Jennifer Ackrish, Psy.D., Licensed Psychologist

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6 Tips for Talking to Your Children about Cancer

Posted on August 25, 2015 at 1:55 PM Comments comments (0)

One of my areas of specialty is Psycho-oncology. For years I have provided psychotherapeutic support to individuals and families dealing with cancer diagnosis. I collaborate with the individuals I work with to help them develop coping strategies that support them in managing their stress, sadness and social changes as healthfully as possible. I also recently ran a support group at Gilda’s Club in Fort Lauderdale for children between the ages of 6 and 12 who were affected by cancer diagnosis. It was incredible to see the insight and support that the children offered one another. I was inspried to write this post while I was reading the book The Silver Lining: A Suppotive and Insightful Guide to Breast Cancer by Hollye Jacobs. (I screen any self help books before I recommended them to my clients).


When a family is dealing with cancer diagnosis one of the first questions I receive is “how do I tell my children?” Dealing with cancer diagnosis is extremely challenging at any stage in life; however, when one has school age children in the home this already challenging situation can become even more complicated and stressful.


Here are 6 tips for discussing cancer with your children:


1. Don’t avoid!!

Many well-meaning parents I have worked with are very tempted to hide the truth from their children in effort to protect them. This DOES NOT WORK. Children know when there is something going wrong within the family whether it is illness or divorce. In my experience if children know something is amyss and no one is talking to them about it they will create something in their minds that is far worse than reality.

 

2. Prepare talking points

Many parents have informed me that telling their child that a family member has cancer was one of the most difficult conversations they have ever had in their lives. Make talking points about your loved one’s diagnosis and treatment to ensure the conversation is as structured and complete as possible. Also, aim to keep explanations concise. Some adults have a tendency to become verbose when they are nervous. Children often find lengthy explanations to be anxiety provoking and difficult to follow.


3. Communicate with the child at a developmentally appropriate level

 

Speak with your child at a level that is developmentally appropriate. Use words and terminology that are congruent with where the child is emotionally and intellectually. To make sure they understand what you are discussing ask them periodically to explain what you said in their own words.

 

4. Make sure there is appropriate time and space designated for their reactions and questions.

 

It is impossible to predict how a child will react to horrific news. Make sure that there is plenty of time for the child to react and ask questions. Also, make sure the conversation takes place in an environment that is safe, familiar and private for the child. Many parents I work with chose to have the conversation in their bedroom or the child’s bedroom.

 

5. Expects lots of questions and keep an open line of communication

 

Children will likely have lots of questions during the conversation and throughout their family member’s cancer treatment. The types of questions parents are asked vary and depend on the child’s age and intelligence. It is important to keep an open line of communication between yourselves and the child. Reassure the child that it is healthy to ask questions.

 

6. Maintain their routine as much as possible:

Sometimes parents are tempted to let their children stay up late or have more indulgent snacks than usual after presenting such disturbing news to the child. In my years working with children I have noticed that most children thrive in structured and healthy environments. In many cases structure and predictability is even more important than usual when something is going wrong in the child’s life. I recommend that parents keep household rules, discipline, bedtimes, eating and extracurricular activities as they were before the cancer diagnosis. This may require enlisting the help of family and friends.


If you or someone you love is struggling with the emotional challenges of cancer diagnosis and would like help. Please call me for a free consultation at 561-299-0483.


For more detailed information on this topic I highly recommend the following resources:


The Silver Lining: A Supportive and Insightful Guide to Breast Cancer By: Hollye Jacobs, RN, MS, MSW

 

When a Parent has Cancer By: Dr. Wendy Schelessel Harpham

 

How to Help Children Cope with a Parent’s Serious Illness By: Kathleen McCue

 

In Mommy’s Garden By: Neyal J Ammary, MPH, MCHES

 

6 Tips for Achieving Healthy and Happy New Year's Resolutions

Posted on January 2, 2015 at 9:55 AM Comments comments (0)

1. Pick a goal that is intrinsically motivated

• Intrinsic goals can be defined as goals that are “inherently satisfying and meaningful to you.”

