Beacon of Change Counseling

Katy Rader, LMHC

Individual and Family Therapy Services

How to Reduce Excessive Worrying

Worrying is a part of being human. Worry is an extension of fear, and fear (of appropriate things) keeps us safe. This has been reinforced through evolution. However, often worrying can get the better of us and take up far more of our time that we would like.

Be aware of your worrying triggers

What causes you to worry more? Is it work deadlines/presentations, social stressors, dating, being out of control, family issues? Knowing your triggers will allow you to address them more efficiently.

Identify in the moment when you are worrying more

Sometimes worrying can be so overwhelming that we don’t even realize we are doing it until we are overcome with worries. Identifying where you are on your “worry ladder” will help you know when to start practicing your coping skills.

Take a deep breath

We hear this all the time, but it’s because it works. When we are anxious, we begin to breathe more shallowly. This builds up an oxygen debt, which results in us not thinking through worries in a functional way. Taking time to do some deep breathing also gives you time to determine what you need to do next.

Relax your muscles

Usually people who worry a lot get tired of being told to relax, but this is a different way to relax that truly reduces your anxiety. Do a body scan of your muscle tension and actively work to relax those muscles. Anxiety is an overreaction in our brain in which the brain perceives that it is in danger (again with evolution trying to keep us safe). With anxiety comes muscle tension to prepare for fight or flight. If we can work to reduce the tension in our muscles, we can tell our brain that it is not in danger, thereby reducing our anxiety.

Do a brain dump

Once your muscles are more relaxed, your brain can work more efficiently to evaluate what is causing those worries and how to address them. Get out a piece of paper or open a new computer document and write down whatever is on your mind. Read over it and see what truly needs to be addressed now, what can wait, and what is just your anxious brain piling on some extra worries that are not significant.

Address what seems most significant

Talk to your significant other if it’s relationship issues. Address work issues with your supervisor or get organized to address work flow issues. Taking action often reduces anxiety.

Practice relaxation and/or meditation on a regular basis to keep worries low

Do deep breathing and body muscle relaxation on a daily basis. Progressive muscle relaxation is another technique which reduces anxiety and is especially helpful for reducing anxiety prior to sleeping.

Excessive worry does not have to be a part of your daily life. Practicing ways to actively reduce your worries and tension can help reduce worries.

Exercise and Movement to Improve Mental Health Symptoms

What movement helps?

Any movement helps! Walking, stretching, yoga, any movement you enjoy is good movement.

Why does it help?

Our bodies were not made to be sedentary. Movement feels good. Movement allows our body to get energy out if we are feeling anxious or angry or overwhelmed. Movement allows us to gain energy when we are in a low mood or have a lack of motivation. Moving our bodies allows us to feel accomplished. It’s great to accomplish something that we have been wanting to do, and feel good about doing something good for our body and our brain. Movement allows our brain to get unstuck from it’s typical thinking patterns and spurs deeper, more creative thinking. Often we can work out some of our problems while exercising.

How much do I need to do?

Again, any movement helps! Some feel that they need to do a certain amount to reach a level of support. But for most, even 10 minutes of sitting on your floor and stretching can make you feel better.

How often do I need to do it to see a change?

Most see a true improvement in mental health symptoms with 20 minutes three times a week. Does that mean you have to do that much? No! Do whatever you can. Some love getting their heart pumping enough to get some endorphins rushing. That can be rewarding, but certainly not necessary to feel benefits. Once you get started, movement itself is rewarding and you will likely fit whatever you can into your life. Benefits of exercise are cumulative and increase with consistency.

How will exercise help me?

There are multiple studies that have found exercise as an effective treatment for depression. Studies have also shown that exercise adds benefits to those who are already in therapy, and that anxiety symptoms are reduced with both aerobic and non-aerobic exercise. One group who seems to benefit most from exercise are those who are have ADHD symptoms. Studies have shown that just one exercise session improves both academic and behavior in children with ADHD as much as 30 percent. Moderate and intense exercise provide the bigger benefits for this group.

How do I get started?

