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.

What the Mind/Body connection teaches us about relationships?

By Terry Richardson MSW LCSW

Mental Health and Relationship Counselor

PinnacleCounselingNWA.com

Feel Better Live Better- What the Mind/Body connection teaches us about relationships?

Of the most important things we need to know about life, having healthy relationships is foremost. So where do we learn this vital information? It’s easy to identify relationships that aren’t working, a short read of the newspaper, fifteen minutes of the evening news broadcast or just standing in line at the grocery store reveals the difficult and sometimes tragic results of a relationship gone wrong. So what does a healthy relationship have? From my perspective, each of us, in our mind/body existence, are given a natural example of the potentially perfect relationship.

The essential elements of all healthy relationships are balance, contrast and complementarity. Effective application of these elements give us tools to interact with family, friends and coworkers, and how we treat ourselves.

In order to illustrate the mind/body relationship think for a moment about your body as a vehicle and your mind as the driver. The next time you get into your car, consider the relationship you have established with it because of the cooperative and collaborative agreement you have with it, you accomplish your purpose of being transported from point “A” to point “B”, and whether it’s in a Lamborghini or a Ford, the results are the same. The mind/body relationship your “self” is the journey you are on and the people in your life are passengers for the trip. Are you having fun yet?

Balance

What is balance? One physical definition is “the equalization of forces.” In other works, neither the body or mind dominates or assumes complete control. If you’ve ever experienced a stuck gas pedal wildly accelerating, had to push a car you’ve failed to fuel, or the frustration of an exhaustingly long trip, and in spite of “cruise control” your hands on the wheel – literally in “co-operation.” In a healthy relationship sharing responsibility is more productive than dominance or control.

Contrast

Night and day, sweet and sour, sharp and dull, old and young. Contrast is what helps us examine and experience one thing by knowing its counterpart. Though not always an opposite, contrast is an inescapable acknowledge of the other side of the coin, the “flip side” of what is known versus the unknown. Contrast helps us get clarity about our own identity by providing a framework of reference that makes us distinct from our surroundings. A healthy relationship creates a backdrop in our experience of life so that we might more clearly define and know who we are.

Complementarity

I would be ludicrous to get behind the driver’s seat and just sit there, waiting for the trip to start. Why? It is the interaction of all of the components involved that makes the difference. Complementarity is the harmonic blending of balance and contrast into action. It is the reason that apparently impossible things can happen – the reason you can” drive” to St. Louis in 5 hours. When we focus on complementarity in our relationships, conflicts created by power struggles and insecurities created by differences, dissolve. In a healthy relationship strengths and differences are assets that make the sum greater than its parts.

In my work as a psychotherapist, I often remind couples or individuals I am working with, that most people know more about maintaining a car that a relationship. That is primarily because we too often accept relationships as a “given” part of life, whereas a car is something we work for, and need to know how to take care of. Our learning about relationships “just happens’ through observation and experience (primarily trial and error) and when we do ask for advice we generally don’t consult the experts.

The next time you find yourself unhappily stuck by the side of the road, the mind/body owner’s manual of relationships might be the first place to look.

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!

Helpful tips for handling the holiday "blahs"

Are you noticing your body slowing down as the holidays approach? Are you unsure of how to cope with these feelings and symptoms? Make sure there is not a physical or medical explanation for your depression. If your body isn’t feeling “right”, talk to your doctor. Treat your body the way it deserves and needs to be treated by eating healthy, getting enough rest, and regularly exercising. Taking a few moments to focus on your breathing is an easy and effective way to help your mind and body to relax, and can be done anywhere. Pull yourself into the present and take in the gifts that are around you now. Notice the sunshine, a beautiful bird, a cloud, or another gift of nature. Listen to the music or sounds that you “connect” with. A walk or change of scenery can bring newness into your surroundings. If possible, do something nice for another person, even if it is only to smile or greet them. Sometimes the simple, small steps we take make can make a big difference.

 

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

Steps to a Depression-free Mind

Can you imagine living in a society that was virtually free of depression? Certain societies such as the Kaluli people of Papua New Guinea and the American Amish populations both essentially have zero depression rates. Depression has become a byproduct of our modernized, industrialized, and urbanized lives. While we have become accustomed to a highly technologically evolved society with the gadgets, gizmos, and comforts we love, we are also seemingly on a never-ending treadmill of overworking, under-sleeping, and hyper-stressing in order to live the “American Dream”.

By incorporating several simple lifestyle changes into your everyday living can help you minimize the effects of stress and depression. Common variables practiced by the Kaluli and Amish people include: eating an omega-3 rich diet, getting ample sleep every night, regular daily exercise, getting plenty of natural sunlight, being involved in some type of social activity with social connections, and practicing meaningful tasks all help these populations divert attention from your own negative thought processes that can lead to depression.

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

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