How to Practice Self-Care Without Stressing Out

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#Self-Care is a recognizable hashtag to anyone on social media. And even if you don't use Instagram or Tweet chances are you have encountered the phrase in magazines, talk shows or in self-help books. Often the idea or phrase can be associated with consumerism and the purchasing of everything from high end beauty treatments to luxury vacations. This approach essentially makes self-care about the pursuit of things that are often financially inaccessible to the very people who need to take care of themselves the most.

Here are some suggestions on how you can replenish, rejuvenate and restore:

  • Previous generations may have found restoration by leaning on their families, communities and churches. Modern life doesn't always present those options but the development of strong emotionally healthy bonds with friends who become family can be an act of self-care. Conversely, eliminating or severely restricting time spent with toxic individuals can do a lot for your overall well-being.

  • Spend some time in the sun. Some studies have shown Vitamin D to improve mood and boost serotonin levels.

  • Get some rest and relaxation. Book a massage, luxuriate in a hot bath or shower, or just sleep in one morning. So often our busy schedules make something as basic as a good night’s sleep seem like a luxury.

  • Have a good laugh. Get some comedic relief with a movie or listening to your favorite comedian can help detach from routine daily stressors.

  • Make a list of affirmations that help combat the negative self-sabotaging thoughts

  • Advertisements, especially those that we are unconsciously ingesting through social media can make nourishment of the body seem as if it's only for the wealthy and can put you in a stressful space where trying to access a wellness routine leaves you anxious and on edge. If this is you, try unplugging from your devices. Though professional needs may make that difficult, possibilities include deleting certain apps from your phone, designating specific hours as no screen time, or making your bedroom a device free zone.

The ways in which people feel rejuvenated is going to vary wildly, so it's okay if your version of self-care is non-traditional just as long as it is focused on physical, emotional and relational health. So don’t feel guilty the next time you need some “you time.” It’s not a selfish act; it’s necessary for your health.

Let's Talk About Codependency

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The mere nature of relationships come with an array of dynamics. As we grow and invest time as well as energy into a relationship, we may find that we have been building a relationship built on unhealthy behaviors. One of the most common trends that we find during counseling sessions is a pattern of codependency. It is a common term you may have heard before but let's delve into what it means, what the patterns and pitfalls look like and finally ways to break its cycle.

The term codependency is commonly associated with people who are supporting or enabling individuals dealing with addiction. But that is only one of the many ways in which a relationship can exhibit signs of codependency.

In fact, any two people who are invested to the point where neither can function independently may be considered codependent. While typically there is a passive party who looks to the other for decision making and a more commanding personality who is "in charge" it is important to remember this is going to look different from situation to situation. The consistent factor is if your sense of self-worth and identity are wrapped up in another person's mood and happiness- it is an unhealthy dynamic. 

Hallmark Signs of Codependency include:

  • Inability to make decisions within a relationship

  • Low self-esteem and lacking trust in yourself

  • Valuing the approval of others more than yourself

  • Constant fears of abandonment

  • Being dependent on the other person to your own detriment

  • Feeling an overwhelming sense of responsibility for the behaviors/actions of others

Many people involved in codependent relationships benefit from therapy. Individual sessions can help the traditionally "dependent" person build self-esteem, confidence and an understanding why they are relying so much on other people for fulfillment. If both people are invested in change, couples or family therapy can help restructure the framework of their relationship.

  • Breaking the cycle will begin with taking accountability for your contribution to the relationship and being honest with yourself and your partner. Living a lie breeds resentment and anger but an open dialogue about your needs and desires can be the start of healing.

  • Creating or re-establishing ties with people outside of your codependent relationship(s) can help eliminate the feelings of isolation that often accompany these situations. External relationships have often suffered neglect so it may feel like a big task but small steps such as texting or even going the extra mile of a mailed card can go a long way in the right direction. 

  • Reignite your passions! Pick up a hobby; whether it's continuing an old one or starting a new pursuit. This time for yourself spent doing what you love will help you feel whole without the other person.

  • Eliminating the codependent behavior may or may not entail saying goodbye to your partner but the goal of breaking the cycle of codependency is to ultimately see yourself as a competent and capable independent person.

  • Setting clear boundaries. Where does your partners needs end and yours begin?  Realizing you are not responsible for anyone's happiness but your own will allow you to live in a guilt free healthy relationship.

Lastly, remember that healthy relationships are comprised of two separate identities having commonalities and differences with acceptance, respect and level of understanding. When you find yourself consumed with your significant other in a way that your own interests, happiness and mental health start to take a back seat to theirs – get help. Self-care can begin with reaching out to a mental health professional for individual therapy or group therapy to learn behavioral patterns and coping skills to change course.   

5 Ways to Protect Your Marriage

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Everyone wants a relationship with their significant other that is emotionally healthy and fulfilling. Building and maintaining a partnership may not come easily or naturally. Here are some tips that will help you protect your marriage both before AND after the going gets rough;

Communication

This is can be both obvious and really hard. But taking the time to speak about anything and everything will help foster intimacy and trust. Whatever issues arise there has to be conversations about those issues; avoidance and assumptions will drive a wedge in any relationship. Most people will have arguments or contentious conversations where neither side truly hears the other. The ability to take a breath and return to a topic when cooler heads prevail may allow you the space to express your feelings in a calmer more rational way. Conversely it will also give you an opportunity to listen to your ex with a more open mind.

Time

The hectic pace of modern life, with work and family obligations means most people are pressed for time and have very little to spare. Planned date nights are fun and good if you can have weekly or monthly activities for just the two of you. But remember quality time with your partner doesn't always need to be elaborate, but deliberate. Carve out a designated spot on your calendar during which you can do something together, whether its taking a walk, watching a TV show or even running errands.

Have Clear Boundaries

When it comes to the big things in life know where your partner stands. Whether it's sex, money or parenting styles being fully informed about what your spouse finds acceptable is important. This doesn't mean that you have to be in perfect agreement every step of the way; but respecting the other person’s position and finding common ground is an absolute must. It is the responsibility of each person to relay this information in an assertive manner; there is no room for passive aggressive behavior.

Living In The Present

Hurt feelings in a relationship are pretty much inevitable, be it a small argument or the much larger pain of infidelity. An honest evaluation of the causes and repercussions of the situation is necessary for healing and growth. Immersing in the pain and refusing to let go will ultimately undermine your marriage with increased resentment. A lack of reflection and personal responsibility can waste precious time spent on healing. The timeline for “moving on” is highly personal and will depend on many factors. Speaking with a licensed mental health professional can help couples maneuver through the stages and phases of an affair and/or barriers in a relationship.

Keeping Counseling as an Option

Fortunately, societal ignorance and shame associated with seeking counseling has declined. Marriage counseling with a therapist who is a good fit for both partners can open the way for healthy communication and gaining insights on how to resolve longstanding, difficult issues. I recommend couples seek counseling prior to getting married and as many times as needed after getting married as it is just as important and necessary as going for individual counseling. Some couples are apprehensive because they fear increased arguing; however, if this is true for you and your partner then there are likely some things that could use some processing. The goal is to learn to listen to one another, increase mutual respect and make a concerted effort to understand one another.


Are You Disconnecting or Compartmentalizing?

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In psychology, compartmentalization is defined as a defense mechanism where someone suppresses their thoughts and emotions. It is not always done consciously but this can often justify or defend a person’s level of engagement in certain behaviors. Compartmentalization, unbeknownst to me at the time, was in large how I was able to function as a mother, wife and student after the unexpected death of my sister. When I reflect on that time period, I was not purposefully using any tools to manage the grief; I only knew there were responsibilities that needed to be handled and I completed many of them without realizing the risks that could have been looming.

Are there benefits to compartmentalization? Absolutely! Certain necessary professions would cease to exist without this tool. For example, a firefighter may have a family that depends on them at home, but they must rush into life-threatening situations without hesitation to do their job. Being able to compartmentalize those two realities allows them to perform under intense pressure. Most of us, gratefully, are not asked to run into burning buildings in our daily lives.

How does compartmentalization help us in more commonplace situations?

  • Compartmentalizing can help at a time when a couple has decided to divorce yet for the protection of others (and maintaining some privacy) will continue to take pictures with smiles and attend family gatherings as though all is well. Being able to separate the wide range of emotions felt momentarily allows them to continue functioning “normally”.

  • We also flex this muscle when the source of increased stress at work could be that group project with a co-worker you just don’t care for. Whether it’s their politics, or religious beliefs, or favorite sports team, something rubs you the wrong way. Putting that away in its own separate place in your brain can allow you to hunker down and complete the task at hand.

  • Giving yourself permission to manage your own mental health regardless to the time of day is another healthy advantage to compartmentalization. Immersing yourself in the movie you’re watching, reading a book, journaling, taking a long relaxing bath, or going for a hike in nature can help you “disconnect” from your acute or chronic issues and help you tackle whatever’s wearing you down.

But there are serious disadvantages that come with compartmentalization, too.

  • You run the risk of being emotionally unavailable. If you are grieving a lost loved one, you might find it more comforting to go about your daily routine as if nothing has changed than confront the emotions you’re naturally feeling. Although you might be sitting at the table, your family can sense the disconnect and drifting or feel you are pushing them away.

  • Unfortunately, compartmentalizing is a common tool for people engaging in aberrant sexual or social behavior. The boss who is sexually harassing his female employees may be a loving father to his daughters. The daughter who is abusing drugs and alcohol may appear to be the picture of stability around her parents. The dissociation is required to function in both facets of their world.

  • If you have engaged in any behavior society considers outside the norm and have successfully compartmentalized that experience from your otherwise “normal” life, you might be tempted to do it repeatedly, or escalate further, creating a loss of impulse control. It is important for your emotional and mental wellness to meet with a mental health professional to identify your benefits and risks that come from your compartmentalization.

As you reflect on moments in your past and/or current experiences, you might be able to identify how you compartmentalize. Maybe you want to get better at it to help separate your personal life from your work life. Perhaps you want to alleviate or reduce this habit because you can see the potential damage to your marriage, your employees or your own psychological health. Compartmentalization is not all negative; however, if you feel vacillating between the two worlds is opening you up to disassociate in ways that are harmful to yourself or the people around you, I encourage you to seek professional help with a mental health professional.

How to Deal with Adjustment Disorder

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The most predictable facet of life is its unpredictability. When we expect things to zig, they zag. When this happens, many people can be struck with something called adjustment disorder. Adjustment Disorder (sometimes referred to as Stress Response Syndrome) is when one experiences an acute or persistent emotional reaction filled with irrational thoughts and behavior after a major life change. The response is often disruptive and can impact quality of life. These events can trigger a period of adjusting where you experience significant stress and anxiety.

Some common life events include:

● The sudden or impending death of a loved one

● Being diagnosed with a serious or chronic illness

● Being the victim of a crime

● Job changes

● Surviving through a major accident or a disaster

● Significant life changes like getting married, having a baby, going to college, retiring, etc.

Adjustment Disorder differs from diagnoses such as major clinical depression or general anxiety disorder based on the number of symptoms, the intensity and primarily length of time. When managing adjustment disorder the manifestation may present as feeling overwhelmed, difficulty concentrating, withdrawal from others and trouble sleeping. Most of the time we can cope with our ever-changing lives but sometimes our stressors are abrupt, short term and/or intermittent and we simply have difficulty “getting back to normal”.

Typically, people adjust within a few months after a life changing event but when the response to the life disruption is extended, we encourage clients to seek treatment. This is not one size fits all; symptoms will vary from person to person. If you are suffering after a life event, here are some ways you can manage:

1. Seek professional help – Speak with your physician’s office, get into therapy - either one-on-one with a mental health professional or in a group setting to learn the right coping skills to help yourself.

2. Reduce daily stressors – Avoid things that trigger an intense negative reaction for you. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to manage your boundaries for self-care as you adjust.

3. Medicine – Depending on the symptoms a low dose antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication may help reduce the impact and help you identify the appropriate coping skills .

4. Be mindful of your intake – Maintaining a good diet not only helps your body but your mind as well. Try to reduce or eliminate your alcohol or caffeine intake as well.

5. Lean on your support system – Tell your friends and/or family about how you’re feeling. Having someone you trust that to listen without judgment or shaming is invaluable during times of stress.

There is no foolproof way to prevent Adjustment Disorder; but getting help early will lessen your symptoms. If left untreated, it can develop into a more serious condition like major depressive disorder. A licensed mental health professional can teach you ways to cope with stress and anxiety and put you on the path to wellness.

Setting Goals for 2019

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“Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it.” – Maya Angelou

For many people the end of the year can bring up every emotion imaginable. January is named for the Roman god with two faces, one looking forward and the other back, so it's a time honored tradition to reflect on the year that has been and set our sights on the year ahead.

Channeling the excitement you have about the beginning of a new year into plans that garner results can seem daunting- but here are some tips on Goal Setting for 2019.

#1 Identify What You Want To Accomplish

This is not the time for magical wishes. Being practical and realistic will set you up for success in ways that being overly ambitious will not.

#2 Set Up Benchmarks

Concrete things, "finish lines" that you can reach on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

#3 Begin Progress Toward Benchmark

Small steps will get you there as long as they are consistent.

#4 Record Your Activity

You want to be able to see what is and what is not working so you can change it up and most importantly so you can…

#5 Celebrate Your Successes

All work and no play is no way to live so treat yourself!

And remember- don't be too hard on yourself. Set backs are often part of the process and is a natural part of learning and growing to have the life you want to live.

