Archive of ‘Anxiety’ category

Domestic Violence: What You Should Know and How You Can Help

October is domestic violence awareness month, my goal is to give you all a little information about what violence in relationships might look like, the prevalence, what you can do when you’re experiencing violence, and how to support those who might be. Every relationship is unique whether you are reading this and thinking about your own romantic relationship or someone you care for, it is important to recognize that every situation is different, relationships can be complex, and this in no way summarizes every experience.

Conflict is a normal part of intimate relationships. There are times, however, when conflict can result in violence. Intimate partner violence (IPV) describes numerous behaviors that aim to cause harm to a current or former romantic partner.  Different types of IPV include physical violence, sexual violence, emotional violence/psychological abuse, threats, and stalking. Additional behaviors can include financial abuse (for example preventing a partner from earning an income or obtaining financial resources), and relational aggression (for example damaging a partner’s reputation or hurting their social standing).  

Prevalence Rates

We often think these things won’t happen to us, but no one is immune to the threat of partner violence. In fact IPV occurs across all ages, ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, and between both same and opposite sex couples. In the United States rates of IPV vary with about 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men reporting they have experienced IPV 1.  These behaviors start early with 1 in 5 female high school students reporting abuse by a romantic partner 2. IPV can have deadly consequences, in fact, it is the leading cause of female homicides and on average nearly three women are murdered a day at the hands of their current or former romantic partner 3

Situational Couple Violence

Fortunately most instances of conflict and most instances of violence do not end in homicide. When we imagine domestic violence we usually picture a partnership with one coercive and controlling partner and another partner that is clearly the victim. While this does happen and can have devastating consequences, it is much more common that a couple engage in what psychologists refer to as “situational couple violence”. This type of violence is less lethal, and usually involves an argument that has spiraled out of control. Situational couple violence is far more likely to be mutual in nature and less frequent. Couples that experience this type of violence in their relationship would likely benefit from counseling services that focus on improving communication between partners, navigating recurring conflict, and tips for de-escalating when emotions run high.  

Tips For De-Escalating Conflict

If you have had this experience some things to help de-escalate conflict include having a negotiated time out, this is a time that you and your partner agree upon to step away from the argument and pick a time to return. Another tip would be to match and de-escalate. When we are confronted with conflict, our default reaction is sometimes to become defensive and in turn get angrier than your partner (match and escalate), this is less than ideal and the trend is a spiral to greater conflict. Instead we should aim to do the opposite, by remaining calm we remind our partner and ourselves, that this is a disagreement, not a fight. Another tip is to hold space, take the time to understand your partner’s perspective and get to the root of the conflict instead of reacting instinctually; get curious about the feelings and concerns of your partner. The goal is always a calm conversation. These are just a few general tips for navigating conflict; additionally speaking with a counselor can likely help to develop specific tips and work through tough issues when it’s hard to handle alone.  

What To Do When Your Partner is Dangerous?

But what happens when this is not possible in your relationship. When it’s not possible to have a calm conversation with your partner. It is still worthwhile to seek counseling. Women with a history of IPV are three times more likely to report that their mental health is poor compared to those who do not have a history of violence. If getting help is possible, it’s worth considering. However, we know that it is not always possible. In relationships with a coercive and controlling partner it may be unlikely that counseling would be considered and may even be seen as a threat; my recommendation for those who feel they are in this situation is to come up with an emergency or safety plan. Have a bag, phone numbers, money and documents, anything you might need. Include information on how to reach a friend, family member, or shelter that you know you can go to. You can even have this bag at another person’s house, if you feel it’s more safe than having it in your own home. Set up a key word with someone you trust so that you can alert him or her if you are in danger. Call the domestic violence hotline for more tips and help with your plan. It doesn’t always feel like it, but there is always a way out. Your safety is incredibly important. Have an emergency plan. 

How Can I Support My Friend?

As you’ve read there are different types of violence and how you respond to your friend might be related to the type of violence they are experiencing. No matter the circumstance, the most important thing you can do for your friend is to be there as nonjudgmental emotional support. Listen to your friend and believe them, it is likely that it is taking your friend a lot of courage to share with you. Offer whatever support you feel comfortable offering, that is likely to be different for everyone and that’s ok. The ways you can help vary but can include anything from suggesting helpful resources to offering to let your friend leave their emergency bag at your house. The level of support you’re able to give might differ, again that is ok.  Follow up with your friend; ask if its ok to follow up, they may want to pretend that they never disclosed, it is not your job to remind them, but as a friend it may be part of your role to follow up. When you do follow up ask “Is now is a good time to talk?’. 

This can be tough for you too. You likely care deeply for your friend, it is important that you get support if you need it too. Any domestic violence hotline available to your friend is also available to you. Additionally counselors are available to help you navigate circumstances, conversations, and feelings that may arise while supporting a friend experiencing IPV. Experiencing IPV and being support for someone who is experiencing IPV can feel incredibly isolating or overwhelming, but you are not alone.

If you or a loved one is experiencing domestic violence please reach out to any of the resources below.

  • The SAFE Alliance
    • (512) 267-7233 24/7 Crisis Hotline
    • (737) 888-7233 24/7 Crisis Text-line
    • 1515 Grove Blvd. Austin, TX 78741
    • http://www.safeaustin.org

Sources

Black, M. C., Basile, K. C., Breiding, M. J., Smith, S. G., Walters, M. L., Merrick, M. T., . . . Stevens, M. R. (2011). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Summary report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Silverman, J. G., Raj, A., Mucci, L. A., & Hathaway, J. E. (2001). Dating violence against adolescent girls and associated substance use, unhealthy weight control, sexual risk behavior, pregnancy, and suicidality. JAMA, 286(5), 572-579.


Violence Policy Center  (2020). When men murder women: An analysis of 2018 homicide data. Washington, DC. With Data from the Federal Bureau of Statistics.

 

Written By: Dr. Monica Yndo. Dr. Monica Yndo is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Concordia University Texas. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from The University of Texas at San Antonio. Her research focuses on communication and conflict in relationships, intimate partner violence, sexual assault, social support, and family dynamics.


5 Ways to Find Peace When So Much is Changing

For nearly six months, our world has been swirling in a lingering state of uncertainty and change. Our normal routines were swiftly pulled from under us, and we’ve quickly had to navigate changes in our homes, our work, our income, our social interactions, and on and on.

Many of us are not moving as much these days, working from home and not driving as often.

So, why do we feel so exhausted?

Our Physiological Response

I came across a meme by Chani Nicholas the other day that read, “I’ve never done so little and been so tired.

She continued with this quote from Emily Baron Cadloff:

“Nancy Sin, assistant professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, says that in stressful situations like this, there are physiological responses in our bodies. ‘Our stress hormones increase. We prepare to fight or flee,’ said Sin. And as this pandemic continues and isolation drags on, ‘we’re having a lot of these physiological adaptations, each time we feel stressed, each time we feel worried. And over time, these repeated hits, physiologically and psychologically, can accumulate.’ That accumulation is called the allostatic load, essentially the damage on our bodies when they’re repeatedly exposed to stress. And while it feels like I’m doing nothing most days, my brain is still dealing with the anxiety and strain of this pandemic. I’m exhausted not because my body is working hard, but because my brain is.”

Uncertainty is Exhausting

While our bodies might not be as physically active at this time and while we might not have as many places to be, we are feeling the stressors of having to quickly adapt to so much change, while simultaneously holding the truth that we don’t know when this is going to end. 

Our brains are frantically searching for certainty so we can feel safe again:

When will work go back to normal?

What will school look like for the kids?

When will I have more freedom?
When will I be able to gather with friends again?

When can I relax at the coffee shop like I used to enjoy?

When will I be able to get on an airplane to visit family without worrying?

When will it all go back to normal and will things ever be the same?

That’s a lot to carry on a daily basis without getting any clear answers.

So…

First, we need to acknowledge the immense amount our brains and bodies are holding and have compassion for ourselves. This is a lot to navigate.

Second, we need to admit that self-care is not only a good idea, but essential at this time.

What might that look like?

Here are five nourishing self-care ideas aimed to decrease anxiety and increase feelings of calm and safety.

Be mindful of the energy in your home environment.

We are all spending a lot more time at home these days. Do you enjoy your home? Is it clean? Is it comforting? Does it feel like your own personal sanctuary (or at least do pockets of it)? I currently see clients from home and have been spending the majority of my day in this house of mine. As a result, I have been mindful of treating it differently. I clean my home more often. I use a diffuser that sprays essential oils into the air. I’ve purchased some new plants to fill my space. I want my home to feel ultra peaceful and comforting. I know this isn’t always possible and can be more challenging if you have young ones at home, but are there small changes you can make to create a more enjoyable home environment?

Intentionally create personal space.

BOUNDARIES are so important right now. Before quarantine, many of us had boundaries naturally carved into our lifestyles. We’d go to work and leave the home. The kids were at school for a large majority of the day, which meant parents had some time for themselves. So many of our normal boundaries have disappeared. This means less personal time to recharge. It is so much easier when our boundaries are automatically set for us. But when you are at home with everyone ALL the time, setting boundaries can be hard. Are you able to say no to your children or partner when you need personal time? Have you found new ways to create space for yourself? This is a group effort and may require creating a new calendar with new agreements. Maybe Mom decides she is not available to the family on Tuesday afternoons. She will be in her room with the door closed because she needs to take a bath or work on her own projects. The kids know that Dad is available for them at this time. Guilt can rear its head here. “Shouldn’t I be available to my kids all the time? Will they think I don’t love them?” This is about understanding that rest and personal space are necessary in order to recharge and be able to show up well for the people around you.

Double up on support.

Be proactive about creating consistent avenues for receiving support. We all need places where we feel like we can lean back and be held. Maybe this looks like meeting on a friend’s porch for coffee and conversation, going for a morning walk in nature, or finding a therapist or therapy group where you can be vulnerable. Aim for weekly support like this (the more the better).

Get in touch with your senses.

Be mindful of bringing activities into your life that feel nurturing and grounding. Anything that helps you get out of your brain and back into your body. More cuddling. Taking a slow evening to cook a homemade meal. Preparing a candlelit bath. Going swimming. Committing to morning stretching. Getting your hands in the soil and gardening. Getting in touch with our senses is beneficial on so many levels. It slows us down, brings us back to the present moment, and regulates our nervous systems.

Connect with something deeper than circumstance.

If we look to the state of the world to determine how safe we feel right now, we’re not really setting ourselves up for success. The chaotic nature of society is not going anywhere anytime soon. This period of time is asking us to find safety in something deeper than circumstance. It is asking us to find safety in our relationships with ourselves and our relationships with others. How can you become more connected to yourself during this time? How can you be kinder to yourself? Maybe this looks like developing a meditation practice or starting to journal again or practicing any of the self-care activities I’ve mentioned here. How can you become more connected with others? Can you be more vulnerable with the people you love? How can you improve the communication in your household and find new ways to work together as a team? Are you able to find joy in the simple things again, like movie night with the family? There is beauty in this opportunity, and a lot of potential for growth as we learn new ways to be there for ourselves and others. 

No doubt, this is an unexpected time that none of us saw coming. So much change inevitably brings fear, grief, anger, stress, and fatigue. 

My hope is that you’ll acknowledge all you’ve had to navigate over these past six months and show yourself more love and compassion. Be proactive about creating the support you need right now. It’s essential, and you deserve it.

Looking for more ways to practice self-care during the pandemic? Check out this blog!

Written by: Jamie Alger, LPC-Intern Supervised By Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

Your Child’s Misbehavior May be a Clue That They Need A Routine

I’m writing this blog 6 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, however, I think this topic is helpful during any time of change, transition, and stress.  When things become unpredictable in our lives, adults and children alike experience a desire to have more control and autonomy.  For children, their brains are still rapidly developing, and they lack the years of experience that adults have to weather times of change. Children and teens are being dramatically impacted during this global pandemic, and at Austin Family Counseling (and in our own homes) we are noticing increased worry, anxiety, withdrawal, acting out behavior, and more clues that children need extra support. 

One strategy parents and caregivers can teach is the practice of creating routines. Side note: I’m a BIG FAN of routines, and have actually made a routine out of Back to School Routines (see my  blog from 2014 when my kids were 4 and 2 – now they are 10 and 8! https://austinfamilycounseling.com/back-school-morning-hustle/)

 When students go into a new classroom, there are daily tasks, activities, and rules they engage in under their teacher’s guidance. With practice, these become their new routines at school. Kids as young as age 3 can tell you their school routine – this is when we have outside time, eat lunch, etc.  With preparation and practice, parents can help children develop routines for daily living at home.  

Regardless of whether you are homeschooling, attending school virtually, going back in person, or a hybrid model, with the start of our first pandemic school year here in Texas (and all over the world), consider the following reasons that routines might be just what your child needs. 

Routines provide comfort and structure.

While plans for school, the health of our families, parent job stress, and so many other things around us are spinning, a plan for the day that guides children – “First, I do this. Now, I do this” – allows children to relax and focus on the tasks at hand.  This is a place where they have some control.  Inviting them to co-create their routine with you is so important – use the blank chart below or create one of your own to plan together.  Give choices like “would you like to get dressed before you come down for breakfast or after?” or “What are the 3 things you want to do before you come downstairs in the morning?” or “Would you like to schedule your outside time in the morning or in the afternoon?” 

Routines become the “boss” instead of the parents and caregivers.

When you co-create your routine together, you are making an agreement with your child that this will be how the day goes (consequently, if you dictate their routine or lack of routine, you are making an agreement with your child that you will be on standby to entertain them or keep them busy).  Be sure to build in things they look forward to.  At my house, we have agreed that screen time is from 3pm to 5pm each day.  Because this hasn’t changed it has become predictable, and we can check the clock together so see “how much longer” until they can get on, or my kids can see what they need to get done before being allowed to have their devices. Because we’ve agreed in advance,  I can say “what’s next in your routine?” or “What did we agree we would do from 11-12 today?” pointing to the routine as the “boss” rather than me. 

Routines that are developed by the child give them a sense of autonomy and promote confidence and responsibility. 

 If you start using routines today with your children, how proficient and confident do you think they will be after practicing for 2 years? Or 6 years? Or 8 years? My oldest will likely be moving away to college or to a work study in 8 years – I can’t wait to see how his sense of autonomy and responsibility will have grown! 

Here are some resources for ROUTINES:

Check out this article from the CDC with tips and info about the routines: https://www.cdc.gov/parents/essentials/structure/index.html

Positive Discipline Resources & Video about routines:

https://www.positivediscipline.com/articles/routines-tool-card

“The challenge of parenting lies in finding the balance between nurturing, protecting, and guiding, on one hand, and allowing your child to explore, experiment, and become an independent, unique person, on the other.”

Jane Nelsen (Positive Discipline for Preschoolers: For Their Early Years)

Written By: Lora Ferguson, LPC-S, AFC Founder & Co-Director


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