The collision of my professional life and motherhood has been a bit of a bumpy road. It’s a bit cliché, of course, but nothing prepares you for parenthood. Fumbling through sleepless nights, difficulties in soothing a crying baby, the angst that comes from letting go of a life before motherhood, these were all things that I was somewhat expecting.

What I was not expecting were the tantrums, rigidity, extreme sensitivity, separation anxiety, perseveration, and meltdowns that were still happening upwards of 5 years old. As a psychologist, this was especially confusing since I am well versed in child development literature, attachment theory, healthy communication strategies, and effective methods of parenting.  Yet, despite copious research, knowledge of the brain, and no shortage of parenting books, I was challenged to find a way to help my son regulate himself when an emotional tsunami came our way.


After one failed technique after another, we landed on coloring by happenstance.  Initially, I was just grateful to find a “play” activity that he and I equally enjoyed doing together.  Don’t get me wrong, I love being with my son, but a part of me was always left uninspired by LEGOS, dump trucks, paw patrol, and the like.

The more we colored together, the more I noticed that the activity seemed to soothe him and he would delight in improving his ability to stay within the lines.  Coloring not only calmed him, but was becoming something that helped him to feel good about himself.  It was not lost on me either that beyond finding an activity that I finally enjoyed, it was relaxing and meditative for me as well.  The joy and satisfaction I derived out of creating something beautiful seemed to be the icing on the cake and what I thought was the end of the story, as far as coloring was concerned.

Coloring Isn’t Just for Kids

Enter my professional life.  As a psychologist, my therapy with clients is insight oriented, values driven, and steeped in principles that utilize the mind to elicit brain change.  I emphasize helping clients change their relationship to uncomfortable emotions and experiences rather than avoiding, suppressing, or simply trying to distract themselves.

I believe that, as a culture, we need to do a better job of building emotional resilience, strengthening one’s muscle, so to speak, to tolerate being uncomfortable without acting out.  Needless to say, it wasn’t my practice to recommend a technique, like coloring to distract, because I feel it misses the point.

I, wholeheartedly, believe this to be true AND yet sometimes being with the emotion or experience is too much.  Sometimes being immersed in it means a client will binge, ruminate, obsess, drink, or act out in some other way, even though they desperately want to change this behavior.  This is confusing to them and to loved ones, but when you understand what is happening in the brain, things begin to make a little more sense.

Simply put, we can’t make good use of the part of the brain that delays gratification, thinks about our long term goals, chooses what’s best for us, etc. if other parts of the brain are dysregulated (i.e. imbalanced because of too much fear, anxiety, cravings, stress, etc.).

Building a Bridge

This is where distraction and self-soothing come in and this is where the art of coloring answers both calls.  Calling to mind the soothing and self-regulating effects of coloring for my son, I was curious if the research supported my anecdotal experience.

Confirming what I suspected, the research is clear on the self-soothing and calming aspects of coloring. Encouragingly, it also shows its effectiveness in reducing stress and anxiety, as well as preliminary support for reducing depression. In addition, coloring can increase mindfulness, which is our focus of attention on the present moment.  This is an added bonus, as mindfulness inhibits mind wandering, reducing stress and stabilizing mood in the process.

The next time you’re met with the storm inside, try it, you may be surprised at the gift it brings.

You need to worry! While this may sound counterintuitive, we are actually hard wired for anxiety, as it ensures our survival.   Unfortunately, this well meaning mechanism can easily spiral out of control, with one anxious thought begetting another and another.  Perhaps this is why more people suffer from anxiety disorders than any other mental illness.

While we can’t (and wouldn’t) want to do away with anxiety entirely, there are things that we can do differently to help better manage the anxiety we experience.  Get my free guide here!

Clinical experience has shown that, ironically, it is often the patient’s very attempt to solve the problem that, in fact, maintains it.  The attempted solution becomes the true problem.  -Giorgio Nardone & Paul Watzlawick

We’d like to take a moment to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and hope that you have a wonderful holiday season. It’s been another great year for, and we are so grateful for the response that we’ve had as of late.

Even though the holidays are said to be filled with “good cheer”, this isn’t the case for many.  Putting on a celebratory air for those suffering from anxiety and/or depression is difficult and the added pressure of the holidays can exacerbate one’s symptoms.

If you suffer from anxiety or depression, it can be isolating to see others celebrating and enjoying themselves.  During the holiday season it is important to take a moment and remember what you are grateful for.  Even if you don’t feel like participating and engaging, muster the resolve to try, because not doing so will only increase your distress.

If you need a bit of extra help during this holiday season, you may want to consider therapy for anxiety or depression from a Santa Barbara psychologist.  If therapy for depression or anxiety is something that you’ve never entertained, it may be overwhelming to even contemplate entering treatment.  However, if you experience any of the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety listed below, get help so that you can make the most out of your holiday season.

Increased or Decreased Appetite

A common symptom of both depression and anxiety is change in appetite.  Of course, it is normal during the holidays to indulge more than usual, but if you find that you are consistently overeating or have no appetite at all, then this may be a sign of depression or anxiety.  One of the objectives of depression counseling with a Santa Barbara therapist is to help people return to a place where they are eating in a more mindful, healthy manner.

