Monday, December 28, 2015

Stress-Free New Year

Now that Christmas has ended, it’s time to prepare for a healthier and prosperous New Year! This is the time to get your finances in order as well as your health. I usually set aside some time to reflect on the past year and hope to see a better one for the future. All the positive things that occurred in 2015, I tend to focus on and appreciate. The not so good things, I try not to focus on and carry over to the New Year. It is imperative that we do not focus on the negative as this will follow us into the New Year and never leave! Goals are very important to have for the New Year. Here are some goals I set for myself for the New Year:

  • Lose 60 lbs.
  • Eat more vegetables
  • Exercise 4 days a week
  • Focus more on self-care
  • Spend more time with family and friends
  • Spend less money on fast food and cook more at home

If you have any goals for the New Year, please do not hesitate to get moving. This is something we all can do together. Let’s get started and make 2016 a great year!!!

Vashonte James, MSW, LCSW

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Health Benefits of Yoga and Its Stress Reducing Capacity

The practice of yoga has endured for thousands of years and is noted primarily for its ability to increase bodily flexibility and focused awareness. This focused awareness, achieved through breath work and bodily attunement, is a form of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of focusing attention on the present moment without judgment. Thus, yoga is a dual practice of body and mind work. The key to yogic benefit is to perform a well-formulated sequence of postures, called asanas, with long hold times.

Yoga has been shown to have a number of health benefits.  Yoga can enhance weight loss and help maintain weight over time. Because yoga increases mindfulness, mindfulness promotes a better relationship with food where food is savored and urges for emotional eating can be better managed. The inner focus associated with yoga can promote a healthier body image that is less encumbered with critical evaluation.  Decreases in blood pressure, lower cholesterol and lower blood glucose (sugar) are the cardiovascular benefits associated with practicing yoga. The overall fitness benefits of yoga include increased endurance, muscle strength and balance.

Yoga also has neuroscience benefits that only recently have been explained.  For simplicity sake, let’s divide the brains response to stress along two reactive systems – the emotional reaction and the logical reaction.  The emotional reaction to stress is the activating response that turns on the body’s emotions (fear, anger, etc.) and stress hormones (adrenalin and cortisol). The logical reaction to stress does the opposite. It tries to turn the stress signal off and relax the emotions and body.  The pathways of both these systems are located in various parts of the body.

Yoga activates both of these pathways through the engagement of postures or asanas. When a posture is held, the logical system is activated as one focuses on the position. When the body bends forward, relaxation is ignited through bodily nerve pathways. So, bending forward while concentrating forces the logical brain to increase at the same time relaxation is increased producing enhancement of both. When the body bends backward, the logical system is engaged but the contracted muscles produce a stress response. Now, the logical system is challenged to overcome the stress response. The process of overcoming the stress response strengthens the logical system in the presence of stress, thus improving overall and long-term stress reduction.  Practicing yoga regularly helps rewire the brains circuitry to improve and increase the connections to the logical system making it easier to manage stress.  In terms of behavior, this means that negative thinking is better controlled and minimized and negative mood states (anxiety and depression) are reduced.  For these reasons, yoga has successfully been used in the treatment of trauma and is being explored for its use in cardiac and cancer treatments, all of which are affected by stress.

Submitted By Holly Houston, PhD. Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Monday, December 7, 2015

Beating the Holiday Blues

‘Tis the Season...for joy, happiness, and time spent with friends and family. ‘Tis also the season for stress, anxiety, loneliness, and exhaustion. While we are excited about the holidays, and may often look forward to the season, we also are overwhelmed by the many festivities and obligations. We’re busy attending holiday programs and concerts, cooking and baking, decorating, cleaning, hosting company, and of course shopping. It is extremely easy to get lost in the daily shuffle of it all, which can cause us to feel stressed and anxious. The season that we were so excited about has now become dreaded, and we can’t wait for it to be over with.

