Archive of ‘Stress Management’ category

The Practice of Gratitude

With December marking the end of the year, it is natural to reflect on what kind of a year you’ve had. I encourage having reflections that include gratitude’s and appreciations; it is imperative reflect on the positive things that have occurred over the past year. Having that perspective on how you have seen growth and change, or maintenance and consistency, in a positive light can reduce stress and anxiety and make it easier to reflect with a positive outlook in the future.

I’ve heard the different perspectives of positive and negative described as a cloudy lens and a sunshine lens. I love the simplicity that provides as a visual because looking at your past year in a cloudy lens could lead to feeling sad, conflicted, and unmotivated. This cloudy lens has the ability to reach in all areas of life and makes it hard to find those sunshine moments. Looking through a sunshine lens doesn’t mean negative and bad things don’t occur, rather a sunshine lens means choosing to find something that you are grateful for, no matter how big or significant that something is. Examples could be feeling grateful that you survived your day, you went to a concert, hanging out with close friends, or ending your day with a nice hot bath.

To start a gratitude practice, set yourself up for success. Choose a time during your day that you can have 5 minutes to reflect. Once you have your daily time scheduled, reflect on one thing of gratitude. Just one. If you think of more, that’s great! But only start with one, so that way you feel encouraged to continue this gratitude practice. Once you feel like your reflection time has become consistent, then move up to listing three to five items of gratitude.

Practicing gratitude is like building strength in a muscle. It takes time and consistency to see growth and change in how your perspective shifts from a cloudy to sunshine. I hope with the reflection of this past year, you are able to find those moments that you truly appreciate and are grateful for!

Julie Smith MA, LMFT-A under the Supervision of Kirby Sandlin Schroeder, LPC-S, LMFT-S Senior Clinician at Austin Family Counseling

Why Choose EMDR Therapy?

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC

Since the birth of the psychological field, there have been dozens of therapeutic approaches that have been developed to help individuals work through their struggles. One therapy that is relatively new, at least in relation to how long others have been around, is known as a therapy called EMDR. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. I’m going to tell you a little bit about what EMDR is and how it can be used in therapy to treat a wide array of difficulties.

What is EMDR?

EMDR is a therapy developed by psychologist Dr. Francine Shapiro in 1989. In 1987 Dr. Shapiro stumbled upon the observation that eye movements can lessen the intensity of disturbing thoughts and used this observation to fuel research that led to her publication in The Journal of Traumatic Stress, establishing EMDR as a therapy used to treat post traumatic stress. Since then researchers have gone on to show how EMDR is not only very effective in treating trauma and PTSD, but can also treat other difficulties such as:

  • performance anxiety
  • panic attacks
  • body dysmorphic disorders
  • painful memories
  • phobias
  • complicated grief
  • dissociative disorders
  • personality disorders
  • pain disorders

How Does EMDR Work?

There is no way to know how any psychotherapy works on the neurological level, but there are some things we do know. When a person is very upset and under duress, the brain cannot process information as it would under normal conditions. (See my previous blog about how trauma affects the brain). So parts of the memory get stored separately and “frozen in time.” When the memory is then activated, it can feel very much like the person is experiencing the memory as if it is currently happening: the same feelings, thoughts and body sensations can resurface with the same intensity as when the event occurred because those things never processed through adequately and thus remain unchanged. These memories interfere with the way a person reacts to and views the world and others.

It appears that EMDR has an effect on how your brain processes information and allows the “frozen” material a chance to process through in a functional manner. Once the memory has been processed adequately, it no longer has the same effect on the person. Many individuals come away feeling neutral about the memory. By using bilateral stimulation (meaning both the left and right hemispheres are alternately stimulated), that’s where the eye movements come in, these “stuck” memories get activated and normal information processing can be resumed. This is similar to what happens naturally in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the cycle of sleep in which information taken in through the previous day is processed and sorted into short-term and long-term memory networks. If you have ever observed someone during the REM sleep cycle, you may have noticed that their eyes are darting back and forth underneath the eyelids. So really this is different from other therapies that work toward the same goals because it works on the physiological level.

