The Stigma of Emotion

There is a stigma in our society associated with showing emotion.  How many of us heard “don’t cry,” or “get over it,” or “there is nothing to be sad about” when we were growing up?  Those responses from our caregivers sent the message that emotions are bad or that we aren’t in control of our own feelings -- somebody else knows whether I should be sad or not and they are telling me I should not express it.

We also don’t have the adequate vocabulary to express our emotions.  Bob Stahl and Elisha Goldstein in A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook writes that while we learned that “a flower is a flower,” because maybe someone pointed that out to us as a child, no one ever explained what fear, shame, apprehension or guilt feels like, therefore it’s hard for us to understand or connect with a particular emotion.

Also, our culture values a stiff upper lip.  Showing emotion – particularly sadness -- is seen as a sign of weakness and societal norms discourage expressing emotion. 

Finally, many people are afraid of emotion and fear that once they finally express it, it will overwhelm them and that negative feeling will never go away.   However, Dr. Jill Bolte, a brain scientist, discovered that it only takes 90 seconds for an emotion to get triggered, and chemically processed through the body; any remaining emotional response is more our thought pattern than our emotions.  

The effects of suppressing our emotions

While we may not feel comfortable or “safe” expressing our emotions, stifling or suppressing our feelings can have a serious impact on our mental health and may manifest itself in negative behaviors, including finding ways to numb any emotion – drugs, alcohol, food and sex, as well as through physical ailments and pain.   

Studies have shown that emotions and physical sensations are interconnected.  Mindfulness is a practice that has effectively been proven to help connect with your emotions, by bringing present-moment awareness to physical sensations in the body.  By recognizing these sensations, you are better able to harness and understand those feelings.

The body scan helps with emotional connection

The body scan, often used in Mindfulness, is a great way to begin to identify those sensations.  For example, as you go through the body scan, you may notice a “pit” in your stomach.  As you begin to cultivate your Mindfulness practice, you may begin to realize that the pit in your stomach is connected to an emotion – a fear at failure at work, a rejection of a partner, or grief related to a family member’s illness.  

By regularly practicing the body scan, we are better able to tap into the “here and now” and be present with what we are feeling at that moment, instead of letting those emotions run wild and contribute to irrational thinking.  The body scan also allows us to “sit” with those emotions –pleasant and unpleasant, giving us time to process and acknowledge those feelings instead of pushing them away, which can be detrimental to our overall well-being.

You can find several free meditation apps for smart phones, that include beginning body scan meditations, as well as online resources for downloading meditations to help with dealing with difficult emotions. 

While emotions can be difficult to discuss and express, you will find that processing your feelings in a healthy way can have a lasting impact on your mental and physical health.

Erin Swinson, LPC, LMHCA, NCC

Therapist

Clarity Clinic

 

Pegg, M. (n.d.) B is for Jill Bolte Taylor: Her Stroke Of Insight. Retrieved on April 20,2017 from  http://www.thepositiveencourager.global/jill-bolte-taylors-stroke-of-insight-video-2/

Stahl, B., Ph.D. and Goldstein, E., Ph.D. (2010).  A mindfulness-based stress reduction workbook. Oakland, CA:  New Harbinger Publication, Inc.

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Why Is It So Hard to Make Friends as an Adult?

Why is it so hard to make friends as an adult?  That is a question I repeatedly get from clients, and something I have asked myself personally many times. 

Several years ago, I was on a quest to find my new “best friend.”  We had recently moved to the suburbs from the city, and with that move included a loss of close friends – proximity wise.  I was melancholy for “girls’ nights out” and get togethers that included deep conversations and strong connections with those who knew me wholly, without judgement. 

I would search out opportunities to meet like-minded women who could recreate those deep friendships I missed.   I likened those opportunities and interactions to a blind date – feeling anxiety over whether they would “like” me or if we had similar interests.   I was really struggling with why it was so hard to make new friends – and it appears I’m wasn’t alone.

Our Friendships Peak In Our 20's

According to a study published in Psychological Bulletin, researchers found that the number of friends we have peaks in our 20’s and steadily declines as we age, primarily due to different milestones – marriage, parenthood, job changes and moves. 

