from. In this example, it’s understandable that being asked about a task that you wanted to do might trigger a big reaction. Knowing this can help us reconstruct our internal dialogue and help prepare us for future moments. It also allows us to return to that person and give a meaningful explanation for our behavior. Being able to say, “Mom, I yelled at you because cleaning my room has been something I’ve been wanting to do, but it seems overwhelming right now,” helps repair the relationship and creates an empathic connection to that person.
Here are a couple of my favorite ways to try and manage your emotions before you have a big reaction.
- Notice your physical symptoms. Is your heartbeat increasing? Palms sweating? Stomach feels funny? Noticing these changes is a clue that we are beginning to have a strong reaction to something.
- Take a deep, slow breath before you react. Breathe out more slowly than you breathe in. This gives you time to weigh your options.
- Get a drink of cold water or hold ice cubes in your hands. Temperature change can help when we’re in emotional distress.
Label how you’re feeling. Go beyond saying you’re angry. There is usually something underneath anger that is driving our behavior. If we use the above example, maybe you feel embarrassed because you feel like you should be able to clean your room. Labeling can help you have self-compassion during heightened emotions.
Q: In my psych class, we’ve been talking about different mental illnesses. It’s making me think I might have Bipolar or Borderline personality disorder. I get mixed results when I take online quizzes. I have big mood swings, some unhealthy relationships, have had a few traumatic experiences as a kid like my parents having a bad divorce, I’ve been told I’m impulsive and don’t think anything through. What should I do?
A: As much as I love psychology classes, this is one of the problems. You can’t help but try and diagnose yourself and those around you. As hard as it is, please stay away from online quizzes. Those are not created by professionals and are taking a very simplistic view of very complex illnesses. Bipolar Disorder and Personality Disorders take a very skilled psychologist or psychiatrist to properly diagnose and treat someone with those. I suggest talking with a trusted adult like a parent, family friend, teacher, or pediatrician to help you find a qualified individual that can assess you. To be honest, we all, at times, might have traits of varying mental illnesses. We all have mood swings sometimes or disturbances in our typical sleep routine, this might mean something bigger is going on and sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, if you feel like something is off and like these traits are impacting your overall functioning, absolutely seek out some guidance from an adult. This will at least help you find some answers.
Q: I recently noticed some cuts on my friend’s arm, I asked them about it and they said it wasn’t a big deal and changed the subject. Their parents are really strict, and I don’t want to get her into trouble. Should I say something?
A: Thank you so much for this question. The topic of self-harm can be difficult and scary to talk about. First and foremost, you’re being a great friend by showing concern and seeking out guidance. When it comes to self-harm or any kind of safety concern, you always want to be overly cautious. So yes, you should say something to an adult. If you don’t feel comfortable going to her parents then I suggest you go to your school social worker or teacher, they have received training on how to manage these situations and the do not have to tell your friend it was you who said something. Continue to check in with your friend and be a support to her but know that it’s not your responsibility to manage this on your own.
I also want to talk a little bit about self-harm and what it is. A lot of people have a misconception that someone who engages in self-harm, is suicidal. This is actually not typically the case. Self-harm is when you hurt yourself as way of dealing with difficult feelings, painful memories, or overwhelming situations. It is a coping strategy for dealing with their emotional pain. There are a lot of other positive coping strategies that someone can use that mimic a physical sensation or release and therapy can be a helpful way to explore these options. Sometimes people hold ice cubes in their hands or snap a rubber band on their wrist.
If you or someone you know is in crisis: Text 741741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)
Q: I’m a sophomore in high school and I’ve been feeling a lot of pressure from my parents and myself to do AP classes. I already feel like I have a pretty intense class and extracurricular schedule, but I know it’s what a lot of my friends are doing, and those classes look good on college applications. I just don’t think I can take on anymore. What should I do?
A: Hi and thank you so much for your question. Academic pressures on high school students are extremely high right now. Firstly, I think it’s wonderful that you are able to realize and admit that you already feel like you have a strenuous schedule and can’t take on more. It is so difficult for us to be honest with ourselves, so please praise yourself for that! Secondly, as I’m sure you know, colleges look for more than AP classes. Think about the cost/benefit of AP classes, will your grades ultimately suffer due to the extra work and stress? Will you get into your top choice school without AP classes? Will your self-esteem be affected by taking or not taking AP classes? Try to figure out what your motivation is for taking an AP class and ask yourself, is it worth it? If the only motivation is for college or to please your parents, then the benefit might not outweigh the cost. Perhaps ask the AP teacher if you could see a syllabus and that way you can accurately gauge the rigor of the course. If you decide AP classes are not right for you, then ask your parents to sit down and have a focused conversation about your academic goals. You could also include your school college counselor in this conversation to help navigate the discussion. Use “I feel” statements to express your perspective and have some talking points prepared so your parents know you’ve taken the time to consider what is in your best interest. Thank you for your question, be well!
Q: I’m a Junior in high school and think I have depression. I’m always tired, don’t want to do anything, and get annoyed at everything. I really feel like I need therapy but don’t want to ask my parents about getting help. I think it will just worry them and make them look at me like I’m crazy. Does this sound like depression and is there anything I can do to deal with it on my own?
A: Hi and thank you so much for your question. Struggling with these kinds of symptoms can be very difficult. I truly admire your ability to notice that you’re not feeling quite like yourself and that you may need some help. Asking for help is a very difficult and necessary first step to managing these feelings. While I can’t diagnose you with depression, I can say that the diagnosis doesn’t really make much of a difference in terms of what I’m going to suggest. Listen and trust your instincts. You know something is feeling off and you’d like this to change. Yes, there are things you can do privately that might help improve your mood and motivation. Such things might be creating a realistic daily schedule and to-do list, having a really good morning and bedtime routine that allows for self-care, getting enough sleep at night, eating healthy, and exercising regularly. However, the likelihood that you successfully implement some of these suggestions will increase if you receive some outside help. As someone who has gone through years of therapy myself, I know how difficult it is to admit that you need help. This is because of the negative stigma attached to mental health and mental health illnesses. I think it is so brave for people to begin having these difficult and uncomfortable conversations. If you don’t want to talk to your parents about therapy, ask your school counselor or social worker. They can typically see you a certain number of times without needing parental consent. Those sessions could help get you started on some healthy habits and discuss how to best approach your parents. Please know that you are not alone in feeling this way. Here a couple phenomenal podcasts from teens who talk about mental health in a very relatable way along with tips for management. She Persisted Podcast and Your Life Sucks Podcast. Thank you for your question and be well!