Lack of Desire to Go To Social Holiday Functions

Though holiday parties can be a lot of work to get ready for, most people enjoy partaking in the festivities.  It’s a chance to see co-workers outside of work, catch up with family, and to socialize with some of your closest friends. People with anxiety or depression may experience a lack of passion, motivation, and desire to attend any events. Or the desire and motivation might be present, but the person’s anxiety is so overwhelming and paralyzing that it prevents them from showing up.

Depression and anxiety can wreak havoc on your personal and professional life. If you believe that your mental health has compromised your functioning, counseling for anxiety may be helpful.

Look For Signs in Others

In addition to looking at yourself during this holiday season, recognize warning signs in others. It can be difficult to ascertain how someone is feeling just by observing them, so be sure to ask questions if you suspect someone close to you is suffering.  You might just turn someone’s holiday season around and this Thanksgiving, they’ll be thankful that you took notice!

Q & A Hot Sheet

Q: Can’t I fight depression and anxiety on my own?

A: You can deal with depression and anxiety on your own, however, if your symptoms persist, it may be time to seek out a psychologist for depression or anxiety. Working with a psychologist will allow you to access the underlying, often unconscious issues that may be feeding your depression or anxiety.

Q: Are there side effects for antidepressants and other medications for anxiety and depression?

A: As with any medication, there are some side effects associated with antidepressants and anxiolytics. This is why it’s best if you have a psychologist for anxiety, as they can work closely with the doctor who prescribed your medication.

Q: Is anxiety and depression hereditary?

A: Studies have found that there is a genetic predisposition for mental illness, however having a family member with depression or anxiety doesn’t mean that you will inherit it.  There are many factors that contribute to the development of the latter.

Local Events

If you are looking for activities and experiences this winter to help take your mind off things, consider these local Santa Barbara events.

Thanksgiving 4 Miler:  Thanksgiving Day, November 27. Team up with family and friends and get your holidays off to a great start. Run Santa Barbara presents Santa Barbara’s flattest and fastest four-miler. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m. in the Thunderbird Open Space, pocket park on Walnut. First three hundred on-line registrations get a free event shirt. Race begins at 9:00 a.m. on Hollister near the Magnolia Shopping Center. Prizes and gifts available. You’ll work up an appetite for Thanksgiving dinner.

Thanksgiving Day Pumpkin Smash: Thanksgiving Day, November 27. Have a smashing good time at the Santa Barbara Zoo’s annual Thanksgiving Day Pumpkin Smash from 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. Elephants, gorillas, and other animals will get tasty pumpkins to play with and eat on Thanksgiving Day. Cost is free with Zoo admission.

Blush Restaurant + Lounge:  Thanksgiving Day, November 27. Let Blush do all the cooking for Thanksgiving this year.  They will be open Thanksgiving Day from noon until 10:00 p.m. Chef Brandon Worrell and his staff will create an amazing combination of California cuisine and traditional favorites for your holiday dining pleasure.

Art To Zoo Exhibit: November 26th – Take your family to the Art To Zoo exhibit at the Santa Barbara Museum Of Art. This is something your entire family can enjoy and is both entertaining and educational!

ZeeBlu Thanksgiving 5K & Family Fun Run  – Thursday, November 27, 2014 09:00 AM – The inaugural event last year had a turnout of 300 runners and this year is expected to bring over 500 participants.

Dr. Adina McGarr-Knabke earned her psychology degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2000 and her Masters in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University in 2003. After receiving her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Phillips Graduate Institute, Dr. McGarr-Knabke has been dedicated to helping patients find solutions to their emotional questions.  Known as The Santa Barbara Therapist, Dr. Adina McGarr-Knabke is a licensed clinical psychologist.  She provides treatment for eating disordersanxiety disordersaddictiondepression and self-injurious behaviors, as well as counseling for stress from her office located at 1187 Coast Village Rd., Suite 10P in Santa Barbara. Visit the website and Facebook page or call (818) 518-6775 for more information. 

Membership and Affiliations:

International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (IAEDP)

Santa Barbara County Psychological Association

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder can occur after an individual experiences an extreme traumatic event or an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury to oneself or someone else.  Fear, helplessness, and/or horror are experienced as a result.  The individual continually re-lives the event via flashbacks, memories, nightmares, and/or intrusive thoughts, images, or perceptions.  Avoidance of associated stimuli, physiological reactivity, psychological distress, and numbing are also present.  Other symptoms include an inability to recall aspects of the trauma, avoidance of  associated stimuli, feelings of detachment, hypervigilance, insomnia, difficulties concentrating, exaggerated startle response, and impaired social and occupational functioning.

The above symptoms must persist for more than one month.  If the symptoms are of shorter duration, then a diagnosis of Acute Stress Disorder is made.

American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth  Edition, text Revision. Washington, DC American Psychiatric Association, 2000.

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Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Excessive anxiety and worry, that occurs more days than not and persist for at least six months, constitute the core features of Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  The worry and anxiety feels difficult to control and is about a number of different things.  In addition, physical symptoms such as restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, and disturbances in sleep plague the individual.   Social and occupational functioning are significantly impaired. 

American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth  Edition, text Revision. Washington, DC American Psychiatric Association, 2000.