3 Ways to Effectively De-Escalate Negative Behaviors and Improve Your Relationships

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“Beneath every behavior, there is a feeling. And beneath each feeling is a need. And when we meet that need rather than focus on the behavior, we begin to deal with the cause, not the symptom.”

Have your feelings ever been hurt by a parent, spouse, coworker, friend or someone else in your life? The answer is obviously yes. You might lash out at that person or withdraw because you are feeling sad. Your aggressive behavior may trigger the other person and now you find yourself in an argument or conflict. The argument or conflict creates more sadness for you leading to more aggressive behavior. When people are experiencing a strong feeling, they may not immediately be able to identify what that feeling is. As a result, they aren’t able to communicate effectively with others what it is they are feeling and why they are feeling that way. Rather, they may act out aggressively or become withdrawn. This makes it challenging for the other person to fully understand what is going on which is why the situation typically leads to a conflict or argument. This can happen often in marriages, relationships, and especially with children and adolescents. Since the part of the brain that controls emotion regulation does not fully develop until your mid to late twenties, children and adolescents have a difficult time expressing what they are feeling which makes it difficult for parents to navigate through.

3 STRATEGIES That will help de-escalate negative behaviors

SHOW COMPASSION AND EMPATHY

If a child or partner is acting out aggressively or is withdrawing, you may be inclined to get angry and frustrated as well. Take a deep breath and remember that beneath the surface of the behavior is an emotional need. Offer support (a hug, being present, going for a walk together, etc.) and show compassion. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes so you have a better understanding of what it is they are experiencing. Did they transition back to school and may be overwhelmed and anxious? Maybe your coworker just lost a friend or relative and are grieving. Whatever the case is, if you show compassion and empathy rather than anger and frustration, you will help de-escalate negative behaviors. It is also more likely that the other person will begin talking about whatever it is they are experiencing and feeling rather than getting more aggressive and defensive.

ASK CLARIFYING QUESTIONS

When a person is showing aggression or withdrawing, it is challenging to maintain your composure. You may be confused why they are being aggressive or withdrawing and may even take their behavior personally. After all, their behavior is communicating with you that they are angry, not that they are feeling sad or something else. You may feel the urge to defend yourself, but make sure to resist from doing so as this will only escalate the situation. Rather, try to understand what is going on from the other’s perspective. Begin to ask questions to help you learn more about what the emotional need is. The more open ended questions you ask, the more the other person will continue to open up. Keep in mind, the goal is to show the person that you genuinely want to understand more about what is going on beneath the surface. If your questions are genuine and reflect compassion and empathy, the other person will let you in more. Otherwise, their walls will remain shut. Once you learn more about what the emotional need is, you can determine what you are able to do within your control to help.

ACKNOWLEDGE AND VALIDATE

Once you are able to identify what is going on from the other person’s perspective, make sure to acknowledge and validate what was said and what they are feeling. Whether you agree or disagree with the perspective, acknowledging another’s point of view and validating their emotions will help de-escalate negative behaviors. It will also help to build trust as you will become a safe place for the person to become vulnerable with. The more often you are able to implement these strategies, the more likely it is that the other person will open up more to you in the future as opposed to acting aggressively or withdrawing.

10 Ways to Recognize and Regulate Stress in Your Life

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You may see me write a lot about life being challenging and full of stressors.  Work, relationships, financial burdens, and other responsibilities may all be stressors in life.  However, there is no escaping them.  In order to manage stress that you may be encountering, it may be helpful to first recognize the issue.

How Much Does a Cup of Water Weigh?

Many years back, I was in a workshop and the speaker asked the audience how much a cup of water weighs.  It was 7:30 in the morning so few hands were up.  However, one person responded, “I don’t know, how much water is in the glass?”  Another replied, “1/2 pound?”  The speaker’s answer was, “It depends how long you hold onto the glass for.”  For instance, if you hold onto a glass of water for 30 seconds, it doesn’t weigh very much.  If you hold onto it for 30 minutes, it gets significantly heavier.  Should you carry a glass of water for 30 days, it will most likely, at some point, drop.  The glass will shatter, there will be a big mess, and you will need to spend some time cleaning it up.  The presenter continued, “This is the same as stress.  The longer you hold onto it, the heavier it becomes.”  If you don’t recognize, regulate, and remove stress, it will only continue to weigh on you.  This will take a toll on your mental health and subsequently your relationship with yourself and others.

