Archive of ‘Anxiety’ category

6 Things Your Therapist Wants You to Know

The decision to work with a therapist is an important one. Whether you are entering therapy by choice or because a parent or caregiver has decided you should, there are a few things your therapist would like for you to know…

By: Caitlyn Weeks, LPC-Intern Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

By: Caitlyn Weeks, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

If it was easy, you would’ve already done it.

When I meet with a client for our first session, I don’t enter the room with a solution in hand. The truth is, if whatever is bringing you to therapy was easy, you would have already found the solution yourself. As we go through life, we build up a variety of ways to manage our challenges and often do a great job with the skills and tools we develop. If you’re coming to therapy, it’s because it’s complicated and therapists understand this.

No challenge is too small.

Sometimes we experience challenges that lay just below the surface. They don’t feel like headline news but consistently disrupt our plans and goals. We might notice these worries or concerns in dreams, when our mind wanders, or while sitting in traffic. Often, we seem to evaluate our stressors in terms of severity. Let’s drop the “Goldilocks mindset” of too big or too small and recognize that significant relief can come from addressing our day-to-day challenges. In doing so, you can develop tools that apply across situations and relationships and support your future self as well.

This is not (insert movie title here).

I like Netflix as much as the next person and don’t live under a rock. I’ve seen the portrayals of therapeutic relationships on TV and in movies. This is not Hollywood. While an inappropriate relationship or a twisted mental hospital setting may add drama on screen, these are things taken very seriously in the real world. Therapists are held to intentionally high standards (including state boards and codes of ethics) and we believe the therapeutic relationship is one built on mutual respect, not unhealthy choices.

Therapy isn’t for “sissies.”

I believe that engaging in a therapeutic relationship is an act of courage. Opening up to a stranger in an unfamiliar setting can set the bravest palms to sweating. Vulnerability can be terrifying (and really powerful). I know you might be nervous and I’ve been there, too. Like many therapists, I’ve been the client and I know what it is like to sit on the other side of “the clipboard.” I’ve also had life-changing experiences through therapy and believe that it is worth the initial anxiety. In therapy, we focus on building a unique relationship that exists when there is a feeling of safety in the room. Clients are often surprised by how quickly the fears that felt so big in the parking lot get out of the way and let us get started.

“But it’s just talking…”

On average, I meet with a client once a week for 50 minutes. There are 1440 minutes in a single day and 10,080 minutes in a week. Obviously, our session is a small fraction of your time. The work we do in session is only part of the process and the work you do outside of session is incredibly important. Going to therapy with the expectation of minimal investment of outside time is like learning the rules of football without ever showing up for practice and then wondering why the championship game didn’t go so well for you. Therapy is about developing awareness, understanding, and tools and then applying that work to your life. There will still be challenges and experiences we wish had different outcomes. That said, your life is full of opportunities to practice and mistakes are wonderful opportunities for learning.

We don’t think you’re crazy.

Labels often get in the way and popular culture seems to have a pathology-of-the-month. A situation may seem shocking or embarrassing to you but we’re definitely not here to judge. With years of school and training, I only become more sensitive to the fact that any experience involves a complicated interaction of factors like your genes, your environment, our society, your family system… (the list goes on and on). Labels can get in the way of process. We’re here to help you figure out what matters to you and what you’d like to do about it.

 

Therapy isn’t one-size-fits-all. It’s incredibly personal and should be. Finding a therapist with a style that fits for you is important and will help you maximize your time, energy, and money. If you think an unbiased perspective in a safe space could be helpful for whatever feels big or recurrent in your life right now, I encourage you to give therapy a try.


Anxiety: Protective or Problematic?

By: Caitlyn Weeks, LPC-Intern Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

By: Caitlyn Weeks, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

You step out into the street. Suddenly, you notice a car speeding toward you. Just in time, you move out of the way and into safety. Your brain, constantly monitoring situations has acted almost instantly to protect you.

This protective action is possible due to the way our brains have developed to respond over time. The older part of our brain is designed to help us in “survival mode” and focuses on preparing our bodies to fight, freeze, or flee. The newer part of our brain allows us to think logically, process emotions, problem-solve, and be self-aware. When our brains detect threat, the newer part of the brain goes “offline” and the older part of our brain takes control. Once we respond to the threat, our newer brain comes back online and we are again able to communicate and think flexibly, creatively, and rationally.

In terms of a speeding car, this process is obviously very useful. Sometimes, however, we perceive a situation that is not actually threatening in the same way. Think about that example of narrowly avoiding a speeding car. Close your eyes and imagine the sensations you would feel. Your heart might beat much faster than normal. Maybe you feel short of breath, dizzy, sweaty, or sick to your stomach. These are reactions our bodies have developed to keep us safe and alert and are very normal. Now imagine feeling these sensations when you are looking at a test or a crowded room full of people instead of an oncoming car. That’s anxiety.

These perceptions lead to us to feel tense, irritable, restless, tired, or shaky. Often, it can be difficult to concentrate, focus, and fall or stay asleep. When feeling anxious, we might not even notice some of our symptoms, because we are focused on what we think is happening or fear might happen. These perceptions can be disruptive in any setting – at home, at school, with friends and family. With school, this might mean we shut down during a test we prepared for or can’t fall asleep because we can’t stop thinking about the next day. Socially, we might stop doing things we used to enjoy, avoiding hanging out in groups, or responding to texts because it feels too overwhelming. When our fear or worry significantly interferes with our daily life, we describe it as anxiety.

HebbianYerkesDodson.svgIt’s important to note here that a little bit of academic or social anxiety can be helpful. For those of you who like psychology, this is known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law and looks like this:

The middle of this curve is where we do our best work, nail our performances, or even ask someone out on a date. Clinical anxiety kicks in to the right of the curve. If you find yourself to the right of the curve often (and you’re not just running around dodging cars on Mopac,), I’d recommend talking to a professional because there are many ways to manage anxiety – with and without medication.

I love working with anxiety because we can really bring a lot of creativity to the process. It’s always helpful to start with what’s already working (maybe just a little bit) and build on it. For example, you might notice a greater sense of calm when your favorite song is playing. From there, we can build a playlist to turn on when studying for that test. Maybe you are artistic and enjoy the feel of oil pastels on paper when your heart starts racing. We can create an art journal to explore ways to cope expressively. There are also wonderful ways to help our brains come back online once they’ve gone into fear mode – through breathing, mindfulness, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery. In addition to coping strategies, it is important to explore those fears, thoughts, and things we say to ourselves when we feel anxious. When we name these fears in a safe space and develop an understanding of what’s involved, we can discover new tools to manage these feelings.

 


Holiday Cheer or Holiday Drear

With holiday music playing in stores, Starbucks releasing their new holiday latte, and wreathes hanging on doors, I can’t help but anticipate the upcoming holiday season. And while society projects the holidays as a time of joy, parties, and wonderful family gatherings, it is important to remember that the holidays can be a very challenging time, particularly for those struggling with grief and loss, loneliness, illnesses, economic concerns, or relational issues like divorce and separation. Even individuals who aren’t struggling with the aforementioned concerns often feel overwhelmed by the unrealistic expectations, family strife, and to-do lists that seem to go along with this time of year. Additionally, many people report feeling down, or a sense of disappointment after the holiday hype.

By: Jennifer Alley, LPC

By: Jennifer Alley, LPC

Following are a list of suggestions to help you this holiday season:

  • Maintain your normal routines like exercising, sleeping, attending therapy sessions/group meetings, taking medication, spiritual/religious practices, and self-care activities as much as possible.
  • Stay in touch and reach out to supportive people in your life as stress/anxiety/depression comes up.
  • Set limits and boundaries when necessary to take care of yourself.
  • Try to set realistic goals and expectations for yourself and others. There is no such thing as the “perfect” holiday we often imagine.
  • Try to stay out of criticizing, judging, or comparing yourself to others. Comparison (think social media) leads to feeling isolated and not good enough.
  • Join a support group if you are struggling with mental illness, grief and loss, separation or divorce.
  • Talk about your feelings with people who care about you. Ask for what you need.

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