Monday, April 28, 2014

Reducing Stress: Accepting the Limits of Our Control

In today’s society, we live under the illusion of control. This illusion begins from a very young age in which we are taught that we control the world around us.  We learned that our actions had effects on the world around us.  We realized that if we cried or screamed, we were fed or our diapers were changed. And in many ways, this feeling of control continued throughout our lives. In many ways, we can control the world around us. If we are cold, we put on a sweater or turn up the heat.  If we have a headache, we can lie down or take an aspirin. 

However, this line of thinking can become problematic when we over-generalize our ability to control the world around us. Most notably, when we try to control others around us. We have all had that moment in which someone was not doing something to our expectations and have become frustrated. We all have tried to change others, and many may have had varying degrees of success. Some have asked a friend to stop calling at all hours of the night and have been successful, or we may have asked our partner to tell us when the milk has run out, and have run into frustration when, once again, we have no milk for our morning cereal. 

When it comes to controlling the world around us, we are able to manipulate some parts of the environment to our liking, such as temperature of the room or setting. However, there may be several elements or our environment that may also be out of our realm of control, such as outdoor temperature or climate conditions.

When it comes to controlling others, we may be able to ask for what we want or need, encourage, or make suggestions, however, we cannot control another person. They must make the choice as to whether or not they desire to act in accordance to our wishes. We feel successful when others act in accordance, however, that was their choice, even if we made the suggestion.

Should someone choose to disregard our wishes, whether because they do not have the time, the ability, or the desire, we have a few options to be able to manage that situation.

We can make sure to clearly and calmly communicate our needs to them, including why we need them to fulfill this need, as well as the outcome. For example, we might tell our forgetful partner “I need to know when the milk is gone so that I can buy more so that I can eat breakfast in the morning. If I don’t eat breakfast, I can’t take my medication.”

We can choose to change our perspective of the situation. We can change the way in which we are viewing the situation, or the assumptions we are making. For example, instead of viewing the situation as “My friend has no consideration for my feelings,” we might instead take the perspective of “My friend must have a lot on their mind right now.”

We can determine what in the situation IS within our control. While we do not have the power to control the behavior and actions of others, we do have the ability to control our own behaviors, and make changes to our actions. What can we do differently or change to make the situation more palatable to ourselves?  Perhaps we can check how much milk is left regularly, or have additional breakfast options available that do not require milk.  Perhaps we can silence our phones before going to bed to avoid being woken by our friend’s 2 a.m. phone calls.

Finally, we can choose to accept the situation as it is. We can accept the limits of our control and recognize that others have the freedom to make their own choices. We can let go of our efforts to change others or the situation and accept the situation for what it is, for better or worse, as well as accepting our feelings about a situation. We can accept that a situation is not ideal, while also accepting that we may not be able to do anything to change it, either.

Submitted by Karen M. Rosian, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

De-Stress Yourself: How Music Can be Used to Reduce Stress and Increase Positive Emotions

In the battle against stress and anxiety, there are a number of great tricks and skills that can be used to help us feel safer and more comfortable.  While many may immediately come to mind (breathing, exercise, a good night’s sleep, etc.), the use of music as a de-stressor is one that we often overlook.  While we may go out of our way to search for things that make us feel better, music is a tool that is very easily accessible and has the power to aid in relaxing both our mind and our body.

A large amount of research has been conducted regarding the effects of music on both the psychological and physiological well-being of all types of people.  The studies show a great number of ways that beautiful tones create a calming environment for those suffering from a wide range of afflictions; from cancer to stress and almost everything between.  The use of classical and other peaceful types of music has been shown to slow the pulse and heart rate of the listener.  In addition, this music has been shown to reduce high blood pressure and decrease the amount of stress hormone produced by the brain.  By causing these physical reactions, peaceful music helps to calm the listener. Classical music has even been shown to increase the production of serotonin which can help fight depression, anxiety, panic, and anger.

Classical music is not the only type of music that affects our health and well-being.  The way that music affects a person is completely individual and based on our own personal experiences.  Some people find solace in the golden oldies their parents listened to growing up while others seek comfort in the silk of smooth jazz.  Some are uplifted by the positive message of pop music while others feel energized by the thunderous beat of rock-n-roll.  Musical styles affect everyone differently, and it is very important to know how music affects you before trying to use it to reduce your stress. 

In order to know which styles of music help you reduce stress, start with the ones you like! The musical styles that we find pleasant and pleasing are the ones that have the most positive affect on our emotions and our stress levels. It’s not helpful to force yourself to listen to classical music to relax if you know you hate classical music.  Instead, identify those styles of music that you genuinely enjoy.  Once you have identified them, consider how these different styles make you feel.  Do they relax you or excite you?  Do they increase or decrease your energy level?  By understanding how certain kinds of music affect your body, you can use that music to achieve the emotion you want.

Once you have identified the right type of music, the next step is deciding how best to use it to improve your mood or lower your stress level.  Starting your day with the right song may be much more relaxing and calming than waking up to a droning beep.  Try setting your phone or alarm to play music instead of the standard alarm sound.  You can also take music with you throughout the day to help.  The portability of technology means that you can listen to positive music while exercising, during travel, on a break, doing chores, or even while working (depending on your job, of course).  If you have trouble meditating, music can be used to help you by giving you something to focus on other than your own thoughts.  You can even try singing your favorite songs as a way to reduce your stress level and increase a positive mood- and if you’re singing alone, no talent is required! 

However you decide to utilize music to de-stress yourself, the idea is to wrap yourself in the positive feelings created by the songs.  Experience the healing power of music by focusing on the rhythms and melodies of the songs that you choose.  With time, practice, and the right playlist, you can learn to create a soundtrack to your life that helps you combat the day-to-day stressors of a hectic world and create a better, happier you!

Submitted by Bill Knor, LCPC
Licensed Professional Counselor

Monday, April 21, 2014

Erasing Anxiety with Intentional Relationship Commitments

The media is flooded with evidence of individuals who are struggling to find ways of maintaining relationships that are important to them and subsequently failing.  One could argue they are failing because we are a disposable society who can’t seem to commit to a new phone let alone a personal relationship.   Erik Erikson believed one of the developmental stages of early adulthood is Intimacy vs. Isolation.  If you are successful during this developmental phase you achieve a positive outcome that enables you to make loving commitments to others.  If you are unsuccessful during this developmental phase you struggle with love.  You have difficulty with affection and demonstrate an inability to maintain lasting affectionate relationships.   This inner conflict usually leads to an outward expression of anger causing a breach in the level of commitment and ultimately a breakdown of the relationship. 


America recently had a new term enter mainstream media--conscious uncoupling.  This term is now used by individuals seeking to explain “uncoupling” to family and friends.  They seemingly, have found a way to move past the anger and rage that typically becomes a part of the breakdown of the relationship and found peace in “consciously uncoupling”.  They've made the choice to not linger in the breakdown and move on to the next phase of their lives.  Some have criticized this type of breakup as new age mumbo jumbo.  Others have embraced the decision to liberate oneself from anything that is not working, especially relationships.  Whatever side you may land on I'd like to offer a viewpoint that speaks to "conscious commitment".  The idea that when we as adults decide to enter into committed relationships with the intention to do what is necessary to create an environment of loving longevity.  Decreasing resentment, anger, confusion, isolation, ambiguity, hopelessness, and deep sadness after agreeing to partner with another.  We understand the complexity of human nature and therefore it’s beneficial to seek assistance in how to commit to each other--with intention.

Intentional Commitment

My understanding of intentional commitment is that each partner agrees to invest intentional effort in the relationship.  These efforts include but are not limited to: effective couple communication that promote learning about each other.  Learning skills that promote working collaboratively to resolve conflict, understand differences, and communicating for results.  These interactions often aid in reducing conflict and anxiety in the relationship.  This type of psychotherapy works to preserve the commitment through intentional modifications.  The goal is to help the couple identify intentional commitment as an attraction as opposed to an obligation.


Please contact Lauren White-Johnson if you would like to learn more about this type of relationship assistance.

Posted on 4/21/2014

Lauren F. White-Johnson, Licensed Psychotherapist

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

De-Stress Your Diet: Making Food Choices that Benefit Optimal Health

Recent research has shown a relationship between depression and diet. People who follow more of a Mediterranean diet were noted to have less depression and more positive mental health.  While all the benefits of the Mediterranean diet are not known, it is thought that folate and omega-3 essential fatty acids are of the utmost importance.

Folate, a water -soluble B vitamin, is found in beans, green vegetables and whole grains. These are the foods that you want to eat more of in order to receive the physical and mental health benefits of folate.  Very good sources of folate, in order of strength, include soy beans, chick peas, pinto beans, spinach, lima beans, papaya, wheat germ, and asparagus.

There are two main types of Omega 3 essential fatty acids – Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).  Both are important for heart and brain health and are found in deep ocean fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel.  Taking Omega 3 supplements is also an option along with eating nuts and Omega 3 enriched eggs. A third type of Omega 3 is called Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) which can be found in flax seed and some green vegetables.  ALA is converted to DHA and EPA by the body. The human body does not manufacture omega-3 essential fatty acids and we must get them from our diet.

Omega-6 fatty acids are another essential fatty acid that must be properly balanced with Omega-3s in order for us to achieve optimal health. The American diet is extremely out of balance. The ideal balance is 2:1 Omega 6 to Omega 3. However, because of the overuse of refined vegetable oils found in processed foods, we are getting far too much Omega 6 and not enough Omega 3.

Beef is another source of excess Omega 6. Cows are feed corn and other grains which raise the Omega 6 content greatly.  Cows that are fed grass, the food source intended for cows, have the correct Omega balance. In the typical American diet replete with processed and fast foods and grain feed beef, the average ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 is 15:1.  This imbalance in our dietary Omega 3s and 6s is thought to contribute to obesity, depression, dyslexia, hyperactivity and aggressive behavior.

You can make the necessary dietary changes to reduce the Omega 6 fatty acids and increase Omega 3 fatty acids by making some simple, progressive changes in your diet.  Reducing the intake of processed foods (most foods that come in a package and/or have been changed from their original, natural, whole form) and reducing the intake of polyunsaturated vegetable oils (corn, sunflower, safflower, soy and cottonseed oil).

In summary, to balance Omega 3s and 6s, eat more deep ocean fatty fish, beans, nuts, green vegetables, whole foods, whole grains, fruits, grass fed beef and reduce processed and fast foods, including junk foods.  For those who wish to make more substantial changes to their diet for greater mental and physical health, consider adopting the Mediterranean diet or the similar anti-inflammatory diet for optimal health.  Links for more information about these diets are provided below.

Submitted by Holly O. Houston, Ph.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist