Escaping the Fear Trap

In a world deeply enveloped in fear, we can choose to avoid the traps that leave us feeling helpless.

The first time I remember really feeling fear was when I was in the second grade. The cold, dry winter air did not couple well with my asthma, and one night I found myself struggling for air in the middle of a terrifying asthma attack. Usually my mom or dad would grab my albuterol to calm my panicked breaths, but this time, my medicine was nowhere to be found. I couldn’t catch my breath despite all effort, and I began to worry that I never would. My mom found my medicine after some relentless searching and my breathing settled before the situation became desperate, but I still vividly remember the feeling of fear that petrified me as I searched hopelessly for air to fill my empty lungs. 

Fear is the central nervous system’s physiological and emotional response to a serious threat to one’s well being. While fear can prepare us for fight or flight responses in dangerous situations, it can also become a roadblock to progress and peace if prolonged. 

After the events of 9/11, unprecedented fear and terror filled the lives of millions of Americans. Curious how such an intense fear could spread so rapidly, researchers began to study the roots of fear. Their findings completely changed my perspective of fear and how it is cultivated. 

The study found that the roots of human fear stem from what researchers call risk perceptions. Risk perception suggests that we attribute fear to things that pose any risk toward us– the more the risk, the more the fear. This explains why humans appear to fear similar things (like heights or spiders), why we subconsciously decide what we are afraid of (like skydiving, even if we’ve never done it), and why our responses to risk are not always internal or rational, but rather emotional (screaming in a scary movie), reflecting our values and perceptions of a risk itself.

What are the Fear Factors?

What I found most interesting from my research about fear was that there were common underlying factors which seemed to alter how risks are perceived, ultimately increasing the fear experienced by populations at large toward a particular risk. I’ll share a few of these factors and invite you to consider how they may affect your risk perceptions and consequent fear. 

Factor 1: Awareness

As our awareness of a risk increases, so does our fear. Awareness can be generated by the media, word of mouth, and even personal experience.

Factor 2: Uncertainty

The more uncertain we feel of a risk, the more afraid we are. Where did the risk come from? When? Who? Is it likely to affect me? 

Factor 3: Newness 

We are more afraid of risks that are new rather than those that have been around for a while. After we’ve lived with a risk for a while, we gain a better perspective and understand the real dangers posed by the risk. 

Factor 4: Control

The more control we feel we have over a certain risk, the less fear we feel. Less control over a risk brings about greater fear. This is why people ride bicycles without helmets and rarely hesitate to drive their car; they are in control. Does this lessen the risk of injury or harm? Perhaps not, but it establishes a sense of control. 

How can we Escape the Fear Trap? 

I present these factors in hopes that you may realize, like me, that sometimes our fears do not match the facts. Whether your fears are work, school, home, family, or world-related, they can be pressing, consuming, and heavy. Yet, as we look at these factors, it’s clear that we can choose to escape the fear trap by making small, simple decisions that align our fears more with reality:

Monitor Awareness

While the media presents incredible information and benefits, it can also be a fire hydrant of facts. Monitor the sources you trust, limit your time on social media, and seek information from reliable sources. 

Discover What You Know 

There are so many uncertain things in life, but there is so much that is certain! Although there may be aspects of risk that we cannot find the answers to, there are truths and facts that can help us to feel more certain about our future. Focus on the things you know and the things that don’t change as a result of risk. 

Practice Patience

When risks are new, they feel more threatening. We can avoid the tendency to overreact by reminding ourselves to be patient. Even when others respond fearfully to news risks, we can recognize new ways to learn, live, and grow as we become familiar with risks, instead of being afraid of them. 

Control the Controllable

While some things will always lay outside of our control, we can focus on the things we can control. Study for your upcoming test; make an emergency preparedness kit; wear a seatbelt in the car. We will never be able to eliminate all risk, but we can decrease our fear as we focus on the things we can control. 

In a world deeply enveloped in fear, we can choose to avoid the traps that leave us feeling helpless. Although it takes great effort, we can handle the fear we face by heightening our awareness, focusing on what we know, learning to live with risk, and recognizing our control. Risks may always abound, but we decide how we will react to them. Let us choose courage and conscience as we encounter the risks that raid our lives. 

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas. 

References: 

Comer, R. J., & Comer, J. S. (2018). Abnormal psychology. New York, NY: Worth Publishers/Macmillan Learning.

Gray, G. M., & Ropeik, D. P. (2002). Dealing with the dangers of fear: the role of risk communication. Health Affairs, 21(6), 106-116.

Understanding Your Child’s Love Language

Love Languages

“It’s not enough to love your kids. You have to know how to communicate love to a child so that he genuinely feels loved.” ~ Dr. Chapman

Dr. Laura Markham, founder of “Aha! Parenting,” clinical psychologist, and mother says, “The kids who thrive are the ones who feel loved, accepted and cherished for exactly who they are.” One of the most important things you can do for your child–if not the most important–is consistently show genuine love. I am a believer in Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages. I have written about them at length in the context of adult relationships, but they also apply to the way children receive love from their parents and caregivers. Today, I want to put a new spin on it, though; I have never before talked about how to understand and apply the Love Languages with your littles. Though there are slight differences in the Love Languages between adults and children, the basics remain the same. Read on to know how to identify your child’s Love Language, as well as ideas for how to speak it, and pitfalls to avoid. 