Strong friendships are built on consistent, unplanned interactions and priority – you build strong connections when you see your friends frequently – in classrooms, on teams, in college organizations or jobs – and you maintain them by making those friends a priority – which doesn’t always happen when we shift from putting our time and energy into maintaining strong friendships to our partners, marriages, children and other family commitments.

Also in a world of email and social media in which we have 5,000 friends but limited human connections, we miss out on those “real” interactions in which we learn about others in a more organic way.  We may also already dismiss someone as a friend based on their Facebook posts or Instagram pictures bringing in preconceived judgments and biases. 

Shasta Nelson, the author of Friendships Don't Just Happen! and the founder of GirlFriendCircles.com, a women's friendship matching site, found that it takes 6-8 meaningful interactions with someone before you would call them a friend and it make take 1-2 years before you would confide in that person. 

While we may long for that “one” person to call our best friend, one friend doesn’t have to offer everything.  Consider opening yourself up to different people who may provide the social and emotional support you need in different ways – for example, someone you work out with, someone who enjoys discussing books, and someone who is fun to grab a drink with. 

Ways to Build Your Social Circle

Consider some suggestions for building your social network:

  1. Connect through your children or pets.  Maybe you see the same person at the dog park every night after work or at drop off at school or daycare for your children -- strike up a conversation and start building a connection.
  2. Identify activities you enjoy and put yourself in situations in which you may meet like-minded people – maybe it’s at tennis lessons (schedule a time to play tennis with them after), or at a local MeetUp event -- invite them for drinks or to go out for dinner after.
  3. Set up a lunch date with a coworker – Because consistency is key for friendships, scheduling frequent interactions with coworkers is a great way to build a friendship.
  4. Identify volunteer opportunities – whether it’s at your children’s school or the local Humane Society, volunteering offers a great chance to connect with those who share the same interests and may lead to deeper bonds. 

While making new friends can be challenging as we age, others are most likely feeling the same way and are wanting similar connections.  So, put yourself out there and make the first move….it may lead to a rewarding and life-long friendship.

Erin Swinson, LPC, NCC

Therapist 

Clarity Clinic

Streit, K. (n.d.)  Why It’s So Hard to Make Friends as An Adult.   Retrieved on April 13, 2017 from https://www.simplemost.com/heres-hard-make-friends-adult/

Wikiel, Y. (n.d.) How to Make Friends as a Grown-Up.  https://www.realsimple.com/work-life/family/relationships/making-friends-as-a-grown-up

Williams, A. (July 13, 2012).  Friends of a Certain Age.   Why it’s So Hard to Make Friends Over 30? Retrieved on April 13, 2017 from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/fashion/the-challenge-of-making-friends-as-an-adult.html.

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The Two Most Important Ingredients to Effective Parenting -- and Seven Steps to Make It Happen!

Parenting a child is by far the hardest and most unpredictable venture in life. Why? Because there is no manual on “how to be the best parent.” We just take what we’ve learned from our parents (how they raised us), gather some questionable “how-to” books, and fly by the seat of our pants. While we may make our way through the journey of parenting with our head above water, most of us often ask, “Am I doing this right?”

Key Ingredients

For the purpose of this article, let’s think of parenting like cooking or baking. Most complex recipes have a fairly large ingredient list. Raising a child can be compared to this wherein there are many elements to parenting and many ways to approach parenting; however, without these two elements you are likely to run into issues/problems with your kiddo as a child, teen, or potentially an adult. At best, they may just mouth-off/be defiant, be cold/distant/ignore you, or pretend like everything is “fine” when in reality they’re suffering inside. And at worst, their negative behaviors may become ingrained and lead to behavioral and mental disorders that can have a negative and long-lasting impact on them over their lifetime.

The Magic Unveiled

So, what are these two magical ingredients? Love and Structure. These two seemingly opposing elements originate from the structural family therapy model that deems that a healthy and effective hierarchy in a family household (a boundary that distinguishes the parents from children) includes both a “hard” side and a “soft” side; the hard—rules, consequences, structure and boundaries, and the soft—nurturing and soothing pain and helping them feel loved and needed.

