Monday, December 29, 2014

Choosing to Act to Manage Goal Stress

With the new year right around the corner, it is a common to be asked “What is your New Year’s resolution?” It is also just as common for many resolutions to be left to wayside by February 1st, with the thought “I already failed, why bother?”

Try something new this year.  Make a choice, at ANY moment, and you can be working towards a goal of yours.  Any goal, whether a New Year’s resolution, a personal goal, or a work goal simply requires us to make a choice to act on that goal, and to follow through.  Even if we get off track at some point, we can choose to get back on track and head towards our goal once again. It takes just a moment to act. The key to achieving any goal is choosing to act, and taking that action in the present moment.

This technique can be used to make the changes we want to see in our lives, whether it is working towards a New Year’s resolution, a personal goal, or a work goal. If we desire better relationships with family, we can choose to act and make an effort to improve those relationships by making regular phone calls, or visiting relatives. If we want to achieve a work goal, we can choose to act towards that goal by becoming more proactive at work, or participating in trainings and obtaining additional certifications.  If we want to improve our health, we can schedule physicals, exercise, or make healthier food choices.  It only requires a moment of choice and action.  Each moment presents us with a new opportunity to work towards one of our goals. It comes down to following through with our choice, one moment at a time.

Karen Rosian, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Monday, November 17, 2014

Creating a Plan for Coping with Holiday Stress

For a great many people, the falling leaves and cooler temperatures are a sure sign that the holidays are on the way.   This time of year can be marked by a great deal of stress and depression for a great many people, no matter holidays you celebrate.  Whether it’s because of the added pressures of entertaining, the financial prospect of gift-giving, or the missing of family members that are not around, these holiday months can carry a great deal of negative emotions for many of us.  Add to that the darkening skies and shorter days, and it’s no wonder that many people dread this time of year.  It’s important to remember, however, that we are not victims to this feeling and we do have control over how we feel this season.  Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind as you try to reduce your holiday stress and depression.

First off, it’s important to remember that many of the stressors that we experience around the holidays are self-induced.  There is a lot of pressure for many people to make this “the best holiday ever”.  It’s a message that is fed to us starting November 1st when all the television commercials tell us all the things we need to make the most of our holiday.  This often leads to feeling that we need to have the best gifts, the tastiest meals, the cleanest home, and the perfect holiday.  Not only does this cause a great deal financial stress, but striving to make something “perfect” can lead us to feel negative when we don’t meet our unrealistic expectations.  It’s important to appropriately prioritize your holiday goals and ensure they are goals that can be reasonable met.  Keep your holiday expectations realistic!  If you’re holiday goals are met, then you had just the holiday you wanted and if they go beyond your expectations then it’s a bonus!

The financial factors of the holiday season are often the most stressful for individuals and families.  Gift-giving has become our way of showing those around us how much we love and appreciate them.  Unfortunately for many of us, we simply don’t have enough to give all that we want.  When we push our finances beyond their limit, it causes a great deal of stress and fear for the future.  The best way to ensure that this doesn't happen this year is to set a firm and comfortable budget- and stick to it!  Find ways to reduce your budget by making thoughtful gifts for your friends and family.  Websites like Pinterest are full of ideas on how to create wonderful gifts from your home.  When in doubt, consider whether a gift is going to do more positives for the recipient than harm and stress to the giver.

This time of year is also the perfect time to practice and recall the stress management techniques that you've used in the past. No matter how busy we get around the holidays, it’s important to remember to take time out for our own mental health.  Meditating, doing yoga, or practicing guided imagery techniques are just a few ways that we can take a couple of minutes to press the reset button on our day and relax.  If those activities aren't your style of relaxing, then find one that works for you.  No matter what the activity, it’s important to spend at least 30 minutes a day taking time to relax and reboot.

Finally, one of the reasons that some people get depressed around the holidays has to do with the loved ones that are not around.  Whatever the reason that they are not with you, the most important thing to focus on is those loved ones who are present in your life.  Focus your time and energy on appreciating the positive times you have with the friends and family that you interact with this holiday season.  Try to frame your mind in positive thoughts, and let memories from previous holidays be a happy photo album and not a depressing slideshow.  If your depressed feelings become too strong or you’re not sure if you will be able to deal with them, then don’t hesitate to contact a professional counselor or someone else who can help you cope with your emotions.

We have the power to decide what kind of holiday season we want to have.  We can choose to be stressed, overwhelmed, and disappointed or we can choose to joyful, relaxed, and fulfilled.  This year, make the conscious decision to avoid the ghosts of holidays past and take control of mood. 

Happy Holidays!

William Knor, LCPC
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Creating Happiness to Decrease Distress

Historically, psychologists and other mental health practitioners have focused on illness and disorders. We have come to learn that it is vitally important to focus on happiness and satisfaction. Increasing happiness and satisfaction can make a substantial difference in enhancing well being and combating distress. There are a number of interventions that come from the field of positive psychology, a branch of psychology that emphasizes improving the quality of life in addition to treating illness, that have been shown to improve the quality of life and sense of well being. This article will focus on two interventions to increase happiness- expressing gratitude and savoring. Future blogs will address other techniques that increase happiness.

Research has shown that expressing gratitude increases well-being and decreases depression. Expressing gratitude is another way of saying count your blessings or take note of the things in your life that you can be thankful for. A simple way of expressing gratitude is to write down three things that you are grateful for daily. These things do not have to be big, extraordinary things..they can be everyday things that make your life better. Examples include having food to eat, having good friends, having the opportunity to get an education, having access to medical care, etc. Another way to express gratitude is to tell others who have helped you how they made a difference in your life by writing a letter or making a personal visit. A third way to express gratitude is to take a negative experience and find the good in it. In other words, you express gratitude for the opportunity to grow through some degree of misfortune.

Savoring, or luxuriating in an experience, is another path toward increasing happiness. It is a way of being in the moment and fully taking it in. Similar to the expression of gratitude, attention is focused on positive feelings and positive experiences. Savoring is accomplished by taking the opportunity to fully attend to the here and now.  To savor, you become mindful of everyday things that are taken for granted. Another way is to infuse or "take in" a spontaneous positive experience by giving it your full attention and allowing it to permeate your senses - taste, touch, sight, hearing smell. So the next time you are snuggling up with a good book, enjoying a warm beverage, taking delight in a comedy or enjoying good company, consciously savor the moment and notice how you feel.

In order to increase both savoring and gratitude, think about the fact that you have a only a little time left in the particular experience. Paradoxically, thinking about the limited time available to enjoy an experience actually can increase the enjoyment in the moment!

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

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Waiting to Feel Like It When Recovering From Depression

Usually in our lives, we want to do fun and interesting things and feel motivated to do so. When the time is right and we feel like it, we jump in and engage in all sorts of activities. We usually choose those activities that we have enjoyed in the past or those activities others close to us enjoy.  Sometimes, we stretch to try new things that we think we might enjoy and sometimes those activities get added to our repertoire.

When we have depression, however, our interest in our usual activities dims and we certainly don’t feel like trying new things. With depression, most activities seem way too intense, difficult or just uninteresting. It is such an effort to meet the minimal demands of work and family that exerting oneself any further seems ridiculous if not impossible.

Unfortunately, the more we avoid fun or social activities, the more depressed and anxious we feel and the less we feel like doing them. If we wait until we feel like doing something, the wait may be very long indeed since someone suffering from depression rarely, if ever, feels like engaging in activities. One of the hardest parts of recovering from depression is making yourself do things you don’t really want to do. It is, however, the most reliable way to start feeling better.

One of the most effective treatments for depression is called behavioral activation. Because thoughts, feelings and actions all affect each other, engaging in positive and healthy behaviors helps us feel better and think more positively. While practicing thinking more positively can also affect feelings and behavior, it is easier and perhaps more effective to begin with actions.

