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

Monday, July 14, 2014

Managing Stress: Building up your Tool Kit

Stress takes on many forms- finances, family, children, friends, life, etc.  The list can be endless. As such, our coping skills should also take on many forms.  Some skills may work great for one situation, though not as effective in another.  Some skills may get over used, and therefore, lose effectiveness overtime. To most effectively cope with stress, we should have a variety of coping tools in our stress toolkit to address all sorts of stressors, and to have a variety of back up skills should one skill not be as effective as we need in that moment. 

Calming/Soothing Skills
Calming and soothing skills help us relax, calm down and sooth our stressed selves.  These skills can be largely individualized to your preferences. Some people enjoy deep breathing exercises, while others may prefer more formal scripted muscle relaxation exercises. Other skills include soothing yourself by using your five senses to calm and relax. What are pleasant things to look at?  What is pleasing or relaxing to smell? What would you enjoy listening to? Pleasing to the touch?  What tastes are comforting?  Resting your eyes on a beautiful sunset, or smelling a bouquet of roses while listening to a peaceful melody may help sooth you when feeling stressed.  Taking a warm bubble bath or eating a warm piece of apple pie may also have similar effects.

Active Skills
Active skills are skills that allow us to be more active to cope with our stress and making changes to the situation. These skills may allow us to actively work towards a solution or improvement to the situation, or they may work by keeping us busy and active so as not to succumb to depression or other ineffective ways of coping.  Examples of active skills include getting up and doing something, anything.  Play a sport, go out with friends; do something you enjoy!  Blow bubbles or go for a run, maybe volunteer and give back to your community. 

Another way to actively cope is to actively do something to try to change or improve the situation.  You can use assertiveness skills to ask for something that you need or want in a situation, or to communicate how you are feeling as a result of a situation or interaction. You may also learn how to better communicate with family or friends or your boss. Taking action regarding a situation rather than continuing to avoid that situation is another way that you can actively cope with a situation.

No matter which coping skills you choose to use, it’s always best to have several skills to use to better match the skill for the situation, as well as to ensure that if one skill isn’t quite working, you have other skills you can use.    

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

Monday, July 7, 2014

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Trauma-Related Conditions: Not Just for Veterans

Many people are now acquainted with the term PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) as the reaction veterans can experience after returning from combat. PTSD and related conditions are certainly part of the experience of war. Determining and implementing appropriate responses to the many affected vets has been a focus in the military and the VA for several decades. Excellent information for vets and their loved ones can be found at and

However, anyone who has experienced a trauma can develop PTSD or a trauma-related condition. Traumatic events happen to over half the American population and more than a quarter of the population experiences repeated trauma, which increases the likelihood of developing PTSD. Trauma may be a one-time event or an on-going condition of life.

Physical or sexual abuse, experiencing or witnessing violence in the home or neighborhood, severe life-threatening illness or death of a loved one, natural disasters, and motor vehicle accidents are the most common traumatic events experienced by the general population. Learning about a violent or accidental event in the life of a loved one is also considered to be a traumatic event, even if it was not witnessed.

Most people who experience a trauma will have symptoms at the time of the event that gradually fade away over time. Those who continue to experience a significant cluster of symptoms more than one month after the event, which happens for about 5-15% of those exposed to trauma, have developed a delayed and/or prolonged reaction called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Some people do not develop full-blown PTSD but may continue to suffer some specific trauma-related symptoms that interfere with their functioning. These reactions, often called trauma-related conditions, may be focused on one area of the trauma rather than affecting several aspects of functioning, as in PTSD.

Traumatic experiences activate the fight or flight response, causing a physiological reaction. Usually those reactions subside when the situation ends or the person returns to safety. In PTSD, that physiological response persists after the dangerous situation ends, manifesting as a continuous low-level arousal that is thrown into high gear when the individual encounters reminders of the event.

Encountering people, places or objects related to the incident may cause the person with PTSD to react as if the trauma were happening again, with resulting increased heart rate, sweating or emotional responses. The survivor may begin to avoid people or situations that remind him or her of the event and thereby avoid the emotional and physiological responses.  This attempt to avoid symptoms, however, can limit an individual’s life and end up increasing the problems caused by the trauma.

The good news about PTSD is that it can be successfully treated in a number of ways. Most approaches to treatment combine medication with psychotherapy. Therapies for PTSD and trauma-related conditions often include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which has been proven to be successful in treating these conditions. In this type of therapy, the individual learns to become aware of feelings, thoughts and beliefs connected to the trauma and how to cope with them. Exposure Therapy, which includes repeatedly reviewing the event and approaching previously avoided situations while practicing relaxation, is helpful for some people with PTSD. Treatment may also focus on substance use, because people with PTSD often “self-medicate” in an attempt to deal with their severe symptoms.

Diet, exercise, and practices such as yoga and mindfulness are also important components of treatments for PTSD. Because of the physiological arousal associated with the disorder, PTSD affects the body as well as the mind and is often associated with increased risk for physical illness. These approaches to healing allow the individual to prevent, ameliorate or even reverse physical consequences of the disorder and help with stress management.

If you have experienced a traumatic event and are having sleep difficulties, nightmares or are emotionally numb, irritable or angry, be sure to tell your primary care provider or therapist about your symptoms and ask if your symptoms could be related to the trauma. The National Center for PTSD has a webpage entitled “How to Talk Your Doctor About Trauma and PTSD”, which includes a checklist that can be completed and printed. It is available at

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

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Need for a Positive Support System in Reducing Stress

"No Man is an Island"
-John Donne

For many people battling with stress, the fight can often feel like a very lonely struggle.  The anxiety and depression that result from struggles at work and in our personal life cause us to feel isolated from others and forget that there are people around us who can help.  These people are our support system, and their presence is vital to reducing stress and helping us maintain a general sense of sanity in our worlds.

The purpose of having a positive support system is to ensure that we are not forced to cope with the pressures of stress alone- they keep us stable.  No matter how successful you may feel at coping with your problems alone, there will always come a time when even the strongest coping skills is not enough.  Stressful situations get worse just as sure as they eventually get better and it is important to have people to lean on when this happens.  Different support persons achieve this in different ways.  Some may help us by lending an ear to listen to us unload our stress.  Others may help take our mind off things by providing a fun afternoon activity to socialize.  No matter how they achieve it, a support person is defined by the end result of helping us reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.

In addition to receiving stability from your support system, many people find that it helps them to feel grounded and validated.  When we get involved in stressful, anxious, or depressed situations, we often convince ourselves that no one in the world as gone through something like this.  We fool ourselves into believing that no one else could ever understand our pain.  A positive support system will often remind us that being overwhelmed and emotionally drained is normal and expected.  They can help us maintain perspective when our world feels out of control, and a good support system knows what to say to help us take a deep breath and take stock of our lives.

The most important part of creating a positive support system is being able to identify those people in your life that give you stability and validation without the negativity of judgment.  These people could come from any facet of your life: a spouse, a child, a parent or siblings, a co-worker, or just a friend.  If you feel comfortable sharing your feelings with this person and you can expect no judgment back from them, then they are a part of your positive support system.  If they do pass judgment or make you feel negative about the emotions you’re going to, then perhaps it is time to release them from your support system and engage with someone that helps you relieve your stress.

There are times and situations when we may discover that we don’t have the positive support system that we want.  It may be that our supports are too negative for us or that our supports have become warn out.  In these cases, you may want to seek out some new members to add to your support team.  This can be done in a number of different places.  Start by seeking out environments where you can find positive people, including: church groups, community organizations, and even neighbors.  In these groups, you can seek out new friends to create relationships with that can be supportive in the future.

Our positive support groups can be as big or as small as we feel comfortable.  Each person is different and requires a different support network to help us cope with our problems. The most important thing to remember is that, no matte the size, we all need a positive support network of some kind.  If you feel that you don’t have anyone in your life to help you through difficult times, this may be the perfect time to seek out a neighborhood friend, attend a church group meeting, or call a family member.  Reach out to the positive people around us and allow them to help.  You’ve probably already helped someone else- now let them help you!

Bill Knor, LCPC
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor