Doing the Things You Enjoy Can Help Your Anxiety

Cluff Counseling, DFW Marriage and Family Therapy - Hobbies for Anxiety ReliefLife is stressful. Whether it is deadlines at work, final exams in school, a breakup with a significant other, or simply the daily rig-a-ma-roll of life, chances are high that you feel anxious from time to time. Anxiety is a normal part of life in our society; everyone experiences it in some degree or another. In fact, 40 million American adults deal with an anxiety disorder of some kind! The question is not if or when you will feel your heart palpitating, have weak legs, or feel queasy about an impending event… the real question is how you will deal with your anxiety when you experience it. In this blog post I will share 6 hobbies that can help keep that anxiety at bay…or at least keep it at a manageable level.

It is not uncommon for my clients to deal with anxiety–I would say 4 out of 5 struggle with a degree of anxiety in some area of their life. In most cases, my clients simply need guidance for managing their anxiety. Some of my other clients, however, have more severe anxiety, and I may recommend medication in order for them to find and achieve balance and equilibrium. I often tell these clients that life with severe anxiety without medication is like drowning… you are disoriented and cannot tell up from down, as you struggle for breath.  On the other hand, life with severe anxiety with medication is like swimming with your head above the water… you are in control, you have air in your lungs, and you can see clearly. Medication will not take your anxiety away; instead, it will help you cope better and be in control of your life. Such cases where medication is needed require a diagnosis from a certified individual, like me, a licensed therapist. Optimal results come when medication is coupled with counseling and self-care.  If you feel you have chronic anxiety, come see me for an assessment and to begin creating a plan to address your anxiety.

Certain hobbies have been found to naturally help clients overcome and alleviate anxiety. When participating in hobbies to help combat anxiety, you are in control. Choose something you like and you are interested in. Here are six suggestions to get your started:

  • Paint or write in a journal. Take a break from the endless social media scrolling, and release your inner artist. There is something so therapeutic about creating with paint and/or words!
  • Joy read or watch an engaging TV show. Escape your own troubles momentarily by losing yourself in other people’s stories.
  • Get outside. Barrie Sueskind, a therapist specializing in anxiety, says this is her go-to: “Fresh air and sunlight are proven mood boosters.”
  • Practice mindfulness. This is all about quieting the madness in your head while still being present. Yoga, meditation, or even a quick walk can steady those racing thoughts.
  • Work out. No secret here–exercise is great for curbing stress, depression, and anxiety!
  • Take a self-improvement class. Yes, you are experiencing anxiety because life is busy and stressful… so adding an extraneous class to the mix may seem counter-productive. However, improving your cooking skills, learning a language, or learning a new hobby is an incredible way to focus on the present and not worry about the future!

Remember, these are merely suggestions. You are in the driver’s seat and can control what and how much you do to ward off those feelings of anxiousness…because they will come! If you have questions, or feel your anxiety is interfering with your ability to enjoy life, contact me today.

Resources

Depression Is Not A Life Sentence

Treating Depression - Cluff Counseling, DFW Marriage and Family TherapySociety has made leaps and bounds in understanding depression; it used to be misunderstood as a common ailment of the weak and a manifestation of their inability to overcome all of the emotions that fell under the once-ambiguous umbrella of “feeling sad and/or tired.” We now know–and have research to boot–that depression is very real and surprisingly common.

Last month I wrote this post in which I hoped to destigmatize mental illness. 1 in 5 adults have a mental illness–a health condition involving changes in thinking, emotion or behavior that is associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work, or family activities. What many of us do not realize, however, is that depression is a form of mental illness–one of the most common, in fact. Chances are high that you or someone you know has experienced depression. You may find it surprising to know that 1 in 3 women will experience a major depressive episode in their lifetime! While depression is far more common than we realize, the good news is that it is also one of the most treatable mental illnesses.

