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.

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

Welcome to our newest counselor!

Pinnacle Counseling is proud to announce the addition of another skilled counselor to our staff. We are thrilled to announce Reagan Funkhouser, LCSW, as an asset in finding ways to better serve our clients in the future. More information about Reagan is located on our main website (http://www.pinnaclecounselingnwa.com) under the “Our Counselors” tab. We look forward to seeing her talents and skills improve our ability to continue to serve the population of Northwest Arkansas.

3 Common Mental Health Myths

Myth #1:  I am the only person having mental health or emotional problems.
Mental illness affects an average of about one in four adults in the United States(1), in total that means that about 57.7 million people in our country are affected by mental illness(2). Although you may feel like you are the only person you know struggling to cope with mental health issues of some kind, it is important to know that you are not alone.

Myth #2:  Addiction, substance abuse, and/or mental health issues are all my fault and make me a bad person.
There are multiple factors that affect the complex process of addiction, substance abuse, and mental health issues. Some of the factors include stress in your personal life, a diagnosed mental illness, lifestyle changes, difficulty in your family or relationships, or even habits of the individual. None of these factors are your fault or define you as a “good” or “bad” person.

Myth #3:  Mental illness or substance abuse only affects people of low socioeconomic status or people with a “bad childhood”.
Again, there are several factors that contribute to the cause of mental illness, but the childhood you had, job you have currently, or the money you make are not directly the cause of your mental health or substance abuse troubles. Mental illness does not discriminate and is not exclusive to any stereotypical group of people.

Erika McCaghren

 

Sources:
(1) Kessler, R.C., Chiu, W.T., Demler, O. & Walters, E.E. (June 2005). Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of twelve-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(6), pgs. 617-627.
(2) U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimates by Demographic Characteristics. (June 2005). Table 2: “Annual Estimates of the Population by Selected Age Groups and Sex for the United States”: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2004 (NC-EST2004-02)

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

Why your summer reading list is a form of bibliotherapy

Bibliotherapy involves using books, stories, and other forms of literature to help “reach” someone in counseling. This type of treatment does not have to include the typical list of self-help books aimed at bettering yourself by looking inward and also does not have to be doing strictly in the counseling office. You can work towards a better understanding of yourself by using your summer reading list as a form of bibliotherapy. The introspection while reading can be conscious, subconscious, direct, or indirect. You do not have to pick up a book with the intent to read, process, understand, and “feel better” immediately after reading. The phases of bibliotherapy are as diverse as the books on your summer reading list. If you pick up the latest in ‘chick lit’ from the New York Times Bestseller list, you will be taken on a romantic, witty, and likely dramatic ride through the trials of being a twenty-something in the wake of dating, job hunting, and balancing life as a young woman. On the other hand, if you choose a young adult Sci-Fi novel, you will fall into a world of the adventure of slaying dragons and finding yourself on a journey to discovering who you are and want to be. No matter what you read and what you try to get out of a book or reading, you can find something unexpected. The bibliotherapy you get comes from the journey you take with the main characters and how you apply it to your own life. This can come in the form of a favorite fantasy story to take your mind off of an 8 hour work day or could help you realize what it is in life that you truly value. Your summer reading list takes you on a quest through the words on a page to a place where you can be yourself and enjoy the story. On the path to enjoying any type of literature, you form the opinions, insights, and learn to embrace the acceptance of yourself and the joy that comes from walking in another character’s shoes, whether they are red ruby slippers or hiking boots stained with blood of a mythical creature.

Erika McCaghren

3 Common Therapy Myths

Myth #1:  Counselors only want to give me medication.
Due to state and federal guidelines, counselors are not able to write prescriptions for medication. Counselors operate as a profession by using a variety of techniques within the client-counselor relationship to promote and explore personal growth and development with the client.

Myth #2:  If I attend therapy, everyone will know about my problems.
The relationship between the client and the counselor is protected by legal confidentiality. Counselors seek to provide an environment of safety and calm to work through even the toughest of personal issues. At Pinnacle Counseling, we go above and beyond o ensure that our clients’ information, treatment, and medical records are kept completely private and handled with the utmost discretion.

Myth #3:  The cost of therapy is too high. I would never be able to afford it.
While the cost of therapy and treatment is an expense in itself, there are tools that you can use when deciding how to pay for the cost of your treatment. One option is insurance, depending on your insurance company and the type of coverage offered for mental health treatment. Another option could be a plan that you work out with your counselor for self-payment of therapy costs. It is vital that the lines of communication between the client and the counselor always be open and honest when discussing treatment and the same is true for therapy costs.

Whatever your concerns are, at Pinnacle Counseling we are ready to listen and help you take that first step in the process of recovery or a healthier lifestyle.

 

Erika McCaghren

How Sugar Affects the Brain

Have you ever wondered what actually happens when you ingest that delicious bit of sugar you have been craving? Here is a TED-Ed video that explains how the reward system works in the brain. This also applies to sugar, other behaviors, and even substances.

Depression? Stress? Anxiety? Do you see these in yourself?

Oftentimes life weighs heavy and the idea of pushing through another day, another meeting, another list of demands of another thing, another meeting or another day, feels impossible! Even the though we know that it would be better if we take care of ourselves, we’re still unable to cope with yet another ‘have to’…another responsibility. So how can we relieve the pressure and find what we need?

 

It’s actually easier and more accessible than you think. The relief starts with the awareness of what we are physically feeling. Our bodies are the key to emotional and physical relief. By Paying attention to the pounding of your chest, while in traffic and taking a breath, will change the thought from: “I must be there NOW!” to: “I’ll get there as quickly as I can.” By Listening to the tension in your shoulders, and learning how and when to relax them will change your life. Learning to think about the kind words you might offer a friend will change how your body feels.

 

Learning the messages we say to ourselves are harsher than words you would use when you’re mad at someone you don’t like! The awareness of your body and thoughts, bring about self-care. This all must really starts with a desire for relief and a small willingness to understand self-compassion! As you become more aware of the feedback your body gives you when you think negatively of yourself, you’ll begin to have more relief. This is the beginning of learning how you can control one thing to reduce your stress. The practice of your thoughts in self-acceptance is the beginning of the NEW you! You really are good enough! You are exactly where you need to be!

Torie Sullivan, LPC