Different Yet the Same: OCD & OCPD

For many, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) means avid hand-washing, excessive organizing, color-coding and deep cleaning. Though associating OCD with these habits isn’t exactly wrong, it leaves out an important part of the picture.

You may be familiar with Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets who plays the part of an author with OCD. Throughout the film, he engages in ritualistic behaviors (also known as compulsions) that disrupt his interpersonal and professional life.  To avoid contaminants outside of his apartment, he wears gloves in public and warns pedestrians not to touch him. He refuses to use restaurant silverware and instead brings his own plastic utensils wrapped inside a protective bag. And upon returning to his orderly apartment, he immediately disposes of the gloves and commences a multi-step cleansing ritual by washing with scalding hot water and multiple new bars of soap.

This is a common portrayal of obsessive-compulsive disorder. You are likely familiar with this disorder, especially because it is common to joke about yourself or others being, “so OCD,” or overly tidy. In this post, I will delve deeper into OCD and explain the differences between this disorder and its closely named counterpart, OCPD.

Obsessive-compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder defined by the presence of obsessive and compulsive behaviors. These behaviors occur together and interfere with a person’s quality of life and ability to function. Individuals with OCD have frequent, upsetting thoughts (obsessions) that they try to control by repeating particular behaviors (compulsions). This cycle sparks a great deal of anxiety because it is not only intrusive and unwanted, but also recurrent. All else gets paused until the compulsion is appeased.

OCD is a genetic predisposition and it usually makes its first appearance in childhood or adolescence. It is often triggered by a stressful or traumatic experience. The behaviors of individuals with OCD are driven by fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. They are aware their thoughts are irrational, but their fear and anxiety is the reason behind their compulsions. Many individuals suffering from OCD seek treatment to alleviate their anxiety.

Obsessive-compulsive Personality Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) is a personality disorder defined by strict orderliness and control over of one’s environment at the expense of all else. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) describes OCPD as “a pervasive pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control, at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency.” Individuals with OCPD tend to think their way of doing things is the only way, and they are unlikely to delegate unless they know people will do things as well as they do. Their perfectionism keeps them at a high standard, so though they succeed at work, they are difficult to work with. They show unhealthy perfectionism and want to be in control of what is going on around them. They are judgmental, controlling, and stubborn. People with OCPD are difficult to live with and relationships suffer. They often feel paralyzed and unable to make decisions because they fear making the wrong one. They even struggle getting rid of items that no longer have value, which often leads to hoarding.

This disorder is usually diagnosed in late adolescence or young adulthood. It is approximated that men are twice as likely as women to be diagnosed with OCPD.

Juxtaposition

These two disorders have a few shared traits that connect them–a fear of contamination, a preoccupation with symmetry, and a nagging sense of doubt. If you are still unsure of the difference between these two disorders, allow me to further compare and contrast them:

  1. OCD is an anxiety disorder while OCPD is a personality disorder.
  2. Studies indicate that those with OCD are continually in search of immediate gratification, while those with OCPD can delay immediate reward.
  3. The symptoms of OCD tend to fluctuate in association with the underlying anxiety. Because OCPD is defined by inflexibility, the behaviors tend to be persistent and unchanging over time.
  4. Persons with OCD will often seek professional help to overcome the irrational nature of their behavior and the persistent state of anxiety they live under. Persons with OCPD will usually not seek help because they do not see that anything they are doing is abnormal or irrational.
  5. Individuals with OCPD do not experience an OCD cycle.

I want to elaborate on that final point, because it is the best way to differentiate OCD from OCPD. The key difference between the two is the cycle that sufferers experience, or the trigger. Those with OCD may constantly notice things out of place (trigger), and they will obsess over “fixing” the problem (compulsion) to the point that they are unable to focus on other tasks. If they do not appease their compulsions, anxiety will mount. Once the time is taken to “fix” things, they feel relief…until the next trigger appears. With OCPD, the behaviors are not directed by uncontrollable thoughts or irrational behaviors that are repeated over and over again. These individuals fully believe that their actions have an aim and purpose, and they consistently act this way, independent of their circumstances or surroundings. In other words, their actions are not triggered by anything, but are instead simply they way they operate.

Treatment

Living with OCD or OCPD can be difficult and even debilitating. Symptoms can wax and wane, getting better at times and worse at others. The good news for individuals who have either one (or both!) is that help is available. With appropriate treatment, these disorders can be managed to the point that the disruption to their lives is minimized. Treatment may involve a combination of psychotherapy, medication, and mindfulness techniques. To come to an informed diagnosis and find appropriate treatment, it is important to seek the care of a qualified mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist. My door is always open to answer questions or offer therapy sessions. Click here to schedule with me today!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

Living with Anxiety: 5 Suggestions to Thrive

Living-with-Anxiety-Cluff-Counseling-Lewisville-Therapist

“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” -Leo Buscaglia

We all experience some level of anxiety from time to time. In fact, anxiety is a completely normal reaction to a stressful situation. The cold sweat of anxiety is the fight or flight response that kept our ancestors safe from grizzly bears and other dangers. That adrenaline rush still serves us well under some circumstances today; anxiety can even be helpful in certain instances! We worry about the common things in our lives–like finances, work, friends, and family–and this worry has the potential to help us make good decisions in these areas. Anxiety can motivate us, prepare us for things we have to face, and even give us energy to take action when we need to.

It is very possible, however, for anxiety to have an unmistakably negative affect. Serious anxiety may mean procrastinating to the point of being afraid to take a step at all. You may be so nervous about going to your child’s school to talk to the teacher that you do not go at all–you miss the appointment altogether. Your anxiety becomes so overwhelming that it interferes with day-to-day activities, it keeps you from going places, and from doing things you need to do. If you are experiencing worries that are excessive, uncontrollable, or irrational, and have been experiencing these worries for an extended period of time, you may be suffering from Generalised Anxiety Disorder, or GAD.

Regardless of the level or intensity of anxiety you are experiencing, it is important that you manage it properly. Anxiety can take a serious toll on your mind and body. You may have trouble sleeping, eating, and concentrating. You may get headaches or have an upset stomach. You may even have a panic attack, a pounding heart, and/or a feeling of lightheadedness. So what can you do when you are feeling anxious? Here are five simple suggestions that you can do anytime, anywhere:

  1. Label your emotions. Figure out exactly what is bothering you by giving a name to what you are feeling. Naming an emotion is the first step in being mindful of it. This activates your prefrontal cortex and can help you balance and self-regulate by creating a relationship with the experience.
  2. Drop the story. Emotions are often driven by the stories you tell yourself. For example: You have an important presentation in class. Your anxiety escalates this assignment into a fantastically worrisome story where you mess up, everyone laughs at you, you fail the class, never graduate college, have to live with your parents forever… and on and on. My suggestion here is to drop the story. Separate the real risks and dangers that a situation presents and those your imagination is making worse. Cut out negative thoughts. No need to worry unnecessarily!
  3. Focus on the task at hand. What can you control? In the class presentation example, what you can control is your preparation and delivery. Try not to stress about peripheral factors–like how others may react or respond. It is a twist on the old adage: “Take control of the things you can, and accept those you can’t change.”
  4. Relax. Stop what you are doing and take deep breaths. Meditate. Do yoga or get some exercise–this is a terrific outlet for anxiety! As you focus on calming your mind and body, you will become more proficient with managing ongoing anxiety.
  5. Be kind to yourself. Feeling anxious is uncomfortable. A good dose of self-care can go a long way to bringing relief and perspective. This may mean practicing a hobby like painting, hiking, singing, baking, exercising, reading, taking a long bath or even sleeping. Whatever self-care looks like for you, make the time to take care of yourself.

Very often, it is possible to get past an anxiety cycle with the help of friends or family to help you sort out your problems. But when anxiety becomes overwhelming, it may be time for you to consider seeing a therapist, taking medication, or both. Anxiety is the most common mental illness among American adults–with women experiencing it at roughly twice the rate as men–and only half of those affected receive treatment.  Please do not be part of that statistic. Get the help you need and deserve in order to find happiness. Many of my clients face some form of anxiety, and I have been able to help them overcome the negative effects that come with this mental illness. If you or someone you care about could use help living with the effects of anxiety, please contact me today. Additionally, you can click here to schedule a session.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

Are You Are Just A Worrywart or is it Something More?

Are You Are Just A Worrywart or is it Something More - Cluff Counseling - Denton TherapistAnxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric illnesses affecting children and adults. An estimated 44 million American adults suffer from anxiety, and–even though the disorders are highly treatable–only about one-third of those receive treatment!

Do you get the jitters when you have to speak in front of an audience, take a test, or talk with a superior. To a degree, this is completely normal. But for those with an anxiety disorder, these feelings are persistent, seemingly uncontrollable, disabling, overwhelming, and excessive, to the point where they can be filled with irrational dread of everyday situations and it interferes with their daily life. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time.

If this is you, listen to me–there is no shame! Many people suffer from one type of anxiety disorder or another…even I used to! When I was little, I would fret over everything to the point that my parents coined Bob Marley’s famous beat as my theme song: “Don’t worry, be happy!” The best news of all is that help is available. My hope with this post is twofold: First, to offer a couple signs to help you differentiate between everyday anxieties and an actual anxiety disorder; and second, to eradicate the false notion that having anxiety or a “disorder” means that you are broken.

Let’s start by giving anxiety disorders a face. Anxiety disorders are real–just like physical disorders such as heart disease or diabetes. Anxiety disorders are the most common and pervasive mental disorders in the United States, and they manifest themselves in many different forms including the following: Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic attacks, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, separation anxiety, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression.

I am certain that all of us have either experienced or heard of some of the above conditions. But does that mean you have an anxiety disorder? Although the distinction between an official diagnosis and “normal” anxiety isn’t always clear, here are some signs that may indicate your worries are clinically significant:

  • Sleep problems. You struggle falling asleep or staying awake (this is more than just tossing and turning with anticipation the night before a big speech or job interview).  I mean that you routinely find yourself lying awake, worried or agitated—about a specific problem or even nothing in particular.
  • Stage fright. Sure, most everyone get butterflies before addressing a group of people or being in the spotlight. But if the fear is so strong that no amount of coaching or practicing will placate it, or if you spend an excessive amount of time thinking and worrying about it, you may have a form of social anxiety disorder. Those with social anxiety will worry for days or even weeks leading up to a particular event or situation, and may consider extreme methods to evade said responsibility! Even if they do manage to go through with it, they tend to be incredibly uncomfortable and will dwell on their performance for a long time afterward, worrying about how they were judged.
  • Self-consciousness. We are all self-conscious about how we look or appear to others–especially when we are in the limelight. This symptom may be an indication of an anxiety disorder when your self-consciousness is provoked by everyday situations such as making one-on-one conversation at a party, or eating and drinking in front of even a small number of people. In these situations, people with social anxiety disorder tend to feel like all eyes are on them, and they often experience blushing, trembling, nausea, profuse sweating, or difficulty talking. These symptoms can be so disruptive that they make it hard to meet new people, maintain relationships, and advance at work or school!
  • Muscle tension. Near-constant muscle tension (from clenching your jaw, balling your fists, or flexing muscles throughout your body) often accompanies anxiety disorders. This is the sort of tension that even regular exercise and stretching cannot abate. (Muscle tension of this severity can be so persistent and pervasive that people who have lived with it for a long time may stop noticing it after a while!)
  • Chronic indigestion. Anxiety may start in the mind, but it often manifests itself in the body. A common example is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), in which the individual experiences near constant stomach aches, cramping, bloating, gas, constipation, and/or diarrhea. This is basically anxiety in the digestive tract! (A note: IBS is not always related to anxiety, but the two often occur together and can make each other worse.)
  • Panic. A panic attack can be a sudden, gripping feeling of fear and helplessness that can last for several minutes and be accompanied by scary physical symptoms such as breathing problems, a pounding or racing heart, tingling or numb hands, sweating, weakness or dizziness, chest pain, stomach pain, and feeling hot or cold.  It is possible to be diagnosed with general anxiety disorder and have panic symptoms, but not be diagnosed with panic disorder. Not everyone who has a panic attack has an anxiety disorder, but people who experience them repeatedly may be diagnosed with panic disorder.
  • Flashbacks. Reliving a disturbing or traumatic event–like a violent accident or the sudden death of a loved one–is a hallmark of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which shares features with many anxiety disorders. (In fact, up until very recently, PTSD was seen as a type of anxiety disorder rather than a stand-alone condition.)
  • Perfectionism. This prevalent and obsessive mindset goes hand in hand with anxiety disorders. This is where you are constantly judging yourself, and have relentless anticipatory anxiety about making mistakes or falling short of your [unattainably high] standards. Some individuals with perfectionism even see fit to punish themselves through publicly slandering themselves or taking on extra responsibilities when they fail to reach the high standards they have placed upon themselves.
  • Compulsive behaviors. In order to be diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, a person’s obsessiveness and intrusive thoughts must be accompanied by compulsive action or behavior. This may be mental (like repeatedly reminding yourself that things will be okay) or physical (like excessive hand-washing, not leaving home until your makeup is perfect, hair plucking, or repeatedly checking to ensure the oven is off).

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 19 percent of American adults are affected by an anxiety disorder each year, and it is more prevalent in women, in people under 35, and in those who live in North America or Western European countries. According to these statistics, many people experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime!

As I have said previously and will continue to emphasize, having a mental illness like an anxiety disorder is not a life sentence. You are not damaged goods. There is nothing inherently wrong with you. If we are going to take the stigma out of mental illness, we need to believe it ourselves first! This will happen as you recognize your worth and find the courage to accept help. Just a friendly reminder that help is readily available for those with anxiety disorders. There are a myriad of medications and treatments–including therapy from a licensed, experienced therapist–that can help you or your loved one control anxiety. Help is one click or phone call away. Please contact me today!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

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The Positive Influence of Affirmations

 

Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” The way you talk to yourself can determine how you live. Incorporating positive affirmations into your daily walk and talk can profoundly influence the course of your life!

Do you realize how much you talk to yourself? You may be driving alone in your car, thinking about an interaction with a friend, and think, “I was stupid to say that”; or maybe you are looking in the mirror before a date and say, “I wish I felt more attractive.” Affirmations are sentences aimed to affect the conscious and the subconscious mind.  Every word we say to ourselves is an affirmation–the sad truth is that the majority of things we say to ourselves is negative. We focus on what we cannot do, what we are not, and what we do not look like. It is incredibly easy to get down on ourselves and practice negative self-talk. After all, we are our worst critics!

How you talk to yourself influences how you feel about and see yourself. You may not realize how poorly you treat yourself until you start observing your self-talk. Can you imagine saying half of the things you say to the mirror to your child or your partner? Never! How we perceive and talk about ourselves and our situations set the precedent for how we live and interact with others. Not only that, a study was done in 2010 at the University of Arizona where researchers found that the power of positive thinking could beat depressive thoughts. By saying positive affirmations, subjects were able to change their thought processes, and some even reported that affirmations were the most influential part of their recovery process! Practicing positive affirmations can help us consciously flip the switch to start being the person we want to become.

Now let’s talk about how we can use our inner dialogue to build–rather than tear down–our self esteem. A positive affirmation is a brief statement, worded in the positive, said with confidence that can help you make significant changes in your life.  Okay so what do you do with these thoughts? Here are three steps to get you started:

  1. Consider your positive traits or abilities. Like I previously mentioned, we are our worst critics. We are so hard on ourselves; we only see where we lack, what we cannot do, how not skinny or smart we are, etc (especially in this day and age of social media, our negative comparisons are endless!). But you are unlike anyone else; there is only one you in the world. What are you good at? What makes you special? Write a little list of these qualities and make them into “I am…” or “I can”  statements. Examples: I am strong; I can learn new things; I am determined, I am hard-working; I am relentless; I am connected and comfortable in all environments, with all people; I find and enjoy the simple pleasures life is offering right now;
  2. Replace negative self-talk with your personalized affirmations. The moment you start paying attention to your inner-dialogue, you will notice how down on yourself you are. Make a sincere effort to cut out negativity towards yourself and instead build yourself up. Next time you are feeling discouraged thinking, “I will never be able to do that..” or, “I will never be good enough…”, instead say one of your positive affirmations. Examples: My challenges bring opportunities; I love myself and who I am; I love myself unconditionally; I allow only healthy and loving relationships into my life; How I feel matters, therefore I concentrate on aspects of life that make me feel good!; My mood creates a physiological response in my body. I am peaceful and positive!; I am in control of my thoughts and my life.
  3. Rewrite and repeat your affirmations daily. Watch this YouTube video of a father practicing affirmations with his daughter before she goes to school. This is a great example of how to start your day; look yourself in the mirror and build yourself up! Imagine the power that would come to you if you began every day this way! Whether you practice affirmations at the beginning of the day, at the end of the day, or all throughout the day, be consistent. You might even consider writing your affirmations down on notecards or post-its scattered throughout your living and working spaces. Seeing these positive statements will only help reinforce and solidify them in your mind.

These three steps are simple: Focus on what you can do, stop putting yourself down, and regularly affirm yourself. As you begin to think about specific thoughts about your, over and over again, those thoughts will become beliefs and reality. Instead of limiting yourself with demeaning thought processes, make changes today that will enable you to reach your full potential. As you build yourself up, you will see that the small steps of adding positive affirmations into your life will influence you for the better. You will be a happier person, more comfortable in your own skin, and you will see that life is full of opportunities you can handle. After all, that’s the truth!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:

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How To Rise and Shine

Cluff Counseling - How to Rise & ShineWhether we are facing depression or anxiety, love to sleep, or are just plain exhausted, we all have days where it is hard to find the willpower to get out of bed in the morning. The rigors of school, work, parenthood, and life may be all too daunting, and we end up staying in bed or indoors all day. Keep reading for ways to help make those rough mornings a little more bearable.

Are you a morning person? I will be the first to tell you that I am absolutely not. I love and cherish my sleep. But I also love a beautiful sunrise, the crisp morning air, and the quiet stillness of the city before everyone else wakes up. Some mornings are easier to pull myself out of bed than others. Have you ever had a morning where all you want to do is stay in bed all day? To some degree, we all struggle leaving our warm, comfortable beds in the morning–but it is especially challenging for those facing a mental illness. In this blog post I will give some counsel to help make those tough mornings a little easier.

Many of us lack motivation in the morning. We find it hard to get out of bed, get dressed, take care of our children or put in a full day’s work. This lack of motivation is exacerbated for those struggling with a mental illness such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar mood disorder, personality disorders, trauma and eating disorders. In a previous blog post I explained how a mental illness is a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feelings, mood, ability to relate to others and function each day. Mental illness is much more common than many of us think; 1 in 5 adults in the United States experiences mental illness in a given year (and anyone is susceptible, regardless of age, gender, income, social status, race/ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or background)!

This article is intended for all readers, not just those who face mental illness. As I previously stated, we all have days where we would rather stay in bed all day and not face life. So what can we do when we find ourselves dreading getting up for the day?

  1. Build a routine.

Building a routine is incredibly helpful to maintain stability and avoid unexpected stressors! Here are a few ideas:

  • Go to bed and wake up around the same time each day.
  • Have a morning ritual. Start with something you love like a warm beverage or a hot shower); be in control of your mood (if you start off on the wrong side of the bed, recognize that you have the ability to change that!); eat a nutritious breakfast; go to the gym (you will feel better all day if you just get it over with!); send a thank-you email to someone; plan how you will react to challenges you may face during the day; kiss someone you love; etc.
  • Get ready for the day. Even if you are unemployed or have no set plans to leave your house, get ready. Shower, brush your teeth, apply makeup, get dressed, etc. It increases feelings of productivity and also boosts confidence!
  • Structure your time. Being employed and working steady hours each day helps tremendously. Then, when you are not working, use your free time wisely; set goals and have places to be and things to do. Knowing that you have somewhere to be makes getting out of bed easier than if you have no commitments or engagements.
  • Take your medication and/or supplements. If you have been prescribed medication, have a set time each day to take it. It is there to help you. If you are experiencing side effects or want to considering changing your dosage, talk to your doctor.
  • Have a consistent end-of-day routine. Just like children, adults thrive off of routines. Signal to your brain that bedtime is approaching by consistently doing the same things before bed–it could be watching your favorite show after dinner, reading, taking a hot bath, brushing your teeth, meditating, praying, writing in your journal, etc.
  1. Give yourself a time limit.

Try the 3600 second challenge–basically, you have an hour from waking up to get out of bed. Literally set a time you need to be up and compete with yourself to meet that goal.  Ellyse Rafferty, writer of mental health from The Mighty recommends 60 minutes, and calls it the one hour rule:

  • Give yourself an hour to get up.  With 60 minutes or 3600 seconds you can try to muster the inner strength to get up and bravely face reality.
  • Applaud yourself for baby steps. Some mornings you may get up from your bed only to make it onto the floor or into the shower. But that is progress.
  • Know your limits. Some days it is okay to stay in bed if that is what you truly need (this could be true when getting over an illness, recovering from overworking, raising energetic children, or even after moving).

You may find that setting a time limit will motivate you enough to move quicker than you would without having a goal set in place. You really can do a lot with 3600 seconds!

Having a routine in place and giving yourself a time limit are simple tools that can work hand in hand to help make those hard mornings a little smoother. Try these suggestions! I have found that they work in my life, and I am certain adding more structure to your life and using a time limit can help you get going in the morning. Please do not hesitate to let me know if you or someone you care about needs extra coaching–either with establishing a routine or dealing with a mental illness. Remember, mental illness is not a life sentence. You can do this one morning, one hour, one second at a time. I am always here to help!

(**A note for those facing mental illness: Although these two tips will greatly help, they are not intended to replace the need for therapy, support groups or when necessary, medication. Please consult with a trained, certified therapist if you believe you may be struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental health issues.)

Melissa Cluff is a licensed therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources:
Barking Up the Wrong Tree: “Morning Ritual: The 7 Steps That Will Make You Happy All Day”
Cluff Counseling: “Choosing the Right Therapist for You”
Cluff Counseling: “Taking the Stigma Out of Mental Illness”
HereToHelp: “Dealing with a Mental Illness Diagnosis”
The Mighty: “The ‘One Hour Rule’ I Use on Days When Mental Illness Makes It Hard to Get Out of Bed”
Mayo Clinic: “Coping and Support”
National Alliance on Mental Illness: “Mental Health by the Numbers”
National Alliance on Mental Illness: “Mental Health Conditions”
PsychCentral: “Building a Routine When You Have Bipolar Disorder”

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Outdoor Therapy: Nature’s Cure

Outdoor Therapy - Cluff Counseling - Dallas TherapistWhen Stacy Bare returned from his deployment to Baghdad in 2006, he struggled with alcoholism, a cocaine habit, and suicidal thoughts. In 2010, a fellow veteran took him rock climbing and things began to turn around. “If I hadn’t started climbing, I’d probably be another sad statistic. The focus it gave me let me leave my troubles on the ground.”

