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Is the phrase “mental health” too stigmatized? According to the World Health Organization (WHO) mental health is defined as:

 “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

The positive dimension of mental health is stressed in WHO’s definition of health as contained in its constitution: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

However, when people think of mental health they often think of mental illness. In fact, when I do my research on this subject most articles and even research papers use the terms mental health and mental illness interchangeably.

When you use these terms to mean the same thing it then becomes a stigmatized issue to talk about mental health, as if there is something “wrong” with you.

And while there have been efforts to reduce the stigma it does not seem to be enough.

So, what about physical health?

When we talk about physical health most people view this as a positive thing or at least something to aspire to. We don’t automatically draw an association to something that is physically wrong, like cancer or a physical disability.

In my mind mental health and physical health are essentially the same things: a continuum in which to gauge our wellness on. We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health.

How do we move away from the stigmatized attitude towards mental health?

As I shared my frustrations with a friend she asked, “why don’t you just shift the wording to ‘mental wellness’ versus mental health as a way to curb the stigma.” My initial reaction was an emphatic “no!” as it was not the point. I wanted/want people to accept the wording of mental health just as they do physical health, but perhaps there is too much water under the bridge—too much emotional association for there to be a clean slate around it…but, if Brene Brown can make the topic of shame approachable, then surely we can help make mental health a normalized concept, right?

I think so!

I think it takes normalizing talking about our mental health on a regular basis, and brining people into conversations about their struggles that everyone deals with at some point. Some of the most popular posts on social media are either posts that reveal people’s vulnerabilities (celebrity or otherwise) or those inspirational quotes that draw upon struggle and growth. Why? Because we can relate to it.

We desperately seek connection. But we are afraid that if we share how we are really feeling it disconnects us. The truth is that vulnerability increases genuine connection.

Today my mental health is good. Yesterday it was good. Over the weekend, when I had a lot of people around me who I needed to give my attention to, I did well until Sunday night when I just needed to be by myself. When I couldn’t get that I was more irritable and my mental health was less than perfect.

When we can accept that not every day is a good mental health day, and recognize that everyone else has a similar experience we can become more compassionate with ourselves and others.

Let’s start the conversations!

If you would like to find out more about creating a workplace culture that supports mental health please contact Jolene today!

The post Is the phrase ‘Mental Health’ too stigmatized? appeared first on Mindful Wellness Counseling.

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*This post may be a little fiery than usual*

Recently Cigna launched a campaign which includes some well known celebrities talking about the importance of taking care of one’s mental health. In theory it is a great message, but here is where I have a problem with it—they direct you to your doctor and not a therapist.

Nick Jonas promoting paying attention to your mental health for Cigna

Now, don’t get me wrong, doctors are fantastic resources! But the truth is that they are not well versed in mental health and they do not have the time to give to mental health issues, so they go to short term fixes, which are referrals (which is great) or medication (which are also fine). But the truth is mental health is more than what medical professionals can help with.

Did you know that it has been estimated that 75 – 90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress related problems?

While some may argue that the stigma of mental health and counseling is lessening, I argue that while the stigma may be lessening to some degree the importance and value of therapy is still underwhelming.

Here are a few examples that I have encountered recently:
  • My local business journal does an annual “Best of” where citizens can vote for the best in the city. The list of professions is long, but I will give you one guess as to at least vocation that is not listed, counseling. I wrote the business journal to inquire as to why, but I have yet to hear back.
  • Insurance companies grossly under pay therapists, no matter how good/effective they are. Rather than paying therapists a reasonable rate and allowing them to make a decent living without burning themselves out, they are forced to accept pitiful reimbursement rates and have to stack up clients in order to make ends meet. This not only compromises care, but also encourages therapists to go to a private pay model which gets in the way of people being able to access services.
  • The local Chamber of Commerce wrote an article in the business journal in 2017 highlighting the fact that the lowest attended seminars that were hosted at the chamber had to do with stress
  • and burnout. Also highlighting the fact that physical wellness often has a larger draw
  • Similarly, When workplace wellness programs are encouraged whether it is in the business journal or even googled, you will see that what is highlighted is mostly incentives that help people stay physically well. And, while one cannot deny that this feeds into good mental health it is not the whole equation.
So what is the solution?

Even though it is not typically like me to stir up and write posts like this, I believe it is conversations like this one that need to start happening everywhere.

 We have to start making mental health part of workplace policies. We have to include mental health and substance abuse professionals in business networking events. We have to prioritize mental health and take a proactive approach to our mental health versus a reactive approach. We have to lobby for insurance companies to value mental health the way other professions are valued. But it starts with each of us.

The post Is Cigna’s mental health message enough? appeared first on Mindful Wellness Counseling.

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Top 10 Holiday Survival Skills for Introverts and the Highly Sensitives to use when the holiday pressures become overwhelming. While holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, can be great times to be reflective, thankful and giving; the holidays can also create a lot of stress, anxiety and overwhelm to our lives.

Unfortunately, when we view our holidays as a source of stress, anxiety and overwhelm, it affects our lives in numerous ways. These downsides include exhaustion from expectations, not feeling as though you can enjoy the holidays, and attempting to isolate or avoid holiday parties and gatherings. Not only does seeing the holidays as a source of stress, anxiety, and overwhelm affect us by taking the joy out of the holiday, but we start to exhibit anticipatory anxiety, irritability, burn out, and perhaps even resentments and bitterness.

Perhaps some of your family gatherings are not always pleasant, or somehow you now have a holiday event almost every day of the week and you can’t see any space for your highly guarded “me time”, or when you are at a party you become overwhelmed by the noises, people, and the gift exchange where you have to open your gift in front of everyone. The mere thought of any of these may send you into your favorite comfy pajamas to watch Netflix and chill until the holidays are over. Unfortunately, all this does is create isolation and we miss out on quality time with loved ones, which only increases our sense of stress and anxiety…even if hibernating does sound good, and somehow bears get away with it every year…maybe in my next life, I can be a bear.

For introverts and for those who are highly sensitive the social expectations, inundation of holiday music, advertisements and shopping in crowded stores, and changes in normal routines can you into to a place of stress and overwhelm. This is completely normal, and frankly, even those are not so introverted or sensitive struggle with some of this too. It’s okay to feel like you need to approach holiday seasons with caution.

There are several things that can help us bring peace on earth during the holidays. When we use the survival skills to get through the holidays it is entirely possible to enjoy and even embrace this holiday season.

Keep reading for the top10 holiday survival skills to make holiday joy happen this season. What Thanksgiving and Christmas (and other holidays) look like without these survival skills

The biggest downside of not overcoming your problem is exhaustion and missing out on precious moments. At the very least, you find yourself attempting to ignore the fact that the holiday spirit exists. Living this way is extremely “Grinchy” and ultimately it feeds into ongoing feelings of anxiety and shame.

What Thanksgiving and Christmas (and other holidays) look like with these survival skills

Although you struggle with holiday overwhelm you have the potential to stay energized and enjoy this time of the year. When we use this top 10 survival skill guide, there is a possibility for you to feel capable of navigating the potentially overwhelming situations with grace and joy. You have the ability to enjoy the holidays in your unique way and be able to fa-la-la-la-la with the best of them.

Top Ten Holiday Survival Skills To Enjoying The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year.

Yes, it is true you may be feeling stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed by the mere thought of having to go through another holiday season, but you can find the same joy that those “normal” people have. The key to having yourself a merry little Christmas and happy holidays is to understand and honor your needs as an introvert or highly sensitive person. Making these changes is not as difficult as you think because it all boils down to knowing what you can control. Take a look at the 10 holiday survival skills to see how you can achieve peace and joy in the stressful holiday season.

Check out these 10 holiday survival skills to see how you can achieve joy and peace during the holidays! Take “social breaks”

Often we can feel that if we are in a social situation we have to stay engaged with others, but it is perfectly okay to step outside, get some fresh air, clear your mind and recharge

Plan how to deal with difficult family members

If you do have people in your life that are difficult, for a variety of reasons (holidays tend to stir up family issues) go in with a plan. Knowing that you cannot change others, it is more productive to have some “canned” ways of responding. Since these people are typically predictable you can limit your time talking with them, and know to respond in a way that protects you.

Schedule “Recharge Days”

Take at least one day off after the holidays to recharge before getting back into your normal routine. Also, if you know you have several activities to do, build down days into your schedule so that you give yourself time to recuperate that precious energy.  Feeling rested and prepared to re-engage with others and work is worth the extra time it takes.

Sleep in Heavenly Peace

Socializing is always draining for introverts and those who are highly sensitive. If you are traveling for the holidays be aware of the time changes that create a little extra stress on the mind and body. Pay attention to the body’s signals and rest as much as needed. Try to keep your sleep routine intact; go to bed early, and/or take power naps.

Shop online

If long lines, packed and noisy stores give you mild panic try shopping online. You can also attempt to shop at times that tend to have less traffic. This can provide you with an opportunity to be more reflective about your purchases and compare options without the pressures or distractions that a busy store interferes with.

Manage Expectations

In general, the holidays come with a lot of expectations and pressures. When you are a conscientious type of person there may be a desire to make the holidays a magical and special time. An important thing to try to do is keeping the flexibility in mind to tolerate and accept situations even if our reality does not meet our ideal. After all, if we can connect back to the meaning of the holidays for ourselves those little details that we stress about typically won’t make that big of a difference.

Set Boundaries

Knowing your energy limit is important. Having just the right amount of stimulation is important for anyone, but for those who are highly sensitive being too overwhelmed/overstimulated can lead to behaviors such as shutting down, irritability, anxiety, etc. Under-stimulation leads to boredom which tends to lend itself to creating more stimulation in our lives that can become overstimulating. Know when you need to say no, or when you may need to go. Show up early to a party so that you warm up to the situation and leave earlier if needed.

Ask Questions

If you are in a social setting sustaining conversation can feel pretty daunting. Small talk can feel tortuous as you tend to prefer to listen. So be the one to ask questions to generate conversation in the groups. This can help save emotional energy, you can put yourself in the position of the listener, and it balances out all of the questions that get asked of you.

Plan Ahead

If there is an event that is happening at a new venue, you can always visit in advance. If traveling to visit friends or family ask about schedule and activities so you can know what to expect. Planning ahead helps you to set limits on commitments and let people know about your need for downtime.

Join In

Sometimes our fear of being overwhelmed can be our biggest barrier. If you take good care to manage your overwhelm and take breaks you can absolutely have a great time. Get involved, help out. Contributing can be a great way to add your value to the holiday activity.

Achieving peace and joy during the holidays instead of stress, anxiety and overwhelm can be fun. You absolutely can have an enjoyable holiday season, and Mindful Wellness Counseling can help you manage stress anxiety and emotional overwhelm in this holiday season and in life.

Call or email to schedule an appointment today!

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I always felt different growing up, and I knew I was an emotional kid. I used to make up songs about all the feelings I was feeling. I was quick to tears and sensitive. In a lot of ways, these traits were helpful as I was attuned to others feelings and needs, and I have a creative side of me. However, I was over stimulated in a lot of other ways, loud noises, feeling rushed, and being the center of attention was very overwhelming. Today I am still sensitive and you can find me crying at emotional scenes in movies, feeling deeply for those I see suffering, feeling annoyed when loud Harley’s drive by, and still feeling a like an odd person, but I have learned to embrace it, set boundaries for myself, practice mindfulness!

I didn’t really start to put the pieces together until recently that I was a highly sensitive person (HSP). I thought that maybe I was just anxious and introverted, which is true, but it was more than being anxious and introverted, it was my personality. I started to put the pieces together as I was writing my story for a book I am working on. Initially, the book was going to be about stress management for type As however as I started to write and get more into my own history I realized that I was explaining what I had been reading and listening about as of late. With this knowledge, the focus of my book has shifted and will be focused on the HSP and how mindfulness has been a path of peace for myself.

HSP is a personality trait that includes about 20% of the population. We are made up of about 70% introverts, and 30% extraverts, and we are equally male and female. Dr. Elaine Aron who coined the term in the 1990s has done extensive research on the Highly Sensitive Persons and has come up with a helpful questionnaire to measure HSP traits. The contents of the self-tests are not meant to diagnose or exclude the diagnosis of any condition.

HSP Scale

TRUE or FALSE

____ 1. Are you easily overwhelmed by strong sensory input?

____ 2. Do you seem to be aware of subtleties in your environment?

____ 3. Do other people’s moods affect you?

____ 4. Do you tend to be more sensitive to pain?

____ 5. Do you find yourself needing to withdraw during busy days, into bed or into a darkened room or any place where you can have some privacy and relief from stimulation?

____ 6. Are you particularly sensitive to the effects of caffeine?

____ 7. Are you easily overwhelmed by things like bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens close by?

____ 8. Do you have a rich, complex inner life?

____ 9. Are you made uncomfortable by loud noises?

___ 10. Are you deeply moved by the arts or music?

___ 11. Does your nervous system sometimes feel so frazzled that you just have to go off by yourself?

___ 12. Are you conscientious?

___ 13. Do you startle easily?

___ 14. Do you get rattled when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time?

___ 15. When people are uncomfortable in a physical environment do you tend to know what needs to be done to make it more comfortable (like changing the lighting or the seating)?

___ 16. Are you annoyed when people try to get you to do too many things at once?

___ 17. Do you try hard to avoid making mistakes or forgetting things?

___ 18. Do you make a point to avoid violent movies and TV shows?

___ 19. Do you become unpleasantly aroused when a lot is going on around you?

___ 20. Does being very hungry create a strong reaction in you, disrupting your concentration or mood?

___ 21. Do changes in your life shake you up?

___ 22. Do you notice and enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, works of art?

___ 23. Do you find it unpleasant to have a lot going on at once?

___ 24. Do you make it a high priority to arrange your life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations?

___ 25. Are you bothered by intense stimuli, like loud noises or chaotic scenes?

___ 26. When you must compete or be observed while performing a task, do you become so nervous or shaky that you do much worse than you would otherwise?

___ 27. When you were a child, did parents or teachers seem to see you as sensitive or shy?

If you answered more than fourteen of the questions as true of yourself, you are probably highly sensitive.

There are some great resources for HSPs out there, such as Facebook groups, meetups, books and therapists who are attuned to the needs of HSPs. If you are interested in seeking counseling or coaching from me please contact me to schedule an appointment.

HSP Scale © 1997 E. Aron (For additional information see Aron & Aron, JPSP, 1997 or email aron@ic.sunysb.edu)

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Hi, my name is Jolene and I am in recovery from anger.

Anger used to dictate my life.

I can tell you in detail (well what I can remember of it—we’ll get there) the moment I realized I had a problem with anger.

Anger types

First, there are a few different ways that people choose to express their anger.

Anger in:

People with this category of anger then to keep their anger to themselves, and will typically talk themselves out of anger.  They will avoid confrontation, but will often hold on to resentments and anger towards those who have hurt you. You have been called a pushover.

Anger out:

You feel better after you have vented about what has angered you, and you prefer confronting issues as soon as they happen. Anger helps you feel empowered. You get angry quickly but also get over it quickly. However, you sometimes regret what you have said or done when you’re angry, and you have been told you have a bad temper.

Secondly, there are many types of anger.

There is an anger style quiz that can fairly accurately describe the types of anger you have and how to cope. Notice I said types with an “s” because we are complex people!

Examples of anger styles are:

Anger avoidance, sneaky anger, anger turned inward, sudden anger, shame-based anger, deliberate anger, excitatory anger, habitual hostility, fear-based anger, moral anger, and resentment/hate.

I will work on getting the quiz posted so you can determine for yourself which you are.

Nice Lady/Bitchy Woman

I was someone who was more of an anger in person; I avoided anger and I would turn it inward.

There is a great book called The Dance of Anger, written Harriet Lerner; the book targets women’s anger in particular and I recommend reading it. She goes on to describe that there are two types of angry women: The Nice Lady and the Bitchy Woman.

I will often change the language if I am talking to a mixed crowd or to men, because it applies to everyone, in my opinion.

The nice lady does not like to rock the boat. She is nice. People like her. She does not expose any differences between her and another, and she rarely gets upset.

The bitchy woman, as you can imagine, is outspoken about what she feels is wrong. It is a more aggressive approach to anger.

Despite having completely opposite approaches to expressing their anger they both wind up with the same result.

The Nice lady, when she finally loses it, typically gets pushed over the edge by something small that has probably happened before but she never spoke up about it.

She explodes (in whatever way that looks) and emotions pour out—typically tears are involved. The people around do not know what to do with all of this emotion and are confused as to where it is coming from.

They get so distracted and overwhelmed by the display that the emotion is the focus and not the actual problem.

The bitchy woman, when she is actually upset about something, and really needs to be heard is not taken seriously and the problem is not addressed because that’s just how she is—she’s just dramatic.

My Confession

I was a nice lady. I probably still am, although I strive for kind instead of nice.

Things would bottle up, and bottle up—on the outside I was looking cool as a cucumber, but on the inside, I was boiling. I would cry, or yell, or throw my cell phone (into pillows—I didn’t want to break it), or maybe even some combination. It’s not a fun way to live, it is exhausting, and you accumulate resentments.

Ticking Time Bomb

The moment I realized I needed to get my anger in check was back in 2007. I had been dating a guy off and on for 8 years and it was an emotional relationship. The kind you have in college when you’re still trying to figure out boundaries, love, lust, etc.

It was a long distance relationship for a little bit, and he was out visiting me in Portland. He had been invited over to a friend’s which we both knew from college. This guy always seemed to give me a hard time for things, but I decided it was going to be fine and that we would have a good time.

We did have a good time. There was a lot of alcohol and I had taken a lot of shots. I think I was trying to keep up with the guys, but I also think I was uncomfortable and it was a good way to relax at the time. At some point things get blurry and that is the same point things get out of control.

I can’t tell you exactly what happened, but I lost it. I got into a screaming match with some stranger, punched a refrigerator that did not belong to me, and even attempted to jump out of a moving vehicle on my way back to my apartment. When we got back we were in a screaming match and I ended up punching my bedroom door of a house I was renting.

I was out of control. My hand was hurt—luckily I didn’t break any bones—and, I had to patch my bedroom door because I had busted up some of the wood.

This was not okay. Something needed to change about myself immediately or something like this would happen again.

Just Breathe

It’s difficult to tell that story, and many people find it hard to believe, but it’s true; it’s also part of my journey that I had to go through to get where I am. I have become more conscious about my emotions and how alcohol has an effect on them, and I have learned to be more honest with myself and others.

Pushing emotions and experiences down and not dealing with them does not work, and it certainly doesn’t do any good to numb feelings with substances.

Anger is a mask for a lot of other emotions—these emotions could be fear, guilt, shame, feelings of hurt, etc. I learned different techniques to slow myself down and evaluate my emotions before I reacted.

For example, the STOP technique is really great.

S– stop in the moment. Stop what you’re doing, whatever it is.

T– take a deep breath in and out.

O– Observe what is going on inside and outside our yourself. Notice your feelings, notice the reactions taking place in your body. Ask yourself what are you responding to?

P– be proactive versus reactive. Make a plan for yourself. Don’t be impulsive but honor your feelings.

I also had to learn how to just breathe, and check my assumptions.

Breathing is a great centering tool. It took me out of my head and into my body. It allowed me to slow down my mind even for a brief moment. Those moments allowed me to look at my thoughts and evaluate which ones were based on facts and which ones were based on assumptions. If it was an assumption I had to challenge it with facts.

This takes practice and time, but ultimately awareness. You cannot do this work without naming what is going on for you.

If anger has been a problem in your life please reach out to Jolene at Mindful Wellness Counseling, today.

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What is stress?

Think about what stresses you out.

Think about all of the little and big things that you come into contact with in your day to day life that cause you unease. What do most of these have in common?

Many times you will find that each circumstance represents and absences of something we perceive as necessary for survival, or the threatened loss of this necessary thing.

Gabor Mate explains in his book “When the Body Says No” that research has identified three factors that universally lead to stress: uncertainty, the lack of information, and the loss of control.

Uncertainty

When I think of uncertainty I immediately think of anxiety. Most of my anxious clients are so consumed with trying to plan and control the future that they create stress in their life. I will use two personal examples to illustrate this.

I am married to a wonderful man, who supports me and makes me laugh and who is a great friend. When he proposed, I immediately said yes and was excited, but the next day I found myself overwhelmed with the prospect of what marriage meant. What if I fail? What if we don’t make it? What does this mean for me, us, him? There was all of this uncertainty. Thankfully my mom, who tends to be my sounding board, told me to stop worrying about the future because it was taking away from my present moment. She was right.

I was working for a corporate company, and the decision was made that they were going to lay off employees and that the directors (which included myself) needed to make some tough decisions in the next couple of days and then lay people off at the end of the week. First, I strongly disagreed with the decision, however, it was not up to me (Loss of Control), but I was wrecked with the feelings of uncertainty of how the employees would take it. It consumed me and it was very stressful. The day of the layoffs I was pulling people out of meetings and letting them know—it was miserable. Most took it actually better than I thought, but the aftermath was difficult. The employees who did not get laid off were left with uncertainty. They would ask me if they were getting laid off, and if the company was doing okay. Needless to say, it stressed the environment and lead others to quit and seek out something that seemed more certain for them.

Lack of Information

Our brain does not like a lack of information. It wants to make sense of the world, so not having information forces the brain to automatically fill in the blanks. Here is a quick story to illustrate this.

Jill has to go to school. Her mother asks her to get out of bed. Jill replies that she will be there in a minute. After 5 minutes, her mother asks her to get out of bed again. Jill replies that she will be there any minute. When her mother angrily shouts that Jill should really get out of bed now, she replied that her mother should not treat her like a little child. Her mother replied that it is inappropriate for the head of a school to show up late for school.

What did you notice about your thoughts while the story was being told? In what ways did you notice how your mind automatically assumes things and creates its own version of what is going on? Have you ever noticed that same thing in your own life?

Our mind automatically reacts to information and creates its own stories, even when very limited information is available. Think about situations at work, when someone seems to be making your life more difficult. Perhaps we take their aloofness or snappiness to be something personal; they are doing things purposefully or that we don’t think they care about us. Most of these situations are created from a lack of information. We fail to consider the bigger picture for them as well. Perhaps they have their own stressors or personal situations that are creating issues in their lives. Perhaps what we are feeling and thinking in only a reality in which we have created.

Now this does not mean that we just grin and bear it, but when we illicit compassion for ourselves and others we create a space that allows us to lean into the discomfort and ex

plore these situations rather than to create mental barriers with stories about others, based only on the logic of our mind which has created its own story.

Loss of Control

I see this as a huge source of stress in people. We operate under an illusion of control, as we believe that we have more control over things in our life than we actually do. What types of things have you tried to control that have wound up not working out?

Trying to control other people all the time. We want to make them care more, be more responsible,  more productive,  more attentive. We want people to believe what we believe, and if they don’t we treat them differently (perhaps hoping that they will see the error in their ways and change…).

Planning things to work out just a certain way. We want our kids to follow a certain path; careers to follow a certain trajectory; the weather to cooperate with our vacations, weddings, days off, etc.

And, guess what happens when things do not go as planned. We become stressed, anxious, angry, irritable…you name it.

When we rely on things outside of us to feel good we are relying on things to go as planned. You can imagine how this type of orientation can lead to chronic issues of stress. Learning to orient ourselves to a more internal sense of control—our beliefs, attitudes, actions—gives us a greater life satisfaction. I can learn to choose each of these things, giving me actual control.

Why are these important to consider?

Stress is a physiological response, and it engages our fight-or-flight response.  In society, our fight-or-flight reactions are triggered in situations where it is neither necessary or helpful since we don’t have to face our ancestor’s mortal threats. Now, these threat responses are being triggered inappropriately and it is becoming a chronic state. The higher levels of stress cause higher cortisol output and cortisol inhibits the activity of the inflammatory cells involved in wound healing.

By creating social stressors, like the ones above, we are creating unnecessary or unhelpful stress. Thus, thrusting our body into a cascade of chemicals preparing us to flee or fight. We need to learn how to calm our systems and evaluate actual versus perceived threats, thus helping us to conserve mental and physical energy for times when it is actually needed.

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What is stress?

Think about what stresses you out.

Think about all of the little and big things that you come into contact with in your day to day life that cause you unease. What do most of these have in common?

Many times you will find that each circumstance represents and absences of something we perceive as necessary for survival, or the threatened loss of this necessary thing.

Gabor Mate explains in his book “When the Body Says No” that research has identified three factors that universally lead to stress: uncertainty, the lack of information, and the loss of control.

Uncertainty

When I think of uncertainty I immediately think of anxiety. Most of my anxious clients are so consumed with trying to plan and control the future that they create stress in their life. I will use two personal examples to illustrate this.

I am married to a wonderful man, who supports me and makes me laugh and who is a great friend. When he proposed, I immediately said yes and was excited, but the next day I found myself overwhelmed with the prospect of what marriage meant. What if I fail? What if we don’t make it? What does this mean for me, us, him? There was all of this uncertainty. Thankfully my mom, who tends to be my sounding board, told me to stop worrying about the future because it was taking away from my present moment. She was right.

I was working for a corporate company, and the decision was made that they were going to lay off employees and that the directors (which included myself) needed to make some tough decisions in the next couple of days and then lay people off at the end of the week. First, I strongly disagreed with the decision, however, it was not up to me (Loss of Control), but I was wrecked with the feelings of uncertainty of how the employees would take it. It consumed me and it was very stressful. The day of the layoffs I was pulling people out of meetings and letting them know—it was miserable. Most took it actually better than I thought, but the aftermath was difficult. The employees who did not get laid off were left with uncertainty. They would ask me if they were getting laid off, and if the company was doing okay. Needless to say, it stressed the environment and lead others to quit and seek out something that seemed more certain for them.

Lack of Information

Our brain does not like a lack of information. It wants to make sense of the world, so not having information forces the brain to automatically fill in the blanks. Here is a quick story to illustrate this.

Jill has to go to school. Her mother asks her to get out of bed. Jill replies that she will be there in a minute. After 5 minutes, her mother asks her to get out of bed again. Jill replies that she will be there any minute. When her mother angrily shouts that Jill should really get out of bed now, she replied that her mother should not treat her like a little child. Her mother replied that it is inappropriate for the head of a school to show up late for school.

What did you notice about your thoughts while the story was being told? In what ways did you notice how your mind automatically assumes things and creates its own version of what is going on? Have you ever noticed that same thing in your own life?

Our mind automatically reacts to information and creates its own stories, even when very limited information is available. Think about situations at work, when someone seems to be making your life more difficult. Perhaps we take their aloofness or snappiness to be something personal; they are doing things purposefully or that we don’t think they care about us. Most of these situations are created from a lack of information. We fail to consider the bigger picture for them as well. Perhaps they have their own stressors or personal situations that are creating issues in their lives. Perhaps what we are feeling and thinking in only a reality in which we have created.

Now this does not mean that we just grin and bear it, but when we illicit compassion for ourselves and others we create a space that allows us to lean into the discomfort and ex

plore these situations rather than to create mental barriers with stories about others, based only on the logic of our mind which has created its own story.

Loss of Control

I see this as a huge source of stress in people. We operate under an illusion of control, as we believe that we have more control over things in our life than we actually do. What types of things have you tried to control that have wound up not working out?

Trying to control other people all the time. We want to make them care more, be more responsible,  more productive,  more attentive. We want people to believe what we believe, and if they don’t we treat them differently (perhaps hoping that they will see the error in their ways and change…).

Planning things to work out just a certain way. We want our kids to follow a certain path; careers to follow a certain trajectory; the weather to cooperate with our vacations, weddings, days off, etc.

And, guess what happens when things do not go as planned. We become stressed, anxious, angry, irritable…you name it.

When we rely on things outside of us to feel good we are relying on things to go as planned. You can imagine how this type of orientation can lead to chronic issues of stress. Learning to orient ourselves to a more internal sense of control—our beliefs, attitudes, actions—gives us a greater life satisfaction. I can learn to choose each of these things, giving me actual control.

Why are these important to consider?

Stress is a physiological response, and it engages our fight-or-flight response.  In society, our fight-or-flight reactions are triggered in situations where it is neither necessary or helpful since we don’t have to face our ancestor’s mortal threats. Now, these threat responses are being triggered inappropriately and it is becoming a chronic state. The higher levels of stress cause higher cortisol output and cortisol inhibits the activity of the inflammatory cells involved in wound healing.

By creating social stressors, like the ones above, we are creating unnecessary or unhelpful stress. Thus, thrusting our body into a cascade of chemicals preparing us to flee or fight. We need to learn how to calm our systems and evaluate actual versus perceived threats, thus helping us to conserve mental and physical energy for times when it is actually needed.

The post 3 Factors that Lead to Stress appeared first on Mindful Wellness Counseling.

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Most people fail to recognize the relationship between our thoughts, moods, and behaviors. Many cannot believe that their behavior could be shaped by their thoughts, or that their thoughts have any connection with how their mood ebbs and flows. So let’s look at a quick example to see how these are connected.

Case Study: Sam

Sam was a lonely man who had no significant other to share his feelings with or one who could love him unconditionally. This solitary life has made him extremely sad and stressed. Slowly he became a victim of depression. While he was at the bus stop, he noticed several couples sharing sweet moments and talks with one another. As he watched the couples holding hands or place their head on their partner’s shoulder, Sam started to experience feelings of deep anger and sadness.

While experiencing those feelings, Sam began thinking that almost everyone had someone special with them to make life beautiful, but he had nobody. He felt it was unfair that he was suffering from loneliness and depression while others were out there enjoying their lives. This, in turn, made him think that he was a complete loser and would never find someone who would fall in love with him. After he had these thoughts, he got up, feeling frustrated, left the bus stop and went home and sat on his bed feeling depressed.

Vicious Cycle

Sam experienced a situation at the subway where he saw couples that upset his mood and triggered thoughts that stated he was alone and a loser. He then reacted to the situation by getting up and escaping the unpleasant feelings, retreating back to his home, in isolation.

As thoughts are automatically produced in your head, you need to take a pause and reflect that you can be mindful of your feelings and behaviors that come from those thoughts. It is also important to recognize that your mood is affected by precisely what you are thinking; you never stay emotionally in one particular place for a long time. Your mood is always altering and you cannot avoid it. You experience a variety of interactions and events continuously in a day that triggers your thought process, which ultimately creates corresponding feelings.

So how can I better manage my negative thinking?
  1. Realize decisions you make when you are depressed or stressed aren’t rational. Wait for your mood to regulate before deciding something.
  2. Work to become aware of your thoughts spinning towards different problems. These thoughts take us outside of our present moment. Learn to live in the present.
  3. Evaluate your negative thoughts by weighing the thought against the fact that there could be any other possibility.
  4. Focus on the facts of the situation. Use a balanced thought approach by finding evidence that supports and does not support your current thoughts.
  5. Engage in behavioral experiments that test your negative automatic thinking. By doing so we evaluate underlying assumptions and beliefs and help reduce the likelihood of future vulnerability.
    1. Assume you are invited to a party by your office colleague. The first thought is you will have a bad time there and nobody would want to talk to you. However, you go to the party and you find you feel very uncomfortable there as nobody comes up to speak to you. However,  you have not attempted to walk up to someone and introduce yourself.
    2. A constructive behavioral experiment would be to attend the party and make an effort to mingle. Using balanced thoughts and harnessing the scientist inside you look at your negative predictions and evaluate them.
      1. Keep note of the thoughts that float in your mind
      2. Make note of who you talked to, what happened, how you felt, and what you did at the party.
      3. Compare your negative feelings from the beginning of the party against your feelings at the end of the party. The hope is that you see improvement.
Be a Scientist

To accomplish the goal of improving our beliefs and thoughts we have to understand the relationship between all of it. The automatic thoughts we have are instant, and the negative ones are distorted beliefs about ourselves or the situations we perceive. The process of change can be slow, but it is one worth taking. Take a curious approach to your moods and behaviors. Be a scientist or a detective and work to find the best solution to live a healthier life.

If you are ready to be a scientist and want to take back control of your emotions, contact Jolene at Mindful Wellness Counseling to set up your free 15-minute consultation.

The post 5 ways to manage negative thoughts appeared first on Mindful Wellness Counseling.

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This is a guest post from our dear colleague Emily De La Torre, a fellow therapist who runs Pax Family Counseling in Vancouver, WA.  To learn more about Pax Family Counseling, you can check them out here.

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Have you ever wondered why we tend to associate play with children? Adults appear to be very comfortable forgoing play, or at least only participating occasionally and leaving the “playtime” for the kids. The truth is, play is extremely important for all ages and numerous studies have correlated positive effects with play in adulthood.

A few years ago I took a remarkable training on Play Throughout the Lifespan with world renowned Neuropsychiatrist, Dan Siegal, MD. I was fascinated with the research associated with people who play and how this practice drastically improves health, relationships and overall quality of life. In my personal life, I have always valued the idea of play but I had a hard time integrating it realistically. My husband and I are entrepreneurs, which means time is always limited. After honestly acknowledging that we need space from our businesses in order to stay balanced, we started to take play seriously.  Now we try to incorporate play into our lives on a weekly basis. Ironically, play helps us to be more productive in business because we get creative space to process ideas. Best of all, it strengthens our marriage. This is because play in adulthood helps couples experience other forms of emotional intimacy(Tartakovsky, 2012). There is something incredible about connecting with your playful side that keeps people young and vibrant.

First Things First noted several additional benefits of play in adulthood, including:
  • Play generates optimism, seeks out novelty, makes perseverance fun, leads to mastery, gives the immune system a bounce, fosters empathy and promotes a sense of belonging and community. Each of these play byproducts are indices of personal health, and their shortage predicts impending health problems and personal fragility.
  • Play also enhances relationships.  The National Institute for Play cites studies that indicate that play refreshes a long-term adult-adult relationship.
  • Some of the hallmarks of its refreshing, oxygenating action are: humor, the enjoyment of novelty, the capacity to share a lighthearted sense of the world’s ironies, the enjoyment of mutual storytelling and the capacity to openly divulge imagination and fantasies.
  • Playful communications and interactions, when nourished, produce a climate for easy connection and a deepening, more rewarding relationship – true intimacy ” (2016).

Are you convinced yet? If you have not adopted play as a practice to incorporate into your week, you should really consider it!

Tangible Ways You Can Incorporate Play in Adulthood:

1. Find a sport or hobby you can engage in. For us, this is golf. My husband played as a collegiate athlete and after years of solely admiring the game, I started to pick it up for pure recreation. Golf is something that brings us together. We enjoy playing together, walking the course on summer evenings, cheering each other on and laughing about the joy and the misery of the game. Examples to try: Rock climbing, indoor soccer, cooking, book clubs, hiking, photography, beer brewing, fantasy sports, bowling, DIY projects and geocaching.

2. Get comfortable with being vulnerable. Do you and your partner joke together? Sing together? Dance together? Well you should! These aspects lighten up the weeks by simply making time to pause and connect. These playful activities do a number on bringing people together. Examples to try: Zumba, choir, instrument classes, ballroom dance, learning a language or going to comedy shows.

3. Play board games. You are never too old to engage in a good old-fashioned board game. We personally love Settlers of Catan, Apples to Apples, Ticket to Ride and Monopoly. Invite friends over and have at it!

4. Incorporate artwork into your life. There is a reason adult coloring books were among the top two best selling books on amazon…because they are worth it! Coloring and other forms of art help connect us to our (sometimes dormant) imaginations and assist with processing long days by meditating upon the art. Examples to try: Coloring, pottery, building model designs, painting, sewing, pencil work, sculpting with clay or play-doh.

What ways do you add a level of play to your weekly routine with your partner? Please share below!

Keller, Jared. “The Psychological Case for Adult Play Time.” Pacific Standard. N.p., 09 Apr. 2015. Web. 20 June 2017.

Tartakovsky, M. (2012). The Importance of Play for Adults. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 19, 2017, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/11/15/the-importance-of-play-for-adults/

“Related Media.” The Importance of Play for Adults. First Things First, 21 June 2016. Web. 20 June 2017.

The post The Power of Fun and Play in Adulthood appeared first on Mindful Wellness Counseling.

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Stress levels are increasing, and anxiety has become rampant in today’s fast-paced society. We are conditioned to keep up, meet the demands, and typically pay the price for doing so. I know, I have been there. Most people joke about admitting you have a problem is the first step, and I agree. Which is why developing awareness and understanding our automatic thinking and behaving is so important.

Awareness

Take a second and close your eyes and just be silent for 1 minute.

What did you notice? Were your distracted by your thoughts? What were your thoughts about?

Often times people find that their minds will take them many places. It is a busy place and our thoughts are very powerful and often demand a lot of our attention. When we are not aware of the volume of thought and the power of the thoughts we tend to go through life in a very mindless way.

Mindlessness

We rush through activities without being attentive to them. Perhaps we break, drop, or spill thing because of carelessness, inattention, or thinking of something else. We can find ourselves failing to notice subtle tensions or discomforts, and preoccupied with thoughts of the past or future.

The truth of the matter is that we spend most of our life inside our head and not in the present moment. Creating our own realities, versus the ones right in front of us.

Dealing with thoughts

Did you know we have at least 50,000 thoughts a day?!? Of course, some of these thoughts are helpful. They help us be creative, come up with new ideas and plan for the future. However, they can also be problematic as they create worry, rumination, and negative stories about the self.

So we try to suppress and push down these thoughts. We try to distract ourselves from them. We even try to challenge our thoughts, by minimizing the reality of our emotions. These strategies will work in the short term but typically cause pain long term.

Mindfully dealing with thoughts
  1. Try to observe your thoughts, rather than identifying with or dwelling on them.
    • See yourself on top of a mountain and watch them come and go like clouds.
  2. Take your thoughts less seriously.
    • Remember we have at least 50,000 a day; imagine what it does to us emotionally to take our thoughts so seriously.
  3. Let them pass.
    • Everything is temporary. Good and bad things alike. When we stop the flow of these thoughts and cling to them we create distress and conflict inside.
  4. Focus attention on one point, an anchor, that can bring you back to your present reality.
    • Find your breath, bodily sensations, an object, a sound or a smell that grounds you to the here and now.
Autopilot

Thoughts often emerge immediately and automatically. Our mind produces stores, and often our stores are not true.

There is a lot that we do that is automatic in our life; some of it we are unaware of. Many of our behaviors are automatic, some may estimate that it could be up to 90% of our behavior. These things include driving, eating, making gestures, etc. All which are produced through repetition.

Benefits

Creating Automatic behaviors allows us to do things quicker, and we can process several details at once with little effort. We can take mental shortcuts that allow us to not examine all options all the time, and we can multitask (i.e. talking to a passenger while driving).

Disadvantages

Often times become a slave to our habits.

These habits become difficult to change, and often when we are engaging in them we are more in our heads than in the moment. I think about when I am driving and I find myself in automatic pilot mode I am definitely not thinking about the road but something that I need to do or about something that came up in the day.

The automatic patterns can cause problems as we find ourselves possibly automatically desiring alcohol when in certain places or at certain times; ruminating when unpleasant situations occur, or automatically letting emotions guide our behaviors. These are all examples of impulse control issues and examples of being reactive.

Attention vs. Reactivity

The goal is to increase our attention to our thoughts and behaviors to reduce these impulses. We want to create a pause between the situation (trigger) and the reaction.

Helpful questions may be: What is going on? What do I feel? What am I about to do? (what is my impulse/tendency at this moment?

When we create this pause between trigger and reaction we allow ourselves to not get emotionally hijacked and learn to engage our decision making brain….hopefully creating a decision that helps us feel good, rather than having to backpedal and apologize or feel bad.

  • Connect to the present moment (anchor)
  • Allow feelings to be present—do not engage them.
  • Notice when thinking takes over again.
  • Return to the Anchor.

The post Awareness and Autopilot appeared first on Mindful Wellness Counseling.

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