4 Ways to Manage Your Fear & Anxiety During the Corona Virus Pandemic

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The corona virus has captured everyone and everything.  The world is on hold until further notice.  Schools are closed, sporting events are cancelled, Broadway is postponed, and grocery stores are packed as people prepare to be home.  Fear and panic has taken over and humans are in an extended state of fight or flight.  For those who struggle with anxiety on a normal day, this can be crippling to their mental health.  For others, this can be the start of what can turn into a long-term anxiety and fear issue.

The anatomy of fear

When a person senses fear, the body responds with “fight or flight.”  Hormones are released including Cortisol and Adrenaline.  Your heart rate increases, you begin breathing faster, and your body prepares itself for survival.  Typically, this doesn’t last long as your body starts to go back to normal again.  However, with stressful situations that linger, a continued state of fight or flight can occur.  This can take a toll on a person’s physical, mental and emotional health.  In the case of the coronavirus, since there is a lot of unknown factors, people are remaining in a state of fight or flight.  This is when panic sets in and irrational thinking happens.

4 Ways to Manage Fear & Anxiety

  1. Pause & breathe

When your body is going through fight or flight, you are inclined to react immediately.  Run to the store to load up on essentials!  Wipe down your entire house!  Yell at your kids because they aren’t listening!  When you react quickly without a plan, others around you feed into your panic and experience fear and anxiety as well.  Take a moment and breathe.  It will help manage your body’s fight or flight reaction so that you can begin to think rationally.  If you remain calm so will others around you.

2. Create a plan

If you have any children, you can imagine what educators and other school staff members have been doing the past few weeks to prepare.  This consisted of many school officials meeting to collaborate a plan so education continues during school closures.  This didn’t happen overnight.  These plans were well thought out and carefully planned before it was communicated with all staff, parents, and eventually students.  Do the same for you and your family.  Take a moment when you are calm, sit down, and create a plan so you and your family are prepared.  Do you need to stock up on food and staples for the next few weeks?  If you take medication, did you order a bigger supply?  Keep in mind, there are others who are also planning.  Be courteous and only buy what you need.  It is not necessary to purchase 24 rolls of toilet paper for yourself.  If you do, you are probably still in a state of fight or flight and need to pause and breathe.

3. Educate yourself

As you probably have noticed, there is a lot of information going around regarding the coronavirus.  People are glued to the news and their phones as they read articles and comments and posts from friends and family on social media.  Find reputable sources, use common sense, and learn how to keep you and your family safe during this time.  The more knowledge you have, the less anxious and fearful you will be.  Although there are unknown factors with this particular situation, do what you can based on what you learn and continue to breathe through the fear and anxiety that you may experience due to the unknown factors.  Disconnect from information as well.  Too much information will cause overload, increase anxiety and will be counterproductive.

4. Take time to enjoy the break

There is usually a silver lining in the midst of a crisis if you look for it.  In this case, everything is on hold until further notice.  Individuals and families are forced to remain where they are and activities are limited.  No sports.  No activities.  No school.  Work has decreased or become remote.  Your once fast paced lifestyle has suddenly come to a halt. Enjoy the moment.  Be with your kids.  Play with them.  Take out some board games, a catch outside, a movie day (at home of course!), or spend the day cooking together as a family so you can freeze some meals.  Go outside and enjoy the weather.  It is Spring after all!

Don’t forget, this pandemic will eventually end and you will go right back to your once fast paced life.  If there is anything that this pandemic has taught you, it is that health is the top priority.  Everything else is not as important.  That is why everyone and everything is on hold for now.  Reflect on this so when life goes back to normal again, your priorities and values will reset.

We hope you and your family stay safe and we wish you well.  If your fear and anxiety is difficult to manage alone during this time, we are just a call away!

 

Seek Happiness, Not Pleasure: The Difference Between Happiness and Pleasure & How to Keep Your Mood Leveled

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It is easy to confuse pleasure with happiness as they both feel very similar.  If people sit down to a delicious meal at their favorite restaurant, are they feeling happiness or pleasure?  What if you unwrap a gift during the holidays and find it’s exactly what you wanted?  Pleasure or happiness?  Or maybe you come home after a long week of work and your partner is waiting for you with a glass of wine and a good movie ready to go?  Before I discuss ways on how to find happiness, it is important to understand the difference between pleasure and happiness.

What is pleasure?

Pleasure is produced when the neurotransmitter, dopamine is released in the brain.  It is the “feel good” neurotransmitter which is why people continue to chase it.  This is also why, in psychology, it is called the “reward pathway” in the brain.  For instance, when you have sex, eat your favorite food, gamble, use any sort of drug, open up a gift, or even gossip, dopamine is released in your brain and pleasure is produced.  Since the experience feels good, you go after them again…and again…and again.  It gets to a point that the thought or anticipation of the experience can release dopamine.  However, once the experience ends, so does the feeling of pleasure, only leaving you wanting more.  Pleasure is short lived.  It doesn’t last long and can ultimately be unhealthy if it leads to addictive behaviors (ie: drug, sex, gambling, food addictions).

What is happiness?

Happiness is produced when the neurotransmitter, serotonin is released in the brain.  When people feel happiness, they are at an even keel for an extended period of time.  Their mood is level and they are feeling good about their life.  You may feel happy with life at home, at work, or where you are in life.  For example, if you are sitting around a table full of family and friends during the holidays, you may pause, reflect, and experience happiness since you are surrounded by people you love.  This feeling will most likely last through dinner and for the remainder of the night.

What is the difference between pleasure and happiness?

Although they feel similar, there are a good amount of differences between pleasure and happiness.  Some of these differences are listed below:

Pleasure

Short lived

Dopamine is released

Serves as a “reward.”  As a result, you may continue to seek it.

Can lead to unhealthy addictive behaviors

Happiness

Lasts longer

Serotonin is released

No reward is present.  It serves as a result.

Mood is level

How to seek happiness?

People often ask what the secret to happiness is.  In my opinion, this can be different for everyone depending on what you are looking for in life.  And there is plenty to find!  A good place to start is to imagine how you would want your life to look like when you wake up in the morning.  Do you want to surround yourself with people or would you prefer to go for a run with your dog?  Would you stay in bed and snuggle your partner for 15 minutes or would you enjoy sitting together on your porch and talking instead?  Do you prefer to work at a job around other co-workers you really connect with or would you rather be an entrepreneur and have more flexibility in your day?  What would you do if you had that flexibility?  There are no secrets to finding happiness since it is different for all.  What works for some people may not work for others.  However, the path to happiness is rarely short and there is no quick route to getting there.  This is not the case for pleasure, which means if you continue to seek it, you will realize that it will not lead to happiness as pleasure is its own separate path.  This will leave you feeling empty in the end since pleasure is short lived.  If you want to find happiness, start thinking about how you want to live your life.  Then, start taking the necessary steps to get there.  Start off small and work your way up.  Do what ultimately makes you happy as opposed to chasing a temporary reward.

What if I can’t find happiness?

If you find yourself struggling to find happiness regardless of what you do, you may need to seek professional help.  This may be a therapist, a psychiatrist, or a combination of the two.  Life is challenging in general.  If you find that nothing you do brings you happiness, it is possible that there is also a chemical imbalance that is causing this, as opposed to life just being challenging in general.  A therapist can help you figure this out and also point you in the right direction.  Not only this, but they will stay on the path and walk alongside you as long as you need them to.  This will provide the support you need until you are able to find happiness.

We hope you and your family had a wonderful holiday and New Year, and that you find your happiness!

 

How to Cope with Anxiety by Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Techniques

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Anxiety is powerful and persistent.  It can hit you as soon as you wake up in the morning and can keep you from going to sleep at night.  It can cause you to shut down, feel numb, and become immobile, but can also provide you with a burst of energy due to racing, and worrisome thoughts.  Anxiety is uncomfortable and consuming.  It impacts relationships, decision making, self-esteem, and confidence among other things.  Anxiety can be a symptom of environmental stressors and can also be caused by your biological makeup (i.e. genetics).  Regardless, it can be quite disruptive to your life.  Although anxiety is strong, it can be managed using a variety of techniques.  In this blog, I am going to cover one of these techniques, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  CBT is a method some therapists use to help clients cope with anxiety.  If you would like to learn some other strategies to help you cope with anxiety, you can read some of my previous blogs including:

Panic Attacks – Don’t Panic! Do These 4 Things Instead!

Anxiety & the Here & Now

Hike, Connect with Nature, & Break From Anxiety

CBT methods teach people to challenge their thoughts and beliefs which will then have an impact on their emotions.  Typically, when a person is experiencing an episode of anxiety, they are having automatic thoughts (i.e.: self talk, toxic thoughts, etc.).  The worst case scenario may play out in your head regardless of whether or not it is realistic or logical.  For example, for parents of young children, if your 2 year old child is climbing on a play set, you may think they will fall, break something, and then you will have to rush them to the ER.  As a result, you quickly tell them they aren’t allowed to climb or you stand directly behind them with your hands supporting their body so they most certainly won’t fall.  The result is a child who doesn’t learn risk assessing skills or develop confidence in their ability to climb.  For adolescents, failing a test or getting a poor grade on an assignment may trigger anxiety, which may result in negative thoughts including, “I’m not going to get into a good college,” or “I’m so stupid.”  Anxiety escalates and automatic toxic thoughts intensify.

Challenging your thoughts and beliefs can be a challenge in itself.  Anxiety is a bit more invasive than just a few negative, irrational thoughts.  Anxiety impacts your breathing, heart rate, digestion, and more.  It releases stress hormones including adrenaline and cortisol which feels like your whole body has been hijacked.  As a result, it takes a lot of self control, commitment, and will power to challenge the negative thoughts and beliefs that anxiety can produce.  It can be a constant thing as well.  In some instances, it may be more beneficial to redirect yourself first if you experience stronger episodes of anxiety.  Breathing exercises along with a mindful activity such as playing an instrument or doing a crossword puzzle can help relieve the physiological symptoms of anxiety enough so you feel like you are more in control of your thoughts.  The following are steps you can take in order to challenge irrational thoughts that surface from anxiety once you are more in control:

  1. Recognize your symptoms of anxiety.
  2. If your anxiety is significant, redirect yourself, breath, and participate in a mindful activity to alleviate the physiological symptoms of anxiety.
  3. Identify irrational, negative thoughts/beliefs that are produced due to your anxiety episode.
  4. Challenge these thoughts and beliefs.  Remember, just because your mind is producing the thoughts and beliefs does not mean they are true or realistic .
  5. Counter your irrational thoughts and beliefs with more realistic thoughts and beliefs.  For example, you can tell yourself that your 2 year old child most likely will not fall and break something if they climb a few steps on a play set.  Offer words of encouragement to your child, provide enough space for them, and be present should they fall and scrape a knee.

Predicting the worst case scenario (catastrophizing), overgeneralizing, and jumping to conclusions are all examples of cognitive distortions.  Cognitive distortions play a key role with anxiety.  It is essentially your mind convincing you of something that isn’t true or realistic.  Convincing is the key word here.  One way to put this into perspective is to compare this to a game of Texas Holdem Poker.  For instance, if you and I are playing a game of poker, you can have a hand that is much better than mine.  However, I can bet a good amount of chips, which will produce anxiety and fear for you.  As a result, your mind will convince you that I have a better hand than you causing you to fold.  If you are able to recognize your own anxiety, cognitive distortions, and challenge your thinking and beliefs, you will know to raise my bet which will cause me to fold since my hand isn’t as good as yours.  Similarly, if you challenge other cognitive distortions in your life, your decision making will be much more logical and you will not allow anxiety to dictate your life and actions.  It is a way for you to regain control.

How to Find the Right Therapist for You & Your Family: 5 Tips for Individuals and Families New to the Process

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More and more individuals and families are seeking counseling services today for a variety of reasons.  On the positive side, the stigma of mental health services is shifting a bit since it is becoming more typical that children, adolescents, and adults are seeking therapy.  However, since there is such a high demand for therapeutic services, the cost for counseling has not only skyrocketed, but it is challenging just finding a therapist that is accepting new clients.  Not to mention, for people who are new to the process of finding a therapist, it can be extremely overwhelming finding the right person/fit.

If you are new to the process

If this is your first time seeking help from a therapist for you and/or your family, you may not be sure where to start.  If you are concerned about finances, it may make sense to reach out to your insurance company for a list of local providers who are in your insurance network.  Unfortunately, many therapists do not accept insurance since it can cause a good amount of extra work and headaches for therapists.  Making cold calls from a list of local in network providers may save you some money but it may not be your best option to find a therapist who is a good fit for you and your family since you are going on chance as opposed to recommendations or preference/specialties.

Another option you can take is to browse through local provider directories.  Psychology Today is a popular and common one.  If you go online to this website, you can browse through local providers.  You are able to view pictures of therapists, descriptions of their services, what insurances they accept, and more.  Be prepared that many therapists that you call either will be full or will not be able to get you in for an appointment for several weeks.

It may also be helpful to look for recommendations.  You may have friends or other family members who are currently in therapy or have been in the past.  Do not be afraid to talk to people in order to find a recommendation of a therapist.  Talk to your doctor, reach out to friend groups, or even consider browsing social media on local community pages.  People use this common approach when they are looking for recommendations for plumbers, electricians, and tutors.  Looking for a highly recommended therapist is no different.

Finding the right therapist for you

Therapists have various specialties depending on their education and experience.  Some therapists are comfortable working with young children through methods such as play or art therapy while others have more experience working with adolescents and adults.  Some use psychodynamic philosophies while others use CBT or DBT methods.  Regardless of the approach, it is not only important to find a therapist that uses theories that you are looking for, but it is also helpful to find a therapist you can connect with and feel comfortable talking to.  If you do not feel connected to your therapist, the amount of content knowledge they have is irrelevant.  It may take two or three therapists before you find one that works well with you.  Do not be afraid to look elsewhere if you are not making progress with your treatment goals.  However, I would suggest attending a few sessions with the same therapist before making the decision to try someone else.

Our Approach

At Main Street Counseling, we understand that it can be very difficult to find the right therapist for you.  This is why we started a group counseling practice consisting of several fully licensed clinicians (Licensed Professional Counselors, Licensed Clinical Social Workers, & Licensed Clinical Alcohol & Drug Counselors).  All of our therapists are part-time employees so they are able to provide more individualized attention and treatment to their clients.  The process of finding the right fit for you is streamlined.  All you need to do is call in to the main number or send us an email, explain a little bit about you and the services you are looking for, and we will connect you with a therapist that will best serve your needs.  We are currently in network for Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield and accept out of network benefits as well.  Our prices are very competitive compared to what other local therapists charge since we aim to make services more affordable for individuals and families.  Since our staff is growing, we are able to keep up with the needs of local communities.  This means that the wait time to see a therapist is short.  If you would like to learn more about us, please do not hesitate to reach out!

Take Control of Your Emotions by Using These 4 Coping Strategies

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“Emotions are meant to be in motion.  Do not hold on to them; let them move through you.  Emotions pass.  Decisions last.”

Negative emotions like sadness, anger, and frustration are like rain clouds.  They come and they pass.  Some stick around longer than others, but eventually the sun pokes through again.  Now don’t get me wrong, your emotions are valid and justifiable.  You may feel disappointed and angry if your friend cancels plans on you last minute or you may feel frustrated if your spouse forgets to take out the trash on garbage day again even after you reminded him!  From my perspective, your feelings of dissapointment, anger and frustration are justifiable.  However, how you choose to react to these emotions in the moment will determine what comes next for you and whether or not your negative emotions will remain, intensify, or pass.

Your Natural Reaction

When you are having a negative emotion, your brain will try to steer you in a direction that may make matters worse.  You may react with aggression or you may communicate with an accusatory tone in the case of a conflict.  However, aggressive reactions or accusations will only lead to more negative emotions which will not only prolong them, but can even cause damage in relationships.  Mean, hurtful comments may cause lasting memories and can negatively impact the dynamic of your relationship.  Don’t forget, your emotions will eventually pass, but your actions in response to them will remain.

Practice self-control

Since your natural reaction to negative emotions can be damaging, it is important that you practice self-control.  This means going against what your brain is telling you.  Identify what you are feeling and acknowledge and validate what is going on from your perspective.  However, if your negative emotions are too strong to respond in a helpful and productive way at that moment, walk way and give them time to pass.   For example, If you feel angry due to a disagreement that occurred with you and your partner, rather than responding with aggression in the moment, take some time to redirect yourself and allow your anger to pass.  After your anger passes, if you still feel the need to address what happened, you will more likely find appropriate and rational words to help articulate to your partner how you felt.  You may even take it one step further by offering up solutions to resolve whatever the problem or disagreement was.

4 Ways to Cope with Negative Emotions

  1. Take time for yourself.  Negative emotions may be consuming at times, especially if you have a lot going on or are stressed out.  Work may be overwhelming and busy and additional life stressors may be weighing on you.  Take some time to relax and recharge.  Go for a hike, get a massage, or just break away from others.  If you take the time to care for yourself, your mind will be more equipped to care for others.
  2. Breathe & Meditate.  When negative emotions enter the mind, they can take you down a long and dark path.  Incorporating meditation and breathing exercises into your day will shine some light on your path and will help to clear your mind from negativity.
  3. Exercise.  Negative emotions are more prevalent when you are tired and lethargic. Exercise will help condition your body and subsequently strengthen your mind.  Not to mention, exercise will release endorphins in your brain which will make you feel more relaxed.
  4. Redirect and distract yourself.  When in doubt, remove yourself from a situation when negative emotions take control of you and your actions.  Rather than think about the reasons why you are feeling the way you are, get involved in a mindful activity like coloring, knitting, reading, or playing an instrument.  If you combine this activity with breathing exercises, your negative emotions will pass quickly.  Afterwards, you will be able to determine whether they need to be addressed or not depending on what the issue was.  Regardless, you will be in a better mindset to solve the problem.