Finding Happiness After Hurt

Finding Happiness After Pain - Cluff Counseling, Denton TherapistLife isn’t fair: people are unkind, injustices happen, and life sometimes seems to have dealt us a pretty hard hand. Here are practical tips to overcome emotional pain and find happiness.

Every day I see clients who are hurting. Some are suffering from childhood trauma, others from addiction, chronic illness, or the unexpected ending of a key relationship in their life. One of the things I have learned firsthand as a counselor is that there is a lot of hurt out there. You and I are literally fighting a world of hurt. But the main reason I absolutely love my job is that I have the chance to help my clients fight through their hurt and find happiness.

We have all experienced something unjust or painful in our own lives. Sometimes it is easy to shake those feelings and other times we just cannot seem to let them go.  Prolonged anger and feelings of injustice—directed toward a particular person, circumstance, or yourself—have a steep price tag: they can rob you of happiness in the moment and have negative impacts on your overall health. But there are steps we can take to overcome the inevitable feelings of hurt, pain, and resentment to find happiness. In addition to seeing a therapist, there are several simple ways you can start today:

  1. Fill your own cup. Sometimes, when we feel empty, we hope for and expect others to fill our cups for us…which is incredibly dangerous. More often than not, we let people in who are not healthy or worthy, and they do more harm than good. Stop that. Fill your own cup. Sandra Bienkowski writes for Mind Body Green, “You have to fill your own cup. Whatever you didn’t get and need, you have to give to yourself. If you didn’t get praise, give yourself praise. If you didn’t get love, show yourself some love and compassion with kind thoughts and doing things that make you feel good about yourself. If your home didn’t feel safe, create a safe and secure home as an adult.” Happiness begins when you are at peace with yourself.
  2. Stop looking for external validation. Be comfortable in your own skin.  Do not look to Instagram/Facebook/Twitter, your friends/family, or anywhere else for validation. Look in the mirror. Use your internal gauges to measure how you are doing and how you could improve. That is what they are there for!
  3. When people show you who they are, believe them. We sometimes make the mistake of hoping or expecting others to be who we want them to be. Let your friends, family members and acquaintances be who they are. Accepting their limitations and allowing them to be imperfect will help you avoid feeling disappointed when they do not measure up to your high expectations of them.
  4. Set boundaries. You are the only one who can set limits of where you end and others begin. Do not let other people’s issues/history/negativity hurt you. Your boundaries set the bar on how you expect to be treated or set the limits of what you accept and what you do not. Knowing how to protect yourself is really just you protecting your happiness.
  5. Have patience and compassion for yourself. Recognize that you are dealing with something hard. Cut yourself some slack, give yourself time to make changes, and focus on what you are doing well!
  6. Decide it is not worth it. Feeling angry, frustrated or wrong only harms you. Decide that is it not worth it, get help, and move on. Do not dwell on the negative!
  7. Separate facts from emotions. Yes, you got laid off–fact. Yes, that will impact your finances–fact. But these facts do not mean you are entitled to feel angry, frustrated, and wronged for years to come. Reconcile the facts (what you are NOT always in control of) with your emotions (what you are ALWAYS in control of), and you will be a lot happier.
  8. Seek treatments that help resolve feelings of anger and injustice. Effective modalities include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Loving Kindness Meditation, and Compassion Meditation. Contact me today if you are seeking one of these treatments to increase your happiness.
  9. Use relaxation as the antidote for anger. Have a plan or strategy to calm yourself down in the face of anger or frustration…because you are sure to need that plan at some point.
  10. Use imagery. Imagine yourself letting go of the negative emotions you are feeling and holding on to. Then envision yourself finding and clinging to happiness. As cheesy as it sounds, it may be remarkably helpful for you visual learners out there!
  11. Talk it out. For some of us, talking to a therapist or someone we trust can be extremely liberating. Getting a fresh perspective, as well as, suggestions for how to move on is invaluable. Use your words to extricate your feelings, work through them, and let them go. It is remarkable how liberating talking it out can be.

Of course there are a plethora of ways to replace hurt with happiness. I could spend hours talking about the power of hobbies, a balanced diet, regular exercise, quality sleep, religious outlets, and several other physical and emotional-reducing strategies. The 11 suggestions I have mentioned above are simple things you can do now with no added time, props, or money. In fact, most of the 11 suggestions I have shared begin with you deciding to be happy. At the end of the day, you are the one who decides to hold on to feelings of anger, guilt, resentment, frustration and injustice. While there are many tools available, your will is the most important. So if you are looking to stop the hurt in your life, decide now. Do it. Use the above methods and contact me if you need additional assistance. I find immense joy witnessing the personal transformations of my clients as they prepare to move on to the next phase of their life–as healthier and happier people. Stop the hurt in your life and welcome the happiness that is waiting for you.

Cluff Counseling: “Choosing the Right Therapist for You”
Cluff Counseling: “Welcome”
Mind Body Green: “The 4 Best Lessons I Learned From Seeing A Therapist In My 20s”
Psychology Today: “7 Practical Strategies to Overcome Emotional Pain”
Psychology Today: “9 Tips to Stop Anger and Injustice from Hurting You”
Psychology Today: “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy”
Psychology Today: “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy”
Psychology Today: “Happiness”
Psychology Today: “Meditation”
Psychology Today: “Mindfulness”
Psychology Today: “Stress”

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Sleep…It Does a Body Good!

Cluff Counseling - Sleep for HealthIs your mind racing when you lay down at night to go to sleep? Does your growing to-do list keep you awake for hours on end–even when you are exhausted and know you need a solid night’s rest? These 6 simple ideas can help you sleep better.

There is a Parks and Recreation episode where the main character, Leslie, is trying to come up with great ideas after the smashing success of a community festival. She has a deadline by which she needs to produce several applause-worthy ideas, and she is at a total loss. She recruits her team to get out in nature to brainstorm, but they come up dry and wind up at a motel where she plans to stay awake all night at the drawing board in order to make her deadline. She is frazzled, irritable, snappy, and certainly nowhere near having any quality–let alone showstopper–ideas. What happens? One of her team members forces her into her room, locks her inside, and demands that she sleep. After sleeping 8+ hours, Leslie runs into the office (late) with a LIST of awesome ideas that everyone is excited about.

You may wonder what Parks and Recreation has to do with this week’s blog post topic of self-care. Well, this episode demonstrates an important point many of us overlook in our daily lives. We often think we have to stay up late, push through it, work extra hard, and force ourselves to produce quality work. In fact, in a 2013 Gallup report, it was reported that 41% of Americans are not getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep each night! We are overscheduled, overworked and overburdened. By the time we hit the sheets, we may have so much on our mind that we either do not sleep well or do not sleep long enough. And quality sleep really does a body so much good!

Proper sleep affects all aspects of our life–our overall mood, our ability to make decisions, our productivity…even our weight is influenced by how much we sleep.  Last year, a study was published showing that sleeping less than six hours per night for just one week resulted in changes in 700 genes in the human body. Although researchers do not understand the full ramifications of these changes, it is clear that there is an impact on our immune system, stress response, and an increase in inflammation.

What needs to be done? We need sleep. We need more of it, and we need it to be quality sleep. Whether you fall into bed exhausted each night or you end up laying in bed for awhile with your mind racing, the following six pointers will help you improve your sleep:

