by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghSeptember 17, 2019 communication exercises, couples communication, south hills counseling0 comments
The steps to a sincere apology that counts!
If you have made a mistake in your marriage or relationship then congrats, you are like the rest of us who work hard to do our best but sometimes fumble. One of the ways that couples get really off track in relationships however is that they do not know how to make up after having a big fight, they don’t know how to make an apology. Here are the 5 steps to an apology that will count by communicating your feelings and allowing your partners feelings to be understood.
- Admit where you went wrong – If you have found yourself looking back on a recent event and knowing that you made a mistake, the first step is to open up and admit it. Unfortunately, this is tough work for many people. Our defense mechanisms can at times go to great lengths to prevent from being accountable and we even lie to ourselves so that we don’t have to risk being wrong. Be accountable, vulnerable, and humble by admitting this.
- Ask your partner how it felt for them- Here is where you can really become a relationship master, ask your partner to share their experience and really tune in. Do not assume that you understand but give them the opportunity to open up about whatever it is that happened between you. This will create a relationship based on empathy.
- Validate your partners feelings, Find some shred of what your partner shared- This is the most important step in any apology, validate, find some point of agreement for your partners perception of reality. There is a lot of research about the mental health effects of being in an invalidating environment but when we validate and affirm each other’s experiences, people are soothed and conflict resolved.
- Share what you could have said, done, or how you could have behaved differently or would in the future. Apologies are only as good as their assurance to not commit the same mistakes repeatedly. If we continually mess up, pay lip service with ‘I am sorry,’ but continue to do the same thing, our partner isn’t going to have much faith in our words. However, when we plan to do something different next time, even though we can’t change the past we are committing to a different path in the future.
- End with I am sorry. Saying I am sorry if really the final step in the whole process of the apology, the words are much more authentic when embedded in the context of all of the meaning of the conversation that precedes and follows it.
Check out some of our other communication exercises for couples.
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Stephanie Wijkstrom, MS, LPC, NCC is a certified counselor and founder of Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh, Western Pennsylvania’s largest and most trusted wellness therapy practice. Stephanie specializes in relationships and providing marriage counseling and she has been featured on local television and countless articles where she acts as a thought leader on mindfulness and wellness. Stephanie is a loving wife, an ardent yogi. Stephanie enjoys her daily meditation practice, trying new wellness tips, prancing through the world with belly laughs on her breath and preparing gourmet meals.
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghAugust 25, 2019 chores, marriage, marriage and family, national institute of health, relationship, way couples can stop arguing about household chores0 comments
Couples Counselor verified; 6 ways that Couples Can Stop Arguing about Household Chores.
Cleaning and how to manage it with some degree of harmony is a topic that comes up often for couples, it ranks right up there with finances and parenting in terms of hot button relationship issues. The research weighs in, according to the National Institute of Health, in relationships where both partners are engaged in managing household chores, wives have higher happiness and well-being in the relationship. Furthermore, the opposite is true, in marriages where only one partner, typically the female partner, manages the majority of household labor, there is greater dissatisfaction and distress, this is especially true in relationships where both partners are a part of the work force. The stress and imbalances in shared responsibilities can take their toll, in fact according to data compiled by business insider, house-hold chores are a common reason people divorce. Often when couples take the time to dig a little deeper into what each of these critical issues means to the other, the dialogue changes. Instead of pointing fingers at each other, they can consider, what are the true barriers to making change, and then work on creating mutually achievable solutions, it is empowering to realize that these conflicts can be resolved. Here are our therapists 6 best ways to stop arguing about household chores.
- Co-create a cleaning list of total household chores; divide and conquer. This may seem basic, and it is. One of the problems we as couples therapists observe is that one partner carries the ‘cognitive load’ for organizing, cleaning, and managing the household. Data shows that this is often the woman in the home, she then asks for help and the male partner may feel criticized or micromanaged when he is asked to help. When couples co-create a weekly list on a dry erase board, both partners become responsible for completing it. This can also help both partners see the sheer volume of work that must happen to keep the house managed well. Add an initial next to the task once it is completed and then you can even turn it into a competition, create a prize or personal expression of gratitude for the person each week who completes more tasks etc.
- Recognize that while one partner may be more focused on cleaning, don’t take that as a lack of love. We all view the world in a different way, we walk into living-room and some people see the pillows on the couch in disarray, others never notice the pillows because their brains are not wired that way. Partners who have repeatedly had discussions or battles about cleaning may end up feeling very hurt imagining, ‘If my partner cared about me, they would do the dishes or clean the bathroom.” The truth is, they may love you very much but household tidiness may not be on their radar. In other instances, a partner may be struggling with depression or another mental health disorder that prevents them from action. In any event, do your best to not make the cleaning about his or her love for you.
- Use a soft start instead of a criticism! Soft start is stating your feeling and what you need, this is a Gottman Couples Therapy Method to break up the tendency that couples have to criticize each other. Instead of saying, “You never wipe down the counter tops!” You might try, “I am really tired today with a busy work week, I could really use extra help with the counter tops.” This way prevents our partner from feeling attacked and makes it less likely your conversation will spiral and instead you may achieve your goal which is to be responded to kindly!
- Figure out what having a clean house means to each partner. Talk about it constructively! Figure out what is most important to your partner about cleaning the home, ask them questions that play back to their own childhood too. It is amazing how much you can learn when instead of responding to each other’s criticisms you go deeper. Maybe your partners parent had OCD or were perfectionists, maybe your partners parents never cleaned and they were embarrassed to bring friends back to the house as a kid. Meaning is vital for couples by providing a context for each person’s wants and needs.
- If you want your partner to share in the chores, you might need to accept that they will likely perform the chores differently that you do. Some couples expect their partner to become the perfect task master and do everything the way that they have been instructed. This isn’t fair, we need to accept that our partner will come up with a different way of doing things, when we create a home with a partner, it doesn’t get to be all about the way each individual wants to do things, collaboration and mutual problem solving are necessary.
You may not have this fight forever. According to Stephanie Wijkstrom, MS, LPC, she stated that “One couple she worked with for many years used to fight about the pillows never being straight on the couch. The woman fumed about it leading to many battles, several years later her husband died, and each day when the woman walked to her living room she was tearful, wishing that those pillows were misshapen. Remember, our time on this earth is limited. The things that annoy us today we may end up missing tomorrow.”
For a couples therapy or marriage counseling appointment near you, please call us at our Pittsburgh Counseling Center, Wexford Counseling Center, Monroeville Counseling Center, or New South Hills Counseling Center!
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJuly 10, 2019 why its important to take care of your mental health0 comments
This Is Why its important to take care of your mental health
By: Melissa Howard
One in five American adults experiences some form of a mental disorder each year, yet only 25 percent feel that others show them any compassion due to the negative stereotypes often associated with mental health disorders. Sadly, this can prevent individuals from getting proper treatment, or disclosing their condition in the workplace for fear of losing their job. Matters can become even more complicated if someone is dealing with persistent and irrational fears, otherwise known as paranoia, or general anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD is like a proverbial vice in that it causes stress and prevents one from carrying on with daily activities. To an outsider, these individuals appear high-strung, neurotic, and perfectionist because of their anxious personalities. Researchers have concluded that this behavior is caused by a dysfunction in parts of the brain responsible for dealing with fear, emotion, and memory.
While medication and psychotherapy are two of the top ways to control the side effects, self-care is equally as important for maintaining mental and physical health in the present and in the future. Here are some ways to make conscious, daily efforts to nurture your own well-being.
Banish Any Bad Habits
Whether it’s cigarettes, binge drinking, or experimenting with drugs, your entire being is compromised by bad habits. It’s only logical, as when you’re feeling poor physically, it’s going to affect the way you feel mentally, too. First, determine whether the monkey on your back is too heavy for you to lift off on your own. If so, seek the necessary treatment, such as rehab or a nicotine patch. Of course, this is easier said than done, but in many cases, it’s a matter of life or death. Consider confiding in a trusted friend or family member if you’re scared about next steps — it’s likely that they’ve already noticed something is wrong.
Learn To Become More Present
Being paranoid can conjure up irrational thoughts like thinking about dying in a natural disaster or losing a job. Taking up yoga can help you be more present while feeling grounded and getting a grasp on reality. In fact, doctors are actually recommending it as a complementary, holistic therapy. The gentle poses and breathwork from a vinyassa yoga class have been known to improve sleep, and reduce panic attacks and overall anxiety levels, not to mention it’s a great practice for building strength, increasing flexibility, and improving balance. The average cost of a yoga class ranges from $12 to $16, but prices go down if you pay for multiple sessions.
Set Aside Time to Get Organized
Getting organized and keeping your house clean, believe it or not, can go a long way toward improving your mental health. Not only can organizing your possessions help reduce stress and improve the quality of sleep you get each night, but it can also reduce the symptoms of depression and help you become more productive. Once you have everything organized, consider bringing in a maid service to give your home a good deep cleaning, which is a surprisingly affordable option. For example, in Pittsburgh, a one-time cleaning will run you between $93 and $204, depending on the size of your property.
Embrace Alone Time
While you don’t want to isolate yourself, taking advantage of having ‘alone time’ can be beneficial for one’s mental health. Not only can it help you to focus on self-help, but it also boosts creativity, increases productivity, allows you to explore personal interests, and provides a sense of empowerment. Taking time for yourself also makes it easier to take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, preparing a healthy meal, and exercising. When you learn how to be comfortable with yourself, the easier it is to be confident in social situations.
Don’t worry about the stigmas surrounding mental illness. Instead, establish a supportive network who understands that life can sometimes be challenging for you. For some, family and friends are enough of a support system, but others may be more comfortable adding a network of like-minded individuals into the mix. Talk to your doctor about getting a referral for a local support group in your area — you may need to try a couple of different ones out to find the right fit. You need not feel the pressure to participate. Sometimes, just listening to others share similar stories, concerns, and successes are enough.
Photo Credit: PixabayLearn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJuly 8, 2019 meaning of rituals, rituals for self care, rituals for tranformation, rituals to reduce stress0 comments
Rituals, reducing stress and adding joyful meaning to life
5 Rituals You Should Try For transformation and wellness
Ever wonder why Michael Jordan wore his North Carolina shorts under his Chicago Bulls shorts every game? Rituals have enormous power to sooth and inspire as well as bring back balance to mental health by reducing anxiety and increasing confidence. According to the National Institute of Health, there are 3 primary functions of rituals, to manage emotions, to work towards goals, and to connect with others. From an evolutionary perspective we are creatures who have evolved to perform rituals including those of meditation or contemplation and group rituals. Have you ever knocked over a salt shaker and thrown some over your back? Do you attend church on Sunday? Do you pray? Have feast for the Easter holiday? These are all rituals. Flashback to the biblical era everything from attending Sunday worship, to praying for rain and lighting candles for the deceased, its clear that having a close relationship to spiritual rituals is very much a part of our cultural history. Still, whether we are referring to managing the emotional impact of times of stress, to ignite our faith, or to enhance wellness, many successful and happy people rely on rituals. The science behind why rituals work is compelling according to Scientific America. With some many different kinds of rituals we should really define that there is a difference in the Sunday beer drinking ritual, an obsessive hand washing ritual, versus a morning meditation ritual or a communication ritual with our partner. A ritual should be one that we complete with full attention and the deliberate effort to set an intention, reduce stress, or experience a divine aspect to ourselves, or foster our relationship to the spiritual realm.
Rituals can become a reliable tool for manifesting of our goal’s and enhancing our wonder, rituals have deeper embedded meaning. A beneficial ritual should be life sustaining and it is also true that the repetitive behavior of addiction and psychiatric obsessive-compulsive disorder both have the component of rituals built into them. When performing a ritual we are completing an act that becomes instinctive, our brains go into a flow state that doesn’t require higher order processing, the automatic nature of this state which can reduce our anxiety and promote calm. When we examine singing a hymn in a church, this is group ritual that can promote a sense of unity or connection among group members and with a deeper feeling of connection, these emotional components have clinically been show to reduced expression of aggression.
With so much to gain from incorporating rituals into your life, we are brought to the great burning questions, how do we incorporate more of them into our life? Start small and incrementally by adding a ritual component to something you already do, if you have never prayed or meditated it might be a large leap to attempt that everyday. A more manageable step might is to create a weekly goal. Some couples have a weekly ritual around problem solving and talking through emotional issues at the end of the week. Even meal-time can be a ritual when we bless our food or offer a moment of gratitude for the abundance on our plate. Others find that monthly rituals that set an intention with the full or new moon are the perfect time and space to set a goal for the month. Ultimately, we need to create rituals that are meaningful and manageable for you as an individual.
Meditation Ritual- whether daily, weekly, or monthly, meditation has a massive impact on wellbeing, stress reduction, and positive mood. Even 5 to 10 minutes daily makes a difference.
Love Ritual- Happy Couples have ways to celebrate the passage of time, they have yearly traditions that allow them to connect with the growth and change of their relationship over the years. It is also recommended that couples have a weekly communication ritual to release any residual emotional reactions and better connect.
Meal time ritual- Nourishing our bodies with life sustaining foods in a quiet and comfortable distraction free zone is a great way to enjoy eating. Eating has historically been an activity that is a part of ritual, think of the foods that surround every major holiday. It is also a time where families can connect to each other.
Self Care ritual- Whether it is journaling, fitness, using essential oils, or gardening, doing small things daily is important for your vitality and stress management.
Full Moon ritual- The full moon is the perfect time to release negative thought patterns and the new moon is a time for us to create new goals. Making time for a meditation under the moon light syncs us in to time and space and the greater cosmos. Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, there is something sacred that we experience when we cast out focus on something as grand and magical as the world around us.Learn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJanuary 25, 2019 best counselor for me, what is an lpc vs lmhc vs lcsw, what is lcsw, what is lpc0 comments
If you are trying to find a counselor or therapist, you might start to become overwhelmed with options and confused by all of the abbreviations for credentials. Or maybe you are considering furthering your education in the mental health field but are not sure which degree is the best for you. Allow this helpful guide to take you through the various meanings which make up those abbreviations and this helpful guide will unveil what they all mean.
ACA The American Counseling Association, this is the governing board, they over see the education and the field of counseling on the national level.
APA American Psychological Association oversees the field of psychology and ensures quality and consistency in learning and licensing requirements.
LPC Licensed professional counselor, this person has a masters degree in professional counseling which covers behavioral psychology and the theories of behavioral change as well as many other theoretical approaches. After completing their universities course work, a counselor has completed thousands of hours of supervised counseling, rigorous screening processes and background checks by licensing boards to become licensed. An LPC is often considered a general practitioner who can take up further study to specialize in a variety of topics from addiction, to trauma, anxiety, depression, and relationships to name just a few.
