Friday, October 9, 2015

Blending Step-Families

When families "blend" to create stepfamilies, things rarely progress smoothly. The truth is you may find yourself in an already high-conflict or avoidance based relationship with the other parent. Each side has expectations and plans that are not always communicated to the other. Some children may resist changes, while parents can become frustrated when the new family doesn't function like their previous family. While changes to family structure require adjustment time for everyone involved, these guidelines can help blended families work out their growing pains and live together successfully.

Having survived a painful divorce or separation and then managed to find a new loving relationship, excitement can get the best of us and the temptation can often be to rush into remarriage and a blended family without first laying solid foundations. By taking your time, you give everyone a chance to get used to each other, and used to the idea of marriage.

  • Too many changes at once can unsettle children. Blended families have the highest success rate if the couple waits two years or more after a divorce to remarry, instead of piling one drastic family change onto another.
  • Find ways to experience “real life” together. Taking both sets of kids to a theme park every time you get together is a lot of fun, but it isn’t reflective of everyday life. Try to get the kids used to your partner and his or her children in daily life situations.
  • Make parenting changes before you marry. Agree with your new partner how you intend to parent together, and then make any necessary adjustments to your parenting styles before you remarry. It’ll make for a smoother transition and your kids won’t become angry at your new spouse for initiating changes.
  • Don’t allow ultimatums. Your kids or new partner may put you in a situation where you feel you have to choose between them. Remind them that you want both sets of people in your life.
  • Insist on respect. You can’t insist people like each other but you can insist that they treat one another with respect.
Children benefit when stepparents can help parents become firmer. Biological parents need to help stepparents become more kind. However, stepchildren cannot initially accept any parenting from stepparents. The parent must remain in charge until children are ready. Stepparents can give input, but the original parent retains final say. Stepparents may consider expressing caring and encouragement: "How was that test?" And reporting concerns to the parent: "I think Johnny didn't do his homework." When parents are absent, stepparents aim for "adult babysitter," not parent. "While I am out tonight, Mike is in charge." Stepparents then enforce the rules of the house.

Decrease conflict with the "other" household. Parental conflict seriously compromises children's adjustment. Keep drop-offs and pickups peaceful. Handle differences between households calmly and neutrally: "You drink Coke at mom's house. We drink milk here." Address problems with your ex out of children's earshot. In conflicted divorces, stick to a detailed, iron clad visitation schedule

Early in the formation of a blended family, you as a step-parent may want to focus on developing positive relationships with your stepchildren. You will increase the chances of success by thinking about what the children need. Age, gender, and personality are not irrelevant, but all children have some basic needs and wants that should be met as a precursor to a great relationship.

Children want to feel safe and secure, loved, heard and appreciated. Children want to be able to count on parents and step-parents. Children of divorce have already felt the upset of having people they trust let them down, and may not be eager to give second chances to a new step-parent. They also like to see and feel your affection, although it should be a gradual process. Kids often feel unimportant or invisible when it comes to decision making in the new blended family. Recognize their role in the family when you make decisions. Creating an honest and open environment free of judgment will help kids feel heard and emotionally connected to a new step-parent. Show them that you can view the situation from their perspective. Children of all ages respond to praise and encouragement and like to feel appreciated for their contributions.

Therapists with training and experience in stepfamily dynamics can help meet the challenges of stepfamily living. Couple therapy can offer a safe place to share feelings and can help resolve differences. A skilled therapist can sometimes help ex-spouses work together. If the children's behavior deteriorates, try increasing parent-child time, backing the stepparent out of a parenting role, and easing loyalty conflicts. If depression or acting out continues, seek help for your child, or for you as the parent. Children caught in intense loyalty conflicts sometimes appreciate a neutral therapist. Stepfamily living occasionally exposes very painful old "bruises." A good therapist can help resolve some of the old hurts and make living in the present easier.

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Monday, August 31, 2015

Working Yourself to Death?

We've all seen the motivational posters, listened to the greats and their motivational speeches, seen the books (maybe even read them), musical artists have songs on working hard, and we've read the bible's stance; But is there a fine between this kind of hard work and just working yourself to death?

A person who works 55 hours or more per week has a 33 percent greater risk of having a stroke and a 13 percent increased risk of developing coronary heart disease, compared to colleagues with a standard 35- to 40-hour work week, according to a large analysis published in The Lancet.

New research from the U.K. suggests that employees who work more than 48 hours per week are more likely to engage in risky alcohol consumption than those who work standard weeks. Risky alcohol consumption is considered as more than 14 drinks per week for women and more than 21 drinks per week for men. This amount of drinking is believed to increase risk of adverse health problems, including liver diseases, cancer, stroke, coronary heart disease, and mental disorders.