The first actions to take may be very simple. Just getting out of bed and getting dressed on a weekend day is significant for most depressed people. Completing a household job, like taking out the garbage or sorting through the day’s mail, can help -- if we focus on what got done rather than what is left to do. Going out to run an errand that could have been put off, pulling weeds for five minutes in the yard or cooking a simple meal may not seem enjoyable but those actions can all serve to get us going again and feeling a little better. Going to see a movie in a theatre is a good choice because it involves getting out of the house and offers the possibility of focusing attention on something outside oneself for a while. Similarly, talking with a loved one about something other than how you’re feeling can help.

Exercise is as effective as medication in reversing depression and anxiety. Going for a ten- minute walk, outside or on the treadmill, might be a good step. Let yourself stop after the ten minutes if you want – or keep going if you want, but not for too long. You don’t want to overdo it and then avoid going again because it seems like too much effort. Allow yourself to stop after you meet your goal. And then do it again tomorrow. Exercise is most effective for those who are the most depressed and inactive and it doesn’t take much to make a difference.

With all of these activities, the improvements will be modest at first. You will not suddenly feel completely well. The key is to keep making yourself do more, even when you don’t feel like it and then to notice even minimal improvements in how you feel. Working with a therapist to make more complex goals, ones that reflect your values in life, may also help. Once you start, it becomes easier (not easy but somewhat better) to keep getting more active. If you allow yourself to do things even though you don’t feel like it, eventually you will begin to enjoy what you’re doing again.

Submitted by Nancy R. Soro, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Monday, September 8, 2014

Normalizing an Emotional Response to Stress

For clients who seek out counseling, the range of emotional issues relating to stress is often wide.  Clients enter into therapy to deal with any combination of depression, anger, anxiety, fear, guilt, confusion, frustration, and hurt.  However, the one common thread that most client’s experience at one time or another is the fear that they are alone in their feelings.  Most clients that I work with feel that their emotions are abnormal or erratic.  The most common 5 words that I hear in any session are as follows: “You must think I’m crazy”.  Anyone reading this blog needs to understand that this simply is not true.

The response to stress is different for everyone who goes through it.  Some people can easily work through stressful situations and even thrive when surrounded by it.  For others, stress can be overwhelming, painful to deal with, and even debilitating at times.  Whether the difference in responses is due to genetic factors, biological factors, environmental factors, or situational factors, the fact remains that no two people deal with emotional or physical stress in the same way.  We all have different breaking points for stress and when those breaking points are met, we react with emotions based on how multiple factors have shaped our lives.

Those clients who fear that others will think they’re crazy if they share their emotions are often too scared to simply talk to someone.  If they were able to share their feelings with someone, more often than not, they would find comfort from a friend or relative.  In session, I often tell clients that you never need to apologize for the way you feel.  Feelings are natural and always valid.  If you do not have a friend or relative that you feel comfortable sharing your feelings with, the Anxiety & Stress Center has counselors available (including myself) who are able to help you express your feelings and developing coping strategies to deal with your stress.

The saying goes that we cannot judge a person until we have walked a mile in their shoes.  Only you can truly understand the emotional reaction you have to stressors, and when you enter counseling we promise no judgment about the feelings that afflict you.  We want to help you realize that your feelings are normal, they are understandable, and you can learn to feel comfortable living with the way you feel.

Submitted by Bill Knor, L.C.P.C.
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Taking in the Good- A Tool to Combat Life Stress

The human brain operates with a negativity bias. The brain gives negative experiences more attention and processing then it gives positive experiences. We learn more and faster from pain than from pleasure. People work harder to avoid a loss than to attain an equally positive target.  The reason for the negativity bias is rooted in the evolutionary process. In order to survive, humans had to learn to avoid predators, social aggression (from other tribes and within tribes), natural hazards (floods, storms, etc), physical and psychological pain. These are called threats. Humans were also oriented to seek food, shelter, sex, social connection, and pleasure - both psychological and physical pain.  These are called treasures. Humans learned that avoiding threats was essential to life whereas seeking treasure usually had less immediate impact on survival. Thus, the human brain evolved to be routinely poised for threat. If a threat, like a predator, is not dealt with right away, the individual may not survive. Whereas, if a treasure was not obtained at a certain time (i.e. food), it could be pursued another time without causing significant danger to survival. Failing to deter a threat today, potentially meant loss of life and not having a chance at a treasure, ever!

So, we humans focus more and process more easily negative experiences.  Negative experiences can actually take over and dislodge positive ones. We can see the evolutionary advantage here - if you are sitting on a tree branch eating an apple and a panther strolls by, your brain will immediately look to assess the level of threat simultaneously disregarding the taste and experience of enjoying the apple.  Further, the thought of the panther is likely to linger for some time.

It has been postulated that it takes three positive experiences to make up for one negative experience. For instance, if a person has a bad experience at the doctor, it will take three positive doctor visits to achieve a neutral orientation to going to the doctor. It will take additional positive doctor visits to change the perception from a neutral anticipation of doctors visits to a positive anticipation of doctor visits.  In order to promote a lasting positive perspective, the ratio of positive to negative must be even greater. In short, it generally takes many positive experiences to transform a negative experience into a positive one.

How is a positive orientation promoted? The brain is shaped by experience and not by thought or intellect. In order to have a more positive or happy outlook, you have to give yourself more positive experiences. A simple way to have more positive experiences is a technique known as take in the good or TIG.

In order to take in the good, you first identify a feeling state that you want to experience.  For instance, you might identify comfort as the feeling state you want to experience.

There are many things that one can take in. It is most effective to take in what is needed:

For forms of anxiety, fear, and anger, it is therapeutic to take in experiences that focus in pleasure and comfort. Examples are watching a sunset, eating a favorite food, the satisfaction of accomplishing daily tasks. There are many things that one can take in. It is most effective to take in what is needed: 

For forms of anxiety, fear, and anger, it is therapeutic to take in experiences that focus in pleasure and comfort. Examples are watching a sunset, eating a favorite food, the satisfaction of accomplishing daily tasks. 

For forms of  impulsivity, excessivity in behavior (i.e. addiction and compulsivity), emotional eating and hoarding, it is therapeutic to take in feelings of safety, strength, peace or forgiveness. 

For forms of  relational problems and getting along with others, it is therapeutic to take in feelings of being valued, respected, liked, being included, fairness, kindness and feeling loved.

Taking in the good allows us to systematically overcome the brain's negativity bias. It helps us increase positive emotions and increase our capacity to deal with negative emotions and stress. 

Submitted by Holly O. Houston, Ph.D.  Adapted from Rick Hanson's book Buddha's Brain

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Vulnerability of Depression

Mental health problems do not affect three or four out of every five persons but one out of one. ~William Menninger

The recent suicide death of actor, Robin Williams, has had a deep impact on people of all ages and walks of life. His talents have undoubtedly crossed our paths in one way or another over the past 30+ years. It is strange to think that the death of this man, a stranger to most of us, has such an impact. But the impact is unmistakable. 

The truth is that we do not know Robin Williams on a personal level. Most of us have never met him or spoken to him.  However, we have invited him into our homes, hearts, and lives through his movies and various roles.  In his death, he represents to us our friends and family and loved ones.  He is a face that we now associate with depression and suicide. He was someone who outwardly to the world seemed “okay” and “happy” and “funny,” though privately was suffering with the weight of depression.  He was someone who appeared to many to have everything; family, success, money, fame, and more.  Yet, he still suffered with depression.

His death serves as a reminder of our own vulnerability and the vulnerability of our loved ones.  Anyone can have experience depression.  You, your mother, brother, best friend, or child, or a stranger on the street.  Robin Williams’s death brings this vulnerability frighteningly close to home.

Mental health problems affect everyone. You do not need to be suffering from a mental illness to be affected by mental illness, as each of us knows someone who is, whether or not we realize it.  It may be depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar disorder, or PTSD.  But we all know someone who suffers, whether silently, or out loud.

Mental illness unfortunately continues to carry a stigma in our world, despite the prevalence.  There is stigma associated with having a mental illness, of seeking treatment for mental illness, as well as not seeking treatment for mental illness. For many people, there seems to be no solution.

If you find that you, or someone you love is experiencing depression or having thoughts of suicide, please get help. Contact a professional, whether a counselor, psychologist or other mental health professional as there is help available.  You may also contact a 24-hour crisis line for assistance for yourself or your loved one at 1-800-248-7475.

Karen Rosian, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Healthy Relationships - A Trip To Bountiful

Attachment is a natural part of the developmental process.  As little children we are taught to share with each other and to play fairly with other children.  Some of us master the process, while others struggle with this concept of sharing our life and for that matter our space with another person.                                         
As we mature and become adults engaged in intimate and personal relationships you may find that you struggle in these relationships.  You may encounter anxiety and find your relationships stressful because you are unable to manage sharing your life.  You may wonder how to open your heart to the person you have decided to share your life with but are fearful of expressing vulnerability.
Two of my most favorite quotes on love and vulnerability come from a book by Dr. Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection.

 “We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.

"Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves."

You can learn healthy communication practices and how important genuineness is in a relationship.  The Anxiety and Stress Center offers individual therapy sessions as well as couples therapy to assist you in improving your relationships.  If you are one of the many individuals who are currently experiencing distress in your relationships, seek professional assistance in managing the conflict. Remember, it's absolutely possible to have a healthy relationship that is bountiful with happiness and lacking in conflict. 

Submitted by Lauren F. White-Johnson, L.C.P.C.
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

Saturday, July 19, 2014

PERMA - The Five Pillars of Happiness

Historically, psychology has been concerned with alleviating distress with the assumption that once distress was alleviated, happiness and greater well-being would ensue. While the logic here is reasonable, for many the alleviation of distress was not enough to promote happiness. Further, some people may not experience distress, but these same people do not necessarily experience happiness either. How is happiness generated? This is a question that psychologist Martin Seligman, Ph.D. researched in an effort to disseminate specific information.

Seligman has identified five elements that are important for happiness- positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and achievement. The acronym for these elements, PERMA, is the term that they are most often referred to.

Let's look at each element and how it looks in everyday life. 

Positive emotions - the experience of positive emotions comes from pleasurable and/or interesting activities.  Watching a good comedy, solving a puzzle, playing in the sand, eating good food, watching a sunrise are activities that are likely to generate feelings of joy, contentment, excitement, relaxation, etc. The experience of positive emotions helps neutralize negative emotions. Remembering a day at the zoo or looking forward to going to the zoo can offset the stress of a challenging day at home, work or school. Experiencing positive emotions helps increase productivity at work, boosts health and immunity, strengthens relationships and promotes creativity. We can increase happiness by learning to experience positive emotions or increasing the positive emotions we currently experience. 

Engagement - is when one becomes so absorbed in an activity that the sense of time is lost.  Engagement is most often experienced when we are king work that we like or are good at. Thus, it is important to identify one's strengths, talents and virtues so that these can be practiced in everyday life. Sewing, athletics, music, dancing, and hobbies are all activities in which one may experience engagement. The activities of engagement help us feel valuable and confident.

Relationships - having satisfying relationships is highly correlated with happiness. Human are social by nature. In relationships, we receive support, share our joy and pain, gain a broader perspective of the world and grow. There is no substitute for the growth potential of good relationships. 

Meaning - refers dedicating ourselves to something greater then us - religion, a social cause, community action or professional goal.  People feel happier when they feel that they are working in a way that is consistent with their goals and values. One might identify working with the economically disadvantaged, the wrongfully convicted, domestic violence, etc. Once an area of meaning is identified, opportunities to work with in that context can be pursued for a greater sense of involvement.

Accomplishment - striving for success is important for a sense of well-being and happiness. We need to be able to look at our lives and be proud of what we have done. Setting goals and achieving them is the path to a greater sense of accomplishment. Successfully completing goals creates positive expectations for the future making the success of future goals more likely. In turn this names us feel better about us and may even promote one to encourage others to achieve success.

In order to increase your happiness and well being, identify ways to include or improve each PERMA element in your life. You may choose to do addition reading in the area by going to and talking to your therapist about PERMA.

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