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How to find the best therapist near you

How To Find The Best Therapist Near Me…

The first time I went to therapy, my parents chose a psychotherapist quickly (an easier decision than which mechanic to use). The way they found this nutter-butter-can-of-cashews: My first pediatrician didn’t know what to do for my all-night, every night nightmares, and so he sent me to a therapist. He thought she was good because of her seemingly impressive pedigree. And let me let them tell you as they told everyone who asked: “She did therapy on the Prime Minister from Israel.” Even at age 10, I found this bit of information troubling and logistically dubious, as we lived in a beachside suburb in Los Angeles and the Prime Minister from Israel lived in Israel.

Here are a few examples of her wacky behavior:

1. She ate cottage cheese with her mouth open during our sessions. I feel sure that her mouth full of curds gave me more nightmares.

2. She read her mail during our sessions. While I get that my 10-year-old chatter was not very stimulating, she was getting paid to listen to me and not to read what the latest edition of Readers Digest said about how to declutter your desk. Good God, do I wish I was making this stuff up.

3. I have since learned that she asked patients for rides to the airport. She never asked me for a ride, but I was only 10 and I didn’t even own a bike.

I thought, as a public service of sorts, and because I am a therapist and I write about being in therapy, it might be a good thing if I shared some thoughts about picking a therapist—should you ever find yourself in need of one—as they can be harder to find than a good mechanic.

1. Ask friends and family

Ask friends who are in therapy if they like their therapist. If they do, find out what it is they like about them and ask your friends to ask their therapists for referral lists.

2. Shop online

Google is very effective these days, in addition to Psychology Today’s Therapy Directory. When therapist shopping I would look for therapists who are not selling themselves but rather those telling you about their work and their philosophy of working with patients.

3. A picture tells a story

Take a look at therapists’ pictures on their website or Psychology Today’s Therapist Directory. Red lights for me: Therapists who use glamour shots or whose portraits seem in any way seductive. I would also steer clear of therapists who use a photo of themselves partaking in a favorite hobby or recreational activity. If you have any doubts about a therapist based on photos, I would listen to your intuition. See if you can find someone who you could easily sit across from. I am not saying your therapist needs to look like a supermodel; you just want to look at the therapist without feeling any concern or apprehension. I would heed any intuition.

4. Gender

When choosing a therapist, almost all people have an instinctive idea on gender they would prefer to work with. I don’t think there is a right or wrong when it comes to choosing which gender you prefer to work with. However, I think it can be clinically valuable to notice which gender you absolutely wouldn’t want to work with. I would make note of that and let my therapist know about my strong feelings of “no way” when considering a certain gender for a therapist.

5. Theoretical orientation

This one is really tricky. There are many theoretical orientations and I certainly cannot explain them all in one single post. Here is what I can say in a huge and gross oversimplification:

-If you believe there is an unconscious motivation for your behavior, you might want to go to a psychodynamic therapist.

-If you want to change your thoughts and you think doing that will change your life, and you don’t believe in an unconscious, then you might want a cognitive therapist.

-If you don’t ever want to talk about mom and dad and you only want the here and now then maybe narrative, behavioral, or solution-oriented therapies are something to consider.

-If you want to work on your family and not just on you, then try a family-oriented systems therapist.

-If you still have no idea at all about what orientation you might want, I would then ask the referrals you found and ask about orientation. If the therapist says, “I am an existentialist” and leaves it at that, then have her explain what that means and how you would experience that orientation. Keep asking until you find someone whose style resonates with you.

6. Contact them

When you find a therapist to contact, then reach out to them. It sounds easier than it is; I have had the numbers of therapists in my possession for weeks before I dared to reach out. Email them and ask to schedule a complimentary consultation. When you meet with this therapist, think about asking these questions:

-What is their specialty?

-Have they worked with people with your issues? Share a little about your presenting issue and see how the therapist responds.

-What is their training?

-Are they licensed? Feel free to look up the license and make sure.

-Are they now, or have they ever been, in therapy? This is a big one. Do not, repeat, do not, get into therapy with someone who hasn’t done her own work. Seeing a therapist who doesn’t do her own therapy is like going to a priest who has no relationship with God. This is a big one for me. Unless one has done her own work, she is likely to have issues that create an increased chance of boundary issues, unmanaged counter-transference, and blind spots.

-How much do sessions cost?

7. Notice

Notice how you feel during the consult with the therapist.

On your first appointment, notice how you feel when you are in the room with your new therapist. Do you feel heard when you speak? Notice how you feel in that person’s presence. Notice everything. You might not decide on the first session if the therapist is for you. It may take some time to determine if you have picked the right therapist.

If you’re feeling like the therapist you chose isn’t the best fit, it’s best to tell them what it is you’re looking for and why they aren’t the best fit for you. The therapist might have some ideas for a referral that would work for you. And sometimes that desire to not go back is motivated by some more unconscious anxieties about being in therapy. Best to discuss those, too.

Article by: Traecy Cleatis of Psychology Today

'This must be the place' sign

Hillary Counseling Is Hiring A Virtual Assistant…

At Hillary Counseling, we believe in a better future for mental health. Delivering an exceptional experience for our clients begins with creating an exceptional experience for our team. We are deeply passionate about the integrity of our work, providing excellence in delivery of care, and advocating for social change. Through our efforts, the environment here supports wellness; our practice is a rewarding place to work as well as an excellent place to receive care.

Our growing team is comprised of highly skilled and motivated professionals who share a vision, treat clients with respect and compassion, and aspire to serve our community by creating an inclusive environment where clients find fulfillment, improve health and develop greater meaning in their lives.

Hillary Counseling is seeking a part-time Virtual Assistant who has a background and knowledge of the mental health field.

Responsibilities include:
-To create a safe, welcoming environment for our clients. This includes customer service, respect for privacy, and impeccable communication skills.
-To provide administrative support for our practice and our team of therapists.
-To work 10 hours per week with option to increase hours as needed.
-To respond to client inquiry voicemails and emails, answering basic questions related to scheduling, billing, and therapy.
-Scheduling all new clients with appropriate therapist who best matches their needs.
-Documenting client inquiry information in a spreadsheet.
-To verify therapist invoices and client billing every Monday morning.
-To attend monthly staffings (1 hour long) to gain an understanding of our team and each unique therapist’s strengths.
-To write monthly blog posts with inspiring content.
-To perform miscellaneous administration work as needed.

