Month: December 2015

a woman who appears to be sad sitting on a bench

The Power of Positivity During the End of the Year

It’s no secret that the end of the year can be stressful. This time of year always brings with it a myriad of emotions ranging from joy and excitement to depression. But why? Well as the end of the year draws nearer we often find ourselves faced with surmounting responsibilities. After all, it can be difficult to find time to cook, decorate, gift shop, and entertain, even though we might feel compelled to do so because it is expected of us. It can be even more difficult to afford all of these things, as the holiday season brings with it increased expenditure in the name of giving and receiving. That being said, the holidays can also be extremely rewarding. The emphasis on togetherness and giving brings with it a sense of comfort and closeness not only amongst our families and loved ones but within our communities as well. Holiday traditions such as tree decorating, lighting candles, or baking cookies can put a smile on anyone’s face and help us remember sweet memories of holidays past. In essence, despite all of the stresses brought upon by this time of year, there is, to use the old adage, a silver lining – tinsel, perhaps. Or is there?

What it Means to Truly be Happy

So what makes “holiday cheer” so important? Why must we be cheerful? How does this benefit us? Well firstly, it’s worth noting that there’s a difference between being genuinely happy for the holidays and feeling as though we should be happy. A major distinction between the two is whether or not we genuinely feel good or whether we feel compelled to feign holiday spirit because we believe it’s expected of us. The latter can magnify negative feelings because it removes our happiness from ourselves and turns it into an obligation rather than actual enjoyment. We’ve discussed previously how keeping our true feelings bottled up and hidden can be unhealthy and this time of year is no exception. Numerous studies have detailed how our attitudes can profoundly affect our health and well-being. Dr. Diane Dreher, best-selling author and associate director of the Spiritual and Health Institute, explains: “We pay a price for being too nice. A phony smile may fool others, but cannot fool our bodies…Real positive emotions, on the other hand, help us become healthier, happier, and more successful.”

The Dangers of Faking Happiness

Pretending to be happy when we’re not can actually put us under excessive stress, whereas genuinely allowing feelings of positivity and joy into our lives can enable us to be healthier and even more successful. Psychologist Barbara Frederickson found in her research that “the emotions of joy, elevation, gratitude, and love strengthen our immune systems, making us physically healthier, while broadening our vision and building our resources. Positive emotions help us see more clearly, discover new possibilities, build connections with other people, who support us in our lives and work.” In fact, in order for us to flourish, we need a 3 to 1 ratio of positive emotional experiences to negative ones each day.

Positivity  – A Powerful Tool

In other words, genuine positivity can be a powerful influence on our day-to-day lives, and particularly during the holidays when we need it most. Luckily, there are a number of ways we can increase our positivity by consciously building more positive experiences into our lives. A good way to start is by taking time every now and then to pause and ground ourselves in the present moment. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “stop and smell the roses?” There is more truth to this than we might initially realize. These moments of pause and reflection can enable us to see the beauty around us which can benefit our mood and overall wellbeing. Taking time for ourselves is essential to the preservation of our own happiness. To accomplish this, we might take some extra time to meditate to help restore our peace of mind during this hectic time of year and maintain a sense of balance. We might also, however, take time to do something we love, be it creating something, reading a book, or finding something that makes us laugh or smile.

The key is to find something, anything, that we enjoy and remember to treat ourselves as we worry about treating others. While giving is important, we ourselves deserve health and happiness, and it’s important to remember that protecting these things does not make us selfish. After all, the end of the year is a time for celebration, and positivity is something to be nourished and fostered, not simply manifested. Positivity can not only help us survive the end of the year depression that many of us feel, but can also ensure that we enjoy it as well. This year, we must remember to enjoy what makes us happy and take time for ourselves, and, in doing so, feel joyous, instead of simply pretending to be.

a woman looking stressed out with her hand on her head

Staying Mindful to Prevent End of Year Sadness

The holiday season can be one of the most stressful times of the year. In between all the holiday shopping, family planning, and decorating, many of us seldom find the time to stop and enjoy the cooler air or the smell of pine and baked goods. But those moments can be essential to maintaining our overall sense of happiness and wellbeing during the otherwise trying time. Commenting on the chaos of the holidays, Dr. Diana Raab, specialist in transpersonal psychology, states: “Being in the moment helps us gain a better understanding of ourselves.” She quotes the following sentence from Be Here Now, by Ram Dass, which focuses on yoga principles and reconnecting man with their spiritual self, that: “The journey across the great ocean of existence is a journey inward . . . ever in deeper and deeper and the deeper you get in the more you meet the truth.” According to Dr. Raab, one way to meet this truth is by practicing mindfulness. After all, mindfulness can help us recognize the already existing happiness in our own lives. In other words, it can remind us to be thankful for what we have, as well as make us more aware of what we have to be thankful for.

Staying Mindful During the Holidays

There are a number of ways to increase our mindfulness, especially over the holidays. Perhaps one of the most overlooked practices associated with heightening awareness is mindful breathing. What does this mean? Take the time to focus on the sensation of inhaling and exhaling. As we breathe in, let’s be aware of that intake of air, and as we breathe out, let’s be aware of it rushing past our nose and lips. At first glance, it might not be immediately apparent what this simple activity can do, but in essence it is to remind us that we’re alive. This is something that is easily taken for granted, but this practice can help us remember the fact that we are living, breathing human beings, and that alone is something to be thankful for.

Another helpful practice is becoming aware of our bodies and minds. In addition to focusing on how we breathe and the sensation of breathing, we should learn how to expand that awareness to encompass our entire bodies. Live in each action in each moment. Paying attention to the little things can help ground us in the present which can keep us from stressing or worrying about things that are outside of our control. In fact, much of the stress surrounding the holidays comes from a lack of attention that is placed on the here and now. Instead, we worry about the “what if’s”: what if we get the wrong gift? What if we can’t afford what we initially wanted? What if the recipient doesn’t love the gift? As these thoughts flood our conscious mind we begin to spiral into self-doubt and distress. Instead, by grounding ourselves through an enhanced awareness of our physical being, we can then begin to address our holiday responsibilities with a new, calmer demeanor. This can allow us to make wiser choices rather than allowing stress to overwhelm our decision-making. It can also keep us from over-thinking what we want by reminding us to be thankful for what we already have.

This heightened awareness of ourselves can help relieve the tension that tends to build up in our bodies and minds, particularly at this time of year. As we exhale, we might imagine ourselves physically releasing our tension with each breath. Although we might be constantly on-the-go in order to complete the number of errands that seem to accumulate as the holidays draw nearer, we can still find time to meditate. Movement doesn’t make meditation impossible, in fact, Dr. Raab advocates what she calls walking meditation. She explains: “If you have difficulty sitting still or are limited for time,  a walking meditation is a great alternative to a seated meditation. Pay attention to your body as you do a ‘royal stroll,’ feeling and being aware the ground with each step you take. Think of each step as a miracle.” Time spent shopping or moving about can be useful for becoming more in-touch with our inner selves. By practicing walking meditation we are not only grounding ourselves but also cultivating a sense of inner peace and balance which can be otherwise difficult to find with all of the hustle and bustle surrounding us.

Benefits of Self-Awareness

Addressing the effectiveness of these techniques, Dr. Raab states that: “All these techniques lead to increased self-awareness, which is about having a clear perception of who you are—your personality, strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, idiosyncrasies, motivations, and how in touch you are with your emotional well-being.” After all, increased self-awareness can make us better capable of understanding ourselves as well as others, which can also make us more resilient and comfortable in our own skin.

Remember the Here and Now

Among many other things, increased mindfulness and self-awareness reminds us to be here, now. And in doing so, we remember that each day is precious, so why worry about a few days out of the year? After all, every day is special. In essence, let’s be thankful for each moment remember to appreciate the simple things. The holidays aren’t just about wish lists.

a young man in therapy to learn about coping skills.