MSPC This is a master of science in professional counseling. This is a person who has graduated with a degree in professional counseling but has not yet completed their supervision hours to become licensed. A person can practice in a variety of settings with a master’s degree, some people do not pursue a license and continue their career with their masters degree. A MS or MA can be used somewhat interchangeably and the difference is only in the amount of math and statistics that are required for the particular program they studied.
LMFT Licensed marriage and family therapist specialized in relationships and family dynamics and typically offers marriage counseling. This is a particular track which focuses on interactions between people and the theories which allow the therapist to help those people in the relationship to become well.
LCSW Licensed clinical social worker, is a person who has graduated with a masters degree in clinical social work and then went on to do supervised hours which gain them a professional license. A licensed clinical social worker is able to manage a variety of mental health issues from anxiety and depression to relationship issues.
MSW This person holds a master’s degree in social work and they may or may not have done any clinical supervision hours. They have graduated from a university after studying a variety of clinical theories on counseling. Social work also provides a comprehensive study of social systems which can offer support and assistance for a variety of issues.
LMHC This describes a person who has a masters degree in counseling and is also licensed, this degree does not exist in Pennsylvania but is the equivalent of an LPC.
PsyD This person holds a doctoral level of study in a given field, for our purposes that will be psychology, this person has studied a university program which emphasized clinical experience instead of research experience. A psychologist can provide therapy or a number of assessments. They also might be active in teaching at the university level or doing research.
PhD This person holds a doctoral level degree, for our purposes we will focus on a person with a PhD in psychology who is refereed to a psychologist, this person has defended a thesis, psychologists have a strong background in research on any number of topics. They may provide therapy and any number of mental health assessments, they can be found working in many kinds of places from hospitals, to clinics, universities, as well as private practice settings.
Psychiatrist This person is generally involved in medication management, they may work in inpatient settings or out patient settings. Other specialized roles might involve sub-specialties such as neuroanatomy and traumatic brain injury recovery.
Other Helpful Terms
LGBTQIA- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Ally refers to this entire of cluster of people who may identify as one of the above and most newly, identify as an ally with promoting the rights and awareness of equality.
AASECT-American Association of Sexual Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. An certifying institution which educates counselors and therapists on sex therapy and sex positive practices.
CAADC–Certified advanced drug and alcohol counselor has achieved a higher level or educational and clinical learning that allows them to offer clinical treatment for substance abuse disorder.
In good health and wellness,
Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghLearn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJanuary 17, 2019 addiction recovery, counseling wexford, digital detox0 comments
‘5 Awesome and Up-worthy Benefits of A Digital Detox’
Mental clutter, anxiety, ‘fubbing’ and stress related disease are just a few of the human spoils which we can estimate are at least in some part perpetuated by our over-reliance on cell phones and digital solutions. The technology era is here and the evidence is within our aching and gnarled fingers, computer blurred-out hyper-focused eyes, our text neck, and cluttered minds. In fact, cell phones have become a newly added to the expanse of potential behavioral addictions. The more we tune into our personal devices the more we tune out all that is around us. Digital detox is the new mental colonic but with perhaps even greater results and significance. When was the last time that you unplugged? What do you imagine would happen if you tried. We have heard of some texters and cell phone obsessed say that they even get full blown anxiety attacks if they leave their phone at home accidentally. We encourage you to take the digital detox challenge and see for how long you can not use your phone. Even for a few hours a day can make a difference. Here are some of the benefits you will notice fairly quickly.
- Thoughts and feelings become much more calm. Much like a turbulent bay on a stormy afternoon, our thoughts get churned up when we are constantly bouncing from one email, to our search engine, and then to social media. When we step away for a few days, our consciousness and the direction of our thoughts have a chance to become still and reflective.
- Enjoy better concentration with internal stillness. Sometimes we multitask to our own detriment, in an attentionally scattered frenzy we try to do too many things at once and fall short everywhere. Yet, when we are unplugged, we can tune our attention in any direction we chose. There are limitations to our ability to think and pay attention and we deplete those resources shuffling between 10 screens. Yet when we focus on things more deeply we become more aware and productive.
- We see what is around us, for real!! Of course when we are scrolling and trolling we are not very good company and we are missing a lot of the scenery. The people we care about may even become hurt or feel rejected by our obsession with our phone. In fact, cell phone overuse wrecks relationships and even brings many couples into counseling. Sometimes we unconsciously use our devices to avoid who and what is happening around us. When we put down our phone and step away from the screen we become much more aware of the people around us, the raw beauty of the skyline, the gray tinged clouds that roll in before the storm, we are ‘in the now’ and living it all.