This is the tug of war we play every year. We don’t need to. We become so caught up in the process of it all that we forget why we’re doing it. We forget that we enjoy the holidays because of the joy and happiness we (hopefully) experience when we spend special time with our friends and family. That if it wasn’t for those people in our lives, there would be no need for baking and cooking, shopping, or decorating, and there would be no holiday programs to attend. The holiday season was never meant to be the source of stress; we have created that ourselves through the generations.

Make the season become once again about celebration. Change your thinking pattern. Rather than dreading another holiday work party, consider the fact that while you are at a work function absolutely no work is expected of you. Decorate the house if it makes you happy to do so, but don’t put up more that you’ll want to take down later. Let baking and cooking become a family tradition that you can do with your children, and let there be something special about it like singing songs or bringing a plate over to an elderly neighbor. Learn your limits and abide by them. Sometimes things are better when they are simpler. And never forget that excitement you felt for the holidays when you were a child.
The holidays can be a very stressful time for many, but only if we allow it to be.

Kelly Renzi, PsyD
Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Thursday, November 19, 2015

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

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Choosing Values to Reduce Stress

There are always situations in which there are many potential responses. Often times, one may be uncertain how best to proceed, uncertain which response will deliver the most desirable outcome.  Sometimes we evaluate a situation based on what we would like to achieve, or how we would like to feel about ourselves. Othertimes, we may choose a response based on how it will affect the other person.  The complexity of this process can be overwhelming. Often times, we make our choice without much thought or awareness. Yet other times, we are so painfully aware, that we may become paralyzed by the options.  

I was recently in such a situation.  I was on a flight during which I accidentally saw that the person next to me was texting to one of her contacts. I was not intentionally snooping or trying to eavesdrop. But what I saw made my heart fall. This seatmate of mine was using hurtful, negative language to discuss her displeasure of sitting next to me. In fact, it was not my actions that incited her words, rather it was my figure that she found displeasing.  I was hurt by her words and struggled to decide how to respond.

I had many thoughts as to how I should respond. I thought about leaning over and informing her that I could see her screen, unsure whether I should comment on the content I was able to see. I thought about loudly telling my travel partner what I had just read. I even thought about using negative, hurtful language towards her, acknowledging her hurtful words and the anger which they had stirred inside of me. 

In the end, I chose kindness. I did not address the woman about the words that I accidentally read on her screen.  I am not certain that this absence of a response was the correct response, and at times, I wonder whether I should have done something differently. However, at this point in time, it is a moot point. The time to act has passed. I cannot go back and change my response.  However, I am content with my choice. I did not respond with anger, although I certainly felt angry. I did not respond with unkind words, which would have not done anything to improve the situation or world. I did not seek to make this person feel bad, as she made me feel.

I choose to respond with kindness, as I chose to define it in that moment.  I responded using my values of treating others kindly and to do no harm. My definition of kindness here may differ from others, and may even differ from my own definition on another occasions, but this is the definition on which I based my response.  I was not certain of the best way to change the situation for the better, to educate this person about the ramification of their actions. I did know that I did not want to cause pain, embarrassment, or shame for this person. I have experienced those emotions and did not want to be the cause of those feelings for someone else. With all the options available to me, I chose what would not bring shame to myself. I chose to be kind and not to potentially create feelings of shame and embarrassment to this woman.  

Karen Rosian, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Increased Anxiety and Depression on the Anniversary of Loss or Trauma

On the anniversary of a loss or traumatic event, thoughts and feelings about the experience may be reactivated, with a resulting increase in symptoms of anxiety, grief or depression. People are likely to remember the event more clearly and experience the associated emotions much more sharply. This is a natural and normal part of healing from loss and trauma, although it can be quite distressing.

The symptoms anniversary reactions provoke are the same ones that the person may have experienced at the time of the loss: sadness, tearfulness, loss of appetite, trouble falling or staying asleep, nightmares, irritability, difficulty concentrating, feeling disconnected or detached from others.  Reliving these emotions are part of the healing process and actually facilitates recovery from the event. Everyone grieves differently, however, and not everyone reacts in the same manner. Some may not experience anniversary reactions at all, which is also completely normal.

For those who do experience an intensification of mourning on anniversaries, the American Psychological Association Disaster Response Network recommends some coping strategies that help:

Recognize and acknowledge feelings you may experience. Understand that your feelings are part of the recovery process.

Find healthy ways to cope with your distress. Share memories and feelings with someone you trust or just spend time with friends and family. Activities that allow your mind to focus on something other than these memories are a good coping strategy for some people. Contemplative activities like reading, thinking or just taking a walk are also a good approach. Avoid reactions that become part of the problem such as drinking or using drugs.

Engage in an activity that honors lost loved ones. You may want to plant a tree in their memory, make a donation to their favorite charity, participate in activities your loved one would have enjoyed or share happy memories with others. Consider volunteering; you may find that helping others actually helps you. 

Use your support system. Reach out to friends and family. Don’t isolate yourself. 

Some people will also benefit from speaking to a psychotherapist about their experiences. Psychotherapy may take many forms but will probably involved talking about the event or the loved one and learning new ways of thinking about and managing thoughts, feelings and behaviors that are associated with the experience. To learn more about this and other topics about your mental health you may visit

Nancy R. Soro, Ph.D.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Winter Blues - Tips for Reducing Seasonal Depression

As the final weeks of September creep in, the weather has begun to cool off.  With the cooling temperatures comes the sure sign that fall is not far behind: falling leaves, football, hoodies, and pumpkin spice lattes.  For those who enjoy the fall season, it’s a fun and exciting time, but for those who dread the dark and dreary winter coming it can be a time of anxiety and concern that negative feels are soon to follow. 

There are a great many people in the U.S. who suffer from depressive symptoms that set in as the calendar turns from September to October and November.  As the days get shorter and the nighttime comes earlier, it’s easier to get stuck in the negative feelings that come with the loss of warm, comforting weather.  The medical community refers to this as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and while not everyone feels the symptoms severely enough to warrant a diagnosis, most of us can relate to needing a little boost during this time of year. 

Here are some tips that you can use to help battle the dreary feelings associated with this time of year:

1.     Recognize the symptoms- The most important place to begin is to understand the symptoms of SAD.  The most common symptoms include trouble getting out of bed, losing motivation to do this, no longer having interest in things you used to love, changes in appetite, difficulty focusing, and an inability to think clearly.  These symptoms appear in cycle in SAD, meaning that you won’t really feel them any time other than the fall and winter months.  So if you’re a ball of energy in June, but a puddle January, you may be experiencing SAD symptoms.
2.     Let in the Sun- Part of the reason that we experience depressive symptoms during this time of year is that we have less exposure to sunlight as the days get shorter.  You’re mind and body are in tune with world around you, so when you don’t see as much sun, your mood is bleaker and down.  You can challenge this by increase the amount of sunlight you’re exposed to.  Throw open the shades, wake up earlier to enjoy the sun, and replace the dark paint with some brighter, vibrant colors.  It may even help to move the furniture around so that your couch and bed are in directly sunlight.
3.     Actively engage in things you enjoy-  While our energy level during this time of year can be low, it’s important to force ourselves to be active to combat these depressive symptoms.  Now is a great time to plan activities, even if our motivation might be less than great.  In most cases, you’ll find that once you get out of the house, your energy returns to its previous, summertime state.  If you’re able, you may even want to schedule a vacation during these winter months instead of using it all up during the summer.
4.     Be actively healthy- When our energy level is low health factors often fall by the wayside, which contributes to our depression.  Instead of feeling like its too cold out to hit the gym, force yourself to try and get in a workout.  Avoid those unhealthy fast food meals just because they’re easier and make the effort to eat a little healthier.  Your body will be boosted by the increased efforts to be healthy, and your mind will follow close behind.
5.     Check out light therapy- Some client’s who suffer from SAD find it helpful to utilize light therapy in an effort to improve their mood.  Light therapy involves using a device that emits light closer that emitted by the sun in an effort to help your mind and body forget about the drab conditions outside.  There are several devices available—from battery-powered visors, portable light boxes and special light bulbs, to dawn simulators (lamps that switch on before dawn and gradually light your room, like the sun rising)—but be cautious and talk to your health care provider before trying light therapy.
6.     If all else fails, get help- SAD is a common condition that affects people, particularly those living in the Midwest where the winters are long and cold.  It can also be a serious one that causes significant stress in our daily lives.  If you’ve tried all these and other techniques with little improvement, don’t hesitate to seek clinical help from your doctor or from a counselor like the ones at the Anxiety & Stress Center!

Just because the weather is bleak outside, doesn’t mean that we have to match it with our feelings inside.  If you feel like you have less motivation and energy during the winter months, be active in challenging it.  With these tips, you can help to ensure that the season doesn’t dictate your mood!

William Knor, LCPC
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

Thursday, September 3, 2015

We Are What We Think

The clever ways that life lessons are imparted in parables can make the consideration of their complex meanings an enjoyable, if not absorbing, pasttime. While browsing various media sources, I have often come across this Cherokee parable. Its application to the basic tenet of cogitive psychotherapy (the way we think affects the way we feel) and the wisdom of self-understanding is substantial. The parable alludes to the consequences of what we exposure our minds to in the form of thoughts. When we think positively, we are likely to have greater well-being and feel good. When we think negatively, we are likely to have dimnished well-being and feel bad. Thus, we are what we think.

Two Wolves: A Cherokee Teaching

An elderly Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life...
He said to them, "A fight is going on inside me, it is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.
One wolf is evil -- he is fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, competition, superiority, and ego.
The other is good---he is joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.
This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too."
They thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"
The old Cherokee simply replied: "The one you feed".

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

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Impact of Stress on Memory

Have you ever noticed that when you’re trying to hurry up with something, it often takes longer to accomplish? You overslept and had to rush through the morning routine to get to work or the kids to school, and you can’t find your keys. You can find a million shoes, but none of them match. Or worse yet, you get to work and realize you forgot your briefcase at home.

The answer to this phenomenon is simple. It’s stress. This may seem like a crutch or an excuse, but it is real. Multiple studies throughout the years have confirmed that stress and anxiety increase cortisol levels in the brain, leading to decreased number of synapses (the connections between neurons) in the pre-frontal cortex where short-term memory is controlled. Stress has also been found to increase white matter in the brain which leads to a reduction in the number of neurons which assist with memory processing.

The bad news here is that if we never do anything to reduce our levels of stress, our brain functioning will only decline. Lack of attention and concentration also associated with stress will confound forgetfulness. However, there is good news. Not only can stress-related memory loss be reversed, it can be prevented by taking the following steps:

Establish a sleep routine. Not everyone requires 8 hours of sleep; some need less and some need more. However much you require to function at your fullest (generally at least 7 hours) should be regular. Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time.
Exercise regularly. The body recognizes exercise as stress because it is different than our regular relaxed state and temporarily will actually increase cortisol levels. However, with regular exercise, this effect is decreased and the body no longer perceives exercise as stress. This leads to less production of cortisol and hence a stronger ability to respond to stress.
Breathe. Practice deep breathing exercises to increase oxygen flow to the brain. This will facilitate a more relaxed feeling but also allow for better attention and concentration.
Keep it in perspective. We all experience stress in ways that are both acute and chronic. Remind yourself to take a step back and consider how important this particular stressor is in the grand scheme of things.
Laugh and have fun. Laughter increases your intake of oxygen, stimulates yours cardiovascular system, and increases endorphins.  Engaging in enjoyable activities can also foster a sense of well-being and socialization.

So next time you notice you are feeling stressed and forgetful, take a deep breath, exercise, laugh, and sleep. And remember, tomorrow will be better.

Kelly Renzi, PsyD