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

Can Stress Be Fatal?

 

Audrey A. Adams LCSW

We’ve all heard the saying, “stress can kill you.” Is that true? Well, as a matter of fact, YES it is! The human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. Stress can be positive, keeping you alert and ready to avoid danger. Stress becomes negative when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation between challenges. As a result, the person becomes overworked, and stress-related tension builds. A Health and Safety Executive states around 9.9 million working days are lost each year to stress, depression, or anxiety. But recognizing stress symptoms may be harder than you think. Most of us are so used to being stressed; we often don’t know we are stressed until we are at the breaking point.

Common symptoms of stress are headache, muscle tension, chest pain, fatigue, stomach upset, excessive worry, and sleep problems. Stress symptoms can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behavior. Being able to recognize common stress symptoms can give you a jump on managing them. Stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Besides these very serious health problems, stress that’s left unchecked can manifest itself in anger, resentment, depression, and anxiety. Stress can interfere with your judgment and cause you to make bad decisions, make you see difficult situations as threatening reducing your enjoyment and making you feel bad, making you feel rejected, unable to laugh, afraid of free time, unable to work, and not willing to process your problems with others. A lot of people turn to drugs and alcohol for immediate relief, but drugs and alcohol quickly turn into more stressors, problems, addictions, and health problems of their own.

In the world we live in today, we not only are concerned with our own personal issues, family problems, employment situations, finances, etc. But, we are bombarded with daily news about extremely scary and violent behavior from thousands of miles away to right in our own backyards. One thing that is in our control is making sure we make time for self-care. Your first thought to hearing that was probably, “I don’t have time,” or “I wish!” But think of this, if you don’t find time to do things for yourself, then who will? No one. As adults it is our job to take care of ourselves the best we can or we may not be around as long as we had hoped.

While most of us would likely prefer to take a cruise, rent a cabin in the woods, or go the beach, it is important to remember when it comes to stress, a little bit really does go a long way. The 10 minutes it takes to drive through Starbucks to buy your $6.00 morning coffee, the 30 minutes spent wandering around the grocery store because you’re not sure what you want, or the extra 15 minutes on the phone talking to someone you don’t even really want to speak with can produce stress. Those precious few minutes add up. Taking small chunks of time for yourself can make a profound difference. You deserve to be as stress free as possible. You have to pick your battles. Is what you are stressing about today going to matter this time next year? Is what you are stressing about today something you can control? Putting yourself first is not selfish. Take a walk, talk to someone you trust, take a bubble bath, go fishing, read a book, get a massage, color, dance, watch a comedy that made you laugh 20 years ago, have a picnic by the creek, fly a kite, leave your phone in the other room, look at old pictures, go barefoot in the back yard, try wood carving… The point is just do something…..but do it for YOU!

 

Why does the Mind/Body connection really matter?

By Terry Richardson, MSW LCSW

Mental Health and Relationship Counselor

PinnacleCounselingNWA.com

Feel Better Live Better- Why does the Mind/Body connection really matter?

 

Worried about being worried sick? Is laughter really the best medicine? Your body may know you’re depressed before you do and doing its best to get your attention. There is growing evidence, supported by research, indicating your mental state really influences your body’s ability to protect and heal itself! In fact, your state of mind could be the best tool you have when defending yourself against illness and maximizing treatment of cancer, heart disease, digestive disorders, diabetes and aging. All of your natural defenses are compromised in response to stress (primarily mental).

Most people have at least heard the term “psychosomatic” which quite literally means “mind/body”. Unfortunately, this term was and is commonly misused when someone is thought to have imagined an illness and can then produce symptoms. In confusion, we generally label and dismiss what could be more accurately described as “hypochondria” and have overlooked the power of the psychosomatic process itself. As Woody Allen said “I’m not a hypochondriac, I’m an alarmist”. Ironically, even this rather negative misunderstanding of psychosomatic also confirms the acceptance of the ability of one’s mind to influence a physical condition. Now, scientific research is validating that possibility: we could use the power of the mind (i.e., thinking) to create optimal conditions for becoming and remaining well.