• A goal that is intrinsically motivated fosters emotional growth and self-actualization.

• Results from various psychological studies suggest that people pursuing intrinsically motivated goals are happier and experience more pleasure during the pursuit of their goals.

2. Choose approach rather than avoidance goals

• Studies suggest that people have more success when they are approaching a desirable outcome rather than avoiding a negative outcome.

• Example: If one would like to be healthier in the new year

i. Approach goal: I will increase my vegetable, lean protein and fruit intake.

ii. Avoidance goal: I will stop eating so much junk food.

3. Select goals that are harmonious and compatible with the rest of your life.

4. Make your goals specific and time limited

• The more specific your goals are the easier it is to measure progress and attainment.

• Examples:

i. Vague goal: I want to be a better aunt.

ii. Specific goal: I want to spend time with my niece at least 3x’s a month. I will start this next Monday.

5. Design intermediate goals

• Where do you want to be in 3 months? 6 months?

• Intermediate goals will help keep you on track and will provide you with validation.

6. Social Support

• Tell friends and family about your resolution ideas.

• Letting others know about your resolutions makes you more accountable.

• Encouragement from friends and family is often instrumental in keeping one motivated while pursuing long term goals.


If you or someone you know has a New Year’s resolution(s) that they would like support with following through on call Dr. Ackrish today for a FREE phone consultation.


Check out these resources for more information on setting and achieving healthy New Year’s resolutions:

• Read The How of Happiness by Sonia Lyubomirsky (Chapter 8 Committing to your goals)

http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=57195#.VIs01AppFFc.mailto


I wish you all a very happy and healthy 2015!

~Dr. Jennifer Ackrish

 

7 Health Ways to Cope with Holiday Stress

Posted on November 20, 2014 at 3:55 PM Comments comments (0)

The holidays can be a stressful time for many Americans. According to the American Psychiatric Association approximatley 8 out of every 10 Americans anticipate increased stress during the holiday season. Here are 7 healthy ways to cope with stress this holiday season:


1. Set healthy expectations for yourself and others

• Many of my clients tell me they want to create the "perfect" holiday for their family. We all know there is no such thing as perfection and when we strive for it we are often left feeling disappointed.

• Focus on doing your best and enjoying quality time with the ones you love.


2. Acknowledge your feelings and express them at appropriate times

• Give yourself permission to feel sad or frustrated at times.

• Just because it is the holidays does not mean you have to be happy go lucky all the time.

• The holidays can be a sad time for people for many different reasons:

o Recent loss of a family member

o Negative self-evaluation

o Loss of a relationship

• It is helpful to share something that is heavily weighing on you

o I recommend sharing this type of information before major holiday events. Sharing this information will provide you some relief and family and friends will likely be more receptive and supportive when they are not at a large family gathering.


3. Plan ahead!

• Start your holiday shopping as soon as possible!

o You will get better bargains and have more selection.

o Most importantly you will experience LESS STRESS!

• Make to do lists

o To do lists help keep you on track.

o And it just feels so good checking each item off the list!:)

• Holiday Meals

o Plan what you will be making and delegate what others should make ahead of time.

o Buy non-perishable items before the event.

• Decorating

o Decorate your home weeks before hosting any events.

o If hosting a dinner party set the table the day before.

o Place Post-it notes where you want each food item to go.

• The more you do ahead of time the less stressed you will feel


4. Make a budget and stick to it!

• It is very easy to over spend during the holidays.

• In order to prevent over spending and getting yourself in financial trouble draw up a specific budget.

• Budget for gifts, parties and decorations.

• If money is really tight for you this holiday season consider giving homemade gifts. (Pinterest has some amazing ideas!)

o http://www.pinterest.com/search/pins/?q=homeade%20gifts&term_meta%5B%5D=homeade%7Ctyped&term_meta%5B%5D=gifts%7Ctyped


5. Don’t abandon healthy habits!

• During the holidays we are often surrounded by lots of indulgent foods and beverages.

