Archive of ‘Stress Management’ category

Why Aren’t They Ready Yet?? The Stages of Change.

Have you ever been frustrated when you know somebody needs to change something in their life, but they just can’t seem to understand it the way you do? It could be anything from working on physical health, to drug addiction, to a quasi-bad habit that needs to be broken. The other person just doesn’t see how bad things are and that they need to change! What this COULD mean is that you and the other person are at different stages of change.

What are the Stages of Change?

The Stages of Change as discussed in this blog come from Motivational Interviewing, which is a type of therapy that can either be practiced independently or in conjunction with other therapeutic modalities. Here are the stages:

1. Precontemplation Stage

In this stage, someone would not even realize that there is something worth changing. They wouldn’t think they have a problem, and they wouldn’t be contemplating any change. They could be in denial, they could be back at square one after trying a change and giving up, they could be told by folks that they need to change/have a problem but they say “I’m the exception” or “That’ll never be me” statements. 

An example: Jonah smokes a pack of cigarettes a day, and his friends tell him they are worried about his long term health. Jonah responds to his friends “I’m not worried about it. It’s just a pack and I could stop any time I want to! Other people get cancer, but it doesn’t run in my family and it won’t happen to me!”

2. Contemplation Stage

This stage is when someone knows they want to make a change, and they begin weighing their options. Here, therapists and friends will often hear this person express ambivalence about making the change, fear talk, and “I would, but…” statements. 

An example: Mel has been having stomach problems with her anxiety for a few months and knows that a trip to the doctor would likely help her figure out ways to feel better. She is afraid that they may have to run invasive tests or change her diet, which give her even more anxiety and make her stomach issues worse. She has talked to her partner about her stomach issues and has said many times, “I should make that doctor’s appointment soon, but I’m just too busy with school to take a day off!”

3. Preparation Stage

Here, folks will start to get ready to make a change, or they may make small steps toward the change. This could be the point at which we hear someone say “I’m about to start doing ___” as they get ready to make their change. They may start sampling their new lifestyle, or dipping their toe in to test the waters, but haven’t taken any formal action toward the change. 

An example: Jess has become aware of the fact that social media consumption exacerbates her depression and anxiety. She decided that deleting her social media apps off of her phone will be a big step to helping her mental health. She recently posted to her friends that she will be deleting her apps and will be much harder to reach soon. She gave them her other contact information so they can still text and facetime, without the obligation to see everything that has been giving her FOMO and anxiety. The apps are still on her phone for the time being, and she is mentally preparing for the day next week that she will delete them. 

4. Action Stage

A person in this stage is actively trying to make their change happen. This is often where the bulk of therapy work occurs, as our clients have taken steps to call our office and schedule a session, sit with a therapist and discuss their concerns. It is possible to get to the Action stage multiple times (like, with a pesky New Years’ Resolution) only to revert to an earlier stage a few times over. 

An example: Evan started going to the gym Monday through Thursday after work, made an accountability buddy at the gym, and is loving it! He used to go to the gym about once or twice a year, and recently became fed up with his sedentary lifestyle. He is really trying to find ways to keep his gym habit sustainable this time. 

5. Maintenance Stage

This is the stage that we would aim to be in for the longest amount of time. Maintenance is the goal of making a change; we want to maintain our change over time. A person in this stage has become proficient at their action stage and is looking to maintain the change. 

An example: Ori calls himself a “recovering anger-holic.” He grew up with enormous difficulty with expressing his emotions, and often would have angry outbursts. When he became engaged to Amber in his thirties, she asked him to go to therapy for his anger. In this way, Amber helped Ori move from stage 1 through stage 4. He worked with his therapist to express his feelings in healthier ways, manage his anger, and grow his support network. Ori and Amber participated in couples therapy a few times over the years (especially when Ori’s anger looked like it was relapsing), but now that they are in their fifties, they hardly need outside help. He can still be triggered into what used to be fits of anger, but now are fits of coping and emotional expression. Amber knows all of his most reliable coping skills and they use code-words when he really needs to go cool off and take a walk. 

6. Relapse Stage

A relapse is when an individual returns to a previous stage for any amount of time. It is common, when making a change, to be tempted to return to the pre-change lifestyle. It is important during a relapse temptation to seek support and try not to relapse. A relapse could be small or large, and it doesn’t mean you or your treatment failed. After a relapse, an individual could return straight to maintenance, or it may require a return to an earlier stage. It is possible to return to precontemplation after a relapse, as someone could say “oh that wasn’t as bad as I remembered” and be enveloped once again with their pre-change lifestyle.  

An example: Ellee realized she had a gaming addiction when she was 22. After the challenge of quitting video games and seeking help, she maintains an abstinence from video games as a 28 year old. She recently relapsed when a new group of friends had a housewarming party for their friend. She didn’t know that there would be a console with the expectation to play some party games over drinks, and she had gone home afterward and continued a game-watching binge on Twitch. Ellee felt guilty and embarrassed the next day when she realized what she had done. She called her dad (her “biggest supporter”) the next day to tell him what happened, and told her therapist about it in their next session. She made a plan to tell the new group of friends how they can support her and why she has to stay away from video games. They worked together to make a plan to have console nights without her, and include her for other activities instead. It was her third ever relapse, and she commented in therapy that the aftercare seems to “get easier every time” when she relapses. She will easily get back into her maintenance stage, as she does not own any platforms that allow for her previous video game habits, and she has now blocked Twitch on her laptop to prevent another similar relapse. 

Fun Facts

Fun Fact 1: Someone can bounce around to various stages many times before coming to their “final” maintenance stage. Even then, relapses may occur and require a re-do of some earlier stages before returning to maintenance. 

Fun Fact 2: It can be extremely frustrating when you are at a different stage of change from a loved one with a change that needs to be made. These stages can be discussed with your therapist, and you and your loved one can come to a decision about how best to proceed together in sessions. 

If you are ready to talk about making a change in your life, reach out to us at [email protected] or 512-298-3381. 

(The Stages of Change discussed in this blog are taken from Prochaska and DiClemente’s 1983 Stages of Change Model, and the book Motivational Interviewing, Third Edition: Helping People Change by Miller and Rollnick)


The Power of Pausing

In a world that constantly tries to make you feel like you’re not enough, resting can be a very brave thing.

A few weeks ago, I visited Montana to spend time with my family and friends. As I sat in the cabin on vacation, I was uncomfortably aware of the texts and emails popping up on my phone and going unanswered (first lesson: turn off your email notifications when you’re on vacation).

As our worlds become more and more virtual, the ability to take work with us wherever we go becomes more and more possible. We go on vacation, but why not bring the laptop and work while we’re there? We can be productive anywhere these days, even in a secluded cabin.

There seems to be an unspoken expectation to remain accessible. Always. I mean, who doesn’t have a smartphone these days?

The email notifications pop up. The text messages roll in.

Usually, they’re not all that urgent. And, usually, we attend to them as if they are.

As I pushed away the inner urge to pick up my phone and laptop during the trip (and failed a few times and succeeded a few times), I had several realizations:

Resting can feel awkward and foreign.

Not being readily available to others can feel uncomfortable.

Being present with people in real-time is good for our souls.

Most things can wait.

Yet, we live in a society that hasn’t normalized or encouraged rest and pausing.

And so, even when we find ourselves in remote locations surrounded by peaceful nature, it can feel strange to unplug – like we’re breaking some unwritten rule and wasting our week away in the land of unproductivity. 

Here is a case for pausing and why it’s more important than rushing to respond to that text: 

1. Your nervous system gets a break.

In 6 Ways to Give your Nervous System a Break, Crystal Hoshaw writes, “The nervous system truly craves space and silence. Every activity is a little stimulating. Truly giving our nerves a break means we’re feeding them the minimum amount of stimulation possible and maximizing rest and rejuvenation.”

2. You get to connect with yourself.

When we pause, we create space for reflection and tuning into how we feel. This leads to less knee-jerk reactions and more thoughtful responses.

3. You get to connect with so many other things:

nature, your meal, your breath, your family.

You take some of your power back.

Taking time to pause helps rewrite the story that says you have to be available to everyone all the time. That’s not true, not healthy and extremely draining.

You give yourself an opportunity to find meaning in more than achieving. 

I won’t pretend unplugging is easy. Here are a few small ideas that still have the power to add up to big shifts: 

A walk around your neighborhood or in nature without your phone

Putting your phone on airplane mode as you begin or end your day

Taking five minutes to close your eyes and breathe. Even one minute!

Making a conscious decision to respond to non urgent emails and texts at one designated time each day vs scattered throughout the day.

All of these acts allow us to become more intentional with our energy, more grounded in our bodies, and, frankly, more relieved.

You are more than what you do.

I felt that as I listened to the rushing river and the chirping birds. As I stared at the magnificent mountains. As I sipped a cup of tea and tuned into the conversations that were happening right in front of me.

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


How Blue Light Affects Sleep and Ways to Create Healthy Sleep Hygiene

It is no surprise to all of us that electronic devices play a fundamental role in our daily lives and even more so with the pandemic. We use electronics so much in our day-to-day including, but not limited to, communicating with friends and families, online gaming, virtual school, and work meetings. Nonetheless, technology is here to stay. However, one of the most concerning parts of electronic use is how it interferes with our sleep. Research shows that 90% of Americans report using a computer or smartphone device in their bedroom within an hour of trying to fall asleep. 

Blue Light 

Not only can electronics impede the amount of sleep we get per night, but these glowing screens also emit blue light. “Blue light is a short wavelength type of light that promotes alertness and performance” as noted by the Sleep Foundation. This blue light can also suppress production of melatonin, which is responsible for feelings of sleepiness. Being exposed to blue light during the day can provide energy, improvements in mood, and concentration. Yet the opposite effects occur when we are exposed to blue light in the evening and nighttime as our circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) is disrupted causing us to feel less sleepy than normal at bedtime. 

Sources of Blue Light 

  • Fluorescent lights 
  • LED lights 
  • Smartphones 
  • Televisions 
  • Computer Screens 
  • Tablets 
  • E-Readers 
  • Video game consoles 

What is Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene focuses on healthy sleeping habits during the day and when you go to bed to promote consistent and uninterrupted sleep. What you do during the day, not just an hour before bedtime, affects how well you sleep. Improving your sleep hygiene, can also positively impact your physical and mental health, productivity, and daily habits.  

Creating Healthy Sleep Hygiene

  • Minimize day time naps 
  • Cut down on caffeine during the afternoon and evening 
  • Wake up at the same time no matter when you fall asleep
  • Set up your bedroom for sleep (comfortable pillows/ mattress, cool temperatures, block out light, noise machine, essential oil diffuser) 
  • Be careful what you watch on TV and how that affects your stress level before your fall asleep
  • Unplug electronics at least 60 minutes before bedtime 
  • Wind down and do something relaxing an hour before sleep 
  • Only use your bed for sleep, if you aren’t asleep within 30 min, get out of bed and do something relaxing 
  • If you want to change your sleep times, make gradual adjustments by an hour or two as to not disrupt your schedule 

Sleep hygiene is not the same for everyone so make gradual adjustments to see what works best for you. Improving sleep hygiene will not fix all sleep disturbances. If you are someone who experiences sleep disorders, such as insomnia or sleep apnea, better sleep hygiene in conjunction with other treatments are likely necessary so talk to your doctor to see what is the recommended course of treatment. 

Written by: Geetha Pokala LPC-Associate Supervised by Kirby Schroeder LPC-S, LMFT-S


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