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Managing Social Anxiety

If you’ve ever experienced significant fear and anxiety in a public setting, you know that social anxiety is very much a REAL thing! Most of us experience some level of anxiety from time to time, which is very common. In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health states that 1 in 5 of us experience anxiety regularly (www.nimh.gov).
Anxiety can often interfere with our daily lives. Social anxiety, however, can be debilitating. The intense fear of being around people in public can cause a person to avoid certain settings and connections with others, placing limited expectations on their lives. There are several steps we can take to weaken the impact that social anxiety may have on us. Let’s take a look:
Step 1
Recognize it – We want to be aware of how social anxiety shows up for us. Is my body talking to me? Is my heart racing? Is my chest tightening? Are my hands trembling? When we recognize how anxiety presents itself, we can then acknowledge it.
Step 2
Address it – Once we acknowledge that symptoms of social anxiety are present, we can use simple coping strategies to decrease the intensity. Strategic breathing is an easy, free, tool that can be used anywhere, anytime! The 4-7-8 breathing technique assists with shifting us from a “fight or flight” state to a more manageable one. You can watch a short, simple video here to learn more about this quick and effective tool: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2c5yrOlGDbk.
Step 3
Collect evidence – I may feel unsafe, but am I really? That “fight or flight” response is built in to our physiological makeup to keep us safe. Thankfully our bodies have this built in “bells and whistles” tool available to protect us. Sometimes, those alarms go off, but we’re actually not in harm’s way. It’s just our body attempting to keep us well protected. A simple check-in such as, “is there PROOF I’m unsafe?” may do the trick to remind your body and your brain that things are actually ok and you can give permission for the bells and whistles to settle.

Using mindfulness to better acknowledge and accept your thoughts and feelings is a great coping tool to help us better manage our anxiety when we’re in social or public settings. If you’d like more information about how to utilize mindfulness and other tools to decrease symptoms of anxiety, contact us today at 479-268-4142!

The Holidays – Fa la la or Bah Humbug?

Tammy Kennedy, LPC
EFT Trained Relationship Counselor

Are you exceedingly happy to see the holidays are “finally over”? To some the holidays are Great! But to others the holidays can be stressful and even dreadful!

The holidays can be stressful to all of us from time to time, but when there is added stress in the home, the holidays can be dreadful. When we feel disconnected in our relationship and we’re arguing about everything, the holidays can be a nightmare. The holiday get-together with the in-laws from hell is not typically met with happiness and cheer. Maybe your in-laws are amazing, but you and your spouse are contemplating separation and you haven’t yet told your family because after all, you’re just contemplating it, right? Nothing’s been set in stone and you don’t want to raise unnecessary fear – these types of scenarios don’t make the holidays pleasant. Difficult situations lead to the need for difficult conversations and we don’t like difficult. We tend to avoid these conversations all together, but they can loom over our heads for months and sometimes even years. We avoid these conversations because they lead to uncomfortable feelings and we don’t want to feel uncomfortable. Yet Feel and talk is precisely what we need to do so we can begin to move forward to a happier place with one another and perhaps even greet the holidays with cheerful thoughts.

Tough conversations like these can be much easier aided by a trained therapist. Sue Johnson developed a therapeutic approach to couple’s counseling that teaches couples to talk in ways that encourage their partners to hear and listen in ways that encourage them to talk. In her approach, therapists teach couples self-awareness to recognize and understand their own triggers for unwanted feelings and other-awareness to recognize and understand the effect our behavior has on others. How can we begin to change if we don’t see there’s a problem? When we allow ourselves to be open and talk to one another – really talk to one another, we can learn things about one another we never even knew were important. This changes the way we see and understand one another. Understanding is the key to wisdom. We can’t possibly understand one another if we can’t really hear one another. We want to connect but we can’t begin the process of change until we understand and see ourselves from our partner’s perspective. This process is difficult – we must step out of “self” and step into “other” to see “you”.

Sue Johnson’s therapeutic approach to couple’s counseling is called Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) and it is rocking this nation. Research shows that EFT counseling has satisfaction ratings as high as 70% even 2 years after therapy ends. Couples report their relationships continue to improve with time as they continue to implement the skills they learned in therapy. Dr John Gottman, a leader in couple’s counseling, admits that Dr Johnson’s approach is “exactly what we needed in marital therapy” stating that his model of couple’s therapy has all the laboratory data to back “what makes marriage work and what doesn’t” but states that Dr Johnson’s approach takes the research to a deeper level. Dr Gottman states that Johnson’s approach gives failed marriages “a new chance for connection, an emotional connection”. This new level of connection gives couples a new roadmap to follow to resolve their differences in ways that lead to deeper more meaningful connections thus more satisfying relationships.

Feeling overwhelmed?

