By Carey London
There is no shortage of stresses in life and enduring them as a child or adolescent can be especially challenging. Dr. Pentcheva Burns has dedicated her career to helping young people, and in January, she opened Hamptons Mindful Youth, Psychological Wellness Services, PLLC in Sag Harbor. This practice applies the principles of “positive psychology”, self-resilience and mindfulness to help empower children, adolescents and families who are struggling with behavioral, social or emotional issues.
Her drive to help others stems from the great challenges in her own childhood growing up in an impoverished immigrant family. “I just felt for people and really wanted to help kids and teenagers and show them how much they could do if they could turn their struggles into strengths,” said Dr. Pentcheva, who is also a school psychologist at the Amagansett School District.
The range of programs offered at Hamptons Mindful Youth is diverse — from stress reduction and social emotional learning, to mindful parenting and college prep, helping teens develop healthy habits for a successful transition out of high school and home. Much of what Dr. Pentcheva sees in her young clients is a form of anxiety and the unhealthy coping mechanisms that have developed as a result.
“So many kids are disconnected from their bodies and from the impact your thoughts can have on your body,” she said.
Her work is tailored to address each client’s specific needs following an assessment. However, the overarching approach is focused on helping them realize that they are still in control and can change their mindset. “We are so strong and resilient,” she said. “You don’t have to be anxious — you can be brave.”
Employing mindfulness, for example, can help thwart an anxiety attack. This practice of being in the present moment with openness and acceptance can help decelerate a racing mind. During the throws of anxiety, adrenaline releases in the body and can temporarily mute the problem-solving part of the brain. “When we’re anxious we’re not thinking rationally. The best way to reverse that fight or flight is to take a deep breath,” said Dr. Pentcheva, noting that this can allow a person to regain self-control, giving them a window to respond versus react.
Another technique she takes is strength-based, promoting resilience. That is, instead of approaching an issue by asking her clients to explain what is bothering them, she starts by asking them to list their strengths and the ways they feel they have coped well with a past struggle. This, she believes, empowers them to address their current problem.
In addition, Dr. Pentcheva encourages the practice of gratitude, creating a habit of focusing on what one has instead of what is lacking. “It’s such a powerful approach,” she said, adding that integrating exercise and a balanced diet are also key to well-being. Ultimately, all of these tools instilled early on can help set a healthy foundation that lasts a lifetime.
“A big piece, one of the most life changing pieces, is them realizing, ‘you’re not broken, there’s nothing wrong with you.’ This is a human experience, we all have these feelings, we all have vulnerabilities,” she said.
For parents watching their children struggle, not knowing how to help can be painful and frustrating. The most useful approach they can take is to validate their child’s feelings, thus normalizing them, and then offer strategies to address the problem, Dr. Pentcheva suggested. This, along with mindfulness and deep breathing, can serve to empower a child.
“I truly just want to help the kids and the families, my heart goes out to them. I just get it,” she said. “I get how hard it is to be a kid, I get how hard it is to be a parent.”
Hamptons Mindful Youth is located in Sag Harbor Integrative Medicine Associates. For more information on the programs offered, call 302-469-6884 or visit hamptonsmindfulyouth.com.