Doing Life Together



This Thanksgiving, enjoy the meal, watch the parade and football but give thanks…and if you need a little help,here are a few versus from the Psalms:

“Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto Him with psalms” (95:2).

“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name” (100:4).

“O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good: for His mercy endures forever…Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness” (107:18-9).

Let’s praise Him this Thanksgiving and then continue this practice throughout the year!

desperate-2293377_1920Nicole was doing well in school but found herself incredibly anxious. A freshman in college, she found her way to the counseling center for help. She discovered that anxiety is the number one reason college students seek counseling services on campus. She, and several of her friends, struggle with an overwhelming sense of anxiety. They are not alone. There seems to be a steady increase in anxious students.

The question is why are our teens running around with so many negative beliefs about themselves that cause them to worry? Sometimes, the teen has good reason to be anxious. Those raised in abusive homes or  who live in dangerous or poverty neighborhoods have reasons to be anxious. Anxiety is a response to an out of control, unstable environment. Fear is a real thing when neighborhoods and families aren’t safe.

Well off teens with better environmental circumstances may be anxious as well. The child who has it all can be perfectionistic and fearful of failure. They push themselves and feel they have to do more and accomplish much–AP classes, ivy league colleges…the pressure to perform and be successful is real and they often feel they don’t measure up. They are anxious about school and social media and how they are perceived. The relentless comparison and keeping up with peers can make a person self-conscious and unsure.

They struggle with uncertainty and new situations in which they have little control. Yet, this is what builds confidence to face anxious situations. Living on social media is a pretend world in which they control uncertainty and discomfort. But that isn’t life. Life is filled with numerous opportunities to problem-solve in the moment and move forward despite your insecurity. So people have to be exposed to these uncertain experiences and learn how to cope.

To overcome anxiety, you have to face it head on. No more trigger warnings, safe spaces and opting out. Teens need to stay in the anxious moment and learn to deal with it. They need to build resilience and be inoculated with stress. Parents, help your teens get out of their comfort zones and bedrooms and into face to face relationships. Basically, they need to learn to tolerate distress. And once they experience their ability to cope with stress, this builds confidence and lessens anxiety.

woman-2886764_1920Heather doesn’t want to be constantly thinking about a relationship break-up she had, but she can’t seem to get those unwanted thoughts out of her head. She finds herself ruminating….”I should have done this, why did he do that, how could I have…,”the thoughts are distressing and she wants to stop them.

Jerry struggles with memories related to PTSD from his time in Iraq. Images of children, bombs and terror continue to flood his thoughts. At times, he feels like he can’t stop those intrusive thoughts from coming.

Both of these individual need to be able to disengage from ruminating thoughts to improve their mental health. Scientists have been working on a better understanding of how those intrusive thoughts can be stopped.

A new discovery about the brain may help Heather and Jerry eventually suppress those unwanted thoughts. A chemical in the brain’s memory system may be responsible for the inability to shift their thoughts away from  intrusive and ruminating memories.

The brain’s main inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA, may be involved. Researchers from the University of Cambridge looked at how GABA in the hippocampus (memory center of the brain) blocked unwanted or intrusive thoughts. They observed that people with high concentrations of hippocampal GABA were able to block those thoughts better than others.

The hippocampus (memory) gets its commands from the thinking part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex. But if there is a low concentration of GABA in the memory part of the brain, it may not be able to deal well with the thinking part, and those unwanted thoughts keep coming.

These findings may indicate that improving GABA activity in the hippocampus of the brain might be helpful to the problem of rumination. In the study, hippocampal GABA predicted thought suppression. In others words, the more GABA you had in that area of the brain (hippocampus), the better you were at stopping ruminating thoughts.

So while we don’t have a specific treatment yet based on this finding, the finding helps us unlock more understanding about why some people stay frozen and have a difficult time to truly let it go.

mobile-phone-1026122_1920The anonymous Facebook post read, “Go ahead and kill yourself,” and “You are nothing but a pathetic person!” Surprisingly, the posts were written by the teen who was the target. He was engaging in what is now being called, digital self-harm and cyberbullying himself. His posts contained a handful of messages that were threats and evidenced hate towards himself. The posts got everyone’s attention.

We first noticed this type of behavior when a 14-year-old English teen sent herself digital messages of self-harm weeks before she committed suicide in 2013. And a Texas teen did something similar by posting messages of being ugly and needing to kill herself. Sadly, her life, too, ended in suicide.

What we are seeing is a form of self-harm or what has been called self-injury. Only now it is beginning to occur on digital platforms. A study among middle and high school students found that about 6% of teens are engaging in this behavior. In the study, boys admitted to doing this more than girls. However, most often we hear of girls engaging in self-harm. And the study found a relationship between self-harm and sexual orientation, being bullied at school or on-line, drug use or engaging in deviant behavior, having depressive thoughts and engaging in off-line self-harm. So consider those possible risk factors.

Why would a teen use a digital account to publicly send harmful messages to himself? When students in the study were asked, several themes emerged.

  • This was a cry for help. Like all self-injury, it represents internal pain
  • They wanted attention or did it to be funny
  • They wanted a reaction from their friends or to see how their friends would respond
  • Low self-esteem or self-hate

Bottom line for any parent: Consider the possibility that a cyberbullying message could be sent from your own teen. Your teen could be engaging in digital self-harm. Even if this isn’t the case, the cyberbullying messages are of great concern and need to be explored. Parents, teachers and others working with teens need to be alerted to this new type of on-line behavior.

Self injury is a predictor of suicide so it has to be taken seriously. If you know a teen engaged in off-line self-harm such as cutting, skin picking, pulling hair, burning or carving their skin, tell them you love them and get them professional help. The behavior is symptomatic of pain, coping problems or a way to punish themselves. They y need help to cope differently and deal with whatever is causing emotional pain.