- Sleeping more deeply. There is much compelling research from the National Institute of Health that logs the correlation between screen time and disrupted sleep wake cycle. The statistics are so compelling that we can safely suggest that we leave behind our personal devices for at least one hour before hitting the sack. The benefits really peak after several days disconnected, this is when our internal clocks have a chance to reset, the benefits multiply as there are few things which are better for our wellness than a solid nights slumber .
- Higher energy and creativity. When we are sleeping well and tuning into the environment, the next natural result is greater energy and even creativity. Want to finish an important project or just feel more vital? Try a digital detox for a few days and see what happens.
How ready are you to try something new today? If you would like further reading on how to make emotional, or physical changes, read our article ‘How to Slay Anything in 2019.’
With energy and clarity,
The Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, Monroeville, and Wexford.
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghSeptember 30, 2018 counseling for anxiety, counseling for PTSD, psychotherapist, touch, yoga for trauma0 comments
Hands off-Please Do Not Touch My Body.
Closeness is sacred and powerful, and we should share it however we would like with a partner or partners with whom we have provided consent. Personally, I am a ‘toucher’, meaning I am a person who enjoys touch with my partner, someone who hugs family and friends and genuinely savors safe closeness. As we all know, touch can feasibly happen in many contexts. A recent trip to a local yoga studio has spurned some inspiration for considering consent and what exactly that means within the context of yoga. Consent is one of the topics of the century, the importance of asking for it, and heeding to it are championed issues with personal, psychological, and legal context. When we are on our yoga mat, we are presumably in a safe zone, we practice yoga to be well, to relax, to be inside of our bodies, to give life and expression to what our physical selves need in the moment to create our highest expression of safety, openness, and comfort. We rely upon the professionalism, understanding, and care of our yoga instructors while we are on the mat. When others take liberties with our bodies, reactions can range from uncomfortable to traumatic, yet we shouldn’t need to rely upon trauma informed yoga instructors to be the only providers who can offer a style of instruction which provides opportunity to say “No thank you, please do not touch my body.’ From chaturanga to shavasana, we find our bodies configuration of the posture as the yoga instructor cues. Without making space for hands off adjustments, one well-intentioned yoga instructor can inadvertently have a negative impact upon his or her student’s practice, day, overall wellness by taking liberties with his or her student’s bodies.
Consent means that one has asked for permission to approach another person in any way, whether that be to touch, to enter an intimate encounter, or even to provide unsolicited verbal feedback, we should always ask before encroaching upon others. After asking for consent, we wait and pause for that person to respond with their response of approach or avoid. A key component of consent is that the other person is truly able to say ‘no,’ if we are in a position of power, or if we are asking a person who is intoxicated, a minor, or incapacitated in any way, then the other can not provide for their own consent. Under normal circumstances, then, if and after we have been given permission to ‘approach’ we take it a step further to check in to be completely sure that non-verbal permission has been granted to continue or deepen the exchange. Physical space, proximity, and closeness are very special, they are exchanges which can lead to bliss, warmth, bonding, relaxation and even orgasm in the right time. When touch is used subversively, to coerce, to control, to harm, physical connection can become shrouded in horror, it also has the potential to instill anxiety, fear, terror, panic, and pain.
Consensual sexual intimacy is the gold standard, we should always be sure that we are well within the green zone of any boundaries of any person who we are touching and to also always note that we are creating safety for others as we strive for mutual enjoyment and pleasure. There are many contexts or situations where touch happens from fitness instruction, personal training, yoga instruction, little league coaching, physical therapy, massage, and medical settings. While there are many of the medical and physical instructors listed above who do check in and ask, ‘is it ok for me to adjust you.’ The best ones who follow this question by ‘does this feel ok for you’ and to them I applaud their insight and wisdom to always, in all settings, to ask first and wait for an enthusiastic ‘yes’ or a clear non-verbal head nod which unambiguously encouraging procession. For other yoga and fitness instructors, it may be less obvious that they should ask for consent before breaking the touch barrier with students. Let us examine consent from a trauma informed perspective and look at some ways that we can be sure we are always providing supportive and caring touch.
Regardless of the setting or context, we do not have permission to touch another person until we have asked for it and they have given it. For a trauma survivor it can be very triggering and alarming to feel a person, even a coach or instructor grabbing at them, or tapping on their body, for another person to move ones legs or touch ones hands. Feeling safe and giving permission for these things to happen is vital and walking into a yoga studio to practice does not provide consent for one’s physical boundaries to be violated. Just as walking into a bar or nightclub in a low-cut blouse is not the same as providing consent for someone to touch our breasts. Being a woman out late having drinks is not an invitation to have sex, we need a society which is built upon making space for ‘Yes’, or ‘No’ by always ask first. Yoga and fitness instructors, we are here, we want to participate in a fun and fulfilling way but ask before touching please. Additionally, for some instructors who may have a style of delivering their teaching that is very directive and assertive, it may feel punitive to some students.
Recently, in an all levels class, the instructor was someone I had never practiced with before. The class was much less than an all level class, it was more of an intro in my experience, we were cued to move into postures without much attention to how we flow through the sequencing. In any event, after 15 minutes or so warming up, we were cued to do some Sun A’s. When forward folding the instructor told everyone to grab a two blocks in anticipation of their hands not hitting the ground. I have long arms, and have been doing forward folds for many, many, years, it does not tax my body to fold forward and I find it delicious and restorative. The teacher stomped back to me and said ‘No! get your blocks, do not go into your deepest fold!’ In knowing my body, and knowing that I did not need the blocks I started to reach for them to appease her as she began grabbing my leg and tapping rapidly and harshly onto the front of my quad with her pointed finger tips and squinted eyes, ‘Move! Move! Move!’ she commanded. What started as a day of wellness, mindfulness, and an attempt to let myself feel peace, quickly became a source of discomfort and anxiety.
Being a yoga instructor is a big responsibility, it is a pathway to open ones consciousness, those blissed out happy vibes and chakras can really open up and make others aware of themselves, their feelings as well as anything happening with the instructor. We should encourage yoga instructors to have a higher level of insight into their style of relating to others so that the instructor is not unconsciously projecting their own unmet needs or style onto all of those who they come into contact with. The yoga instructor should be very aware of how of tone and content of speech particularly as adjustments are being made. If an instructor is simultaneously speaking in a critical or cold tone ‘move!’ ‘faster!’ ‘in, in, in;’ in a style that feels like they are spitting commands to the students, if the instructors speak this way while grabbing at a students body, it may become even more likely that they are making others feel tense, uncomfortable for anyone, and furthermore this kind of tone and motion can even be panic inducing for some trauma survivors.
More than ever, we must seek to create safety, to speak with love, to be sure that we are providing physical touch which is tender, and warm, and supportive or not tender and warm, if that is the kind of touch which is consensual and agreed upon by those who can legally and actually provide consent. Speak and act with awareness and care for other people’s feelings, doing fitness, pilates, doing a forward fold or downward facing dog, or even having a suspicious mole removed from our bodies are things that must happen peacefully and respectfully, and always with particular attention to any person’s ability to state, ‘No thank you- please do not touch my body’.
Stephanie Wijkstrom, MS, LPC, NBCC
830 Western Avenue Pittsburgh Pa
4108 Monroeville Blvd Monroeville Pa 15146
For more reading on the ethics of touch in yoga;
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghSeptember 16, 2018 benefits of high fat diet, blue cross blue shield, counseling wellness, dietician0 comments
What are the benefits of a high fat diet?
Liz Mckinney, CNS, LDN continues to examine the big fat myth and share some more information and sample mean plan to incorporate the dietary changes of a high fat diet into your busy lifestyle. Our last blog post caused quite a stir and we want to be sure that our readers understand the differences between ‘good fats’ and ‘bad fats.’ One big take home point is that not all dietary fats are created equally. So, what does the science tell us about a high fat diet? To recap our last blog article, research is showing that a high fat made up of healthy fats coupled with a low carbohydrate diet can be beneficial for:
- Heart health
- Boosting the immune system
- Brain function (and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, cognitive impairment and dementia)
- Blood sugar control
- Weight management
High fat diets, and even ketogenic diets are being studied for their efficacy in treating Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, ALS, Epilepsy and even ADHD. More and more, we understand there is a significant effect on our physical and emotional health exerted by our food consumption, even anxiety and depression can be effected by our diet. In particular, of the vital and nourishing micro nutrients, cholesterol is especially protective of brain function. One famous study called the Framingham Heart Study found that those with low serum cholesterol performed less well on cognitive function tests than their counterparts with borderline or high cholesterol levels. We can infer from this correlation that cholesterol does seem to have a protective effect on the brain. Additionally, when we note that their are ramifications for those who take statin drugs to lower their cholesterol. One known side effect of statin drugs are problems with memory and cognition.
What should I eat?
The good news is that it’s easy to start enjoying the benefits of a high fat, low carbohydrate diet. It’s important to limit grains and legumes to maintain the benefits. It is best to try to aim for only about 60 grams of carbohydrates a day. Along with unlimited non-starchy vegetables (think asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, swiss chard and spinach) and low sugar fruits (grapefruits, oranges, apples, berries, melon, pears, cherries, grapes, kiwis, plums, peaches and nectarines), enjoy ample amounts of these ‘good or healthy fats’ which are foods which will accelerate health and allow you to experience the benefits of a high fat diet:
- Grass fed beef and lamb
- Free range chicken
- Cage free eggs
- Cold pressed oils (walnut, olive, avocado, coconut, and palm)
- Grass fed butter
- Cold water fish (salmon, shrimp, sardines and tuna)
- Nuts (walnut, cashews, macadamia and almonds)
- Cheese (Gruyere, goat cheese, feta cheese, and mozzarella)
Sample One Day Meal Plan*
2 scrambled eggs with 1 oz. goat cheese cheese and stir fried veggies (onions, mushrooms, spinach and red bell pepper)
4 oz. baked chicken or canned tuna with a side of leafy greens dressed in balsamic and olive oil
3 oz. grass fed steak with a side of roasted broccoli and mashed cauliflower
3 squares of 70% dark chocolate
*Adapted from Dr. David Perlmutter’s book Grain Brain
So go ahead and give it a try, of course one should always consult either your PCP or a dietitian or nutritionist before making any changes to your diet, this is especially true if you have preexisting health conditions.
In good health and wellness,
Liz Mckinney, CNS, LDN
Certified Nutritionist, Licensed Dietary Nutritionist for The Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
Providing good health and wellness to Western Pennsylvania.
Accepting Self paying clients, Out of Network, and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJuly 31, 2018 food for anxiety, food for depression, food for mood0 comments
28 Foods to Decrease Anxiety and Depression and Enhance Positive Moods
Food & Mood Series by Liz Mckinney, CNS, Board Certified Nutritionist
“It is both compelling and daunting to consider that dietary intervention at an individual or population level could reduce rates of psychiatric disorders. There are exciting implications for clinical care, public health, and research” – editorial in the American Journal of Psychiatry https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2009.09060881
Mood imbalances like depression and anxiety are on the rise in the U.S. In 2016, the National Institute for Mental Health estimated that 16.2 million Americans have experienced at least one major depressive episode and 42 million have an anxiety disorder of some kind. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml Additionally, depression is the leading cause of disability globally. Traditionally, depression and anxiety are viewed as being caused by chemical imbalances, due to under production of our feel good neurotransmitters like dopamine, GABA, and serotonin. Lets explore how food is related to emotional health and how we can put ourselves at risk for developing anxiety or depression with our diet, as well as the good news of how diet can increase of mood, energy, and all around wellness.
So what factors contribute to a drop in the production of neurotransmitters? Biologically, this question has a multi-tiered answer. First, genetics and epigenetics (namely, how our environmental exposures affect which of our genes become activated) certainly play a role in a person’s proclivity towards depression and anxiety. For example, a common genetic mutation called MTHFR has a big impact in how we activate the B vitamin folate in our cells. Those with this genetic mutation are more prone to depression because of folate’s role in making serotonin. But, we know that our genetics don’t tell the whole story. The second factor influencing the expression of our genes, are our mental and emotional stressors or triggers, this is the part that can be effected by our social supports and reduced with therapy. Social factors and cognitive perceptions contribute significantly to the onset of these common mood disorders.
The Standard American Diet, which is low in fiber, healthy fats and protein and packed full of cheap, convenient sugar laden foods means we have less of the amino acid building blocks we need to make GABA, serotonin, and dopamine. A second issue to consider is that poor gut health is directly linked to worsened mood disorders thanks to the two-way gut-brain connection. Intake of processed snack foods packed with sugar, flour, and trans fat are like pouring gasoline on the fire and promote overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria and yeast in our gut where up to 80% of our body’s serotonin is produced. Eating poor quality proteins or simply not enough further compound the issue because proteins are the building blocks for these important compounds that keep our moods stable. Grain fed, factory farmed eggs and meats and genetically modified crops are not only loaded with toxins and pesticides that alter our microbiomes, they serve to ramp up that low grade chronic inflammation. Finally, fiber intake has never been lower thanks to the standard American diet. Fiber rich foods serve as probiotics that feed the beneficial bacteria in our large intestine. Without fuel, the good “bugs” are more likely to die off, leaving room for the pathogenic species to flourish. Our bacteria send signals to our brains, so we want our good bacteria to dominate and send signals that promote brain health, not cause further chemical imbalances and inflammation.
Now time for the empowering news! The food we eat can also improve mood, and decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety. Food can be a kind of internal therapy, by nourishing organs, healing of stomach linings and then increasing energy and brain health, they have a huge impact on decreasing ones susceptibility to relapsing from mental health disorders.
- High quality proteins
- Cage-free Eggs
- Grass-fed Beef and
- Chicken raised without growth hormones or antibiotics.
Vegan or vegetarian
- Non-GMO soy
- Vegetable proteins like legumes, pea chia, or hemp.
- Fermented foods like kefir, kombucha, or sauerkraut which contain live organisms that populate the microbiome with beneficial bacteria.
The above mentioned foods promote emotional and physical health by keeping the gut happy and healthy. As a word of caution, avoid processed, packaged snack foods at all costs and focus on whole, unprocessed foods like promote a good mood. Here are some more delicious options to add to your daily diet that calm inflammation and support mood:
- Dark Chocolate (70% or darker)
- Vitamin B rich foods – eggs, raw dairy, grass fed beef, and organic chicken and turkey, leafy greens like kale or Swiss chard, and bananas
- Red, Purple, and Blue Berries – Contain Vitamin C and other antioxidants
- Omega 3s – wild caught fatty fish (2 servings weekly), walnuts and flax seed
- Coconut oil
As a final note, understanding mood disorders is complex and the underlying factors multi-tiered. Everyone is unique and requires and individualized approach that takes into account genetics and epigenetics, mental and emotional health and diet and lifestyle. When all three are addressed, we are better able to address mood disorders and provide the best outcomes. If you want to learn more about health enhancing diets and what foods can support emotional and physical health, meet with a board certified and licensed nutritionist, our nutritionist, Liz Mckinney, CNS accepts Aetna and Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance as well as self paying clients.
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJune 21, 2018 counseling for PTSD, psychology, psychotherapy, ptsd, trauma, trauma informed care, trauma therapy0 comments
We have fantastic and astonishing memory abilities, the human mind and its processes, particularly in the way we store and retrieve the effective memories which then effect the way that we store and respond to our other memories and sensory input. Evolutionary psychology examines the way some things that can be problematic are often helpful to us in the past and as we evolved. This is especially true for trauma survivors. According to the American Psychological Association, Trauma is an emotional response to a event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster, abuse or assault. Immediately after the event, shock, emotional upheaval, loss of ability to function, and denial are typical. Trauma is especially present in situations where a person feels powerless and their sense of control are taken. Long term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea, nightmares, inability to rest or calm down, feeling tearful, experiencing fear and heightened startle response. While these feelings are very universal response to the paralyzing fear that is associated with trauma even if the survivor reports feeling neutral in the moment. Biology offers some rational for how we can feel afraid but work through it in the moment of the traumatic situation, but it is later when we are safe and comfortable that the panic can emerge, generally emotions are something that can be seen and felt most when everything is alright around us, meaning the traumatic event is over and we are safe. Some people have difficulty moving on with their lives because trauma can result in long term effects such as post traumatic stress disorder, acute stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and addiction.
There are so many events that we experience which are traumatic, whether these develop into the more complex constellation of behaviors which we identify as PTSD, really depends on an interplay of biological, social, and other environmental factors. Some of the situations which can cause a trauma response include, domestic violence, sexual violence or assault, car accidents, national tragedies, serving in war, robberies. It is possible that we can experience a traumatic response my witnessing these events even if we are not the direct recipient of the threatening attack.
People who later feel the emotional and physical effects of trauma may wonder, what is wrong with me? Also, even if the event seemed manageable in the moment, it seems bizarre that they keep seeing flashes of it months or years later. The answer is while the effects of trauma can be debilitating, our cognitive processes are primed to be traumatized. Evolution explains that we and our ancestors are wired to hold tight to frightening or threatening experiences, imagine what happened to all of the humans who did not startle and produce massive amounts of cortisol and adrenaline at the sight of the saber toothed tiger just through the northern passage on the savannah. They died and did not evolve to have offspring in our gene pool. Having memory of dangerous events, people, situations, and gearing up to flee or protect one’s self is a sign of an evolutionarily healthy adaptation, it allows us to stay safe by avoiding possibly dire situations. In fact, our Vagal nerve which communicates directly to our bodies, without having to yield the advice of our logic, there are long term changes in the way that our Vagal nerve responds to triggers after we have experienced trauma. The vagal nerve is what allows healthy people to experience the ‘startle response’ for example when someone sneaks up behind you, usually we respond with a physical jerking motion in our bodies, and literally jumping. In domestic violence survivors, being ‘jumping’ and easily startled when a person raises their hand, is a well noted phenomenon that may last an entire lifetime.
We are wired to remember traumatic events. Survivors of trauma know that the sight of the perpetrator of their violence, even a coat that’s the same color as the one their attacker had worn can evoke the fear response. ‘Triggers’ are any stimuli which we associate with the traumatic event. These triggers and their associated memories can and do produce a jolt to the vagal nerve resulting in heightened, panicked, and anxious response in the person who is perceiving them. The biological response when we encounter a trigger are a plenty, our bodies enter a state of hyper-arousal, respiration becomes more shallow, heart beat rises, and fear settles in, even cognitive function is impaired as our higher order reasoning is impeded and all neurological resources are yielded to the hind brain and its motor and autonomic functions. The one and only thought becomes fight, flight, survive, and in some cases freeze. Remember, just like on the savannah in the seat of civilization, the extra energy our bodies create allow us to escape danger.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, systematic desensitization, and exposure therapy, and some therapies which aim to change the tone of the vagal nerve are recommended ways to work through the trauma and empower the survivor to be able to withstand exposure to triggers and regain emotional wellness. It is recommended that trauma survivors do their best to limit exposure to triggers as they heal from the event and associated memories. If you feel that you may be experiencing long term effects from a traumatic situation, it is recommended that you work with a therapist who is specifically trained in trauma informed care. Healing will allow the processing of the entire event, client and therapist will identify triggers, developing the capacity to respond to triggers with mindful balance, and work through the effects of any other psychological effects from the trauma.
Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh, Serving Western Pennsylvania with Individual Therapy, Couples Therapy, Family Therapy and Wellness Services.