Do whatever you can. Is there any kind of movement that you have done in the past that you enjoyed? Taking a walk after work? Playing in the yard with your kids? Playing basketball/frisbee/soccer with friends? Try what has worked in the past and see how you still like it. Is there any movement that you are interested in trying?

You love the idea of CrossFit/running/yoga, but aren’t sure how to get started? Ask around and see what friends and family do. Think about having a more active lifestyle, e.g. Just not sitting. Gardening, dancing, parking a couple of blocks away from your destination and walking are all ways to get more activity. Check with your doctor prior to beginning an exercise routine if needed.

Any movement helps. Double up benefits by exercising with a friend for social benefits. Enjoy movement outside and enjoy nature’s restorative benefits. Get outside and get the added mood regulating benefit of being in the sunshine. If it feels hard, keep trying. Each little bit of movement spurs more movement and added benefits.

Good luck!

Connecting with Your Teen

Nearly all parents of teenagers are wondering what they can do to better connect with their teen. Adolescence is a time of change and exploration for finding oneself. It is normal adolescent development to begin pulling away from their families of origin and individuating through connecting with their friends.

Below are some ideas about increasing connection and communication with your teen.

Remember that spending time with their friends is normal development

  • Respect boundaries and privacy. This is essential as the relationship with your child evolves from that of a parent/child relationship to a parent/teen relationship.

  • Make your house a place that your teen and their friends want to hangout. Figure out how to make your house inviting to your teen and others.

  • Invite their friends with you to dinner, game nights, even vacations.

  • Talk to your teen and their friends about important issues. Utilize opportunities to talk about issues when your teen is with their friends. Kids are more likely to listen if their friends are listening.

Keep Rituals. Rituals are a great way to reinforce consistency within your family.

  • Dinner together.

  • Saying good night. If your teen comes to expect that you will stop by to say good night each night, they may take advantage of this time to talk to you.

  • One on one activities. One parent, one child. Good for errands or other activities.

  • Friday night dinner, movie night, family game night, favorite TV show.

  • Volunteer together, especially if it’s something your teen is interested in.

Engage in their Interests

  • Let them teach you. Let your teen be the expert. You being vulnerable (e.g. think rock climbing or doing anything else for the first time) allows your teen to be more engaged. Stretch your interests.

  • Help them learn something new – cooking, golfing, knitting, art, music.

Let them take on a bigger role in the family

  • Teens strive for more freedom. With freedom comes responsibility, so how can you engage this with your teen? Examples: Have them plan dinner, shopping trips, or weekend plans.

Make it easier to talk (aka Talk less and listen more)

  • Be a safe and available person for them to talk to. You don’t have to agree with everything, just let them talk without interrupting and use their problem solving skills.

  • Utilize times when your attention as the adult is divided. This sounds counter-intuitive, but our undivided attention on our teen can feel intense. Being somewhat distracted, while still able to be engaged, can lead to positive conversations. Examples: Car talks, folding laundry, doing chores.

  • Use TV and other media to discuss difficult topics. We have to model discussing difficult topics so they know we are open and willing to talk about uncomfortable topics.

Be the Parent

  • Be a good role model. Respect them, their ideas/friends. Stay calm.

  • Be a clear sighted, compassionate mentor.

  • Set clear expectations and consequences.

  • Be real and honest. Own up if you make a mistake.

Be positive

  • Catch them doing something right and highlight their strengths, even if it’s something at which they have always excelled. Praise the effort, not the outcome. Example: Getting good grades, excelling at sports/art/music, we need to praise their hard work, instead of the outcome.

  • Adolescence is a time of self doubt. Continue to reinforce positive traits.

Don’t try to fix things

  • Becoming a problem solver sends the message that having difficult feelings isn’t OK or that we aren’t comfortable with them.

  • When your teens brings a problem to you. Don’t fix, empathize.

    1. Pause: Pause for at least 5-10 seconds before responding to what your teen is saying. Allow the emotions to surface and settle in. (Note: This can be challenging! With practice, however, the pause can build the bridge that leads to a deep connection with your child).