Recent studies show that being outside has both positive psychological and physiological benefits. Ecotherapy (also known as green therapy, nature therapy, and earth-centered therapy) is contact with nature and is a powerful new kind of therapy. It has been found to be just as effective against depression as traditional psychotherapy or medication, and the amazing thing about ecotherapy is that it is free! Not only is it free, but it is completely accessible to anyone at anytime.

Our ancestors recognized the benefits of nature as they spent the vast majority of their time outside; only recently have humans begun to spend more time inside than outside. Growing up, I remember playing outside every evening, after dinner until bedtime; now it is more common for kids to be inside on their handheld devices, than outside playing. Think about the last time you spent a few quiet moments outside. Did you experience the calming and mind-quieting effect that nature can have? Did you feel like you could put your fast-paced life on pause, and take deeper breaths? We often overlook the natural health benefits available to us, for free, just outside our doors. My evening walks do wonders for clearing my head, lowering my stress, and helping me get in my daily step count!

Many have documented the benefits of spending time in nature. Henry David Thoreau (best known for his book, Walden) wrote of the therapeutic effects of nature by saying, “I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.” Prominent writers, poets, and philosophers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Muir, Charles Darwin, and Frank Lloyd Wright have also written that nature has played an integral role in their quest for happiness and personal fulfillment. Said Frank Lloyd Wright, “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.”

A few years ago, researchers at the University of Essex found that 90 percent, of those suffering from depression in the study, felt a higher level of self-esteem after a walk through a country park, and almost three-quarters felt less depressed. Another survey, by the same research team, found that 94% of people with mental illnesses believed that contact with nature put them in a more positive mood. Nature has a natural healing effective that we need to tap into more.

Through his time spent enjoying mother nature, Stacy Bare was able to overcome alcoholism, a cocaine habit, and suicidal thoughts. He turned his life around; he is now the director of Sierra Club Outdoors and a large advocate that adventure therapy be on par with pharmaceutical treatments. He says that physician-recommended outdoor recreation would be a cheaper, safer alternative to prescription drugs and would result in less depen­dence on medications and lower health care costs. In 2013, Bare partnered with Dacher Keltner, a psychologist from Berkeley, to organize rafting trips for veterans. Their findings are striking–35% experience a decrease of PTSD symptoms after a single two-day rafting trip. They summarized, “We have pharmaceutical solutions for health problems that can be solved by the great outdoors.” One vet, in the study, took up kayaking and reduced the amount spent on his meds from $25,000 per year to $5,000!

Although these findings certainly seem indicative of improved mental health and decreased cost of government funding, there is still work to be done before a healthy dose of nature can be an actual prescription. “If we could package the outdoors and call it a pharmaceutical, it would be sold widely.” Bare is certain continued research can usher in the day when we can get a prescription to cover the cost of of guides, specific gear for outdoor recreation, a rafting trip, or new hiking boots. He says, “No one questions using sick time to go to the therapist. If you end up healthier and more productive by taking a powder day, it just makes sense. Xanax isn’t seen as an extravagance, and time outdoors shouldn’t be either.”

I know that it is not easy to make time to take care of ourselves–to put down our paperwork or housework and turn off our computer– and to get outside. We have many obligations and responsibilities that demand our attention, and taking the time for self-care seems like one more thing to fit into our schedules (to learn more about self-care, read this post).  Getting outside can be as simple as gardening, bird watching, taking a stroll around your neighborhood, swinging or having a picnic at the park, paddle boarding, jogging, viewing the sunrise/sunset, taking a leisurely ride on a bicycle, and a host of other activities. We must identify what is keeping us from taking care of our bodies and minds and make the necessary changes. Literally schedule time for yourself!

Next time you are feeling frustrated with life, down, or lonely, reach for your tennis shoes instead of your medication. Enjoying a healthy dose of mother nature does incredible good for both your mind and body.  I offer walk and talk therapy for some of my clients; it is amazing what can be accomplished when I spend just 20 minutes outside walking with my clients at the beginning of a session. Please do not hesitate to contact me today to schedule your first personalized session.

