How to Detox Co-Parenting Conversations
Co-parenting is hard, there is no doubt about that, but it doesn’t have to be toxic! It is impossible to completely eliminate disagreements between two people trying to work together in any situation, but disagreement should not always lead to disaster. The key to co-parenting is learning to have healthy, respectful and productive conflict discussions. Today we are going to talk about how you and your co-parent can learn to detoxify conflict and have healthy conversations by removing the four most destructive conversation patterns.
Not all disagreements are equal
There are certain types of negativity that are so toxic that they bring chaos and frustration to all parties involved. This post is not about how to avoid fighting & disagreement; it is about learning how to fight in a healthy way! John Gottman is a family and marriage therapy expert and one of the leading researchers in studying what makes communication patterns healthy or unhealthy in relationships. Although his focus has been on committed relationships, his findings from over 40 years of research have been successfully applied to parenting, co-parenting, leadership and management. John Gottman discovered that there are four patterns of communication that destroy healthy, and productive conflict discussions. He called these the “Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.” It is nearly impossible to completely eliminate the Four Horsemen, but by learning to identify these toxic patterns of communication you’ll be better able to avoid unhealthy arguments and implement healthy and productive conversation alternatives.
One of the hardest things to remember in the midst of a co-parenting disagreement is that ultimately the disagreement is not about you and it is not about who is right or wrong. It is about your child (or children). When you don’t have healthy communication with your co-parent, your child is the one who is hurt the most. Learning how to healthily approach disagreements and disputes with your co-parent directly benefits your child! Not only do they learn that they are loved, but they will also learn that adults can have disagreements and still be civil and respectful. When disagreements between co-parents get out of hand, your child loses every time! Learning to be a better co-parent is about helping your child (or children) and providing them with a safe and nurturing environment. Now let’s get into the nuts and bolts of healthy and unhealthy conflict discussions.
What are the Four Horsemen of the apocalypse? The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are patterns that lead to unproductive conflict management, they are Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling. Learning to identify each Horsemen means you’ll be able to avoid them and replace them with healthy antidotes! John Gottman has produced some the best resources on conflict management. We have adapted one of his guides to be relevant to you as a co-parent! It is important to be on the same page as each other, so after reading this guide, consider sharing it with your co-parent to establish the same ground rules for conversations.
Horseman No. 1: CRITICISM
Criticism involves bringing up an issue in a way that focuses on your co-parent’s character or personality flaws rather than on what you need them to do differently. Criticism implies there is something wrong with your co-parent, that he or she is defective or broken. The problem with this approach is that if you treat them like they are defective or broken, there is no room for growth as co-parents. Criticism may include blame, name-calling and a general character assassination. Criticizing your co-parent is different from offering a critique or voicing a complaint. Remember, a criticism is an attack.
Here is an example to help you distinguish between the two:
Criticism: “You never think about how your behavior is affecting other people. You’re just selfish!”
Complaint: “I was frustrated when you were running late for our drop off and didn’t call me. We had agreed that we would communicate if one of us got held up.”
Antidote to Criticism: Use a Soft Start-up and Ask for Specific Behavior Change
The antidote to criticism is to use a soft start-up to ask your co-parent to change their behavior in some specific way.
Steps for a Gentle Start Up
- I Feel…
Begin statements with “I” instead of “You” to avoid blame. State how you feel.
Example: “I feel frustrated . . .”
- About What…
Describe the situation and not your co-parent.
Example: “I feel frustrated that you put our son into a sports league that plays on my weekdays without asking me about it.”
- I Need…
Let your co-parent know what you want (versus what you don’t want.) If you could wave a magic wand and get what you need, what would things be like? Instead of hoping your co-parent will guess what you need, or read your mind, tell him or her specifically what you would like.
Example: “I feel frustrated that you put our son into a sports league that plays on my weekdays without asking me about it. I would appreciate it if you would please communicate with me about activities that will affect my time before you commit to them.”
- Be Civil
Make requests civilly, adding phrases such as “I would appreciate it if…”
- Give appreciations for Parenting.
Notice what your co-parent is doing right and tell him or her. If your co-parent has done what you wanted in the past, state that you appreciated it and ask if he or she would be willing to do it again.
Examples of Criticism:
“You’re such an idiot.”
“What’s wrong with you?”
“You are so selfish!”
Antidote: “I was proud of us as co-parents at our child’s baseball game last weekend and I would really appreciate it if you would please communicate with me in advance about the commitments you are making so that we can continue to both show our child our support.”
Horseman No. 2: DEFENSIVENESS
Defensiveness is an attempt to protect yourself, to defend your innocence, and to ward off a perceived attack. Many people become defensive when they are being criticized. Research shows that defensiveness rarely has the desired effect of improving the situation. This is because defensiveness is really a way of blaming your co-parent. You’re saying, in effect, “The problem isn’t me, it’s you.” Defensiveness just escalates the conflict, which is why it’s so destructive. There are two ways to be defensive: to counterattack or to whine (playing the innocent victim). Some people can do both at the same time.
Antidote to Defensiveness: Take Responsibility
The antidote to defensiveness is to take some responsibility for even a small part of the problem. By doing this, you can quickly reduce tension and prevent conflict from escalating. This helps your co-parent believe they are heard and understood.
Examples of Defensiveness: Your co-parent complains that you are often late to pick-up’s.
Criticism: “I am really tired of you losing track of time and being late to our pick-ups. You’re always late and I have other things I need to do!”
Defensive Counter-attack: “Can’t you get over it?! You always find something to be mad about. I’m never that late. Besides, you were the one who was late last time.”
Defensive Innocent Victim: “I wasn’t late on purpose. I had a meeting that ran over. You’re always picking out every mistake I make. No matter when I get there, it’s never early enough. I can’t do anything right.”
Antidote: “You’re right, I’m sorry for being late to the pick-up. I’ll try harder to be more aware of the time.”
Horseman No. 3: CONTEMPT
To be contemptuous is to put your co-parent down or to speak with scorn. It happens when you feel and act superior. It’s putting oneself on a higher plane, looking down from a position of authority with an attitude of, “I’m better/smarter/neater/cleaner/ more punctual, etc. than you.”
Contempt stems from a negative habit of mind, in which you scan the environment looking for your co-parent’s mistakes, rather than what you can appreciate about him or her as a parent. Sarcasm and cynicism are types of contempt, and so is name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. In whatever form, contempt is the most damaging of the Four Horsemen and is poisonous to a co-parenting relationship. It is virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your co-parent is getting the message that you’re disgusted with him or her as a parent. Inevitably, contempt leads to more conflict. Contempt is the single best predictor of unproductive disagreements and relationship toxicity.
Antidote to Contempt: Describe Your Feelings and Needs & Build a Culture of Parenting Appreciation
Underneath contempt is a need or want. In any type of teamwork, if these needs are not met over time it will become contemptuous. The antidote to contempt is to describe your own feelings and needs by using “I” statements. For examples, see “Steps for a Soft Start Up” in the Criticism section “I Feel….”, “About What…”, “I Need…”!
Building a culture of parenting appreciation is the all-encompassing antidote to contempt. When you feel valued and appreciated as a parent you are able to access positive feelings for your co-parent and are less likely to act contemptuous when you have a difference of opinion.
Building a Culture of Appreciation Includes:
- Expressing Appreciation: “I appreciate you taking the time to communicate about our child’s issues on the bus.”
- Expressing Thanks: “Thank you for making time to discuss how we can communicate better as co-parents.”
- Expressing Respect for Co-Parenting skills: “Even though we disagree I know that you want what is best for our child, and I respect your dedication to becoming better co-parents.”
Contempt Example: Your co-parent criticizes that you don’t compromise enough.
Contempt: “You never compromise with me about anything! I’ve made so many sacrifices for our son even so that he can spend time with your family! I moved my vacation around so that he would be able to visit with your family when they came into town! Now when I ask to change a weekend you won’t budge! All you think about is yourself!”
Antidote: “I feel frustrated about how we have tried to come to compromises in the past. I would like to take some time to talk about finding a better way to compromise. I want to be able to be more flexible, and trust that you will be willing to be flexible too.”
Horseman No. 4: STONEWALLING
Stonewalling occurs when you withdraw from the interaction while staying physically present. Essentially, this means not giving cues that you’re listening or paying attention; for instance, by avoiding eye contact and crossing your arms.
The pattern goes like this: The more you feel criticized, the more you turn away. The more you turn away (give cues to the speaker that you are not paying attention), the more your co-parent attacks. You feel your heart rate climbing and you’re afraid to say anything for fear of making things worse; however, by withdrawing and turning away from your co-parent you perpetuate a negative spiral in your communication and the issue remains unresolved.
In addition, research shows that stonewalling elevates your heart rate and releases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. When this happens, it is nearly impossible to listen, think creatively and solve the problem constructively.
Antidote to Stonewalling: Self-Soothing Break, Then Re-connect
The antidote to stonewalling is to take a self-soothing break for at least 20 minutes and then re-engage with your co-parent when you feel calmer and are able to constructively express your views.
Imagine arriving to pick up your child and being met with a barrage of critical statements and demands such as, “You’re late again” and, “Why isn’t our daughter dressed appropriately for the weather, where is her jacked?!” You think to yourself, “This is never going to end. I don’t need this. If I tell her what I think, she’ll really explode. It’s not worth it. If I say anything it will just make it worse. Just keep your mouth shut.”
Self-soothe. You recognize that you can’t think clearly, are getting stressed, and you need to calm down. You tell your co-parent that you hear his frustration, but you need a break and will be available later in the day to return to the issue. After taking a break in which, you avoid negative thoughts and do something stress-reducing, like taking a walk or playing your favorite music, return to the conversation (or call) and listen to your co-parent’s concerns. This time, your co-parent is careful to bring up the topic in a soft way and you engage in a constructive discussion.
When taking a break, it is important that you communicate that you need to take a break and that you would like to return to the conversation. Try to let the break be at least 20 minutes, but not longer than 2 days. This gives your mind and body a chance to calm down. It is essential to communicate and follow through with a commitment to finish the conversation at a later time or day! If not, issues will go unresolved and will be more likely to pile on to a disagreement later on.
Remember your Co-Parent is Just your Co-parent
The Four Horseman have been consistently shown by research to destroy relationships. While it might not matter to you if you get along with your co-parent or not, it does matter to your child (or children)! Your ability or inability to have healthy disagreements with your co-parent has a direct result on your child whether you realize it or not! By learning to recognize the Four Horseman you can avoid their toxicity and embrace healthy substitutes! In order to employ the conversation techniques, we have just mentioned the first step is to ensure that your focus is on parenting. It is all too easy to become emotionally reactive and get drawn in by memories, past hurts, and frustrations, especially if you have had any type of extended history with your co-parent. If this happens you will lose focus and get pulled into the past. Remember that your conversations should not be about you or your co-parent as a people in general, they should be about you both as co-parents! Co-parenting conversations should be focused on the present issues and the future needs of your child! A helpful way to learn this approach is to reframe your perspective on how you view your co-parent. Try to look at them as just a parent, rather than an ex or someone with whom you’ve had a history. This is extremely difficult to do, but also extremely productive. Try to remind yourself a few times in your head before your conversations, “This is just my co-parent, the focus of our conversation should be on parenting.” Finally, one of the most important and difficult attitudes to embrace is that people can change. You can change, they can change, and your communication patterns can change! It may take time, and perhaps even some co-parenting therapy, but by applying these techniques and consistently remembering that your focus should be on parenting you can learn to be more balanced and have healthier and more productive interactions.
*The information in this post has been adapted from “Avoid the Four Horsemen” a handout created by The Gottman Institute*
By: John Paul Dombrowski Counseling Intern and Therapist at Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh in Canonsburg
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJune 15, 2020 hypersomnia, insomnia, sleep disorder, sleep hygiene0 comments
Sleep hygiene is a science formulated to help people overcome disrupted rest by removing any barriers that a person might be unknowingly creating that prevent against deep and complete rest. According to the American Sleep foundation, 47% of Americans report poor quality sleep has affected their daily performance in the last month. As mental health counselors know, there is a significant relationship between sleep and well being. Finding solutions for better rest are vital when your health is on the line, research suggests that sleeplessness can accelerate cancer, erode cognitive performance, and it also impacts mental well being in a variety of ways. Did you know that not getting enough rest can activate many mood disorders including bipolar disorder, anxiety, or depression? In fact, sleep disruptions are a very common complaint among those who are seeking treatment for mental health disorders. Of course, most people have experienced a sleepless night as a result of a situational challenge or period of stress. There is a lot to lose when it comes to sleep but more than ever so many are so sleep deprived. By now you are likely wondering what you can do to enhance your sleep. This is where sleep hygiene comes into practice. There are some evidence-based ways to help you achieve a more restful state. Simultaneously, there are certain sleep disorders such as parasomnia, insomnia, and hypersomnia which should be ruled out with a medical or mental health counselor.
Know your sleep type! There are two primary types of sleepers, night owls and roosters, night owls are biologically programmed to sleep and wake a little later. Roosters crow at the sun, roosters, will do best to find a job routine that can be done early in the morning. Same goes for night owls, their peak performance will be later in the day. For both of these types of people, constructing a life that honors biology will do a lot for wellness and emotional wellbeing. For example, a rooster shouldn’t take the night shift if they want to feel their best.
Have a good routine- Routine is paramount to having improved quality and quantity of sleep. Find a regular hour in which you can rest. When you achieve a regular schedule, your body will be responding to multiple environmental cues that will help falling asleep and staying asleep easier. You should really be aiming for 7/8 hours per night so plan to go to bed that amount of time before your alarm clock will start buzzing.
Limit screen time at least an hour before bed. Our eyes are brimming with light receptors which are impacted by the screens we look at. When you are reading your email or social media account your brain is getting a large dose of light that signals to wake up! Limit exposure to at least an hour before bed to give your brain a chance to relax.
Spending time outdoors in the morning– The light from the sun helps us to become more alert in the morning giving our bodies higher energy. By maximizing exposure in the early hours we can find our way to relaxation in the evening. If a morning walk is not your thing, some people enjoy ‘sungazing.’
Work out in the am– Multiple studies have shown that working out in the am morning hours does help fitness friends to sleep better in the evening. Interestingly however, having an evening work out has not shown any effect on sleep.
Lengthen your exhale- When using your breath as a relaxation tool, you can activate your parasympathetic nervous system. It works like this, by lengthening your exhalation to be longer than your inhalation, for example inhale for a count of 6 and exhale for a count of 8, do this 10 times. This small but powerful technique is a potent relaxant as you are attempting to drift off to a deep slumber.
Limit Caffeine- Be mindful of what you are consuming, the half life of caffeine is quite long, if you are drinking caffeinated beverages after 1 or 2 pm, it will still be in your system at 8 or 9pm. Try to limit caffeine to one cup upon waking and the same goes with sugar.
Try Essential Oils- Many people find that a calming essential oil will help them achieve a more relaxed and restful state. Scents such as lavender and chamomile are widely used as a part of night time routines.Learn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghMay 27, 2020 anger management counseling, greensburg counseling0 comments
Managing Displaced Anger During Difficult Times
It has been said that anger is a secondary emotion, triggered by preceding fear, rejection, hurt feelings, humiliation, and sadness. With the current pandemic, restrictions on our daily activities, the uncertainties of our futures and our medical and financial wellbeing, it is no wonder people have been on edge. This disruption has been significant and abrupt. Suddenly, we no longer have the same level of stability in our lives and the need for structure, safety, and predictability has been jeopardized. Everyone has experienced some form of loss, and many are grieving.
Lately, while watching morning news, we hear the retellings of incidents involving explosive anger where someone has violated another physically or verbally. Often, we are seeing these acts in public arenas, on display for anyone to witness, which is telling that we are not coping well as a society. So, what is happening? Has the world gone crazy? Are these the preludes to a hostile, post-apocalyptic dystopia? Likely, no. It’s more probable that people are misplacing or “displacing” their frustrations. Displaced anger or aggression occurs when one is unable to express anger towards the source of provocation so instead, the individual acts out towards others. Often, we are not able to direct our anger toward the actual cause of our fears and frustrations. For example, it would be of no use to air our grievances to the virus itself and we are also unlikely to get our desired response from people who have direct influence over our day to day struggles. So, then many of us are left fearful, anxious, grieving, and frustrated with no say or control over what happens next.
While it’s easy to focus our attention on our lack of control, doing so will only increase these feelings of frustration and helplessness. Despite current limitations, there is still much we have influence on in our lives today. We can choose what type of activities we engage in throughout the day, our diet, exercise, and our sleep hygiene regimen. We have influence over our thoughts and mindset, whether we focus on the negative or we see the positive in situations. We can control what we are watching on television and social media or listening to on the radio or podcasts, all of which impact our outlook and perspective. Those choices effect how we feel and in turn how we cope with our stress.
Even the most Zen of us will displace our anger onto innocent bystanders from time to time. After all, we are human. In these moments, when you feel yourself becoming easily agitated or triggered, take a second, breathe, and identify the real cause of your anger by asking yourself, “What’s really bothering me? Does this make sense?” and even, “Does my emotional reaction match the situation?” Note that if it is something you cannot change, there are still things about the situation or in your life that you do have influence over. Exercise positive self-care practices such as physical activity, being outdoors, reading, listening to music, eating a healthy diet, guided meditations, deep breathing and other stress reducing techniques. These can be thought of as preventative activities to increase your threshold for stress and strengthen emotional resiliency. Be mindful of when you have reached your limit and need to seek additional help or support. Lastly, always remember to T.H.I.N.K. before you speak. Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it inspiring? Is it necessary? Is it kind? Choose to be kind.
Andrea Kellman, MS, LPC who provides therapy, marriage, and family counseling services in our Greensburg counseling center.Learn More
Anxiety is a problem that the majority of people deal with in one form or another. Yet anxiety is a broad category of disorders which range from generalized anxiety disorder, to social anxiety, to various forms of panic disorders, to mild stress. Keeping in mind, some forms of anxiety are normal, for instance, regular stress can sometimes be beneficial, as it keeps us aware of important things like deadlines and can even motivate us to work hard and excel. However, some forms of anxiety and anxiety disorders are defined as a problem when they begin to interfere with your ability to thrive, achieve your goals, go about daily life and feel well. Some symptoms of anxiety are muscle tension, sleeplessness, worry, agitation, and increased heart rate. Yet some people have a baseline of anxiety that is their normal and they have many coping strategies so that they learn to manage even high levels of anxiety while still managing to function well enough that few people even notice that they are struggling at all. We call this high-functioning anxiety.
Anxiety can be intense, but today I’d like us to learn this difference between stress and high-functioning anxiety. High functioning anxiety is when someone is able to maintain the appearance of calm connectedness by going about their life with the appearance of normalcy, but still the anxiety tends to leak out in subtle ways. Here are three ways to tell if you may have high-functioning anxiety:
- You have a hard time sleeping. When you’re able to internalize your anxiety and hold it together during the day, your anxiety may come out in the form of sleep disturbance. This can include tossing and turning, having trouble falling asleep, or waking up in the middle of the night and having trouble getting back to sleep.
- You focus on perfection. Self-improvement is great; however striving for perfection can be a result of anxiety. This can create issues when you focus on perfection at work, in personal relationships, or expectations of your physical appearance. Perfectionism is a tell tell sign of high functioning anxiety because an anxious person will tend to try to make things perfect as a tool to decrease their anxiety.
- You can’t relax. When there are too many issues on your mind, you may neglect self-care or not even know how to be calm. Nothing is wrong with staying productive, yet some people use endless projects as a diversion from their feeling of inner anxiety.
- Having difficulty letting go of control. There are several personality types and persons with symptomology whom struggle to let go of control, but this can also be a part of high functioning anxiety.
There are other signs of high functioning anxiety. If you find yourself experiencing this, take some time to engage in self-care or get a mental health assessment. Be intentional about relaxing and find ways to come to terms with not being perfect. Remember that the mind and body are connected, there are many physical and mindfulness exercises as well as breathing strategies that you could try to release some of the stress, and other things like working on your sleep hygiene. Ultimately, if you have any concerns about your level of anxiety you should seek out an assessment with a mental health professional who can help you to determine which parts of your anxiety are normal and which parts might be helped with counseling such as cognitive behavioral therapy.Learn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJanuary 2, 2020 best ways to build self care plan, mental health matters0 comments
We hear lots of people taking about self care these days but what actually is it? Is there a right way to do it? I hope to answer some of these questions for you today because mental health matters and you matter. Self care can be defined as any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. Although it’s a simple concept in theory, it’s something we very often overlook. Practicing self-care isn’t always easy. Most of us are crazy busy, we have stressful jobs, are taking care of children or aging family members or are too consumed with technology to make time for ourselves. “Me time” is usually last on our agenda and we can often feel guilty about taking the time required to take care of ourselves. Self care is not selfish. We can’t take care of others well if we don’t take the time to care for ourselves and good self-care is key to improved mood and reduced stress and anxiety. It’s also key to a good relationship with ourselves and others. So, where do you start? It’s important to build a self care plan. Begin by sticking to the basics for now and overtime you’ll find a routine that works for you. Overtime, you can implement more and more specific items into your plan. In the meantime here are some basic principles of self care to help get you started:
- Eat right- the right foods can help improve memory, combat inflammation and promote good gut health. All of which can have a direct impact on your physical and emotional health. If you have questions or want to learn more about this consider setting up a consultation with a nutritionist.
- Sleep- make sure you’re getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night, establishing a healthy bedtime routine can promote deeper and more restful sleep. Avoid sugar and caffeine before bed and help reduce distractions such as light and electronics in your bedroom
- Physical exercise- this can mean lots of different things for different people. This can be a walk with your family in the evening or by yourself at lunch, swimming, or yoga. The type of activity isn’t as important as choosing something you enjoy and can commit to your schedule
- Schedule time away- this can be as simple a taking a half day to spend at the park or an extravagant weekend getaway
- Take care of your spiritual needs- this can be attending religious services, meditation, prayer, spending time in nature or making a gratitude list
- Learning to say “no” and setting boundaries- this can mean you don’t check email after business hours, don’t attend events or gatherings that you don’t want to or don’t take on additional tasks that you don’t have the time or energy for
- Get organized- get a planner for tasks or appointments, this can be especially helpful in scheduling your self care time or spend time prepping lunches so you have more time in the morning for an extra cup of tea and some meditation
- Spend time with loved ones and people that are important to you
- Lastly if you work in a field with high burnout rates seek consultation and supervision from mentors and peers to help reduce stress
Self care will look different for everyone for some it’s getting up 15 minutes earlier to practice deep breathing or journaling before the day begins. For others it’s an evening run, but just like many other things self care takes practice. I challenge you to commit to adding one self care element to your schedule for 2 weeks and see the difference it makes in your life and relationships.