    1. Create an environment meant only for sleeping: In college, I was counseled that it was unwise to study in bed because the bed is where I sleep and my body can get confused if I do other activities, such as studying or reading, in it. My advice for better sleep is to use specific places for certain activities: study at a desk, peruse instagram on a couch, and sleep in your bed. Give your body the signal that it is time to wind down by keeping work, tv and other digital devices out of the bedroom.
    2. Turn the thermostat down a few degrees. Several sleep studies have shown that people sleep better when their bedroom is on the colder side.
    3. Write. If your mind is often racing at bedtime, give yourself a few minutes before bed to to write down anything that is lingering in your mind. Once you jot your thoughts down, you will signal to your brain that is it okay to let those thoughts go.
    4. Shhhhh. Eliminate any unnecessary peripheral noises from your room. (If your partner snores, try earplugs or noise-canceling headphones.)
    5. Create a routine. Babies need a routine with things like a bath, massage, bottle, story time, and lullaby to signal that it is bedtime. Well, adults need routines, too! Create a “winding down” routine for yourself and try to go to sleep / wake up at the same time each day. Our bodies respond well to predictability; try it!
    6. Breathe. Dr. Weil recommends a simple breathing exercise that can invite sleep in 60 seconds. It is called the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique. Basically, you do the following:
  • Be in a comfortable position (where you are not restricting your ability for deep breathing)
  • Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth behind your front teeth
  • Exhale completely
  • Inhale through your nose to a count of four
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven
  • Exhale through your mouth to a count of eight
  • Repeat three times

Of all the things we can do for our bodies, there is nothing it needs more than quality sleep. Getting proper rest does so much good for our overall health! We owe our bodies time to reenergize so we can live, be, and do our best each day. If you find you need additional help or guidance, feel free to contact me to  schedule your first session today. Getting proper rest is not a passive activity, so let’s take action and let sleep do our bodies good!

Dr. Weil, “Three Breathing Exercises and Techniques”
Gallup Report: “In U.S., 40% Get Less Than Recommended Amount of Sleep”
Power of Positivity: “This Relaxation Exercise Can Help You Fall Asleep In 60 Seconds”
Simplemost: “Science Says Sleeping In A Cold Room Is Better For Your Health”

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The Swinging Pendulum of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder | Cluff CounselingWhat do Sinead O’Conner, Demi Lovato, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and the late Carrie Fisher all have in common?  They are some of the 5.7 million American adults who suffer from bipolar disorder.  This is not a rare condition; 2.6% of our population experiences the markedly different mood swings that characterize this disorder–the prolonged state of depression coupled with feelings of intense euphoria.

A few months ago I wrote about decreasing the stigma of mental illness. While we are growing increasingly aware of the implications of bipolar disorder, there is still a stigma attached to this mental illness that I hope to alleviate. Bipolar disorder is identified by intense mood swings–and not the type we experience on a day-to-day basis. You and I can go from feeling absolutely defeated after failing a test to completely elated after winning the lottery all in the same evening. Or, on a less intense scale, we can feel discouragement after an argument with a loved one, and shortly thereafter feel calm and content once we reconcile. Such mood swings come with life and should not alarm us. The mood swings I am referring to are high levels of positivity followed by striking levels of negativity and depression that last for a time.

I recently got lunch with a dear friend that I had not seen for awhile. During our hour together, she explained why she had fallen off the map–she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. At first I was surprised…I never would have expected her to be bipolar! However, as I listened to her talk about the past several months of her life, I realized she was a textbook example of bipolar disorder and I had been completely blind to it. My post in May hit close to home for many of you; nearly all of us know someone who is affected by the intense sadness and defeating thoughts of self-deprecation that come with depression. But how many of us overlook the possibility of our loved ones having bipolar because we simply peg them (or let them peg themselves) as “having depression”? My intent of this post is to increase awareness so we can recognize when we ourselves–or our loved ones–suffer from more than depression and need the assistance of a mental health professional.

My friend told me about how she had started a massive social media campaign to help the youth of her church, signed up to sell beauty products, and became a decent boxer all in the month of February. Then came March and she completely erased all of the material she poured thousands of hours into for her social media campaign, literally threw all of her beauty products in a dumpster, quit boxing altogether, and promptly gained 25 pounds. My friend’s experience reflects the common symptoms of bipolar disorder–alternating periods of elation and depression. The highs for those with bipolar disorder are HIGH, and the lows are extremely low.  Individuals who have bipolar will experience heightened euphoria and happiness, followed by drastic depression and guilt. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, these distinct periods are called “mood episodes.” Mood episodes come with extreme changes in energy, activity, and sleep that are drastically different from the typical moods and behaviors of the affected individual. The low period is called the depressive mood; the high period is called the manic mood; and the in-between or buffer stage is called “hypomania” (mild manic episodes which do not significantly interfere with the patient’s everyday responsibilities and behavior). The following are symptoms associated each mood-type:

Depressive mood:

  • Feeling sad, tearful, hopeless, or empty for the majority of the day on a daily basis
  • Loss of interest in all aspects of life
  • No pleasure or interest in day to day activities
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue/mental sluggishness
  • Chronic pain with no known cause (and curiously anti-depressants seem to help  the most)
  • Weight fluctuations – including significant weight loss or weight gain
  • Sleep disturbances – sleeping too much or other sleep problems, such as insomnia
  • Restlessness or slowed behaviors
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Indecisiveness
  • Fatigue/loss of energy
  • Psychosis – being detached from reality; delusions or hallucinations
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Anxiety
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Suicidal thoughts, planning, or attempts

Manic mood:

  • Long period of feeling “high” – an overly elated, happy, and outgoing mood
  • Euphoria
  • Rapid speech (as well as jumping from one thought to another when talking)
  • Racing thoughts
  • Inability to focus
  • Increased physical activity
  • Careless use of drugs/alcohol
  • Decreased need for sleep (often mischaracterized as insomnia)
  • Being easily distracted
  • Taking on a lot of new projects
  • Restlessness
  • Boundless energy
  • Sleeping very little
  • Unrealistically believing you can do something
  • Engaging in impulsive, pleasurable, and high-risk behaviors (e.g., poor financial investments, sexual indiscretions, shopping sprees)
  • Sexual promiscuity
  • Inflated self-esteem (overestimation of one’s own abilities)
  • feelings of grandiosity
  • Increased goal-directed activity
  • Detachment from reality (psychosis that may include delusions or hallucinations)

Both depressive and manic moods:

  • Mood swings
  • Feeling extremely irritable
  • Inability to keep a schedule (missing work/school)

Manic periods can last anywhere from a few days to a few months, as can their depressive counterparts. This can be extremely dangerous since bipolar disorder also commonly includes compulsiveness. A person feeling despondent to the point of suicide may suddenly attempt to take his or her own life. It is important to note that there is also Bipolar II disorder; the main difference between the two types of bipolar disorder is that a person with bipolar I has manic episodes, while someone with bipolar II has hypomanic episodes… it’s the severity of the mania that distinguishes these two types. If these symptoms present themselves in yourself or someone you care about, seek medical or professional attention immediately. Patients suffering from suicidal ideations or suicidal behavior need prompt and aggressive interventions to defuse the risk of tragic consequences.

Just like I did, you may be failing to see the pendulum of bipolar disorder swinging from the depressive stage to the manic stage in those closest to you. It is often easier to recognize when our friends or loved ones seem depressed than when they are seemingly “on fire”, or having a manic episode. If you believe you or your loved one has more than seasonal depression, please seek the needed medical attention in order to live a healthy, balanced, and safe life.

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The Cure for Loneliness

Cluff Counseling - Anxiety & Depression CounselingAmericans are lonelier than ever. According to Public Radio International, about 50.2 percent or 124.6 million American adults are single today. In the 1950s, that number was around 22 percent! What has caused this great rise in isolation?

In a recent article, featured both in Forbes and Psychology Today, author Caroline Beaton shares a compelling argument that millennials are among the loneliest in American History. She deduces that loneliness is literally contagious, and that we exacerbate the issue by our addiction to social media. It is easier for us to stay at home, glued to our phones alone in our warm beds than to be out socializing with friends, neighbors or acquaintances. These days, social connection does not require a car, a phone call, or a plan… just a click. When we feel isolated, depressed or anxious, it is convenient for us to go online in search of connection. Basically, we use the Internet to alleviate our loneliness…

But that satisfaction is temporary…fleeting, even!

So you may think that the answer is to simply use less internet in order to overcome societal loneliness. While there is definitely some truth to that, there is more to the equation. If we click out of Instagram and put our phones down, we may instead be inclined to reach for the remote and begin another mindless, solitary activity. My advice is simple but timeless, and it goes along perfectly with Caroline Beaton’s follow-up article, “The Solution to Millennial Loneliness.” The cure to loneliness is simply alter your priorities. Place relationships and connection at the top of your list.

