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.

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Emotional Support Animals At a Glance

Emotional Support Animals - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville TherapistEmotional Support Animals (ESA) are no ordinary pets! They serve to stabilize and/or maintain the emotional or mental health of their owner and their role is vital! I am a proponent for emotional support animals when they can truly fill an individual’s needs. Read on to learn more!

It is estimated that 68% of U.S. households (or 85 million families) own a pet. There are some instances, however, where the animal is more than just a “pet.” In these cases, the individuals rely heavily on their animal for mental and/or emotional support. Their animals are called Emotional Support Animals, and they play an important role in the very livelihood and stability of their owner(s). This post will be all about Emotional Support Animals and hopefully will answer your basic questions about Emotional Support Animals.

What exactly is an Emotional Support Animal (ESA)?

An emotional support animal (ESA) is a companion animal that a medical professional has determined provides benefit for an individual with a disability or mental illness. The goal is for the ESA to help with or improve at least one characteristic of the disability.

Who can have an ESA?

In order to be prescribed an Emotional Support Animal, the person must have a) A verifiable disability, and b) A note from a physician or other medical professional (stating that the person has that disability and that the emotional support animal provides a benefit for the individual with the disability). ESA are typically used when the owner struggles with depression, mental health issues, autism, aspergers, psychotic disorders, or is a veteran/military individual dealing with PTSD.

When applying for housing with an ESA, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) asks two questions:

  1. Does the person seeking to use and live with the animal have a disability — i.e., a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?
  2. Does the person making the request have a disability-related need for an assistance animal? In other words, does the animal work, provide assistance, perform tasks or services for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provide emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person’s existing disability?

Answering “no” to either of these questions means that a housing provider is not obligated to make a reasonable accommodation according to HUD. This may mean that the person does not meet the definition of disability or that the assistance animal does not help with symptoms of the disability. If the answer is “yes” to both, then HUD states the FHA requires an exception to a ‘no pets’ rule.

How does an animal become an ESA?

An animal does not need specific training to become an emotional support animal. There are several websites online where you can go to register your animal. Some organizations will send you a card, a bib for the animal, and/or packets of information (depending on how much you pay). Many of these organizations are not monitored by the government, however, so I recommend choosing one carefully so as to not get scammed.

Are Emotional Support Animals ONLY dogs?

While dogs are the most common type of assistance animal, other animals can also be used for this purpose. Sometimes cats or other animals may be used by people with a range of physical, psychiatric, or intellectual disabilities. There was a case in 2012 where a guinea pig was used as an ESA, and another in 2015 where a miniature horse was filed as an ESA. All that matters is that the animal needs to alleviate the burdens that come from physical, emotional or mental illness. Obviously, any animal that poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others would be questionable (a wild or exotic animal that poses a greater risk of attack or disease to other residents could be denied based on this reason). The key indicator is whether or not the animal alleviates some part of the disability or mental illness.

Is there a difference between an Emotional Support Animal and a Service Dog?

Emotional Support Animals are animals that provide therapeutic benefits to their owner through affection and companionship, where a Service Dog is specially trained to perform a task to help someone with a disability. For example, a blind individual will likely have a seeing eye dog–a Service Dog with training and a very specific function. Other examples include pulling a wheelchair or responding to seizures. Emotional Support Animals, however, do not need specialized training to handle a task. Further, Emotional Support Animals come in different breeds and animal types and are not just limited to dogs, while Service Animals are either dogs or horses.

Can I have more than one ESA?

Although I have not seen any cases dealing with the issue of multiple emotional support animals, the basic requirements for this reasonable accommodation would be the same. If a person were to claim the need for multiple emotional support animals, he/she would need documentation supporting this need from his or her physician or medical professional. The practitioner would need to provide documentation that each support animal alleviated some symptom of the disability.

WARNING

Unfortunately, people sometimes take advantage of the Emotional Support Animal system… using their “ESA” to get out of paying pet deposits, getting into certain housing where animals typically are not allowed, or even trying to fly for free with them. In an article, from The New Yorker, the author takes a turtle, a snake, a turkey, an alpaca, and a pig (separately!) all over New York and was allowed access to all things “non-pet” because she claimed (and showed fake letters from her “therapist”–an online reference who sent a letter over after she paid $140 to be evaluated) that these were here Emotional Support Animals. I want to be clear–while there are benefits of having an Emotional Support Animal, those should not be the driving force behind having an ESA. The intended use for these animals is to alleviate discomfort and provide meaningful companionship to those who truly need it. I do not condone cheating the system, but I fully support the idea behind and purpose of having an Emotional Support Animal.

It is possible that you or someone you care about could find an Emotional Support Animal extremely helpful in dealing with mental illness or disability. I urge you to contact me with questions or schedule an appointment today and we can discuss whether or not an ESA could meet your needs. I have seen Emotional Support Animals do great work and provide much needed comfort and stability to those grasping at straws for relief. Animals are smart and intuitive, and having an ESA can add much needed comfort and stability in the lives of those who so desperately need it.

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

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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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