TOUCH

“Mama, come snuggle me.”

If your child is constantly in your space, touching you, trying to sit on your lap, or playing with your hair, there’s your signal that he/she thrives on physical touch. Some children do not like hugging or snuggling; do not make the mistake of thinking all kids crave physical touch! While children in general enjoy being physically close to their parents, it is much more pronounced in children with this Love Language.

Here are some ideas to speak this love language: Snuggle on the couch. Let your child sit on your lap. Offer foot massages. Give high fives. Hold hands. Make a secret handshake (one mother squeezes her daughter’s hand three times to nonverbally say, “I love you”). Wrestle or try other sports that require jostling. 

Warning: Spanking or hitting any child is damaging in any and all cases, but it is particularly so to those children whose primary Love Language is physical touch. Also, according to Dr. Markham, research has shown that dads grow increasingly less physically affectionate as their daughters develop; she suggests making a habit of good-morning and good-night hugs, so it is already in place as kids get older.

GIFTS

“Daddy, will you get me a toy?”

For those children whose Love Language is gifts, they see a present as a symbol of your love. They love when you give them things. Children with this love language tend to care about how a present is wrapped. They often remember who gave them what for months or years after the fact. They also may have trouble throwing out things they have been given, even if they hardly use them. Now, before you freak out thinking your child is materialistic or that you are going to go broke buying all the things, let me talk you off that cliff. 

Here are some ideas to speak this love language: You do not need to buy a million toys to let your child know you love him/her. A gift can be anything from a very smooth stone to a ball of yarn in her favorite color. You could leave an origami creation on your child’s chair or a wildflower on her pillow. One grown woman with this love language said, “Every year since I left for college, my mom has mailed me leaves from Wisconsin so I can enjoy a bit of fall from home while living in California.”  Stickers and star charts are also concrete ways of making these children feel valued, says Parents advisor Harvey Karp, M.D., creator of the DVD and book The Happiest Baby on the Block. Low-cost options, people.

Warning: Avoid accumulating meaningless things. Give gifts that bear some meaning or are special to your child for some reason. Also, try to give gifts that are age-appropriate (for example, give your three year-old something that will stimulate her brain and encourage her to develop creativity, etc). When you are on the receiving end, be sure to make a big deal of any gifts your child gives you by hanging artwork or creating a “precious things” table for those tender presents from your youngster.

WORDS

“Mama, listen to me!”

These are the kids who listen intently and speak sweetly. They beam whenever you praise them, always have something to tell you about, and live for your loving words in return. For these children, it is not just what you say, but how you say it. They know when you are distracted or halfhearted, and it deflates them to the core.

Here are some ideas to speak this love language: 

Leave little notes in their lunch box, send texts, or even give a bracelet with something like “my hero” printed on it. Generously praise your child and let them know you see the good in them. One mother, Auburn Daily, will get down on her toddler’s level, stare into her eyes, and say, “You are the best thing in my life. You are so important to me.” Dr. Karp suggests telling a stuffed animal or anyone who will listen about something your kid did well, since research shows we all believe more of what we overhear than what is told directly to us.

Warning:  Regardless of who you are, insults cut deep. Try not to make blanket statements about these children being “bad listeners,” “bad sharers,” or anything of the like. Also, Dr. Chapman says it is particularly important for these children to hear the words “I love you” standing alone, rather than, “I love you, but …” 

SERVICE

“Mama, can you put my shoes on?”

These children may beg you to tie their shoes for them, fix a broken toy, or fluff their pillow. They like having your help–even with things they are capable of doing on their own. While it may feel like servitude to you, it is the deepest expression of love to these children!

Here are some ideas to speak this love language: One mother reports that helping her daughter get dressed in the morning is one way of doing this. Another mother says her son exclaims, “Tank you, mama, das so nice of you!” anytime she serves him food. Basic things like that show your children you love them. You can also go above and beyond by doing things like warming their clothes in the dryer on a cold morning, helping them clean up their room, or getting a stain out of a favorite shirt. 

Warning: Parents of these kids often end up feeling like servants. Obviously you want to encourage self-reliance and obedience to household rules, so picking up after your child over time may prove to be a hindrance. As with all children, it is important to encourage self-reliance and expect them to do what they can for themselves at each stage of development. The best act of service you can provide is walking your child through a new process and teaching him, step-by-step, how to be more capable.

TIME

“Daddy, come read me a story!”

These children feel most valued when you choose to spend time with them. A child who often says, “Watch this!” or, “Play with me,” is begging for quality time. Dr. Chapman’s own daughter would say, “Daddy, come to my room! I want to show you something.” They spell love t-i-m-e. 

