Saturday, February 21, 2015

Creating Happiness to Decrease Stress II

Happiness can be described in many ways - pleasant emotions of contentment or joy, feeling positive about an outcome (happy about a good grade), or even absence from pain or boredom. A good general description of happiness is overall life satisfaction. Some psychologists assert that happiness, like other emotional experiences, is 50% genetic. That is, happiness actually has a set point. The good news is that 40% of happiness is under our intentional control. The other 10% is environmental. Since 40% is available to be influenced, it would be quite beneficial to make efforts to increase happiness. Here are several potential ways to increase happiness:

Focus on joy. One can create positive hopes and expectation. For example, looking forward to learning something new when reading this article or attending a conference. Recapturing positive memories of past events by looking at photos or reminiscing with friends and family.

Make Interpersonal Connections.  Research shows a very high correlation between having social connections and having higher levels of happiness. Our relationships with our loved ones can be a good initiator of happiness. So, cultivating relationships can increase happiness. Make time for social outings, invite people to events or over to hangout, call to make contact and check in with valued others.

Have Fun. Happiness is achieved and enhanced by experiencing the wonderment and amusement that so often characterizes childhood. Finger paint, be silly, swing at the park, have a tickling match and find other ways to laugh.

Visualize Your Best Self. Visualizing and focusing on a positive future can encourage happiness or improved mood. Think about your best possible self after everything has gone as well as it possible could in your life. You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of your life goals. Think of this visualization as the culmination of your life dreams and your best achievements.

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

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Ups and Downs of Coupledom

Every couple has their ups and downs, their successes and failures, their joys and sorrows. The good times can be exciting and even elating as we face joys together with a partner. Marriage, the birth of a child, new jobs, new homes, family vacations, and even just lazy Sunday afternoons are examples of enjoyable experiences magnified by sharing them with a partner or spouse. Even life’s difficulties are somehow more tolerable when we have the support of our partner. We are able to rely upon each other for strength, courage, and guidance.

Unfortunately, there are also times when our relationship is a source of great stress. We become irritated, hurt, disappointed, and downright angry with our partner. And guess what? They get irritated, hurt, disappointed, and angry with us too. Yes, this is par for the course, the nature of the proverbial beast. Life is not perfect, nor is our partner. While this period of unhappiness is often temporary, spending more time feeling unhappy than happy in your relationship leads to one path; misery for both of you.

Fortunately, we are only as doomed as far as our unwillingness to change. Some habits are ones we need to stop, and some we need to start.

·         Let go of the past
We’ve all made mistakes. Just like you wouldn’t want someone to bring up your shortcomings long after you’ve made your amends, your partner doesn’t appreciate it either. Learn to forgive.

·         Accept imperfections
We all have them. Love your partner not only for their strengths, but also for their faults. Their faults are just as much a part of who they are as their desirable qualities are.

·         Do things together
Not just trips or movies or family outings, but simple everyday things. Eat dinner together, every night if possible. Cook together. Go to bed together. Go grocery shopping together. You will learn so many new things about each other.

·         Stop the silent treatment
How can you expect your partner to understand your feelings if you don’t share them first?

Maintaining a healthy relationship is hard work. Hopefully we aren’t making it harder than it needs to be. 

Dr. Kelly Renzi, PsyD
Clinical Psychologist

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Experiential Avoidance Increases Anxiety and Depression

Human minds are prodigious problem-solving machines. When faced with a problem in the external world, a human mind will brainstorm, creating novel ideas and alternative solutions, review the ideas, select the one most likely to solve the problem and implement the solution. This process happens when we are solving major problems and also when we are creating “life hacks” that make a small thing just a little easier.

Often when we are dealing with external problems, the solutions will involve either getting rid of something that is unwanted (removing a tumor, cleaning up a spill, chasing away a raccoon that is rooting in the garbage) or avoiding it (taking shelter from rain or snow, wearing clothes to protect us from cold, turning off an annoying song on the radio).  When we use these kinds of solutions in the external world, they usually work very well.