What makes the mind/body perspective worth reconsidering at this juncture? It is the transition which has been occurring, from the realm of “fuzzy logic”, “magical beliefs” and “spiritual eccentricity”, to the realm of solid measurable data. Consider the placebo and nocebo effect. What are the “placebo effect” and the “nocebo effect”? In the simplest terms, it’s the “sugar pill” effect. It’s the uncanny result that is obtained from a substance, or sometimes a behavior, when none of the “treatment” properties are present to create the desired change, and yet, benefit is derived. The nocebo effect accounts for adopting the “belief” that a substance (or change) won’t work, and it doesn’t! The placebo/nocebo effects are so powerful in fact, that all research conducted must allow for the possibility of these effects in their research data. If science is nothing else, it is the domain of measurability, and its primary mantra is “if it cannot be measured, we cannot know it exists”, therefore, thoughts, emotions, feelings, mind and spirit had been relegated into the arena of unscientific observations. Today however, we live in a world of electron microscopes, functional magnetic resonance imaging, and the previously immeasurable can now be measured, observed and replicated.

Mind/Body interaction had been observed and documented by Hans Selye in his work on stress as early as 1946 and the “General Adaptation Syndrome” became popularly known as the Fight-Flight- Freeze response. Of special note regarding mind/body relevance, the stress experience creating the cascade of measurable physiological responses could be triggered consistently, regardless of the threat being real, imagined or perceived (through a mental interpretation) of danger. The body reacts to stimulus by activating the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. Researchers believe that prolonged exposure to stress (real or imagined) results in suppression of the immune system, wear and tear of several body systems, placing the individual at higher risk of dis-ease. This was the advent of the earliest biofeedback strategies.

Pioneers in the field of mind/body research have expanded on Selye’s work. Researchers and practitioners have emerged from a broad array of disciplines, including cellular biology, neuroimmunology, psychotherapy and spirituality, representing the specific focus of their disciplines, be it mind or body. The unifying premise of these disciplines is an acknowledgement of the fallacy or artificial separation of mind/body interaction.

These individuals have united under a variety of identifying umbrella labels usually incorporating the terms “Holistic or Wholistic”, “Mind/Body” or “Complementary Alternative” Medicine.

So, with an acceptance of the inter-relatedness of the mind/body concept and the availability of sophisticated equipment, it has become possible to identify and measure methods to enhance mind/body interaction. The implications for psychotherapy are obvious and substantiate the value of “talk therapy” as a viable treatment alternative for mental and physical health. The mind/body perspective includes approaches of prevention that are proactive, health maintaining, healing, and driven by the individual. Today, rather than viewing the dis-ease “treatment” as a response, directed toward a passive recipient, we can engage the whole person on a mind/body journey toward wellness. Be well!

Decluttering for the New Year

Most people seek counseling because they don’t like how they feel. Persistent feelings of worry or inadequacy make life difficult. These feelings can support a downward spiral of feeling –> thought –> action that is self reinforcing. I feel bad, so I think I’m bad, so act in ways that reinforce my feelings and thoughts. If you find yourself in one of these cycles, it’s important to break free from it. If you find you can’t, you may want to speak with a professional counselor or therapist.

Surprisingly, clutter may be an excellent point to intervene and break the cycle. Our environment has a powerful influence on our feelings. It’s difficult to change our feelings directly. Most find that they can not think themselves into feeling better. But if we can successfully change our actions to positively impact our environment, we’ll take our feelings along for the ride. There’s a good chance that in the end, we’ll feel better.

Feel Better, Live Better

We all have many “wants” in life – but most of us share one simple “want” in common: Happiness.

It’s a lifetime quest for many, especially here in the United States. Americans, ironically, number among the most anxious people in the world. We tend to view happiness as an art, the result of luck or sheer willpower. Meanwhile, many of us live with an angry lion perched right outside our door.

Anxiety may be easier to spot in others. When it comes to ourselves, we may chock it up to insomnia, irritability or poor health. But it’s important to know that about 1 in every 35 people in the United States experiences generalized anxiety, according to annual diagnosis rates.

That’s a lot of unnecessary suffering, and it’s also important to know that there is nothing wrong with you if you do live with anxiety.

Anxiety is a normal, primal human response. It’s an instinct that kept our ancestors safe from predators and empowered them as they protected the most vulnerable members of their families.

We’ve come a long way since then, but our brains and our bodies don’t know the difference. Modern-day life can leave you feeling as if that angry lion is perpetually ready to pounce.  Today, we may not experience that as conscious fear. We’re more likely to describe it as stress, nervousness, embarrassment, poor planning skills, emotional pain, obsessive thoughts, pounding heart, headaches, sweating, difficulty swallowing, muscle tension, persistent worry, an inability to relax or trouble sleeping.

Few people experience all of the above. But for many of us, the lion is just outside the door when it comes to work, health, finances, marriage or our children.

While we know the ancient origins of anxiety, the reasons we experience it today are very individualistic but rather straightforward. Genetics, childhood experiences and traumatic events can each lead to anxiety – in the moment – or later in life. For some people, one factor is enough to trigger anxiety. For others, it may be all three.

Of course, we all know people who are seemingly immune to anxiety, regardless of life circumstances. We admire their emotional strength and society holds them up as heroes. Because of that, many of us who live with anxiety instead deny it even to ourselves – or live with it in shame and in secret.

There is an option: Anxiety is highly treatable. Among the first steps are to recognize it, stop resisting it and accept it – to accept ourselves.

You are not to blame for how you feel. Our lives truly are increasingly chaotic and demanding, with Americans working longer hours than ever in competitive atmospheres that can destroy confidence.  Do you have family members who deal with nervousness and anxiety? That could be an indication of a family history. And of course, if you experienced trauma and did not have the opportunity to deal with it, it may be dealing with you.

Research has found that therapy is the most effective solution to anxiety because it goes beyond treating the symptoms and identifies the causes. It is tailored to the individual and comes with lifelong benefits: building coping and problem-solving skills, finding balance, developing relaxation techniques – and it is achieved in a supportive and accepting environment.

As a therapist, I have treated anxiety for decades and have found that a genuine, warm, collaborative atmosphere results in a sense of empowerment, clarity and a path forward. It is a privilege to be invited into someone’s process of healing and change – and together – learn what anxiety is saying to us and what it has to teach us.

Don’t let that angry lion pace outside your door. You have the power to send it away and to live a productive, anxiety-free life – a life you can describe, quite simply, as “happy.”

 

Sharon Nelson, LCSW

Communication While in Conflict

When in the midst of conflict with a friend, family member, or loved one, inability to communicate can cause frustration, anxiety and even depression for everyone involved. Communication is essential to effectively resolving relational conflict, but how can one make sure good communication happens? Here are some questions that might help you as you attempt to communicate during conflict:

1. Are you prepared?
Chances are, during a conflict, you have some words that you want to say to the other person involved. However, in the heat of the moment, you may say things you don’t actually mean and cause more damage to the relationship. Before confronting the individual about an issue, spend time preparing what you might want to say. You may even want to write an outline, if the conflict is complicated and emotionally charged.

2. Is this the right time?
Part of the preparation process involves choosing a good time and place to communicate about the conflict. If your spouse is having a busy day at work or at home, don’t confront them as they are going into a meeting or cleaning up a massive mess made by the kids at home. If possible, agree upon a particular time or place to talk about the issue, when other tasks can be laid aside.

3. Are you focused?
As much as possible, remove all distractions that could hinder effective communication. Turn off the TV, shut the door, put your phone on silent, and focus solely on the person with whom you want to communicate. This will show that you are invested in finding a solution.

4. What is your body language saying?
Your body posture says a lot about your attitude during communication. If you want someone to know that you are listening, look at them while they’re talking, and not somewhere else. Don’t hover over the person angrily, or walk away as they are talking. Try your best to sit calmly and make eye-to-eye contact.

5. Are you using “I” statements?
Instead of saying “You make me feel ________,” say, “When you do this, I feel ________.” The latter shows that you are taking responsibility for your feelings, while still acknowledging the behavior of the other person

6. Are you making global accusations?
When trying to prove a point, it’s easy to say things like “You always ignore me!” or “You are just an irresponsible person!” Work to make more fair evaluations of the individual. You might say, “When you do _____, I feel like you are ignoring me,” or “There are times that you behave irresponsibly.” These types of statements indicate that, while at times the person may behave in ways that are hurtful, there are also times when they do not.