Elisabeth Kleppa and colleagues of the University of Bergen, Norway, analyzed data on work hours from a larger study of Norwegian men and women. Symptoms of anxiety and depression were assessed using a standard screening questionnaire. Anxiety and depression scores were compared for 1,350 workers who worked overtime, 41 to 100 hours per week; and approximately 9,000 workers who worked normal hours, 40 hours or less. Working overtime was associated with higher anxiety and depression scores among both men and women. The rate of questionnaire scores indicating “possible” depression increased from about nine percent for men with normal work hours to 12.5 percent for those who worked overtime.

So what do we do if we must work these crazy hours to get by?

Could you be experiencing job burnout?

Ask yourself the following questions:
  • Have you become cynical or critical at work?
  • Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started once you arrive?
  • Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
  • Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
  • Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
  • Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
  • Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
  • Have your sleep habits or appetite changed?
  • Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, backaches or other physical complaints?
If you're concerned about job burnout, take action. To get started:
  • Manage the stressors that contribute to job burnout. Once you've identified what's fueling your feelings of job burnout, you can make a plan to address the issues.
  • Evaluate your options. Discuss specific concerns with your supervisor. Perhaps you can work together to change expectations or reach compromises or solutions. Is job sharing an option? What about telecommuting or flexing your time? Would it help to establish a mentoring relationship? What are the options for continuing education or professional development?
  • Adjust your attitude. If you've become cynical at work, consider ways to improve your outlook. Rediscover enjoyable aspects of your work. Recognize co-workers for valuable contributions or a job well done. Take short breaks throughout the day. Spend time away from work doing things you enjoy.
  • Seek support. Whether you reach out to co-workers, friends, loved ones or others, support and collaboration may help you cope with job stress and feelings of burnout. If you have access to an employee assistance program (EAP), take advantage of the available services.
  • Assess your interests, skills and passions. An honest assessment can help you decide whether you should consider an alternative job, such as one that's less demanding or one that better matches your interests or core values.
  • Get some exercise. Regular physical activity, like walking or biking, can help you to better deal with stress. It can also help get your mind off work and focus on something else.
The bottom line? Keep an open mind as you consider the options. Don't let a demanding or unrewarding job undermine your health.

The Lancet
American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM)
British Medical Journal

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Friday, August 14, 2015

Medical Identity Theft

According to The Federal Trade Commission "A thief may use your name or health insurance numbers to see a doctor, get prescription drugs, file claims with your insurance provider, or get other care. If the thief’s health information is mixed with yours, your treatment, insurance and payment records, and credit report may be affected."

Identity Theft Resource Center reports the number of U.S. data breaches hit a record high of 783 in 2014 and since the start of the year, three major health insurers (Anthem, Premera, Carefirst) have been victims of major data breaches, with up to about 92 million records affected.

The ramifications of having your medical identity stolen can range from financial to medical. Not only do medical records usually contain payment and billing information, leaving credit card information exposed, but they also often contain sensitive data like Social Security Numbers and information that could enable a thief to obtain medical services under the victim’s identity. If the perpetrator’s medical information mixes with the victim’s, they could receive medication to which they is allergic, or their record may even contain the wrong blood type and other incorrect information.

Both the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the Affordable Care Act in 2010 have incentivized and required that health care providers digitize their health information. Now, most health information is held electronically, creating more targets for hackers.

The Fededral Trade Commission suggests: Read your medical and insurance statements regularly and completely. They can show warning signs of identity theft. Read the Explanation of Benefits (EOB) statement or Medicare Summary Notice that your health plan sends after treatment. Check the name of the provider, the date of service, and the service provided. Do the claims paid match the care you received? If you see a mistake, contact your health plan and report the problem.
Other signs of medical identity theft include:
  • a bill for medical services you didn’t receive
  • a call from a debt collector about a medical debt you don’t owe
  • medical collection notices on your credit report that you don’t recognize
  • a notice from your health plan saying you reached your benefit limit
  • a denial of insurance because your medical records show a condition you don’t have

The Office of Inspector General - U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers the following contact information:
  • Department Of Health & Human Services
    Office Of Inspector General Hotline 

    Report suspected Medicare fraud:
    Phone: 1-800-447-8477 (1-800-HHS-TIPS)
    TTY #: 1-800-377-4950
    Fax #: 1-800-223-8164
  • Medicare Call Center and Senior Medicare Patrols
    Report questionable charges to Medicare
    Phone: 1-800-633-4227 (1-800-MEDICARE)
    TTY #: 1-877-486-2048
    Online: External link
  • You can also contact  your local Senior Medicare Patrols who work locally to empower seniors to fight health care fraud and resolve errors.
    Phone: 1-877-808-2468
  • Federal Trade Commission's Identity Theft Hotline Report misuse of your personal information 
    Phone: 1-877-438-4338 (1-877-ID-THEFT)
    TTY #: 1-866-653-4261 
    Online: External link


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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Body Language: Hands

Recently there was a pretty big event a few people watched. We thought this would be a great time to talk about, Body Language

When you communicate, your brain automatically involves your hands to convey thoughts and emotions.

