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Tis the season to be…exhausted???

It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year.  The holidays bring us special opportunities to come together with our loved ones and create precious memories together.  But with the hustle and bustle of the holidays, we can quickly become overwhelmed with the many festivities and commitments the season brings. With a bit of self-care however, you can enjoy the holiday season without overextending yourself!
Remember to rest!
Many times we commit to attend many if not all the holiday events we are invited to.  Suddenly, what should be a joyous time, can feel more like a burden.  You may find it helpful to schedule in some “down” time in between the parties and festivities.  Take this time to rejuvenate yourself.  A few great ways to refuel may include taking a brisk walk, journaling, do stretching exercises, take a power nap, or watch your favorite holiday movie. 
Cheers to your health!
The holidays are traditionally a time of gathering with those we love to share in the spirit of the season. These gatherings aren't complete without endless supplies of baked gooey goods, delectable desserts, and comfort casseroles!  Before you know it, you’re having pecan pie for breakfast and an array of cookies for dinner!  Don’t worry, it’s not too late to find a balance.  Instead of candy, perhaps grab a handful of almonds for a quick protein snack.  Enjoy the scrumptious holiday meals while being mindful of portion control. And burn off some of those extra calories with a walk around the neighborhood with those you love.
Mindfulness Matters!
This special time of year does not come without its share of stress and perhaps a bit of tension.  Using these few easy tips can ensure you will maintain your mental health during the holidays.  Deep breathing exercises are a wonderful way to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, increase blood flow, and release toxins from the body.  Remember to “smell the roses” and “blow out the candles” to ensure your breathing is deep and meaningful! 
Pick and Choose!
Avoiding conflict will also aid in reducing stress and lowering any anxiety.  If problems arise, be mindful to collaborate together, rather than attacking one another. Use effective listening skills, and stay solution- focused.  By acknowledging your feelings, setting healthy boundaries, and expressing your needs and desires effectively, your holidays with loved ones can be both enjoyable and meaningful.
Loneliness and Depression?
Lastly, the holidays can often bring up emotions surrounding feelings of loneliness and loss.  One way to feel connected during the holiday season is to volunteer to serve those in your community.  You may enjoy serving others at a holiday luncheon, or pass out gifts to those in need.  Studies show that giving back to others reduces stress, decreases risk of depression, improves your self-esteem, and improves mood! 

From our hearts to yours, have a bless holiday season. May you show yourself kindness and compassion as you create precious memories to last a lifetime.

Talking to Your Children About Violence

Violence – our children are bombarded with it every day, both real and fictional media violence. A mass shooting in a school or local shopping area, a police shooting, bullying, tv, movies and video games – violence surrounds them. It is important to address the issue of violence in our
society with our children.

For parents of children in school, there is no way to prevent them from hearing about the violence that is happening in our country and world. It is important to take the initiative in talking to your children about violence. When preparing for this conversation, learn as much as possible about the impact of violence in our society. You will want to tailor your conversation to the age of your children and to what they already know is happening. Teachers may be discussing current events in school. Your teenagers may be hearing about violent incidents on social media. They may be listening while you listen to the news. As a parent, you need to be asking your children about what they have been hearing in the news, in the classroom or from their friends. Then you may direct the conversation to what concerns or fears your children may be experiencing.

We want our children to feel their world is safe, but they know there is violence everywhere around them. Balance your discussion of the dangers in society with the ways in which they can reduce their chances of experiencing violence. Discuss actions you have taken to keep them safe in your home. What are steps their school has taken to ensure their safety? How can they protect themselves if something happens at home or school?

Media violence has become more graphic. You have several options for dealing with it. Consider limiting the amount of media exposure your children have. Perhaps you may want to
set limits on what and/or how much your children can watch on tv or the video games they can play. Make sure they are age appropriate. Take time to watch programs and movies with your children so you know what they are seeing and hearing. Discuss the subject matter with them. Young children especially have a hard time understanding the difference between reality and the fantasy they see on the screen. Help them understand the difference. Explain why there are things they see on tv, in movies, and in video games that wouldn’t or shouldn’t happen in real life.