I fully recognize that technology and social media are addictive. This is why I recommend we change our priorities and focus on those around us–to be present in the moment. Imagine what would happen if you put down your phone while your parent or partner was talking to you. Or if you actually conversed with all your friends over pizza instead of sharing a meal together while just staring at your phones. I am absolutely guilty of this myself! We need to be assertive with our time. If we are not being intentional about where our focus goes, we will ultimately end up sucked into the distractions all around us.

The solution is to prioritize relationships into your day. Do not let the Internet and social media gobble up your prime and extra time. Make the decision today to forego the next episode of Downton Abbey until a time that your significant other is not looking to connect with you. Set aside time to chat with your father before beginning your homework. Schedule a time (even weeks in advance!) to grab lunch with a friend. A valiant and consistent effort is required to make and preserve relationships…but it can be done.  Prioritize. Schedule time for the ones you love and be present when you are with them. This is the cure for loneliness. Watch out– its effects will be more far-reaching than loneliness itself!

Cluff Counseling: “Are You Addicted to Your Phone?”
Forbes:  “The Solution to Millennial Loneliness”
PRI: “Singles now outnumber married people in America — and that’s a good thing”
Psychology Today: “The Loneliness Epidemic and What We Can Do About It”
Psychology Today: “Why Millennials are Lonely”

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Are You a Secondary Survivor?

Cluff Counseling - Sexual Trauma SupportI read an article last week about a young woman, barely 18, who was accosted and raped as she walked to the beach near her house one night. She wrote about her journey to finding self-worth and peace after that traumatic incident. Her story, and all those like hers, strikes a chord with me. One of my areas of focus is trauma; I see many patients who are survivors of rape and sexual abuse. While their experiences are heartbreaking and difficult to work through, I am always amazed by the courage these people have to pick themselves up and get on the path of healing. This process of restoration takes time and requires support from family, friends, and loved ones. According to recent research, whether you know someone who has been a victim of rape or sexual abuse or not, it is likely you will come to know someone touched by sexual abuse, and so this article is for you.

If you have a family or loved one that was sexually assaulted, you are a secondary survivor. Although what primary survivors go through is horrifyingly difficult, your job is also quite strenuous. You sit by, walk next to, and cry with the primary survivor–or the individual who suffered the abuse. You hear their story, comfort them, remind them they are not to blame, and support them to pick up the pieces of their seemingly-shattered lives. You play a fundamental role in their healing and progression!

Secondary survivors commonly feel helpless and incapable of being a support to those who suffered the trauma. They may wonder what to say, what to do, and what specific steps they can urge the primary survivor to take to recover. I fully understand that watching your friend or loved one suffer also causes you great pain. It is difficult to think clearly in this situation! I have five pieces of advice that I would like to share with you secondary survivors:

1) Know that you are capable of helping your loved one through this incredibly difficult trauma. They need you–your love and your support. Your mere presence will play a crucial part of the healing process!

2) Remember that they need your compassionate and validating responses. This can make a real difference for primary survivors–especially as they may suffer feelings of guilt or shame for something that was not necessarily their fault or choice.

3) Remind yourself that it is okay to not have all the answers. You may not know the perfect things to say, and that is 100% okay. Remember #1, they need you. They need your empathy and to know they are not alone. Just because you may not have all the answers, please don’t avoid your loved one during this shared painful time.

4) Use your resources. There are a plethora of resources online and in libraries for both you and the primary survivor. This page contains a list of helpful reads tailored especially for survivors of rape and sexual abuse.

5) Get help. I am trained to assist survivors of rape and sexual abuse in the healing process. I have completed years of school and specialized training in order to be educated and qualified enough to do so. I know how to guide your brave loved one along the path of recovery. Feel free to contact me with any questions you may have, or click here to schedule your first appointment.

Pandora’s Project: “Resources”
Pandora’s Project: “For Friends, Family & Partners of Rape & Sexual Abuse Survivors”