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.

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.

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.

Choosing the Right Therapist

Counseling or psychotherapy for anxiety, depression, substance abuse, or relationships can be a very life changing, if not life saving, process. It is so important to find the best match for your needs. For many, this is a new experience or at least new in this current situation or location.

Making an inquiry for services and reaching out for help requires enormous trust. It involves uncertainty. Although finding a great match for your needs can be overwhelming, you can minimize the uncertainty. It is important to ask questions and express your hopes and expectations beginning with the first contact and throughout the process. Your questions may include queries about the counselor’s experience, specialties, flexibility, and availability of appointment times. We encourage you to ask how privacy and confidentiality are protected.

The following is a checklist of considerations that could help you determine whether a clinic and therapist/counselor is a right fit for you. An excellent clinic such as Pinnacle Counseling is able to have high ratings in most, if not all, categories.

Using the Scale 1-5  (with 1-Poor, 3-Average and  5-Excellent) rate the clinics and counselor/therapist you visit:

1. The convenience of the location of the office.

2. The availability of appointment times.

3. The comfort/atmosphere of the office or facility.

4. The competence and knowledge of the therapist.

5. The quality of care and services.

6. The thoroughness of the initial evaluation and treatment.

7. The amount of help you received.

8. Your degree of improvement from the time of the initial visit.

9. The degree to which you were helped to deal more effectively with you problems.

10. The improvement in how you feel compared to the initial visit.

11. Your overall satisfaction with the treatment.

12. The value of the treatment, considering the cost.

13 The response time from your first contact to the initial appointment.

14. The adequacy of explanation of procedures, fees, treatment, etc.

15. The friendliness/courtesy of your therapist.

16. The attention and respect to privacy you received.

17. The personal interest in you and your problems.

18. The attention given to what you had to say.

19. Your comfort in referring a friend or relative.

20. Your comfort in returning if you needed help again.

Sharon Nelson, LCSW

Mental Health and Relationship Counselor- Feel Better, Live Better

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!

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