The ideal candidate will:
-Be passionate and authentic in their attitude towards quality mental health, therapy and wellness.
-Interact with clients with dignity, respect, and compassion, and provide a warm and welcoming experience as the first point of contact in serving our clients.
-Uphold the Hillary Counseling brand and model in professionalism, warmth, and ethics.
-Be able to speak on behalf of our practice with guests.
-Have knowledge of mental health software systems.
-Have excellent communication and customer service skills.
-Be detail oriented and highly organized.
-Enjoy working with a growing team of collaborative, supportive and motivated therapists.
-Be self-motivated and efficient.

Requirements:
-Undergraduate degree is minimum requirement, preferable in a related field of study
-Knowledge of HIPPA requirements, privacy and confidentiality
-Background and experience in the mental health field
-Work 10 hours per week

This is an independent contractor position, pay rate of $15-17 per hour. Graduate students are encouraged to apply. This role has potential for growth and mentorship based on the individual’s goals.

Please submit your cover letter and resume to: info@hillarycounseling.com.

Downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Welcome Jacob Martinez, Milwaukee’s ACT Expert And Relationship Therapist

You should have listened to your gut, but didn’t, and now you feel stuck. Stuck in a life (relationship, career, city) that isn’t making you happy. The tricky part is…you know intuitively what changes you need to make, but are frozen by your mind, expectations, social pressure, or other responsibilities.
     As an experienced therapist, Jacob can help you create a road map to re-align your life based on what matters most. He is passionate about helping his clients cultivate a life they love.
     Jacob works with highly motivated, deep-thinking individuals who know that tomorrow is not guaranteed and are eager to live a more fulfilling life. He enjoys working with first-time therapy clients, and those who have tried therapy before, but are looking for a more action-oriented therapist who can provide specific guidance.
     Jacob also enjoys working with couples and relationship units who struggle communicating. After careful examination of the way his clients communicate, Jacob offers feedback on crafting words that are more likely to be understood by their partner. Through communication training, deeper connections and more workable solutions can be found. Jacob uses the Gottman Method for relationship counseling, a research-based approach to successful relationships.
     Ultimately, Jacob excels at helping his clients find new and different ways of coping, while moving toward what matters to them most according to their values.
Read more about Jacob on our website:
https://www.hillarycounseling.com/meet-jacob-martinez-lpc/
Email us at info@hillarycounseling.com to schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation.
Let us help you “Live A Life You Love.”
Woman reflecting in nature

There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing

At first, I didn’t recognize the symptoms that we all had in common. Friends mentioned that they were having trouble concentrating. Colleagues reported that even with vaccines on the horizon, they weren’t excited about 2021. A family member was staying up late to watch “National Treasure again even though she knows the movie by heart. And instead of bouncing out of bed at 6 a.m., I was lying there until 7, playing Words with Friends.

It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing.

Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.

As scientists and physicians work to treat and cure the physical symptoms of long-haul Covid, many people are struggling with the emotional long-haul of the pandemic. It hit some of us unprepared as the intense fear and grief of last year faded.

In the early, uncertain days of the pandemic, it’s likely that your brain’s threat detection system — called the amygdala — was on high alert for fight-or-flight. As you learned that masks helped protect us — but package scrubbing didn’t— you probably developed routines that eased your sense of dread. But the pandemic has dragged on, and the acute state of anguish has given way to a chronic condition of languish.

In psychology, we think about mental health on a spectrum from depression to flourishing. Flourishing is the peak of well-being: You have a strong sense of meaning, mastery and mattering to others. Depression is the valley of ill-being: You feel despondent, drained and worthless.

Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression — and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness.

The term was coined by a sociologist named Corey Keyes, who was struck that many people who weren’t depressed also weren’t thriving. His research suggests that the people most likely to experience major depression and anxiety disorders in the next decade aren’t the ones with those symptoms today. They’re the people who are languishing right now. And new evidence from pandemic health care workers in Italy shows that those who were languishing in the spring of 2020 were three times more likely than their peers to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Man hiking

Can You Train Yourself to Become a More Optimistic Person?

The brain has a natural optimism bias—we are what I call “wired for love”. This means that when we are connected to others in deep and meaningful ways, and when we are satisfied with where we are in life and where we are going (even if we have ups and downs, which are normal!), we can function at a healthy level. The brain likes it when we are in a good place!

If this is so, why does the negative seem so…overwhelming? Why do bad things and bad people tend to stick to our mind like super glue? Why is it so easy to fall into negative thinking spirals?

The negative affects us more because it is so unusual. Think about the many noises you hear at night: cars driving by your home, the chittering of crickets, the hum of the washing machine or refrigerator—these sounds are “normal” and don’t disturb your sleep because you are used to them. But, if you hear a door quickly open or a window break, you are suddenly on high alert. Something is out of place/out of balance, and your attention will stay fixed on that noise until you figure out what is going on and if you are safe.

The negative is like this “out-of-place” noise: it doesn’t make sense and your brain is not happy about this imbalance, so it tries to figure out how to fix this situation. It is easy to fix all your attention on this abnormality until it does make sense, but this can have some serious mental and physical repercussions if we are not careful, because, over time, toxic rumination disrupts the energy flow in the brain. Whatever we think about the most grows!

As I mentioned above, when we think too negatively or just focus on the bad (a pessimistic state of mind), the energy flow in the brain becomes distorted and incoherent, which can result in inflammation in the brain and body, jumps in cortisol levels, digestive issues, heart problems, mood swings and so on. In fact, this state of mind, which is what is known as a “red brain” on qEEg scans can even activate weaknesses in our genetic code! And, over time, it can become a pessimistic thinking habit—the more we think this way, the more the world seems like a terrible place.

Thankfully, we can combat and heal the effects of focusing too much on the negative by self-regulating our mind. This means focusing on how we think, feel and choose. Dr. Caroline Leaf discuss’s this in detail in her book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess. When we learn how to control our mind, we can rebalance the chemicals and energy in the brain and combat the negative health effects of toxic rumination.

This doesn’t mean that we should fear negativity. It is normal to have negative thoughts and experience uncomfortable emotions. If we think we are happy all the time, then we are lying to ourselves—we are suppressing the negative, which will only make things worse. Rather, we need to change the way we perceive the negative. We need to see negative thoughts and feelings as signals that something is going on in our lives that needs to be addressed; there is an “out-of-place noise” in our mental house that we need to get to the root of. This means asking questions like “why I am so pessimistic?”, “what are my triggers?”, “how does the negative affect me?” and “what is the thinking pattern behind my thoughts and feelings, and how can I change or rewire this?”.

The brain changes all the time because it is neuroplastic. The great news is that you can direct this change with your mind (your thinking, feeling, and choosing). You are always thinking, which is why self-regulation is such a great habit—it gives you the tools to control your mind!

Based on decades of research and practice, Dr. Caroline Leaf developed a self-regulation method that harnesses the neuroplastic nature of the brain through specific techniques to combat the negative influence of toxic rumination. Although there is a lot going on behind the scenes when you self-regulate your thinking and manage your mind, the process itself is not only simple but also accessible, no matter where you are, who you are with or what you are doing:

1. When you find yourself getting trapped in a toxic thinking spiral, take a 10 second pause, for as many times as you need. I recommend deep breathing during this pause, which helps bring brain energy back into balance. Breathe in for 3 counts (say, mentally or out loud, “think, feel”), then breathe out for 7 counts (say mentally or out loud, “choooooooose”).

This is like a reset button in the brain, and will increase your decision-making ability and clarity of mind. Indeed, doing this 6 to 9 times can really reorganize chemical chaos that results from negative thinking in the brain by transferring this energy from the toxic thinking pattern to cleaning up your mental mess!

2. Do a NeuroCycle, which is the self-regulation technique.

Here are the steps:

  • Gathering awareness of your physical and emotional warning signals. We can only change what we are aware of!
  • Reflecting on why you are feeling these things in your body and mind.
  • Writing down your reflections to organize your thinking.
  • Rechecking what you have written and how your thoughts and feelings have changed.
  • Active Reach: taking action to reconceptualize your thinking and find sustainable healing.

If you do this daily for 63 days, you can actually rewire a negative thinking habit or a pessimistic mindset. Each of these steps essentially reset the brain, taking you deeper into your own mind and transferring energy from toxic to healthy. Doing this not only makes your mind and brain more resilient to the pull of negative rumination; it teaches you to use your mind to change your brain! It shows you how to make negativity and life challenges work for you and not against you—YOU TAKE CONTROL, which will have positive carryover effects in other areas of your life.

When you learn how to self-regulate your thinking, you change the energy flow in the brain, which has a host of positive effects on your wellbeing. You still have negative thoughts, of course, but they don’t control your thinking, you control them!

For more information on the optimism bias and self-regulation, listen to Dr. Caroline Leaf’s podcast on MindBodyGreen.

Article by: Dr. Caroline Leaf

Married couple supporting each other

How To Be Supportive When Your Partner Struggles With Mental Health

Mental health is usually a sensitive subject for people. It’s a personal struggle that can feel never ending, and too often people suffer in silence rather than admit that they are having a problem. This is why when someone, like your partner, lets you know that they struggle with mental health, it’s vital to be as supportive as possible. Here are some ways that I support my partner and his mental health:

TRUST AND GOOD COMMUNICATION

In order to help your partner (in anything, not just mental health) the two of you need to have trust and excellent lines of communication. Talking about mental health, admitting that there’s a problem, and figuring out how to get help can be difficult – your partner won’t be able to do any of that if they don’t trust you.

In the summer, my partner and I go for long walks after dinner. We make a point to disconnect from our phones so that we can engage with each other in a more meaningful way. Sometimes we just talk about our days, or something funny we saw, and sometimes it’s more serious. In the winter we cuddle up on the couch with tea or hot chocolate, put on some music, and chat. We make a point to be with each other (without screens around) daily. These conversations build up trust and communication so that we can make ourselves vulnerable and discuss more sensitive things like mental health.

LEARN THEIR TRIGGERS

For many mental health problems there are triggers — things that set off a person’s condition — and once you learn what your partner’s triggers are, you can be better prepared to help them. For example, my partner works in law enforcement and struggles with PTSD. He’s much better than he was five years ago, but it still crops up now and again.

When we first got together, we sat down and discussed his triggers. His triggers are working too many hours, drinking, not being able to go to the gym or study martial arts regularly, and not sleeping enough. Once I knew what his triggers were, I knew what to look for. So, if I notice that he hasn’t slept enough, or hasn’t made time to go to the gym, I point it out. Understanding his triggers helps ensure that there are two of us looking out for him and making sure that he’s okay.

HAVE PATIENCE

Having good mental health is not a contest that you win. You can’t just achieve it and never have to deal with it again. It’s a process that will sometimes be great, and other times won’t be. One of the best things that you can do for your partner is have patience.

Mental health is like climbing a mountain, only to fall down it and have to climb it again. There will be times that your partner’s journey will frustrate you because they’re covering the same ground again and again, but you need to have patience — they’re already struggling and they don’t need anything from you but support.

A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE

It’s almost become a cliché, but eating right, getting enough sleep, and exercising are three key things that you can do to help your partner with their mental health (and your overall health as well). Your body needs these three things to function properly, and when you deprive yourself of them, you suffer.

One of the ways that you can help your partner is by developing good health habits (like these). If you’re not a great cook, take a cooking class together so you can both learn. If you don’t exercise enough, commit to going for a walk after dinner, or sign up together at a gym or fitness class. Sleep, I find, is the thing that can be the most easily neglected, so set an alarm to remind yourself to go to bed, and start winding down together — maybe you read for twenty minutes in bed, maybe you chat about plans for the weekend, or cuddle. Get into the habit of enjoying going to sleep.

Being supportive when your partner struggles with mental health can seem daunting, but once you talk about it, and learn how you can help, it’s simply just another way that you can be there for them. It is important to remember, however, that you are not your partner’s saviour, and sometimes being supportive can mean talking to them about getting professional help. The key is to always keep their trust, and work together to maintain healthy habits and a happy relationship.

happy woman

How To Be Happy

Behavioral scientists have spent a lot of time studying what makes us happy (and what doesn’t). We know happiness can predict health and longevity, and happiness scales can be used to measure social progress and the success of public policies. But happiness isn’t something that just happens to you. Everyone has the power to make small changes in our behavior, our surroundings and our relationships that can help set us on course for a happier life.

Happiness often comes from within. Learn how to tame negative thoughts and approach every day with optimism.

Conquer Negative Thinking
All humans have a tendency to be a bit more like Eeyore than Tigger, to ruminate more on bad experiences than positive ones. It’s an evolutionary adaptation — over-learning from the dangerous or hurtful situations we encounter through life (bullying, trauma, betrayal) helps us avoid them in the future and react quickly in a crisis.

But that means you have to work a little harder to train your brain to conquer negative thoughts. Here’s how:

Don’t try to stop negative thoughts. Telling yourself “I have to stop thinking about this,” only makes you think about it more. Instead, own your worries. When you are in a negative cycle, acknowledge it. “I’m worrying about money.” “I’m obsessing about problems at work.”

Treat yourself like a friend. When you are feeling negative about yourself, ask yourself what advice would you give a friend who was down on herself. Now try to apply that advice to you.

Challenge your negative thoughts. Socratic questioning is the process of challenging and changing irrational thoughts. Studies show that this method can reduce depression symptoms. The goal is to get you from a negative mindset (“I’m a failure.”) to a more positive one (“I’ve had a lot of success in my career. This is just one setback that doesn’t reflect on me. I can learn from it and be better.”) Here are some examples of questions you can ask yourself to challenge negative thinking.

First, write down your negative thought, such as “I’m having problems at work and am questioning my abilities.”

Then ask yourself: “What is the evidence for this thought?”
“Am I basing this on facts? Or feelings?”
“Could I be misinterpreting the situation?”
“How might other people view the situation differently?
“How might I view this situation if it happened to someone else?”

The bottom line: Negative thinking happens to all of us, but if we recognize it and challenge that thinking, we are taking a big step toward a happier life.

Controlled Breathing
Science is just beginning to provide evidence that the benefits of this ancient practice are real. Studies have found, for example, that breathing practices can help reduce symptoms associated with anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and attention deficit disorder. For centuries yogis have used breath control, or pranayama, to promote concentration and improve vitality. Buddha advocated breath-meditation as a way to reach enlightenment.

Try it.

Rewrite Your Story
Writing about oneself and personal experiences — and then rewriting your story — can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness. (We already know that expressive writing can improve mood disorders and help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, among other health benefits.)

Some research suggests that writing in a personal journal for 15 minutes a day can lead to a boost in overall happiness and well-being, in part because it allows us to express our emotions, be mindful of our circumstances and resolve inner conflicts.Or you can take the next step and focus on one particular challenge you face, and write and rewrite that story.

We all have a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves.But sometimes our inner voice doesn’t get it right. By writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of our personal well-being. The process is similar to Socratic questioning (referenced above). Here’s a writing exercise:

1. Write a brief story about your struggle. I’m having money problems. I am having a hard time making friends in a new city. I’m never going to find love. I’m fighting with my spouse.

2. Now write a new story from the viewpoint of a neutral observer, or with the kind of encouragement you’d give a friend.

-Money is a challenge but you can take steps to get yourself into financial shape.
-Everyone struggles in their first year in a new city. Give it some time. Join some groups.
-Don’t focus on finding love. Focus on meeting new people and having fun. The rest will follow.
-Couples argue. Here’s what your situation looks like to a neutral observer.

Numerous studies show that writing and rewriting your story can move you out of your negative mindset and into a more positive view of life. “The idea here is getting people to come to terms with who they are, where they want to go,” said James Pennebaker, a psychology professor at the University of Texas who has pioneered much of the research on expressive writing. “I think of expressive writing as a life course correction.”

Get Moving
When people get up and move, even a little, they tend to be happier than when they are still. A study that tracked the movement and moods of cellphone users found that people reported the most happiness if they had been moving in the past 15 minutes than when they had been sitting or lying down. Most of the time it wasn’t rigorous activity but just gentle walking that left them in a good mood. Of course, we don’t know if moving makes you happy or if happy people just move more, but we do know that more activity goes hand-in-hand with better health and greater happiness.

Practice Optimism
Optimism is part genetic, part learned. Even if you were born into a family of gloomy Guses, you can still find your inner ray of sunshine. Optimism doesn’t mean ignoring the reality of a dire situation. After a job loss, for instance, many people may feel defeated and think, “I’ll never recover from this.” An optimist would acknowledge the challenge in a more hopeful way, saying, “This is going to be difficult, but it’s a chance to rethink my life goals and find work that truly makes me happy.”

And thinking positive thoughts and surrounding yourself with positive people really does help. Optimism, like pessimism, can be infectious. So make a point to hang out with optimistic people.

Article by: Tara Parker Pope, New York Times

Father and son

Stressed and Anxious? Here’s How to Stay Emotionally Healthy

“Health is not just about what you’re eating. It’s also about what you’re thinking and saying.”

A virus is spreading across the globe. Schools are shut down. People are out of work. Grocery stores are empty.

Weddings, graduations, vacations, a day in court—canceled.

This is the ultimate test in emotional resilience.

Uncertainty is one of the main reasons we stress, along with a lack of control, and right now we’ve got it in truckloads. I’ve spent the last decade building my mental and emotional resilience to stress and adversity, and yet fighting off the anxiety is still a challenge.

I’m putting all the tools in my toolbox to good use.

And they are working. So I want to share these tools with you.

1. Talk to someone, but limit the bitching.

It can be cathartic to share with others the fear, panic, and challenges we’re experiencing. It makes us feel not alone. It validates our feelings and makes us feel connected. So talk to someone about what is stressing you out right now.

