10 Natural and Sustainable Ways to Manage Anxiety that Aren’t Meditation or Exercise!
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghApril 30, 2021 anxiety, Anxiety and Stress, anxiety therapy pittsburgh0 comments
Anxiety management in a healthy sustainable way!
Here is the ultimate listicle of healthy ways to reduce and manage anxiety symptoms beyond meditation and exercise because while both of those do work, they might not be in everyone’s tool bag. Here are 10 simple and effective therapist verified ways to help.
- Blow bubbles! This works two ways, one who can be anxious when they are looking at a shiny bright bubble? But seriously, bubbles require us to blow our air out, when we are blowing out we activate our parasympathetic nervous system. It is also speculated that anxiety and panic can be induced by a CO2 sensitivity, this is helped anytime we blow out slowly. So go ahead, let your inner child emerge and blow some bubbles!
- Try a hot bath! Hydrotherapy works, this is all about vasodilation, when we take a warm bath our blood pressure increases but what goes up must come down so we float into a state of deeper relaxation after, if you can take your bath with candlelight and a good book, even better!
- Count down from 100 backwards. Many anxiety management techniques help us to focus on something other than the anxiety, counting backwards works well!
- Scanning techniques, focus on what you see around you, you can even use the alphabet, start by looking around for something that starts with the letter A, then B. Some people respond best to this by writing out their answers too.
- Listen to soothing music, sound can be very therapeutic because our heart rates do respond to auditory stimulation. If you listen to something below 60 BPM (Beats per minute) you will naturally bring down your heart rate too.
- Progressive muscle relaxation is a system of focusing on each muscle group and squeezing them, holding the tension for 10-20 seconds, then relaxing. You start at your toes and slowly move up to the crown of your head. After working through each muscle group you squeeze every muscle and then relax. This is effective because we are best at relaxing after being active!
- While most of us want to harness our calm without any pharmacological intervention, that is not always possible. Some mental health and medical diagnosis respond only to medical treatment. With that in mind, some forms of stress can be aided by using herbal remedies, herbs such as hops, valerian, and lemon balm are especially calming. Consult your local herbalist for more tips on herbs!
- Do some gardening, soil and contact with the earth works on multiple levels to help us relax, it doubles as physical activity and we also know that nature therapy via time spent outdoors has excellent stress reducing benefits. Go ahead, plant a flower or tree, not only with you enjoy its beauty but you will get a relaxing dose of wellness while you are at it.
- Lower your heart, literally. I know we aren’t including exercise but a low impact yoga stretch called child’s pose can be achieved by getting onto your knees, then bending forward from your waist to lay your head and shoulders on the ground. Your heart gets a welcome rest when you are inverted this way and your heart rate automatically goes down!
- Phone a friend, this is especially helpful for women who are experiencing anxiety, women get a stress reducing benefit from talking to supports about their stresses. Feeling overwhelmed, talk it out!
Stephanie Wijkstrom, MS, LPC, NCC Stephanie Wijkstrom, MS, LPC, NCC
Six Steps to Get Motivated to Achieve Your Goals
When it comes to setting goals, it isn’t hard to think of where you’d like to be in six months, a year, or even five years. Making steady progress towards these goals is another story entirely. Here are six concrete steps you can take towards achieving your goals, even when your motivation is running dry.
1. Dress The Part
While the COVID-19 pandemic has welcomed a new era of casual dress that mostly means working in sweatpants, studies show that getting dressed more professionally can affect your mood and attitude toward your goals.
Many psychologists agree that wearing comfortable clothes that one wouldn’t usually wear to the office signals to the brain an “I don’t care” attitude. Doctor Sheva Assar, a clinical psychologist, adds that getting dressed in the morning could increase motivation for the remainder of the day, getting people out of the “cycle of staying in that place of inaction.” Getting dressed in the morning is a small step, but it’s a symbolic one.
2. Visualize the Future
One important step in the direction of a better future is being able to visualize it. Writing daily affirmations and even creating a vision board can help someone see the daily steps they could take towards where they want to be in five years. Meditation can also help a person set aside time to imagine an ideal future for themselves. This type of meditation can become extremely detailed, giving the person the clearest vision of what they want in the future and the steps it will take to get there.
3. Find S.U.C.C.E.S.S.
For years, the business world touted the achievements made from SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound) goals. However, people are not businesses, and these types of goals miss some of the empathetic, human elements needed for success in one’s personal goals. Instead, set SUCCESS (Subjective, Urgent, Committed, Concrete, Evaluate, Shared, Support) goals. This research-backed strategy has been shown to create more buy-in for the individual, thus increasing the likelihood of follow-through.
4. Nurture Relationships
Having a supportive network of family and friends can go a long way in achieving one’s goals. One might hesitate to share their goals out of fear of embarrassment if they don’t end up meeting them. However, studies show goal-sharing creates a kind of positive peer pressure, and that by sharing one’s intentions, a person is further committing to that goal.
5. Accept the Inevitability of Setbacks
When it comes to even the most disciplined of people, setbacks are going to happen. For example, someone might have a goal to exercise three times a week but then get struck with an illness that prevents them from doing so. Accept that life happens and sometimes gets in the way. Don’t give up despite these setbacks.
6. Create a Reward System
Making concrete progress toward a goal? Time to treat yourself! A reward system isn’t just a fun way to celebrate progress–it’s also a research-backed way to help you keep working at your goal. A study out of the Journal of Consumer Research found that immediate rewards could help participants stick with a goal. It’s a win-win way to recognize your accomplishments and keep yourself on a steady path toward your dream future.
If you feel like you still can’t get a handle on motivation, you could be experiencing symptoms of depression and other mood disorders, as they can limit one’s motivation. If you think your lack of motivation could be coming from a mental health disorder you should seek professional help.Learn More
How to be a Great Listener Part I: The Attitude of a Compassionate Listener
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghApril 12, 2021 best counselor for me, counseling pittsburgh, pittsburgh, relationship0 comments
“Listening is an art that requires attention over talents, spirit over ego, others over self.”
– Dean Jackson
The Attitude of Great Listeners
Developing effective and compassionate listening skills is absolutely essential in order to maintain a strong and healthy relationship. Becoming a great listener is not only vital for flourishing romantic relationships, but it is also a skill that is relevant in all aspects of life. Effective listeners are effective people. Unfortunately, these skills are not often taught, and the result is that listening skills don’t get much emphasis or development in our society.
This two-part series will focus on helping you to understand the basics of effective and compassionate listening and also teach you how to put those basics into practice. Following these simple guidelines can have a tremendous effect on both your romantic relationships, and your ability to reach your goals. In this month’s Part I blog post of “How to be a Great Listener,” we will cover the attitude of compassion that is necessary to be a compassionate and effective listener. In our next blog post, we will address the technical skills of listening that will build on this compassionate attitude!
Learning to Listen is like Learning to Ride a Bike
Learning to be a great listener can be a difficult process, often times in the beginning it feels awkward, clumsy and a bit uncomfortable. Many times, when working on listening skills in couples therapy, people tell me that this type of communication is not “them.” They may say that it does not feel right, that it is not natural, or that these listening skills do not feel authentic. My response typically sounds something like this, “I appreciate that you are letting me know that this feels unnatural, and that is okay. When I was first learning to be a counselor, this type of listening felt unnatural to me too! Thankfully, listening is a skill, it is not a personality trait, and just like any other skill it can be developed!” I tell my clients that at first it might feel unnatural, but as they develop these listening skills, they will become more personal, and will feel more natural. It is just like learning to ride a bike, or to type on a keyboard! At first, the movements may feel forced and uncoordinated, but with practice and attention, soon these skills become more familiar, they open up new and exciting avenues of exploration and expression! The same goes for listening, however when you listen, you get to explore one of the most beautiful sceneries to ever exist, the intimate world of another human being. Although becoming a great listener can be challenging at first, it is a skill that can truly transform our lives!
Great Listeners are Compassionate & Effective
Becoming a great listener can be broken down into two major aspects which come together seamlessly to allow the listener to be both compassionate and effective. The first major aspect of listening is adopting and expressing an attitude of compassion. The second major aspect of listening is developing specific listening skills and techniques to listen effectively. This post is going to focus on the compassionate listeners attitude. Most of the time we are so consumed in our own world, that we do not take the time to intentionally step into the world of another and to see the word through their eyes. In order to be great listeners, we have to possess a willingness to humbly (& momentarily) put aside our own perspective and opinion and be willing to truly witness the person in front of us. The attitude of humility and genuine interest equips us to post-pone our own agenda and to tune in to what the speaker is saying. Your goal is simply to understand.
The Golden Rule of Effective & Compassionate Listening: Don’t Problem Solve
“Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart.” Tich Nhat Hanh
Listening is more than just hearing; it is a willing and active participation in the life of another person. The attitude of compassionate listening is embodied in this one rule: don’t try to problem solve. One of the most common pitfalls that hinders the compassionate listening beautifully described by Tech Nhat Hanh (a global spiritual leader, peace activist, and poet) in the quote above, is the urge to jump into problem solving. When someone tells us about a difficult situation they are encountering, it can easily bring out our insecurities and trigger the experience of anxiety. It is intimidating to think that we might not be able to help our loved ones in a satisfactory way, in the way we think they need to be helped. Not only is it intimidating, but it can also be embarrassing. Whether it is a major life dilemma, or a small frustration, we might think to ourselves, “Oh no, this person needs help, what can I possibly say to help this person?!” We can feel overwhelmed by a sense of insufficiency and experience a sense that we must do something.
Problem-solving capabilities are the primary reason that humans have survived throughout history, so it is understandable that our first instinct is to try to fix the issue, but most of the time following the impulse to offer a solution can be damaging. More than a solution, the person experiencing a dilemma or difficulty needs the presence of another person willing to simply be with them.
Instead of problem solving or advice giving, try to tune in to what the person is experiencing. Seek to really understand what they are going through, and what emotions they are feeling. Exhibiting the willingness to sit with someone in their difficulty, conveys a sense of unconditional acceptance to that person. When we listen to someone’s difficulty and seek to truly understand their experience, we say “I accept you as you are, even when you are stressed, depressed, or anxious, and I see you as you are, completely acceptable, no matter how you are feeling.” It is essential that before jumping into problem solving, or trying to make your partner feel better, you show your partner that you really hear what they are saying. This is an opportunity to demonstrate our unconditional acceptance of the ones we love.
We are social and emotional beings that thrive on human connection. When our partner is telling us about their experience, often times, they are seeking to connect with us. They aren’t just telling us a bout a difficult situation, they are also building an emotional bridge of connection. If we miss the emotions, then we will miss the bridge, and our partner will end up feeling isolated, unimportant and invalidated. Human emotions are not problems, and they cannot be solved. Emotions are processed through expression and when you ask about those emotions you create an opportunity for processing, as well as validation. Although it might feel right for us to immediately jump into problem solving or advice giving, it is a sure way to invalidate your partner and crush the connection. Deeply listening to your partner’s difficulties is an opportunity for you to show your partner, how important they are through your presence, your patience, and your attention! If your partner wants your advice, they will likely ask for it, but unless you first show your partner that you truly understand their experience and care about their feelings, problem solving is likely to be a burnt bridge of connection. Problem solving in itself is not bad, but it is essential to listen and reflect your understanding back to your partner first, and problem solve later (like, way later). Implementing this golden rule of listening becomes much easier when we have a humble attitude complimented by some practical skills and techniques!
Your Presence is a Precious Gift
Your attitude is a tremendous tool that can set you up for success or put you on the fast track to failure. In order to be a great listener, you must embrace an attitude of humility and generosity! Effective and compassionate listening requires a strong focus on the person speaking, rather than yourself. Sometimes, the most difficult aspect of embracing this attitude is that you have let go of your own insecurities. If you hold on to the belief that you “aren’t good enough,” you will never be able to give your partner what they need most in their times of difficulty and dilemma. Whether it is an everyday frustration, or a major life transition, as humans we all long for companionship. All of us want deeply to be seen, and to be known, and at the same time, all of us are terrified of what might happen if we allow ourselves to be seen and to be known. There is nothing greater you can give someone than the gift of your human presence, of your human heart full of compassion, of being someone that is willing to sit in solidarity with the discomfort of the one you love. This is truly the gift of listening. It is not simply being silent and allowing your ears to hear. It is participating in the life of another through actively showing them, “you matter to me, your experience matters to me, your emotions matter to me, and I am willing to listen.” Through communicating in this way, you invite them to truly be themselves in an authentic and organic manner. It has often been said that the greatest gift one can give a friend is their life, and there are countless stories of people who have given their lives so that their loved ones could survive. To build on this belief of sacrifice, we should take into account the fact that one’s life can only be lived in the present moment. When you give another human your full and undivided attention, even if just for a moment, you give them your life, for life can only be lived in the now. Through letting go of your insecurities and humbly believing in the power of your human presence, you allow yourself to become a source of healing through solidarity. This is the essence of compassion, “to suffer with.” It is through embracing your own human value that you allow yourself to give another the gift which all of us long for, to be known, to be seen and to be accepted. This type of presence and belief in the power of the human spirit opens up the opportunity to extend profound empathy.