Written By: Nicole Monteleone, MA, LPC, NCC
If you are looking for a counseling center near you, reach out to our reception team monday through friday from 9-5 and we will be glad to get you an appointment with one of our licensed counselors in 4 convenient locations, Counseling Pittsburgh, Counseling Wexford, Counseling Monroeville, Counseling South Hills.Learn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghDecember 11, 2019 addiction, addiction recovery, how to say no, quitting alcohol0 comments
Do you have a problem with alcohol? Substance Abuse Treatment
Drinking problems affect a staggering 15 million Americans according to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
People are less likely to seek help for alcohol use addiction as there is little social stigma attached to alcohol consumption. Our culture tells us our alcohol use isn’t that bad. It is inaccurate to believe that someone with a problem with alcohol has to be living under a bridge, without a job, and drinking a bottle from a brown paper bag. You also do not have to be daily drinker of alcohol. Since men and women have different metabolic rates, the definition of binge drinking for men is consuming five alcoholic beverages within two hours, and for women, it is four drinks in two hours.
Ninety percent of adults with addictions began to use drugs or alcohol before age 18.
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is a substance use disorder, is a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences. AUD can range from mild, to severe, and recovery is possible regardless of severity”.
Some questions you may want to ask yourself if you think you have a problem with alcohol.
- Had times when you ended up drinking alcohol more or longer than intended?
- More than once wanted or tried to reduce or stop drinking but couldn’t?
- Spent a lot of time drinking or being sick from the after effects?
- Wanted a drink so badly you couldn’t think of anything else?
- Continued to drink alcohol even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
- • Given up or cut back on activities that were important, interesting or pleasurable to you in order to drink?
- • More than once gotten into situations while or after consuming alcohol that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as swimming, driving, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area or having unsafe sex)?
- • Continued to drink alcohol even though it was making you feel depressed, anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
- • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, racing heart or a seizure?
- The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence points out that dangerous drinking can cause a number of other health issues and not just for the person doing the drinking. There are 100,000 people who die every year as a result of drinking and driving, other accidents, falls, fires, suicides, and homicides related to alcohol consumption.
- Alcohol and other substance abuse disorders commonly occur with other mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder to name a few.
There are treatment options available, such as an intensive outpatient program, 12 step support groups, and individual counseling. Treating addiction is not a one size fits all.
But know that here is hope for living a life without using alcohol.
*The criteria come from an authoritative handbook known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (or DSM-5).
Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
4108 Monroeville BLVD Monroeville PA 15146Learn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghNovember 28, 2019 gratitude, gratitude challenge, reframing cognitive distortions, thanksgiving0 comments
The Real Gratitude Challenge
It’s Thanksgiving and everyone wants to talk about turkey and gratitude. Newsfeeds and flyers encourage us to take the ‘gratitude challenge’ by sharing how happy we are for our kids, our marriage, families, our job, our house. Nowonder, according to the National Institute of Health, gratitude can help us increase our life satisfaction and mental health! Oh, how nice that is! Things really are so well and good through the lens of this gratitude, but isn’t it almost too easy when we simply share what is great? I want to talk about a different kind of gratitude, the dark side of gratitude if you will, this is what I call a gratitude challenge. It is not the shiny happiness and gloating we feel when everything works out just the way we want it, but instead, this gratitude challenge, is the kind of gratitude that we can choose to cultivate when we are sitting on a big tall mountain of suck. In this vast beautiful adventure of life, reality more often than not smacks us in the face, universal are the experiences of hurt, loss, and grief. Yet, even more important than making a mental note of gratitude for all of the ways that we are blessed, our mindset truly evolves when we deliberately choose to frame our losses in one beset by gratitude.
Of course on the day that you get the job, and then again when you land the promotion, you are elated, but can you be grateful for those years of success and comradery even when you get the news that company is downsizing and you are handed your severance? Of course, you are beaming at the altar on the day that you say “I do” to the love of your life, but can you still find gratitude when you are headed to marriage counseling because you’re in conflict and bickering about who is doing more cleaning around hte house? Of course, you will be joyful on the day when you learn that you have finally conceived the child you have been yearning for but can you still be grateful that it has happened when their little heart stops beating in utero? Of course, you are thrilled when you finish the marathon in 2nd place, but what can you choose to be grateful for when you have knee replacement surgery from all of that running?
Choosing gratitude amidst the sucky moments of life doesn’t mean that we pretend it’s all ok. Instead, we do not try to block the hurt of our losses, we feel the devastation and despair deeply because let’s be honest here, we have no choice! Some things in life will rip the wind right out of our lungs and bring such agonizing hurt that we will fall to our knees in the pain of it. Yet, the difference is that we choose to live in the memory of the joy that they brought us, we choose to be grateful that the wonders in life have happened no-matter how long or short they stay with us. Cognitive behavioral therapy instructs us to reframe the despair of our cognitive distortions, we do not allow misery or grief to frame the pictures of our memories or the loss in our life. The gratitude challenge is to be penetrated by the suffering of a life well lived but then to hunt like a little scavenger for every little bit of joy, peace, and hope that our experiences have shown to us. Some days that might mean that we are grateful to know that they pain won’t last forever and allow ourselves to contemplate the gratitude for that. When you get here and can nurture this sort of perspective, you take a little bit of power and direction back to your life. On Thanksgiving and every day, the decision to live a life peppered in gratitude is yours. So go ahead, take the challenge, how grateful can you be, what about your pile of suck can you be grateful for?
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghNovember 18, 2019 family estrangement, family loss, holiday traditions0 comments
1o Ways to Enjoy The Holidays if You Experience Family Estrangement or Loss
Holidays are extremely triggering and difficult for those who have suffered family loss/grief or estrangement, there are reasons that mental health related hospital admisssions and therapy visits for anxiety and depression increase during this time of year. Most people who are in therapy to deal with family conflict or estrangement will spend some time forming a plan for how they will manage the holidays in anticipation of the challenges that they present. There is a hallmark sentiment that everyone else has it all together and is rejoicing in love with their near and dear and for those who do not have healthy or connected relationships with their families, they may notice the added burden of shame for this reality. The truth is family conflict and tension is very common and family estrangement is too, according to research published by Psychology Today, as many as 7-27% of parents and children report not having contact with each other. That means that 1 in 10 or 20 people you know can relate to the feeling of family estrangement. Additionally, if you reason suffered a loss or divorce, the mourning will likely increase this time of the year. Toxic relationships are a common reason for family estrangement, if your family members, have tried family counseling and still can not relate to you in a healthy way then there may be no choice but to limit contact or go no contact. Things like a history of abuse, lying, deception, emotional or physical attacking are healthy reasons to put safe distance and plenty of boundaries between yourself and family members.
Holidays are steeped in traditions that are centered around the family. During the rest of the year, it may be easier to cope with the reality of no or low contact, but the social implication that other people are connecting with family spending days and weeks off of work to gather around the table and reconnect, may make a person who is excluded from such family gatherings melancholy or wishful for something else that doesn’t exist. Here are expert verified ways to help;
- Ramp up your self care, practice more meditation, mindfulness, get appointments scheduled with your therapist.
- There is a stigma attached to being isolated and cast out from your family, that makes it less likely that those who are not in touch with relatives will talk about it and seek the support that they will need. Help starts when we break that stigma and open up to some close friends or coworkers about what you are experiencing.
- It is likely that there are people who will be excited to share this time of year with you, reach out to them and share your thoughts about feeling alone.
- Look at what traditions you can create for yourself?
- Can you organize a toy drive, or a food drive?
- Can you volunteer to visit a long-term care home?
- Can you volunteer at a soup kitchen?
- Can you mentor children?
- Can you organize a baking party with friends?
- Have you thought of taking a trip like a tropical vacation?
You will notice that many of these suggestions highlight being of service to others, this really is one of the best ways to lift yourself up. No matter what you decide, the holidays become a blank canvas for you to create whatever you might envision upon it. Only you can decide what is the best direction for you to maintain peace, mental wellness, and happiness during the holidays and the rest of the year and it is your sole job to protect your peace and wellbeing.Learn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghNovember 11, 2019 panic disorder, signs of panic attack0 comments
According to the Amercian Psychological Association, 1 out of 75 people will experience a panic attack at some point in their life. Yet the term is used very commonly in pop culture. There are major differences between a panic attack and anxiety or stress. The most common signs of a panic attack are a racing heart, sweating, pupil dilation, chest pain, dizziness or faintness, tingling in the arms, hands, or fingers, a feeling of dread, feeling like you’re dying, difficulty breathing, and feeling a loss of control. Of course everyone experiences these symptoms differently, it is common for a person experiencing a panic attack to go to the hospital thinking that they are having a heart attack or other cardiac event.
According to the Association for Depression and Anxiety, triggers for a panic attack are varied but often a panic attack has no known trigger or precipitating event which makes it even more confusing for the person experiencing the panic attack. A person can have one single panic attack without having a panic disorder or anxiety disorder. Other times, the panic disorder which is hallmarked by frequent panic attacks and particularly a pattern of avoiding situations to prevent the possibility of a future panic attack, this could be an indicator that the panic attack is evolving into a mental health disorder. Stress, medication withdrawal, caffeine, loss/grief, major life events like a wedding or divorce can also be triggers for a panic attack. There is also an important relationship between mitro-valve prolapse and panic attacks and anxiety disorders, those with mitro valve prolapse do experience higher than normal rates of panic disorder.
If a person is experiencing a full panic attack it may be difficult to resist the urge to run to the hospital, if a person who is sure that it is a panic attack, they can label the sensation as panic, and remember that it lasts for 10 minutes to 30 minutes. A person with panic disorder should be working with a mental health counselor on developing a plan for when their panic attack comes on, some people write that plan down and carry it with them everywhere to remind themselves of how to work through their crises management steps. Some people do deep breathing, take a walk, use grounding techniques, trace the outline of the room with their eyes, stretch, yet a mental health counselor is the best person to help a person come up with an individualized plan based on their strengths, needs, and overall context.
A panic attack is very different from anxiety or stress, although the term panic attack has made its way into popular language most of what people call a panic attack is really stress, worry, or panics little sister- anxiety. A full panic attack can sometimes be described as life changing because it has startling intensity. Anxiety is a state of worry or fear that can generally be managed or serve as pesky background noise in the sound reel of our minds. Panic is all consuming with spikes of heart rate and a feeling of total loss of control. If you are experiencing more than one panic attack, you should seek medical and mental health support immediately to rule out underlying conditions and prevent the panic attack from evolving into a full panic disorder.
This is not intended to treat or diagnose a mental health disorder, if you suspect that you are suffering from a mental health disorder seek a medical or mental health professional.
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghOctober 21, 2019 irritability, mood swing, wayst to beat a bad mood, why do I have mood swings0 comments
Five surprising ways to Bust a Bad Mood
Everyone has experienced irritability and bad mood or a mood swing at some time in their life. Sometimes that can result in a few hours or a day of feeling on edge, like nothing is going your way. Maybe you are more short with friends and family, things that wouldnt normally had gotten on your nerves really feel like they are pushing you over your limits, welcome to a bad mood! Below are some ways to beat irritability and a mood swing. If your bad mood or mood swings have lasted for weeks, or months, you may be experiencing a mental health related disorder, you should speak with a mental health counselor or therapist to diagnose and treat this.
Smile! When we activate the zygomatic muscles which course around our cheek bones and eyes, with the process of biofeedback, it sends messages to our brain to signal happiness. This effect has been researched, in studies, when participants held objects in their mouth, forcing the activation of the zygomatic muscles, they rated comic images as much funnier than those who were not holding objects in their mouths. Sometimes, ‘fake it till you make it’ works!
Go for a walk in nature. While any exercise has a positive impact on mood, memory, energy and feelings of wellbeing, those positive effects are doubled when cardio vascular work outs happen in green space. Additionally, the stress marker cortisol is significantly reduced in post measures of participants who took walks in nature. This is compared to those who took the same kind of walk in a city space. Nature really does enhance our mood.
Watch out for cognitive distortions. Pay attention to the way you frame a bad mood, the way we talk to ourselves, or our internal script, really matters. If we run into an annoying situation, we should refrain from allowing that to define the whole day or week. For example, if your alarm doesn’t go off causing you to be late for work, instead of saying, “This is going to be a bad day.” We can say, “Well, this situation happened and I am devoted to making the rest of the day better!”
Dose up on omega 3’s and take that fish oil. Norway, is the country where citizens report being most happy in the world, there are a lot of hypothesis being tested around what makes them so blissed out. The answer might be their access to a diet rich in oily fish. We have long known that oily fish and omega 3’s enhance brain function by reinforcing the myelin sheath of our neurotransmitters, this may hold the key to our happiness.
Phone a friend! Having a best friend, a vent buddy, or other person who will listen to your troubles has protective effects on our health. It is no surprise that those who state that they feel most socially isolated have poorer health outcomes. There is an effect called ‘tend and befriend.’ Women seem to benefit most from tend and befriend, we see this in the way that women often reach out to social supports to talk out their concerns. Women get the benefit of reducing cortisol stress markers and limiting their cardiovascular stress when they talk with friends, even better if they feel that their friend responds with attention, care, and compassion!
Call us at 412-322-2129 for an appointment in any of our Counseling Centers.
Please note, if you are experiencing depression, bipolar disorder, or another mood disorder, this advice will help best while paired with mental health counseling and psychological care from your therapy team, the above advice will not treat or cure a mental health disorder and may not apply depending on the particulars of your psychological needs.