The Happiness Lie

I have many clients that come into therapy that state their goal is to “be happy.” I immediately follow that statement with the questions, “What is happiness to you? What does it look like, feel like, smell like?”

Most can’t answer that question or they provide some vision of happiness that is culturally or socially determined, like, “I want to own my home, be married, have two children, and a dog named Spot.” That isn’t happiness. That’s circumstance. At best it’s an advertisement for a home loan. It’s incredibly impersonal and contingent on the actions of others for a personal goal.

With happiness as a goal, everyone will fail at some point in time. This goal leaves no room for moments that you can’t control, like job loss or the death of a loved one. When you experience unplanned events, the reality of life’s ups and downs rears its head and you find yourself outside your happy place – only this time you feel an extra failure because of an inability to maintain happiness. Truthfully, many people come in to therapy with that burden of perceived failure already on their shoulders.

All emotions are temporary. Happiness, sadness, and fear, fleet across the movie screen of the mind as we experience events, tell ourselves things about those events, and then experience the related feeling.

In the modern age of psychology the emphasis has largely been placed on feeling happy, which delivers the silent message that anything other than happiness is uncomfortable or undesirable. With that message at the forefront we panic at the discomfort of some of our emotions and immediately seek to correct them with whatever is handy.

Medication, an extra beer at dinner, an extra stack of flautas at dinner, some marijuana – all things we do to feel better in our moments.

The inability to tolerate emotional discomfort is the problem most of us face, rather than an inability to achieve sustained happiness. Working hard to avoid unpleasant feelings creates new problems like weight gain, stress, and feelings of failure when we don’t feel happy. We’re working harder and longer to stuff painful or unpleasant emotions down, and in that avoidance we become less and less tolerant of the normal swings in life.

It’s important to realize that we can’t selectively numb emotions. We can’t turn the volume down on sadness or anger without impacting the level of joy we experience.

Anger is a feeling people often tell me they’d like to control. Often when coming in for counseling they’ve been “controlling” it by never speaking about it to anyone until the wrong button is pushed and they hit someone they care for or scream at a coworker. Their feeling of having to avoid the anger and not experience or tolerate it causes the explosion, not the anger itself. They learned early on through example and social cues that anger isn’t something to share rather than an appropriate set of ways to share or cope with it.

Anger in itself isn’t a dangerous or “bad” emotion. It can serve as a great motivator. It can serve as an indicator of passion we feel about a topic, a relationship, or values.

Sadness isn’t a “bad” emotion. How would you know something really mattered to you if the thought of its loss didn’t create a feeling of sadness?

The purpose of emotion is communication. A feeling communicates within us a notice of, “Hey, danger! This is scary!” or “I love this person so much, they’re a huge part of my life!” for example. When that message is important we have a physiological response. We shake, cry, become red in the face, and breathe harder. Emotions increase in intensity until they’re expressed and validated.

Validation is a key component in emotional expression within healthy relationships. It’s difficult to avoid the knee-jerk response of punishing a child for a loud and outward display of displeasure at Wal-Mart when their request for a toy is denied. Taking the time to pause that response, look into those angry toddler eyes and say, “I know you’re angry. I get angry when I can’t have what I want too. It hurts,” can make all the difference.

The same is true internally. When we experience a so-called negative emotion, we can say to ourselves, “This emotion is just a feeling. It will pass soon. I wouldn’t feel so intensely if I didn’t care and caring is a good thing. Anyone would feel __________ if they were met with this. I don’t have to judge myself for feeling this way.”

Contentment, rather than happiness, is the goal. A place inside the self that says, “I’m ok and you’re ok.” That place makes room for life’s twists and turns. It doesn’t offer us one extreme versus another – like happiness or sadness.

That place is increasingly hard to find when stuffing emotions, holding them at bay, numbing them with substances or distractions. Using a thing to cope may get you through a tough spot, but learning to tolerate discomfort is an important aspect of resiliency and mental health.

Speak Positive Truth to Yourself

Instead of feeling clammy hands, sensing shaking insides, and a rapid heart rate and telling yourself, “Oh, I’m so anxious. This is going to be bad.” Try consciously telling yourself, “My heart rate is up because I’m preparing to meet this challenge head on!”
In moments of anger when you feel shaking and red faced or ready to explode, don’t berate yourself for your response to the situation. Instead of, “I can’t ever control my anger! This makes me want to explode!” Try out, “I wouldn’t respond this way if I didn’t care so deeply about ______.”

Talking to yourself this way can help you utilize emotions, even ones you’ve been telling yourself are “bad”, to your advantage. You’ll learn to tolerate them and capitalize on them.
Research out of Stanford University has shown this to be effective. Case in point: researchers there have uncovered that stress is only dangerous and life threatening to people who believe it to be so. These people are the ones that say, “Oh no, I’m stressing. I’ve got to stop. I always do this! Stress is bad!”

Dive In

The next time life hands you pain, walk into it. Allow this experience for yourself with the understanding that it will grow you and increase your ability to return to contentment. Think of these experiences as exposure therapy. By exposing yourself to situations that generate pain or even the potential for disliked emotions, you build a tolerance to them.

Be Real About Happiness

All emotions are fleeting when we allow ourselves the energy and time to process them. Researchers say that most emotions lessen in intensity or pass altogether after about 2 minutes. Allow yourself the two minutes.

Be honest about happiness. Think back to your most recent happy time – a vacation, a major purchase, time with family. Are you as happy in this moment about those things as you were while you were in them? Nope – no way you are. Those experiences are memories now and they are tainted with whatever emotional residue and so you can feel the pang of happiness they brought. But you aren’t jumping up and down happy still. That doesn’t mean you aren’t “generally happy” (or content as I call it). It means that happiness the way that we would have it – an ongoing feeling, an observable absence of difficulties (that are out of our control and therefore unrealistic to attempt managing) doesn’t exist. Contentment is good. Without a place to reach happiness from, we couldn’t tell the difference between happiness and anything else. We’d lose the ability to communicate with ourselves about our own lives.

Avoid the Circle

When experiencing a painful emotion we tend to either avoid it or set up a tent and camp out in it for a while. The Buddha described the punishment of both of these as two arrows. The first arrow hits us with the pain – an event we can’t change or predict. Then we prolong the suffering by hiding it, belittling ourselves for it, using substances to cover it, etc. – which is the second arrow.

Using mindfulness is a great way to avoid that circular trap that fires the second arrow. It teaches allowing ourselves to sit with our experiences in the present moment, without judgment, with kindness and question, rather than focusing in on it (“I’ll always hurt like this, this always happens to me.). Ask yourself as a painful emotion occurs, “How can I hold this pain with kindness?”

For more info on mindfulness I recommend Jon Kabbat-Zin’s Mindfulness for Beginners. You can also check out this blog.

As you work toward developing an ability to tolerate discomfort remember this oft social media shared quote: Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.

If you’re not happy your definition of happiness, the reality of life’s unpredictability, or your current practices of coping aren’t helpful. Help yourself out by being real, finding your definition, utilizing mindfulness, and speaking positive truths about your emotions.

Happy Happiness Hunting,

Whitney

*If you’re in Texas and would like help finding your own “happy”, reach out for counseling by visiting my contact page!

Advertisements

What is Anger Management?

What is Anger Management?

Anger management is a broad term that covers a number of interventions to help people cope with anger that has become problematic.

It’s important to note that anger in itself isn’t the problem. Anger is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences at some point. Anger can even be a helpful emotion in some cases.

Problem anger is anger that leads to aggression, which is behavior that expresses anger in a problematic way. This could be slamming doors, yelling, threats of violence or violence.

One of the biggest concerns that people have going in to anger management groups is that the goal of the group or final result will be that they become passive or get “walked on”. This isn’t the goal or outcome of anger management work! That would be trading one issue for another. In anger management with me, you’ll actually learn assertiveness skills that will help you prevent becoming a “door mat”.

The goal is to help you learn to manage anger, stop violence or threat of violence (and the consequences those behaviors often hold like legal action, arrest, or loss of relationships), and assist you in developing control over your thoughts and actions. Anger management conducted in the group format also gives you the opportunity to receive support and feedback from others.

Does it work?

The program that I use in anger management is based on cognitive behavior therapy or CBT and it has been proven to be effective in clinical trials. CBT treatments like the one I use aren’t just effective; they’re time limited, which means that you can achieve much in a shorter amount of time.

You won’t learn just one method to help you. I utilize four sets of layered interventions that integrate multiple approaches to controlling anger and target all the aspects of anger. Emotional and physiological components, thinking patterns that contribute to anger and communication issues like conflict resolution and assertiveness are targeted.

You’ll leave anger management with the tools necessary to make real changes in your approach to problem anger. The ripple effects you’ll experience from this important work are limitless.

For more information on the anger management group I facilitate, please use my contact form or call 254-781-3566. Visit this page for upcoming start dates.

Multitasking: The big lie

Where are you right now? What are you doing? Are you listening to music while on your elliptical and reading this article? Are you making dinner, reading this, and also having a half conversation with your spouse? We all try to save time – life’s only truly nonrenewable resource – by doing multiple things at once.

When “multitasking” first started appearing in our mainstream language it was lauded as a good thing; a way to get more done in less time. The ability to multitask “successfully” is a sought out trait by employers, a thing we tell ourselves we should be able to do. We’re under increasing pressure to be able to do several things at once, and each successfully.

The catch is that it simply doesn’t work out that way.

No complex task can or should be “multitasked”. Only simple behaviors that require little brain power can be multitasked with much success. We can cook dinner and talk to a friend at the same time. We can walk and carry a laundry basket too, but these things don’t require much focused concentration.

When you start trying to do two separate and dissimilar things that require equal greater amounts of focused attention, you’re heading for trouble. You’ll read something but not hear what someone says to you well enough to remember it. Entering mileage on your work travel log while listening to a continuing education credit course means you’ll have a few typos or you’ll miss a few details from the course.

Why? Miller’s Law, which is psychology slang for studies done which showed that our performance begins to falter as the number of stimuli (remembered tasks/objects) is increased. Miller’s Law also includes research that showed we can typically remember seven items at a time. The number7 is a bit of a magic number when it comes to memory.

If the science isn’t your thing, though, just ask yourself how well you really feel like you remember a conversation you’ve had with the TV on, while writing a paper, and being interrupted by your children asking for snacks? It won’t take long to think of times multitasking

Imagine an empty paper plate. Mentally add items to it. The plate is getting crowded with each item you add. The paper plate starts to buckle under the weight of all you’re piling onto it and it bows in the center. Eventually something (or a few things) falls off that plate. The expression “full plate” to symbolize busy schedules or lives is a clear illustration that works here. Our memories and minds work similarly.

We stress out when we take on many different tasks and enter into chipping away at them simultaneously. We don’t get things done the way we’d like and then we have a lower feeling of accomplishment or a sense of forgetfulness. This leads straight down the path of feeling under accomplished and a little rotten about our ability to “get things done”.

Multitasking isn’t good for our final product or our mental health. The pressure to do multiple things at once increases alongside the tech that enables us to do so. Having talks with the kids while scrolling Facebook; eating while checking the news, and texting while driving are all examples of our desire to get things done – all based on the lie that we can do things that way effectively.

This brings me to another point: Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the opposite of multitasking. It is the practice of fully engaging in the moment you’re in with awareness, attention, and focus. When we’re not mindful we miss out on the details of our lives. The little things, like a kid telling us about a peer conflict at school, slip right under the radar when we’re sucked into multi-everythinging.

This week I’ll be working toward single tasking by

  1. Accepting my human abilities for what they are
  2. Avoiding judging myself harshly when I am unable to get everything done as quickly as I’d like
  3. Being mindful of and adjusting my self-expectations for productivity based on what my actual abilities are
  4. Putting my phone down

Below are some awesome tips to get your single tasking life started and a graphic for sharing! Enjoy!

  • Eat meals without checking phones, TV, or news. Enjoy the food and whatever company you have at meal times. If you eat solo, use this time as a mindfulness exercise to really focus in and pay attention to your moment! Food invokes so many senses it’s easy to do with something tasty in front of you.
  • Pick a movie and watch it without getting up for a snack, to check the laundry, or your phone. It’s harder than we realize to do this anymore!
  • Try putting on a music album and listening from start to finish without doing anything else. My favorite one to use for this mindfulness exercise is Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon – so much going on in it it’s easy for me to get “sucked in” and stick with it.
  • Be mindful of the things that distract you when you’re working on a single task. Make a note of them, and then get back on task.
  • Create a mindfulness practice you can actually keep up with. 3 to 5 minutes prior to stepping into the shower every day should do it. This mindful focus will stick with you throughout the day.
  • Tech detox by shutting off phones, even for a short period of time.
  • When working on a project of a specific nature, have only the materials needed for that task handy. Put other projects on the back burner literally by clearing away files or other items related to different projects. Out of sight, out of mind.
  • Set time aside for chores. One of the worst habits I have is feeling like all the mundane chores of life have to be done before I can do something else. I end up looking under the furniture during yoga and then pausing to grab the Swiffer an rescue socks from under the couch, which leads to deciding to sweep, which leads to mopping…it’s a trap! Delegate chores, and set time aside to do them.
  • Check to make sure you have no more than 1 browser window open at a time while surfing the net. I have about 15 open at most times!

7 TED Talks for Self-Awareness (and the psychology nerd)

 

Confession: I’m a major TED talk junkie. I spend loads of time searching through them, listening to them, organizing by topic and playlist. When I spent a lot of my professional time traveling, TED talks made my drives more productive.

A lot of people come into counseling to do the work of self-discovery that leads to awareness in order to manage life. It’s true that life is easier when we’re more aware of how all of our parts and pieces work together to influence our choices, which in turn impact our lives greatly.

This is a list of talks that are particularly powerful with that.

Brene Brown – The power of vulnerability

Brene Brown – Listening to shame

Dan Gilbert: the surprising science of happiness

Shawn Achor: The happy secret to better work

Adam Grant: The surprising habits of original thinkers

Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are

Brian Little: Who are you, really? The puzzle of personality

And a bonus talk for managing stressful times: How to Stay Calm When You Know You’ll be Stressed

What are your favorite TED talks?

Happy learning!

 

Whitney

Boundaries (What they are & how to set them)

 

One of the more popular counseling or mental health buzzwords when it comes to relationships is “boundary”. I hear people tell each other, “You don’t have good boundaries,” or “That’s not a healthy boundary,” but I hear very little between people in conversation about what a good boundary is or how to set them.

So, what is a boundary? Boundaries are limits or spaces between you and another person. Healthy boundaries give you ownership of your own person, the ability to decide what is ok for you and what isn’t, and the stick-to-it-iveness to dish up refusal to comply with violations.

Boundaries can be as “simple” as deciding that others don’t smoke inside your car or as complicated as deciding that just because your father in law is upset with your sister in law you don’t have to be upset with her too. Boundaries are simply limits to what is acceptable or tolerated in relationships.

The fact is that most of us make it well into adulthood without having a clue as to how to set boundaries in our various relationships. There are lots of reasons for that.

The way that we are reared as children, the relationship examples we have to model ourselves after, and lower than ideal self-esteem can create difficulties in setting boundaries.

It becomes more difficult to set them as you get older even though I often hear people say when they get older they’ll feel more comfortable drawing emotional lines and setting up clear “okays” and “not okays”. The truth is that no matter how old or wise we become it is still difficult to develop boundaries, and for some of us more difficult than it is for others.

Why is it hard to set a boundary?

  1. It isn’t necessarily natural to us to set boundaries. Most of us want to be accessible, helpful, kind, generous, and many other good things that we believe aren’t supported by our overuse of the word “no” in response to the needs of others. Sometimes we’re just natural (or made) people pleasers, so it goes against our grain to set them.
  2. Maybe we don’t really know exactly what we want or what is ok or isn’t ok with us. Maybe you’ve put your life setting on “default” and you’re just hoping it works itself out.
  3. You have trouble making the distinction between self-care and selfishness, which makes it harder for you to define your needs and set about seeing to them.
  4. You may also be afraid of losing something when setting a boundary with someone you care deeply about. The fear of losing their respect, love, or even material things a person gives you in a relationship when you set a boundary can feel overwhelming.
  5. You may be afraid that others will be angry with you. People often resist change and in relationships where a pattern has already been established resistance of your boundary setting is expected and intimidating.
  6. Boundary setting is hard work. It requires courage, stamina, and consistency to change a boundary. It doesn’t happen quickly and while you’re at it others will try to wear you down.

Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” He was on to something. One of the clear signs of boundary issues are feelings of guilt or resentment toward the people with whom we are in relationships. Those feelings are relationship-zappers; protecting relationships from those feelings requires good boundary monitoring and setting skills.

So, how do you set boundaries if you’re new to it?

  1. Determine and speak your limits. If you’re not sure of where you stand on things it can be especially difficult to set boundaries. Outline your emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical limits. Consider what is ok and what is uncomfortable for you.
  2. Know your feelings. Resentment and discomfort often follow boundary issues. You’re likely to experience resentment when you feel taken advantage of. When you experience these feelings within your relationships, ask yourself what about the interaction created them.
  3. Learn to be direct. Setting boundaries doesn’t always require direct language about what is acceptable or what isn’t when people communicate in the same way, but for someone that communicates differently than you do it may be necessary to be more direct. Learn to use “I statements” when discussing how you feel in order to prevent defensiveness in your listener.
  4. Know you have permission. Fear of responses to boundaries we set and enforce is a big issue with boundary setting. It may feel bad to set a boundary by saying that you’re not able to help a friend with a project (because you’re feeling resentful and drained) who you usually say yes to. You may think you’re being a “bad” friend. It is ok to take care of yourself! Give yourself permission to do so.
  5. Become self-aware. Self-awareness is used in steps 1 & 2 and it comes into play when looking at times you don’t speak or reinforce your boundaries. Figure out what changed or why you chose not to set or keep a boundary when you don’t. Check in with how you’re feeling about it. Part of self-awareness is understanding how you were raised, the relationship models you were taught through example and engagement as a child may affect what you see as healthy or unhealthy. If you’re feeling drained, resentful, or uncomfortable, though – you may want to check in and determine if you’re modeling a boundary someone else set for you or your own.
  6. Self-care. I write about this a lot and for good reason. Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish, it shows that you care for you, and by self-caring you’re more able to do for others when you want to.
  7. Support when the going gets tough. If you’re having relationship issues or other fallout from boundary setting or lack thereof, find a counselor or support group to help you work things through! Expert help is always a win.
  8. Start small. It isn’t reasonable to think that decades old relationships can be changed overnight or that you can simply make a list of things you want better boundaries on and – poof! all your relationships comply. Pick a smaller issue to tackle first; something that doesn’t feel overwhelmingly scary to do and set a boundary. Over time you’ll master the skill and move up the ladder to the issues that are biggest for you.

You’re worth some self-compassion and some boundaries that communicate clearly to you and others what is ok and what isn’t. It is ok to say no to people, and it is ok to take time for you!

Support for Teens Coping with Anxiety & Depression

Why:

This group has been put together at the request of the community. You asked and I was down to ride!

Who:

Teens that fit best with this group will be aged 13 to 17 or in 7th through 11th grades who are coping with depression or anxiety related issues. No diagnosis is necessary.

When:

Saturdays from 2p.m. – 3:30p.m. Beginning June 10, 2017

How this group is different:

This isn’t like a regular group – this is an awesome group!

Many times “groups” are thrown together using a curriculum that dictates what each session covers and how it is covered. That isn’t therapeutic – it’s school! While education is a big part of the counseling process and people who attend this group WILL learn things, sitting in a regulated environment with a handbook is stifling and it takes away the ability to build cohesion, support, and lots of other aspects important to group counseling. This group will adapt to the needs of its members – we’ll go where the group needs to.

We’ll definitely be learning some things, though. Some of that will include how anxiety and depression function in the body, some techniques for calming panic attacks, ways of thinking that increase discomfort and how to change them, as well as skills of resiliency for building ourselves up for the all to soon return to school this August.

Length:

The group will go for 6 weeks. If there is interest or it is beneficial, the group will continue until the start of school or even after.

Fun Stuff:

Handouts to take home when we cover important techniques, refreshments, and activities. The activities we do will be determined by the group. A group that tends to be into art will find that we do some art projects. If our group has movie buffs, we may pick a favorite movie to watch and discuss, etc. The kids really get to shape the group and guide us along!

Details:

Parents have to attend the first session for a few minutes while we discuss confidentiality in the group environment and to provide consent to treatment and participation in the group. After that, parents can drop off and pick up at the appointed times.

For this group to start, at least 4 people must pre-register. The group’s size is limited due to space and for group efficiency to 8 participants total. If the group doesn’t start, then those who are pre-registered will be contacted and offered some alternatives.

Registration:

Contact me via phone at (254) 781-3566.

If I’m tied up or in session I’ll call back ASAP! I’ll ask you a few questions about your teen, get some info from you and email you some documents to complete that will make your stay at our first meeting really quick.

Cost:

Cost for this group is $20 per session. Parents can pay for each session individually, keep a card on file to be charged as their child attends, or send cash/check in with their participant at each visit. No advance payments are accepted in order to protect clients in case the group doesn’t form (with the minimum number of participants).

Questions: 

If you have any questions about the group, give me a call at 254-781-3566 or send an email to counselorwhitney@gmail.com with “Group Questions” in the subject line.

Reasons You Don’t Go to Counseling (even when you should)

coffee-smartphone-desk-pen

1. Counseling is expensive/No one takes my insurance/The counselor I like doesn’t take my insurance.
There are lots of income-based or sliding-scale fee counseling agencies. It may take some shopping around, but they exist. Your outcome is based largely in how well you relate with said counselor (the therapeutic relationship), so money must be a factor but it shouldn’t be the only one. If you find a counselor online that you really think you’d click with, call them. Lots of times you’ll find their rate to be affordable. Counselors that take insurance typically have a higher fee per session than those who are in private pay practices. You may be paying cash or card, but the bottom line is often less, no insurance company gets some diagnostic code to place in your file for eternity, and you get to experience counseling without labels a lot of the time when there isn’t an insurance filing. Also check your employer’s employee assistance program or EAP. Most offer a number of sessions for free.

2. Receiving counseling is a show of weakness.
Wrong! It takes more guts than imaginable to heave into a counselor’s office in all your glorious human vulnerability and share yourself in order to team up and improve yourself. There’s nearly nothing that is a bigger show of strength than taking control of life with expert help.

3. People who need counseling are mentally ill. I’m not, so I don’t need it.
False. Counseling helps when you need new strategies for any area of life, when you’re experiencing emotions too intensely or not enough, when you’re struggling with relationship problems, or when you need mentorship in life. It doesn’t mean anything other than you being wise enough to enlist expert help. It’s actually kind of chic, but then again I’m biased. Seeking counseling is a sign of maturity and self-awareness.

4. People will find out what I talk about.
Any professional counselor you see is bound by state and federal law, as well as a professional code of ethics that prohibits them from sharing information about you without your permission. The only exceptions vary by state but are usually that your counselor can only share information about you if you intend to harm yourself or others or if you reveal information that indicates child/elder abuse/neglect. Counselors under licensing supervision may share information about specific cases with their license supervisors, who are also bound to protect privacy by law and ethics. Privacy is very important to counselors and we do all we can to protect yours. If you’re in a smaller town like mine you may be worried about bumping into your counselor in public. There’s no need to worry. Your counselor won’t wave at you in Walmart or talk to you in a public place unless you initiate it or give them permission to do so. Rural counselors are very well versed in these issues and most will address the unique concerns of counseling in a small town at the outset. Consider also that there are many companies and counselors offering services online. You can attend counseling from the comfort of a place that you choose. I’m one of many counselors offering services online and via phone.

5. I wouldn’t know what to say.
You don’t have to know exactly what you’ll say when you go in. The counselor will ask you some questions and you’ll be free to talk and dig in as much as you like. Your counselor will help you set goals that are in line with what you want. Let the pro worry about this!

6. I’ve got friends. Talking to them is enough. I don’t need strangers.
Friends are amazing sources of support. Sometimes that is enough. Friendships are give and take, though. Your friend may listen and help and later you will listen and help, there’s an equal sharing. In counseling you’re the sole focus! Sometimes friends are involved in our struggles and they have a stake, however small, in what we decide to do or how we behave in life. Because of that advice or other offerings about our troubles in friendships may be different than what is best for you or helping you create a way to make choices you feel good about.

7. Just talking can’t do any good.
“Just talking” can do lots of good! For the record, though, counseling isn’t just talking. In counseling you can learn how to better communicate, manage emotions healthfully, address relationship difficulties, create a framework that will serve you in addressing all sorts of issues you’ll face in life, restructure the very way you think so that you can heal, grow, and approach life in a way that improves everything from how you feel to how your relationships function and your satisfaction in life. Understanding yourself and the world around you has immeasurable value. In counseling you’ll talk just like with friends, but with someone who is trained at helping you accomplish all of that and is non-judgmental and very accepting.

8. Talking about things makes them worse.
The immediate aftermath of a counseling session can feel raw or during a session you may talk about something that has hurt you, but looking at things in a new place, with someone new, and in a new way can help old pain dissipate in level and intensity. Counseling also helps you find new ways to make decisions and examine problems, which will help prevent past events from repeating themselves in new situations.

9. Talking about some things may mean I’m betraying people I love.
Counselors are trained in multicultural and family concerns. They can discuss these concerns with you before you reveal anything. Also, remember that counselors are bound to confidentiality. What you discuss remains private.

10. Going to counseling could look bad with future employers/affect my ability to do some jobs or activities.
Your mental health records from counseling are confidential. You seeking counseling and information you disclose in counseling will remain private. There are very few exceptions to this and your counselor can explain these to you at your first session.

This list isn’t exhaustive by any means – just the top 10 reasons I encounter in my work. I’m hoping this post clears a few concerns up for those that have them and find this blog during their internet searching for help with life’s issues. Counseling is an amazing, supportive, and science-backed experience that can have positive effects that last a lifetime or change your life in ways that you haven’t believed possible!

If you’re in Texas and you’re counselor shopping, I invite you to try a session with me via video, phone, or in person at my office.

Happy Counseling!

Whitney

Fighting Your Way Out of Anger

This week’s blog is inspired by the news in Dallas.

In my social media stream this morning I saw a video from the Dallas NBC affiliate covering a local librarian who “works with 400 children each day” because she goes to a business in Dallas to smash things to “blow off steam”.

She dons safety gear and enters a room where she smashes furniture, TVs, and even a manikin or human like shape on a stand. The owners of the business, who you can pay for your chance to destroy things to “cope” with your stressors, tell NBC that this is no different than boxing or jogging.

I disagree, based on the research that we have to apply to this situation. More than a decade ago researchers determined that expressing aggression as a response to anger only contributes to linking that feeling (anger) to that behavior (aggression). Over time, this means that you naturally become aggressive as a response to anger. (Remember Pavlov’s dogs?)

Clients who come to me for help with anger are often already aggressive in their behaviors. Our immediate work is on tolerance of distressing emotions (like anger) through healthy and research supported coping skills, like mindfulness.

Telling someone with frustration, anger, or stress issues to smash things up as a means of coping is irresponsible and unsafe.

The underlying problem here is that people want a quick fix. Often we want to deny that it takes us years or decades to learn a behavior or way of thinking that doesn’t serve us well and then insist that it take just a few moments to “feel better”.

There’s no doubt in my mind that smashing things when angry feels good in the moment or even immediately after it. There’s no doubt that it cultivates a sense of power or confidence like the woman in the news video describes. I don’t doubt that those are powerful and positive sensations.

It’s just that they are not long term solutions – they are poor coping skills that contribute to problems with anger or frustration.

While it seems like it makes sense to let anger out as aggression, like it would somehow help it, it doesn’t. Aggression is more like adding dynamite to the situation in the long term and if you’re struggling with anger, frustration, or stress, that won’t be a pleasant experience to add to one that is already difficult.

If you are having problems with frustration, anger, or stress try out these helpful and health tips and talk to your friendly neighborhood counselor for more help!

RELAX

Breathe deeply through your nose using your belly (diaphragm muscles) to a count of 4 seconds in, holding for 4, releasing for 4, and then holding for 4. Repeat.
Repeat a calming word or mantra to yourself.
Recall a pleasant and relaxing experience from your memory and focus on it intently.
Try slow moving yoga like hatha yoga or restorative yoga. (Google for poses!)

EXERCISE

Just 20 minutes of (non-aggression based) exercise each day is enough to help your body create more “feel good chemicals” that combat anger, help you cope better with stress, and even help with depression/anxiety.

RETHINK

How you talk about problems contributes to how you think of them and vice versa. Avoid using the words “never” and “always” while thinking or talking about situations that are upsetting.
Focus on your goals.
Make like Spock and be logical! Examine things from all perspectives as best you can before reacting.

PROBLEM SOLVE

Identify the problem. Make a list of options. Make a list of pros and cons for each option. Make a plan based on your information and then create a goal. Work your plan step by step toward your goal.

REMEMBER

What is behind your anger? Usually its fear or painful rejection based feelings. Try to communicate those feelings as opposed to the anger that is often on top of them.

LAUGH

The saying goes that laughter cures, and it’s true. Our facial expressions are directly linked to our emotions. If you can find a way to smile or laugh, your angry mood is bound to shift. Pandora has a ton of comedy stations that are my go to for this effort.

TAKE A BREAK

If possible, leave the situation that is stoking anger or stress for a short while.
As always, if you’re having difficulty managing anger, find a counselor near you. If you’re in Texas, I’d be happy to talk with you about what we can accomplish in counseling to help with frustration and stress.

Whitney

For my favorite study on this topic check out:
Busman, B., Baumeister, R., & Stack, A. (1999). Catharsis, Aggression and Persuasive Influence: Self-Fulfilling or Self-Defeating Prophecies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol. 76, No. 3, pp 367-376.

Counselor Recommended Mental Health Apps

helpful mental health apps

Screen time isn’t always a bad thing! These useful apps can help adults and teens outside the counseling session to support wellness, increase mindfulness, and a bunch of other helpful things. Some of these are apps that I use with clients as an adjunct to therapy. Just a friendly reminder that no app can replace counseling and professional mental healthcare completely – these are meant as a supplement to therapy.

  1. Personal Zen (App Store – iPhone) – Bonuses: Free, Research Supported

This app is really neat because it was developed using research to help people relieve anxiety and promote positive thinking. It’s simple enough that young children can use it. The background music in the app is soothing. Using this “game” you can literally train your brain to more quickly look for and find the positive in situations. Your job in this app is to hunt and follow the “happy sprites” with smiling faces on their trails. It’s a freebie on the app store.

  1. Guided Meditations with Andrew Johnson (App Store – iPhone/Play Store – Android) – Bonuses: Some Free, Relaxing, Helps with sleep

The apps by Andrew Johnson vary in their goal, but my favorite is the one for positivity. Some of them are paid depending on their focus (typically less than $5). With these you’re getting guided meditation from the mega-relaxing voice of Andrew Johnson. You can set the app to wake you after your guided relaxation session or to let you drift peacefully to sleep. I recommend these to clients frequently and they get rave reviews!

  1. Easy Mood Diary (App Store – iPhone/Play Store – Android) – Bonuses: Free, Simple, Supports Counseling

This free app is a journal for your moods. It helps you track and chart your moods where you can see trends and help yourself map your way to the whys and wherefores of your best days. You can use it to track specific symptoms like anxiety or your overall mood. The best part is that it’s simple to use and you can set it up to email your log to your therapist as part of your ongoing care. This app becomes part of your treatment team!

  1. GPS for the Soul (on the App Store for iPhone) Bonuses: Free, Well-Rounded with Multiple Tools to Relax and Recharge

This free app is designed to get you more “in tune” with your inner self. It has an easy to use format and includes both auditory and visual formats. There’s a wealth of information in articles and videos to learn from to help you on your journey to wellness. Yoga videos and deep breathing exercises in the app are amazing.

No application can replace interactive professional counseling, but these apps are definitely great helps in any journey toward wellness. If you’re looking to make this trek into wellness and self-knowledge and you’re in Texas, contact me about in person, phone, or video counseling 🙂

Survival of the Kindest

whitneywhitesurvival of the kindest

Being kind isn’t just something great to do for others. It’s fantastic for your overall wellbeing.

Are you battling anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, or coping with daily aches and pains?

Kindness is a powerful adjunct therapy if you’re struggling with these issues. Acts of kindness can absolutely have a positive impact on your overall health, serve as a preventative measure for mental and physical health, and help you add satisfaction and years to your life.

Even if you’re brand new to the idea of random acts of kindness (RAOK), volunteering, donating, or helping people out, it’s easy to get started and create a habit that you can stick with for your benefit and the benefit of others.

This is because kindness functions as an exercise that builds the “muscle” of compassion. After an act of kindness you’ll likely experience the “giver’s high”. This buzz of goodness is likely to keep you coming back for more, which will help you build the emotional muscle necessary to utilize kindness to help others and yourself on a regular basis.

Compassion isn’t the only positive emotion that we build from kindness. Gratitude, happiness, and feelings of worth are each tied to kindness. Performing acts of kindness are proven to bolster these feelings.

If it sounds a bit selfish to perform an act of kindness to help yourself out, focus on the bigger picture. It can literally change the world! When you do something kind for someone, the recipient benefits, you benefit from your “giver’s high”, and passersby see it and are positively impacted by it.

Just think about the last time you saw an article on social media or story on the news about something kind being done. Think back to how it made you feel. Pretty good, huh? It’s nice in the flood of somewhat negative news to see something positive happen. It restores faith in our fellow man and inspires us to do more. Our acts of kindness that others see also inspire more acts of kindness and more faith in each other. The research shows that when we observe morally inspiring behavior in others our sense of connection to others and our sense of purpose are improved. Win!

Science has proven that people who volunteer live longer and more satisfying lives. They have fewer aches and pains. In fact, giving help to others protects overall health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease. Older adults who volunteer have 44% lower probability of dying even after we account for factors like smoking, exercise, and gender.

Researchers have just begun to understand that we’re designed to be kind. Our parasympathetic autonomic nervous system contains a bundle of nerves called the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve serves many important functions in the body, but some researchers have dubbed it the “care taking organ”.

The vagus nerve stimulates certain muscles in the vocal chamber, which enables communication. It reduces heart rate (so if an anxious person could activate it, goodbye rapid heart rate symptom!). Some research links it with oxytocin receptors, which are vital to bonding. Activation of the vagus nerve is associated with feelings of compassion and ethical intuition. People who have high vagus nerve activation while in states of rest are prone to feeling emotions that promote altruism such as compassion, gratitude, love, and happiness. Children with elevated vagus activity are more cooperative.

The vagus nerve is unique to mammals, too. It is likely that the vagus nerve is a physiological system that supports caretaking and altruism or selfless concern for the wellbeing of others. This still new science is evolving as researchers dig into it and the results are starting to support the idea that our physiological system evolved over time to support caregiving and altruism.

Why would our system evolve that way? My personal theory is that even in our earliest days we learned through experience that by taking care of each other and helping one another we promoted harmony that supported easier living in harsh times. Caretaking and kindness, even toward strangers, supports the continuation of our species. It isn’t about the survival of the fittest – it’s about the survival of the kindest.

Everyone knows that being kind is the “right” thing to do because we can see how the receiver is helped, but there is often little focus on how the giver or witnesses to the kindnesses are helped. It really is like dropping a rock into water – positive effects ripple out. What’s even better is that we’re designed to be kind. Kindness supports our health and helps us heal from feelings of anxiety, and promotes our happiness.

This week I’m encouraging everyone to flex their kindness muscle and to share it with #designedtobekind