Take Care of Yourself This Holiday Season

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The holiday season brings with it a lot of exciting activities but time for self care isn't often among them. But how much better would your year end be if you made it a daily priority?

During these festive times, we often focus our energy on our children, partners, friends and extended family. However it's important to take stock of what kind of relationship you have with yourself. Do you grant yourself permission to take time for yourself when you are exhausted or need to rejuvenate? Do you allow yourself moments to pause or reflect? When we identify what is important to ourselves, it can allow us to have more fulfilling relationships with the people in our lives.

I invite you to do the following:

  • Explore ways to re-energize yourself: Whether it's going on a long walk, taking your dog to the park, catching up with friends over lunch, find what revitalizes you.

  • Ask yourself how often you give yourself permission to do the above.

  • How might it change your relationship with yourself and others, if you took some time out each day to do one of those acts?

  • Which one of these can you build into your daily schedule starting today?

  • And lastly consider doing something non-traditional. Take a trip to a place you've never visited, explore your own city as a tourist or hire a caterer to reduce your workload.

Remember you ARE WORTH investing in yourself. And only YOU can create the change you want in your life. This holiday season take the steps that leave you feeling energized and proud that you took care of you. That is the best gift we can give ourselves and in the end; our family still benefits from you being the best version of YOU.

When the Holidays are Bright.... with Anger

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People have become more aware how heightened emotions can be around the holiday season. There is a plethora of articles and thinkpieces today discussing how to handle depression, anxiety and grief during end of the year events and festivities.

But many people, especially those with existing difficulties managing their anger, often believe their waves of rage are unique only to them.

That is most definitely NOT the case but thinking that no one understands your trigger and/or response can exacerbate your negative emotions and cause you to escalate.

Spending time with relatives you have not seen for months or years, seeing co-workers outside of the office combined with the financial strain of gift giving can create feelings of anxiety, shame, guilt and obligation. Managing your boundaries and identifying your emotions take practice and the holidays are not always the ideal place to begin. Here are a few tips on ways you can control these emotions before you end up seeing red.

1. Practice mindfulness - When you start to feel overwhelmed, take a walk around the neighborhood, find a quiet place where you can be alone and clear your head (even if it's in the car), or just focus on your breathing. This is a great way to hit the reset button before your emotions take over.

2. Make plans for yourself - If you are staying with family, make time to go out on your own. This is where you have to foresee your needs and prepare to communicate your needs. Before your visits or trip, identify a friend to call, identify a person (buffer) that you can provide a code word for escape.

3. Don't rise to the bait - No one knows quite how to hit your buttons and focus in on the things you feel most insecure about like your family. Understand that this is not about you and don't provide more fuel by engaging in the unhealthy conversations. Remember, you get to choose, you CAN control the pace of the conversation and you have the capability to change the topic.

4. Don't overdo it! - The holidays have a built in "should" which is often what contributes to negative thinking and emotions. It's a natural reaction when dealing with stress to revert to old behaviors and poor coping skills. Be mindful of your alcohol intake as well as other substances that can contribute to escalating negative responses. The best intentions can sometimes get out of hand.

Don't second guess yourself for knowing what you need. I encourage you to be motivated to advocate for yourself and say "NO" when you need to. Be mindful of where you are in managing your emotions and take care of you. Your negative thoughts and emotions are yours - own them and protect yourself so that you too can have a pleasant experience in this season.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

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This month marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month, raising awareness of one of the most under reported crimes around the world.

Many people automatically associate the term domestic violence with images of physically battered women but it is incredibly important to understand abusive intimate partner relationships take many forms and impact people of all genders, ages, socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds.

Sexual assault or coercion, emotional abuse and financial control are also ways in which people damage their partners.

Adolescents who are not cohabitating, including young teens, are not immune from intimate partner violence. Neither are men or people who are in same sex relationships.

While many relationships can cause changes (for example, your non athletic friend has a new found love of a sport their current partner likes), sudden and severe differences in personality and temperament can be warning signs of an unhealthy dynamic. This is particularly true if it is coupled with the breakdown of other important relationships in a person's life. Abuse can run rampant when people are isolated from their support network.

If you are worried that a friend or loved one may be in an abusive relationship and notice them becoming distant and hard to reach, encourage them to seek help. Be supportive and non-judgmental. Remember that ultimately this is their decision to make, so don't pressure them to leave their relationship immediately if they are not ready.

Once they do decide to leave, help them develop a safety plan.

You can research local resources here for more information.

As a society we have made some positive strides around the issue of intimate partner violence but we still have a long way to go in supporting vulnerable people in need and giving them safe alternatives to the very real dangers they face.

6 Ways You Can Help Reduce The Mental Health Stigma

The stigma for mental health clients continues to negatively impact communities of all kinds. The taboo of being mentally unwell crosses all socioeconomic levels, age groups, races, religions and professions. Similar to a physical health diagnosis; some people simply do not want to know, they are ashamed or in denial of their symptoms and self medicate. Whether you are the potential client or close to the potential client I believe the general consensus is, having a mental health crisis can be scary for everyone involved.  As a therapist, my goal is to discuss mental wellness with as many people as possible to help normalize seeking treatment for mental health and wellness. What better time to have an open dialogue about mental health than now with the many changes in our healthcare system. It would be ideal if everyone could set aside their assumptions, fears and negative perspectives about mental health. We can help those around us seek help without the fear of labeling and minimizing with a few tips. Below are a few ways to help someone that appears to need help achieving mental wellness.   What Can you Do....    Get educated . Learn the facts about symptoms you experience or observe in someone else. Mental health needs are not the same in everyone and can manifest differently for each person. Everyone will not need a diagnose, hospitalization or medication.   Know who to call and when . There is only so much self medicating once can do before the symptoms become too much to manage. Simply talking about mental health will not give a person any ideas. Sometimes, someone initiating a discussion can break the ice and start the process. Know the resources in your community and call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department when the symptoms appear unmanageable.   Be supportive.  If you are struggling with providing support, connect with someone that is empathetic to you and can possibly lead you in the right direction. There are a number treatments available and it takes courage to seek the help. The difference between someone seeking help or silently fighting can be the support of one helpful individual.   Be aware of your own judgements and prejudices . We all have them; and unfortunately many come from other uneducated individuals passing on poor information. Be honest about your own shame and guilt about mental health so that you can be an active participant in ending the stigma.   Listen, listen, listen.  Whether you have a mental health diagnosis or not - we all want to be heard. We all want to know that someone is listening to us and/or trying to understand what we need. Just because you don’t understand the symptoms does not mean you are not able to help.   Support mental health organizations and providers.  Many organizations close due to funding and lack of community support. Volunteering your time and/or money goes a long way to provide resources for those in need of services. You may not know who you helped specifically but your contribution can help other professionals and volunteers with ending the negative stigma.   Mental health care and treatment is a universal issue and awareness is one of the critical pieces to making treatment available.

The stigma for mental health clients continues to negatively impact communities of all kinds. The taboo of being mentally unwell crosses all socioeconomic levels, age groups, races, religions and professions. Similar to a physical health diagnosis; some people simply do not want to know, they are ashamed or in denial of their symptoms and self medicate. Whether you are the potential client or close to the potential client I believe the general consensus is, having a mental health crisis can be scary for everyone involved.

As a therapist, my goal is to discuss mental wellness with as many people as possible to help normalize seeking treatment for mental health and wellness. What better time to have an open dialogue about mental health than now with the many changes in our healthcare system. It would be ideal if everyone could set aside their assumptions, fears and negative perspectives about mental health. We can help those around us seek help without the fear of labeling and minimizing with a few tips. Below are a few ways to help someone that appears to need help achieving mental wellness.

What Can you Do....

Get educated. Learn the facts about symptoms you experience or observe in someone else. Mental health needs are not the same in everyone and can manifest differently for each person. Everyone will not need a diagnose, hospitalization or medication.

Know who to call and when. There is only so much self medicating once can do before the symptoms become too much to manage. Simply talking about mental health will not give a person any ideas. Sometimes, someone initiating a discussion can break the ice and start the process. Know the resources in your community and call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department when the symptoms appear unmanageable.

Be supportive. If you are struggling with providing support, connect with someone that is empathetic to you and can possibly lead you in the right direction. There are a number treatments available and it takes courage to seek the help. The difference between someone seeking help or silently fighting can be the support of one helpful individual.

Be aware of your own judgements and prejudices. We all have them; and unfortunately many come from other uneducated individuals passing on poor information. Be honest about your own shame and guilt about mental health so that you can be an active participant in ending the stigma.

Listen, listen, listen. Whether you have a mental health diagnosis or not - we all want to be heard. We all want to know that someone is listening to us and/or trying to understand what we need. Just because you don’t understand the symptoms does not mean you are not able to help.

Support mental health organizations and providers. Many organizations close due to funding and lack of community support. Volunteering your time and/or money goes a long way to provide resources for those in need of services. You may not know who you helped specifically but your contribution can help other professionals and volunteers with ending the negative stigma.

Mental health care and treatment is a universal issue and awareness is one of the critical pieces to making treatment available.