In this first part of learning how to become a great listener we have covered the basic attitude of compassionate listening. Your attitude is everything! Remember, listen first and problem solve later, way later! Jumping right into problem solving before you truly understand your partner is a sure way to crush an opportunity for compassionate connection. Have confidence in the fact that your presence is enough! Simply sitting with someone and seeking to understand their difficulty can have a profoundly healing impact on someone who is experiencing difficulty. But how do you do that?! Tune in to our next blog post where we cover how-to’s of expressing empathy and the do’s and don’ts of putting this attitude into practice!
Culture of EMPATHY Builder: Carl Rogers – page 1. (n.d.). Retrieved April 03, 2021, from http://cultureofempathy.com/References/Experts/Carl-Rogers.htm
Gottman, J. M., & Gottman, J. S. (2016). The Gottman relationship guides. Seattle: Gottman Institute.
Rogers, C. R., & Kramer, P. D. (1995). On becoming a person: A therapist’s view on psychotherapy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Learn More
Getting Help Through EMDR
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghApril 12, 2021 social anxiety, treatment for anxiety disorder0 comments
Traditional psychotherapy has been the usual approach to dealing with issues such as anxiety, depression, and addiction. It can involve real and tiring work including reliving uncomfortable memories and feelings out loud for multiple therapy sessions. Historically, this has been the responsible process to identifying and resolving deep issues about thoughts and feelings and functioning in the world. It has been the popular and accepted route to mental wellness. Many people have avoided getting the help they need because they do not want to be subjected to any further stress. They don’t want to do the work.
Happily, there is an alternative.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a new and non-traditional psychotherapy. It uses a patient’s rapid, rhythmic eye movements to lessen the effects of emotionally charged memories of past traumatic events. During a typical session, which can last up to 53 minutes, the therapist moves their fingers back and forth in front of the patient’s face. Sometimes they use an object instead of their fingers, similar to the way hypnotism was portrayed in old movies by swinging a long-chained pocket watch. They have the patient follow these hand motions with their eyes while recalling the distressing event. Eventually the therapist leads the patient to discover more pleasant thoughts, diverting their attention away from the distressing event. The effects of this process are, diminished debilitating memories. This is achieved without talk therapy or medication.
If you are someone who suffers from a specific phobia, such as the fear of flying, EMDR could help you. Replacing negative emotions with positive ones through the EMDR process has provided a sense of security for those afraid to fly. One study which examined a woman who was afraid to fly after the attacks on the United States on September 11, showed positive results quickly. Following only one session she was able to fly on multiple occasions without fear.
If you have had a bad experience at the dentist, studies have shown this non-invasive approach has proven effective in reducing effects of dental phobia. Quoted directly from a study which implemented EMDR: “The most important result of this study was that a high number of patients overcame their avoidance behavior and visited the dentist regularly following treatment.” This study included several 90-minute sessions and proved to be effective in reducing anxiety and changing behavior. Fear of going to the dentist was no longer debilitating.
EMDR is used for a wide range of issues such as panic attacks, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, PTSD, and more. If you are someone who suffers from any of these issues or a similar one, this therapy has proven to be successful in eradicating effects of negative experiences. Taking adverse thoughts, memories, emotions, and sensations and rewiring them in the brain has produced a higher level of control and normal functioning.
Although psychotherapy can be stressful, not getting help can also be stressful. If you are ready to seek mental wellness, EMDR is a proven, specific, and results driven approach. EMDR allows negative experiences to become manageable and you to be well.Learn More