8 Things You Learn in Therapy About Coping Methods

We will all encounter stressful situations at some point in our lives, whether it be related to work, school, or our personal relationships – any therapist will tell you that. That being said, we all cope with stress differently, and the ways in which we learn to deal with these stressful situations can be the key to whether or not we remain stressed or can move beyond whatever our circumstances are and find peace. As such, it’s important for us to learn good coping methods to carry with us in our day to day lives.

What is Coping?

First and foremost, let us look at what exactly “coping” is. In essence, coping describes how we consciously deal with stress. In other words, it refers to the strategies we employ to deal with whatever is causing us stress or discomfort: do we face the problem head on? Do we brush it away and hope it disappears? And so on. Our coping methods can determine a lot of things about how we manage ourselves under duress, with some of us being more prone to seeking external relief sources such as drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, while these substances may provide short-term relief they do nothing to solve the actual causes of the stress, nor do they help us develop our own resilience, hence why we might become dependent on them for escape. Additionally, drugs and alcohol are incredibly risky to our health and wellbeing, making them maladaptive coping mechanisms.

However, we must also keep in mind that how we cope may vary depending on the types of stress we are experiencing. For example, it’s not uncommon for those who suffer from extreme anxiety triggered by specific circumstances or PTSD to avoid the things that may cause them severe stress. In such cases, these behaviors may be advised so long as they aren’t interfering the with individual’s overall quality of life or happiness.

8 Popular Coping Methods and What They Mean

1. Distancing

Distancing is a popular coping mechanism which involves the individual removing themselves from the situation and thereby trying to minimize its significance. After this, the individual can choose to either avoid the situation completely or use the reduced feelings of stress allowed by the distancing to better assess the situation and come up with a solution.

2. Confrontation

The opposite of distancing, confrontive coping involves, as the name implies, the individual aggressively confronting and making efforts to change the stress-inducing situation. However, some methods of confrontation can become excessive and the individual might find themselves behaving riskily or in a manner that is antagonistic as a result.

3. Seeking Support

For some individuals who encounter stressful situations, seeking support from friends and loved ones may be their go-to method of coping. The support of others can make otherwise seemingly insurmountable tasks become less daunting and thus can allow us to feel more capable when it comes to facing our stress and dealing with it.

4. Self-Controlling

On the other hand, some individuals may find it easier to cope with stress by assuming control over their own feelings and responses. Feelings of control can sometimes act as a psychological substitute for a lack of external stability, as is often observed in situations that induce stress. Although these feelings seldom actually address the situation itself, they may make us feel more equipped to do so through establishing a sense of internal resilience. Unfortunately, taken in a wrong direction, an excessive need to feel in control of a stressful situation may lead to self-blame. This is because in their efforts to seek control, the individual might declare themselves solely responsible for their negative experiences.

5. Accepting Responsibility

There is a difference between accepting responsibility in a stressful situation and blaming oneself. The latter implies that we are taking responsibility for things that are even outside of our control. However, accepting responsibility in order to cope with stress actually entails understanding and accepting our roles insofar as we are involved with contributing to the stress and seeking to improve. In doing this, we are not taking responsibility for the actions of others, only our own, which we have control over. Individuals who use this coping mechanism do so in order to lessen the stress of a given situation by being mindful of the influence of their own actions and words.

6. Problem Solving

This coping method involves analyzing the stressful situation and planning to find a way to resolve it. Through this individuals can treat stress as something that can be solved rather than something that is unable to fixed or that will remain a permanent stressor.

7. Positive Reappraisal

It’s not uncommon to find this coping method advocated in many religious teachings although it is not solely practiced by individuals who are religiously affiliated. Here, those who practice this kind of coping take the experience of dealing with stress and turn it into an opportunity for growth.

8. Escape/Avoidance

This coping method is pretty self-explanatory. Those who practice escape or avoidance as a means of coping with a stressful situation are avoiding dealing with the problem. This coping mechanism can be problematic because it means that the individual is essentially avoiding addressing the problem which is causing them stress. This means that the primary stressor remains and can continue to cause them discomfort because nothing has been done to actually remedy this.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Coping Methods

Discussing the ways in which we cope, Dr. Jennifer Golbeck, director of the Human-Computer interaction lab at the University of Maryland explains that “Some of these strategies, like Escape-Avoidance, are maladaptive since they don’t help to deal with the stress longer term. Others, like Planful Problem Solving, are useful for heading off future stressors and therefore are more proactive coping styles.” In other words, when developing a method of coping with stressful situations it’s better to act proactively than avoidantly. After all, avoiding a problem will only make it worse in the long run.

When facing circumstances which cause us stress, we must take a moment to assess our situations and what can be done about them. It is through this that we can hope to resolve the underlying problems that induce the feelings of stress rather than allowing them to continue undeterred.

a very angry woman screaming at her latptop

3 Types of Anger and How to Manage It

Everyone gets angry. Anger tends to have a bad reputation, but in reality, it can be a healthy part of our emotional expression. After all, it’s better for us to reveal why we are angry rather than bottle it up where it can become explosive later. In fact, that’s part of the reason why anger is so maligned: we are seldom taught how to express our anger in a way that’s healthy and constructive rather than unhealthy and destructive. When dealt with correctly, anger is just another aspect of our humanity. Anger can help us stand up for ourselves when we feel as though we’ve been dealt an injustice, or it can lend a voice to those who are too afraid to stand up for themselves.

In essence, it’s okay to feel angry. What’s not okay, however, is to let anger become abuse. The best way to deal with anger in any situation is not to let it become a means of hurting others, but rather to discover its source. Why are you angry? What is causing you to feel this way? By uncovering the true source of our anger we can not only better understand ourselves but can also redirect our energies from hostility to productivity. We can learn to manage anger better than just yelling and screaming aimlessly and hoping that whatever it is will just go away.

Three Ways to Better Manage Anger

1. Anger as Entitlement

When we feel angry, we might feel tempted to blame others for our anger. After all, we wouldn’t be angry if everyone else just did what we wanted to, right? Well the world seldom works that way. We can’t realistically expect that everyone else is going to do exactly what we want them to all the time. Believing that this is a just expectation is essentially believing that one is entitled to the obedience and attentiveness of others. Unfortunately, many people who feel this sense of entitlement may also feel as though it is acceptable for them to bully others into giving them what they want. We might see this in abusive relationships, where if one party doesn’t accommodate the other they may face severe consequences. A frequently used tactics by such individuals is intimidation, which can be useful for bullying others into giving them exactly what they want.

Bullying is never an acceptable form of behavior. This is especially true when it is used as a means of expressing anger. The key to eliminating this negative form of expression, however, is to realize that blaming others solves nothing. To place blame completely on others is to avoid taking any responsibility ourselves, which can be a toxic pattern. In any social interaction, we play a part in the give and take. By ignoring our involvement we are placing ourselves above others and ignoring our part in our own emotional response. This doesn’t help us nor does it help anyone who may consequently become a target for our misplaced emotions.

2. Anger as Panic

I’m sure we all appreciate when things go according to plan. After all, it’s nice to have some stability in our lives, especially with all of the unpredictability life can deal us. Unfortunately, plans don’t always work out, and when they don’t, we must learn to reconfigure ourselves and move on. If not, we may find ourselves responding aggressively to such deviations. When something goes wrong or not as expected, we can’t allow ourselves to fall into a panic. This may be easier said than done, but panicking can essentially our emotions to take control of us rather than the other way around. When we panic, we might react in a way that is excessively hostile or irritable. In essence, we “snap”. Once again, this form of expression lacks any productivity or resolution. In what way do we benefit from snapping? How does this solve our problem? In short, it doesn’t.

There are better ways to manage anger than allowing it to spiral into a burst of aggression. Instead, we can step back and evaluate our situation. Taking deep breaths and counting to ten can be a good way of grounding ourselves and calming ourselves down so that we can better assess what’s happening. By doing this, we have a better chance of coming up with a better plan, or an answer, rather than simply resorting to panic and distress.

3. Anger as Explosive

No one enjoys feeling like they’ve let anyone down. Unfortunately, however, for some of us this may translate to going to great lengths to avoid conflict, even if we are continually  compromising ourselves in the process. That being said, everyone has their limits. We cannot realistically expect that our problems will go away if we simply ignore them or pretend they don’t exist. Similarly, we cannot expect our feelings of dissatisfaction or anger to vanish just because we aren’t addressing them. In fact, the opposite is true. The negative feelings we are choosing to avoid are instead festering in our subconscious, waiting for the moment when we can no longer feasibly bottle up our feelings anymore.

The result? We explode. Think of it like steam building up inside a small container until it can no longer do so and needs to be released. We can’t possibly hope to please everyone, and neglecting our own emotional and mental health helps no one. Leaving our anger to build up until it releases itself in one burst of hostility can lead to strong feelings of guilt afterwards once we realize what has happened. In our quest to avoid hurting others by bottling up our feelings we may end up hurting them more once our anger eventually does manifest itself. The solution to this is to address our anger as we feel it by recognizing why we’re angry. Once we establish the source of our anger, we can better address it in a constructive means, rather than lashing out.

By following these key tips, we can better learn how to control our anger and express it in a way that is healthy rather than destructive. If you are working on living a life with less anger and frustration, call us. We can help.

Understanding Personality Disorders

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, or NIMH, it is estimated that around 9.1% of the U.S. adult  population have been diagnosed with some kind of personality disorder within the past 12 months. This amounts to a total of approximately 29.3 million people. The exact rates of prevalence for the severity of these personality disorders is unknown, as is whether or not they persist for  the entirety of the individual’s lifetime. Furthermore, there is no currently reported average age of onset, making predicting whether or not one’s age is a contributing factor to the likelihood of developing a personality disorder difficult, to say the least.

What is known, however, is that of the estimated 29.3 million people diagnosed with some form of personality disorder, 39% seek treatment. But even then, NIMH reports that “ Even though the majority of cases were seen by a psychiatrist or other mental health professional, respondents were more likely to receive treatment from general medical providers than mental health specialists.” This statistic is especially worrisome considering the fact that personality disorders rarely occur alone. In fact, researchers have found that “people with personality disorders are very likely to have co-occurring major mental disorders, including anxiety disorders (e.g., panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder), mood disorders (e.g., depression, bipolar disorder), impulse control disorders (e.g., attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), and substance abuse or dependence.”

Personality Disorder Defined

But what exactly is a personality disorder? The study of human personalities have been a topic of interest since ancient Greece. Greek philosophers created a number of personality “types” within which individuals could be classified. It wasn’t long after that Greek physician Hippocrates declared that our personalities could be categorized into one of four temperaments: sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic, which are derived from one of four kinds of fluids found in the body. Thus, an individual found to embody one temperament more than the other was believed to have a kind of chemical imbalance that needed to be rectified.

Such beliefs and methods of categorization acted as the foundation for what later became modern psychological theories. These days, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is considered by many in the medical community to be the definitive volume of existing mental and personality disorders. In it, a personality disorder is described as being something that can be diagnosed if there are noticeable impairments in the self and how we function interpersonally, in addition to one or more pathological personality traits. Oxford psychiatrist  Dr. Neel Burton explains that these features must also be “(1) relatively stable across time and consistent across situations, (2) not better understood as normative for the individual’s developmental stage or socio-cultural environment, and (3) not solely due to the direct effects of a substance or general medical condition.”

The Three Clusters

Personality disorders can usually be categorized into one of three clusters, labelled A, B, and C. Each cluster contains 3 or 4 of the total 10 presently identified personality disorders.

Cluster A

The first cluster, known as cluster A, encompasses personality disorders whose characteristics are described as odd or eccentric behaviors. This cluster includes Paranoid Personality Disorder (PD), Schizoid PD, and Schizotypal PD. The personality disorders within this cluster are dominated by distorted thinking which can culminate in the individual behaving in a manner that is considered socially awkward or even socially withdrawing themselves. Those with Paranoid PD are highly suspicious and distrustful of others, making it hard for them to establish or maintain relationships. Those with Schizoid PD are frequently socially and emotionally detached, thus giving the impression of being “cold” or “aloof”. These individuals will prefer to act alone and therefore may be inexperienced with responding to certain social cues or reciprocating certain expressions or gestures, like a nod of agreement or a smile. The final disorder within this category, Schizotypal PD is characterized by an acute discomfort in social situations and having a reduced capacity for close relationships. Unlike Schizoid PD, however, those with Schizotypal PD will likely demonstrate eccentric behavior or experience perceptual or cognitive distortions. This can include seeing things no one can see or claiming to have experienced things that conflict with reality – such as being able to read minds or being fearful that their own mind is being read.

Cluster B

The second cluster, cluster B, contains personality disorders best defined by dramatic, emotional, and erratic behavior. Within this cluster are Borderline PD, Narcissistic PD, Histrionic PD, and Antisocial PD. To begin with, Borderline PD is one of the most widely studied personality disorders. It is characterized by individuals experiencing intense, unstable emotions and moods that can quickly shift. Consequently, they may have a difficult time calming themselves once they’ve become upset. These individuals are also more prone to emotional outbursts and impulsive behavior, which can lead to substance abuse, binging, self-injury, or engaging in risky sexual behavior. Their perception of the world tends to be polarized, applying harsh judgments to themselves and others. The second personality disorder within this cluster, Narcissistic PD, occurs when individuals struggle with their own sense of self-worth by believing themselves to deserve special treatment and entitlement. In order to compensate for a fragile sense of self esteem, those with Narcissistic PD act as though they are better than or more special than others, and can be devastated when they are told that they are normal just like anyone else. In a similar vein, those with Histrionic PD feel the need to be the center of attention at all times, demonstrating excessive emotionality to achieve this goal. Situations where they are not the center of attention make them uncomfortable, which likely stems from a fear of being alone. The last disorder in this cluster, Antisocial PD, is characterized by a pervasive disregard for the rights of other people which frequently manifests as hostility or aggression. Individuals with Antisocial PD can often behave in a manner that is deceitful or manipulative, lacking the ability to feel remorse for any harm they cause others. Those with Antisocial PD are most likely unable to either sympathize or empathize with others, making forming relationships incredibly difficult.

Cluster C

The third and final group, cluster C, is characterized by anxious and fearful behavior. Disorders within this cluster include Avoidant PD, Dependent PD, and the more well known Obsessive-Compulsive PD. Those who are diagnosed with Avoidant PD experience pervasive social inhibition and struggle with feelings of inadequacy. Because of this, they are often hypersensitive to negative evaluation, which motivates them to avoid social situations. This leads to underdeveloped social skills because they constantly believe that they are not good enough or that others don’t like them. Consequently, they are perceived as distant and shy when in reality social interaction can trigger feelings of discomfort and anxiety. Individuals with Dependent PD often experience a strong need to be taken care of by others. This is likely due to a fear of abandonment and losing support. Due to these fears, those with Dependent PD may behave in  a manner that is described as being “clingy”. They are also more likely to submit to the desires of others to avoid conflict rather than stand up for themselves as an individual. The final and most well-established personality disorder within this cluster is Obsessive-Compulsive PD, or OCD. This disorder is characterized by a preoccupation with rules, regulations, and orderliness. This can lead to an excessive drive for perfection, even at the risk of neglecting themselves or their relationships with others. This can also cause them to be unable to complete projects because they are so intensely focused on the details rather than focusing on the project as whole. Such compulsion towards perfection can come across as stubbornness or rigidity to those who are unaware of the disorder or the extent of its effects.

Help is Available for Those Who Need It

While any individual can demonstrate some of these characteristics, to be diagnosed with a personality disorder they must  experience significant impairment as a result. However, because of the subjectivity with which one may define the words “normal” or “abnormal” with regards to behavior, diagnosing these disorders reliably can be difficult. That being said, upon diagnosis, there are a number of resources and treatment options available to individuals struggling with personality disorders.

A male and female interlocking hands in what appears to be a strong, happy relationship.

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Man sitting on couch holding hands over his face as his partner walks away angrily.

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Vintage photo of a peaceful, beautiful nature scene with river and trees.

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