It’s so easy to get to that place. We’ve all been there. Life ‘gifts’ us obstacles from all angles, leaving us feeling tired, stressed, even defeated. Let’s take a look at some steps toward balance and stress relief:

  1. Take a step back and evaluate the circumstances.
    • What is contributing to me feeling this way?
    • Is any of it in my control?
  2. Make a move:
    • Step away to allow yourself to physically calm down.
    • Distract yourself with a brisk walk, or a good book.
  3. Find a tool that works:
    • A big belly breath is cleansing! Try deep breathing to help soothe your body and your mind.
    • Visualize a safe and peaceful place.
    • “Return to where your feet are” – Grounding exercises can be very helpful when we become overwhelmed with things of the past or worries of the future.

It’s so important to remember that our thoughts dictate our feelings. Work to shift your thoughts so that you can feel more at peace and less overwhelmed by the stressors that come your way.

If you are feeling overwhelmed and would like to talk to a licensed professional about strategies to help reduce your stress, contact us today to schedule an appointment! We look forward to supporting you in your time of need.

Change: the act or instance of making or becoming different.

Charlotte Evans, LPC 

Mental Health and Relationship Counselor

Feel Better, Live Better

Change: the act or instance of making or becoming different.

Do you ever wonder is there something more, something better, something more challenging or fulfilling out there?

One day this past February, I was having a very unsettled day. My husband and I had divorced almost a year ago, my children were not doing as well as they could be, and my Mother just moved to a nursing home. I had been alone in my private counseling practice for multiple years. I decided to look on a job listing website. Just to look and see what was out there. I really wasn’t looking for a job or a change, just looking.  I came across a dream opportunity in Northwest Arkansas. I thought why not, just apply, I knew I would never get called. It was nice to see what was out there. I felt so stuck and just needed to see if anyone might be interested in me. The next morning… Hello… I was called. What? Me? I was elated than scared. All I could think was OH NO!  I can’t talk to these people, I can’t move, I can’t change my life, I don’t have what it takes, I feel so alone.

What was I afraid of? Fear of Success or Fear of Failure?

I had never packed up and moved somewhere new.  I had been in Jonesboro all my life.  I had dreamt of the day I could make a fresh start.  I was getting that option.  I looked for every possible reason to not make this move. I even in my own fear tried to create problems. So, during my time of making the decision I went from extreme YES, I CAN DO THIS, to a very tearful NO I CAN’T!  Each step along the way during that time was painful. I think I was, at times, trying to sabotage it from the beginning. I procrastinated on calling them back because I was fearful of change. I chose to accept the job opportunity and the move to Rogers. In a short time, I had disrupted my life, my children’s life, my family’s life, and my friend’s life. What have I done? What if I fail? What if I succeed? Many of us go through changes in our lives. Some changes are welcomed and some are not.  Life is about change. 

Why are we so scared of Change? Even though we want to be in control of our own destiny we are intimidated by change.  We somehow let fear control us.  What are we scared of? Years of working with clients I have come up with several reasons why we are so afraid to take that next step. 

Fear of the Unknown: We fear the unknown and it paralysis’ us to the point that we feel safer not doing anything to change. We stay, we settle, we ignore change so we don’t have to feel. We allow our imagination to think of all the negative reasons to not change. We allow fear to keep us stuck because something terrible may happen.

Doubting ourselves: Somewhere in our brain we have this little voice that keeps us doubting ourselves.  It tells us we aren’t good enough, we can’t do something, we won’t be able to handle it or we just don’t deserve it.  For the most part we can control those thoughts but, when we are faced with a change we tend to lean in to these negative thoughts.

Feeling Alone and Worry ourselves: We get so worried about the what if’s that we don’t make any decisions.  We settle for whatever happens. We have regrets when the choice of change slips us by.  We tell ourselves it wasn’t meant to be.  We feel like we are alone in our own decision making. 

No other Option: We look at our situation and not see any way out or any other options.  We stay in a marriage, or a job because change will affect how we live, our family and friends, and financial security. Realistically, will you lose your home, will your family survive, will you be unemployed forever or will you be alone forever?  We allow ourselves to dramatically think of all the reasons we shouldn’t change and we realize we have to stay the same, because we have no other option to move forward, or change. 

The feelings of change: Anxious, Depressed, Grateful, Guilty, Happy, Abandoned, Accomplished, Afraid, Distracted, Resentful, Rejected, Pushed, Uncomfortable, Vulnerable, Nervous, Overwhelmed, Regretful, Fearful, Daring, Cautious and so many more.  Sometimes these feelings are flooded in all at once or in stages and we become overwhelmed. Seeking professional help in understanding and processing these emotions can be very helpful in making a well-informed change that will help you discover the true costs and benefits of the decisions that need to be made.

Have you ever experienced change? Change is a big deal! It helps to talk about it. Knowing what I know I still had to verbalize my feelings and get validation from someone I trusted.  It is overwhelming sometimes to dream big. It can change your life and feeling the change can be a positive decision that creates a new and better normal. 

“Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better.”

King Whitney Jr.

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

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.