Manage Your Balloon

When I meet with clients, I often tell them that all humans carry around a balloon with them.  Each person’s balloon is a different size.  The size of the balloon depends on the energy level of the person.  The larger the balloon, the more stress a person is able to handle.  You can refer back to the following blogs in order to learn ways to increase your energy level so you can handle more stressors:

4 Ways to Maximize Energy

4 Ways to Maximize Energy: Part 2

4 Ways to Maximize Energy: Part 3

4 Ways to Maximize Energy: Part 4

Throughout the day, you may come across things that cause you stress.  Each of these things add some air to your balloon.  The larger the stressor, the more air enters your balloon.  Eventually, if you don’t let air out, your balloon will pop.  Again, like the glass of water analogy, this will take a toll on your mental health and subsequently your relationship with yourself and others.

Recognize Your Stressors

First, recognize what causes you stress.  Create a list of stressors to help you identify what is inflating your balloon and causing your glass of water to get heavier.  Once you identify your stressors and recognize when your balloon is inflating and your glass of water is getting heavier, you will know it may be time to put the glass down or let some air out of your balloon.  Is it a busy and stressful time of year at work?  Did you just get hit with an unforeseeable expense at home and you and your partner have been arguing about finances as a result?  Whatever the stressor is, identify it.

Regulate Your Stressors

Now that you identified what is causing you stress, determine if it is time to put your glass down or let some air out of your balloon.  You don’t need to put your glass down and let air out of your balloon every time you feel stress, but it can be helpful to keep tabs of the weight of the glass and how much air is in your balloon.

Ways to Let Air Out or Put Your Glass Down

  1. Go for a hike (Hike, Connect with Nature, & Break From Anxiety)
  2. Breathe & Meditate
  3. Take a yoga class
  4. Spend time alone or with friends & family
  5. Participate in a hobby
  6. Engage in a mindful activity (Anxiety & the Here & Now)
  7. Exercise
  8. Take a short nap, but make sure not to interfere with your sleep schedule!
  9. Disconnect from technology and spend some time outside (Disconnect from Technology: Wait, Hear Me Out!)
  10. Take time to organize your life.  I will spend more time in an upcoming blog focusing on this topic.

Mental Health: How to Navigate Through the Levels of Therapy Services That Are Available

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It can be somewhat overwhelming and confusing navigating through mental health treatment if you are unfamiliar with the levels of care that are available.  Whether you are a parent of a child in need of mental health services or an adult who is struggling with mental health issues, you may be unaware of where to begin.  The following guide can hopefully be a starting point for you.

Inpatient Services

Inpatient treatment is typically meant for individuals who are in need of a high level of care.  Children, adolescents, and adults who are having active suicidal thoughts may end up either admitting themselves into an inpatient facility or may be referred through a mental health professional after a psychological screening is conducted.  For example, if a child or adolescent discloses to a school counselor that they are having active suicidal thoughts and there is a psychiatric emergency, they may be referred immediately to a local hospital where a psychiatric screening will occur.  Depending on the results of the screening, it may be recommended that the child or adolescent be admitted into an inpatient facility for treatment.

What happens at an inpatient facility?

Inpatient facilities provide a variety of mental health services.  These services may include group counseling, individual counseling, family counseling, substance abuse counseling, and more.  A psychiatrist is on staff and can provide medication monitoring and a therapist is assigned to provide case management and mental health treatment.  A typical length of stay is three to seven days depending on how severe the issue is.

Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)

A PHP is one step down from inpatient.  At a PHP, similar services are provided as at an inpatient facility.  However, treatment at a PHP program only occurs during the day, whereas at an inpatient program, beds and rooms are provided for your stay.  The hours of treatment are typically from 9-3.  During this time, mostly group counseling is conducted.  Depending on the facility, a multitude of treatment methods may be provided including DBT, CBT, etc.  A client is assigned a therapist/case manager and medication monitoring is provided if a psychiatrist is on staff.

Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

An IOP is one step down from a PHP.  At an IOP, services are provided a few times per week and are typically conducted during after school hours.  If treatment is being provided for an adolescent, busing is sometimes provided from schools to the program.  Mostly group counseling is provided at an IOP.  A therapist/case manager along with medication monitoring can be provided through an IOP.

Outpatient Therapy Services

Outpatient services are one step down from an IOP.  Typically, treatment is provided once per week to start and may gradually spread out over time depending on the progress of the client.  Main Street Counseling is an example of outpatient treatment.  At outpatient therapy services, a client is connected with a therapist who provides counseling services.  It may be difficult to find the right fit for you when searching for a therapist.  To learn more information and get more tips on how to find the right therapist for you, please read my blog, How to Find the Right Therapist for You & Your Family: 5 Tips for Individuals and Families New to the Process!

