Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year, New Hope: Understanding the Root Causes of Emotional Pain

Eastern medicine believes there are 7 energy centers throughout your body that hold the key to a balanced long life.

These cultural medicinal traditions can be used as one pathway to wellness as we approach a new year. Understand our body’s energy center drives our emotional states.  Emotions are powerful players in your physical, mental, and spiritual health.  A concept that you may not be aware of is why unblocking your Chakras can be extremely beneficial to uncovering the root cause to poor emotional and physical health.

Your 7 main Chakras extend from the base of your spine to the crown of your head. Each corresponding to different parts of your body. The belief is when your Chakras are blocked or out of balance you’re prone to poor health.  This can impact everything from your heart rate, metabolism, mood, attitude, and even your relationships. However, when you unblock your Chakras you learn to take your health into your own hands. By gaining and understanding about Chakras--you increase information needed to fight off illness and feel better in your own body.

Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary is a Western trained Neurologist who states unblocking your Chakras could be the key to your good health. Recently Dr. Chaudhary appeared on the Dr. Oz show to inform the viewers about this practice of eastern medicine. She states “the central nervous system holds the answers to unblocking energy.”  She explained “the spinal cord is a relay system of information giving electrical signals to our nerve fibers.”  Dr. Chaudhary believes “these bundles of nerves are linked to the different Chakras that are connected to different organ systems.” Dr. Mehmet Cengiz Oz a renowned cardiothoracic surgeon and television personality, believes “if we define life at the level of the cell of energy…then it stands to reason that energy is the currency of life.”  When you understand the roots of why you have the problems that are blocking any one or all of your seven Chakras (energy sources) you can begin to repair your body’s weaknesses.

When Chakras’ are blocked you may experience:

ROOT CHAKRA – discourse in your body, mind, and emotions

SACRAL CHAKRA – lack of creative force, sexuality, and diminished emotions

SOLAR PLEXUS CHAKRA – lack of identity, self-esteem, motivation, ambition, and will-power

HEART CHAKRA- decrease of emotions of love, compassion and fear of intimacy

THROAT CHAKRA – difficulty in expressing feelings

THE THIRD EYE CHAKRA – depression and poor intuition

THE CROWN CHAKRA – inability to regulate sleep/wake cycles, difficulty meditating, feeling disconnected from your body or others and spiritual discomfort.

Below is a free image that illustrates where the Chakras are located and the benefits of unblocking them.

 7chakras How To Open The 7 Chakras (Guide)

Incorporating mediation and proper nutrition allow for lasting results in this eastern medicine practice that deals with the root cause of problems that diminish mental and physical health.

Submitted by Lauren F. White-Johnson, LCPC


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Brain Health and Emotional Health

I recently attended an enlightening conference, The Evolution of Psychotherapy, where I had the pleasure of attending a seminar conducted by Dr. Daniel Amen, a psychiatrist, brain image specialist and prolific author who focuses on brain health. Here are some the the tips and suggestions that Dr. Amen shared specifically regarding brain health, which invariably affects our emotional health and well-being.  The brain is the control center of the body and is involved in everything we do.  The brain is too often neglected in both emotional health and physical health. If your brain is not functioning correctly, it is probable that you are not functioning properly.  In the same way that each of us could make some changes that would improve our physical health, we can also make some changes to improve our brain health.

Our brain is mostly water and fat. To keep it healthy we need to eat plenty (around 30 – 40 percent of daily caloric intake) of good fat.  Examples of good fat are nuts, avocados, coconut oil, olives and olive oil, hemp seeds and flax seeds.

Obesity is harmful to the brain and body.  As weight goes up, the physical size of the brain goes down and brain functioning decreases.  Fat helps produce inflammation – the beginning phase of all disease processes.  Fat also stores toxins in the body – the more the fat, the more the toxins. Toxins aren’t good for the brain or body.

Vitamin D is important for weight loss since low Vitamin D deactivates leptin, a brain hormone that signals satiation or fullness. If leptin doesn’t work, we don’t get the proper signal to stop eating.

Interesting note: Men who have sex 3 times a week decrease heart attack risk by 50%. Unfortunately, the same is not true for women.

Our diet, which is supplemented way too much with corn products, soy and vegetable oil, gives us too many Omega 6 oils and not enough Omega 3 oils. The remedy for this is to check labels to avoid corn, soy and vegetable oil and supplement our diets with Omega 3 fats found in cold water fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), nuts and flax seed.