Why Choose EMDR Therapy

So, Why Choose EMDR Therapy?

In short, EMDR therapy is optimal because it can usually achieve the same goal as similar therapies with fewer sessions. It can also be useful when talk therapy has not proven to be effective. Since some experiences seem to get “frozen” in the memory networks, talking about them may not be enough. EMDR works on the neurological level to access those memories in a way that talk therapy may not be able to, so then the memory can be worked through. Survivors of trauma have also reported that EMDR therapy was optimal because it is not necessary to talk in detail about the traumatic event in order for EMDR to be effective. That doesn’t mean that it may not still be painful and difficult to bring up, but the whole narrative does not need to be given and once the memory is activated the person can move through the process with less difficulty. The brain moves towards healing just like our bodies do. If you cut your hand, your body works to heal itself. The brain does the same thing, and EMDR helps remove those barriers so it can.

This has been a brief description of what EMDR is and how it works. EMDR has been shown to be effective with children, teens, and adults. I hope it has been helpful and I hope you will consider EMDR therapy for yourself and your loved ones in the future! If you would like more information on EMDR you can visit and

Are You in Sleep Debt?

Andrew Wade, LMFT-Associate Supervised by Nadia Bakir, LMFT-S

Andrew Wade, LMFT-Associate
Supervised by Nadia Bakir, LMFT-S

Sleep: A Casualty of Technology

Harnessed electricity is so ubiquitous in our culture it takes a robust act of imagination to picture a world without it. It’s hard to believe that only a hundred fifty years ago, a mere blip in human evolution, people still relied primarily on sunlight by which to see during the day and for the fortunate few, candles by night. For most people, nighttime was for sleeping. What an ancient world that seems to be.

One of the most significant yet frequently unacknowledged adjustments we have made to widespread, inexpensive electricity involves changes in sleep. No longer constrained by darkness, we now face virtually unlimited alternatives to sleeping at night. Some of us work the night shift, others use the nighttime to catch up on work from the day, to send emails and communicate with people online, while others play games, see movies or socialize at bars and clubs. In all of these cases, it’s most often the quantity and quality of sleep that suffers.

Sleep Debt Defined

Most of us are carrying what scientists call a sleep debt. For example, let’s say you require 8 hours of sleep a night to feel rested and alert. If you sleep for seven hours, you carry one hour of sleep debt. For every hour of sleep debt you carry, the steeper the cost to your health. Oh, and by the way, these hours are cumulative! They don’t simply vanish over time. The only way to reduce your debt is to sleep more. Many studies have been done to evaluate the effects of sleep debt and the results are compelling, though not surprising. Our cognition suffers, as does our physical and psychological health. Insufficient sleep tends to exacerbate symptoms of psychological distress and compromises our ability to tolerate stress. By sleeping less, we may have more time to engage in alternatives, but they won’t be as rewarding or successful as they would be without sleep debt. You can measure your level of sleepiness and establish your ideal window of sleep by taking the Epworth Sleepiness Scale.

Managing Sleep Debt

How do we take back our sleep? One easy and highly effective tool I extracted from the book, The Promise of Sleep, by William Dement, M.D. is to maintain a sleep diary. In studies asking people to report how little or how much they slept the night before, people’s answers were far less accurate than they predicted. (p 336) That is not surprising given the fluctuating states of consciousness one experiences at night. Maintaining a simple sleep diary to record variables like hours slept, number of times waking up, and number of trips to the bathroom provides a richer, far more accurate understanding of your specific sleep patterns and habits that need attention. You can use this sleep diary template published by the National Institute of Health.

There are a variety of applications available for download on your smart phone that monitors your sleep in much the same way a sleep diary would. Many of these apps purport to measure when and whether you were sleeping and how deeply you were sleeping throughout the night. It is beyond the scope of this article to assess the accuracy of these claims, but given the pace of technological advancement and the scale of our society’s sleep problems, these apps represent an exciting shift in how we understand and prioritize sleep.

sleep debt

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