If you have questions or are unsure what to do, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Look to Gratitude to Help You Cope With Loss and Depression

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“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” – Mr. Rogers

Gratitude. What a powerful concept. This word has never been more meaningful and important than now. This global pandemic has crippled the mental health of millions of individuals and families as many have slipped into a deep depression. Panic attacks and anxiety has taken over making it nearly impossible to manage daily life. People are dealing with so much loss. They are experiencing the loss of loved ones, the loss of interpersonal relationships and affection, the loss of their employment or business, the loss of normalcy, and more. You never thought these would be things of the past. Shaking someone’s hand or giving a friend a hug when greeting them are such simple things you may have taken for granted and not thought to appreciate or be grateful for. You never know when these sorts of things will be taken from you. Now that they have been for many as you are being cautious due to the pandemic, you are grieving these losses. You are feeling sad. You are feeling anxious. You feel like your body is heavy and you are dragging each day. You are worried about the unknowns of tomorrow and when these losses will return again. This is where your mindset is. However, although you may be experiencing a good amount of loss, now is the time to be grateful as gratitude is what will be your strength to work through these moments of hardship.

Mr. Rogers indicated that his mother told him to look for the helpers in times of crisis as “You will always find people who are helping.” When you look for the helpers, you will find hope. You will recognize the good in the world. You will feel strength. This is similar to gratitude. During moments of loss and crisis, there are always things to be grateful for. 9 months ago, you may have been focusing on other things that caused stress, sadness, or anxiety as opposed to focusing on gratitude. If you knew then what you know now, you may have focused your energy a bit differently. You may have focused strongly on the moments of affection with family and friends and embraced the beauty of a large gathering or celebration when many of the people you love most were in the same room together. You may have practiced mindfulness at your favorite restaurant more regularly as you enjoyed dining indoors. Now that these things have been taken from you, your focus may be on grieving. Although it is normal and necessary to grieve, it is important to find balance between grieving and gratitude. In moments of sadness, despair and loss, find the positive. Find what to be grateful for as you never know when more things you love and value may be stripped and taken from you.

Gratitude goes hand in hand with mindfulness. To help you enhance your feelings of gratitude, focus on present moments. You may feel the loss of something that you had yesterday or be worried that you may lose something tomorrow. Just bring your attention back to the here and now. Be attentive to what you have today. To help you with this process, read our previous blog, Anxiety & the Here & Now. If you are having a difficult time finding something to be grateful for, use the list below as a starting point.

  1. Hugs and affection from your immediate family (your child, spouse, or partner)
  2. Your basic needs (i.e.: food, shelter, water)
  3. Your health
  4. Walks, hikes, playing outside
  5. Seeing and spending time with loved ones, even if it is outside or wearing a mask
  6. Doing things that bring you joy (i.e.: playing music, gardening, knitting, watching movies, exercising, watching or playing sports)
  7. Eating delicious and nutritious food
  8. Reading a good book
  9. Working from home and sleeping in for now (if you can)
  10. Being able to wear comfortable clothes if you are working from home during the pandemic
  11. Beautiful sunrises and sunsets
  12. Bicycle rides

How to Manage Your Anxiety Level & Other Mental Health Impacts From the COVID-19 Pandemic

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It has been over 5 months since we received an email from our daughter’s school indicating that education was moving from in person to virtual.  “School will be moving remotely for two weeks,” it read.  “We will reassess at that time to determine next steps,” the email continued.  At that time, communities across the country were trying to process such significant changes that were happening.  As our private practice transitioned quickly to telehealth, few realized that this can potentially be the format for mental health services for the foreseeable future.  Shortly after the pandemic began, I received a good amount of messages from clients indicating that they would like to “wait and see what happens.”  “I’ll reach back out in a week or two since I would like to continue to see you in person as opposed to online,” they said.  Little did everyone know the pandemic would linger on for several months and longer.  Now, our practice is seeing a few hundred clients per week via telehealth as so many are in need of mental health services during these challenging times.  Individuals, couples, and families are really liking the new format as it is flexible and convenient.  In addition, many insurance policies are covering telehealth sessions at 100% making mental health services much more accessible than they have been in the past.

Although the pandemic has been around for several months, people are continuing to grieve pretty hard as their feelings of loss persist.  People are going through a loss of a loved one, a loss of normalcy, a loss of life experiences like a prom, freshman year of college, weddings and birthday parties, and more.  This weighs heavily on people making day to day life more challenging to manage.  Smaller obstacles or disagreements can trigger stronger emotions of anxiety, depression, frustration or anger.  This can lead to bigger arguments and conflicts which can be damaging to relationships and families.  Additionally, individuals and families are emotionally exhausted.  Parents of young children have been going months without a break.  They have been responsible for child care, education, and entertainment all while having to work a full-time job.

Another layer that has been a large cause of anxiety for individuals and families is that big and quick decisions are needed to be made.  Should you send your child to school or daycare in September?  What changes do you need to make to the policies and procedures of your business?  How are you going to make ends meet and continue to pay for rent or your mortgage?  These are all real situations that individuals and families are being faced with today.  In addition, due to circumstances and laws constantly and quickly changing, it is making it extremely challenging to plan accordingly.  People are put in a position where they have to spend an extraordinary amount of time planning only to have to adjust their plans a few weeks later due to circumstantial changes.  For instance, school districts spent months preparing to transition back to school in September.  Many of these plans were recently shared with parents and students.  It seems that a hybrid approach combined with in-person and virtual learning is the common plan for districts.  However, due to many unknown factors, it is difficult to determine if these plans will remain once school begins in a few weeks.  Should the virus spread throughout schools, they will be forced to shut down again and go 100% virtual.  This will impact school professionals as well as working parents and students.  Little to no options are ideal making it nearly impossible to plan for.  To summarize, all of the unknown factors and having to plan to make big decisions have been crippling to many peoples’ mental health.

Impacts on Social Dynamics

For many, it is difficult to cope with change, whether it be a change of job, home, or relationship.  The pandemic has not only caused these types of changes, but also much more substantial changes specifically in societal/social norms and how people interact with one another.  This is primarily due to the fact that people are responding to the pandemic very differently from one another.  Some believe it is a hoax and choose to not wear a mask or practice social distancing while others still do not feel comfortable leaving their house.  There are also some people who find themselves somewhere in the middle.  These people leave their house, wear a mask, practice social distancing, and have become well adjusted to new social norms.  Nonetheless, many people now have a new layer of anxiety that impacts how they interact with those around them.  There is an added stress level for how people socialize.  They now have to gauge others’ comfort level with socialization and need to communicate theirs.  For example, if your friend invites you and your children over for dinner, you may not feel comfortable unless you bring your own food and if masks are worn by all.  However, when you get to your friend’s house, you find that their family isn’t wearing masks or practicing social distancing.  If your children come to the BBQ wearing masks, what do you do if your friends’ children aren’t wearing masks or being socially distant?  This can impact your stress and comfort level and potentially even your relationship with that family.  You may then choose to not stay or spend time together in the future due to these differences.

How to Cope With These Impacts

It is difficult to wrap your head around the changes around you.  As I indicated, everyone is experiencing loss during these times.  You may still be in a state of shock.  As you begin to acknowledge these changes, it can be helpful to focus on what is directly in front of you.  Rather than focusing your mind on “having things go back to normal,” try to focus on adjusting and creating a “new normal.”  This may include more outdoor activities, zoom meetings, wearing of face masks and hand sanitizer, and quarantining/COVID tests before family vacations.  Whatever the case is, create a new framework for you and your family and you will find a way to make it work.  The more times you get out and experience life within these new changes, the more comfortable you will become.

As you continue to take steps towards adjusting to your new normal, you may find it necessary to communicate with others since their new normal may be different than yours.  When making plans with others, don’t be afraid to ask questions first and share your comfort level with others.  If you are invited to a BBQ, for example, you may want to first find out how food is being shared.  You may also communicate that you are going to bring your own food if that is what you feel most comfortable doing.  Some people feel safer wearing a mask no matter what the circumstance is while others are okay not wearing a mask if they are outside and are being distant from one another.  It can be helpful to always have a mask with you as you gauge others’ comfort level.  If you are outside and they are wearing a mask, you can ask if they would feel more comfortable if you were wearing one too or you can just put it on at that point.  Otherwise, interactions and relationships can be impacted as some people have a difficult time speaking up about their emotions if they are feeling uncomfortable.

These are challenging times for everyone.  Times are constantly changing and there continues to be so many unknown factors.  As long as you are taking care of yourself and your family while also focusing on the greater good and doing your part, you are doing what you can.  Again, try to focus on now and what you can do moving forward and your feelings of anxiety will be as manageable as they can be.  If you find yourself out of control of your emotions and your decision making and relationships are being impacted, do not hesitate to reach out to us.  Many have been doing that as therapy can help ground people.  We are always here to listen.