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 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 PittsburghJuly 1, 2019 anticipatory grief, burn out, caregiver fatigue, grieving the loss of a parent, self care during grief, terminally ill0 comments
12 Ways to Take Care of Yourself when your Parent is Terminally Ill
If your parent is facing terminal illness, you as their child may be encountering some of the greatest stress of your life. The mounds of grief will have presented themselves long before the end of their life comes and while caring for yourself is likely the last thing on your mind, it is the most important thing you should do in these days, weeks, and even years. Here are 12 ways to care for yourself when your parent is terminally ill.
- Be aware of your own guilt, guilt has a way of creeping into everything that surrounds illness, death, and even contributes to complicated grief. If your parent is in the hospital very ill, you may feel guilty to do anything other than sit by their side so compulsively you will stay with them to avoid the burden of your guilt. The thing is with this kind of irrational guilt, nothing you do will ever be enough to stop it from effecting you. You must label your feeling as irrational guilt and accept your need for some balance and self-care in the rush of your parent’s illness.
- Practice mindfulness. One of the ways that our emotions become very unmanageable is the we often want to repress or avoid them. We become so busy with the act of doing that we dismiss the great segment of our humanness that is always feeling. Noticing our feelings and the way the effect our bodies, our breathing, our thinking, is a huge asset especially in difficult moments. Even as simple as observing, “I am angry, I am sad’ can help to reinforce our wellness and prevent us from acting out unconsciously.
- Become versed in grief and learn about anticipatory grief, the actual human tendency to begin grieving the loss of someone we love long before their life reaches its end. Anticipatory grief is one of many kinds of grief that you may notice if caring for a terminally ill loved one.
- Sadness related to bereavement and grief has a way of reordering our priorities to be more aware of what is important. Take advantage of this tendency to make use of it, for instance, the petty grievances that you might feel for a loved one fade aware in the dusk of their mortality and what remains is often love. Trimming the lawn to perfection or finishing the next race may seem less important and what takes center stage is often being with and appreciating others.
- Make sleep a priority, even when your schedule is crumbling and your heart is heavy having good sleep hygiene and making it to your own bed to rest will always be one of the best ways to keep yourself strong, healthy, and emotionally balanced.
- Understand what compassion fatigue, caregiver fatigue and burnout are and how they may be effecting you greatly in this time of immense hurt and stress.
- Eat a balanced diet, if you are rushing around in the hospital or caring for your parent in your home you may not feel you have the time to prepare healthy meals. Make time for them anyways, by fueling your body with nourishing foods you will be stronger and more vital to care for those around you in this difficult time.
- Find acceptance, it is sometimes hard to see that your parent is in the process of dying, instead we may react with denial and anger which make the emotional toll even harder on you as the individual. By stating to yourself that this is in fact the final process of your parent’s life you will be better able to readjust your approach to be sensible and supportive.
- Spend some time in nature. The outdoors from the trees to the grass and the leaves are wonderful teachers when it comes to the spectrum of life, ever watch a small bud unfurl from the soil and see a dry crumbled leaf next to it? That is everything we ever need to know about life.
- Anticipate that stress and sickness often bring out the worst in families, if there are at least a couple of people in your family tree who are notorious for being aggressive, addicted, selfish, or any other socially uncomfortable thing, this will likely present in heightened state. Armor yourself with anticipation and your best efforts for detachment as they visit your parent’s bedside.
- Activate your social supports, let people know what is happening in your life so that they can help. Sometimes we fear burdening other’s so we become silent in our grief. You might find that if you talk to others about what is happening and how you are feeling you will be supported and the sense of connection will help you.
- Make time for exercise, even if you are not a fitness guru, it is a great time to start walking or jogging. Exercise is an immediate help in releasing stress. You will benefit from better sleep and calmer mood if you activate this wellness skill.
Remember that the most important time for self care isn’t when you are bored but when you are busiest and feel that you can’t possibly find a minute in your day as these our the times when we need care the most.Learn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghOctober 30, 2018 compassion, pittsburgh, positive psychology, resilience to trauma0 comments
Trauma; Honor For Your Healing Journey
The four things your therapist wants you to know about your healing journey. When you’re healing from a grief, trauma, or resultant PTSD, you must be thinking about ‘how will I ever move on from this horrible, unexpected, agonizing reaction to the traumatic situation that I have experienced?’ Remember, PTSD is a reaction to witnessing or experiencing a sudden and unexpected event which caused one to feel powerless by delivering, threatening, or witnessing harm. How can I rise above these feelings and thoughts and create meaningful and complete healing? Maybe you want to go backwards in time and undo all of the harm that you have experienced. A common and reasonable response to all of these above disorders, particularly PTSD, is to try to avoid all triggers associated with the situation which evoked the trauma, hypervigilance, intrusive memories, nightmares, flashbacks and an increased risk for anxiety and depression. This disorder presents a mountain to ascend, and whether you have spend years in therapy or are only beginning to acknowledge the depth of the effects this has had on you, these are some points to keep in mind. These are the 4 things that your therapist wants you to know about healing that are not immediately evident.
Healed but not Forgotten
Some people have the unrealistic expectation that when they reach the end of their healing journey they shouldn’t have any emotional reaction to their memories of the traumatic event which led to grief and loss. That is not how healing works. It is quite likely that you will always have some sort of reaction to the memories and thoughts associated with your grief or trauma. In fact, according to a 2011 study published in NIH by Sherin and Nemeroff, and according to all of science and psychology support the fact that there is potential for long term neuroanatomical and neurochemical changes to the central nervous system resulting from trauma. These changes are especially evident in the way we respond to triggers or trauma associated stimuli. What we should be striving for in the healing from trauma is a ‘new normal.’ Healing means that you are able to function in professional or personal settings and that you are practicing resilience and positive coping when waves of thought and emotion do come.
Healing means Acknowledging Feelings
One of the ways that therapy works is by creating an intentional space for healing warriors to be honest with themselves, to create an understanding of their emotions. After an awareness has been formed adaptive responses to feelings and thoughts can be generated. We create psychopathology by being critical and attempting to repress our internal honest responses. For some people like first responders, police, and paramedics, there may be an extra layer of difficulty and stigma attached to acknowledging ones feelings and seeking mental health support to manage trauma. This can cause further damaging denial of the effects of traumatic experiences, One of the core tenets of psychological theory present in every form of therapy is that the more we repress, judge or avoid our feelings, the more we cause problems. Repression elicits tangled feeling constellations, blocked energies, incomplete and unintegrated shadows. Mindfulness based stress reduction, EMDR, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Exposure Therapy, have shown efficacy in treating PTSD. Our feelings can turn into psychopathology that are bigger and sometimes socially unacceptable forms of the original emotional response.
Healing Happens in Relationships. Find your Healing Tribe
It is especially true for trauma that happens in relationships, that this same trauma is healed in relationships. When trauma survivors open up to those people who they consider to be safe, there is an incredible potential for healing to happen. Healing relationships are those that resonate compassion, gentle acceptance, warmth, and non-judgement. Think about it, we become close to those who we can be really honest with, those who ask about our feelings and can share in a compassionate interchange, (Mgrath, 2001). Sharing trauma should be exercised with caution. However well-intentioned our healing tribe may be, its members may inadvertently respond in less constructive ways that judge, shame, or put down the survivor for having the pain or scars of trauma. Another risk is not being able to hear or understand what is being shared. What is really needed is non-judgmental acceptance, understanding, and compassionate warmth.
Positive Psychology, Pop Culture and Non-Reality
You may have survived a trauma
but that doesn’t mean you have to fall victim to meme reality. Scroll through a social media forum and you will see many posts and memes which declare that everyone should be happy all the time. That isn’t honest or possible. The healthiest among us are those who are honest with themselves about what they experience and then respond to their vulnerable reality in a constructive way. According to a 2016 study by Elizabeth Kneeland,pop cultures layman positive psychology is damaging. When pop culture got its hands on positive psychology its representatives distorted the message, and now laymen perpetuate unrealistic and uninformed messages which imply that we can think our way into a good mood. It suggests that if we blink our eyes we can make trauma and psychological distress evaporate. Your therapist knows differently. Its ok to be outraged, disgusted, sad, hurt, angry, confused, and it is important to acknowledge where you are in your healing journey today.
No matter where you are today, the best we can do is to risk opening to ourselves, to create an honest internal dialogue that we are eventually able to share with others. We should unabashedly honor our own processes, giving relentless permission to feel, think and be; in reverence of joy, in honor of glorious fury, to the fullest expression of gaiety, to the utterance of insuperable hurt, to fully hone in on repugnant disgust. Keep developing your divine awareness, and eventually you will have created the unique meaning which understands with a lens of compassion, acceptance, and self love all that has happened to you.
With love and hope for resilience,
Stephanie Wijkstrom, MS, LPC, NCC
- Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
830 Western Avenue Pittsburgh PA 15233
- Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
4108 Monroeville BLVD, Monroeville PA 15146
Accepting new clients, our therapists accept UPMC, Highmark BCBS, United, Cigna, Magellan, Aetna, HSA, Self Paying and Sliding Scale.
Thank you to our Editor, Dr. Stellan Wijkstrom for his ever helpful alterations and contributions.
For More Reading
Kneeland, Elizabeth et al, Positive thinking Newsweek, 2016
McGrath, Ellen. Psychology Today, published November 1, 2001
Sherin, Jonathan E, Charles B. Nemeroff
Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2011 Sep; 13(3): 263–278.Learn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghJuly 16, 2018 anxiety during pregnancy, depression in pregnancy, postpartum, stress pregnancy0 comments
Anxiety and Depression During Pregnancy, ‘Wellness For People Like Me.’
Writer, blogger, and art therapy graduate Angela Grace Wilt shares some of her experiences in recovering positive coping and mental health including ways to manage anxiety and depression during pregnancy. This is a part of the ‘People Like Me’ Series of our wellness blog, real people, real stories, real ways to incorporate wellness into stages and experiences of everyday normal life.
Being a woman comes with a lot of ups and downs. Women are prone to anxiety and it can be very hard to to admit. For example, women are closely tied to the monthly cycles that their body experiences. Things such as menstruation cause anxiety, depression, mood swings, and intense bodily urges with cravings. Men never will get us or grasp what we go through. We are just that unique. For as long as I could remember, I have felt that as a woman I am special and cursed all at once.
Then of course recently, as I have taken this jump into parenthood with the amazing biological potential of my body, quickly I have learned that while things like premenstrual dysphoria, and the normal anxieties and depression of menstruation are challenging, pregnancy holds a whole long list of unique and larger fears and physical difficulties. In fact, this is true for all women, and according to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), between 14-23% of women will struggle with some symptoms of anxiety or depression during pregnancy. The shift in mental health have multiple sources, think about it, there is insomnia because our body is changing so fast that some women can be prone to rapid heartbeat, which makes it harder to fall asleep. There is also the whole list of ‘what ifs.’ Will my baby and I make it to full term? Will my baby be healthy? I can no longer drink alcohol, ride adrenaline driven roller coasters, lift heavy weights, or really take any chances of too adventurous tasks. With each decision I make, I consider the question ‘what will makes my little bump, a healthy or not so healthy baby.’
Physical and emotional changes are also thread within social fears and adjustments, I sometimes wonder, have I planned enough for this pregnancy that has in many ways, just happened. The truth is, I am not some 30 something who has been charting my cycle for 6 months to achieve conception, I didn’t plan to get pregnant just yet. I thought about it sure, but just like most couples we wanted to walk down the aisle with a white dress of lace and flowers all the scenery of our closest friends and family shouting us on, it was always my dream of being that princess and marrying my soul mate! We still will have that for our future, but it will be after we get through the current stresses. In addition to the changes in my timeline, I also care about what our parents think about our having a baby right now. Having a baby out before marriage can be shocking for some religious and cultural values. We were lucky because my family is just fine with it, and with a little time to adjust, my better half’s is now happy about the news.
The list of anxieties and real practical matters which accelerate my concerns are aplenty, even small things have caused me stress, I have had to shop for insurance as a pregnant women, because I am twenty-six, pregnant, and didn’t have any. Finally, babies are expensive, health insurance is also expensive, we have stresses of finding better jobs, I have to go on insurance yet because I am twenty-six and don’t have any. We are cleaning house and making a baby room. When all of these real life stresses start to mount very high, I can feel my heart beating faster, I try to stop and think of the things that we do have, I try to re-frame my anxieties and depressed thoughts in a positive light, I pause and I say to myself, ‘I have my boyfriend, our love together, and I have a supportive family. I have myself and my strengths, and I am strong and able.’That always seems to calm me down and help me to remember that there is much to be excited about as we move forward together as a young family.
With all of these anxious and depressed thoughts swirling in my mind, I have taken the time to put together a small list of ways that I manage and support my emotional health during my pregnancy. Of course if you are struggling with mental health during or after your pregnancy, talk to you PCP or Mental Health provider, get a screening for Postpartum or Baby Blues, every year women die or don’t bond with their babies due to maternal mental health factors. If you are like me and relatively healthy but feeling a little anxious or blue, then read on because these tips may help you as much as they helped me.
Use positive self talk, be your own biggest fan and encourage yourself like you would a friend
I say nice things to myself, I write little notes and post them through out the house, simple thoughts like,’ Rome was built in a day’ ‘We will get everything done in time.’ We’re already almost half way there at twelve weeks. It’s just a wild ride. My body is going through so many beautiful changes. Tune in, all of my emotions are heightened. Hunger is giving me nourishment now. Sleep is always appreciated. Sex is fierce and always wanted. Sadness and anger are intense. I have energy that comes out of nowhere. Its ok if sometimes I can’t stop crying. I love my baby and baby’s daddy and not want anything more than to be with just them and them alone. I want the best by our new child. I want to give it proper nutrition and a good home life. I want to be a good parent and my baby to grow in a family where love is the answer and anger is dealt with in a healthy supportive manner. I will protect this baby with all that I have. This child’s needs and wants are now first. I am ready to teach this baby proper education, morals, respect, and spirituality.
Its normal to be overwhelmed, life is now changing!
Anxiety,stress, and fear are the norm when we are overcoming big changes. ways just important to remember that having a baby is a life changing experience. Normalizing the emotions that I am experiencing helps me by making me not feel the guilty, ashamed, or odd for having these dips and emotional shifts.
Reach for your Tribe!
Please remember, you are not alone. You are a powerhouse and you have many people who will listen and talk. Make a list of 5, if you can not list at least 5 people who will pick up the phone for you, see a therapist and talk about the feelings of isolation and loneliness. Mom, dad, best friends, siblings, make a list and think about who is the best person to talk with through the things that come up. It will likely be a different person for each of situations that one may encounter on the pregnancy journey.
Use your breath
The body and its breathing are powerful, breathing can be used to energize and manage our response to stress. Take some deeps breaths every day.
Make a Wellness Routine
Do calming relaxing type activities like yoga, walking in nature or just walking, stretch, journal, and keep time for yourself to collect your thought and consider the daily experiences that you are managing. Essential oils can help ease the mind and emotions and of course be sure to choose blends that are safe to use during pregnancy.
Bond with your baby
Talk to your baby while its in the womb, there will likely be a time after your baby is born that you are longing to be so closely connected to him or her again, try to cherish these moments and zoom out towards the big picture where you are nurturing a sacred bond right now in your womb. Being a woman is very special, and this connection, with baby snugly centered in my sacral area, right as my mother and my mothers mother have always done, this is something that men can not understand, but I am ok with that.
We are powerful, we are able to make changes that influence the outcomes of our life. Pregnancy like all things, is what you make of it. Do your best to stay positive by thinking of the new exciting things that can be done all in great fun with your new family together. Your love of baby and yourself will take you far. Be gentle with yourself when you notice the stress, anxiety, and fear of the 9 months ahead. This is a special time that can be used to get really healthy and in tune with your bodies needs. As always, seek medical help from a PCP, Gynecologist, or Licensed Professional Counselor if you have concerns about your mental health.
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghApril 30, 2018 mindfulness based stress reduction, relaxation, stress, stress management0 comments
15 Signs You Might Be Suffering Too Much Stress and How To Manage It
Relaxation, confidence, and peace are the positive effects of being able to respond to our responsibilities and interacts in a way that is effective, and feels manageable. We ease through life when we meet many days with a sense of competence and confidence. Yet sometimes situations arise which usurp our ability to cope, which make us feel overwhelmed and we fear we are unable to manage. Stress is our natural response to real or perceived threats or demands, it is the physical and emotional effect of managing the tasks and interactions required from us to participate in our daily lives. There can be positive benefits to stress such as when we channel it to motivate our achievement. Stress is essential to our survival, however, too much stress or coping with stress poorly can lead to many adverse effects upon ourselves and our lives.
Signs that you may be suffering with stress;
Muscle aches and pains,
You might be experiencing these things and thinking that they are normal or you should be able to “just deal with it” but for many of us that just simply isn’t the case and stress symptoms as well as the way that we manage it, can have extended and profound effects on our physical and emotional health as well as our work our marriages and family relationships. If you’re experiencing these symptoms you should address it with a medical doctor to rule out disease, as well as a licensed counselor or therapist.
There are a number of options for helping to reduce stress in our lives so that we can be more present, and capable of reeling in our ability to focus. Additionally, by tuning in and managing our emotions in healthy ways, we also enjoy the benefit of greater relaxation, when we are more relaxed we also become more engaged in our work, community, and relationships with our family and friends. One of the most effective means of mitigating stress in our lives is the practice of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.
The practice of mindfulness has proven to reduce mental and emotional stress through teaching us to be more sensitive to the needs of our bodies as well as more aware of our thoughts, actions, and our reactions.
Mindfulness also has been proven to have a direct impact on reducing activity of our amygdala, which is the part of the brain that helps to control our emotional memories and stress responses, also known as our “flight or fight” response. Through the practice of mindfulness we can better control the activation of these responses and the effects that they have on us.
Mindfulness can also help us alter our attitude and outlook on difficult situations and other stressors by helping us to think about things more purposefully and without judgement. This can enable us to possibly look at the stress in energizing or motivating ways instead of with preemptive negativity. Other practices such as meditation, yoga, and learning to fuel our bodies the right way through nutrition counseling, can also be powerful preventative measures and coping strategies for stress.
As an integrative wellness center the counselors and wellness practitioners of The Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh and Monroeville are glad to offer these and many other services in your journey to find healthy sustainable ways to reduce and manage stress in your life. Our talented staff are glad to help you assess your stressors as well as any other needs or concerns to have and help you achieve your goals for stress reduction.Learn More
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghSeptember 21, 2016 counseling, educational, meditation, mindfulness, personal growth, psychology, therapy, wellness0 comments
Often when people like you and I hear the word meditation we imagine mystics high atop a mountain, something that is suited for seekers of enlightenment only. Yet many of us have often nurtured a hint of envy for their calm and serenity. Through mindfulness, the benefits of meditation become relevant and translatable here, far away from the brisk mountaintop and practiced in the concrete and bustling atmosphere of our cities and suburbs. Yet still, what is it?
Mindfulness allows us to deepen our awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, we are then free from the constraints of reflexivness and replace it with reflectiveness. Mindfulness peels away the mechanisms of one’s consciousness. Mindfulness has tangible benefits too, it reduces anxiety, it reduces stress, it enhances peace and calm, mindfulness helps us love each other a little more, helps us love ourselves better.
We begin by differentiating that which is a reflexive and irrational thought from those thoughts which are adaptive and soothing. When we become mindful in the choosing of the quality of our thoughts we are then free, free to choose direction, behavior, free to assert direction in the gap between our thoughts and the actions we choose to embody.
Mindfulness is about slowing down, we encourage the reader to do some breathing meditation to first connect with breathing, by doing some long slow inhalations and exhalations, and notice the kinds of thoughts that float through the mind or consciousness as you complete 5-10 minutes of deep breathing. To begin your journey toward mindfulness, journaling may be helpful, even if this is as simply, writing down a few words that capture the quality of the thoughts that one may be experiencing as they do the meditation.
An example of this might be, when you are seated doing the breathing your thoughts keep wandering, as thoughts always do, some of the thoughts that come up are, you are wondering if you are doing the breathing right, wondering if you look silly, thinking about lunch. All of these thoughts are perfectly natural, the point is to notice which thoughts are flitting through your mind, to really deepen breathing and maybe for a few moments at a time to zero in on the rush of the air coming in and out of the nose. It really is that simple and when practiced regularly, this has incredible effects on the body from lowering blood pressure, reducing anxiety and stress, helping reduce anger and problems associated with conflict, enhance our relationships with ourselves and others.
A good quote that helps us to understand where we are in a moment is as follows, “when we are thinking of the past, we are often feeling depressed, when we are thinking of the future, we are often feeling anxious, when we are in the present, then we have peace.” Buddhist Mantra.
In peace and love,
The Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
830 Western Avenue
Pittsburgh Pa 15233
by Stephanie McCrackenJanuary 22, 2015 counseling, couples counseling, mindfulness, personal growth, wisdom0 comments
The Grass is Always Greener, To the Brown Patches of Dirt in my Lawn, On Love and Life
The grass is always greener, the crab grass, the blue grass, the sea grass, I see it out there as one whose mind is prone to perpetual comparisons, squinting eyes contemplating between the haves and have not’s. My front lawn has large cavernous patches of dirt, etched amidst sparse littering’s of grassy blades. It’s something that really bothers me, sometimes in the way too early morning hours I lay awake and think about how to solve this problem, I should admit that I pride myself upon being a solver of life’s hasty demands. Yet this one has riddled me, how did this muddy pit get here? Once or twice I have even tried picking up all of my belongings and moving to a new home, so beside myself with this shoddy yard that I convinced myself to find a completely new house, a house with the dream lawn of my most romantic fantasies. I am not the only person to notice the grass, the grass provides the frame of ones home, the foundation for ones life, a connection to the earth, this is about so much more than the “grass,” it’s a part of ones identity, how does one manicure what is imperfect? How to maintain esteemed pride when the very things which frame my tidy house fail to meet my very own lofty standards of, “how it all should be.” Does one still thrust a pole into the lawn with a kitschy flag to commemorate each of the holidays? Does one dabble large planters upon the grass and fill them with marigolds and petunias? Maybe nobody will notice those miserable barren patches if I simply abandon all responsibility and allowing the lawn to grow long and wild, perhaps to revel in the mysterious and primal Amazonian nature of it. Coveting thy neighbors grass can become an obsession. A soothing Sunday drive to clear the mind and where am I? I am not in conversation with my fiancé who is stoically manning the wheel, I careen my neck from outside of his finely tuned automobile. I see the emerald spikes encasing the lawns of this neighbor and that, evoking for me a sense of desirous melancholy. Things can rapidly careen out of control, thoughts becoming high jacked, not wanted to walk out of the house to have someone see that this is my lawn, not wanting to be associated with those cursed drab patches of barren earth. I see my neighbors flaunting theirs, the grass that sparkles, those majestic little studs bolding jutting out from the earth, with their implicit meaning that any abode which has such grass is perfectly cared for, is more than a house, it is a home. I too want the kind that feels like that springs beneath bare feet and smells like a musky blend of lemon tart and pine needle. There are countless books written about landscaping and gardening, one can use seed or sod, barricade it to be sure nobody walks on it, or then too, one could walk on it with high heels to aerate, or perhaps enhance the soil with worms, for every curiosity help is a YouTube video, a google, or a guru away . Yet none of them say this: After a very long and drawn out rest, a celestial providence of an epiphany struck down upon me, opening up my mind with a shiny insight; nobody else is going to fix my lawn, moving isn’t going to help me find better grass, it is my very technique to tending the lawn which is lacking. It’s easy to get frustrated too much, to turn away from picnics in the grass because it doesn’t look, smell, or feel the way that one imagined it “should”. Soil samples and sod wont alleviate this eternal pondering for the clue to change the grass for good, there is a really simple way to enjoy the grassy knoll of ones dreams. Yet like all things worth cultivating, it will not be easy, lace up the old work boots and jean coveralls.
It all starts by loving the grass, those darling petite seedlings only dare rupture the earth for promise of the warming sun, give your grass warmth. Yes, I know my child, in this moment we see only barren patches of earth but I urge you to go out there and love them anyways, not just to say it but to do it, planting glorious seeds of intention. Water those blades each and every day, fill your watering can to the brim with hopeful water, set aside a collection of rainwater, the earth loves the water best which has danced amidst the clouds. Tend to your petite parcel of earth each day, when tired wield your soil crusted shovel, when fantasizing about a tropical holiday, one still must tend to the lawn. You see, I have learned something, our response to our imperfections, to those earthen patches of mud, does indeed determine our opportunities for growth. How do you tend to the patches of mud upon your lawn? Anyone can marvel at that which has been luxuriated with advantageous wonder but it takes one dedicated and master gardener to persevere with fortitude, to love a little earthen patch into a fully bloomed, springy and lustrous lawn. Just what is it in you or your relationship which just may need a little more love to blossom forth with life?
Dreaming of spring time grass, Stephanie McCracken MSPC Reviving Minds Therapy Offering Marriage or Couples Counseling and Psychotherapy 1010 Western Avenue Pittsburgh Pa 15233 *This is an intentional fictional piece and similarity to real or actual events is sheer cosmic coincidence…Learn More
by Stephanie McCrackenNovember 11, 2014 counseling, couples counseling, couples therapy, holidays, marriage counseling, mindfulness, personal growth, psychotherapy0 comments
The holidays symbolize time to be close to those who we hold near and dear, the sentimental stuff of greeting cards, television series, and memories to be made. In later years we may recall the time that the snow fell 8 inches on Thanksgiving Day and Aunt Margaret perfected her best version yet of caramel apple pie, while baby Charlie was just learning to crawl. The Griswold style celebrations, the kind in which we run to each other with open arms to gleefully share in discussion of all of the incredible things that we have been doing with our ultra-successful lives. Stop, cut! Perhaps you are like many of us who struggle during the holidays, maybe it’s been a tough year or a tough life and thinking of the holidays fills you with dread. Just maybe there can still be some way to encounter some of the most common impasses in a compassionate and constructive way.
Often that relationship concern, family rift, lost job, death, or defeat has a way of haunting the landscapes of that which would otherwise be a charming holiday season. This ominous considerations often lead to a preoccupation with stress during the holidays, we balefully note the slipping away of our glittering joys topped with an extra serving of sadness for not being as happy as we expect that we “should” be. For instance, since the lay off at the office, you have not been feeling quite yourself and grief keeps you from even telling your perfectionist mom about the loss. Yet with thanksgiving it will now become impossible to avoid the situation and anxiety is heightening with each approaching day. Perhaps it is time to allow the people that care about you to be a support? It is often helpful to remember that we imagine others to be in ways that may be less of a reflection of them and more a reflection of us, mom may not become angry or critical when hearing our woes, look carefully at those parts of yourself which cause anxiety at the thought of revealing humanness and vulnerability.
Maybe you have a very small family, no family, a family that lives across the country and not enough of a work break or airfare to get there. For you, the holidays end up being a time of aloneness, in fact when your coworkers ask what you are doing for the holidays you always make up a story about being with Great Aunty Mildred, the shame in admitting the truth is most easily shrouded in deception. Instead you will be sitting inside watching ancient reruns of the Brady Bunch submerged in a dialogue of your general unworthiness towards companionship. Perhaps this could be approached differently, honest discourse demands courage from ourselves but it often opens doors, maybe even doors to holiday gatherings. Remember, although you may feel that you’re the only one alone on the holiday, you’re not, there are others who are in the same position. Maybe by summoning your inner Gandhi and “being the change you want to see in the world” and host your own “Friends-giving.” This is becoming a popular way to celebrate with others, particularly if done in the evening or the day after the holiday. If neither of those options sounds like a fit then accept the challenge of donating your time for the day towards helping a charity or creating something that you can donate with the idea in mind, “how can I help someone today?”
If your concerns aren’t about bringing together people but being surrounded with people who you have been seeking to avoid then read on. For instance, entering into grandma’s house, many hugs and hellos exchanged, the scent of crisp turkey skin intermingled with sage wafting through your nostrils as you see the infamous Aunt Carol approach. Your stomach lurches as you start to feel the anxiety coming on, she is that one family member who always criticizes everything that you do. In previous years “why aren’t you married, you will end up old and alone” “when will you have children, the clock doesn’t tick forever you know!” “why haven’t you been promoted yet?” and on and on, you end up leaving feeling simply terrible about yourself and no matter what you try to say in your meek defense she just doesn’t take the hint. Many of us know the type of meddling in which the inquisitor seems to be blissfully unaware of the sensitive nature of the questions which he or she is asking. With this sort of encounter sometimes it can elicit some compassion to remember that this person is reflecting to you their own inner dialogue and her misguided ability to connect with others in a welcomed and comfortable way. There may even be a bit of pity to think that this is how Aunt Carol has probably talked to herself all of her life and maybe some of the reason that she is here all alone. While it is hurtful to hear her litany of unwelcomed suggestions she may be trying to warn you of markers that she missed in her own life as often advice has more to do with the givers perceptions than the receivers needs.
Yet still a tiny thought for the all doing and typically matriarchal figure who may have wielded cutlery and cooktop for days to prepare this thanksgiving feast, with matching napkins and table centerpiece she has created a vision that would make Martha Stewarts jaw drop. Yet the cooking and the cleaning take so much attention that she ends up missing the togetherness of the day. For this sort of host or hostess, remember that everything doesn’t need to perfect and also to keep the gathering well within your financial means. It is easy to go overboard with tons of eats and treats and obsessing about the perfectly rendered pumpkin pie but the point isn’t to create to the point of stress and exhaustion but to enjoy each other in good times together. Step away from the turkey and have a seat, even if only for a bit, allow others to help as they will surely be excited about the opportunity to contribute to this day of thanks.
No matter where you are or what you’re doing our wish for you is to encounter something or someone which allows gratitude to unfold into you on this Thanksgiving and Holiday Season. Often we become confused by our seemingly unique life circumstance and would be best served to recognize that in experiencing our life situations we aren’t really as unusual as we imagine. With the hope that you too will enjoy this holiday season, gobble-gobble!
With an extra serving of love & mounded with hope,
The Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
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Learn more from our friends; https://inlpcenter.org/-psychological-attachments
by Stephanie McCrackenApril 30, 2014 counseling, mindfulness, personal growth, psychology, psychotherapy0 comments
Who among us has not suffered from feelings of anxiety at some point in his or her life, it is common enough to be among the more often seen symptoms which bring an individual into a therapist’s office. Even for the most staunchly healthy psyches anxiety is a typical benchmark which exists in a range of degrees within the human emotive process. Depending upon you as the individual and the technical approach of your clinician you may be offered a multitude of conflicting remedies to intervene upon that which is ailing you.
There are the wildly popular pharmacological interventions such as Xanax or Valium, while widely popular these interventions do nothing to examine the “how’s” or “why’s” of an anxious feeling. These interventions assume that an increased cardiovascular response, heightened worry, tense muscles, sleepless nights, feelings of agitation are all in the physical realm yet quite mysterious. Indeed anxiety in its more insidious form is a grave health concern so it is with accolades that I note the vast number of humans seeking treatment to escape its grips. There is something inexplicably disconcerting about the hyper arousal of anxiety which compels one towards a greater risk for many other issues health issues such as addictions, depression, coronary heart disease, even eroding the erectile function of both the male and female, to name but a few.
Most of us recognize that there are yet other forms of anxiety which are our “bon amie,” the kind which compels our actions for good causes such as self and social betterment. Without a touch of anxiety one may hit the snooze button each and every morning and drop out of society all together. Yet for our purposes we will consider the more sinister form with its wanton undesirability which causes many to seek its avoidance at all costs. There are vastly varied approaches within the medical community in terms of treatment of anxiety, there are folk remedies, homeopathic remedies, new age methods, each with their unique utility. Yet most all of these interventions lavish attention upon the amelioration of physical symptoms but may from sheer neglect, fail to examine the psychological underpinnings of anxiety itself. For those who do experience the necessity of utilizing anti-anxiety medication it is an empirically validated fact that the best therapeutic outcomes exists for individuals who make use of psychotherapeutic settings simultaneously. It is within the psychotherapeutic setting that the focus is cast specifically upon the unique psychology which may be breeding and offering sustenance to an overabundance of anxiety. Allow the remainder of this small essay to offer a rudimentary overview of some of the more typical sources of psychological anxiety.
Significant Life Changes
This form of anxiety is a reaction to some looming occurrence which has skated its way across your horizon, it may be adaptive and is completely natural. Many of us thrive upon constancy, as much as this tendency is at odds with the nature of the universe, inevitably we experience some anxiety while changing jobs, graduating, marrying, divorcing etc. While it is normal to exhibit some emotional reaction to such transitions be mindful to give extra care to yourself even during those joyous transitions. For any anxious feeling that continues to gnaw at your innards, give yourself some time to thoroughly examine all of your thoughts surrounding the (fill in blank) transition. This reflection affords the opportunity to hone in on any ways your emotional self may be beckoning you towards a closer look at something that your conscious awareness is not seeing completely.
The more that we attempt to repress our emotional experience the more that they tend to rupture forth in greatly unmanageable ways. Perhaps you are a product of early learning which valued emotional repression and lack of expressiveness. In some way you may have learned early or later in life that it is dangerous or taboo to talk about feelings or even notice that they exist for you, yet the vast and unstoppable torrent of the feeling state will not be escaped. This form of anxiety or panic urges the person towards understanding and experiencing of inner awareness and emotional expression.
The exactitude and finite nature of time is stated by some to be the source of all anxiety. What is it that you will you do with your precious earthly allowance? By becoming more aware of lapsing time, acknowledging that life proffers beauteous opportunity, love, and abundance still too, how will you cope with mounting defeats, losses, and unrealized potentials? Ones highest hope is to make father time ones friend, utilizing our human energies to compel feats which contribute to human progress. For you that may mean many things, to raise a family, build computer software, tend the forest, love deeply, the myriad meanings for the human riddle.
For some of us it is alarming to consider doing something that risks ones perceived control over ones surroundings. That could mean riding in an airplane, making interpersonal changes like developing new relationships, people are the ultimate unknown variables full of competing needs and possibilities. Will you be able to extend the risk of letting go of the known order to enjoy the potentials?
While this is in no way an exhaustive exploration of that powerful human indicator named anxiety it is something that may compel one to begin to relate to it in a slightly different manner. Perhaps it is time to consider its possibilities, its latent messages, it may one with greater respect for behoove one to not simply extinguish an anxious feeling with a pill or an exercise but to sit with it, even for just a moment, entering its heart palpating, dizzying sensation, in reverential respect for its utility and possibility as an psychic indicator. There is an understanding that in most cases, under the layers of any symptom are a fortunate beckoning towards the best version of yourself, the unrelinquishable layers of consciousness which insist that ideals will be felt and known.
In good health and energy,
Stephanie McCracken MSPC
Reviving Minds Therapy
1010 Western Ave
Pittsburgh Pa 15233
*This article does not intend to diagnose, treat, or in any way address an anxiety disorder or supplant psychological or medical advice. This is intended for your consideration only.