One vs. the other

So often, parents view these two ingredients as “either/or.” However, one aspect without the other will likely lead to only short-term positive outcomes and allow for more long-term, detrimental consequences. If you provide only the “hard” and enforce rules and punishments without offering emotional comfort and compassionate love, your young one may obey yet develop self-esteem or anger problems and receive the message “I am bad,” vs. “My behavior is bad.” On the flip side, if you provide the emotional comfort and love absent of structure, discipline and boundaries, your child may not learn to appreciate authority/rules and be more likely to develop behavioral and academic problems. However, with both of these essential elements, your child will be more likely to grow up happy and successful (with a more positive view of themselves), be respectful, considerate and kind towards others, and make healthy decisions and evaluate safety risks on their own.

Both Sides of the Coin: A “how-to”

Trying to provide both the “soft” and the “hard” side to your youngster at the same time may seem like a confusing and daunting task. Here are some general guidelines and examples to help you get a clearer picture of what implementing both sides look like:

1.  RULES.

Establish, inform, and physically write down/make visible the rules/expectations he/she is expected to follow (I suggest hanging it on the fridge- very visible!)

  • Examples: what are his/her chores, curfew time, general expectations/house rules (respecting adults/others, no talking back, etc.), H.W. expectations, school/grade

2.  CONSEQUENCES

Establish, inform, write down and make visible (for kids to see) the consequences that      will follow if he/she does not comply with the abovementioned rules/expectations

  • Make sure consequences include: what it is, how long it will be enforced for, and who will enforce it
  • Writing it down and having it visible always confirms that you informed your youngster of these rules & prevents you from repeating yourself, “harping,” or getting into an argument!

3.  REWARDS

Establish, inform, and write down/make visible the rewards he/she will receive if they      DO complete/follow the rules/expectations

  • Along with consequences for their bad behavior, children/teens also need rewards for their good behavior. This teaches them that if they do listen and follow rules, they will receive positive outcomes- it reinforces their good behavior and gives them incentive to behave positively.

4.  CLEAR UNDERSTANDING

Make sure your young one clearly knows/understands the rules/expectations,         consequences, and rewards

  • Making a formal “contract” and having them sign it ensures that they have read it, understand it, and are aware of what might happen if they disobey as well as what they will receive if they do obey.
  • This leaves the responsibility up to them and prevents any “excuses” (i.e., I didn’t know, you never told me, etc.).

5.  INFORMING/ENFORCING CONSEQUENCES

If (or unfortunately when) your child/teen breaks a rule, GENTLY and CALMLY remind             them of the consequence and your obligation to enforce them.

  • IMPORTANT: Make sure to inform them in a way that is emotionally comforting and continue to treat them in a warm, loving manner --
    • (“Unfortunately, you broke one of our rules so you aren’t going to be able to go play with your friends. I’m not mad at you and still love you, it’s just you broke a rule so I have to hold my end of the deal up”).
  • DO NOT inform your child/teen of the consequences in a harsh or angry way, and DO NOT treat them differently (be distant or cold towards them) after they have broken a rule. (If you do this, they will receive the message “I am bad” over “My behavior is bad.”)

6.  OFFER QUALITY TIME

Offer an alternative quality-time activity for you both to do together

  • You want your child to know that you still love them and want to spend time with them, despite them breaking a rule. Again, you want them to receive the message “Your BEHAVIOR is bad, NOT YOU.”

7.  GIVING REWARDS

If (and yes, when) your child/teen follows a rule and behaves, reward them with their        award and praise them for their good behavior!

  • Remind them how great this feels to have the reward instead of the consequence and encourage them to keep up the good work!
  • IMPORTANT: DO NOT treat them more positively/act nicer to them than how you treat them when they break a rule. Remember, you want them to learn that their BEHAVIOR is good and being rewarded, not them as a person—you love them just as much either way!

Just like making a recipe entails uniqueness and individuality, there are many ways to go about raising your child in a healthy way. If you are having trouble with your child/teen and are interested in seeking therapy please contact Clarity Clinic to learn about our therapists who specialize in working with children, adolescents and their parents (families).

Natalie Stanish

Associate Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

 

REFERENCES

Sells, P. (1998). Treating the tough adolescent. New York, NY: Guildford Press.

Wetchler, J. L. (2003). Structural family therapy. In L. L. Hecker & J. L. Wetchler (Eds.), An introduction to marriage and family therapy (pp. 63-94). New York, NY: Haworth Press.

Plotnik, R. & Kouvoumdiian, H. (2010). Introduction to psychology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing

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Vacation: It Does a Body Good

After just coming back from vacation, I have reflected on the benefits of “stopping” and taking a break from work and everyday stressors.  The vacation included extra sleep, limited phone and email time, relaxation and pursuing activities that brought purpose and meaning, including hiking, reading books and spending time with family, which are all shown to reduce depression and anxiety and improve overall wellbeing.

Vacation gives the mind and body an opportunity to rest from job-related worries and deadlines that contribute to physical and mental ailments.  Studies have shown that chronic stress can affect our body’s abilities to fight infection, maintain key functions, such as digestion, and contribute to injuries and accidents.  From a mental standpoint, when we are stressed, we become more irritable and anxious, our memory declines and we make poorer decisions.  Additionally, our connections with others are affected – we tend to lash out at the people closest to us – and become less present and engaged.

However, according to a recent survey, the average U.S. employee only takes half of their allotted vacation and, of those who did go on “holiday,” over 50 percent admitted to doing work on vacation.  In a culture where “work more’ is the mantra, it’s no wonder we are overwhelmed, overworked and disconnected from those around us. 

If you need more proof that vacations are not only good for our mental and physical health, below are several science-based reasons that taking a break – whether a staycation or exotic beach trip – is not only good for your soul, but also increases productivity and focus that benefits your employer.

Benefits of Vacations

  1. Heart Disease Prevention – Numerous studies have proven that taking a vacation can have benefits on the health of your cardiovascular system.  In one study, men who skipped vacations for five consecutive years were 30 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack than those men who took at least a week’s vacation every year.  Similar results in another study specifically focusing on women, showed that those who took a vacation once every six years or less were eight times more likely to develop heart disease, have a heart attack or die of coronary-related causes.
  2. Better Sleep – Stress has been associated with unhealthy sleep patterns, rumination and wandering mind, and lack of sleep affects emotional regulation.  Additionally, inconsistent sleep increases our risk for accidents, and reduces concentration and retention.  Taking a vacation can help us catch up on our sleep and gives us an opportunity to change to a healthier sleep pattern.
  3. Improvements in relationships and family bonding.  When we are stressed, we tend to disconnect with others, affecting our ability to be “present” with our loved ones.  Vacation gives us an opportunity to reconnect with family.  Research has concluded that family vacations positively improve family bonding and communication, allowing for shared experiences and memories which foster growth and communication.
  4. Increased Self-Reflection and Perspective – Taking a break from everyday stressors can give us distance from our struggles or problems, allowing us to be more mindful of ourselves and others.  Many times, vacations give us the “aha” moment in which we have time to self-reflect on our lives and current situations and gives us clarity on our life’s purpose and meaning, which can lead to positive changes or goals when we return.

Taking time off from our everyday lives is an important form of self-care that not only benefits us personally, but has positive effects on our family connections, as well as improves our work performance and productivity.  The bottom line is that breaks are good for our mind and body and can have a lasting effect on our overall health.

Erin Swinson, LPC, LMHCA

Therapist

Clarity Clinic

Whitbourne, S.K., Ph.D. (2010, June 22).  The importance of vacations to our physical and mental health.  Retrieved on March 30, 2017 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201006/the-importance-vacations-our-physical-and-mental-health.

 

Daskal, L. (2016, June 13).  4 Scientific Reasons Vacations Are Good for Your Health,  Retrieved on March 30, 2017 from http://www.inc.com/lolly-daskal/4-scientific-reasons-why-vacation-is-awesome-for-you.html

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Helping Your Child Deal with Bullying

Bullying is a buzz word across schools, with prevention programs and educational awareness tailored to showcase the definition, as well as identify and help reduce bullying within schools.

According to PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, one out of every five student reports being bullied, however, 64 percent of those who were bullied did not report it. 

While there is no legal definition of bullying, bullying can be described as a repeated behavior toward someone with intent to physically or emotionally harm that person, and can take on many forms including verbal assaults, physical violence, spreading rumors about that person and cyberbullying.   

The effects of bullying can contribute to poor self-esteem, academic performance and feelings of isolation and can lead to additional mental health struggles such as anxiety and depression.  However, studies have also found that those who are doing the bullying are also at greater risk of mental health concerns, substance abuse and violence later in adulthood.

