Tag Archives: mental health

Angelina Jolie and Questions About Parenting

27 May

Question:  Angelina Jolie seems to have boundless energy, adopting and becoming pregnant, having babies one after the other while filming movies all at the same time. She seems devoted to her family and certainly has the resources to hire all the caretaker help she needs. Could her children be getting all the maternal attention they need for healthy emotional development? What about the adopted kids; will they need more attention? How could she possibly do it and meet all of her children’s needs?

Doctor Alisa:  That is a great question! What you are addressing is the issue of early childhood attachment and how that can impact a child’s development. Cleary, Angelina Jolie has more resources than many parents do to hire help to care for her kids. She also seems quite busy and one would wonder how much time she has to be a mom.

Hiring nannies to help care for children is not necessarily a bad thing. When there is hired help involved the best case scenario is that the child is attached to the parents and the nanny. Care from a nanny does not have to take away from a child’s bond to their parent. If the parent is physically and emotionally available to the child, then the attachment to the nanny serves as bonus, not a replacement.

However, many parents are unavailable to form the needed connections to their children during their formative years. The parent or parents may be overly busy with work, may have issues of addiction, or may not be available to attend to the child’s needs for other reasons. Creating a healthy secure attachment with a child not only requires that the caretaker or parent be physically present with the child, they must also be intellectually and emotionally present. Being in the same room with a child but totally ignoring them doesn’t count as being present!

In the best case scenario both parents are available to bond and attend to all of their children. However, often having just one healthy attachment to any caregiver is enough to provide an important relationship for healthy development later on.

The difficulty arises when the child is attached to a nanny, for example, and the nanny leaves (quits, is fired, etc.). This can be a terrible source of loss for the child if the nanny has served as the primary caregiver and is their only source of secure attachment.

As for children who are adopted, they often need more attention and time in order to establish a healthy secure bond. However, much depends on the child, the parent and the situation. There is a great deal of variability in the needs of adopted children and how much time and effort it will take in order to establish a healthy connection.

Without knowing Angelina Jolie’s schedule and relationship with her children it is hard to say with certainty whether her children are getting the attention, affection and connection they need from her. It is not uncommon for children of celebrities to miss out on attention and bonding from their celebrity parent. Given the number of children she has and their varying developmental stages, there is likely a great demand for her time, her emotional presence, and her patience.

Is Fear and Anxiety Holding You Back From Living Your Life?

10 Feb

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We all have fears.  We all have anxiety.  But for some people their fears and anxiety get in the way of them living their life the way they want to live it.  If this is the case for you, it is important to recognize that you can learn tools to help set you free from the fear that holds you back from living your life more fully. 

It is important to learn how to manage feelings of fear.  Part of doing this is creating the ability to separate the true signals of danger from false alarms.  For some people, their brains fire signals that indicate they are in danger when they we really aren’t.  Some examples of this are: 

  • Having a panic attack when there is not immediate threat to your safety.  For example, in a grocery store.  At that moment your brain is telling you that you must flee- that you are in danger.  When in reality, there is no real threat to you.
  • Feeling a sense of dread or extreme fear when you encounter germs.  Although your intellectual mind may know that not every germ you encounter is going to kill you, it feels as if you are in immediate danger.  The danger feels very real.
  • Something in your environment reminds you of a past trauma and you immediately feel that you must fight or run.  You may feel a sense of danger and extreme fear even when you are in a safe environment.  (This frequently happens to people who have experienced terrible trauma or have PTSD).

Panic attacks essentially are a false alarm.  The brain is sending off the fight or flight signal, when no real danger is present. 

Anxiety has been coined as “a disease of uncertainty.”  If you suffer from anxiety, you may be plagued with feelings of self doubt.  You may not know what you feel or what you truly want.  You are likely to be out of touch with your own desires and needs and, as a result, may find it hard to trust your own intuition or decisions.  This leads to an overactive mind that is constantly thinking, questioning, and worrying about what the “right” decision is.  You may spend countless hours trying to think through decisions before you make them and you are likely to feel stuck and indecisive.

One of the things that can keep you stuck in feelings of anxiety is self judgment.  Often people judge themselves as an attempt to try to get themselves out of a rut they are in.  They may say to themselves “You shouldn’t be feeling anxious right now!  Snap out of it!”  Or they may be even more self-critical and put themselves down for feeling anxious or fearful.  The result of this kind of self-talk is that you end up feeling more anxious, rather than less.  Each time you tell yourself that you should not feel a certain way you are actually increasing that emotion you are trying to rid yourself of. 

One of the most important concepts regarding anxiety is that it feeds off of avoidance.  The more you avoid, the more anxiety you will experience.  This is a basic tenet of anxiety management.  Avoidance can take the many forms such as:  procrastination, withdrawal from activities and isolation from others.

If you are like the millions of others who suffer from anxiety you may feel helpless and scared.  Because of all the ways anxiety can end up taking charge over your life, you may end up feeling powerless to make changes.  You may feel like the anxiety is ruling your life and you have no control. 