Using these problem-solving techniques within our own minds, however, does not work nearly as well. We often have sensations, feelings, thoughts and memories that are unpleasant and therefore unwanted. When we attempt to get rid of depressive thoughts, anxious feelings, unpleasant memories, however, we find that our interventions backfire.

In the physical world, when we get rid of something, it is gone, but in the mental world trying to get rid of something causes us to hold on to it. In trying not to think something, we are thinking about it. For instance, if we say to ourselves “I’m not going to think about that terrible memory anymore”, we have just thought about that memory.  When we discover that trying not to think about something doesn’t work well, we may try other methods of getting rid of it. We can drink alcohol, do drugs or gamble to get our minds off of it but those methods tend to cause more problems in the long run – and the thoughts or feelings end up coming back anyway!

Similarly, we may try to avoid situations that cause us to experience unpleasant feelings. If we experience social anxiety, it seems like a good idea at first to avoid the situations in which those feelings arise. Planning to go to a party may give rise to feelings of dread that are relieved as soon as we cancel the plans. The rush of relief is very reinforcing and so the behavior is likely to be repeated. However, if we consistently refuse invitations and stay at home alone, the anxiety we sought to avoid is compounded rather than relieved. At the same time, our life becomes smaller, less interesting, less fulfilling. We have avoided the experience of anxiety that social occasions bring up but at a great cost. We have avoided not only the unpleasant parts of the experience but also the rewards.

In order to have the life we want, we have to be willing to experience all the feelings, thoughts and sensations that go along with it. We often equate happiness with feeling good, a pursuit that is destined to be unsuccessful most of the time, because unpleasant feelings often accompany our most cherished dreams and goals. We are more likely to find happiness if we can think of happiness as vitality, being open to everything life has to offer, what Jon Kabat-Zinn “the whole catastrophe”. If we can take the bad with the good, we can embrace our life and live fully.

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

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Asking for What We Need to Reduce Stress

When we are experiencing heightened levels of stress, it is important to take care of ourselves. Often times, we have a support network that will assist us as well. Other times, we become frustrated with our support network for not meeting our needs. This may be our spouse or partner, family, or friends. Many of us have the tendency to operate on the basis that those closest to us have a sixth sense, so to say, to know what we need when we need it the most.

However, the truth of the matter is, if we truly need or want something, we need to ask for it.  While sometimes others can pick up on our needs by analyzing our actions or interpreting our words, to have the best chances of our needs being met, we need to directly and explicitly communicate those needs with those who we expect to meet those needs.

To have the best chances of our needs being met, there are a few things for us to keep in mind to have the best chance of being successful. First, we need to determine whether the person we are asking is the appropriate person. Are they the right person to ask?  For example, one should not go to your grocer for marital advice or support. You may go to a counselor, or your spouse, or perhaps a trusted religious figure. 

Secondly, does this person have the ability to meet our needs?  Do they have the specific skill, talent, or capability to meet our needs?  Again, we would not go to our local grocer for financial advice. However, if we wanted information on how to pick out the perfect cantaloupe or advice on a piece of meat, our grocer may be the best option. 

We also want to look at the timeliness of our request. Is this the best time to make our request?  If we want to have a serious discussion with our spouse or partner, asking before work, or right before bed may not be the most opportune moment.  Rather, it may be wise to let our spouse or partner know that we want to talk with them, and ask when the best time might be. 

Finally, we want to make sure that our request is direct and specific. Many times we might be vague in our requests, or we make a statement in lieu of a request and expect the other to pick up on our needs. One might make the statement that they are tired and hungry, rather than asking whether their spouse or partner is able/willing to make dinner that evening.  Or we may vaguely tell our spouse or partner that we need more help around the house, rather than providing them with specific examples of what we need assistance with, such as asking them to help with doing laundry and washing the dishes every other night. 

-Karen Rosian, Psy.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist