From striking up conversations with other parents at the playground, hosting playdates with our child’s new best friend, attending a birthday party without knowing the other parents there, and even just navigating the perceived (and sometimes very real) judgment from others, once we become parents we often find ourselves in social situations we may never have been in before.
Here to help parents work through any social anxiety they may feel and learn how they can best support the development of their child’s social skills in spite of a parent’s own fears, is therapist Justine Carino.
Whether you have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, or just feel uneasy about the idea of engaging in new social situations on behalf of your child, this episode will help you identify the problem and begin to challenge those fears.
Dr. Justine Carino (00:00):
Ask yourself if this thought is helpful or true. Because most of the time, the thoughts we’re having in our head and these moments are false assumptions. And unfortunately, no one tells us not to believe what we think.
Dr. Sarah Bren (00:22):
As our children grow, we become the keepers of their calendar. And for those of us parents with anxiety or those that just feel a little uncomfortable in new situations, this can kick up feelings of social anxiety that can be hard to manage at times from striking up conversations with other parents at the playground to hosting playdates with our child’s new best friend to attending a birthday party without knowing the other parents there to even just navigating the perceived and sometimes very real judgments from others, once we become parents, we often find ourselves in social situations that we may not feel so comfortable in. So joining me today to discuss how common social anxiety in parenthood can be, as well as shed some light on what you can do and offer strategies to allow your child’s social skills and interactions to flourish in spite of maybe some of your own social fears, is Justine Carino. Justine is a licensed mental health counselor, she’s an anxiety treatment specialist, and she’s the host of Thoughts From The Couch Podcast. Whether you have a diagnosed anxiety disorder or just feel uneasy about the idea of engaging in new social situations on behalf of your child, this episode will help you to identify the problem and begin to challenge some of those fears.
Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast, I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology, and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights. So you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.
Dr. Sarah (02:11):
Hi all. Today we have Justine Carino here. I’m so excited that you’re on the show today. How are you?
Dr. Justine (02:18):
Hi Sarah. Thank you so much for having me. I feel honored and I’m really looking forward to talking with you.
Dr. Sarah (02:25):
Thanks. Yeah, so your area of specialization is anxiety, right? Can you talk a little bit about the work that you do?
Dr. Justine (02:32):
For sure. So it took a little while for me to figure out my niche. I feel like as in private practice, you know, hear a lot about what’s your niche, what’s your specialty? And going into private practice, I was like, I don’t know, I love working with everybody and everything. And then as I started to see more and more clients, I started to realize that my best days in my private practice were the days that I was treating anxiety disorders. And I also think it’s a little bit of a mirror. I feel like I’m someone that has a story with anxiety as well. So part of me felt like this is pretty relatable and I also really fell in love with a lot of cognitive behavioral therapy. So it kind of just unfolded naturally where the training I had with CBT was treating anxiety disorders really well and my clients were having success and I felt good with that as a clinician.
And so I just used my training and education to be more specific towards treating anxiety disorders. And that’s kind of how it came my way. Me, myself as a child, I had selective mutism as a toddler, which as a toddler, I don’t remember it. I remember being really shy. But as I’ve grown up and my parents tell me more stories about what I was like as a toddler, as I’ve become a parent and saw my own kids enter toddlerhood and with my training I’m like, oh, I was selectively mute. This was a lot more than Justine was a shy kid. I had some anxiety going on there. So that was an interesting discovery for myself to be like, oh, I was kind of a really young kid who had an anxiety disorder, who it manifested with this selective mutism. And for those listening, selective mutism is where a child is very particular about who they’re talking to.
And for me, it was only my immediate family members and my older brother. So I think I have a personal story with anxiety and I also just, I’m, I, I’m obsessed with anxiety. I see how it manifests physically in people. There’s so many people that walk through my door and it’s like I have these fainting spells, I have these migraines, I have IBS. And at the root of it, at least in my practice, we find, well, there’s really an anxiety disorder going on here that’s been untreated for so many years. So that’s kind of how it happened for me.
Dr. Sarah (04:55):
That’s so interesting. And it’s interesting too, cuz you bring up a really important point in which I don’t think we talk about that much is that a lot of anxiety disorders go undiagnosed.
Dr. Justine (05:04):
Dr. Sarah (05:06):
It’s actually really common. And a lot of people have, maybe from the way they were raised or from other things they’ve internalized, they sort of just dismiss it as, I need to not be worried about that, or I need to just get over that this isn’t a big deal. And they kind of figure out ways to compensate and move on with their lives. But then these things, you’re describing this, maybe it’s IBS or maybe it’s migraines or these other sort of psychosomatic symptoms emerge, and when you can go down into the root and find that core early relationship to fear and pressure and stress and understand it a little bit better, you can really help people.
Dr. Justine (05:54):
Well, I think we normalize it and we think like, oh, everyone thinks this much about things. Everyone worries this much about things. Or if we have parents that are anxious, we start to think, oh, this is a normal way of being until we meet somebody else who may not have anxiety. And we’re like, Ooh, that’s a little different than what I’m used to. Or we talk to a therapist and they help us realize it. But I feel like the sneakiest for people is that high functioning anxiety. It doesn’t debilitate you and you’re busy and you’re overachieving and you’re so capable, but you have a lot of noise in your head. And that sometimes gets internalized with those somatic symptoms because on the surface level, we’re performing, we’re doing tasks, okay, we’re performing as a mom, as a spouse, in our careers, but we can’t sleep at night and we’re overwhelmed and we’re stressed and our body’s running down. So I think that type of anxiety is really sneaky for people.
Dr. Sarah (06:51):
And can you talk to us a little bit about the different types of anxiety that there are?
Dr. Justine (06:56):
Sure. So anxiety is first of all there there’s disorder and there’s the feeling, right? And I think people forget that too. We are all born to feel anxiety. This is a normal emotion that we struggle with. Sometimes we feel sadness or depression, but we also feel happiness and excitement. These are all fleeting feelings that as a human we were born to have and try and manage and regulate. It becomes a disorder when it’s consistent and persistent and interferes with a certain level of our functioning over a certain period of time. And that criteria could be different for every anxiety disorder, but a lot of the common ones for listeners to try and understand is generalized anxiety disorder. So that is non-specific. This person can kind of identify as I’m always worrying about everything all the time. It could be that I’m worried I’m going to be late to work.
It could be that I’m worrying about what to buy my child for Christmas. I can’t make a decision over anything. Decisions are overwhelming. Oh, my child has a fever, I’m catastrophizing now, they’re going to die in their sleep. This is the generalized anxiety, I am worrying about everything all of the time. Then we have phobias, which is very specific to trigger. So it’s a fear of dogs, a fear of spiders, a fear of flying. So those have their own treatment plans of how to overcome those fears. And sometimes, most of the time people can live with a phobia untreated their whole life because they’re able to avoid the trigger. They may never get on a plane and live their life just driving places. They may never have to kill a spider. They may never have to come face to face with a snake. So we can often adjust our life so it doesn’t interfere.
But then there’s other phobias that can be really overwhelming and that we come to a point where, okay, we gotta work on this a little bit because it’s impacting me in some way. There’s PTSD, which is post-traumatic stress disorder, where a traumatic event occurs. And as a reaction, our whole nervous system is impacted. We have a lot of trauma that goes processed. We have flashbacks, we have trouble sleeping, sometimes there’s nightmares. Your world is just shook up. And so that is its own treatment plan too. I specifically do not treat trauma. I always refer out for someone experiencing PTSD and I really see EMDR as the best treatment for that. And we have OCD, which is obsessive compulsive disorder. So we have so many that listeners may be familiar with. And OCD is when we have obsessions, we have these ruminating obsessive thoughts and we compensate for those and try and manage those through ritualistic behaviors like excessive checking, counting, chewing, you name it, I’ve seen it all. And that has a specific treatment plan too. So I think I covered most of them. What do you think?
Dr. Sarah (09:59):
Yeah, well the one that we were going to get into today is the social anxiety piece. So I know that we were sort of saving that to really dive into. And I’m wondering how different is social anxiety from generalist anxiety or from a panic disorder?
Dr. Justine (10:20):
So panic disorder is when someone has a panic attack and then they have another panic attack and then they start to worry about having continued panic attacks. So they avoid going out in public or in these specific situations cuz they think it relates to the panic attack and we’ll cause it, right? So they all can kind of overlap and intertwine, but they can also be very different and each one can have a different level of impact on a person. But for social anxiety this is more specific to our social relationships. So we have a huge fear of judgment that people are judging us, we’re afraid that we’re going to embarrass ourselves publicly in some way. Starting conversations can feel really intimidating or uncomfortable for us. We have ruminating thoughts about what to say and how people are judging. What we do say when we say it being the center of attention can be extremely uncomfortable and we avoid, avoid, avoid. And the biggest thing with all anxiety disorders is a certain level of avoidance from something that can trigger that anxiety. So unfortunately with social anxiety, we’re avoiding social situations because it’s so uncomfortable to be in them.
Dr. Sarah (11:38):
Yes. And I think one of the things, the reason why I was hoping to talk about social anxiety with you on this podcast was the sort of unique challenge that parents who experience social anxiety faced in the role of parenthood. Because there’s two big pieces to parenthood that if you have a social anxiety disorder or even somewhere on that spectrum of I have anxiety around social situations, there’s the one big challenge, which is that being a parent, you are kind of inherently forced to be in these social situations, playdates, birthday parties, PTA meetings, trying to engage in your community so that your child can build relationships. You are the gatekeeper for them. So if you are avoiding social relationships, it can be very difficult for our children to get access to social situations. So as a parent who experiences social anxiety, one, how do we work on managing that fear so that we can do the things we have to do as parents?
But then there’s this other piece that I think is also super important to think about, which is that and our children are looking to us to get a sense of what feels safe in the world. And so if everything feels scary to us or if we’re constantly in a state of fight or flight or we’re constantly wanting to avoid things, children are going to sort of internalize that, oh, that’s not feels, that doesn’t feel safe, mom doesn’t feel comfortable doing that, or Mom always gets really nervous when we do this. I feel that nervousness too in my body and wanting to be able to recognize and notice our own anxiety and modulate that to some degree when we’re with our children when possible so that we’re not communicating inaccurate, elevated, exaggerated danger to them inadvertently, thus kind of passing along this social phobia.
Dr. Justine (13:41):
Yes, I love that you’re talking about this because I don’t feel like it’s talked about a lot and I think we need to give credit to those parents who are struggling with this and they’re trying to work on it for their kids. I have a two-year-old and a five-year-old and already I’ve made social connections from preschool when my son’s been in preschool with his little buddies and their moms. And that’s when I feel like the birthday parties start to happen and you exchange numbers with other moms. And I’m not someone with social anxiety, so I can easily talk to another mom’s like, Hey, let me get your phone number, we should get the kids together for a play date. But what I have felt nerves about is hosting the play date. And I’m not someone that has social anxiety, but it’s like, oh my god, I’m on a date with another mom.
What are we going to talk about? Am I putting out snacks? Are we meeting at the park? Are they coming to our, literally felt like I was on a first date. And so I could imagine how intensified that is for someone struggling with social anxiety that they probably will avoid that because it might be too hard to handle. But then I see how unfortunate that is for the kids because unfortunately at these little ages, kids are dependent on their parents to make social plans for them. They can come home and talk about the friend they met in kindergarten or preschool or first grade, but they don’t have a cell phone, they’re not old enough to make the plan. They’re going to depend on the parent to set this up for them. So this presents a real challenge for parents. So I love that you’re talking about this and I wanna be able to help with this as much as possible.
So when I treat social anxiety, I do something called a fear hierarchy and exposures. And so this will help me give some advice to listeners. So exposure therapy is when we expose a client to the feared situation to help them develop new beliefs around this situation that they start to internalize and help them cope with this fear. Now. And I try to say the clients, if they’re afraid of flying, you’re never going to love flying. You’re not going to become a pilot, but maybe you can tolerate being on a plane for two hours to go to Florida. Maybe you’ll never fly to Australia. But maybe that to you is progress. Maybe sitting on a plane for two hours is progress. So we start to, I want people to understand this doesn’t cure and make you love things that you’re afraid of. It makes you able to tolerate them a little bit better.
So with a fear hierarchy, I really get to understand the social anxiety in a person. What is, what’s more uncomfortable face-to-face conversation or the text? Is it getting a coffee or is it a dinner? Is it inviting someone to hang out or is it responding? We wanna know all of these triggers and then we kind of rate them, what’s the most anxiety provoking for you and the least anxiety provoking for you? And then we slowly expose you to doing these things, the easiest things first, and we take it slow you and we repeat the exposures once a week. Every week for the next six weeks, you’re going to get a new phone number or you’re going to invite someone to hang out and we’re going to talk about how hard it is for you and what worked and didn’t work. So we go up this ladder of exposing a person.
So they start to see, hey, that’s not as bad as I thought it would be. I’m willing to try this again. And it really desensitizes a person. So that’s a structured therapy session and therapy work that we do as a treatment plan. How can we apply this to everyday life? Well first we have to learn how to cope with our anxiety and get really mindful with how we are currently coping with it. Are you avoiding all of the social situations? Are you hiding in your car? How does it manifest in you? And then you wanna build your tolerance for that anxiety with some positive self-talk, right? Tell yourself it’s going to be okay, what would you tell your kid if your kid was feeling this way? You would say, go for it. You need to try it. They’re not judging you in the way you think they could be judging you. Tell yourself that you’re capable. It’s only going to be two minutes to get a phone number. It’s fine if they’re not available for a play date. You really wanna get to know the way you’re talking to yourself in your head. And if you’re putting yourself down, we wanna reframe it to be a little bit more neutral or a little bit more positive to coach yourself through the situation. Is that making sense so far?
Dr. Sarah (18:17):
Yeah, it totally is. And one of the things that you’re making me think of is when I do a lot of work with children who have anxiety and we do, I follow a protocol called SPACE, which is Supportive Parenting For Anxious Childhood Emotions. And one of the things that we do in SPACE a lot is we do what we teach parents, cuz SPACE is administered by the parents, we do the therapy with the parents and they work with their children. But the parents are kind of taught how to do these sort of supportive statements, which is validating the child’s fear and communicating confidence that they can handle feeling that way. And so what I hear you saying is the same thing to ourselves, right? If I am going to notice my own self-talk, is it, oh my God, I can’t do this. Oh my god, this is going to be so bad, oh my God.
Or is it perhaps the catastrophizing really, really, really scared version? Or maybe it’s all the way in the other direction of you’re so stupid you can’t do this. This should be so easy for you. Why is this so hard for you? I feel like we can go into that really self dismissing, self-critical space or we can go into this screaming with our hair, our heads on fire like, oh my god, I can’t handle this. So what I hear you saying is the way one, if we can notice that and just say like, okay, I’m moving into that space where I’m really catastrophizing or I’m moving into that space where I’m really dismissing and critical. How do I come into that sort of more neutral space? How do I validate this is hard to do this thing? It isn’t easy for me to just ask a woman at the playground for their phone number. Makes sense. This is hard and I can do this. This is something that I know that I can do. I can just take it one step at a time.
Dr. Justine (20:11):
Yes, a hundred percent. And that’s what I would say people trying to work on themselves with. This is step one, become an observer of the way you’re talking to yourself. What is the self-talk? Write it down. You have a note section on your iPhone. I know everybody does write. Jot it down when you’re in your car before you start leaving the playground. I felt so uncomfortable at the playground today when that woman was talking to me. And this is what I said to myself in my head, you look horrible today. How do you show up to the playground wearing those yoga pants and your hair like that? Right? So were you putting yourself down? Note that. Were you telling yourself that she’s going to judge you, telling yourself you have no idea what to say. Maybe you had no thought, maybe you were just frozen like a deer in headlights.
The words couldn’t come out. So observe, observe, observe and journal it. Write it in the notes section of your phone. Write it down in a notebook at home. Observe, observe, observe. Be really mindful of the way you’re thinking and the way you’re feeling in these social situations. Then step two would be start coaching yourself in a better way. Like you said, talk to yourself of, okay, you’re capable. What if this was your best friend? What would you say to your best friend about this? If this was your sister, if this was your child, how would you coach them through this? Another exercise that I teach clients to do is when they start to challenge and reframe their thoughts is ask yourself if this thought is helpful or true. Because most of the time the thoughts we’re having in our head and these moments are false assumptions.
It’s not factual information. We are assuming that this person is thinking badly about us. We are assuming that they feel a certain way. And unfortunately no one tells us not to believe what we think. I wish that was a lesson in school at some point where people sat us down and was like, Hey guys, you can’t always believe your thoughts. You can’t always believe what you think, but we’re never taught that. And that was the light bulb when I went to school and started graduate school and learning about CBT is, yeah, your thoughts are not always true. So that’s the first one. Question, the validity of your thought. Is there evidence, actual factual evidence to prove your thought to be true that this person is judging you or doesn’t like you? No. Then throw the thought away. And the second one, is this thought helpful? Is it helpful for you to tell yourself that all the women on the playground are judging you? Is it helpful to tell yourself that they never wanna play date with your son or daughter? No. Extremely unhelpful. So throw that thought away also.
Dr. Sarah (22:42):
Yes, I think that’s so true. I often talk, it’s so funny, I hear all these parallels between the way that you are talking to adults and the way that I either talk to parents or about their kids or talk to kids directly. And I often describe any anxiety disorder as having a broken filter. We naturally have all these thoughts come through our brain. Everybody does. Everybody has those self-doubt thoughts. Everybody has the fear that someone’s judging them. Those thoughts come through everyone’s mind. But the difference between someone who does and doesn’t have perhaps an anxiety disorder, certainly a social anxiety disorder is the filter. When I’m on the playground, I do have the thought, oh my god, I can’t believe I didn’t shower this morning and I look greasy and now I’ve gotta talk to someone and I don’t know what to say, but I’m capable with practice and awareness.
It’s not easy, but you could. But I haven’t capable of saying, you know what, don’t really, that’s not a thought that’s going to help me. So I have that ability to filter it out and say, not a helpful thought, not useful. People who inherently have these sort of anxiety sort of vulnerability towards anxious thinking their filter doesn’t work so well. And so it doesn’t mean you can’t build a filter, it just is going to take more work and more conscious awareness, more self-compassion because you really can’t filter well if you’re berating yourself, cuz you’re going to keep every single negative thought. Yeah, you’re going to say that’s an important one, that’s an important one. Gotta keep that one. So part of the filter is a compassion filter. Does this help me to feel good about myself? Do I need to hold that thought? Does it serve me? No, that doesn’t fit my sense of self. So I’m going to let that one go.
Dr. Justine (24:34):
I love that. I’m going to borrow it. I never thought to use that analogy, but it helps people understand it, right? We’re seeing which thought to get past to bother us in impact us and the thoughts that we are going to choose to stay behind that filter. So I love the analogy of the filter. Yes, yes. That is so, so helpful. Another strategy that I really like to use with a lot of my clients, whether it’s social anxiety or any type of anxiety, is personifying the anxiety. Give your anxiety and name. So let’s talk about social anxiety specifically name your social anxiety creature or person. Is it a person, place or thing? Give it a name. Is it Barbara? Is it a blob? Is it this? And then really think about it, right? So my anxiety person I’ll self disclose is Mrs. Anderson. And I picture her as this principal of a private school that wears this red jumpsuit and is she shows up with anxiety to make me feel like I’ve done something wrong.
She calls me into the principal’s office is like, Justine, I can’t believe you did that. That is so wrong. So that’s my anxiety personification is Mrs. Anderson the principal. So people with social anxiety, name the social anxiety, give it a name, really think about it. And then I want you to be able to talk to it when she or or it shows up in your life and get familiar. Oh hey, you’re back Mrs. Anderson. And then I want you to recognize that this personification of your anxiety is actually put in your life to help you, right? Yeah. Anxiety is about protection. We were wired to make choices to protect ourselves. If you think about evolution, we needed anxiety to feel fear, to keep ourselves alive. So we practiced discernment like don’t eat that berry, you could die from that berry. Don’t go close to that sabertooth tiger.
You’re going to die from that sabertooth tiger. So we needed to experience the feeling of fear to make decisions, to keep ourselves alive. So we think of social anxiety, okay, it’s here to protect us in some way. It wants us to feel safe. For some reason we don’t feel safe. We’re comfortable talking to other people. So we actually kinda wanna be appreciative. It sounds weird, but we wanna appreciate the social anxiety. Thank you. You’ve shown up, you’re here again, I know you’re trying to protect me, but in this situation you’re hurting me. I need you to step aside. I don’t need you right now. Social anxiety. So we kind of thank you for being here. And then we can choose whether or not to listen to what it tells us. So if our in social anxiety is whispering in our ear, you look like a hot mess. No one’s going to wanna talk to you and have you play with their kid. Just go sit back down on the bench. You say, you know what? Social anxiety, you are not in control right now. I’m choosing to be in control. I’m choosing whether or not I should be listening to you today and I choose not to listen to you. And sometimes people are like, wow, that’s kind of crazy. I don’t have that time to process this. But it’s helpful and you can have fun with it.
Dr. Sarah (27:33):
It is, it’s so liberating and it’s fun. It’s funny cuz what I’ll do with kids, which is very similar is again, I think this idea of personifying the anxiety is so helpful because one, it helps anybody, adults and kids feel like this isn’t me, I’m not the source of this thought. I am receiving it from a piece of my brain that’s got a faulty filter. And I can then say, no, no, I’m not listening to you today. I’m not required to pay attention to right now. So we personify the thing. And what I always tell kids is I use this metaphor from Harry Potter, have you remember, I dunno if you’re familiar with Harry Potter, but there’s a app, there’s a third book in The Prisoner of Azkaban when there’s a professor Lupin teaches them about boggart, which is this, this sort of monster creature whose power is to show up as your worst fear. And so it takes the form of every child’s worst fear. And the way that you disarm the boggart is you imagine in your mind the most ridiculous thing and then you say ridiculous. And the boggart just kind of dissolves into this goofy version of itself that’s super powerless and goofy.
Dr. Justine (28:56):
I love this.
Dr. Sarah (28:57):
And I like the kids in my practice love this metaphor because it’s totally, it’s that I just say, we need to take your anxiety, we need to picture it as basically a boggart. And you think of the scariest possible thing. That’s what your anxiety feels like. Our anxiety feels so scary, so big and terrifying. Who is that terrifying big thing. Let’s make a creature out of it. Who is it? Name it, picture it now. Can we give it the ridiculous curse? And can we make it super goofy and super disarming? And where you feeling super in charge of how much it can do any harm to you? And that I think is super helpful for kids, kids. And I think grownups can do this too, right? I think Mrs. Anderson, if you have the power to be like Mrs. Anderson is now a little pip squeak who talks in this super high-pitched voice and you don’t take her seriously anymore. She’s not this intimidating, scary presence that makes you feel like shaky and ashamed the second she’s around. Can you make them so ridiculous that we can feel less threatened by it and then we feel more powerful in our anxiety?
Dr. Justine (30:12):
Yes, I love that. I love it. I love it. And it’s so playful for kids. I’m borrowing this tip and adding it to my personification. Cause now we’re going to magically turn these personifications into these little pip squeaks and crush us. They don’t own us. I love that visual. And what is hard for people is how intense anxiety feels. And I love picking up on my own anxiety and catching it. Cause I’m like, oh, this is how my clients feel all the time. Now I know, right? Because I’m not someone with an anxiety disorder, but I feel anxiety. And when it’s intense, I take note like, oh, I’m frozen, or I wanna be impulsive. I just gotta get these thoughts out cause I wanna fix this problem. Cause this problems make me anxious. So it’s so intense that no wonder we avoid and run away because if we avoid and run away, it gets rid of that intense feeling. And one of the steps, I don’t know if I’m on tip number three or four at this point, but another tip is one of the biggest keys to learning to managing anxiety disorder is being able to tolerate the anxiety.
Not to run away from it, to sit with it to be uncomfortable, and to do that in baby steps. And that’s what the exposure hierarchy is about is let’s get uncomfortable slowly to see that you’re capable of tolerating this distress and nothing bad is going to happen because of it. So maybe someone listening, the first thing is just saying hello to some other mom at the playground or just saying hello. Don’t even introduce yourself. Just say hi. Or maybe it’s at pick up. You say hi. Or at the parent night at the school you say hi. That’s it. And once you get comfortable with that step, maybe move to, hi, I’m blah blah blah’s, mom, nice to meet you. So then you move to the introduction and we have to do it in these baby steps because we wanna feel success. We wanna feel the confidence.
If you run to the playground tomorrow and ask for a play date and get a phone number, that might be too overwhelming. And you might fail at it and you might quit and be like, forget it, I’m never doing it again. So you have to really practice this slowly in steps. So your brain starts to see this is safe, this is okay. And it helps you expand that tolerance muscle for the feeling because anxiety does subside. If we just wait it out long enough, we go up like this peak, and then we start to come down the other end. And then often when we’re at the baseline we’re like, ah, I could have handled that or I could have done that. We just have to wait it out and we wait it out with the self-talk, with deep breathing, with coaching ourselves, with positive affirmations, simple mindfulness skills can help us tolerate that anxiety.
Dr. Sarah (33:07):
And I think that’s such an important point that the feeling passes. Like anyone even who have a very profound anxiety disorder has moments where they’re not anxious. There’s evidence that people can identify truth that they say, yes, I’m not, I know that I’m, there’s a part of me that knows that I don’t always feel anxious that my feelings of anxiety come and go. And when they come, sometimes they come in a really intense way and they feel like they’re going to last forever, but they always eventually subside. And that’s really hard to remember in the moment when you’re feeling it. But I think it’s a really helpful thing to just remind yourself, this feeling comes and this feeling goes. And it can help you from having it feel sticky and getting kind of grasping on too tight.
Dr. Justine (33:54):
Yes, recognize it’s there. Another mindfulness skill that I like to teach is name it to tame it, right? Name the feeling. Identify it in your body. How does it feel in your body right now? That helps you process it because the more we ignore it and don’t want it to be there, the bigger, stronger it’s going to go. So name it, identify how it feels in your body. What are the thoughts related to it? What are the behaviors you wanna do or not doing because of it? And that will give you some insight to your own patterns
Dr. Sarah (34:24):
And taking this in this other direction we were talking about earlier too. So parents often, if you’re an anxious parent, I guarantee you’ve had the worry. Is my kid going to be anxious too? And you have all this anxiety about passing your anxiety down to your kids. And on the one hand, we know that there’s a genetic loading for anxiety. We know that there’s some neurological elements to anxiety, neurochemical elements to anxiety. So if you have a genetic predisposition for anxiety, there’s a possibility that your child will have a similar genetic predisposition to anxiety. But that does not guarantee that your child is doomed to suffer anxiety in a debilitating way for the rest of their lives. What can we do to help parents who have anxiety, social anxiety, any kind of anxiety, who worry about passing it down to their kids? How do we help them feel comfortable in their ability to support their child’s mental health effectively?
Dr. Justine (35:30):
So another big part of my work with clients is family systems. So I do Bowenian Family Therapy and we talk a lot about our family of origin and what has been modeled to us and what we’re modeling to our kids and so our families. You wanna really view as a template for emotion management, how we have relationships in this world, how we create and set boundaries with other people, what we’re able to tolerate, what is genetically passed down. It just gives us so much insight and understanding. And what I think is important for parents to know is you do have a responsibility because you are modeling so much that you don’t even realize you’re modeling. I love, so I have a two year old daughter and her new thing is to stomp her foot and point her finger and go, don’t you dare. And I’m like, wait a minute, that is me.
I must be walking around this house saying, don’t you dare, right? Or she’ll say you won’t get dessert. I’m like, wow, I must be saying this to my five year old and she is observing this and now I’m mortified that she’s picked up on this. So whether we want it or not, we have to take accountability that we are modeling things to our kids. That being said, you’re a hundred percent right. Kids have their own genetic predispositions, their own personalities, their own temperaments. So they may not always react to what we’re modeling, but we wanna have self-awareness that we do have to teach our kids how to be a friend and how to make friends and how to have a social life. And if we’re not modeling that we’re kind of failing a little bit in the social area. Not one that you have to run home and beat yourself up over at all because this is something that can be worked on and worked through.
Yeah, I think the biggest gift that a parent can give themselves with social anxiety is getting some treatment for it because it is treatable. I’ve seen it with my own eyeballs that people recover from this, they manage this, they make progress. So I honestly think the biggest gift is to seek treatment for your social anxiety so you can work on it for yourself so you can set your child up. That being said though, right? Let’s say you do have social anxiety and you’re not great at making friendships or being social in your home where you’re comfortable, you can have conversations with your kids about friends and what a good friend is. Just because you have social anxiety doesn’t mean you don’t know what a good friend is. Doesn’t mean that you know, don’t know what to do to make a friend. You could still coach your kid at home and say, why don’t you ask them for their name?
Why don’t you introduce yourself so you don’t have to be great at it to have these conversations at home. You probably know exactly how to do these things, it’s just hard for you to do them. But that doesn’t mean as a parent you don’t know how to teach your kid that. Give your kid the credit. Could you learn how to model it live in action? Yes. And I think that would be great, but don’t hold back from talking to your kid about how to make friends and how to have a social plan and the importance of having a social life, if that makes sense.
Dr. Sarah (38:45):
Yeah, it does. It does. And I think there are so many resources too, talking with reading books with your children about navigating relationships, having the safest relationships you do feel comfortable around. Have ’em over, right? Yes, everyone’s got, even people who are terribly socially anxious might have a cousin or an aunt or a sister or a friend who they are comfortable with, bring ’em over, model that. So even there’s some places where you could stretch yourself. I imagine that you already feel like this would be at the bottom of my fear hierarchy, right? Yes. This is something that I feel it would be hard, but I could definitely do this and find intentional ways to bring that into your, have your child observe you doing that. And the other thing I would say is to name it, yes, don’t be afraid to tell your child.
Mommy sometimes feels anxious around other people. That’s something that I’m dealing with and I’m understanding. And that doesn’t mean that you have to feel that way. So you might notice that I get a little shy around new places or I get kind of quiet, but you might feel like speaking up and you can do that. That’s okay. So you can name how you’re different from your child too and normalize that you are working on a thing that they don’t necessarily have to be confused about or even in the dark about. We can really normalize anxiety by naming it for our kids and helping them understand it.
Dr. Justine (40:16):
I totally agree with that. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with admitting to your kid, mommy’s working on this, or Mommy feels a little bit nervous meeting these new parents. Do you feel nervous when you meet new friends? I think that is totally another gift you can give is to be able to admit this. And that’s basic feeling identification right there. That is that your kids need to see and learn.
Dr. Sarah (40:43):
And it also helps them fill in the blanks for them rather than them filling in the blanks. If we are always avoiding social situations, our children might wonder, well, why? Maybe people are sort of dangerous or maybe nobody wants to be friends with us or who knows, something magical and scary. Instead, if you say, I sometimes feel afraid to be around new people and it’s something I’m working on. And that’s why sometimes we don’t go out as much as other kids do, and we’re going to work on trying to find more places for you to go out and be with friends so that you don’t have to miss out on those opportunities. And so I think it’s so important to just kind of fill in the blanks for our kids cuz they might not know why we be, our family might behave a little differently than other families or wonder why they’re not going on play dates when they hear other kids talking about it at school. So I think that’s also important too.
Dr. Justine (41:42):
And what an amazing thing to model to go back to the modeling, to admit to your kid, this is hard for me and this scares me, but today I’m going to try. And you then model to your kid courage and bravery of, I’m scared to do this, but I’m going to try this today. We’re going to talk to so-and-so, or I’m going to get their number, or I’m going to invite them over for a play date. I’m petrified, but we’re going to try it. Mommy’s going to try it. And you tell me how I do. Do I get an A plus actor and I get a B? Right? Wow. That is such a great thing to teach your kid to face a fear and be a little vulnerable. Yeah, I think that’s huge.
Dr. Sarah (42:22):
It is. I think I love this talk. How if people wanna learn more about your work and get in touch with you or get connected, how can they connect with you?
Dr. Justine (42:33):
Sure. So I have a website, carinocounseling.com. I have a podcast called Thoughts From the Couch and I also created a mini course for anxiety management, which is really a collection of my basic strategy. So this is really for someone new to anxiety that wants to learn some simple strategies on how to manage their anxiety on a day-to-day basis. So there’s some mindfulness in there. There’s ways to create a self care routine, there’s boundary setting there. There’s these five pillars that I really have found successful with basic anxiety management that I wanted to put together in a course. So that could also is called The Path to Peace. So that could be found on my website. And I also do virtual and in-person psychotherapy for residents of New York. And I also have a one-to-one anxiety coaching program for people that are outside of New York state that I teach these five pillars too. If someone doesn’t wanna learn them online, they don’t like taking a course, there’s a way to do it with me as your coach.
Dr. Sarah (43:39):
Amazing. What a great set of resources. We will put links to all that in the show notes so people can find you.
Dr. Justine (43:45):
I appreciate that. This was so great,
Dr. Sarah (43:47):
So great. Thank you so much for being here.
Dr. Justine (43:50):
You are so welcome. Thank you for having me.
Dr. Sarah (43:58):
I loved talking with Justine about anxiety and the internal battle so many of us parents find ourselves in. And I’m so grateful that Justine has agreed to offer the securely attached community an exclusive 10% discount off her signature online program for perfectionists called The Path to Peace. This course offers a step-by-step system that is clinically proven to reduce anxiety, set better boundaries, and help you create a personal mental health routine. So to get your savings, just use the promo code Sarah10 at checkout, that’s sarah10.
And if you’re feeling overwhelmed or exhausted and at the end of your rope, you might be experiencing another phenomenon that’s really common in parenthood today called burnout. So to help you understand how to break free of burnout, it’s important to separate our needs into three different categories, our cognitive energy needs, our emotional energy needs, and our physical energy needs. By addressing all those areas, parents can move past the sort of cliche self-care strategies like bubble baths and facials, which are awesome, but don’t necessarily fill all of those buckets. Instead, you can sort of tune into true self-care, like quality time with loved ones, fresh air, proper nutrition, and start to really see the biggest impact of that time investment.
(45:17):So to help you get started, I’ve created a simple weekly calendar so you can be intentional about addressing those needs. Plus I’ve created a kid version to help you teach your child how they can help themselves relax and refuel in ways that actually benefit their development and mental health. So if you want a copy of my weekly Banish Burnout and Banish Burnout Kit edition calendar, all you have to do is rate and review this podcast. Send me a screenshot of your review to email@example.com and I’ll send the calendar straight to your inbox. That’s firstname.lastname@example.org. I can’t wait to read your reviews and don’t be a stranger.
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