    2. Validate: Let your teen know it's OK to feel the way they do.

    3. Label: Help them label their emotions. When kids experience emotions such as jealousy, rage and humiliation for the first time, they often call those emotions "sadness" or "anger." Really drilling down into the particular emotion(s) they feel can help demystify the experience and make it more manageable.

    4. Empathize: Think of a time when you have gone through something similar. For example, if your teen comes to you feeling embarrassed, think of a time you were embarrassed and relay that story. When you're empathizing, try starting with those three simple yet powerful words: "I get it.”

Praise them. Tell them I love you. Even if they don’t seem to care or notice.

Above all, be persistent. Adolescence is a time of change and growth. Parents need to be persistent with providing support and space to allow their children to become responsible adults. Get support for this time from your partner or other parents. Hang in there and keep being the parent you want to be.

Setting Healthy Boundaries

Have you ever allowed yourself to be talked into doing something and afterwards regretted it? Do you want to help out other people but then take on too much yourself? Setting healthy boundaries allows you to take on what works for you so that you can excel at what is most important.

What is a boundary?

Boundaries can be emotional or physical. A boundary is simply space between ourselves and others to preserve stability. Poor emotional boundaries at work or in our relationships lead to resentment, anger and burnout. Without insight into our difficulty to set boundaries, it can feel like others are taking advantage of our kind and helpful nature. We need to be aware of our responsibility in setting boundaries with others to prevent this.

How do we set boundaries?

The key to setting boundaries is first figuring out what one wants from their various relationships, setting boundaries based on these desires, and then being clear with oneself and with other people about these boundaries. A lot of work is done in the first step of figuring out what you want from a relationship. What has made you feel uncomfortable in the past? What have you said yes to that you wished you would have said no? A therapist or an assertive friend can help you identify this if you are struggling.

Some tips on setting boundaries:

1. Back up boundary setting with action.

2. Be direct, firm and gracious.

3. Don't debate, defend or over-explain.

4. Have support easily available on the sidelines in the beginning.

5. Stay strong, don't give in.

What does a healthy boundary look like?

A friend asked to come over when you are cleaning your house to prepare for your parents to come over the next day. When you explain this, she says that she’ll help you and it will be more fun. You feel like this is something you need to do yourself, but can tell that she wants to spend time with you. How do you respond? Be careful of wanting to spare her feelings by saying something like, “Oh I don’t want to subject you to my messy house.” By placing the emotion in her court, she can counter that by saying she doesn’t mind and will be over soon to help. If you are more assertive, but respectful in saying something like “I appreciate your offer to help, but I need to do this on my own. Let’s get together next week to do XYZ activity.” This gives no opportunity for her to counter your suggestion, and makes plans to get together with her soon.

Physical boundaries

Setting physical boundaries is very important. We are in charge of who is in our physical space. Everyone’s comfort level with physical space is different. It’s important to be able to set those boundaries early in relationships with others. The person in the relationship with the more strict physical boundaries is in control. If one friend is a hugger and the other isn’t, an agreement needs to be made about how to handle affection. Holding your hand out for a handshake is a good way to show your level of comfort with a greeting. Physical boundaries are essential in sexual relationships. Practice setting boundaries with those that you trust first or maybe it’s easier to set a boundary with a stranger.

What should I do if a boundary is violated?

Bring it up right away. The longer you wait to address the violation, the more uncomfortable it will be. If this happened in front of other people, it may feel more comfortable to do this one on one with the person who violated your boundary. Explain the violation and your boundary clearly.

What are the benefits to setting boundaries?

Setting boundaries improves your own self esteem, self respect and is good self care. You will receive more respect from others and will be a role model to others setting boundaries. You will set the precedent of honest, direct communication with others. You will contribute to others’ well being as they will know that they have behaved in a way that meets your needs.