• We also attend more social events then we typically do.

• To maintain your physical and mental health over the holidays:

o Consume rich foods in moderation

o Be mindful of portions

o Don’t abandon your exercise routine

o Eat meals. Do not starve yourself all day because you know you are going to a holiday dinner in the evening. You will end up over eating and will likely feel ill afterward.


6. Make some “me” time

• With the hustle and bustle of the holidays it is very easy to become exhausted and stressed out.

• Work to prevent this by taking at least 10 to 15 minutes a day to relax and recharge in whatever way you like.

o Examples: meditation, yoga, videogames, reading, etc


7. Seek professional help if you need it

• If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms you would likely benefit from the help of a mental health professional:

o Persistent sadness

o Feeling more anxious, irritable or on edge than usual

o Impaired occupational or social functioning

o Impacted sleep and or appetite

o Having suicidal thoughts


If you or a friend is struggling to cope with stress during the holiday season here are ways to find a professional who can help:

• Call Dr. Jennifer Ackrish for a FREE phone consultation

• Contact your insurance provider or visit their website to locate mental health providers in your area

• View Psychologists in your area by going to Psychology Today at www.psychologytoday.com

 

Click on these links for more information regarding coping with holiday stress:

http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/parents-holiday.aspx

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20047544

http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/healthy_living/hic_Stress_Management_and_Emotional_Health/hic_Managing_Holiday_Stress

 

Health Benefits of Family Dinners

Posted on November 4, 2014 at 3:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Whether you are part of a large family or it is just you and your significant other at home research suggests that regular home cooked family dinners are good for your mental, physical and interpersonal well-being. With modern technology constantly being at our finger tips, busy work and school schedules and more two parent working households than ever before it is easy to let go of the idea of regular family dinners labeling them as “too difficult” or “unrealistic.” Many of the individuals, couples and families I work with report feeling disconnected with their families at times. Many couples will tell me they pass their spouse or partner like "ships in the night" and do not get a chance to connect with them until the weekend. I hope the information in this post helps you discover some simple ways to reconnect or bolster your connection with your family as well as improve your physical and mental health.


The attached article reveals that couples and families who dine together at home (at the dinner table with the television off and technology stored away) an average of 5 days per week have lower rates of substance abuse, depression, higher subjective ratings of trust and higher professional and academic performance. For families with children, enjoying home cooked meals together is correlated with lower rates of teen pregnancy, better vocabularies, higher grade point averages and increased resiliency. From a medical perspective families who dine together at home regularly have lower rates of obesity and eating disorders.


I know some of you may be reading this and thinking “the benefits sound great, but there is no way I have time to come home and cook a fancy dinner most nights.” There is no need to make anything fancy, the focus of this exercise is spending time with one another and enjoying a healthy meal together. A wonderful time saver I have discovered in recent years is a crock pot or slow cooker. I often prep these meals the night before and keep the ceramic part of the crock pot in the refrigerator overnight. I place the ceramic part of the crock pot with the raw ingredients in the metal part of the slow cooker in the morning, put the lid on and set the timer accordingly. All you have to do when you get home from work is make a quick side such as pasta, rice or vegetables. You can find some wonderful slow cooker recipes at skinnytaste.com. Also, another great way to save time is to prep some items when you have free time. Soup, sauces, casseroles are all wonderful to prepare ahead of time. You can keep them in the refrigerator or freezer for a meal that is easy to heat up during the week. I do not recommend getting too adventurous when you are preparing a meal on a busy weeknight. You will end up frustrated, your family will likely eat later than expected and you will have a large mess to clean up afterwards. Save those more adventurous recipes for the weekend. You may still be thinking, “Geez, this will still take quite a bit of time.” The truth of the matter is it will take some time, but I think that the mental and physical benefits of making family dinners a regular habit are well worth the time investment. I encourage you and your family to incorporate them into your lifestyle as much as you can.


For more detailed information on this topic visit http://thefamilydinnerproject.org/resources/faq/

 


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