Using your non-dominant hand to make your point or putting your hands in your pocket can be signs of nervousness or lack of conviction. Submissive positions such as turning the palms upward implies pleading or begging, while finger pointing is dominating as in making a command ("Do it now!").

When the fingers are pressed together forming a steepled shape, pointing upwards, the person may be thinking. This may also be done with just index fingers pressed together and other fingers interlinked ('the church'), with all finger-tips touching ('the cage') or with fingers interlinked.

Steepling can indicate confidence and a sense of superiority over others. It can say "I know something you don't know."

When the hands are pressed together more, the person is feeling more tension and may be hoping for something. The face may give more clues about what they are thinking and feeling. The steepled position forms a barrier against the other person and may be held lower when the person wants to connect more, such as when they are listening.

When we become uncomfortable we tend to cover our vulnerable areas and do what is called the "Fig Leaf" position with the hands together in the front of the body covering the mid section.

No matter how much you practice and prepare, nervousness can make you go back on auto pilot and go back to your normal behavior. However; practice DOES make perfect. You can train yourself to use the right body language if you are preparing for a big presentation or event. Keep checking out our blog for more information.

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Friday, August 7, 2015

Test Anxiety

You may have paid attention in class, taken detailed notes, and even attended extra study sessions, so you should do great on that big test coming up, right? When the test is presented, you may instead, blank out thinking about the answers, look at other students to see what they’re doing and assume that they’re having a much easier time, or feel jittery and even faint. If this sounds familiar to you, then you might be suffering from something called, test anxiety.

Test anxiety is a form of performance anxiety and can also exist when giving a presentation or any other activity that creates pressure to perform. Although a little nervousness is common while taking a test or exam, test anxiety can cause fear and distress that can actually decrease test performance and impair learning. 

Thankfully you can develop strategies to stave off the symptoms. Visualize yourself taking the test in a calm and relaxed state. Doing this over and over again can expose you to the cause of your anxiety in a safe environment and will desensitize your midbrain so it will no longer perceive danger.  Try thinking of the test as an opportunity to show what you know rather than highlight what you don’t know. Remember, the examiner wants you to pass. Ask yourself, How many tests have you taken previously? How many have you passed? Probably almost all of them.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to seek help. If you’re having a difficult time working through your anxiety on your own, don’t hesitate to see a therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders. Performance and test anxiety are highly treatable, and you can absolutely get better!

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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Empowering Youth: Cyberbullying

Cyber bullying is a form of teen violence that involves using technology, like cell phones and the Internet, to bully or harass another person, at school or in their home. For victims, the consequences of being targeted by this behavior can range from lowered academic achievement to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and even suicide. 

  • Around half of teens have been the victims of cyber bullying
  • Only 1 in 10 teens tells a parent if they have been a victim of cyber bullying
  • Fewer than 1 in 5 cyber bullying incidents are reported to law enforcement
  • 1 in 10 adolescents or teens have had embarrassing or damaging pictures taken of themselves without their permission, often using cell phone cameras
  • About 1 in 5 teens have posted or sent sexually suggestive or nude pictures of themselves to others
  • Girls are somewhat more likely than boys to be involved in cyber bullying
The Cyber bullying Research Center also did a series of surveys that found these cyber bullying statistics:
  • Over 80 percent of teens use a cell phone regularly, making it the most popular form of technology and a common medium for cyber bullying
  • About half of young people have experienced some form of cyber bullying, and 10 to 20 percent experience it regularly
  • Mean, hurtful comments and spreading rumors are the most common type of cyber bullying
  • Girls are at least as likely as boys to be cyber bullies or their victims
  • Boys are more likely to be threatened by cyber bullies than girls
  • Cyber bullying affects all races
  • Cyber bullying victims are more likely to have low self-esteem and to consider suicide
We want to teach victims of cyber bullying to shift their focus from victimization to that of empowerment by giving them goals of courage, capability, connectedness and importance (Bettner and Lew’s four Crucial C’s). This changes the cycle of cyber bullying so that victims do not choose revenge and avoid becoming perpetrators themselves and victims focus on improving internal characteristics, enhancing their own mental health.
Cyber bullying is new to all of us, parents as well as educators. You may not only need to help your child through this trauma, you may need to help educate your school’s administrators as well. Many K-12 teachers today are feeling overwhelmed by this problem that the difficulties faced by bullies themselves often get lost in the mix. Susan Fogg, M.S., CSAC, LMHP, LPC of Access Intensive Counseling says: “Treatment needs to be for the bully as well as the victim. If you feel the need to hurt others to feel better about yourself, you need mental health support.” Victims and targets need to be the first concern, but adults should be concerned about all children.  Parents may need a referral to a good professional licensed counselor who can help this child understand why he or she persists in abusing others.

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