People who are gluten sensitive have increased risk for both anxiety and depression and have decreased blood flow to the brain.

Sucralose, otherwise known as Splenda, was originally made as a pesticide.  It works quite well as a pesticide and is used for that purpose in some farming communities!  Not surprisingly, Splenda will also kill off the healthy flora in your gut.

Untreated depression had been shown to increase Alzheimer’s dementia two times in women and three times in men.  Other conditions that can have a negative impact on brain functioning include chronic stress, untreated depression, unhealthy peer group, emotional trauma, lack of activity, nicotine and caffeine.

Here is what Dr. Amen recommended we do for increased brain health and functioning:
1.     Mental workouts help strengthen the brain. He recommends learning something new 15 min each day.
2.     Physical activity- weights, resistance training and coordination exercise (i.e. dancing)
3.     Nutrition – ½ body weight in ounces of water, high quality foods and clean protein (hormone free, free range, grass fed), smart carbs – low glycemic (slow to convert to sugar in the body) and high in fiber- which are plants, eat a rainbow of colors daily for good antioxidants, the cancer fighters, and plenty of herbs and spices all of which have some healing properties in the body.
4.     Probiotics put the good flora back into the gut. This is important since 90% of serotonin, the chemical involved in good mood, is located in the gut. Antibiotics kill the good flora in the gut. It is best to keep the gut balanced and working properly. Probiotics can be taken in supplement form or found in fermented foods like sauerkraut and kim chee.

Finally, Dr. Amen stressed that that emotional health in this country has been negatively affected by our diets. He further theorized that the rise in emotional disorders is likely due to the rise in food additives and genetically modified organisms. As such, gluten, dairy and food additive allergies may be causative factors in many emotional disorders.

Submitted by Holly Houston, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Decrease Anxiety by Eliminating Fears

We don't often recognize the fear that dictates how we think and respond when faced with obstacles or challenges.  Fear often blocks our decision-making and paralyzes individuals into a state of in-action. This increases anxiety because you often feel a sense of hopelessness about your problems.

Living with anxiety driven fears can show up in a myriad of ways.  Note these examples: Parents may fear angering their children when they suspect the child may be in danger by avoiding a confrontation. A great new opportunity presents itself but it would cause a dramatic change in your routine. You frequent the same places for clothes, food, entertainment. Your anxiety takes over. You fall into a rut and your fear tells you that everything should stay the same. Fear can keep you locked in a depressive state that increases your anxiety and stress level.

One way to move through this state and decrease your anxiety is to list the pros and cons of facing your fears. When you write things down you are moving through this state on two sensory levels. Your mind is engaged in the exercise and you are taking the time to weigh the cost of remaining inactive in controlling your fears. Take the time today to work toward eliminating fears and anxiety from your life.

Live in Peace not in Pieces "Iyanla Vanzant"

submitted by Lauren F. White-Johnson, LCPC

Friday, November 15, 2013

Reduce Depression by Cultivating Optimism

                                                              Cultivating Optimism

We make attributions or think about life events along several dimensions:


Personally Caused………………………..……….Impersonal (random/accidental)

(affecting all areas of life)                                             (affecting one part of life)

People who are happy and resilient have a particular way of making attributions about events.

Good events are seen as permanent (long lasting), personally caused (caused by me) and pervasive (affecting many areas of life).
Bad events are seen as temporary (short lasting), impersonal (random/accidental), and local (affecting one area of life).

Depressed people make attributions in the mirrored opposite way!

Good events are seen as temporary (don’t last), impersonal (random/accidental) and local (affecting only one area of life).
Bad events are seen as permanent (long lasting),  personally caused (my fault), and pervasive (affecting many areas of life).

We can cultivate optimism by training ourselves to think optimistically, the way happy people do -  good lasts and bad doesn’t.  

When bad happens, ask yourself these questions:

Permanence- What is the first sign this is no longer affecting me or is affecting me less?

Personally Caused- What is the evidence that this bad event happens to others and isn’t my fault?  If this happened to someone else, would I blame them as I blame myself?

Pervasiveness- What can I do to bounce back? What would I be doing if this hadn’t happened?

When good happens, ask yourself these questions:

Permanence- How can I keep the good effects going?

Personally Caused-How did I help this happen? What did I do right?

Pervasiveness – How can I use this in other areas of my life?  How can I share or celebrate this with others?

Adapted from Lynn D. Johnson, Ph.D. Enjoy Life   Submitted by Holly O. Houston, Ph.D.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Be Resilient Against Stress

Resilience is the ability to bounce back when a stressful event occurs. We all have stressful events in our lives and we all have setbacks. The ability to "hang tough" through adversity is very valuable and have many benefits including decreasing the effects of stress on the mind and body and increasing the ability to be productive and meet one's goals.

There are many factors that determine one's ability to be resilient. Biology plays a role in that certain traits that affect resiliency, like a calmer temperament, are inherited. Other factors that affect resilience are environmental factors, such as the quality of neighborhood schools or climate.  However, recent research shows that we can increase resilience, or the ability to cope well with stress, through several methods:

Changing maladaptive negative emotions can increase resilience. Negative emotions can be changed through:

- reappraisal also known as cognitive restructuring involves changing negative thoughts about an event. Example- instead of thinking that not being hired for a job was due to personal failing but thinking  instead that the job market is tight and this experience provided good interview experience.

- mindfulness which is a meditation practice where the person practices focusing on the present rather than dwelling on the past or anxiously anticipating the future.

Both reappraisal and mindfulness have been shown through brain scans to activate areas associated with increased emotional control, more positive emotions and quicker recovery from negative emotions, such as fear and anger.

Increasing the experience of positive emotions can increase resilience. Positive emotions include happiness, peace, comfort, joy, inspiration, etc. Bringing more positive emotions and experiences into our daily lives can be very uplifting. Too often seeking positive experiences and emotions is put off as a future endeavor.  To achieve a high sense of well-being, we need to experience positive emotions daily.  Positive emotions can be experienced when we engage in pleasurable activities such as listening to music, socializing and traveling.

Exercise increases resilience by reducing the symptoms associated with anxiety and depression by changing brain chemistry. It also increases the ability to manage stress by increasing the ability to make decisions, and improving memory, attention and planning.

Accepting challenge and increasing them over time can help build resilience. For instance, a person who is fearful of public speaking may attend toastmasters (a public speaking organization), then give a speech to small and then larger groups of people. The same process of increasing the challenge over time can be applied to a variety of behavioral challenges.

Seeking social support builds resilience through the simultaneous boost provided in self-confidence, the experience of having a safety-net if things don't go well, the increase in active rather than passive problem-solving and the knowledge one is not alone. When we are emotionally connected to others, oxytocin, a hormone, is released. Oxytocin promotes bonding behaviors and reduces anxiety and fear.

Imitating a resilient role model fosters resilience.  The task here is to look for people who recover from stress quickly and effectively,  analyze what they do, and then do it yourself.  These could be people in your circle of friends, family, coworkers or even historical figures.

Submitted by Holly Houston, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Monday, September 16, 2013

Stress and the Brain - The Basic Neuroscience of Stress

The stress response begins with our interpretation of events - our appraisals, our perceptions, our thoughts, all of which are different words for the same concept. For instance, if you call a close friend and don't get a return phone call after two days you could conclude that your friend is busy or didn't get the message. This thought process is unlikely to be experienced as stressful. If, on the other hand, you conclude that your friend hasn't returned the call because they no longer like you, this experience of rejection is likely to be stressful. This is an example of a social-emotional stress. The importance of interpretation on the impact of stress applies to all kinds of stressors including ones that have an environmental origin. If you hear a loud noise outside and conclude it is that old car back firing again, you would likely have a much less stressful reaction than if you conclude that the noise was a gun firing.

How we interpret or think about events is only part of the complex equation that defines human reactions to stress. The brain also plays a crucial role in the feedback between mind, body and brain.

The experience of stress is first experienced in an area of the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is a small almond shaped structure located deep in the brain that is associated with stress, anxiety, fear and aggression. It is like an alarm bell that goes off in response to events that are interpreted as threatening thus initiating a cascade of events including:

                The thalamus, a relay station for sensory information, sends a message to
                the brain stem, which connects the brain and the spinal cord. The brain
                stem then releases norepinephrine which then stimulates the brain and body
                for flight or fight.

                The activating part of the nervous system, the sympathetic branch, readies the
                organs and muscles in the body for the fight or flight response (to with fight
                off the threat or flee).

                The hypothalamus, which regulates basic drives such as hunger and sex, signals
                the pituitary gland to release adrenaline to rev up the body, and cortisol which
                reduces inflammation.

Now, the body is energized and ready for action - heart rate increases, pupils dilate, blood is directed to the large muscles, and lungs prepare for increased oxygen exchange. The increased cortisol magnifies the stress response by activating the amygdala even more which sends out more cortisol. Cortisol also decreases the activity of the hippocampus, an internal brain structure that helps not only detect threats but forms new memories. Thus, memory formation is disrupted.

All in all, when an emotional threat is experienced stress emotions escalate and get the brain and body ready for action and increasing a focus on negative information.  In this way, fear and anger become dominant reactions in stressful situations.  As these brain and body reactions increase, the activity of the prefrontal cortex decreases. The prefrontal cortex, located just behind the forehead, is responsible for making plans, setting goals, and shaping emotions. Thus, an activation of the amygdala during times of stress leads to fear and anger that decreases our ability to reason, regulate our emotions or work the problem through, all of which are functions of the prefrontal cortex which is inhibited.

Over time, the ongoing activation of the brain and body can lead to depression, anxiety and a host of physical ailments including gastrointestinal disorders, decreased immune function, cardiovascular illness, and hormonal (decreased libido) and metabolic problems (type II diabetes).

This stress response evolved over time to help our ancestors survive in relatively dangerous environments. Although our environments have hanged considerably, our stress response has not. In order to mediate the stress response, we must actively utilize emotional regulation techniques including relaxation, meditation, cognitive-behavioral techniques and others to increase our ability to realistically interpret or to learn to reinterpret challenging events.

Submitted by Holly Houston, Ph.D. Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Decrease Anxiety by Living in the Now

Decrease Anxiety by Living in the Now 

I find that most often, people feel sadness and increased amounts of anxiety by living in the past—hanging on to events that shaped who they are today. These events were either negative, positive, or both.  We find with athletes it’s often a positive event they chase to recapture the euphoria of that event.  We see this with greats like Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan. 
However, for some of us focusing on the past is often connected to either a trauma or fear we cannot shake.  It may be a long held belief that has affixed itself to our psyche.  These unshakeable thoughts become a part of our daily lives.  We find it difficult to move throughout the day carrying the burden of these weighted thoughts, feelings, and emotions with us.  Some symptoms of hopelessness are difficulty sleeping, an inability to sustain attention, lack of interest in social activities, sex, work, and possibly a decrease in appetite may be experienced.
A great first step to regaining control of your life is to seek professional help that can guide you through the process of eliminating thoughts that are barriers to your daily functioning.  Remember, you are not alone and you don’t have to endure this alone.  Many individuals experience diminished interest in life when they are unable to stop the repetitive voices inside their heads sending messages that make them feel unhappy and give a sense of hopelessness.  The process of learning how to dial down the voices and thoughts comes with using therapeutic tools that help you make a shift in your beliefs.  You see when you learn a new way of thinking about your past it allows you to be present in the Now.
Being present in the now…I know it sounds funny and maybe even a little off-center for some people.  But, I can tell you it works.  Working through the process of acceptance and believing—provides you with the tools to affirm that you have made it through that experience.  That’s right, YOU made it. Even if you have come through your journey with scars, it still counts as an accomplishment.  I imagine it took a lot to make it to the other side of your journey. So let’s put the focus on now. You are living in the here and now.  Your experience may have been a negative one that caused you to doubt your abilities or cause you to believe you are worthless and without hope. It’s simply not true. In fact by taking the time to read this blog its proof you are willing to do the work it takes to decrease your pain.  You are a winner.  Don’t forget, as long as we breathe we have a second chance. 
Take this moment to stop and deeply breathe in the air surrounding you.  Take a moment to really look around your surroundings.  Make a decision to be very present in this moment.  If you are unhappy with what you see, seek help to make changes that will improve your life.  Make a decision to leave the past behind and actively participate in your decision to Live in the Now.

Submitted by Lauren F. White-Johnson, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
Anxiety and Stress Center, Orland Park, IL
(708) 349-5433

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Stress Headaches

In terms of symptoms, muscle tension headaches are the most common symptom associated with stress. Muscle tension headaches occur when muscles in the back of the neck and on the scalp tighten because of anxiety, inadequate sleep, hunger, poor posture and even some foods (i.e. caffeine, nuts, chocolate, cheese).  Muscle tension headaches commonly lead to decreased concentration, inadequate sleep (also a cause), and irritability.  It is estimated that up to 80% of the adult U.S. population suffer from muscle tension headaches and 3% suffer from chronic daily headaches.

Muscle tension headaches start at the neck or back of the head and moves forward resulting in mild pressure or like a tight band or vice around the head. Typically, the pain affects both sides of the head.
Women are twice as likely as men to develop tension headaches. People who report greater sensitivity to both stress and pain tend to report more tension headaches. Also, people who use passive/avoidant coping strategies report three times more tension headaches.

The most effective treatment strategies for treating tension headaches include:

* relaxation training
* cognitive-behavioral stress management
* massage
* biofeedback
* ergonomic correction

Other effective techniques for alleviating tension headaches is applying moist heat (microwave a wet towel) to the neck and scalp while relaxing and performing neck exercises demonstrated on the link provided http://www.des.umd.edu/os/erg/neck.html.

Submitted by Holly O. Houston, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Stress Relieving Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness is a type of meditation that focuses on being in the here and now.  Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment-by-moment awareness without trying to change the experiences in any way.  The attitude to be adopted while practicing mindfulness is one of openness, curiosity, acceptance and non-judgment. There are three major types of mindfulness, all of which incorporate the same basic elements just described:

           Zen Meditation - a Buddhist practice with a spiritual base that focuses on awareness of
                                       the breath to develop mindfulness      

           Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)  - a non-spiritual based method of using
                                       Buddhist mindfulness techniques in combination with yoga
                                       techniques and pschoeducation about stress management and
                                       coping methods

           Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) - a therapeutic approach that uses the
                                      principles of MBSR and cognitive therapy as an adjunct treatment
                                      for anxiety and depression.

Mindfulness meditation has been shown to have numerous health benefits and benefits for over all well-being. Over 250 medical centers integrate mindfulness techniques for the treatment for various psychological disorders. Several studies have shown mindfulness based practices to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, reduce blood pressure, reduce inflammation associated with arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and other diseases in which stress plays a role, improve immune function, improve cognitive function (focus, attention and memory), improve sleep, reduce chronic pain and increase neuroplasticity (the brain's ability to change both structurally and functionally from environmental input leading to more efficient communication among brain regions).  These wide ranging results are not achieved with relaxation training.

How does mindfulness work?  Mindfulness training teaches one to focus attention, keep out distractions and to monitor ongoing thoughts, feelings and sensations without engaging them. In this way, mindfulness helps regulate attention and emotion, and increases both body awareness and sense of self.  Improvements in these key areas help with the mental and physiological experience of stress by reducing the tendency to ascribe judgment to them. Also, mindfulness combats worry, rumination and fear which underlie stress conditions that can impair performance.

Mindfulness requires training and practice to become effective. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a retired molecular biologist from the University of Massachusetts Medical School who developed the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, has several CDs and books that can be purchased for mindfulness training. There is also an excellent article in Scientific American Mind, March/April issue written by neuroscientist/psychologist Amishi P. Jha, Ph.D. entitled Being in the Now.  Mindfulness instruction and an exercise is included at the end of the article. Below is a link for a video demonstration of mindfulness conducted by Dr. Jha and her colleague.  Finally, your therapist at the Anxiety & Stress Center can also provide you with mindfulness instruction alone or in combination with stress reduction and cognitive therapy.


Submitted by Holly O. Houston, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Common Cognitive Distortions Associated with Stress-Related Symptoms

Cognitive distortions are errors in the way we process information. We all are prone to these thinking errors some of the time. People who experience higher levels of stress experience more cognitive distortions more of the time. Here are 6 of the most common cognitive distortions experienced by people who experience stress-related symptoms.

Review the list and see if you find yourself thinking along these lines.

Shoulds/Perfectionism - criticizing oneself or others for not being good enough

Polarized Thinking (all or nothing) - looking at things in absolute black and white categories

Magnification - blowing things out of proportion

Over-Generalization - a negative event becomes a never-ending pattern of defeat

Fallacy of Fairness - expectation that justice is distributed fairly

Fallacy of Change - expectation that others have to change (and you can cajole them into it) so you can be happy

If you have stress-related symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, gastrointestinal symptoms, high blood pressure, sleeping difficulties, etc., you may also be experiencing some of these problematic patterns of thinking. Your therapist can help you learn techniques to manage them. In addition, David Burns has written several self help books available at www.feelinggood.com.

Submitted by Holly Houston, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist