Are You Freaking Out? A hot mess? Falling apart? Let me offer some help

Originally posted on Counseling Matters:

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By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

We live in a pretty hectic and demanding culture and so stress is just part of the territory. And in moderate amounts stress is not a bad thing, but is a motivator. But this life can certainly bring either a hugely stressful event or can pile on the stressors in a way that would overload any of us. We start to panic. Maybe some rant and rave? Maybe some shut down? Maybe some can’t stop crying? Maybe some turn to food or alcohol or pornography? Often our bodies are affected with headaches, stomach aches, racing heart beat and high blood pressure, as well as the jitters and sore muscles. Are you there right now? Let me describe what is happening and then give some suggestions to manage it.

You see, external stressors produce all kinds of anxious, negative and fearful thoughts. Your brain interprets these…

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Teens and Anxiety: Spotting it and Addressing it

Originally posted on Counseling Matters:

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By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

Modern adolescence looks nothing like what it looked for you when you were a teen. Music, hair, catch phrases, technology – those change through each generation I suppose. But we’re talking about differences in values and expectations, as well as significant cultural changes. These days young people are exposed to gender issues, terrorism, violence, pornography and more. If regular life creates stressful situations and can produce anxiety, then these days, just be a teen is to be immersed in an anxiety inducing environment. How can parents understand and help their adolescent to cope and process their anxieties in productive ways?

The National Institute of Health reports that the lifetime prevalence of any anxiety disorder among children ages 13-18 is 25%. Anxiety disorders would include Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Specific Phobia, Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. That is a very…

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What If Your Valentine’s Days Have Become Boring? Here’s 3 Ways to Fight it

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By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

We’ve all seen enough movies to have a glamorous view of the heights of romantic love. And many of us have had that experience of falling into the heady swoon of being caught up in love. But then, you get married. I’m kidding, although there is sort of a ring of truth in that as well, isn’t there?

There are all kinds of reasons for this change, some good and some not so good. Some of the reasons are just due to stages of life, like having children for instance, and some are surely due to outside factors and stress level. Let’s take a look at some of the common causes and then review how you can combat then.

  1. Life is really busy, and stressed filled and romance falls by the wayside, or I just don’t have the energy to pursue it.
  2. We have small kids. Duh! We can barely make it through it each day.
  3. There are resentments or disappointments between us.
  4. Circumstances that interfere, like losing a job, dealing with an addiction, needing to help an aging or ill relative, or health issues and lots more.

Fairly often more than one of these factors will be combined. Stress will certainly sap your energy. But if you have some unresolved relational resentment hanging around as well, then your motivation for romance will be shrunk to almost nothing. How about if you feel that your spouse is not meeting your needs, or they don’t understand you, or pay enough attention to you? There are things here that go beyond just stifling romance; they may be undermining your relationship and leading you to drift apart. Let me offer three categories that may be undermining romance and what you can do about it.

  1. Expectations

Some of the causes we’ve looked at involve life change or stages of life. You may need to face that at least temporarily that this is the way life needs to be. If you had to take in a aging family member that prevents the freedom and space you use to have for connection and romance, then accepting this reality will be emotionally healthier for you. If you and your spouse have simply gotten older and your or their libido or physical abilities have changed, then accepting these realities will be emotionally healthier for you. The point is that romance through the life cycle doesn’t look the same as when we were 25 or even 35. And acceptance does not resignation or defeat. Acceptance means to realize our limitations and make adjustments to live within them, rather than fight it and try to hang on. When we make these adjustments in our outlook, we will be able to find and appreciate what is available to us in this new stage of life.

  1. Stress!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Frankly, I’m trying right now to think of anyone I know who isn’t stressed in their life. Stress seems like the normal American condition these days. And I think that because of that we’ve simply learned to accept it. But that sets us up to not bother reevaluating things or seeking changes – meaning point two is the flip side to point one. If point one is about acceptance, then point two is about non acceptance. Don’t just accept the level of stress that you are under. I realize there can be times when we are under a deadline or in crisis when there are no other options but to plow ahead. But these really should be temporary.

You know this right – stressors build up. And the stuff you thought you could handle (and were handling at the beginning), are now just one of 8 or more bowling balls in your backpack. You betcha lugging that amount of stress around will affect you. That’s about all the stress hormones that your brain is dumping into your body. It will affect your ability to concentrate, to think clearly, your decision making, and your memory. I call it being cognitively compromised. And when you are compromised like this it will affect your energy and motivation for relationships as well as your state of mind and how you come across.

All that means that you need to make yourself take a step back. This is probably the hardest part, right? To get yourself to stop and collect yourself. You need this slow down period to give your brain a chance to get out of this mode so you will have the ability to think more clearly. Then, use it. Start thinking creatively, strategically, about trimming from your to do list, enlisting some help, delegating where possible, or shifting your expectations.