These are tough subjects to discuss. It is easy to become overly emotional and angry about the violence that seems to be impacting so much of our lives. But your children need to see you being able to stay calm and in control. This will help your children feel more secure, less anxious, and learn how they too can keep control over their feelings when facing difficult situations.

If violence is affecting your child’s peace of mind despite your discussions, don’t be afraid to seek help for them. Are they showing signs of anxiety, grief, or fear about their safety that isn’t letting up? Perhaps they are experiencing physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches. Have they displayed a reluctance to go to school or take part in their usual activities? If so, don’t put off seeking professional help.

Why Is It So Hard To Ask For Help?

Feel Better, Live Better
Why Is It So Hard To Ask For Help?
By Tammy Kennedy, LPC, LADAC

Why is it so hard to ask for help…It shouldn’t be, should it? When did it become so hard, anyway? When did that moment in life occur that changed everything so drastically? Suddenly, it wasn’t expected of you, nor was it okay for you, to ask for what you needed anymore. When was that moment when asking for help felt “WRONG”. That may be the very question that brings you into therapy, doing the thing you dare to do – Ask for HELP! In therapeutic circles, we like to call that “reflecting” and “testing boundaries”. Doesn’t that sound better? Of course it does, because the word “help” implies a negative connotation…it implies weakness…it implies vulnerability.
Nobody wants to be viewed as weak or vulnerable. But, “Is vulnerability a weakness…Is asking for help a negative thing?” I see all kinds of people in my practice everyday struggling with difficult life situations that have slammed them to their knees but when I ask them “Who is your go-to- person?” Again, and again, I hear “Nobody”. People struggle alone in their grief…their sadness…their fear…They even struggle alone in their anger. When I ask “Why do you struggle alone…Why don’t you share your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust?” Most often, I hear “I don’t want to appear weak.” When I talk to them about trusting someone enough to be vulnerable – enough to share their innermost thoughts; they’re confused, because they view vulnerability as weakness. Brenè Brown tells us that being vulnerable with someone you trust…someone you love, is an act of courage. Trusting someone enough to share your innermost negative thoughts about yourself and the world around you is a very scary thing to do but, that’s where the healing process begins.
In the therapeutic process, we explore past experiences to discover who/what influenced the development of your thoughts/feelings/beliefs about yourself and your connectedness to others. If your core belief about “self” is negative, you may interrelate with others from a “fear-based response” which may be very offensive, aggressive, critical, or even neglectful. When we react from a fear-based response we often push away the very ones we desire to be connected; we act in ways that sabotage any chance we may have of getting our needs met. Our interactions with others are inappropriate and ineffective, so we feel like a failure. This conflict between “what we want/desire” and what we “believe we deserve” invites shame. Shame invites us into a cycle of self-hate, self-sabotage, and self-defeat, denying ourselves any chance of stepping out to claim happiness, joy, and fulfillment. We don’t see a way out of this insane cycle of shame. We can’t ask for help because we don’t believe we deserve it. We’re – stuck.

So here we are, back at the initial question: Why is it so hard to ask for help? I think Brenè Brown got it right: asking for help…trusting others…being vulnerable…is a very courageous act. Are you courageous enough to step out and ask for help? The First step is always the hardest. We will be here to help make each step thereafter, easier.

Back to School Stress

By Kathy Frick, BS Sociology
Administrative Assistant

Summer has drawn to a close and the school year has begun for most now. That means the stress levels begin to rise for both students and parents. It might be the first year at a new school year bringing on stress and anxiety. For seniors, it may be the stress of having to decide what they will do after they graduate. You may have a child leaving home to begin college. Sports and other extracurricular activities start up again, leaving students trying to juggle homework, activities and maybe a part-time job as well.
Does your child battle social anxiety? Perhaps they lack confidence about their ability to meet the coming year’s academic challenges. Even if your children feel excitement about the new school year, they may still experience anxious feelings as they go thru the transition to new routines. How do you know if you or your children are suffering from too much stress?  Signs might include feelings of anxiety, panic attacks, fatigue, sleeplessness, stomach aches, tension headaches, withdrawal from activities previously enjoyed, or unexplained sadness. Some stress is normal and can be positive, but too much stress is harmful for both the physical and mental health of you and your children.
How can you help your child manage their stress? Talk to them. Help your child learn to recognize the signs of stress and anxiety. Help them make a plan for what to do when they begin to feel anxious about things like homework, their grades or how to fit everything into their day. Make a list of activities they can do when they start feeling stressed. Activities to help relieve stress could include taking a break to pet the cat, calling a friend, walking the dog, physical exercise, and so on. Choose simple, calming activities that are easy to follow through with, but won’t take too much time and create more stress. Make sure they have “un-scheduled” time to relax. Establishing routines can also help ease the stress of trying everything done, such as having their backpack ready, clothes picked out and breakfast planned the night before. You are your child’s best advocate. By knowing how to help them relieve their stress and anxiety you can help them feel good about themselves and to have a successful school year. If your child needs professional help in overcoming stress and anxiety, we have therapists available for your needs.

Fear in Communication

Written by Adam Martin, LPC,
Mental Health and Relationship Counselor

We’ve all been there; we’re having a good day and then we feel the climate unexpectedly shift within our relationship. Why? What happened? What caused the sudden change in emotion from positive to negative? Why did their behavior impact me so much? Should I say something?

These are just a few of the numerous questions that come flooding into our minds as we sense a change. Either a change in our own feelings due to our partner, or when we sense a change in our partner. Along with these questions can come fear; fear about if and how we should deal with it. So the real question becomes: What can I do about that paralyzing fear?

In many relationships, there is an underlying theme of fear in communication. When something happens, one party is playing 20 questions in their mind and seem to more often than not fall into the “play it safe” mentality. This can be for many reasons: you’ve been dealing with some stressful issues lately and don’t want to add to the number of things that need to be addressed; things have been going well lately and you don’t want to derail the progress; you want to avoid an argument; you don’t want to hurt the others’ feelings; you are tired of hearing how “all you do is complain”, or you convince yourself that “talking never works”. For one reason or another we choose day after day to let these changes go unaddressed, but at what cost?

Allowing these issues to go unaddressed can do many things to a relationship, and they are rarely positive. Without immediately realizing it, resentment starts to build, doubt gets infused into the relationship, emotions run higher, irritability and frustration are more easily triggered, and couples start drifting apart. Often times one of the people in the relationship is completely unaware that there is an ever-growing void developing until it has reached critical mass. This means that there is one party in the relationship that feels they are carrying the entire emotional burden alone, thus furthering the buildup of resentment towards the other for not caring, helping, or noticing. In the meantime, the other person ends up feeling stuck due to feeling totally blindsided by this information.

Before things get that far, those questions that seem to have no end, believe it or not, serve a purpose. They are present to alert you to a potential issue before it gets out of hand, much like a “check engine” light for your car. This little light is there to minimize the potential damage to something very valuable and important. When your engine breaks down, it increases the difficulty of day to day functioning much like the fear in communication does the same for your relationship. Yes, you can ignore the light and continue to cruise along day after day, all the while convincing yourself that everything is fine because your engine “seems” fine. But there will be a time you will desperately need your engine and you will start to wonder why it’s not working the way it should.