Mindfulness is one way to effectively decrease symptoms of anxiety, panic and worry.  A regular meditation practice and a mindful outlook on life will help you to increase your awareness of what you feel, want and think, and as a result your feelings of uncertainty will decrease and you will increase your ability to trust your intuition.  One of the main principles of mindfulness is decreasing self-judgment.  Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioral techniques can be very useful in transforming unhealthy judgment and criticism into feelings of self love and kindness.  You may find that when you begin to take a stance of kindness towards yourself when you feel anxiety, worry or fear, your anxious feelings soon become less powerful and the one who feels powerful and in control is you.  By slowly beginning to decrease your avoidance you will find that your anxiety loses its power over you.

The Worry Bug

24 Jan

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We all worry.  That is a natural part of life.  It is essential for us as humans to have the capacity to worry or experience anxiety.  It is part of what keeps us safe.  However, some people are plagued by worry so much that they end up suffering major consequences.  Some of the consequences of chronic worrying are:

  • Difficulty making decisions/indecisiveness
  • fatigue
  • physical pains- including headaches and muscle pain
  • increased propensity for getting sick
  • depression
  • increased tendency to procrastinate
  • irritability
  • poor sleep
  • difficulty concentrating or focusing

These are just a few of the most common consequences of worrying too much.  When individuals chronically worry- or have the “worry bug” they decrease their immune response.  Their body is in a hypervigillant state, and stress hormones are released into the body.  These stress hormones can help your body prepare for a flight-or-fight response.  But research is finding that when they are released for long periods of time (such as when a person is a chronic worrier) it can have a major impact on the human body and lead to a myriad of physical problems and ailments.

So what can you do if you’ve got the worry bug?  There are many different things you can do to start living your life differently and stop worrying so much.  However, keep in mind, that most of the techniques for ridding yourself of the worry bug takes time and practice.  One of the essential components to effectively ridding yourself of chronic worry is a shift in your focus from a future- oriented perspective to a present-moment perspective.  Worry is almost always future- oriented.  It often starts with the words “What if…”

“What if I don’t get the promotion?”

“What if he thinks badly of me?”

“What if I something bad happens to my son when he’s out with his friends?”

“What if I get hurt while driving my car?”

The list goes on and on….  What may start with a simple “What if” question then begins to transform into a complex web of “what if’s,” as one what if leads to another to another and another.  Along with this line of thinking also comes visual imagery of the imagined event.  Usually this imagined, feared event frightens us or upsets us in some way.  And what do you think happens when you begin to imagine some terrifying event take place in the future?  Your body tenses up, and it begins to act AS IF the event is really happening.  But this is the catch- IT HASN’T HAPPENED YET!  Now we have a physiological response (remember: release of stress hormones in the body) to an IMAGINED event, not a real one.  Our body becomes affected by this worrying, we start to feel fearful of this imagined outcome and we try to do whatever we think we can to avoid this terrible outcome from happening.  As a result we often end up feeling stuck.

The important piece of this equation is that all of this mental energy is spent attempting to predict or anticipate a FUTURE outcome.  By beginning to focus on the here-and-now we spend less time engaging in thoughts about the future and more time living our lives in the present moment.  One way to begin to live your life more in the present moment is through a mindfulness practice.  (More about Mindfulness will be discussed in this website).  Mindfulness is not the only avenue to ridding one’s self of the worry bug, but it is one that has been proven to work.

There are many techniques that have been proven  to help manage worry, such as:  worry time, the stop technique, and other cognitive-behavioral strategies.  These techniques can be helpful in learning to worry less.  Some of the core features of learning to worry less are:

  • Increase the amount of time you spend in the present moment.  This can be done by engaging in a mindfulness practice.  You can make this shift by increasing your awareness of the time you spend thinking about the future and remembering to bring yourself back to the present moment.  So next time you find yourself consumed by the worry bug, regain your focus on what is actually happening in the moment.  Take a breath, look around, and re-engage in what is going on right in front of you.


  • Recognize what you can and cannot control.  The serenity prayer that is used as part of the 12-step recovery process works for a reason.  Once you can begin to quickly recognize the things in your life that you can and cannot control you can begin to live much more peacefully.  Are you worrying about something you can’t control?  Are you trying to control or predict the future?  Are you trying to control another person’s  behavior?  Remember the things that you can control are actually quite few.  (As an exercise see if you can list right now the things you can and can’t control and notice what you come up with).


  • Slow down- The worry bug often gets you revved up.  Your mind is moving fast, and your body may be moving fast, too.  When you are anxious, stressed and worried it is difficult to create a shift in your thinking.  Sometimes the key to turning off the worry bug is to SLOW DOWN.  Sometimes you may need to slow your body first.  Stop what you are doing and stop multi-tasking.  Do something relaxing, if possible, or even just sit quietly for a moment.    The worry bug does not like quiet. 

Remember- I am not suggesting that you do not think about the future, or ever ponder about potential scenarios in the future.  The goal is to strike a balance between the time you spend thinking about the future or past and the time you spend living in the present moment.  Many people live a great deal of their lives constantly two steps ahead of themselves.  When you do this, you are prone to living a life filled with worry, uncertainty, stress and agitation. 

So now that you have read this information, sit where you are for just a few moments in silence and let the information soak in.  Perhaps you might set and intention for yourself for how you would like to practice living your life differently from this moment forward.

And after you give yourself a few moments of silence.  Then open your eyes and move on to the next moments of your day…