Here are some ideas to speak this love language:  For these kids, time can be spent together doing anything. Reading books, building a tower, wrestling, snuggling, watching a movie, baking, eating, swinging, etc. All they want is you….and your undivided attention. This does not mean that you need to scrap your to-do list in order to show your children your love; instead dedicate blocks of time to your child. Dr. Markham calls this “special time,” and says it can be short, but let your child choose the activity, and be fully present the whole time. 

Warning: If your child’s love language is quality time, banishing him or her away for time out in isolation is the severest of punishments. If you have done “special time” but your child still seems to be craving your attention, try having him/her play at your side while you read or work. 

Can you see the 5 Love Languages through the eyes of your child? As you pay attention to what your child asks for, you will pinpoint his/her love language. If you are still struggling to figure out what your child’s language is, take this quiz. And remember that love languages can morph and change over time. As you embark on this journey to understand and speak your child’s language, they will feel your love, and your connection with them will grow. As always, should you find that you need help, please do not hesitate to contact me!

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

References:

Debunking the Myth: Men CAN Have Anxiety

“No matter what our circumstances, we’re all carrying around things that hurt — and they can hurt us if we keep them buried inside,” he wrote. “Not talking about our inner lives robs us of really getting to know ourselves and robs us of the chance to reach out to others in need.” 

~Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers 

There is much conversation about women experiencing anxiety in the workplace, in forming and maintaining relationships, all throughout motherhood… It is well understood that women of all ages across the globe undeniably face anxiety in nearly every stage of their lives. But why are men so quickly excluded from the dialogue on anxiety? In today’s post, I would like to do my part in creating an open conversation on men and anxiety!

Do men experience anxiety, too? The short answer is a resounding yes! Anxiety is no respecter of person; men and women alike are vulnerable to its effects. Everyone feels anxious from time to time. Not only is it common, but it is actually important that humans have the capacity to feel anxious because anxiety is the body’s way of telling you that there is a threat that needs attention. (Note: With an anxiety disorder, a person may repeatedly respond to situations as if there is a perceived threat, although there is not one.) While both men and women can feel anxious during their lives, they tend to respond to their anxiousness differently. 

The facts about men and anxiety:

  1. Studies have found that about 1 in 5 men (and about 1 in 3 women) will have an anxiety disorder during their lifetime. On top of that, only half of the men experiencing anxiety will be diagnosed and untreated! (In a recent Wall Street Journal article, it was reported that mental health professionals fear these figures grossly under-report male cases.)
  2. It is more common for men to experience anxiety than depression
  3. Men and women are prone to different types of anxieties. For instance, women are more commonly affected by generalized anxiety disorder, specific phobias, and panic disorders than men. When it comes to social anxiety disorder specifically, men and women are equally affected. 
  4. Suicide rate among men is four times higher than the suicide rate among women. This is important to note because suicide is often set in motion by indicators of anxiety–narrowing of vision, a hopelessness, the sense that things are not going to get better, etc. 
  5. Anxiety manifests itself differently in men than in women. Women tend to manifest anxiety through nervousness, excessive worry and avoidance of frightening situations. Men manifest their anxiety in ways that often seem unrelated to anxiety which can lead to many instances going undiagnosed. Researchers and psychologists are finding that men report headaches, difficulty sleeping and muscle aches and pains. Or their anxiety is masked by anger, irritability, and aggression. Men are also more likely to use alcohol and drugs to cope with anxiety, so what looks like a drinking problem may actually be an underlying anxiety disorder. 
  6. It is more socially acceptable for men to employ strategies such as substance use and alcohol to suppress their emotions than to admit to anxiety. There needs to be more talk about productive resources like men needing a good friend with whom to talk, the benefits of self-care in combating anxiety, the power of communication instead of bottling up (or ignoring altogether) feelings of anxiousness. 
  7. Men are socialized to not ask for help or be vulnerable. An informative study found that when male (but not female) leaders ask for help, they are viewed as less competent, capable, and confident. And when men make themselves vulnerable by disclosing a weakness at work, they are perceived to have lower status. This is problematic as it becomes a vicious cycle where men needing help are not able to admit to it, let alone treat it. 

In my research on men and anxiety, I came across an example that perfectly illustrated the stigma around men and anxiety: A construction worker, who worked on scaffolding 30 feet high, described daily panic attacks that would come on quickly and would make him feel dizzy, nauseous, and disconnected from reality. This went on for ten years before he sought treatment. When he finally got help, he was asked why he had waited so long; he said he felt his ‘episodes’ were a manifestation of a weakness on his part. He believed he could control them (“mind over matter) but he tried for ten years without success. This construction worker did not free himself from his debilitating anxiety until he admitted to needing and sought for help. This is the case for any man or woman struggling with anxiety: Healing and balance is possible but often requires getting professional help. 

If you struggle with anxiety, reach out. Talk about it. Get help from a trained professional. Anxiety is not a weakness. Anxiety disorders are real–often a chemical imbalance of the brain. It exists in men and women. Men, you are not alone and it is okay to get help! Everyone deserves to live their life with tools to face anxiety and be in control of their life. Healing is possible! Please do not hesitate to contact me and schedule a session.