So how do you address these questions without causing the very thing we are afraid will happen? Here are a few helpful hints that may make it easier: First, there is no rule that requires us to approach, discuss, and solve the problem upon its immediate presence. So, take your time. There is no rush. It is much better to approach issues correctly rather than swiftly. Second, do not give in to fear. This allows you to be in control instead of at the mercy of your emotions. The importance of taking your time to approach the situation will really help here. Eventually the fear will diminish. After taking your time and thinking it over, you can approach the topic with less emotion (frustration, fear, anxiety, etc) thus increasing your chances for success. One of the worst times to address issues is when one or both people involved are emotionally elevated. Last, make sure that you are addressing the situation (behavior) and not the person (your partner). We want our partner to know that the behavior is bothersome and not them as a person. Make sure that you put thought and effort into your approach, being sure to communicate with the right heart and tone. Failing to do so may only reinforce fear in the relationship. If your partner feels loved and supported as a person they can better deal with the
behavior, eventually showing you that there is nothing to fear in communication.

Time of Reflection

Gary Nelson, ICCDP

Program Director and Addiction Counselor

Feel Better, Live Better

It all started when I was 17 years old on a hot July day in the rolling hills of the lake country in northern Minnesota. My best friend and I planned a camping trip on the shores of Long lake located on our family’s farm. I had been trying to deal with the loss of my Mother in an auto accident 2 months earlier. The feelings of loss, grief and trauma were overwhelming. My best friend knew I needed to get away and have some fun as we always had done in the past. But this time it was different. Yes, we went fishing and caught fresh fish for our evening fish fry, and caught and released even more northern pike and walleye. Some swimming in the warm waters and what a great get away it was.

This time it was different. My friend had brought a bottle of blackberry brandy, taken from his older brother as a campfire surprise. Up to this point I had always refused any alcohol or drugs as I was an athlete, good student, went to church, and only swore when I thought no one would hear. But my time had come to say yes to alcohol, what could it hurt, it couldn’t be worse than I had been feeling the past months.

What I found was the answer I had been searching for. My feelings of pain and agony left me. It was great! The warmth and the taste were overpowering. The effect of the alcohol arrived and I knew that this was what I needed to deal with life as presented to me. I laughed and carried on as if I found my old self of being happy, and free of the feelings of loss, grief, and trauma. I knew that if I drank alcohol life would seem tolerable.

That fall I started my freshman year in college and was fortunate to have a great roommate in the athletes’ dorm as I was the freshman athletic trainer. He was the freshman quarterback recruit, a straight shooter, no alcohol or drugs. I had to hide my alcohol use from him. As the year went on I struggled with the loss of my mother, being away from my father and sisters, and trying to focus on education and homework. My drinking was the only way to make it through the college experience and quickly became an almost daily occurrence. It was the only way to keep those feelings of loss, grief and trauma at bay. I was a good person, I only drink some alcohol, I don’t do drugs.

Winter break arrived and I finally made it back home for the Holidays. I thought it would be a reprieve from college life, but I was faced with the strain that other members of my family were also facing. Then on the second night home my father died at home from a heart attack. Those feelings from the past returned stronger than ever. I had to move back home and start classes at the local community college. Alcohol was not as available. How do I deal with this?

I was an athlete, good student, went to church, and only swore when I thought no one would hear and I didn’t do drugs, until now. Within a few short weeks, I was presented the opportunity to try marijuana. What alcohol had done for me earlier that year marijuana could do even better.

The next 27 years were very difficult and my response was to escape by abusing substances. As life continued for me many changes occurred. I worked at jobs, finished college, got married, and had children. One major thing did not change. I continued to use substances to change the way I felt, not being able to cope with the feelings of loss, grief, and trauma I had experienced decades before. After the continued use of substances for almost three decades and not dealing with life as it presents itself to me I had encouragement and support from family and friends to enter a program to address substance use and how to deal with life without using alcohol and drugs.

Fast forward to today. I have now completed twenty years of continuous recovery from substance abuse. This is not just by my efforts, but the efforts of 23.5 million other Americans in long term recovery supporting me. I still spend time in support meetings. I deal with my feeling of loss, grief, and trauma better without using alcohol and drugs. I know this is a disease of addiction and when treated and kept in remission I will continue to be a better person in all the facets of my life. I still enjoy activities as a Father and Grandfather, I go to church and recovery meetings, and I swear less even when I think others won’t hear me. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use issues, please know there is hope for you. Contact: Gary@PinnacleCounselingNWA.com

“Each one of us has walked through storm and fled the wolves along the road; but here the hearth is wide and warm, and for this shelter and this light accept our thanks, O Lord, tonight” — – Sara Teasdale

Coping with High Anxiety, Intrusive Thoughts, and OCD

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can occur in many realms and may lead to serious mental health issues. An obsession is an unwanted, intrusive thought. This type of thought may present itself as an idea, image, impulse, urge, or memory that you experience as unwanted and distressing.

A compulsion is a behavior designed to reduce and avoid the discomfort that comes from your experience of an obsession. The behavior may be physical such as washing or checking or it may be mental such as reviewing or neutralizing. The disorder impairs functioning and reduces quality of life. The lost time attending to your obsessions and compulsions can create obstacles in relationships and difficulties with employment or education.

Everyone has anxious moments and irrational thoughts, but people who are chronically anxious are in a highly sensitive state most of the time. They feel a deep urge to protect and follow their obsessive thoughts even when they don’t make sense. Other stressors that can exacerbate OCD may include: other mental health issues such as depression, bipolar disorder, or personality disorders. Also insomnia, family issues, work issues, financial issues, and medical health issues can heighten the prominent obsession. Our obsessions tend to link to what we care most about.

Common intrusive thoughts include repeated thoughts of hurting self or others. Post partem depression combined with intrusive thoughts leaves new parents feeling isolated. Fear of talking about thoughts leads to more fear of being misunderstood perpetuating a need to isolate and remove self from relationships. This confusion and detachment harms bonding and connectiveness with others. Automatic thoughts do not necessarily result in actions or need for protection, but more likely a need for guidance and support. Trained professionals are able to offer tools to minimize risks and further complications.

The following are some other specific types of OCD. Most OCD sufferers have 2-3 obsessions interfering with behaviors and relationships. Here is a brief outline and description.

Contamination OCD: Washing hands and taking excessively long showers to rid self of illness or germs. Also avoiding contact with surfaces contaminated by known germs.

Responsibility / Checking OCD: A compulsion to check that no irresponsible behavior took place that could lead to a catastrophe – often exemplified by locking doors, checking correspondence and monitoring safety measures excessively.

Harm OCD: Focuses on unwanted, intrusive, violent, or tragic thoughts of harming self or others. This may be heightened in post partem depression.

Sexual Orientation OCD: Is rooted in the fear of not being certain about sexual orientation paired with the fear of never being able to have a relationship with a partner whom you feel genuinely attracted.

Pedophile OCD: Obsessions of being a predator of children that is debilitating to every aspect of functioning due to the most unspeakable thoughts.

Relationship OCD: Difficulty in tolerating uncertainty about the quality of a relationship and genuineness of your feelings.

Scrupulosity OCD: Targets people who place a high value on religion, rules, laws, or existential meaning.

Hyperawareness OCD: Typically involuntary excessive awareness of breathing, blinking, swallowing, sounds, songs, or memories.

As trained therapists at Pinnacle Counseling we are skilled at guiding clients and their families in recognizing obsessive compulsive disorder and making recommendations for reclaiming a healthier life style and increasing quality of life. Some tools to explore are acceptance, mindfulness (staying present in the moment), challenging our thoughts and creating a structured approach to managing compulsions. A medical practitioner may also recommend a pharmaceutical approach. Unwanted thoughts, distorted thinking and compulsive urges don’t need to be overwhelming forever. If you’ve tried different treatment options with little success, don’t lose hope. Call us today 479-268-4 for an appointment.

By Sharon Nelson LCSW

Mental Health and Relationship Counselor