(Melissa Cluff is a licensed therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.)

Resources:
Cluff Counseling: “Are You Addicted to Your Phone?”
Cluff Counseling: “Self-care: Is it Selfish?”
CRC Health: “Why Nature is Therapeutic”
Los Angeles Times: “A new twist on mental health: Running with the therapist while discussing life’s problems”
Outside Online: “It’s Time for Doctors to Prescribe Outdoor Therapy | Outside Online”
Psychology Today: “The Power of Nature: Ecotherapy and Awakening”
WebMD: “Do You Need a Nature Prescription”

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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.

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Self-care: Is it Selfish?

Self-care | Cluff Counseling, Dallas Marriage and Family TherapistLife can be draining. We are constantly surrounded by a barrage of common, everyday stressors like financial strain; employment, unemployment or deployment; addiction; sickness; or familial discord. If we are not careful, life’s demands can overwhelm, frustrate, or discourage us. Self-care is a tried-and-true method prescribed by therapists, and other professionals, to help clients improve their overall health. In this post, I will explain how self-care is not a selfish use of time, but actually one of the best ways to improve your overall health. Keep reading and I will give a few ideas for how you can improve your self-care today!

Any string instrumentalist can tell you the importance of loosening the strings of your instrument when it is not in use. When a violin, viola, cello, or double bass is put in its case to be stored, the strings need to be loosened; then, when it is time to play again, the musician will tighten the strings and adjust the tuneage. This ensures that there is not constant, damaging pressure on the strings or the instrument itself that would impede it from playing optimally. Self-care is to humans what “loosening the strings” is to a string instrument–a rest, a break, a reprieve. It is not selfish, self-indulgence or self-pampering. It is care provided for you, by you. It is taking the time to do some of the activities that nurture you. It is about identifying your own needs and taking steps to meet them. Self care is about taking proper care of yourself and treating yourself as kindly as you treat others. It is vitally important to our overall health, yet we often fail to make time for it.

Most of us, myself included, could improve on how we take care of ourselves. We run ourselves ragged fulfilling our responsibilities and obligations at work, at home, at church, or with our family and friends. We neglect ourselves! When we do this, we see the things that are most important to us–such as our health, our relationships, our career and our life goals–negatively affected. When we live a balanced life, we are able to accomplish our to-do list and not feel emotionally drained, depleted of energy, and lacking in motivation at the end of the day.

So how well are you treating yourself? Use the following questions to identify areas of self-care you are successful in and areas you could improve in:

  • Am I getting between 6-8 hours of sleep a night?
  • Am I eating 3 balanced meals a day?
  • Am I saying “no” to extraneous responsibilities (when applicable)?
  • Am I exercising 2-3 times a week?
  • Am I making and maintaining meaningful relationships with those in my circle of support?
  • Am I making time for hobbies?
  • Am I taking time to relax?
  • Am I keeping my mind sharp by reading good books, playing word puzzles or seeking to educate myself further in areas that interest me?
  • Do I know what triggers my bad moods and am I actively working to remove those triggers?
  • Do I know how to express my emotions in healthy ways that don’t hurt myself or others?
  • Have I established spiritual or religious practices and do I practice them consistently?

If you were able to answer yes to the majority of these questions, then you are well on your way to practicing good self-care. If you answered no to any of them, you know where to start. Be intentional about your self-care–literally schedule it into your day! And please, start small with behaviors you can reasonably implement without overwhelming yourself. Remember, self-care should leave you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, not more stressed with one more thing on your plate!

I have seen clients make remarkable progress in their sessions with me when they correctly and consistently practice self-care. If your figurative strings are loosened at the appropriate times, you will be able to perform to the best of your ability when you need to. We can all improve our self-care. Let’s start today and give ourselves a little bit of a break from the rigorous lives we lead.

If you have any questions on how you can implement self-care into your life, please feel free to contact me. Similarly, if you would like help formulating an effective and personalized self-care plan, schedule your first session with me today!

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