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

References:

Breaking Up With Your Relationship Anxiety

“Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it.” ~ Kahil Gibran

You are dating someone wonderful. You are happy. You are strongly attracted to your partner. There is a deep level of trust, commitment, and enjoyment in your relationship. Yet, despite it all, you find yourself ruminating… what if she is not the right one for you? What if she is hiding some deep, dark secret? What if she is perfect but you worry about her sticking around? You fear that you are incapable of maintaining a healthy relationship and that your partner will soon find out and leave you. 

This downward spiral of thought is known as relationship anxiety. If you can relate, raise your hand. You are not alone! Relationship anxiety is actually quite normal. You might feel anxious at the beginning of a relationship–before your partner shows mutual interest in you. Or maybe you feel anxious even in the most established of relationships. You may wonder if you matter to your partner, if he/she will always be there for you, if he/she is still attracted to you, etc. The doubts can creep up in all aspects of your relationship at any given moment, really.

Oftentimes, the relationship anxiety is not necessarily caused by anything in the relationship itself (though it certainly can lead to behaviors that negatively affect your relationship). Relationship anxiety may be caused by negative experiences in previous relationships, low self-esteem, and the attachment style you developed during childhood. 

The good news is, if you are experiencing relationship anxiety, there are some simple things you can do to choose your relationship over your anxiety: 

  1. Do not pull away. An overarching theme I have seen in research and in my clients is that when you are feeling relationship anxiety, you will be inclined to pull away from your partner. You distance yourself for fear of appearing weak, overly sensitive, or a myriad of other untrue perceptions. Though it is in self-preservation, this step often damages your relationship. Do not pull away!
  2. Connect with your partner. Instead of physically and emotionally closing yourself off to your partner, work to draw closer to him/her. Connect with your partner in ways meaningful to your specific relationship; spend time one-on-one together, go on a date, do a fun activity, be intimate…whatever it is, connect with your partner. Also, be up front about the relationship anxieties you are experiencing. Express your feelings and emotions, and describe what you are going through. Being honest and open about your anxieties can quiet your fears/worries about your relationship, and will bring you closer together. This type of vulnerability inevitably leads to meaningful connection, which breeds relationship security and satisfaction. 
  3. Express your feelings. use your words…express yourself! Relationship anxiety comes from within and often has nothing to do with your partner; if, however, something specific is fueling your anxiety (ie: your partner playing on their phone when you talk or not wanting to visit your family for the holidays) try bringing it up in a respective and non-accusatory way. Use “I” statements. Through their research, Kashdan et al. found that relationship closeness is enhanced when negative emotions are openly expressed. Though you might initially think the contrary, expressing your feelings can actually lessen your anxiety and help you connect with your partner!
  4. Keep your self-esteem tank full. As I said earlier, oftentimes relationship anxiety sprouts from a lack of self-esteem. Remember that your partner likes YOU for who you are. Work to maintain your identity instead of being who you think your partner wants you to be. Be true to yourself! Practicing self-care and mindfulness help immensely with the constant effort of keeping your self-esteem tank full. See the plethora of self-care posts on my blog for more ideas on how to do this! 

In addition to the above ideas, counsel with a therapist. In therapy, you learn tools that will help you express your feelings, stay true to yourself, and connect in meaningful ways with those you love. As a trained, experienced therapist, I see individuals and couples battling relationship anxiety fairly often. I am here to help. Please contact me today to get started!  

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

Sources:

Cluff, Melissa:  “Choosing the Right Therapist for You”; “The Key to Slowing Down in a Fast-Paced World”; “Love Languages: Showing Love Through the Gift of Quality Time”; “The Power Behind Vulnerability”; “Self-care: Is it Selfish?”; “Self-Esteem & Self-Worth: Two essential Components of the Self”

Kashdan, Todd B.; Volkmann, Jeffrey R.; Breen, William B.; Han, Susan (2007). Social anxiety and romantic relationships: The costs and benefits of negative emotion expression are context-dependent. Journal of Anxiety Disorders: 21(4), 475-492. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2006.08.007.

Murray, S. L., Holmes, J. G., MacDonald, G., & Ellsworth, P. C. (1998). Through the looking glass darkly? When self-doubts turn into relationship insecurities. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(6), 1459–1480. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.75.6.1459

Porter, Eliora & Chambless, Dianne L (2013). Shying Away From a Good Thing: Social Anxiety in Romantic Relationships. Journal of Clinical Psychology 70(6), 546-561). https://doi.org/10.1002/jclp.22048

Q&A: Is My Anxiety Curable?

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow.” ~ Helen Keller

Everyone feels worried from time to time. You may worry about a presentation you have to do in school or work; or perhaps you worry about your spouse on a work trip, or your child away from home for the first time. Feeling worried is a normal emotion. Feeling anxious, however, is different. Maybe you have experienced both sentiments, but presumed them to be synonymous? Join the club. These two terms are often used interchangeably in casual conversation, but, in reality, they are quite different. Read on to learn the fundamental differences between worry and anxiety, if anxiety is a curable or not, and four everyday tools anyone can use to manage anxiety.

How are worry and anxiety different?

In a study where 189 university students were asked about the differences between anxiety and worry, worry and anxiety were defined very similarly. However, certain negative outcomes–like depression and confusion–were more related to anxiety than to worry, and problem solving was more related to worry than to anxiety. Other key differences include the following:

Worry…

Is experienced in the head. 

Is specific

Does not provoke mental imagery elicit a cardiovascular response.

Is accompanied by problem solving. 

Creates mild emotional distress. 

Is caused by a specific concern.

Is often controllable. 

Is temporary. 

Does not impact one’s overall functioning. 

Is considered to be a normal/common emotional state. 

Anxiety…

Is manifest in the body.
Is vague or general.

Provokes mental imagery and elicits a cardiovascular response.

Is not accompanied with problem solving.

Creates severe emotional distress. 

Is a non-specific, broad fear.

Is difficult to control. 

Lingers. 

Does impact one’s overall functioning. 

Is not a normal/common emotional state.

Are you beginning to see the difference between being worried and experiencing anxiety? Though there is some overlap, the two emotions are actually quite different. If I could add one more, it would be that being worried occasionally usually does not lead one to see a therapist, whereas therapy can be very helpful with prolonged anxiety.

Is anxiety a life sentence? NO!

I always tell my clients, who are battling anxiety, that what they are facing is not a life sentence! While you may feel seriously burdened by your anxiety at present, you do not need to be controlled by it. The goal of therapy is not to get rid of everything that may be causing you anxiety, but rather to give you the tools to face your anxiety and to learn from it. 

Four things you can do TODAY to get relief from your anxiety:

  1. A deep relaxation technique. There are several options for this tool. I would recommend muscle relaxation, visualization, or meditation to start. Force yourself to slow down, take deep breaths, relax, and release some of the tension you are feeling. Here are some helpful apps: Calm; Stop, Breathe & Think; UCLA Mindful.
  2. 30 minutes of vigorous exercise. This suggestion may seem obvious as regular exercise is recommended to achieve optimal health. Exercising is an amazing tool in combating worry and anxiety. Exercising releases a feel-good hormone in the brain and nervous system that positively affects you physiologically–naturally combating worry and anxiety. Additionally, vigorous exercise during the day will lead to better sleep at night which has many benefits. There is great power found in exercising!
  3. Good nutritional habits. Similar to exercise, having a balanced diet will benefit you in many aspects of your life. When you fuel your body with a well-rounded diet to sustain yourself throughout the day, your overall health with be positively influenced. You will have more energy to deal with life’s stressors, you will be less likely to fall sick, and you will be able to think more clearly. All of these outcomes will aid you in the process of rising above worry and anxiety.
  4. Replacing negative self-talk with positive affirmations to counter mistaken beliefs. Self-care is a major focus with my clients, and one form of that is positive self-talk or affirmations. You are your own worst critic. When you change your self-talk from negative and degrading to supportive and loving, you will break negative patterns to see life (and yourself!) through a different lens. This is a major step in working through anxiety.

Your anxiety does not have to be a life sentence. Seek out an experienced, qualified therapist. Develop a daily practice of deep breathing/mindfulness, get up and move your body for 30 minutes a day, eat a colorful and balanced diet, and speak kindly to yourself. Implementing these four tools in tandem will yield astronomical results in combating anxiety. Let’s get started today!

References:


I’m Not Crazy! Overcoming the Stigma Around Therapy

“In Hollywood if you don’t have a shrink, people think you’re crazy.” ~ Johnny Carson

Therapist Help

Imagine the following scenario: You go running and roll your ankle. You hear a pop and are in great pain. It turns black and blue and swells quickly. You are concerned it is broken or seriously torn, but you fear going to the doctor for help. What will your neighbors say? Will they gossip about how weak you are for not just “getting through it” or figuring it out on your own? You decide to avoid the doctor, take some Tylenol, hobble around like nothing is wrong, and hope it will just go away on its own.

This example might seem foolish to you…why would you not go to the doctor?! It may seem downright silly to not get help when help is needed!  Likewise, when a person encounters trauma, addiction, abuse, or mental illness, it is of legitimate concern and often necessitates professional help like therapy. In the exact same way a broken or sprained ankle often requires the attention of a doctor, many mental health issues require professional help. And there is nothing wrong with that! 

Recently I had a client look me in the face and say, “I don’t belong here.” She felt she should not be in my office sitting on my couch getting help from a licensed therapist because she was not crazy. She had a fulfilling career, many dear friends, and owned lots of expensive things. She did not believe she fit the image, she had in her head, of someone who needed therapy. In short, she thought therapy was for people that outwardly looked like they did not have their life together and she was not one of them. It hurts my heart to hear the shame she, and other clients have felt for being brave and seeking help. 

When studying roadblocks to receiving therapy, Patrick Corrigan and Andrea Bink (2016) had participants report fear of being stigmatized was the leading factor for avoiding treatment. Participants feared they would be treated differently by their friends and coworkers, that they would encounter rejection or discrimination as a result of seeking out mental health treatment.  Most participants would hide their psychiatric status from coworkers, friends, and even family to avoid being the victim of stigma. Thankfully, in recent years–due in large part to social media attention around the stigma around mental health and therapy–it has become much more socially acceptable to receive mental health care. It is not uncommon to hear about celebrities and prominent figures seeing a therapist; many of them highly recommend it for every- and anyone! I applaud these men and women for using their influence to break the mold and speak up on the many benefits of therapy!

The latest statistics show that the amount of people seeking and receiving mental health support is increasing! In 2018, 47.6 million U.S. adults experienced mental illness…that is 1 in 5 adults! Thankfully, 43.3% of U.S. adults with mental illness received treatment in 2018 and 64.1% of U.S. adults with a serious mental illness received treatment in the same year. 50.6% of U.S. youth aged 6-17 with a mental health disorder received treatment in 2016. Millions of Americans experience mental health challenges each year and millions are receiving help by medical and mental health professionals!

Going to therapy does not mean you are crazy. It means you are smart. Would you sit at home, alone, and let your broken ankle “do its thing” without getting help? No. You would make the proper appointments and follow the advice of the professionals so you could soon be running again. My hope, my plea, my job is to help my clients find lasting healing.  The average delay between onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years. Eleven years people will struggle with an emotional “broken ankle” before getting help. Ouch! You do not need to suffer any longer. Make the call–get in to see a therapist today.

I felt sad for the client of mine, and any others who share her sentiments. Just because you receive mental health attention does not mean you are crazy. Just the other day a client, who begrudgingly started therapy at the insistence of their spouse, recently told their new employer that they thought everyone should go to therapy, after they experienced the personal benefits of therapy. While I acknowledge you may believe that going to therapy means you are weak, crazy, limited, hopeless, etc–these stigmatic ideas could not be farther from the truth. I know my clients: THEY ARE BRAVE. They are good people who see their worth. My clients–and those who seek help in other ways–are my heroes and I will always and forever shout that from the rooftops! We need to do away with any and all stigmas that therapy is just for broken, crazy people. It could not be farther from the truth! 

If you have been letting your emotional broken ankle heal on its own because you have felt you do not “belong” in therapy, the time to act is now. Allow a licensed, qualified, experienced therapist, to help you. Emotional health, healing and happiness are possible. Contact me today!

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

References:

Q&A: Why Did I Become A Therapist?

“We all have worth; sometimes we just need to be reminded of our worth!” -Melissa Cluff 


Many of us evaluate the previous year to decide what we want to continue to do in the new year and what we want to do differently. One of the new things I want to do is spend time answering some of the  common questions that clients and potential clients ask me. I thought I would start by answering one of my most frequently asked questions–one that is a little more personal: Why did I become a therapist?

First, let me introduce myself. Although I was not born in Texas, I consider myself a Texan.  The fact that Texans had a lot of pride did not hit me until I went to Brigham Young University and saw many Texas flags proudly displayed in dorm rooms. In case you were wondering, I have never used a Texas flag as a decoration, and I also do not own a cowboy hat! I grew up in a large family and it has continued to grow with the addition of in-laws and nieces and nephews. Texas is where I was raised and it is where I returned after receiving my Masters degree from Oklahoma State University. When I am not working in my private practice, I enjoy traveling, hiking, working out, family time, and attending concerts and musicals. 

Growing up I thought I would become a teacher since I liked to boss around my younger brothers and enjoyed helping my mother with her pre-k lesson plans. In high school, someone close to me shared that they had a positive experience in therapy and that I reminded them of their therapist. That comment was the catalyst for me to seriously think about counseling as a career option and I enrolled in AP Psychology. Around that same time, I noticed that I felt drawn to the people who I knew were experiencing pain. For example, I yearned to reach out to the siblings of a student who had committed suicide, and to a football player who had been involved in a car accident where the other driver, a fellow student, had died. I wanted to go up to them and say something, but I did not know what to say or if what I had to say would be received since I did not know them.

In college, I decided to pursue becoming a therapist; I felt the “call” to be a resource for those that carry seen and unseen pain. I majored in Psychology and was on the path to getting a PhD, since I thought that was the only route to provide counseling. During my Sophomore/Junior year, I discovered MFT (Marriage and Family Therapy), which was a newer field, and learned that I would be able to see clients after earning a Master’s degree. I was thrilled with this information! Relationships were something that I wanted to focus on in therapy and becoming a LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist) would prepare me well and support my desired direction. 

Graduate school was difficult and I had to put more effort into it than I have ever had to put into anything previously. Luckily, I knew that grad school was the means to my desired end of becoming a marriage and family therapist; I pushed forward and graduated in 2007 with boxes of well-worn, 3-inch binders stuffed with annotated articles, and textbooks. I knew everything I needed to know…or so I thought! 

It quickly became evident, in my first counseling job, that I needed further training–namely in the areas of sex addiction and the related trauma. When I had saved enough money, I pursued my certification to become a CSAT (Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist) and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing). Those certifications increased my confidence that I could be a reliable resource for people in pain. I have continued to seek out training in areas that would help me better serve my clients, and that are of interest to me. Although I never loved school, I have loved pursuing higher education through additional certifications and training opportunities.

I have been in the field of marriage and family therapy since 2005 and my passion for it continues to grow! One of my most cherished roles, as a therapist, is helping the people in my office see that they are lovable and have worth. A paycheck, job promotion, or waist size does not give a person more worth; an addiction, a struggle with mental health, or strained relationship does not take away from a person’s worth. We all have worth; sometimes we just need to be reminded of our worth! 

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share why I became a therapist. If you have a question for me, email me at melissa@cluffcounseling.com.

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

Therapy is the New Self-Care


“Discovering the truth about ourselves is a lifetime’s work, but it’s worth the effort.” ~ Fred Rogers

Life 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, and discourage us. Self-care is a tried-and-true method prescribed by therapists and other professionals to help clients improve their overall health. And, thankfully, the recent focus on self-care has placed importance on taking stock in what you need to fill your cup, feel happy and less stressed, and be more capable of tackling life’s challenges. I have a suggestion that ticks all those boxes: Therapy as self-care.

Benefits to Self-Care

You may already have a self-care regimen. It likely includes bubble baths, rigorous workouts, spa days, creative or musical outlets, spending time outdoors, meditation, repeating empowering mantras, practicing gratitude… the options are endless. Self-care is the art of taking an active role in protecting your own well-being and happiness–especially during periods of stress. Self-care is how you unwind, how you recharge, how you work through emotions; it is how you connect with yourself and your inner needs. Self-care is beneficial for you and is always worth the time you put into it. 

Benefits to Therapy

Therapy gives you the opportunity to focus on yourself. Instead of repressing emotions, you work through them. Therapy connects you to the capable, grateful, calm side of yourself. Therapists are not there to solve your problems; instead, they help you develop tools for dealing with particularly tough emotions. Abraham Maslow once said, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” Therapy gives you additional tools you need for when a hammer is not working. Therapy enables you to lead your best life, overcome any obstacles that come your way, and helps you take care of yourself so you can take care of everyone and everything that depends on you. 

Sound familiar?

The benefits of self-care and therapy are strikingly similar; that is because therapy is a form of self-care. Yes, therapy is yet another way to practice self-care! We often overlook or ignore it because of the stigma that therapy is shameful and should only be used as a last resort. This could not be farther from the truth! Therapy should not be a last resort, and it most certainly is not reserved only for those who have suffered a trauma or loss. Rather, therapy can benefit anyone trying to better manage the challenges of being a human in this complex world. Mental health and self-care are important, regardless of whether that includes regular girls’ nights out and yoga, or weekly therapy sessions and medication. We should never be ashamed of doing what we need to do to be healthy and happy so we can live our best lives and be our best selves. 

Yes, you could talk with your mother or best friend(s) about what is weighing you down (it might seem easier to talk with someone you know about your innermost thoughts and fears). Or, you could try therapy and see that being vulnerable gets easier with time — even easier, in fact, than confessing your musings to those closest to you. Your therapist will not judge or try to fix you, nor will he/she compare or one-up his/her own experiences with yours (like sometimes your friends and family might). Your therapist will listen and offer guidelines for how to navigate your complex emotions.  The skills you learn in therapy can be carried over into every aspect of your life. The ROI from therapy is unmatched!

Self-care is about setting aside time to understand your issues, take a break, heal, and empower yourself.  Doing planks while working out strengthens your core muscles. Repeating empowering mantras lifts you up. Going through therapy strengthens your hope that life can get better. Working with a therapist supplies you with strategies to deal with the bad days. Therapy is self-care; though I am biased, I might argue that therapy is one of the best forms of self-care. Start the new year right by adding therapy to your self-care regimen. Contact me today to get started!

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

References:

Keeping the Holiday Cheer All Year Long

“Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.” -Calvin Coolidge

I have a friend who gets truly depressed when Christmas is over. On December 26th he is like a deflated little boy confronted with the fact that Santa will be at the North Pole for the next 364 days. I understand that the end of the holidays can leave us in a slump; we all experience it to some degree! The anticipation of the jolly occasions can leave us feeling a little blue when it has all passed. 

There are certain things we can do, however, to keep the Christmas cheer throughout each year. Might I make four suggestions for how we can do so:

  1. Create a photo book. Looking at photographs can remind us of happy times from the past, and can be a great way to make ourselves happy in the present. There are so many online hosts that make uploading photos to create a photobook relatively easy, affordable and painless. Such a photo book can be a priceless treasure that will bring you great joy and happiness all of 2020!
  2. Keep celebrating. Part of the magic of Christmas is traditions. Family traditions bind families together. You spend time together, create memories, enjoy each other’s company, and strengthen your bonds. In a recent interview with CBS, Gretchen Rubin (author of The Happiness Project) recommends starting new traditions throughout the year–like the first day of spring, Groundhog Day, or this year we even have Leap Day! Find little milestones throughout the year and celebrate those with unifying traditions. You do not need the holidays in order to participate in traditions!
  3. Serve others.  One reason the Christmas season is so remarkable is because there is a natural tug to look outwards and serve others. There are food drives, clothing donations, fundraisers, Sub-for-Santas, treat deliveries, white elephant parties, gift exchanges, opportunities to volunteer and so much more. This service fill us with joy and peace; we would benefit greatly if this spirit of service carried over into the other eleven months of the year!
  4. Be a peacemaker. The holidays come with gatherings, which can lead to disagreement and discord. You may have had opportunities to be a mediator or a peacemaker this holiday season, and I urge you to continue in that pattern. If there is gossiping going on with your friends, do not take part. If there is complaining at work, point out the good. If the driver next to you has road rage, do not match it. Be a peacemaker. It will make your life and the lives of those around you infinitely better. 

