Risks for Immigrant Kids’ Mental Health

We have long known that living in conditions of prolonged stress can affect health. Research has revealed that chronic stress can have serious negative effects on both physical and mental health and can lead to problems like anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, and high blood pressure. For undocumented child immigrants living in the USA, the daily stress they experience by virtue of their immigration status can have  serious negative consequences for their mental health. A new study conducted by researchers at Rice University explored the psychological risks faced by immigrant youth who meet the requirements of the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act.

Having worked with immigrant children and adults throughout my carrier, I have seen first hand how mental health is affected by exposure to societal and institutional exclusion, and by the constant fear of being separated from their loved ones and the life they know in the USA. I was recently asked to speak about my experience working with child immigrants by reporter Camila Bernal at Telemundo/KEYE-TV in Austin. Stay tuned for a clip from the interview.


Dealing with Change

Over the past few weeks I’ve had many conversations with people about the inauguration of the new President and the recent actions taken by his administration, and there appears to be a common thread in those conversation. Whether they are supporters of the new administration or not it seems that in this time of transition, many people are experiencing some worries about how changes in Washington, DC. will affect them. I’m not going to get into politics, but I think this brings up something that is worth addressing, the anxiety that is often triggered by change.

Change, whether big or small, good or bad, individual or global, personal or professional, can lead to heightened feelings of anxiety for many people. Most often that anxiety is manageable but sometimes people may struggle with knowing how to manage it. When anxiety gets overwhelming or is difficult to manage it can affect us both emotionally and physically. It can cause us to experience feelings of fear, doubt or insecurity. These can lead to avoidance or inaction, which can in turn lead to increased anxiety. In terms of its physical effects, anxiety has been associated with short term effects like headaches, muscle tension or difficulty sleeping, as well as long term effects including weakened a immune system, decreased cardiovascular health and increased gastrointestinal distress.

Here are few tips for how to manage anxiety about change.

  • Get organized – disorganization can make things feel out of control and provoke anxiety, even when the disorganization is related to something positive (i.e.: getting packed and ready for a vacation). Creating organization and planning around what makes you anxious can make those things feel less overwhelming and more manageable.
  • Write it right out of you head – write down the thoughts you are having and the fears/worries you are experiencing related to those thoughts. Then write down how likely it is fore those fears/worries to come true. You’re likely to find that there is often a fairly low likelihood of those fears coming true. As an added bonus, this process can also help you create a plan for how to manage your anxiety by helping you identify concrete ideas for how to counteract those anxiety provoking thoughts.
  • Take a mini mental vacation – Take some time to give your mind a break by doing something that you enjoy and that relaxes you. You could read a book, watch a movie, meet up with a friend, do some knitting/crafting, work out, etc. These are all good options if they are positive and relaxing activities for you (in other words, don’t do something that is “supposed” to be relaxing for that others think is relaxing, but that you don’t enjoy or with which you don’t feel comfortable). This give you a chance for your mind and body to relax and refuel on emotional energy and prepare to address the anxiety. Remember, this is a mini mental vacation, not something to do to constantly avoid dealing with your anxiety.

These are just a few tips for managing normal feelings of anxiety when they feel like they are getting to be just a bit overwhelming. Remember that we all experience anxiety to varying degrees. It’s normal and natural to experience some level of anxiety about different things. Mild anxiety can even be useful because ti can be part of how our bodies and minds motivate us to act on somethings.

However, when anxiety start to get in the way of your ability o get through your day or to meet your commitments,  then it may be shifting from “regular” anxiety to more problematic anxiety that could even signal the emergence of an anxiety disorder. If you are concerned that you are having ongoing difficulty managing anxiety or that anxiety is getting in the way of your ability to live the life you wan to live, ask for help. You can start by talking to a trusted friend or family member or contact a therapist you can help you identify if what you are experiencing goes beyond “regular” anxiety and how to manage it.


Positive Start to 2017

Whether you love the holidays or dread the holidays, the end of the year can leave many people feeling emotionally drained and exhausted. Perhaps you love spending time with family over the holidays and now that you are back home, or your holiday guests have left, you feel like you’ve crashed after riding the emotional high being surrounded by loved ones. On the other hand, you may feel drained after dealing with the drama and stress that can come with spending time with family and/or friends who may not always be welcoming or supportive. Either way, it can seem like you are starting the new year feeling tired, sad, exhausted or uninspired and at a loss for how to make a good start to 2017.

Advertisements and websites often tell you that to start the new year right you should try to find a new you, but who has the energy to reinvent themselves after the holidays? And why do people think they need to reinvent themselves in order to be happy or find success? Getting the year off to a good start doesn’t require reinvention, just some mindful actions that can help you feel strong, in control and motivated to make 2017 a great year. Here are a few tips for how to start the year off on the right foot.

  • Get back on track – although it sounds boring, one of the best ways to get back to feeling energized and in control is to get back into a positive routine. Having a positive routine provides us with structure which helps us manage stress and anxiety, keeps us organized and allows us to have a clear sense of what can and can’t fit in our lives. This isn’t to say that your entire life has to be perfectly planned out and scheduled, but it’s beneficial to have some routine in your life. Perhaps it’s about scheduling regular workouts during the week, or it might be setting up regular times to meet a friend for coffee every other week, or maybe it’s a regular time to get errands done. Whether it’s daily, weekly or even monthly, having some routine in your life can help life feel more manageable.
  • Get your beauty sleep – If you are a parent you probably know how important it is for kids to have a regular bedtime routine and get enough sleep. From the time they are infants, having positive and consistent sleep habits helps children stay health, develop appropriately and grow strong. So why do we think that as adults we don’t need the same thing?  According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average adult between 26-64 years old needs about 7-9 hours of sleep each night for good health. Some tips for getting enough good quality sleep are: keep a consistent sleep schedule, develop a regular and relaxing bedtime ritual and give your body 1 hour to “wind down” before doing to sleep.
  • Be present for yourself – Engaging in self-care by taking time for yourself and being present in the moment will help set you up for a healthy and productive new year. Mindfulness meditation is a practice of paying attention to the present moment with openness, curiosity and willingness that has been shown to support health through improved immune system and lower blood pressure. It has also been associated with improved mental health, including reduced stress and anxiety and improved attention and concentration.

Finding the Right Therapist

Whether it’s your first, second or 10th time looking for a therapist, finding the right provider can be a daunting task. Choosing a therapist isn’t quite the same as choosing a podiatrist or an optometrist. Therapy is a very intimate experience and choosing a therapist can be a bit of an intimidating process if you aren’t sure how to go about it. Many people have some of the following questions about finding a therapist:

  1. Where do I look?
  2. What type of therapist do I need?
  3. How do I know if this is the right therapist for me?
  4. What questions should I ask or what do I need to know about my therapist?
  5. What will therapy cost?

Here is a good article from the American Psychological Association about how to choose a therapist.

In addition to the tips in the article about how to find a psychologist I suggest the following:

  1. Do a search on and
  2. Check with you insurance provider to get a list of therapists in your area
  3. Do a google search of any therapists who are referred to
  4. Once you start therapy give it at least 4 sessions to see if you and your therapist make a good fit and if you have concerns about how therapy is going voice them to your therapist. You can probably work through those concerns with you therapist, and if not then they can help refer you to someone who may be a better fit.

Psychotherapy Myths

Often people who have not been in therapy before have preconceived ideas of what it is like to engage in therapy. These ideas are often influenced by what they’ve seen on TV or in movies, or perhaps by what they have heard from others. Sometimes those preconceptions make the person feel anxious or uncomfortable with the idea of therapy and keep the person from seeking out what could be a very beneficial support. Here is a quick article from that addresses just a few of common myths about psychotherapy. Take a look and perhaps it can help you feel more comfortable about calling AIC to ask about our services. We are here to help!

4 Myths About Psychotherapy