7. Are you showing appreciation?
Lastly, thank the listener for agreeing to speak with you about the conflict, and thank them for listening to you as you communicate. A little appreciation can go a long way in encouraging effective communication!

Kalli Hendren

Stress and the Brain

Stressful events such as the death of a loved one, divorce, loss of job or home, or serious/chronic illness can actually affect the grey matter in the prefrontal cortex of the brain.  This region of the brain is responsible for self-control, emotions and physiological functions such as proper glucose and insulin levels.  Stressors can affect our mood centers and skew our ability to regulate pleasure and reward.  Prolonged exposure to stress can actually shrink the brain.  Brain volumes in the mood centers are linked to depression and anxiety.  People who have brain shrinkage seem to be more vulnerable when faced with a life trauma or sudden adverse event as the effects are magnified and their ability to cope is compromised.

Brain-enhancing activities to combat stress and make our brains more resilient to stress are recommended to diffuse some of the potentially harmful effects stress can have on the brain.  Some valuable stress relievers include exercise, meditation, taking a daily dose of DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid-an Omega 3 fatty acid) and maintaining strong emotional relationships.

The Search for happiness

TED.com pioneered the digital presence of speakers on a world stage, to your own computer, tablet, or smartphone. Happiness and people’s perception of happiness is a hot topic of discussion today. How we each choose to pursue and believe in our own happiness is an ever-changing process of growth, introspection, and inspiration. Below are videos from TED Talks about three people’s very different views of happiness and how one can practice happiness daily.

#1: Matthieu Ricard – The Habits of Happiness
Ricard discusses navigating what some call “the dirty work of happiness” and how happiness is an attitude that can be found from within oneself, regardless of the outer experiences of life.
http://www.ted.com/talks/matthieu_ricard_on_the_habits_of_happiness.html?embed=true

#2: Neil Pasricha – The Three A’s of Awesome
Blogger of 1000awesomethings.com, dedicated to celebrating the simple things in life tells his personal journey with the three A’s of awesome: attitude, awareness, and authenticity.
http://www.ted.com/talks/neil_pasricha_the_3_a_s_of_awesome.html?embed=true

#3: Matt Killingsworth: Want to be happier? Stay in the moment
Killingsworth discusses his research into the mental state of everyday people and when they are happier. He talks about his findings that when a person’s mind wanders, people tend to be less happy.
http://www.ted.com/talks/matt_killingsworth_want_to_be_happier_stay_in_the_moment.html?embed=true

 

“May you be well. May you be happy. May you be free from suffering.”
–traditional Buddhist prayer

 

Erika McCaghren

Relationships are like a Garden (part 1)

“Without hard work, nothing grows but weeds”. Quote by Gordon Hinckley
Relationships are like a garden. They need careful tending or they don’t produce the harvest. As a relationship and mental health counselor, it’s been my privilege to walk the most intimate journey of people’s lives with them. Through my learning from others, my study and education along with my personal growth through 37 years of marriage, there are 6 skills I’ve found in common with healthy relationships. In healthy relationships it’s important to:

Build confidence in your partner;
Couples that seem to grow strong find themselves purposely lifting up their partner in private and public. They say sincere compliments and act proud to be their friend. Good practice: try several times a day to surprise your spouse with a special act or word or gesture of appreciation. Begin sentences with I’m thankful for..; I appreciate it that..; I’m excited about…; I was impressed that…; The garden analogy may be the trellis. Without a trellis many plants fall over on themselves and eventually break or stop giving.

Be credible;
Secrets or lies by omission are culprits of healthy relationships. In this era of technology, it’s easy to leave spouses out of the loop and create insecurity. Healthy relationships are open about their electronics, phones, and schedules. Good practice: Ask your spouse what one or two gestures would build trust and credibility. Be proactive about honoring their requests. Garden analogy: It’s more than frustrating to think you are planting corn and instead have melons.

Please check back next week to read part two of our three part series on more ways to “grow” your relationships.
Sharon Nelson, LCSW