Setting healthy boundaries allows you to get more of what you want and less of what you don’t. You will feel more in control and comfortable with your interactions with others. It may feel difficult to start doing this, but the benefits will help you continue to set boundaries with others. Keep practicing. Enlist a friend to help talk out how to set difficult boundaries. The more boundaries you set, the more skilled and graceful it will feel.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

As we move into the winter months, many of us are dealing with cooler temperatures and less hours of sunlight. Lack of sunlight affects our circadian rhythms and reduces serotonin. Both of these can trigger feelings of depression, like lack of motivation, low energy, problems sleeping, lack of interest in typically pleasurable activities, difficulty concentrating, feeling sluggish or agitated, even thoughts of death or suicide.

If you are feeling like hurting yourself, these are serious thoughts. Please get support and go to your nearest emergency room to be assessed. These feelings of depression should be taken seriously and can be addressed through medication, light therapy and psychotherapy.

What are your therapeutic options?

  • Light therapy is a box that emits light similar to sunlight and helps to regulate serotonin levels. Light therapy is usually used first thing in the morning for 15-60 minutes. There are few side effects to light therapy, but talk to your doctor about what type of light therapy would be right for you. Light therapy boxes range from $50-$150.

  • Psychotherapy helps by addressing negative thought patterns that might be making you feel worse, address activity scheduling to reduce isolation and learning how to manage stress. 

  • Medication may help. Talk to your doctor.

What can you do now to help?

  • Take care of yourself. Get the right amount of sleep at the right times, e.g. usually 7-8 hours for adults. Refer to my Sleep Hygiene blog post!

  • Eat regularly and in a way that nourishes your body and brain. 

  • Practice stress management. Be aware of what increases your stress and reduce it, if possible. Engage in healthy stress reduction. Exercise is always helpful. Find alternatives if your favorite exercise is less desirable due to weather.

  • Socialize. Being around people and nurturing relationships is a protective factor for depression.

  • Get outside. I know it’s cold and the sun sets early, so try going out during midday, maybe a walk at lunch. Don’t wear sunglasses or sunscreen so that your body fully soaks up the sunshine. Even if it’s cloudy, being outside will regulate your serotonin levels.

Some supplements that may help reduce SAD symptoms include:

  • Vitamin D. Vitamin D is synthesized by our bodies in response to exposure to sunlight. Research shows that up to 80% of Americans are deficient in vitamin D. Your doctor can check your vitamin D levels through a simple blood test. 

  • Fish oil 

  • B vitamins

  • St. John’s Wort

  • SAM-e

SAD is a significant disorder which can be improved. We don’t just have to wait until Spring. Reach out for help to improve your symptoms.

Why you might feel worse before you feel better

Why sometimes therapy might make you feel worse before you feel better. And why that’s a good thing.

People often come into therapy because they have gotten fed up with their symptoms: feeling depressed or anxious, drinking too much, unsatisfying relationships, etc. Once starting therapy, you might start to take a look at what’s behind those symptoms and focus on the core issue. This is often difficult and can actually make you feel worse. However, your therapist will help you work on this core issue and increase self care and coping skills to deal with emotions in a healthy way. Therapy is not always fun, but that could very well mean that it’s working.  

So what’s at work when we start to feel worse? One thing is our defenses. Our brain uses defenses to keep us from feeling a negative emotion. We all use them in different ways. The trouble with defenses is they perpetuate the pain they’re trying to protect because they prevent us facing it and dealing with it. No one ever died from tears but plenty ruin their lives drowning their sorrows in unhealthy ways – drinking, casual sex, or lack of social connection are common. Other common defense mechanisms are dissociation (a kind of zoning out), reaction formation (converting unwanted feelings and thoughts into their opposite – like being extra nice to someone you can’t stand) and projection (attributing emotions and thoughts you don’t want onto someone else - ‘my wife’s the angry one’). Even being busy all the time can be a defense against stopping and risking feeling a feeling. So can wanting to quit therapy when the going gets tough.

However, therapists are not infallible. If something is not working for you, speak up. Your therapist wants things to work for you and if things are too hard, then maybe there’s a different way to make progress. Maybe you can do some more work on self care and coping skills to support you through the difficult times. 