But set a time limit to focus on the negative. Maybe ten or twenty minutes each to share. Then it’s time to change the conversation.

Here are some cues:

What is going right?
What are you proud of yourself for?
What are you grateful for?
What are you looking forward to?
Despite the hardships, how are you coping?
How can you encourage and praise your friend?
When we only focus on the negative, we forget what is going well and then all we can see is the bad.

I also find it incredibly helpful to notice how differently my body feels when I’m complaining, angry, and blaming than it does when I’m grateful and optimistic. One feels tight, hot, and heavy. The other feels lighter, looser, and freer.

And as I listen to my husband, mother, or friends share their pain with me, I always make it a point when they are done to change the conversation and ask them what’s going good. I can hear the tone in their voice change as they bring their thoughts to the positive.

2. Be generous.

This doesn’t need to be a gift of money!

It can be a roll of toilet paper. It can be an hour Facetiming your grandmother who is held up in her nursing home with no visitors right now. It can be offering to pick up and drop off groceries for a neighbor or making them a plate of enchiladas.

I have a three-month-old and am blessed with an ample supply of breastmilk, so donating some of my freezer stash costs me nothing, but can mean so much for a needy mother and child right now.

Generosity can even come in the form of well wishes or prayers for others dealing with difficult times.

Giving is scientifically proven to be good for your emotional health.

It activates regions of the brain “associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a ‘warm glow’ effect. It releases endorphins in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the ‘helper’s high.’”

Giving has been linked to the release of oxytocin, a hormone that induces feelings of warmth, euphoria, and connection to others.

It’s been shown to decrease stress, which not only feels better, but lowers your blood pressure and other health problems caused by stress.

What can you give right now?

3. Take a mental break.

It’s so easy to get stuck in mental go-mode all our waking hours. Especially since our brains crave being busy or entertained.

Even when we rest, we flip through Facebook, watch TV, or daydream.

These past few weeks I haven’t been making the time to take my mental breaks. I usually meditate daily, but with a baby who doesn’t yet have an eating and sleeping schedule, plus with all the extra stresses right now, I’ve not given my mind a break!

So I could feel the anxiety creeping in. It started in the body. I felt the tension in my muscles. My jaw was tight. Breathing was shallow. And I was irritable!

I know it’s time for a mental break when something as simple as my husband leaving another towel on the banister makes me want to file for divorce. (Or end up on an episode of Dateline!)

So I put my husband on baby duty, ran on the treadmill trying to focus on my breath and not my to-do list, took a shower, and brought my attention to the warm water instead of worry over how I will get clients. Then I meditated for fifteen minutes zoning in on my breath every time my thoughts turned to worry over daycare and the coronavirus.

I felt like I’d washed my brain. The tension was gone, my mind was clear, and I no longer wanted to strangle my husband.

From our anxious place, we catastrophize as we spin out in our negativity bias. All we can see is the negative.

We need these mental breaks to create space from these ruminating thoughts. We need to hit the reset button.

A mental break is taking anywhere from thirty seconds to thirty minutes to consciously turn our attention inward, away from outside influence, as well as our flow of thoughts.

We can’t stop the flow of thoughts, but we can notice when they’ve taken our attention, and purposefully redirect that attention to something in the present moment like the breath, a mantra or sound, or a visualization.

Here are a few ways to take that mental break:

Breathwork
Meditation
Time in nature
Walking, exercise, or dancing
Practicing mindfulness
Listening to music
Simple mental break breathing:

Start with a re-calibrating big, big inhale, hold it, and breathe out all the way.
Now breathe in slowly to the count of four, then hold for a second.
When you hold, hear the silence between the breaths.
Then breathe out to the count of four and hold for a second at the bottom.
When you hold, feel your mind clearing as you listen for the space between inhale and exhale.
Repeat until you feel relaxed.

4. Allow all the feels.

This stress and anxiety feel terrible. And it can be hard to muster up the strength and will to try out some of the items on this list to make yourself feel better.

That’s okay.

But what tends to happen is we want to run from the discomfort, try to suppress it with distraction like TV or social media, or numb it with wine, food, or drugs.

It’s normal to want to avoid pain. We’re naturally geared to avoid it. However, when we block this pain from flowing, when we don’t allow ourselves to feel our emotions, they get stuck.

Emotions are energy in motion. If you stop it, it just bottles up. It doesn’t disappear.

Try this exercise to allow your emotions to flow:

Take a moment to close your eyes and sit in a quiet space or block out distraction as best you can.
Take a deep breath in and slowly breathe out.
Notice the physical feelings of stress. Where are you holding it in your body? What does it feel like?
On your next exhale, release as much tension as you can.
Repeat:
“I am allowing these feelings to be present.”
“I let these feelings flow through me.”
“These feelings are causing me no harm.”
Now scan your body starting from your head, jaw and neck. Shoulders and hips. Down your legs and feet. Release any tension you find along the way.
Once you’ve allowed these feelings to exist and flow, the following tool is a fantastic next step toward emotional health.

5. Express gratitude.

We humans have a natural negativity bias. It’s a mechanism in place designed with the intention of keeping us safe.

Being on the lookout for danger, in theory, might be a better tactic to keep us alive than ignoring any signs of danger for the sake of focusing on pleasantries. Like being on alert for a mountain lion instead of enjoying a bed of flowers.

But 99 percent of the time, or more, our lives are not in imminent danger. Yet the negativity bias remains.

As it turns out, much like generosity, gratitude is also scientifically proven to be good for our emotional health.

It’s shown that people who express gratitude are more optimistic and feel better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercise more and have fewer visits to physicians than those who focus on sources of aggravation.

In some studies, it’s also shown people immediately exhibiting a huge increase in happiness scores, as well as improved relationships.

Here are some ways to express gratitude:

Write a thank-you note or email
Thank someone mentally
Try a gratitude journal
Pray or meditate on something you are grateful for

6. Ask for help if you need it.

I am so proud of our communities coming together, staying home, helping each other out. If there is something you need, there are whole groups of people ready and willing to help a stranger out. I see it all day on my Facebook feed, people offering up formula or diapers, services to drop off food, or offering homeschooling tools and advice.

Thankfully, this pandemic has come during a time of advanced technological capabilities, allowing us all to connect digitally.

Doctors, teachers and coaches are now available online. From the comfort of your socially distant home, you can find help right at your fingertips.

Ask. It doesn’t make you look weak. You aren’t impositioning anyone. People inherently like to be helpful.

Especially if you need help dealing with the anxiety of our current situation. We don’t make good decisions coming from a place of fear. Now more than ever it is essential to have emotional resiliency to get through this tough time and come out the other end whole and ready to move forward.

We’ll get through this. Together, even though we’re physically apart. Wishing you much love, luck, and light on your journey.

Article By: Sandy Wosnicki of Tiny Buddha

mental health

How to Re-Wire Your Brain for Better Relationships

“For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks; the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.” ~Rainer Maria Rilke

I was eight years old when my father and I somehow ended up in a heated, verbal struggle. I don’t remember what we were fighting about, but I remember that he was yelling at me.

I already knew by then that my father didn’t deal well with anger. It wasn’t uncommon for him to explode into fits of rage. I don’t know what I had done this time that had gotten him so upset, but I must have felt that he was being unfair. As he turned his back on me to walk away, I blurted out, “I hate you!”

It’s not an uncommon thing for a kid to say in the heat of anger, because kids haven’t yet learned how to cope with strong emotions. If you’re a parent, you know what I’m talking about.

My father didn’t respond. In fact, he didn’t say anything to me at all for several days. He gave me the silent treatment. He ignored all of my attempts to get his attention or to try to reconnect with him. He acted as if I didn’t exist.

I felt alone, sad, guilty, and scared. As you can imagine, for a child of eight, it was excruciating to be shut off from him. And that wasn’t the only time my dad punished me with silence.

Obviously, my father wasn’t a good role model for helping me to deal with anger constructively. If he had been, he might have asked me what was upsetting me and would have helped me figure out my feelings. At the very least, he might have apologized for getting so angry.

Instead, he responded in a way that was anxiety-provoking, guilt-inducing, and painful. His tendency to act in this way made an indelible impression on me and my nervous system that I have struggled with for much of my life. The message I got was clear: Anger is bad and dangerous to a relationship; it brings disdain, loss of approval, and abandonment.

It’s not that my father didn’t love me. I know now that he loved me very much. But he had a really hard time managing his emotions. This came from his own early experiences in his family where he learned the very same thing that he ended up teaching me.

During our volatile exchange, I’m sure something deep in his brain had gotten triggered and had gotten the best of him. Some old unprocessed feelings came up, and caused him to withdraw and shut down.

At the time, he didn’t understand what kind of damage his reaction was causing. He was actually doing the best he knew how. Fortunately, he’s grown and changed a lot since then and so have I.

But that kind of treatment affected the way my brain got wired. I grew up feeling anxious about feelings of anger. If I felt angry with someone important to me, I worried that if I spoke up or asserted myself, they would abandon me.

In my adult relationships, any sign of conflict with a partner, friend, or authority figure made me scared that something bad would happen, that I’d be punished in some way, rejected, or abandoned. In romantic relationships, I worried that I would lose our relationship if anything challenging came up.

As soon as anger arose in some way, my nervous system would respond as though I was in danger. I’d feel anxious and panicky. I’d question my feelings and inevitably I’d rationalizing away whatever was bothering me. I avoided the discomfort of honoring my emotions and talking to the other person about how I felt.

My adult relationships followed a typical pattern: They would start out with a lot of happiness and excitement, but as they continued, I’d start to feel anxious, worried, unsure, especially whenever there was any sign of conflict. I felt conflicted about my feelings and had a hard time working with them.

Every relationship has times when partners get angry or upset, and in healthy relationships, the partners can find a way to constructively deal with their emotions and talk it out with one another. But that was not a part of my software. I’d avoid having uncomfortable conversations, I’d repress my feelings, and I’d hide how I really felt.

As a result, I would often wonder why I felt so disconnected to other people. I would keep busy with my work, school, going to the gym and other activities just so I wouldn’t have to slow down and feel my real feelings.

Of course, none of this was apparent to me at the time. It was just how I’d been wired. It took many years before I understood what was going on.

Eventually a skilled and compassionate therapist helped me see how much anxiety was affecting my experience, that I was shutting myself off from my certain feelings because they felt threatening. I had been taught that strong emotions–particularly anger—were dangerous and would result in abandonment and rejection.

Now, many years later, I have a happy twenty-two-year marriage to my husband, Tim, and I’m a therapist, writer, coach, and speaker. Though I still sometimes feel that old wiring trying to take control, I’ve developed some skills to manage the anxiety or fear that can get stirred up when something is off between us or when conflict arises.

I see many clients who struggle with similar issues in their relationships. They feel excited to start out with their new romance, but as the relationship goes on, they start to struggle, they feel disconnected, shut down, or they and their partners fight a lot, or respond in ways that don’t support the health of their relationship.

They often ask me: why is this so hard?

I’ve learned that, while our specific relationship problems may be different, the underlying issue for most of us is the same.

At the core of our struggles, underneath many layers of conflict and complaints, is a fear of being emotionally present and authentic in our relationships. We’re afraid of truly expressing our feelings in a vulnerable way. We worry that the other person won’t like us or want to be with us if we tell them what’s really going on for us.

But why are we afraid of being emotionally present in our relationships?

The short answer is that—as you saw in the story about my dad and me—our adult brains are still operating on wiring that was created in the first few years of our lives. Depending on what our caretakers taught us about how to function in close relationships, we may have learned some unhealthy coping mechanisms.

If you struggle with painful romantic relationships (or even troubled relationships in general) as I have, you may be experiencing the effects of “faulty wiring.” You may have learned ways to cope with your emotions that don’t serve you anymore.

Luckily, there are ways to “re-wire” your brain for better relationships.

The first step is to understand what you learned about expressing your emotions when you were a child. Take some time to respond to these questions (separately for each parent or caregiver):

  • How did your parent(s) respond to your feelings?
  • Were they generally open, attentive, and responsive to your feelings?
  • Did they get uncomfortable or anxious when you expressed your feelings or certain feelings in particular (e.g., anger, sadness, fear, joy, and the like)?
  • Did they get distracted or seem to ignore certain feelings?
  • Were some feelings okay and others not? If so, which feelings were welcomed, and which weren’t?
  • Did they get irritated, frustrated, or angry at times when you expressed certain feelings?
  • Did they apologize when they hurt your feelings or reacted in an unhelpful way?
  • How did they respond when you were afraid or feeling vulnerable?
  • How did they respond when you were angry and asserted yourself?
  • How did they respond when you were affectionate and loving?
  • Could you rely on them to be there for you emotionally when you needed them?
  • Overall, how did it feel for you to share your vulnerable feelings with them?

Now think about whether your answers to these questions reminds you of your romantic relationships in any way. Do you ever see yourself acting in similar ways to one of your parents or caregivers when particular feelings arise in your relationship? Does your partner ever act in similar ways? If you’re in a relationship now and your partner is willing, ask them to answer these questions about their parents as well.

See if you can identify any patterns in how you both share and react to different emotions in one another.

If you’re not currently in a relationship, think about past relationships, especially particularly difficult ones.

After you get a sense of what lessons you may have learned about how to express emotions (or not) with people close to you, you’ll be in a better place to learn new ways of reacting.

Here are some tips for growing your capacity to be emotionally mindful and present when you get triggered by your feelings. .

1. Recognize and name.

When you feel a strong emotion, you may have been triggered by old wiring. You may feel out of control in your response, which is why some people say, “I don’t know what came over me!” when they get really upset.

The first step in regaining control of your emotions is to learn to identify the ones that most often trigger you. Practice observing yourself when you feel those challenging emotions. Name them as they come up. You might even want to write down the emotions that are difficult for you to cope with. This step takes a lot of practice, but it gets easier the more you do it.

2. Stop, drop, and stay.

When we feel triggered, upset, and uncomfortable, we often want to escape that emotion. We may get irritable, yell or criticize, walk away, shut ourselves in our room, or numb ourselves out.

But in order to practice being mindful of your emotions, you’ll need to learn how to stay with them and ride them out. Rather than doing what you normally do when you have those feelings, stop. Pay attention to how the emotion feels in your body. Describe it. Ask it what it’s there to teach you. You may even want to write or draw it so you can become familiar and comfortable with it.

The point is to look at it, stay with, and learn about it.

3. Pause and reflect.

When we’re in a conflict, we often feel like there’s no choice between the time we feel the strong emotion (such as anger, rage, hatred, or fear) and our response to it (yelling, becoming violent, shutting down, or running away).

But in reality, by stretching the space between the feelings arising and responding, we can create some room in which we can chose how best to respond.

So, practice feeling the challenging emotion and not responding right away. If you normally lash out with an angry statement when your partner says or does something you dislike, practice doing something else. Tell your partner you need a moment. Breathe deeply and slowly which will help to calm your nervous system. Go for a walk. Whatever you need to do to calm your distress and choose a more helpful response.

The more often you do this, the easier it will get to make better choices.

In this space that you create, reflect on what you’re feeling underneath the reactivity. If you’re feeling like lashing out, what’s underneath that? If you’re angry that your partner forgot to call you on your birthday, is there more to it? Are you feeling hurt, disappointed, or afraid of losing a sense of connection with them? Does it feel familiar? Might it be linked to feelings you had when you were a child?

Explore the emotion. Give yourself time to figure out what you’re really feeling, what you want, what you desire, and what you’d like to happen in that situation.

4. Mindfully relate your feelings.

Once you know what it is you’re really feeling and what you’d like to happen, try relating that in a calm and open way to your partner. If your partner forgot to call you, rather than yell that she doesn’t really care about you at all, maybe you can say, “I’m realizing that I feel hurt that you didn’t call me. I worry that you don’t really care about me. I would like to understand what happened.”

This will help you and your partner connect with one another, open yourselves up to one another in a more authentic way, and share your true feelings and experiences. This way, you are less likely to fall into old patterns where you may trigger one another and cause each other pain.

By being vulnerable, open, and unafraid to express your true self, you’ll connect better to your romantic partner and you can develop a better understanding of what you want in your relationship.

I speak from experience. Once I learned how to better express my emotions and what they were saying to me, I decided that I wanted a partner who would be willing to do that as well. I made the painful decision to end a 5-year relationship I’d been in which was full of conflict and, on a deep level, I knew wasn’t all that I longed for.

But in doing so, in listening to and trusting my feelings, I was able to move forward and eventually meet my husband, with whom I’ve found the space disentangle myself from my old wiring and have a healthier, satisfying relationship. To love and be loved like I mean it.

Article By: Ron Frederick of Tiny Buddha
Man dealing with stress and anxiety and depression

How to Recognize Painful Emotional Triggers and Stop Reacting in Anger

“Where there is anger, there is always pain underneath.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

There I was again, regretting the spiteful words that had cascaded out of my mouth during a heated argument with my partner.

I felt that old familiar feeling, the burning in my solar plexus that bubbled up and erupted like a volcano, spilling out expressions of anger, blame, and criticism.

It had been a rocky few months, my partner was struggling to find consistent work, and our credit card debt was on the rise. Suddenly anger kicked in and I lashed out, accusing him of slacking off and guilting him about me being the only one working.

As the words spilled from my mouth, I knew deep down that what I was saying was hurtful and untrue. I could see that my partner was trying his best , but my anger had taken over, causing suffering that I would later regret.

This was a familiar pattern for me. I’ve frequently reacted emotionally, without understanding why, and caused suffering to myself and my partner and chaos in our relationship. I spent the next few days beating myself up about my reaction and wondering, why do I never seem to learn?

Though I wasn’t self-aware in that particular moment, I know that anger is our body’s response to a perceived threat. It triggers the body’s fight-or-flight response. Our heart rate increases, we become tense, and adrenaline, our stress hormone, releases, so we often spiral into reaction mode in order to protect ourselves.

Although we tend to view anger in negative light, I have come to learn that anger itself is a valid emotion, just like happiness or sadness. And it does, in fact, serve a valid purpose. Anger sends a message to our body and brain that something painful within us has been triggered and is asking to be acknowledged. In many cases, it signals that there is something much deeper, a wound that brings up vulnerability and pain.

We need to take a step back, go inward, and begin to explore where the triggers for these behaviors and reactions stem from.

Growing up, we are conditioned to behave in certain ways based on our environment and circumstances.

As children, certain behaviors are ingrained in us from our family and peers. We learn to mimic those around us—for example, how they communicate and respond to one another—and over time we implement those behaviors as our own. Not only do we mimic their behaviors; we also take on their fears and beliefs. Then, when something triggers these fears and beliefs, we react in order to protect ourselves.

When I began delving into the root cause of my reactions around finances, it surprised me to learn of the deep conditioning I had been living through my parents’ stories about money.

When I was growing up, my parents often struggled to make ends meet and were under a lot of financial pressure.

They did their best to protect my brother and me, attempting to not let their financial stress impact our lives. But the truth is, we cannot help but be conditioned by our environment. Unconsciously, we pick up on our parents’ energy and develop certain coping mechanisms and patterns that become deeply ingrained as we continue to carry them through life.

When I was able to look past the anger around my own financial insecurities, I discovered deep fears and vulnerability.

I was living with the painful belief that my partner and I would always struggle financially, that we would not be able to get by and would experience the same hardships that my parents did. This story was interwoven through my family, going back even further to when my grandparents and great grandparents lived through extreme poverty in Eastern Europe. This conditioning was so much deeper than I could ever imagine.

Identifying where these beliefs stemmed from gave me the insight to take a look at the bigger picture and understand the painful stories I had taken on as my own. It allowed me to take responsibility for my own destructive patterns. I was beginning to see how my reactions were triggered by an unconscious fear out of a need for survival.

Your triggers might be completely different, and they may pertain more to pain from your childhood than inherited beliefs and fears. For example, if your parents regularly shamed you for mistakes when you were a kid, you might react defensively whenever someone points out an area where you have room for improvement. Or, if you felt ignored growing up, you may have a knee-jerk reaction whenever someone can’t spend time with you.

The problem is, our conditioning is so deeply ingrained within us that we are not even aware of our reactions most of the time. They just become an automatic response. We cannot always recognize that we are simply replaying old patterns over and over again. We tend to blame external circumstances or others for causing our suffering.

We play the victim without realizing that we ourselves are the ones causing the drama and the pain around us.

I was at a point in my life where I need to make a choice: continue living my old patterns, which were causing negative reactions and suffering, or take responsibility and ask myself, “What is underneath my anger? What is the root cause of my suffering?”

When you look back to your past to understand your triggers, it will feel uncomfortable and challenging at times. But when you are able to sit with your emotions and delve a little deeper, you start breaking through your conditioned patterns and behaviors and set yourself free.

The only way forward is by choosing to do the work to get there.

It’s important to understand that our conditioning came from many years of reinforcing these old beliefs, so it is no surprise that change won’t happen overnight. We need be kind to ourselves through this process instead of judging ourselves and our mistakes, or beating ourselves up if we fall along the way. Each step we take brings us closer to breaking old patterns and forming new, positive ones.

So where to begin?

These are some techniques that have helped me on my journey toward breaking old patterns.

1. Don’t react; pause.

When you experience that old familiar feeling of anger or frustration bubbling up inside you, don’t react. Instead of erupting like a volcano pouring out hurtful words and reactions, try pausing for a moment.

Take some space to reflect and name the emotions that surface—maybe fear, resentment, shame, or desperation—and explore underneath the anger. Ask yourself, “What was triggered for me at this time?”

Don’t try to overanalyze the situation; just sit with the emotions and see what arises. Do you feel vulnerable or powerless, or a sense of sadness, betrayal, or fear?

2. How does it feel in your body?

Ask yourself, “Where do these emotions sit in my body? What are the sensations they present?”

Once again, don’t overanalyze; just sit with the bodily sensations. Maybe you feel heat in your solar plexus or an aching in your heart. These sensations are asking for your acknowledgement; send them love.

3. Identify your go-to response.

Ask yourself, “How would I usually respond in this situation?” Maybe you would react by shouting, trying to push someone’s buttons, or become defensive.

Take the time to recognize your usual response and sit with it for a moment. Identify how this response may cause pain and suffering to yourself and others.

4. Reflect.

Ask yourself, “Am I acting from a place of love and kindness?”

By asking yourself this you take the focus off blaming others or the situation, you take responsibility for your own actions, and you reclaim your personal power.

By taking responsibility you are then able to consciously choose how you respond to any given situation. Remember, you don’t have control over how other people respond, but you do have 100 percent control over your response, and if it causes joy or suffering.

5. Practice awareness.

Remember you are acting out a conditioned behavior; it is your automatic response. When you practice awareness by identifying conditioned behaviors, you begin to take the power away from the old patterns and create space to form new positive ones.

It’s like rewriting your story. You have the power to recreate your story and transform old patterns into ones that serve you and align with your true essence and purpose in life.

6. Be kind to yourself.

Your conditioned responses and behaviors are your defense mechanisms, the coping strategies you learned to protect yourself in the world.

Acknowledge that you’ve always done your best based on what you learned growing up, and you’re now doing your best to change. If you struggle, treat yourself with kindness and compassion. It’s okay to make mistakes, don’t beat yourself up. Remember, every step you take brings you closer to personal freedom.

You may find it helpful to keep a journal to reflect on the above points when your old destructive patterns emerge. Journaling has been my savior during this process.

These techniques empowered me to recognize conditioned patterns and behaviors that were holding me back. They’ve also enabled me to communicate and connect with others positively and effectively. It’s not always easy to identify when you are acting out an old behavior, but the more you practice awareness when situations trigger you, the easier it will become to break these old patterns.

Article by: Erin Grace of Tiny Buddha