Many times, children are afraid of alerting others about being bullied for fear of retaliation or because of guilt or embarrassment.   However, there are some warning signs that might alert you to your child being bullied, such as changes in sleep or eating patterns, mood changes, including expressing or showing more anxiety or worry, or reluctance to participate in normal activities, such as refusal to go on the school bus or to school.   

Suggestions for Helping Your Child

If you suspect your child is being bullied, consider the following:

  1. Identify round-about ways to bring up bullying, such as commenting on a TV or magazine article and offering ways to help them deal with bullying if it happens to them or a friend.
  2. Be empathetic to their worries and calmly offer them support and ask how you can help.
  3. Let them know that sharing the bullying situation is extremely brave and courageous and that you are proud that they confided in you.
  4. Contact the school or activity center at which the bullying is happening and ask what their bullying policy for reporting and reprimanding and requesting they get involved in handling the situation.
  5. Encourage your child to use their school’s bully system if available.  Many schools after a Bully Box or other system to anonymously express concerns over bullying so that the one being bullied feels safe sharing the situation and allowing the adult to handle the negative behavior.
  6. Suggest that your child walk away and ignore the bully and not engage with him/her.
  7. Encourage them to talk to an adult, principal or a therapist about their feelings to help build confidence and self-esteem.

If you suspect your child is struggling with anxiety or depression connected to bullying, please contact a local mental health therapist to provide your child a safe and secure environment to express their fears, worries and concerns and to identify ways to restore confidence and self-esteem.

Erin Swinson, LPC, LMHCA

Therapist

Clarity Clinic

 

PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center (December 8, 2016).  Bullying Statistics.  Retrieved on March 23, 2017 from http://www.pacer.org/bullying/resources/stats.asp

Counselling Directory (n.d.)  Bullying.  Retrieved on March 23, 2017 from http://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/bullying.html.

The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth (1995).  Helping Kids Deal with Bullies.  Retrieved on March 23, 2017 from http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/bullies.html#

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Pets and the Positive Impact on Mental Health

As a longtime pet owner, I can attest to the great comfort and companionship my pets have provided over the years, but researchers have also found that pets can be hugely beneficial to your mental health and overall wellbeing. 

There has long been evidence that people struggling with mental disorders such as bipolar and schizophrenia have sought comfort in animals who provide an emotional connection that they may not otherwise get from their friends and family.

But now researchers also have noted the benefits of pet ownership for everyone, not just those struggling with significant health challenges.

Psychologists at Miami University and St. Louis University conducted three studies to examine the potential benefits of pet ownership among those they identified as “everyday people.”    The studies found that pet owners had greater self esteem, were more physically fit, had more social networks and tended to be less preoccupied than those without pets.

Pet ownership was also connected to a sense of belonging and meaning in their lives, which has been found to reduce depression and anxiety.

The Benefits of Fido

 Below are some additional ways pets can improve your mental health:

  1. They love you no matter what.  Pets love you unconditionally and don’t judge you.  They are fiercely loyal and you can always count on them to be by your side.
  2. They are great motivators for exercise.  Dog owners tend to get more exercise and for longer by walking their dog than those without, and exercise in turn has been shown to improve mental health.
  3. They provide purpose and meaning.  Studies have shown that finding activities that give you fulfillment or purpose, such as feeding, walking or caring for a pet, can reduce depressive symptoms.
  4. They make you smile.  According to Life Coach Danielle Hark, when your dog does cute things like rolling on his back or putting a paw up on your arm, he can make you smile, which in turn triggers neurotransmitters to fire. These pet-time smiles can raise your serotonin and dopamine levels, which are nerve transmitters associated with calmness and happiness.

However, taking on a pet can be a huge responsibility that requires patience, consistency and commitment, but the payoff can be one of the most rewarding relationships of your life.  If pet ownership is not feasible for you, try fostering or even volunteering at your local animal shelter to garner the mental health benefits of being around a pet.

Erin Swinson, LPC, LMHCA

Therapist

Clarity Clinic

 

Hark, D. (July 14, 2013).  12 Ways Your Pet Can Improve Your Mental Health! Retrieved on March 14, 2017 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/danielle-hark/pet-ownership-health_b_3187960.html.

American Psychological Association (July 11, 2011).  The Truth About Cats and Dogs: Pets Are Good for Mental Health of ‘Everyday People.”  Retrieved on March 14, 2017 from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2011/07/cats-dogs.aspx.

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