It is likely you know someone with depression, or have experienced it yourself.  Depression is near-constant feelings of sadness and apathy and can make itself manifest at any time, though it typically appears during the late teens to mid-20s. It may be caused by biochemistry, genetics, personality, environmental factors, age, and even gender. (Stay tuned for my future blog post about mental illness and gender.) A dear friend of mine wrote the following about her depression: “Living with depression is like having a constant high-pitched ringing in your ears that won’t stop, or a person who walks too close behind you and keeps bumping into you without stepping back.” According to the American Psychiatric Association, symptoms range from but are not limited to the following:

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

It is important to note that depression is different from grief and bereavement in the sense that depression is constant for (at least) two weeks, whereas the depression symptoms found in grieving the loss of a job or death of a loved one will dissipate slowly with time. Simply “feeling depressed” is on one end of the continuum, with a major depressive episode on the other end, and varying degrees of depression in between. You can feel depressed without having depression.

As I mentioned, depression is among the most treatable of mental illnesses. The first step to healing is seeing a family physician or psychiatrist to rule out other illnesses. Because several medical conditions like thyroid problems, a brain tumor, or vitamin deficiency mimic symptoms of depression, it is important to have a thorough medical evaluation. Once depression is diagnosed, it can be treated with medication (to balance out the chemicals in the brain), and various forms of psychotherapy, including DBT and CBT. A combination of psychotropic medication and counseling is often the most effective form of treatment. Of course, the classic self-help and coping mechanisms–exercising regularly, getting quality sleep, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding alcohol–are essential to practice for a balanced, healthy life (read my recent post about self-help). With proper diagnosis and treatment, the vast majority of people with depression will overcome it.

Depression is a very real illness but help is readily available. You are not alone in this… there is hope! There is healing and happiness, and a life free of that high-pitched ringing in your ear. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, set up your first appointment with me today. Please do not be dragged down by the feelings of self-loathing and deprecation that depression often invites; you are worthy of love, happiness, and life. Depression is treatable; take the first steps towards a healthier, happier you! Contact me today.

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The Power Behind Vulnerability

The Power Behind Vulnerability | Marriage & Family Therapy Dallas, TX

“To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen… to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee… to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, ‘Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?’ just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, ‘I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.’”

-Brené Brown

Vulnerability is a powerful, yet misunderstood concept. In our society, vulnerability is viewed as a weakness–something we should avoid and not learn about. When I think of vulnerable individuals, however, I do not think of downtrodden, susceptible, needy, or neglected beings. Instead, I think of my amazing clients: a husband leaning on his wife for support while he battles debilitating depression; sex-addicts relearning how to have an emotionally intimate relationship with their partners; battered women re-adjusting their paradigms to see themselves as valuable; or teens challenging peer pressure to realize their worth. I see those who are “vulnerable” as brave, open, and authentic; willing to be comfortable in their own imperfect skin and take life on as they are. It is this vulnerability that allows these individuals to have meaningful, honest relationships–both with themselves and with others. I refer to vulnerability as the “underlying, ever-present, under-current of our natural state,” as David Whyte puts it; the ability to show our raw, true selves–flaws and all. My purpose of this post is to explain how welcoming, instead of numbing, vulnerability can cure most relationship ailments.

Brené Brown did a quick poll on Twitter asking people what made them feel vulnerable; within 90 minutes, she received 150 answers of common situations we can all relate to–having to ask my husband for help because I’m sick, and we’re newly married; initiating sex with my husband; initiating sex with my wife; being turned down; asking someone out; waiting for the doctor to call back; getting laid off; laying off people. You will notice that each of those are interpersonal examples–meaning each is an instance where at least two people are interacting. This is because vulnerability is at the very core of relationships! Unfortunately, too often we become consumed by how others perceive us or how we measure up compared to those around us…so we let our automatic defense mechanism kick in: we numb our emotions. We block out painful feelings like embarrassment, grief, shame, fear, and disappointment to combat being vulnerable. The issue with doing this, however, is that there is no such thing as “selective numbing”–it is physically impossible to block out only negative emotions without blocking all emotions. Brené says, “When we numb those [hard emotions], we [also] numb joy, we numb gratitude,…we numb happiness.”