I urge you to make the most out of this holiday season. Be present for your family gatherings. Pay more attention to people rather than things (or tasks). Savor the good food and the good times. And when it is all said and done, carry that happy Christmas spirit over into January-November of 2020 by revisiting photos, creating new traditions, serving others, and being a peacemaker. Doing this will be the best present you can give yourself. 

Happy holidays to you and yours! 

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

References:

A Guide to Thriving in the Holiday Season Single

During the holidays, single individuals have the unique opportunity to take up new traditions, cultivate a sense of home and celebrate the relationships that they do have.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! This month is full of dinners, parties, events, service, and gatherings.  Because the holiday season is very couple- and family-oriented, it is incredibly easy for those who are single to feel down and lonely. I want to share some ideas for how you can make the holidays truly wonderful even if you do not have a significant other. 

Instead of focusing on your loneliness (which is easy to do), try viewing your singleness as a gift this holiday season. As a fellow single person, I believe that during the holidays, we have the unique opportunity to take up new traditions, cultivate a sense of home and celebrate the relationships we do have. I have compiled a list of several practical ways to get started!

  1. Holiday dates. Sure, dating is hard, but there are so many fun activities you can do around the holiday season. Instead of shying away from dating this time of year, take advantage of it! Ask a friend, or someone you have had your eye on, on a fun, low pressure date. Nutcracker and cocoa? Sign me up!
  2. Volunteer. There are a million opportunities to give around the holidays. I encourage you to serve at a soup kitchen, participate in a food drive, volunteer at an animal shelter, be a part of Sub-for-Santa, or do whatever you enjoy to make someone else’s season better. Giving heals the soul and will certainly invite the spirit of Christmas into your life.
  3. Organize your space. There is nothing better than starting the new year feeling organized and less cluttered. Make your living space somewhere you want to be by cleaning and making it homey. You can also do some good by donating things you do not need to a local charity (or selling them to make a few extra bucks).
  4. “TREAT YO’SELF.” Tom Haverford from Parks and Rec would tell you to buy yourself that gift you have been eyeballing. Schedule a spa day. Pamper yourself with a nice massage, manipedi, facial, whatever will loosen you up. Treat yo’self!
  5. Take a solo trip. If you can swing it financially, think about doing some traveling by yourself. No need to plan a huge, expensive excursion; consider exploring a new city — even if it is just for a night or two. 
  6. Hand make/bake presents. If you have several people you need a gift for, consider getting creative and making something. Creativity is a healthy outlet and also a form of self-care. Plus who would not want a tiny loaf of your homemade zucchini bread?!
  7. Create your own traditions. You do not have to wait until you have a significant other to start a tradition. You can start practices that bring joy to your life, no matter your relationship status. Buy a Christmas tree for your apartment, host an annual holiday movie night, volunteer at a local homeless shelter… the options are endless! One of my favorite things is to simply turn off all my lights,  turn on my Christmas tree lights, and curl up under my Sherpa blanket at the end of a long day and watch a holiday movie. 
  8. Embrace spending time alone. Learning to enjoy being alone is a journey. And although the holiday season can be a lonely one, it is also a great time to reflect on yourself. With extra time off during the winter, you have an excellent opportunity to spend time with yourself, pursue your passions, and make goals. Take time to be introspective; you may find it helpful to journal and reflect on the highs and the lows of the year, and what you want the next year to look like! 
  9. Remember that there’s nothing wrong with being single. Everyone spends time being single. It is a natural stage of life, and some are in this stage longer than others. If you are feeling discouraged and are tempted to stay home, I urge you to be brave enough to go into spaces where you might be the odd one out. Try to embrace your stage of life without feeling jealous or bitter. You can desire the kind of relationship that someone else has without letting that desire drive you to bitterness. 
  10. Focus outward. Ask yourself, how can I make this holiday better for others? It sounds really basic, but I have discovered that focusing on other people’s happiness makes me much less concerned with my own. It is nearly impossible to feel bad about myself when I am taking care of others. 

Regardless of whether you are single because you have broken off a long-term partnership or have been single your whole life, I hope that these tips encourage you to view your singleness not as an inconvenience, but as a blessing–full of beauty and opportunities for growth.  Make the most of what remains this holiday season by volunteering, taking care of yourself, creating your own traditions, and spending time with loved ones. You do not need a significant other to have the best holidays ever. Happiest holidays to you and yours!

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

References: