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Tag Archives: Anxiety

Calming the Storm

anxiety 2.jpgWe all need to place an importance on our own well-being and mental health. As we mentioned in our previous blog, Keep Anxiety at Bay, everyone experiences anxiety, which is completely normal. It is how we react to that anxiety that matters.

Today, Velizar Nikiforov, MA, LPC, suggests five additional ways to keep anxiety in check.

1. Breathe
As anxiety mounts, our central nervous system places the body on high alert, ready to escape or defend against whatever might be threatening us. The breath quickens and our muscles tense, and these physical changes make our brain more likely to focus on potential dangers. As a result, our anxiety accelerates. You can begin reversing this spiral by taking a few minutes to slow your breath and calm the body. A good set of exercises is described here:

2. Track your thoughts
When caught up in a cycle of worry, it is easy to forget that we’re frequently frightened not by what is happening right in front of us, but rather by ominous thoughts about terrible events either now or in the future. Using mindfulness exercises can give us a chance to step back and connect with the present moment. A short guided meditation exercise can create the space to observe our thoughts from what they are instead of being swept away by them. Several guided meditations are available here:

3. Check your thinking
The anxious mind is focused on protecting us from threats, so when we worry, threats are all we see. Whatever we’re thinking about, our anxious mind is likely to latch onto the worst possible outcome. We then usually accept our mind’s fortune-telling unquestioningly. Instead, take a few minutes to examine your thoughts. Ask some questions about what you’re worried about: what is the worst case scenario you’re worried about? Step back and consider: what’s the best case? What is most likely to happen, given your experience and knowledge? Worry thoughts are stubborn, so you may need to write down the answers to these questions and take a few minutes to really think through them. A tool to help with this exercise is the “What if…” form:

4. Stop feeding the anxiety
When we get caught in a whirl of worry, we begin grasping for safety. This may take the form of repeatedly looking for reassuring information—refreshing and reloading Twitter, checking the weather, staying glued to the news, asking questions of loved ones. This can provide a spell of relief, but this is fleeting. Soon we’re back for another fix of reassurance, continuing the cycle of anxiety. To break the cycle, use one of the skills above and pause long enough to notice that anxiety eventually dissipates on its own.

5. Break away
Sometimes it’s best to simply step away from anxiety. Tune in to your values and do something that nourishes them. Exercise, connect with loved ones, engage in a pleasurable activity, volunteer: all of these allow you to get back in touch with your direct experience and set aside dark ruminations.

 Velizar Nikiforov, MA, LPC, is a Staff Therapist on the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Team at The Family Institute. He specializes in working with individuals with depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety.

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health counseling for families, couples and individuals in Evanston, Chicago, Northbrook and Westchester. Learn more about our Anxiety and Panic Treatment Program. Visit our website to learn more about our services. 

Keep Anxiety at Bay

group of smiling men and women making selfie

With the election behind us, we all know that anxiety levels have been elevated. But anxiety is a natural side effect of being human; however, too much can be detrimental to our mental health. It is important to be aware of the presence of anxiety in our lives, and most importantly, find ways to keep it in check so we can live our days to their fullest.

Here are some helpful tips & tricks to help you keep anxiety to a minimum.

  • Know Your Own Cues. We often know with personal insight whether something in our lives is off balance or doesn’t feel right. During times of high anxiety, ask yourself questions like: When I feel anxious, how long does it normally last? How am I able to cope with these feelings? Cultivating self-awareness in this way allows for us to recognize when anxiety is lasting too long, which lets us know when it is time to get the help we need.
  • Take care of your own well-being. Some people use yoga, exercise, religion or other activities to try and keep themselves balanced and feeling well. Turn to your friends and family and enjoy time together.
  • Maintain as consistent a sleep schedule as possible. Routine sleep times are beneficial for positive mental health. Around bedtime, avoid media outlets that distract you, or that tend to cause excess mind chatter. Shut off your phone and watch a comedy instead.

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health counseling for families, couples and individuals in Evanston, Chicago, Northbrook and Westchester. Learn more about our Anxiety and Panic Treatment ProgramLearn more about our services on our website.

Dreadful Costumes: Manage Your Anxiety

girl zombie horror against red wallHalloween can be an exciting time of year. It is a time filled with spooky stories, costumes and haunted houses. For some, however, this time of year brings added fear, anxiety or panic, especially when choosing a Halloween costume.

Today’s blog comes to us from Kelly Dunn, MA, LPC, a Staff Therapist in The Family Institute’s Cognitive Behavior Therapies program.

Choosing a costume can be a high pressure choice whether it is for a public event like a party or for your child to wear to school. There is pressure to be original and look spooky and/or sexy while not breaking the bank. It can be marked with indecision and anxiety about how it will be perceived. Or perhaps you are crafting your own costume. This comes with its own set of worries about negative evaluation from others. If this sounds familiar, then you are not alone.

Here are three tips for managing costume anxiety.

1. Try some relaxation. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy utilizes deep breathing as a simple form of relaxation that you can use anywhere. Check in with yourself and notice if your breathing tends to be shallow or rapid — that might be a cue to take a few deep breaths!

2. Consider an alternative perspective on your worries. It is impossible for your costume to be ALL things at once. Try to aim for just one — spooky or original or inexpensive. If you are making the costume, consider all the creativity, time, effort and talent that it takes compared to purchasing one at the store.

3. Observe your timeline. Are you rushing to get things done? This can add to your anxiety or worry. Are you spending too much time making a decision, shopping for costumes or crafting one considering you will likely be wearing it for just a few hours? This lengthy time investment might be too large compared to the outcome, and contributes to extra anxiety or stress. Instead, try to make a specific plan and stick to it, considering the time and materials involved.

If you think that you or someone you know suffers from anxiety, or if you would like additional information, please call The Family Institute at 847-733-4300, ext. 668, or email us at

Kelly Dunn MA, LPC is a staff therapist on the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy team at TFI. She specializes in treating depressive and anxiety disorders.

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health counseling for families, couples and individuals in Evanston, Chicago, Northbrook and Westchester. Learn more about our services on our website.

Interrupting the Spiral of Depression and Anxiety

Group Of Friends Enjoying Breakfast In Kitchen TogetherIn many ways, the convenience of the Internet has made our lives easier and more pleasant. From ordering groceries to a weekend TV binge, the Internet can provide for many of our needs without requiring us to change out of our pajamas. That very seamless convenience, however, can be hazardous for people suffering with anxiety or depression.

Jackson Connor, a contributor to, discovered that relying on Internet deliveries of food and other necessities exacerbated his tendency towards social isolation, creating a downward spiral of depression. Beginning to cook for himself was one way in which he was able to reverse this trajectory. In “Learning to Cook is Helping Me Battle Depression”, he explains the circuitous nature of depression.

As Mr. Connor explains, changing small aspects of daily life to fight depression is a tenet of behavioral activation therapy, one of the approaches practiced by The Family Institute’s Cognitive Behavioral Therapy team (CBT). A CBT therapist helps a client identify a valued behavior — whether cooking, going to the movies or simply going for a walk — and then encourages them to engage in it as much as they are able. In time, this can help to pull them away from the alluring ease of the GrubHub, Netflix and the rest, and begin to reengage with life.


The Cognitive Behavior Therapy Program at The Family Institute specializes in the treatment of anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) and depressive disorders. Using cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), clinicians work collaboratively with their clients to identify personalized, time-limited therapy goals and strategies, which are then continually monitored and evaluated throughout treatment. If you think that you or someone you know suffers from anxiety, OCD or depression, or if you would like additional information, please email

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health counseling for families, couples and individuals in Evanston, Chicago, Northbrook and Westchester. To learn more about our therapy and mental health services, please visit our website.

School Refusal: What parents need to know

Parents see it every year: their child doesn’t feel like going to school. But what if they miss weeks of school at a time? Or what if they refuse to get out of bed in the morning or want to go home once they are at school? This may be less about truancy and more a symptom of school refusal.

In today’s blog, Dr. Julie Saflarski explains that school refusal is very different from typical truancy. It is much more severe than Ferris Bueller faking sick for a day to play hooky with his friends.

School refusal is a pattern of behaviors that often stem from emotional distress that are triggered by the school environment. Initially coined “school phobia,” it was later understood to be fueled by symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. Since the early 2000s, “school refusal” has been the preferred term to grasp these emotional responses to attending school.

School refusal is a gradual process that can get worse over time if left unaddressed. Recurring signs include:

  • Unexcused absences
  • Tardiness to class
  • Absences on significant days where testing, speeches or physical education classes are being held
  • Requests to go to the nurse’s office
  • Requests to call home or to go home during the day

Each child varies as to why they may be avoiding school. School refusal may begin with simple warning signs such as those listed above. The more they persist, the more likely the behavior will escalate.

School refusal is seen in about 1-5% of all school-aged children. It is most common in young children ages five to six as they start school for the first time. Other stressful transitional periods may also cause school refusal, such as starting middle school or junior high school.

In our next blog, Why Does My Child Refuse to Go to School?, Dr. Saflarski will discuss the common causes and recommendations for addressing school refusal with your child.


Dr. Julie Saflarski has valuable clinical experience working with children and adolescents both in and outside of schools around Chicago. Dr. Saflarski has expertise in working with children who struggle with symptoms of anxiety, depression, special needs and developmental disabilities. She also works to help support parents and families to best promote healthy development and resilience in their children. Learn more about Dr. Julie Saflarski on our website.

The Family Institute offers therapy and counseling for children, adolescents, parents and families at our Evanston, downtown Chicago, Westchester and Northbrook locations. Visit our website to learn more.


Affluent Teens & Prosperity

We now live in the most affluent societies in history but wealth doesn’t protect children from being at risk. Everyone knows someone whose child has seriously faltered, who has fallen into addiction, depression or a more amorphous sort of “failure to thrive.” Today we look at what affluency can do to an adolescent.

In her research, Cheryl Rampage, PhD, explains how affluence changes from being a protective factor for young children to a risk factor at early adolescence. Teenagers from affluent families have an increased chance of depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Other issues include achievement pressure from their parents (be it academic, social, athletic or physical) and emotional or physical isolation from parents, whether actual distance or simply editing what is told to them.

The following infographic explores the challenge of prosperity on the mental health of teenagers, and how parents can raise successful and healthy children.

The Challenge of Prosperity
Brought to you by Counseling@Northwestern’s Online Masters in Counseling

The Family Institute offers affordable family, couples and individual counseling at our Evanston, downtown Chicago, Westchester and Northbrook locations. Visit our website to learn more.

Ask a TFI Expert: Talking summer camp with Hollie Sobel, PhD

Ask a TFI Expert: Talking summer camp with Hollie Sobel, PhD

With summer vacation in full swing, join us on TFI Talks as we explore all things Summer Vacation with insights from our expert clinicians.

Today, Family Institute staff therapist Hollie Sobel, PhD, discusses summer camp and ways to keep the stress and anxiety to a minimum.

There’s something for everyone

Today you can find a camp for just about anything.

If your child is interested in activities such as video games, camps with a gaming focus can be a way to work on social skills while partaking in a personal interest. Adolescents can attend specialty camps in areas of interest (e.g., computers) that can help them gain skills for a future career.

For children who struggle with mental health issues, there are camps geared toward specific issues such as Autism or ADHD. These unique camps give kids the opportunity to socialize and have fun while working on and through some of their issues. Since all the campers have similar struggles, it can help the children to feel like they fit in.

Sports camps (e.g, hockey, baseball, basketball, soccer) can help children to use their energy in productive ways. They can also learn teamwork and good sportsmanship.

There are plenty of different ways to work a summer camp into your child’s schedule. Try to find a camp that aligns with his/her interests and help create opportunities for growth and development.

Overnight camp

Overnight camp provides kids with new and exciting opportunities but can lead to a lot of anxiety. As the date to leave for camp approaches, parents may notice their child’s anxiety increases — the closer they get, the less they want to actually go.

Help ease the transition by reaching out to camp staff ahead of time, and work with them to get all of the necessary details in place, and ease some of your kids’ anxiety and stress. Many camps and camp counselors have experience working with parents and families during the weeks leading up to overnight camp.

Keep tabs on the anxiety.

It’s normal to feel some anxiety surrounding summer camp, as it involves meeting new people and going to new places. Some kids, however, will need more help with their anxiety than others.

Anxiety warning sign to watch for:

  • Difficulty separating from parents under typical circumstances
  • Clingy behaviors
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Somatic complaints (stomachaches, headaches)
  • Irritability
  • Statements refusing to attend the camp

Dr. Hollie Sobel provides individual, family, and group psychotherapy. Dr. Sobel has specialization in using researched-based cognitive-behavioral techniques with children and adolescents to improve mood, decrease levels of anxiety, and enhance functioning across home, school and social settings. She includes children/adolescents and parents in the treatment planning process, as family involvement is often important in reaching treatment goals.

To read Dr. Sobel’s full bio or make an appointment, visit our webpage.

The Family Institute offers a wide variety of affordable counseling care that treats whole individuals and their loved ones throughout the Chicagoland area. Find out more at our website.

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