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, one of my areas of expertise is relationships; I find fulfillment in helping my clients strengthen and improve their relationships with others and with themselves. I have seen countless clients who have resorted to numbing their emotions because they do not know how to care for themselves when they experience pain. Consequently, they miss out on the full spectrum of feelings that meaningful relationships offer, including and especially positive emotions. Yes, being vulnerable opens us up to feelings of hurt, rejection and sadness, but it also means we can have more happiness and satisfaction in our relationships. Our relationships can be so much more fulfilling as we welcome our imperfections and allow ourselves to truly be seen!

How does one begin to welcome vulnerability? First, adopt the unquestionable notion that you are worthy of love. There is nothing you had to do to earn it, and thus there is nothing you can do to take that worthiness away. Second, know that you (and your friend/sister/partner/spouse) are imperfect beings, prone to mistakes, misdeeds, and miscommunication; expecting perfection is the quickest way to extinguish vulnerability. I will expand on these ideas further in upcoming blog posts.

Brené says, “Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging.” Believing this will give us the courage we need to be authentic (read: vulnerable) in our relationships–to be honest about who and how we are. I have seen firsthand how numbing emotion to curb vulnerability stifles relationships, whereas welcoming vulnerability makes relationships thrive and progress. If you would like to learn how to be more vulnerable in your relationships, contact me today to set up your first session.

Additional Resources:
David Whyte, “Vulnerability”
Ted Talk: Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability

The Leading Cause of Addiction Is Not What You Think

Addiction Counseling, Dallas, TXWhat causes addiction? Many would guess it is the substance or behavior itself and that one gets hooked to something by doing/using it repetitively.  For years, science agreed with this response, but current research has shown that almost everything we think we know about addiction is false.  I invite you to look at the bigger picture, with me, to understand why our society is reaching for these substances and turning to these behaviors in the first place. It is not because we truly want to play meaningless videogames or become a slave to drugs or porn, by rather it is because we lack connection. We turn to addictive behaviors because we need to bond. As I mentioned in my previous post about relationships, humans have an innate need to be close to others; when that need is not met, we inevitably look elsewhere. My purpose in this blog post is to expose the true cause of addiction: the absence of connection.

In this short yet highly informative YouTube video, we are given an overview of a science experiment from the 70’s called “Rat Park.” Initially, rats were placed in a cage with two water bottles–one normal and the other laced with cocaine. As you might guess, the rats became obsessed with the drugged water and eventually died from continual consumption. While Bruce Alexander–a professor of Psychology from Simon Fraser University–was working on this project, he quickly realized that the rats were practically in solitary confinement with nothing to do but do drugs! He built Rat Park, which was basically rat heaven–a lush cage with colored balls, tunnels to scamper down, plenty of rat friends, loads of interaction, as well as the two water bottles, one of which had cocaine. Surprisingly enough, the rats hardly used the drugged water, and none of them overdosed. These researchers made a striking conclusion about how addictions are formed–it is not the chemicals themselves…it is our environment that ultimately influences whether or not we participate in addictive behavior.

Humans have an inherent need to bond and connect (think amae). When we are happy and healthy in our environment, we bond with those around us and form meaningful relationships. But when we cannot (because of trauma, isolation, etc), we will start bonding with anything that will give us a sense of relief–it could be constant use of our smart-phone, video games, gambling, pornography, or harmful substances. We are driven to bond with something because that is part of our human nature!

The opposite of addiction is not sobriety; the opposite of addiction is connection. The cure for addiction is not simply to stop the behavior or substance, such as pornography or cocaine. The path out of addiction is to form healthy bonds, to connect with people you want to be present with and want in your life. If you or someone you love is turning to addiction because of a lack of meaningful connection, contact me today to schedule your first session. The way out of addiction is steep and hard, but I can assure you that it will be worth it!

Stay tuned for my upcoming post about how we can change our outlook on addiction as a society!