  1. Resentments, hurts or misunderstandings

The third way we can become bored of romance is due to relational discord between the couple. And it doesn’t have to be over big stuff. We could simply be wounded by the fact that my spouse doesn’t pick up their dirty clothes or forgot to text me when they got held up and were going to home late. The reason for this is because these “little” things are really about how we interpret their meaning. When we perceive them as uncaring or rude or even intentional we are going to feel slighted or mistreated. And we will as a result be less motivated to give – to move towards that person. We may nurture an expectation that they need to shape up before we will feel okay about moving towards them (now we are talking about trust). Or we may end up resigning ourself to a conclusion that they don’t care enough about me or that they won’t change and so I give up.

The other side of all this are the things that either have been bigger offenses, or the situation where your spouse is doing hurtful things with intent. Maybe you’ve gotten into game playing in which you both have stored up resentments and take jabs at each other? Maybe it’s gone on so long that neither of you is aware of this dynamic operating? And so this is going on and yet you don’t get why you guys aren’t more affectionate and romantic towards one another. You see, sometimes we just bury this stuff. Oh, maybe we’re trying to be magnanimous and just move on. When in reality, I haven’t let go of it. Or maybe they keep doing it (whatever it is). And by the way, you are likely doing some “it”s as well.

In this case, what you guys need is some old fashion forgiveness. But that will require you both to dig around inside you first and figure out what you have been bothered about and then to come and express this to one another. But here’s the key. You have to change how you express it. Because you have been expressing, but often not in constructive ways. This time you need to express how you have felt without accusations or requirements for them to change, or threats or whining. Just simply – when this happens I’ve felt this way and thought this way. Here’s how I wish it would go. You get vulnerable. You express your longings. We can’t change other people, but we can invite people to know us and love us.

If you can adjust your expectations, lower your stress build up, and address your resentments, I bet you and your spouse will see an improvement in your connection to one another.

And that may just lead to a non-boring Valentine’s Day next year!

For more articles visit my blog at www.counselingmatters.org

Come visit my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/counselingmatters

The Top 10 Reasons People with Anxiety Don’t Go to Counseling for Help

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By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, but there’s a lot of people out there who could benefit from counseling. Oh, I’m not just talking about the crazy folks you see on the road or at Walmart. I’m referring to the ones you know, the ones in your family and your home. And although we could be talking about all kinds of reasons for needing counseling, I want to look specifically at those who struggle with some form of anxiety. Anxiety is a big deal in America – like affecting at least 40 million people type of big deal! A website called CalmClinic.com has compiled the data from the National Institute of Mental Health and concluded that only 42% of those with a diagnosable anxiety disorder ever pursue treatment – or counseling! It seems there is a sad irony here – because of course one of the most influential reasons that folks do not seek out help is because they are afraid – or anxious – about going to counseling. So here is my list of the top reasons people don’t take advantage of getting the help that they need.

  1. I’m afraid that the counselor will hurt my feelings.

This anxiety is about someone fearing that when they open up about their issues that they will not be treated sensitively or with empathy, but instead will experience ridicule, or criticism or maybe harsh instructions on how to stop or change. Why do they have this fear? Because it has happened to them! They have found that when they opened up to someone in the past that they got a shallow uncaring response, or were misunderstood, or worse, laughed at or run over. And so now they believe that is how people in general will respond. I get it! But counselors are trained to not do this. It wouldn’t be counseling if they did!

  1. I’m afraid that it won’t work.

This fear is about the times when someone has made attempts and been disappointed by the result or maybe experienced failure. And so they fear trying. But you and I know it is better to have tried than to stay stuck. What is more hopeless than having no prospect of a better tomorrow?

  1. I’m afraid it will make things worse.

Sometimes people fear that counseling will open up these “barn doors” that they have worked so hard to shut tight, and that if they allow them to be opened up that they won’t be able to collect them and put them back again. They may feel some level of control over their emotional or psychological world and fear that they will lose what they have or regress. Of course, it is also likely that the control they have established is tenuous, and that they could, with counseling help, have something much more stable.

  1. I’m afraid I won’t be able to do what is expected of me.

This is about a fear of not being able to perform or achieve – based on the sense that their progress is “all on them”. These folks put lots of pressure on themselves – hence their high level of anxiety. They feel they must make it on their own and fear needing help.

  1. I’m afraid I won’t live up to my counselor’s (or others) expectations of me.

This is about the need for acceptance and the fear of not being able to get it, or to be good enough. When someone struggles with this, they will struggle with it everywhere, including trying to please their counselor. But they will certainly worry about the people in their life, believing they are waiting for them to “improve”. They will be anxious about the notion of time and the speed at which they make progress.

  1. I’m afraid of what people will think of me for needing counseling.

This is the fear of being judged for going to counseling. It comes from the cultural conception that people who go to counseling have something “wrong” with them. Although, what if the very opposite is more accurate – that those who avoid counseling or ridicule counseling are the ones who are immature and in need of growth and help?

  1. I’m afraid of dealing with my past.

Whoa, this is a big one! Dealing with the past scares a lot of people. And our culture heavily trains us in believing that it is better to forget the past and just move on. It is true that dealing with the pain of the past is not easy. But it is not better to bury it. Buried things stink and fester; they don’t get better by just lying there. This can be difficult but very significant and freeing work.

  1. I’m afraid of pain.

This fear could stem from number 7 or 9. But this person believes that they cannot handle or face the pain they anticipate. They believe that pretending that the pain is not there, or shoving it from their conscious awareness is all that is necessary to get on with life. I’m afraid that they deceive themselves.

  1. I’m afraid of change.

Change does carry a certain amount of uncertainty with it, and for many that means something quite bad. This is the fear of losing control, or more honestly, of discovering our lack of control. Most of us settle into routines and fixed expectations that give us a sense of control and peace. They are mirages that have lured us to sleep. I’m not suggesting that security is bad. But I am saying that change is not the harbinger of doom that many make it out to be.

 

  1. I’m afraid of finding out I am crazy.

This is driven by the fear that there is something fundamentally wrong with me. This could mean that I don’t want to find out that I have some kind of mental health disorder. Some believe that if they don’t identify it, then maybe it isn’t real. This is related to fear number 3; that if they see a counselor that something about them will be revealed or brought into reality and that revealing will make things worse. But, let me just say that bringing things into the “light” is never something to fear. That is how things can be addressed, healed and changed for the better. It is the darkness that is oppressive, not the light.

There are lots and lots of people who are right now struggling with anxiety and fears and high levels of stress and worry. If you know someone who is struggling and you’ve identified one or more of their reasons for avoiding counseling, I encourage you to discuss it with them. Help them to process through their misconceptions. Sometimes just talking about it can be enough to lower the anxiety level so that that may be more willing to give counseling a try. That’s a big deal, because often getting started is the biggest hurdle. Once someone gets the courage to finally come in, they find out that it’s not the scary or intimidating or useless experience that they thought it would be. Instead, it’s good, really good. And they wonder why they hadn’t begun earlier.

And, if you identified yourself in this list, I hope you are encouraged that you are not alone! And that you can be understood and cared for well. You don’t have to stay stuck. Counseling really can help you. I can’t say that it won’t be challenging or that it won’t provoke anything or that you’ll immediately experience relief. But I can say that I believe it will give you a chance to have a better future – to give you hope.

That is certainly my desire for you.

For more articles visit my blog at www.counselingmatters.org

Come visit my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/counselingmatters

Back to School Bullying: A 5 Part Series on Parental Guidelines For Dealing with Bullying – Part 2

Originally posted on Counseling Matters:

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By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

Part one of this series discussed looking for warning signs, ways to show wisdom and how to provide guidance for bullying that is physical and also verbal in nature. In this edition, I’ll offer some strategies if you decide you want to try some more direct or confrontational approaches with the bully, as well as discussing dealing with psychological forms of bullying.

Direct Strategies

  • If you or your child want to confront the bully more directly here’s a couple suggestions:
  • Try a psychological approach something like this: “Are you trying to bullying me? You know, make me feel inferior and embarrassed and as a result you feel superior and gain in popularity or power in the eyes of our peers? You do know that’s out of style and messes you up in your adult years, don’t ya?”
  • Here’s another one, pretending an air of emotionally…

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Back to School Bullying: A 5 Part Series on Parental Guidelines For Dealing with Bullying

Originally posted on Counseling Matters:

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By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

You’re all excited for the new school year – the kids and so are the parents. They’re looking forward to friends, events and who knows, maybe even learning something cool. Parents are looking forward to getting the kids out of the house and seeing their kids grow and learn new things. However, no one is looking forward to dealing with a bullying situation. And yet, it happens. And I mean a lot. The website nobullying.com reports that 90% of all students in grades 4th through 8th have reported being a victim of bullying and Dosomething.org cites that “Over 67% of students believe that schools respond poorly to bullying, with a high percentage of students believing that adult help is infrequent and ineffective.” Bullying can be physical aggression or fighting, but also can be mocking, insults, threats, shaming ridicule, ostracizing a child, stealing from them and…

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3 Ways to Destroy a Relationship: Do These Things If Don’t Want Your Relationship to Thrive

Originally posted on Counseling Matters:

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By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

People always want to know ways they can improve their relationship and there are a plethora of content out there on how to spice things up, how to communicate, how to spend quality time together, you name it. But it seemed to me recently that there isn’t as much available on what not to do, or on what things ruin relationships and so I thought I’d take that on. This is styled in the – backwards way of explaining how to mess up your relationship. Here goes:

  1. Focus on the facts and details and not on the underlying emotions and their meaning.

When there is disagreement and arguing among you and your significant other, make sure that you zero in on what you remember about what you said that was right and what they said and how it was wrong. Stay on the nitty gritty…

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