Therapy is hard work. It’s painful at times to look at the difficult things in our lives and it’s really hard to change how we do things. But it’s worth it to stop feeling the way you’ve been feeling. If you can stick with the process, you can lead a happier and more fulfilling life. 


Mind-Body Connection

What is the mind body connection and how does it affect me?

Emotions like anger, fear, guilt, anxiety, sadness, resentment, jealousy, depression, and stress can manifest within the body and contribute to physical distress and disease. For example, you are likely already familiar with the way that fear can contribute to digestive upset or how tension can lead to headaches. When you experience emotional states like sadness, joy, or anger, physiological sensations occur in different areas of your body. This connection is multidirectional. Emotional experiences affect the way you behave and the physiology within your body. In the other direction, your perception of these emotion-triggered bodily changes also influences your consciously felt emotions. Essentially, our emotions affect our physical body and our physical body affects how we feel emotionally. The better the connection between our mind and body, the more effectively we can reduce any negative effects of our emotions on our physical body and, conversely, the negative effects of physical ailment on our emotions.

What can I do to increase my mind body connection?

Healing and preventing disease requires a combination of physical, spiritual, and emotional approaches. There are a variety of mind-body approaches that can help you process your emotions and develop inner peace and physical wellness. To avoid the buildup of toxic emotions, you need to remain present and aware. Paying attention allows you to identify emotions as they arise, process them, and choose how you react. One way to effectively express, feel, and get your feelings out is to talk about them. This can be done out loud by speaking with a trusted friend or therapist—or on paper through a journaling practice.

Meditation is another valuable mind-body practice for becoming more present and centering the mind. Meditation is simply relaxing calmly without distractions and acknowledging your thoughts, but allowing the thoughts to pass on by. My favorite visualization during meditation is sitting on the bank of a stream and each thought is a leaf floating on the stream. You acknowledge that the leaf is on the surface of the stream, but you watch it float on down the stream and out of sight. This allows us to not get caught up in a thought. Yoga, breathing practices, tai chi and guided imagery are all effective ways to increase the mind-body connection.

What are the benefits to improved mind body connection?

By improving your mind-body connection, you can expect to feel more aware of your emotions and what has lead to them. Increasing awareness of our mind and body allows us to put some space between our emotions and the response to those emotions so that we can choose how we want to react. We feel more in control of our emotions. Bringing awareness to our body allows us to relax our muscles to reduce anxiety and tension. Improving the mind-body connection also has been proven to improve concentration, reduce triggers for addictive behaviors, improve sleep, decrease blood pressure, control physical pain.

Increasing the connection between your mind and body can bring about a great deal of positive change and is a relatively small investment of time and energy. Prioritizing increasing mind-body connection through meditation, yoga, tai chi, breath work or simply paying attention to your body sensations can have a big pay off for your emotions and your physical body.

Sleep Hygiene

The effects of poor, interrupted or irregular sleep range from the obvious of feeling tired and less productive, to the more surprising and concerning of heart disease and cognitive impairment. Sleep deprivation also reduces libido, leads to weight gain and increases anxiety and depression. What can we do to get more sleep to manage all of these negative side effects?

• Maintain a regular sleep routine - Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time, even on weekends. Ideally, your schedule will remain the same (+/- 20 minutes) every night of the week.

• Avoid naps, if possible - When we take naps, it decreases the amount of sleep that we need the next night which may cause sleep fragmentation and difficulty initiating sleep, and may lead to insomnia and sleep deprivation. However, naps of 20-30 minutes can be restorative.

• Don’t stay in bed awake for more than 15-20 minutes - If you find your mind racing, or worrying about not being able to sleep during the middle of the night, get out of bed, and sit in a chair in the dark. Do your mind racing in the chair until you are sleepy, then return to bed. No TV or internet during these periods! That will just stimulate your mind more. 

• This is a good time to do some relaxation. Progressive Muscle Relaxation is particularly helpful to release tension and relax the body.

• Avoid all screens (e.g. TV, phone, e Reader, computer) for at least 1 hour before bedtime. The blue light emitted by the screen reduces melatonin, our natural sleep inducing hormone, and can shift our circadian rhythms.

• Drink caffeinated drinks with caution - The effects of caffeine may last for several hours after ingestion. Caffeine can fragment sleep, and cause difficulty initiating sleep. If you drink caffeine, use it only before noon. Cigarettes, alcohol, and over-the-counter medications may also cause fragmented sleep.

• Exercise regularly- If possible, exercise before 2 pm every day. Exercise promotes continuous sleep. Avoid rigorous exercise before bedtime. Rigorous exercise circulates endorphins into the body which may cause difficulty initiating sleep.

• Have a comfortable pre-bedtime routine - A warm bath/shower, meditation, or quiet time, read a book, listen to calming music, write. 

If all of these tips sound overwhelming, don’t worry. Your sleep can be improved by implementing just a few. Which of the above do you think might be affecting your sleep the most? Start with that one for a week and see how it helps. Or you can start with a couple that seem easiest and go from there. Improving your sleep will positively affect many areas of your life and it’s worth changing a few habits to reap the benefits!

Transitioning From School to Career

Getting an education is a time that we can explore who we are, discover what our values are, and cultivate relationships. We get immediate feedback about our progress from professors and through grades, and have social opportunities everywhere we turn. After graduation, social interactions are less frequent, require being proactive and following up with friends who are also working long hours and also have limited time. It can be tough to transition from school to workplace.

This article outlines how to transition from college into your career. I like that it includes some basics, like reducing partying, to more mental health oriented suggestions like meditating and nurturing your relationships.

13 Ways To Master The Transition From College To The Real World - Huffington Post

This article is mostly based on getting a job, but what I like is the last page where it compares being in college to the world of work in regards to feedback, schedule, etc. Take a look. Is it any wonder that many struggle with this transition?

Transitioning from College to the Workplace - Oregon State University

This is a great article about the common occurrence of post-graduation depression. It highlights the importance of social connections and integrating interests and passions into your life after school.

'Post-graduation depression' is common. Here's how to cope - Chicago Tribune

Despite all of these challenges, it’s important to identify what you miss about being in school and how to approximate it in the “real world”. Increasing social connections is what most people identify as something that they miss most. Reach out to friends and schedule a regular night to get together. Consider finding a new friend group. Look for others at your workplace, neighborhood and friends of friends. Most people are looking for face to face connections. The transition is tricky, but with some focus on your values and meaningful connections, you can feel more fulfilled in your new life.

Is Therapy Right For You, and Where To Start?

One of the biggest decisions a person considering therapy has to make, is how to choose the right kind of therapy, and the right kind of therapist. With so many options open to a person who hasn’t experienced therapy before, the process of finding a good therapist can sometimes be more daunting than dealing with their issues.

Here are a few articles that I found helpful for those considering starting therapy. The articles discuss how to find a therapist, how to determine if you and your therapist are a good fit, as well as the benefits of therapy and what to expect out of it.

 

This article does a good job of outlining some FAQs of starting therapy, and  gives ideas about determining a good fit between you and your therapist:

A Beginner's Guide to Starting Therapy - Buzzfeed

 

I like this article because it outlines how to look for a therapist as well as one of the most important parts of starting therapy: what you expect to get out of therapy. Nearly every therapist will ask you this the first time we speak with you. This helps us know what you're looking for and how we can best help you:

Going to Therapy For The First Time? - Huffington Post

 

This article from Forbes highlights a couple of aspects of therapy that I find very important. One is the mind/body connection. Being able to reduce anxiety and stress will help your emotional health, but it will also improve you physical health as many of our physical symptoms are interlinked with our emotional issues. It also discusses how therapy has lasting effects, and you can take these benefits with you as you move on in your life:

11 Intriguing Reasons To Give Talk Therapy A Try - Forbes

 

The process of starting therapy can be overwhelming, but getting some direction and motivation can help the process feel easier. A relatively short time in therapy can positively affect how you interact with others and improve your outlook on yourself and your world. Good luck in your search!