Anxiety

Four Ways To Make Next Year A Great Year

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Reach Your Goals/Change Your Life

It’s difficult to believe that 2018 is coming to a close. I’ll bet you remember when the year was still fresh. A clean slate to write upon. Yet now the year is quickly running to the finish line. Another chapter of life written.

Many of us use this time to reflect on memories of what went well, the successes we’ve had, times with family and friends, and the goals we’ve achieved.

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On the other hand, many of us also look at what we would like to have done differently. This can be a little painful. It might even cause some anxiety to look at those goals that were not reached. Things we promised ourselves we would finally complete, but once again somehow never got around to doing. (Spoiler alert… I’m going to show you how to move those painful items to the “Been there, done that” column of life).

All of this brings us to the topic of New Year’s resolutions.

With a new year stretched out before us, it’s natural to want to set ambitious goals. Important and personally meaningful goals. Often, without too much thought, we’ll latch onto a couple of things we would like to change in our life and then make a New Year resolution.

Sadly, by the middle of the year, most of us have broken these resolutions. I feel your pain. 

Yep, by the time the weather turns warm, most of us have tossed aside our New Year resolutions. Dumped them on the side of the road that leads to summer. Tossed them out the window as if they were some regrettable impulse buy made at the Dollar Tree store. (True confession, I’ve never regretted a Dollar Tree purchase – but that’s not the issue).

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Have you found yourself in that situation? The odds are you have – like most of us. Welcome to the club. But take a moment now to consider what might have happened if you had succeeded in fulfilling one or two of those resolutions? Better yet, what if you had been successful in keeping your resolutions over each of the past five years?

How might your life be different? In what ways could it be better? In what ways might you have become a better version of yourself? Really give that some thought.

Resolutions that are successful, even small resolutions, have the potential to dramatically change one’s life.

I recall the story of a woman in her 40’s who was depressed, overweight, socially isolated and a chain smoker. On a trip overseas, in a remote location, she found herself unable to buy cigarettes. For a full week she would be without her smokes.

“Why doesn’t Trip Advisor warn about such things!” she screamed into her pillow (OK, I added that, not sure the whole screaming into the pillow was part of her story).  

Bottom line, the woman was not pleased. Nicotine withdrawal is a bear.

But by the end of the week she had an insight. Despite her numerous attempts to stop smoking throughout the previous ten years, she had never gone a full week without a cigarette. Now that she had a full week of being clean, she wondered if she could extend that streak for one more day.

It wasn’t easy, but she stayed clean another day. Then another, and another, and another. By this point her confidence had soared, as had her determination to stay ‘nicotine sober.’

Having kicked cigarettes out of her life, she physically felt much better. Her sleep had improved. Her thinking was clearer. She began to savor the subtle flavors of food that had been dulled by a two pack a day habit.

So she decided to start exercising. Every morning began with a brisk walk. It wasn’t long before she was waking earlier and walking three miles a day. Then jogging, and then running.

Eventually she joined a running group. The other runners were warm and welcoming. Friendships formed.

Her friends encouraged her to sign up for a half marathon. They would run as a group. To prepare for the challenge she changed her eating habits. Due to all the running and healthier eating she began to lose weight.

All of these changes took place within two years of her having stopped smoking. A small change in her life had unforeseen consequences. It altered her outlook, and pushed her in a new direction.

Two years previously she had been unhappy, smoking two packs a day, in poor health, and had almost no real friends. Now she was the picture of health, supported by friends, and optimistic about the future.

The right changes, even small ones, can shift our lives in dramatically new directions. These changes are similar to the slight push on the tiller of a boat. This causes the rudder to move ever so slightly one way or another, changing course of direction just a few degrees.

What sort of difference do these small changes make? Well, if you were sailing north from the southern Pacific Ocean it would make the difference between making landfall on the coast of Russia, versus the United States.

New Year resolutions that are well chosen can have a similar impact on your life, drastically altering where you find yourself in the coming years.

Resolutions Are Goals

Resolutions are simply goals. And goals that we stick to have tremendous power because they change life’s trajectory. They have the punch to rekindle old passions. To unveil forgotten potential, and spark a cascade of positive change.

We all need goals. Better yet, we need good goals. Those that lead us to form habits which, having become second nature, move our life forward even when we are not consciously striving to do so.

One example of such a habit is that of getting consistently getting a good night’s sleep. Nail this habit and you will see a change in improved energy, a brighter mood, and a clearer mind. Or the habit of reading leads us to expand our knowledge and view the world with a more informed perspective.

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What we want to avoid are resolutions, or goals, that wither and die. These lead to a sense of frustration. Of being stuck. Powerless to change our own destiny.

Better to not make any New Year resolutions than to perpetually fail at keeping them. I know, sounds harsh. But there is no upside to going through an end of year ritual that teach us to expect failure.

The ‘take home’ message? Take aim at forming resolutions that you are willing to fully commit to fulfilling. Chose resolutions, no matter how small, that will enrich your life in some way.

When choosing a resolution think of a ‘why’ that makes it worth sacrificing time and energy to complete. The ‘why’ boils down to how it improves your life, or the lives of the people you most deeply care for.

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How To Make Resolutions That Stick  

So how do you stick to a New Year’s resolution?  

By building a strategy that supports your success at reaching the goal you have set. 

What’s that again? Let me elaborate.

Most resolutions are made with a great deal of sincerity, but very little detailed planning. To increase the odds of success, you need even more planning than sincerity. If a goal is not worth the time and effort needed to make a detailed plan for succeeding, then it is unlikely to be worth the even bigger effort it takes to reach that goal.

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There are four simple steps you can follow that will make reaching any goal much more likely. Each step requires some earnest thought.

This ‘thinking through the details’ of how to reach your goal can be challenging. But if you’re willing to put in the effort, the rewards are great.

Let’s go over each step.

ONE            Select a realistic goal. For example, if you want to learn a new language in the coming year, your goal might be to memorize three hundred words of that language. With that vocabulary having been built up you might also aim to have 50 different sentences with which you are fluent by the end of the year.

That boils down to learning six words a week, and about four sentences a month. How much of your time would that require each week? Thirty minutes? An hour at the most?

Much more doable than the loftier goal of learning to speak a foreign language fluently by the end of the year (sorry Rosetta Stone, but let’s deal with how much spare time most people really have each day). Learning 300 words, and 50 sentences is a realistic goal, even for a very busy person like you.

If you continued with that goal for several more years you would have at your command a vocabulary of well over a thousand words, and hundreds of sentences. That’s what they call pretty impressive in French  (assez impressionnant), German (ziemlich beeindruckend), or Japanese (Kanari inshō-teki). 

TWO           Write down each step that you must take in order to succeed. Using the same example, we could easily identify several steps: buy a book, or a DVD language set, or enroll in an online course. Another step would be to set aside the time to study each day. A third step would be to identify the words you wished to learn, put them on a list and determine what words will be learned each week. Another step would be to decide how to reinforce the learning once you’ve committed a word to memory (e.g., flash cards that would be reviewed once weekly). You get the idea.

It’s important to be specific with your plan. Likewise, it is important to be committed to the plan.

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For instance, if you planned to spend ten minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evening reviewing the vocabulary words, you would mark that in your calendar. 

It would need to be treated as an important appointment with yourself. Keeping that appointment should be a priority.

Lastly, I need to emphasize that staying with your new routine will be difficult at first. But once you get started, and you’ve stayed with it for two or three months, it becomes second nature. Like brushing your teeth, just part of your routine.

THREE       Find a partner (if possible) to join you in reaching this goal. This will make it more fun, and you’ll have someone to encourage you, and help keep you on track.

FOUR         Reward yourself along the way. As you make progress toward reaching your goal, stop to celebrate. For the example about learning a language, it would be good to celebrate after every 50 words are mastered. That’s a milestone! Time for a pat on the back and a double scoop of ice cream!

Are there any other ways you can think of to make resolutions that stick? It’s worth giving some thought – it just might be the thing that sends your life in an entirely new and more rewarding direction.

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Three Unrealistic Beliefs That Create Anxiety And Depression… And How To Be Rid Of Them

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Beliefs That Hold You Back

I’ve listened to hundreds of men and women talk about their biggest fears and their most exciting triumphs. They have spoken about the things that bring the most joy into their lives, and that which creates clouds of discontent.

Through these privileged conversations, I have detected a common thread. A set of core of beliefs that lead to frustration and self-doubt. Conclusions that many people accept as basic truths about what needs to happen in life so that they can be happy. So they can be successful. That life can be richly enjoyed and filled with purpose.

When we rid ourselves of these unrealistic expectations, we become more receptive to the joys of life. We feel much freer. 

Let’s look at just three of these toxic beliefs and what can be done to reduce their influence.

Unrealistic Expectations

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One: “I have to reach some goal, possess some object, win someone’s approval. What’s more, that needs to happen right now! If I don’t succeed right away, then I cannot be truly happy.”

Solution: Keep in mind that no one succeeds in consistently meeting major life goals in the timeframe that they would like.

Impatience is an impediment to savoring the moment, a barrier to happiness.   

Many of us struggle with impatience: the feeling that we need to succeed RIGHT NOW in order to enjoy life. The first step to changing this unrealistic standard is to take a moment and recall those times when you failed to reach an important goal. It may have seemed that the world was crashing in on you. But, the fact is life did not end. Important lessons were learned. You may have even grown wiser and stronger because of the setback.

Reflecting on your past in this way will go a long way to challenging the idea that you must succeed at some endeavor within in short period of time. It may also convince you that your greatest strengths were built during times of struggle, rather than periods of success. Life is filled with both of these elements.  

Two: “I deserve…”  Then fill in the rest of the sentence. It may be “I deserve to have that job” or “I deserve to have that nicer car” or I deserve to have that person’s affection.”  This thought is often followed by “If I don’t obtain it, then life is not fair.”

When we feel as though that which we deserve has been kept outside our reach, resentment is likely to grow.

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And why wouldn’t it? If we deserve to have something, then naturally we are inclined to expect that we will eventually possess that thing/status/object that we deserve. But what happens when it remains outside our reach? Resentment takes root.

As Anne Lamott has written, “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.”  

Resentment does not make a merry companion on the road of life.  

That does not mean it is wrong to have goals – far from it. Goals are important. That much is obvious to each of us. It is the unwarranted sense that we deserve to prize of winning a particular goal that should be guarded against.

Solution: Take a deep breath, focus on savoring the present: it is part of the journey, of ‘paying your dues.’ The current effort and toil will become part of your life story, and will make later success all the sweeter. Look around at what others have had to do to win in their careers and personal life. Get some perspective. Reaching big goals requires hard work. Setbacks along the way are inevitable.

After coming to terms with that truth, take the next step. Life does not revolve around any one of us. Be humble. Humility keeps one grounded, and provides much needed perspective. Part of this perspective includes accepting that many of the things we desire, are not necessarily things we deserve.

Three: “I’m not sure why, but deep inside I know that I’m lacking. In some way, I am just not enough. But I’m uncertain what is missing, so I’ll look around, maybe check out Instagram and Facebook to see what others have which make them so happy. Then I’ll know what’s missing within myself.”

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Solution: My advice for someone who struggles with this distortion (closely related to the “Imposter Syndrome”) is to stop with the comparisons. Stay away from Facebook (go cold turkey, start a Facebook Anonymous group, whatever it takes, but stop comparing your life to that of others). Do a ‘cleansing fast’ of Instagram. Take a break, a very long break, from social media. 

Now that you have more time in your life, devote it to building deep, genuine relationships with a small number of friends and family. They will value you for who you are, warts and all. These relationships should convince you that, like all of humanity, you really are lacking, and paradoxically you really are still ‘enough.’  Good enough to be loved, good enough to be valued, and good enough to bring joy into the lives of others.

Conclusion

To live life to the fullest we must overcome those obstacles that hold us back. Some of these obstacles include the thoughts we embrace. Thoughts we unthinkingly assume to be true.

Once we begin to notice these thoughts, and challenge them, new paths for pursuing a full and rewarding life begin to open up. This takes a little work, but the rewards make the effort well worthwhile.

Take a moment to see if any of the barriers to happiness listed above might apply to you. Don’t spend another day struggling with unrealistic expectations that hold you back. Push them aside, and see how much happier life can be.

 

 

11 Tips For Parents: Teen Proofing Your Child.

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How To Avoid Massive Teenage Drama, Save Your Sanity, and Stay Close To Your Teen

The mother sitting in front of me was in tears. She looked thoroughly defeated, but more than that, she was worried. Her husband, sitting next to her, sighed deeply and shook his head in anger. “We’ve been through this a million times. It’s like hitting your head against granite… and I’m just about done.”

Sitting across from them was their 16-year-old daughter Rachel. Her expression was one of contempt mixed with boredom. She sat slouched in an overstuffed office chair, arms folded across her chest, a thousand mile stare directed out the window.

Before entering high school Rachel had been an easygoing youngster who seemed to bounce through each day as though she hadn’t a care in the world. Her parents described her as having been “a bright, happy, and outgoing” girl.

Sometime in the middle of her freshman year, however, they noticed a change in their daughter. Their easygoing daughter began to sulk when asked to do chores, and the little arguments around inconsequential topics became more frequent. Shortly after this the school began to call letting the parents know that Rachel had skipped a class, or had been found leaving the high school campus with a group of other teens.

Around this same time Rachel’s mood became even more irritable. She withdrew frequently, spending hours behind a closed bedroom door. Getting her to talk at the dinner table had never been an issue in the past. Now the parents felt lucky if their daughter spoke up at all.

As the semester wore on it became clear that what their daughter wanted most was to be left alone - unless she needed to be driven somewhere, in which case the agreeable and sweet side of Rachel from times gone by suddenly reappeared.

The parents responded to these changes by telling their daughter how disappointed they were in her choices. When this did not have the desired impact they would shift to stern reprimands and punishment. Confrontation and tense exchanges started to punctuate each week.

Rachel’s behavior always showed brief improvement after one of these heated conflicts, but over time she learned to simply agree with whatever her parents said, and then immediately ignored all of their warnings.

Her mother and father unwittingly developed a routine. Each evening before going to bed the conversation would turn to the topic of Rachel’s most recent act of defiance. Back and forth they tossed ideas, expressed their worry, spoke of their anger and wondered what had gone so wrong. The home that two years before had been filled with laughter and a sense of intimacy was now an emotional war zone.

Anger and conflict had replaced the warmth and sense of oneness they had previously enjoyed. Rachel’s parents were confused. How could such a sweet girl transform into one who was so resentful and rebellious? How could their family life so quickly shift from being a haven of support to a crucible of conflict?

The ‘last straw’ occurred when the parents returned home early from a ‘date night’ and found that Rachel had invited a boy into the house for a date night of her own. Feeling desperate, the parents decided to call a therapist.

How To Save Your Teen (and yourself) From The Pain of Adolescence

The story of Rachel is a familiar one: a rebellious adolescent whose misbehavior creates years of emotional turmoil within a family. There are, however, ways of making this outcome less likely. Of putting the odds for a happy adolescence in your favor.

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Preparation is the key. From the time a child is a toddler, parents need to focus on preparing their child to meet the challenges of adolescence. 

To know how to prepare your child for adolescence you need to recognize what challenges your teen will face. Only by knowing what lies ahead can you also know how to prepare your child.

This is no different from any other aspect of life. If you are preparing to run in a marathon, your training will focus on endurance running. On the other hand, if you are preparing to compete in a chess tournament your training will involve studying common chessboard strategy, and improving your ability to think three or four moves ahead in the game. Running several miles each day in order to prepare for a chess match…. Well, not too helpful.

So what challenges do teens face? To get a clear answer to this question we need to realize that this period of time is the “launch pad” to adulthood. The youngster who recently enjoyed playing with Legos or dolls, is now immersed in the business of preparing for adulthood.

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The teen’s job during these years is to:

Begin to make independent decisions

Select life goals

Grow more responsible

Find a path in life that fits with his/her abilities and interests

Develop mature and supportive relationships with peers

Learn how to understand and relate to the opposite sex

Figure out how to maintain a close relationship with parents while still becoming increasingly independent.

Deal appropriately to the rapid physical transformation of their body   

There is no other time in an individual’s life where so many changes are required of an individual in such a short period of time. In case things are not already dicey enough, added to all of this are the following:

A massively heightened sense of insecurity (found in most teens)

A belief that the world revolves around oneself

A growing desire to distance oneself from parental influence

An influx of hormones.

This begins to sound like a cocktail designed to drive both teens and parents to the limits of crazyland.

The good news. It doesn’t have to go down that road!

What Teens Need To Successfully Navigate The Adolescent Years

To travel through adolescence and succeed, to traverse these years and remain close to parents and experience minimal drama, a few basic skills must be firmly developed ahead of time. These skills, or aptitudes, include the ability to avoid falling into the following traps:

Giving in to peer pressure in order to be “cool” or popular

Acting on emotion rather than reason

Lack of focus – chasing the newest ‘shining object’

Feelings of profound inadequacy (which may lead to a poor choice friends,         drug/alcohol abuse, self-harm)

Failure to consider the advice of trusted adults

Combative attitude toward parents

When the skills needed to avoid these pitfalls are taught from an early age, they are more likely to become deeply rooted in a child’s character. They become second nature.

This makes it easier to resist the pressures mentioned above that every teen faces.

How To Prepare For Adolescents

What can you do to help your child be ready for the challenges that lie ahead? Several things. Some easy, some not so much. But none of them requiring superhuman skills. Here is a brief list. 

Let your child fail. Yes, I know, you’ve heard it before – but let it sink in. All of us parents know we need to do this, and all of us hate letting our children fail.

Even so, we know deep down that setbacks in life are inevitable. They are something each of us face from time to time. Learning to experience failure, and have it neither define nor defeat you, is how one grows stronger. It is an essential skill for living a successful life.

Be supportive but not enabling. When your child has fallen short in some way, it is helpful to provide support and perspective. When life has dealt them a cruel hand in some way be the shoulder they can lean on, but don’t treat them as a victim. Do this by reflecting confidence in their ability to bounce back, to overcome. Help them realize that they may be victimized by fate, or mistreated by friends they had trusted, but help them never lose sight that they are capable of overcoming those heartaches. Those that overcome hardships are victors, not victims.

Show your child that you have confidence in him/her.   Confidence is learned. Children learn confidence by seeing it reflected in their parents’ appraisal. (That is one of the reasons for letting children try and fail – it reflect confidence in the child’s ability to persist and win the goal with continued effort). Confidence is also learned through experience. Steer your child toward activities within which he or she can excel.

Put setbacks in perspective, they are not the end of the world. When comforting your child in response to some setback in life, provide some perspective. This is not to say you should minimize the distress your child feels, but the events surrounding that hurt need to be realistically viewed.

Place more emphasis on character than accomplishments (the effort put into getting an A or B grade is much more important than the grade itself). Character trumps ability. Without character ability is hallow, it is like a ship without a rudder. Your child’s persistence and effort is more important than the final outcome. The youngster who is naturally gifted and earns straight A’s putting forth little effort is much less ready for adulthood than the child who earns straight B’s by putting forth consistent effort.

Build a relationship that welcomes your child’s ideas, even when those ideas conflict with your own. Speak with interest and genuine regard about your child’s ideas, even if they appear foolish. You need not pretend that they are accurate. You should, however, try your best to help your child understand that you welcome the opportunity to understand his or her perspective. In this way, when your youngster is a teen, he or she is likely to feel more comfortable openly discussing various topics with you.

Teach your child how to choose friends wisely.  When children are young parents do best by helping them to choose their friends. These relationships will teach your child what to expect from peers as they grow older. They will also help to shape your child’s preference for the type of friendships formed later in life. When they are in their teens, these foundational friendships will act as guardrails to keep them on track. Badly chosen friendships will act as seductive invitations to behave in ways that have long term consequences.

Teach your child that it is better to follow his/her judgement/moral compass than it is to win the approval of others.  Celebrate every instance of your child following his/her conscience. When faced with the enormous peer pressures of the adolescent crowd, conscience will be the ultimate bulwark against regrettable decisions.

Teach self-control.  Performing household chores, not allowing temper tantrums in older children, developing good manners, sticking to routines even when it is difficult are all ways in which children learn self-control. When confronted with the mix of adolescent stress and hormones, self-control is a stalwart friend.

Emphasize respect for authority even while emphasizing independent thinking skills.  Children who respect authority figures develop a stronger sense of confidence than those who constantly rebel. They have fewer problems at home and in school. Life is sweeter.

Nevertheless, there needs to be a balance. Your child needs to learn to think independently. To understand that authority figures can be respected, and still be mistaken. This is a process. A gradual process.

By helping your child acquire this perspective, the teen years will be relatively free from the unnecessary travails that arise when an adolescent feels obliged to rebel against authority figures.

Teach your child to be grateful.  Gratitude provides perspective, instills a sense of connectedness to others (those to whom we are grateful), and encourages generosity. Children who learn gratitude are happier, and this acts as a barrier to the discontent that afflicts many teens.           

Conclusion

The teen years can be a wonderful time of growth, or a tumultuous period of stress for the adolescent and his/her family. To make the most of these years requires preparation. Specific skills need to be developed that prepare the teen to meet the challenges that will inevitably be faced. Parents who, early on, begin to develop these skills in their children are much more likely to have teens that emerge from adolescence ready to take their place within the world of adults.

You can do this…. Start now.

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Texting Anxiety - Is It A Thing?

 Young woman texting Folsom Counseling Anxiety

Anxiety… And Waiting To Hear Back

Anxiety is a common problem that everyone deals with from time to time. But texting anxiety? Really… Is that a thing?

Until last week I had never even considered the anxiety that might be attached to texting. Then a question came up from a journalist asking how best to deal with ‘texting anxiety.’ Hmmm. I must confess this is not something with which I wrestle. Not to say I’m too good, too enlightened to be bothered by such trifling matters. Heck, there was a time when getting the right mix of cavendish and burly pipe tobacco could cause me to break out in a cold sweat (it’s more important than you may think, and requires the nimble imagination of an alchemist to get it just right).

But texting anxiety had not come up on my radar. So I took this as a challenge to think about some simple ways one could deal with the matter. In case you’re interested, follow this link to Southern Living.

Lessons Learned From The Other Side Of The Couch

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Facing Heartache & Pursuing Happiness

I’ve been a therapist for many years now. Over the course of those years people of various backgrounds, struggling with a variety of different challenges, have sat across from me.

Some have been young, others old. Some were full-time homemakers, others were skilled tradesmen, students, or unemployed. Still others were involved in successful practices involving medicine, the law, or business.

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A number of these individuals had grown up in wonderfully supportive homes, while others had struggled growing up in abusive, chaotic and horribly dysfunctional families.

Pretty early on in my career I began to notice that regardless of one’s history, or present circumstances, the people who succeeded in building a happy and full life had certain traits in common. For some people, these traits, or characteristics, seem to have developed easily. Perhaps they were winners in the genetic lottery. For most, however, the traits that helped them weather life’s storms, and create happier lives, appeared to be hard won.

Today I want to look at just one of these traits. Of all the qualities that add to one’s ability to build a full and happy life, this one may be the most difficult to build. But not impossible. Far from it. With persistence, and continued practice, this trait will take root in one’s character, and a richer life will be crafted as a result.

Responsibility   

Assuming responsibility for one’s happiness is one of the top key traits I’ve seen in those who appear most fulfilled in life. This is true whether the person is currently struggling with grief, depression, anxiety or some other distress. It is not that these people don’t recognize the severity of the hardships that bear down on them: they do not view life through rose colored glasses. Very much the opposite. They are realists to the core.

Instead of glossing over the heartaches of life, they squarely acknowledge the pain of each setback. Having down so, however, they also take full responsibility for the task of then moving forward and building a happy life as best as their abilities will allow.

A more natural reaction to have in the face of great heartache, and one that many of us may have indulged in on occasion, is to exclaim “If only XYZ were different, then I could be happy.”

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This way of thinking is attractive because it often contains at least a kernel of truth. If your boss had been fair, you really would have received that promotion, and that truly would have made life much better. If that other driver had not run the red light you would not have been injured, and would not now be facing months of physical therapy. If only….

It’s interesting to note, however, that those who manage to build happy lives despite these sort of hardships do not spend a lot of time dwelling on the “If only” scenarios of life. Sure, they recognize when life has dealt them a harsh challenge. They might momentarily become sad, grief stricken or angry. But this is does not become an entrenched state of mind. They find no permanent comfort in viewing life from that perspective. It is not a mental state where they set up camp.

More often than not, when they do get dragged into those mental marsh lands, they find ways to dig themselves out. They continue to look for paths to higher ground where they can stand on the firmer road of hope, friendship, and a life of shared purpose.  

What fuels these men and women, in part, is a sober acceptance of the reality that only one person can ultimately change their life. Only one person has responsibility for their happiness. That one person, of course, is them self.

An example of this approach to life may help drive the point home. Some years ago I had been talking to a friend, Chris, at dinner when the conversation turned to the topic of his father. Chris mentioned that his dad (let’s call him Jack) had a difficult childhood. As a teen growing up in the Midwest in the 1950s, Jack unexpectedly found himself in a compromising situation. Sizing he situation up, he quickly decided that leaving the state in search of friendly environs would redound to his great advantage. Jack had heard that California was the land of opportunity, and so a young man in his teens he struck out on his own and headed off to the Golden State.

After arriving in California he bounced around from job to job, even spending some time as a professional boxer. Eventually, however, he decided that learning a trade was the way to carve out a more secure financial future. Jack figured that becoming an electrician would be a good idea: it provided a decent income, and work would always be plentiful for someone with that skill set.

Getting an electrician license required several years of apprenticeship. The rewards of being in that trade would not come easily. Even so, Jack knew that the payoff would be worth the price and apprenticed himself to a local electrician.

After several years of working long hours for very little money, Jack went to the government office that issued electrician licenses. After patiently waiting in line, he stepped up to the licensure desk where a neatly dressed woman sat. “Good morning mam. I’m here to apply for my electrician’s license.”

The woman looked puzzled and remained quiet for a moment before saying “You can’t get an electricians license.” Jack thought she had misunderstood. “I’ve got all my documents right here. All the hours I’ve apprenticed. It’s all in order.” He politely placed his paperwork on the desk.

Without looking down at the documents the women calmly replied “It’s not a matter of how many hours you’ve apprenticed. That’s not it at all. We don’t issue electrician licenses to negroes.”

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Chris finished telling the story.  I thought for a moment, then commented about how the injustice of the situation would cause me to be both angry and bitter.

It seemed a reasonable sentiment. After all, without any just cause his father had wasted several years of his life, hours of labor, and the application of his skills pursuing a goal that was foreclosed by blatant bigotry. I started to elaborate but my protests were cut short. Chris leaned back in his chair and began laughing.

Smiling and shaking his head in disbelief he said “Well, you don’t know my father. He is one of the least bitter men I’ve ever known. Nope, if he was bitter he didn’t let it stick to him. Instead he just walked away and began to think about other trades he could pursue. Didn’t take him long to land on the idea of selling real estate… and he ended up doing extremely well. I mean really, really well. My dad wasn’t one to let others determine his happiness. He took charge of his own life.”

That story struck a note. Chris’ father had not justified the bigotry that foreclosed the possibility of being an electrician. But neither did he let it define him, consume his thoughts, curtail his pursuit of success, or dampen his happiness. He focused on what he could do to carve out a life that was meaningful, full, and satisfying. As a result, he was not only freed from bitter resentment, but emotionally unburdened so as to fully enjoy the success that his continued hard work and skills would eventually bring about.

Conclusion

Whether we are struggling with gross injustice, misfortune, illness, or the ramifications of our own poor choices, the final responsibility for a life well lived ultimately rests on our own shoulders.

It’s true that some of us face much tougher challenges than others. The disparity in the hardships we face can seem unfair. Even so, this does not alter the reality of how we secure a full and happy life: by accepting that no matter the challenges we face, it is up to each of us to build a full and happy life.

 Folsom therapy

Those that I’ve known who do this well would not claim that it is easy. Many of them have been faced with terrible losses and setbacks. Their lives marked, at times, by great heartache. But even so they push on, not letting themselves remain focused on the pain, but relentlessly searching for ways to drink in whatever joy they can find in life.

This does not erase the sorrows that invariably must be faced. But for those who adopt this approach, it affords a road that more often than not leads to a much brighter future.

Social Anxiety – Breaking Free

Say Good Bye To Social Anxiety

 Folsom Therapy Social Anxiety Man on Boardwalk

In a therapy group for young teens that I was leading, there was a very shy girl name Jocelyn (not her real name). When Jocelyn came to her first group meeting she refused to introduce herself. Sitting at the table with other girls, she looked down at her lap and slouched forward, her hair hanging like dark ribbons covering her face.

Jocelyn met the diagnostic criteria for what is called social anxiety disorder.

Like many with social anxiety Jocelyn was very unhappy with how isolated this made her feel. She realized that she was missing out on enjoying friendships, school events, involvement in sports and clubs, and so much else.

But the fear of taking those initial steps to alter her behavior outside the therapy room continued to hold her back. Fear is like that - a heavy ball and chain that often makes progress in any direction seem impossible.

So it was no surprise that after the first month in group therapy Jocelyn had not changed a great deal. Despite the occasional smile when another group members made a joke, or a quick glance in my direction when I had said something that hit home, she mainly just sat silently through every group meeting.

Several months later, however, by the end of her time in group, Jocelyn was a very different teen. She had become a gregarious as a greeter at Harrah’s Casino.

Now she would come to the clinic for her group therapy meeting but spend ten minutes hitting the staff up to buy coupon books for her school. Or, she might attend group wearing a plastic mustache and western hat just to a laugh out of the other teens.

Most importantly, Jocelyn began to talk more freely about her life, the ups and downs of school, and the struggles that went on at home.

What had happened to create this change?

That, my friend, is the million dollar question. The transformation this young girl experienced is not unusual. There are well understood steps that nearly anyone can take to gain control over their social anxiety. If you have social anxiety, or are simply very shy, these steps are for you - and describing these steps is what I’ll be focused on today.

But before we get to looking at how you can beat social anxiety, let’s take a quick look at how widespread this form of anxiety has become, and the sort of impact it makes on one’s life.

How Big A Problem Is Social Anxiety?

Almost 18 percent of adults in the United States have some form of anxiety (that is nearly 40 million people). Of these, social anxiety is the most common fear that people acknowledge themselves to be struggling. Approximately 7 percent of adults struggle with social anxiety (sufficiently severe that it significantly interferes with their lives).

 Folsom Therapy statistics on social anxiety

Nearly one third of adults continue to have social anxiety for ten years or longer, and most never turn to a mental health professional for help.

The impact of social anxiety is surprising. You might be tempted to think that it simply means the person who struggles with this fear stays away from parties, and has fewer friends than other people who are more outgoing.

It goes well beyond those mild constraints. When social anxiety takes root early in life it can lead to being ostracized by peers.

Children who are strongly marginalized early in life tend to remain at the social margins of their peer group throughout their years in grammar school, junior high and even high school. These children also end up being a much greater risk for school dropout, teen-age pregnancy, drug/alcohol abuse and delinquent behavior.

 Folsom Therapy Infographic on Impact of Social Anxiety

The bottom line is that social anxiety can be life changing. For adults who have had an otherwise healthy psychological history this form of anxiety robs them of living life more fully. They have fewer opportunities to develop a variety of friends, and to fewer times of experiencing a sense of belonging within their community.

For children, social anxiety deprives them of important life experiences that prepare them for navigating relationships in adulthood. Children also miss out of the confidence building experience of being appreciated by peers, and successfully finding common ground with those that come from a different background.

The impact of social anxiety goes beyond being a slight inconvenience. For many, it is a major obstacle to fulfilling their potential.

Is There A Way To Cure Social Anxiety?

Treatment for social anxiety is remarkably effective, and simple. But I want to be sure to be very clear. Although the process of overcoming social anxiety is simple, for many it is also very difficult. Just as running a marathon is simple, but difficult.

For the most part the treatment of social anxiety involves learning two new skill sets: social skills, and relaxation skills. After learning these skills, then another phase of therapy takes place: practicing in real life settings. That practice must occur over and over again. That is how the anxiety is finally stomped out, and likewise how social skills become second nature.

You can do this – nearly everybody can do this, but it takes time and a lot of persistence.

What’s more, you may be able to do this without seeing a therapist. Certainly it is helpful to have a counselor who coaches you through the steps. But many people will find that even without that help, they are able to make progress on their own.

 Folsom Therapy Infographic Relaxation and Social Skills Lead to Increased Confidence

The main idea is this - if you learn the skills needed to successfully manage social situations, and combine these with the skills needed to control your anxiety, you can start to experience rewarding social interactions in the very type of situations that had previously caused you to be uncomfortable.

As you continue to have more of these positive experiences, a sense of confidence begins to take root. Social skills continue to grow. Anxiety continues to get less and less.

This entire process may take a few months, or it could take longer. Either way it’s important to understand that it does not require perfection, only a reasonable plan, and heaps of persistence.

How About The Plan Stan?

Let’s look at the specifics of what a plan for overcoming social anxiety might look like.

I mentioned this before, but it is worth repeating. Becoming good at navigating social situations is a skill, and like any skill it takes practice. The more you practice the easier it becomes to go into social situations and not become overly anxious.

In fact, with enough practice you will eventually start to enjoy social activities that you now avoid.

The less you practice, however, the slower your progress. Sometimes the result of practicing very little is that you begin to feel that progress is impossible.

That can be discouraging, and might even cause you to give up altogether.

Don’t go there. Practice enough so that you make progress, so that you advance enough to keep your motivation up.

It can also be a huge help to have one or two people that support you. That way, when progress is slow, there will be someone to cheer you on.

 Folsom Therapy Infographic of Support Plus Persistence Leads to Success

Don’t give up and assume that this is just the way life has to be – that’s not true. Now is the time to punch anxiety squarely in the face. Send it running. You can do this. I have worked with many people who have succeeded in overcoming anxiety. For most of these people, their success was mostly a matter of how much work, and persistence, they were willing to put into the battle. And yes, many also had support from family and friends along the way (but not all).

If you are tired of missing out on life because of your anxiety, and you are ready to open the door to a new future, the following guideline is for you.

The most effective approach to taming social anxiety is based on the same proven method used by therapists to help people control most anxieties. This strategy involves gradually immersing yourself in those situations you fear. Doing this in a well thought out way, starting with small social challenges and slowly building up to more difficult ones works best.

And, as scary as this may sound to someone with social anxiety, it really does work.

Below are six simple steps that walk you through the process that can help you break the grip of social anxiety. Put some thought into how you want to approach each step. Expect it to be difficult, but expect to see progress as well.

When you run into a setback (everyone does), take a moment to regroup: then charge ahead once again. Before you know it, you will find that social gatherings no longer create the fear that they had once evoked. Later, after basking in the glory of your success, send me an email: would love to hear from you.

Six Step Plan For Beating Social Anxiety

STEP ONE

Choose some type of group situation that normally causes mild to moderate social anxiety. Make plans to attend.

Now identify the specific concerns you have about going to that event (e.g., “People will think I'm odd”, “Others will reject me”, “I won't have anything interesting to say”).

Take a moment to judge how realistic these worries really are (probably unrealistic, or at least greatly exaggerated). You may find it helpful to use a form that organizes your thoughts.

Write down the worry, and next to that write a sentence describing how realistic that concern really is when looked at objectively. Review the list frequently prior to attending whatever gathering you have in mind.

STEP TWO

Select a modest goal for the start.

To begin this process you want to start by going to a social event that would normally cause you to have mild to moderate social anxiety. The more severe your anxiety the more modest your goal should be. For example, if you are going to a party and you only know the host/hostess, your goal might be to attend for 30 minutes and briefly meet three or four people. 

STEP THREE  

Learn a basic skills to help reduce feelings of anxiety.

One of the most common of these skills involves taking a deep breath, then slowly exhaling while imagining a relaxing scene.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? It is, and the more you practice the more effective this technique becomes. The trick to making this technique work well is to practice it for ten minutes a day.

Find a comfortable chair and take a seat. Once you are settled in, try to vividly imagine the social setting you have chosen to attend. Let your anxiety build until you feel at least moderately uncomfortable, then take a slow deep breath. Don’t hold it, but instead slowly exhale.

At the same time that you are doing this you should be imagining a relaxing scene. Put yourself as deeply into that scene as your imagination allows.

For example, if you imagined yourself being on a beach you would then fill in the details. The color of the sand, water and sky. Likewise, you would feel the warmth of the sun on your shoulders, the warm grainy sand under your feet, the sound of waves, and the smell of salt air. Use as many senses as possible (the sights, sounds, feel, smell).

Take a few more slow deep breaths, and when the anxiety has largely ebbed away, go back to thinking of the social setting again. Let the anxiety rise, then shift back to the deep breathing/relaxing scene exercise.

Repeat several times, always ending your practice session at the point where you are thinking of the relaxing scene. With a little practice the relaxation response will become second nature when you take a deep breath.

If you want to read more about this strategy for reducing anxiety click on this link. For a video about diaphragmatic breathing click on this link.

STEP FOUR

Learn how to start a conversation.

Keep in mind, when people first meet they expect the conversation to be superficial. You are in the process of learning about one another, determining if there are ‘points of connection.’ These are areas of mutual interests. This might involve similarities in how you spend your free time, or where you grew up, professional goals, the schools you attended or the schools your children attend.

Many socially anxious people struggle with the thought that they must have something unusually interesting to offer in the conversation. That’s terrific when that is the case, but for most mortals it is a matter of exchanging pleasantries in a way that shows genuine interest and warmth.

Now let’s look at the practical side of starting a conversation. The list of ways to do this is nearly endless. Often the way you decide to start will depend upon the specific setting in which you find yourself. Even so, here are some softballs that work in many circumstances.

Say something pleasant:

“What a great dinner, I especially liked the cheesecake”

“I thought that was a terrific talk, what did you think?”

“What a beautiful sunset, it remind me of the times I’ve seen the sun reflecting off the clouds when flying in my personal jet”… OK, no need to go that far.

Mention a mutual friend or acquaintance

“How did you and David meet?”

“Isn’t that great that Rebecca got that promotion?”

Talk about the weather (I know, this is a tired overture, but it works)

“I’ll be glad when the Fall weather arrives. Even though I love jet skiing on the lake, nothing beats camping in the Autumn time”

“This weather is gorgeous isn’t it? I wish it would stay this way all year.”

Compliment the person on something (but don’t overdo it)

“Great job coaching the soccer team this year. I really appreciate all the time and effort you put into it.”

“Beautiful house. I especially like the way you’ve landscaped your backyard. Was it difficult to find that many plastic flamingos and yard gnomes?” 

Ask about their motives or background – stick with me, this will make sense

“Oh, so you are a police officer. What attracted you to that line of work?”

“I can tell from your Oakland Raiders cap, jersey, and beer mug that you are a Raiders Nation fan. How did you become such a big Raiders backer?”

“That was a delicious dinner. How did you learn to cook so well?”

These and many other topics offer easy opportunities to start a conversation. The key to being able to effectively use these themes is to practice ahead of time.

Practice ahead of time? How weird is that? OK, maybe, but if you practice asking these questions when you are alone you will find it much easier to ask them in a very natural way when you are in one of those social settings that make you anxious.

The ‘take home’ message…… go ahead and practice!

Important Side Note

 Folsom Therapy Social Anxiety quote

Before moving on, keep in mind that you don’t have to ‘get it just right’ to start a conversation. What you say is only a small part of making a first impression. How you present yourself is much more important.

That means you want to pull your shoulders back, smile, and look the person in the eye (don’t stare, that’s creepy, but do have good eye contact). Moreover, as you talk don’t be afraid to modulate your voice, and show a little enthusiasm and warmth.

Do the things I’ve just listed and you’ll become a pro at conversing with others. Honest. 

If you would like more information on starting conversations you can look at this book, or go to this website.

STEP FIVE

Learn how to end a conversation.

It helps to have an excuse for ending conversations. Yes, you must have an exit plan. 

Without an exit plan you will feel trapped, and if you feel trapped you are left with counting on the other person to end the conversation, or having it die a slow lingering death.

Ending a conversation is even easier than starting one. For example, you can end the conversation by saying "I need to go ask (host/hostess) about something, but it's a pleasure to have met you."

Or, “I think I’ll go freshen my drink. I hope you enjoy the party.”

Or, “Gosh, it’s getting late. I need to call home and make sure the babysitter isn’t having a party at my house again.”

Or, “It’s been great talking with you. I hope we have a chance to meet again.”

Be sure to memorize and rehearse some exit lines prior to attending the social event you have targeted as your first goal. I know, you’re thinking, “You’ve got to be kidding me, I’m supposed to rehearse an exit strategy?”

Well, yes. Being nervous, and in the middle of a conversation, is not the time to test your creative social skills. Rehearse your exit pitch.

This will save you from staying in a conversation way longer than you would like. It will also save you from saying something you regret such as “My bladder is talking to me right now. Well, actually screaming. So I’ll be running along. Tootles.” Rehearse one or two excuses that provide for a graceful exit.

STEP SIX

After Action Report

After you have attended the social gathering, and are back home feeling more relaxed, take a minute to review how things went.

Identify where you did well. Then ask yourself how you can build on that success?

Also ask yourself where you did not do as well as you realistically expected. Come up with one or two things that would help you improve in this area (keep in mind, often it is just a matter of more practice). 

Then select a new social challenge and get ready to grow ever more confident.

As with Step 1, using a form to organize your thoughts can be very helpful (click the button to the side for check list).

Conclusion

Putting social anxiety in it’s place is as simple as following the six steps we just reviewed.

It’s the same way that I helped the little girl in group therapy (mentioned at the start of this post) overcame her fears.

She learned to relax enough to face her fears. She also learned a handful of key social skills. Once these two steps were completed she was ready to create new positive experiences by forcing herself to interact with other children.

That little girl learned something important: interacting with others did not make the world fall apart. More importantly, she learned that other children enjoyed her company.

The same thing can happen with you.

The six steps I’ve outlined for overcoming social anxiety really are effective. Do they work for everyone? No, but they do work for most people.

This means they very likely will also work for you.

There are times when it may be necessary for you to enlist the help of a therapist in order to fine-tune this approach. Or, it may be that you simply want the benefit of having an expert to help you along the way.

Whether you use a DIY approach, or work with a therapist, the main thing is to take the leap and begin to free yourself from the burden of social anxiety.

Life is too short to be held back by your fears. There are people whose lives would be better for knowing you. But that won’t happen if you let social anxiety hold you back.

Don’t wait, don’t make excuses, don’t put it off for another day and a better time. Take the plunge. Jump in and get started on a new chapter of life.

 Folsom Anxiety Therapy infographic on six steps to overcome fears



How To Get A Good Night's Sleep

Say Goodbye To Insomnia

 Sleep crescent moon over city

Have you ever lay awake at night, exhausted, tired, and ready for sleep but found that your body would not cooperate? You were ready to saw some logs but your brain stubbornly refused to switch into ‘sleep mode?’

If so, you are not alone. Sixty million Americans struggle with insomnia at some time throughout any given year. For many it is a chronic problem with a huge impact. A lack of sleep can ruin your attention span, make emotions swing like the lead singer in Rumba band, ruin attempts to stay with a healthy diet, torpedo efforts to exercise and just generally make you feel as though you are one of the cast of the Walking Dead.

Chronic Health Conditions Related to Lack of Sleep

A lack of sleep is not just inconvenient, or frustrating, but also is associated with an increased risk of significant health problems.

Research shows that those who sleep less than seven hours a night are more likely to develop coronary heart disease, experience a heart attack or stroke, have arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and diabetes.

In addition to these health concerns, diminished sleep has a huge impact on one’s performance. As you can see from the graph below, performance is greatly diminished over the course of just a few days when one is unable to get enough sleep.

 Chart of decreased performance with increasing lack of sleep.

This graph shows the number of mistakes people made, on average, when faced with a simple task over the course of seven days. Some individuals were allowed to sleep 9 hours a day, other 7 hours, still others 5 and 3 hours respectively.

By the end of the week those people who had gotten by on 3 hours of sleep each night made 18 times more mistakes than those who had been getting 9 hours of sleep. Even those who had slept 5 hours a night ended up, by week’s end, making 6 times more mistakes than the group who had slept 9 hours per night. The 5 hours/night group also made nearly twice as many mistakes as the 7 hours/night group.

What might the trend look like if it were extended beyond one week? Perhaps for a month, two months, or a year? Such long periods of poor sleep are not unusual for someone suffering with insomnia.

What Causes Insomnia?

There are multiple reasons why people develop insomnia. Some of these are physical, (e.g., hormonal changes), others are psychological (e.g., stress/anxiety), and still others are environmental (e.g., sleeping next to someone who snores).

Medical News Today provides a nice summary.

“Insomnia is commonly caused by:

Disruptions in circadian rhythm - jet lag, job shift changes, high altitudes, environmental noise, extreme heat or cold.

Psychological issues - bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, or psychotic disorders.

Medical conditions - chronic pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, congestive heart failure, angina, acid-reflux disease (GERD), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, sleep apnea, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, hyperthyroidism, arthritis, brain lesions, tumors, stroke.

Hormones - estrogen, hormone shifts during menstruation.

Other factors - sleeping next to a snoring partner, parasites, genetic conditions, overactive mind, pregnancy.”

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO FLIP THE SLEEP SWITCH TO “ON”?

If you struggle with getting to sleep, it is important to know that there are many ways to cure this problem. Prescription medication is one of the most common solutions. The major shortcoming of taking this route to getting some sleep is that medications usually offer only a short-term fix. When you stop taking the medication, insomnia frequently returns. Solutions that do offer longer lasting restful sleep, and don’t include the potential side effects of medication, are what most people prefer.

In the sections below, I will discuss some of the most common, and useful, non-medication approaches for solving your insomnia. We can start with a summary (below) and then work through each part in more detail.

 Insomnia Ways to solve insomnia

TIP #1: ESTABLISH A HEALTHY SLEEP ROUTINE

Make sure you have a good “pre-sleep” routine. This is similar to the “pre-game” routine that some athletes use. With regard to getting some ZZZZs, however, a pre-sleep routine is referred to simply as having good “sleep hygiene.”

The benefit of having a standard routine that you go through each night before bedtime is that you begin to train yourself to sleep. Routines build habits, so the idea is to have a routine that leads to the habit of falling asleep. This usually includes:

·        Going to bed at the same time each night

·        Turning off the television and internet an hour before sleep

·        Taking a shower or bath

·        Avoiding arguments or working on things that are stressful

·        No caffeine

·        Performing some light stretches or meditation

·        Taking a few quiet moments to consider what went well in the day

·        Writing one or two things down for which you are grateful

·        Listening to calming music

·        Saying one’s prayers

·        Meditating

 Woman working on computer in bed

Do you see a pattern in the above suggestions? It includes avoiding stimulation (e.g., television, internet, caffeine, arguments, etc.), and focusing on what is calming and relaxing (e.g., what went well in the day, taking a shower, calming music, prayer, etc.).

When you do go to bed make the room as quiet as possible, and as dark as possible. Even the light of a digital clock has been shown to disturb the sleep of many people. Once your head is on the pillow take a deep breath and slowly exhale.

Repeat this several times while imagining a peaceful scene (the end of the day is NOT the time to review the day, or solve problems that await you in the morning).

It takes some practice to develop this sort of routine but with a little time and effort it works very well for many people.

TIP #2:  Consider using supplements.

There are many supplements that may help you get a better night’s sleep. If you would like to explore a variety of these potential aids for sleep, you can look at reviews by Consumer Labs, and another review by Psychology Today.

For our purposes, however, I will just mention one of the most popular supplements, melatonin (available over the counter at pharmacies and health food stores).

Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that your body uses to regulate cycles of sleep and wakefulness. In the evening, your brain’s production of melatonin rises. This helps in preparing you to go to sleep.

Common sense suggests that if you can increase your melatonin production in the evening you will be better prepared to sleep. But this is difficult to do. It’s not as though you can tell you brain “Please ramp up the melatonin production now because I would like to be snoozing in an hour.”

So, how can you increase the melatonin in your system on demand?  Supplements.

The melatonin that you take as a supplement is a synthetic form of the hormone your body produces. Early research on melatonin and sleep was very promising, but later research has been more mixed. Put somewhat differently, “Your mileage may vary.”

I’ve known people for whom melatonin is a huge help, and others for whom it appears to have little impact.

The good news is that melatonin appears to be safe, and it is not expensive. So if you want to try it, the current research suggests there is little to lose (OK, maybe five dollars).

Let me be clear, I'm not a physician and I'm not recommending that you use melatonin. Do a little research, consult your doctor, and decide if this is something you would like to try. (If you are interested in prescription drugs used to treat insomnia the Harvard Medical School News Letter is a good start). 

TIP #3:   Get out of bed!

Well that’s an odd way to fall asleep you say to yourself. Yes, but an odd way that works for most people. Here are the details of how to make it work.

If you get into bed, and after twenty minutes are still awake, then it’s time to get up and leave the room. Why? Because you want your brain to associate bed with sleep, not with being awake (again, we are looking to develop habits for your brain).

Once you are out of bed, go to another room and find a book. The most boring book you can find. If you don’t have boring books borrow one from your neighbor, or better yet buy one. Sit down in a comfortable chair and begin to read. Soon you’ll feel sleepy.

Keep reading (by the way, if for some reason you become interested in the boring book put it down and grab a book that is twice as boring).

Within a short while you will become even sleepier. At that point you head back to bed, repeat the deep breathing routine once more, think of a relaxing scene and fall asleep.

But what, you ask, should I do if I still cannot fall asleep? Cursing the fates that have resulted in your being awake would be a good start. Not too loudly though – there are probably others in the home who are sleeping.

I should add this if you are married it would be a very bad idea to wake your soulmate. There is a great deal in life that you want to share with your spouse, but insomnia is not one of those things.

OK, so what to do this second time when repeating the ‘get out of bed’ routine? Sadly, you do exactly what you did the first time. Find a comfy chair and a boring book. Read until you are sleepy. How sleepy? To the point where you feel that you might doze off any minute.

How many times should you repeat this routine in a given night? As many times as it takes to get to sleep.

Yes, it can be very tough the first night or two, but eventually you will sleep (see the CAUTION below about not napping later in the day).

Once you have repeated this routine to the point that you are finally asleep, a milestone will have been reached. That is you will have successfully taken a major step toward teaching your brain to shut down when your head hits the pillow.

If that takes a few nights of getting out of bed, well, that's not too bad compared to spending months, or years, wrestling with insomnia.

The bottom line is this: most people who follow the advice I’ve given will find that they can eventually fall asleep at their normal bedtime. Sometimes it takes several tries before success is reached, but don’t give up, it will happen.

One caution. Don’t take naps while you are trying to get your sleep back to normal. Only after your sleep has returned to a healthy pattern should you go back to taking a nap. Even then, try not to nap late in the afternoon.

Also, even if you have had a sleepless night hopping in and out of bed like a jazzercise instructor on steroids, don't change your bedtime to a later hour in the evening. You are likely to find that this results in the same problem occurring, but just later in the night.

Remember, we are looking to establish habits and routines! That's what trains the brain. 

There are other ways to tame your sleep, but for most people the three approaches just described will do wonders.  

TIP #4: DO SEVERAL, OR ALL, OF THE FOLLOWING

Don’t exercise in the two to three hours before sleeping

No caffeine in the evening. When to cut out caffeine will vary from person to person. You will need to experiment. For some it means no caffeine after 4:00 PM. For others the cutoff time might be two hours before bedtime.

Reduce fluid intake several hours prior to bedtime – drinking too much of anything just prior to bedtime will lead to less sound sleep even if it does not lead you to get up in the middle of the night.

A snack prior to bedtime is fine, but not a heavy meal. Let your body focus on sleep rather than digestion.

Make sure you have had 20 minutes or more of exposure to sunlight in the day: sunlight is important for regulating your sleep cycle (your brain knows when you’ve skimped on getting some rays)

Darken the room that you are sleeping in – close the blinds, close the door, and turn off all the lights. Even the light from a digital clock will cause sleep disturbances in some people.

Experiment with room temperature: the ideal temperature for sleep varies with the individual (Artic cold for me, thanks), and this one change can make a huge difference.

Stop being cheap. You know who you are. Buy a good pillow, and while you are at it make sure you have sheets that are comfortable (you don’t need to buy the most expensive linens, but if you crawl into bed and it feels like you are a monk wearing an itchy hair shirt, it’s time to upgrade your linens). I’m sure I don’t have to talk about the need for a good mattress.

Do not overdo alcohol – a glass of wine/beer is fine, but more than that will disrupt REM sleep, which is the most important stage of sleep in allowing you to feel fresh and ready for the next day.

No naps after 3:00 PM

Take a warm shower or bath before bed

Relax prior to going to bed. More specifically, let your brain relax. That means it is not a good idea to go to bed right after watching a movie, or working on the computer. Yes, some of you can manage that transition with ease. But if you are struggling to get a good night’s rest, try something different. Create a routine where all electronics are off, the house is quiet, and you have a chance to listen to relaxing music, read a book, or engage in conversation.

WHEN TO SEE YOUR DOCTOR

You may have tried several of the ideas discussed above and still cannot get the sleep you need. Perhaps you are wondering if it is time to make an appointment to discuss your sleep problem with your doctor. WebMD has the following guidelines to consider when making this choice. 

  * Fall asleep while driving?

  • Struggle to stay awake when inactive, such as when watching television or reading?

  • Have difficulty paying attention or concentrating at work, school, or home?

  • Have performance problems at work or school?

  • Often get told by others that you look tired?

  • Have difficulty with your memory?

  • Have slowed responses?

  • Have difficulty controlling your emotions?

  • Feel the need to take naps almost every day?

Because the list above is not a quiz that provides a score, you will need to use your judgment in considering whether the number of symptoms that apply to you reach the threshold for making a doctor’s appointment.

COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY

It is worth mentioning that when all else fails, research shows that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most effective way to provide long lasting relief from insomnia. I won’t go into how insomnia is treated with CBT (perhaps in another post), but for those of you who continue to struggle with consistently getting a good night’s rest, CBT offers another way to tackle this problem.

BOOKS YOU MIGHT ENJOY

If you diligently apply yourself to using the strategies discussed above, there is a good chance your sleep problems will diminish, and possibly be resolved altogether. But in case you want dig a little deeper into this subject, there are a couple of books you will find of interest: Why We Sleep (Matthew Walker), and The Sleep Book: How To Sleep Well Every Night (Guy Meadows).

CONCLUSION

Life is too short to be saddled with insomnia. It robs you of energy, diminishes your focus, creates irritation, lowers performance, and increases the possibility of developing a serious health issue. If you are like millions of others who have a difficult time getting a good night’s sleep, try some of the strategies we’ve just looked at, and see if that doesn’t get you started toward a better night’s sleep.

SOCIAL ANXIETY - FIVE STEPS THAT LEAD TO NEW CONFIDENCE

 Social Anxiety In Teens

Social Anxiety In Teens: Answering A Parent's Question

Question:  I am a single mother raising a 16-year-old daughter. She has always been a very good kid, never one to act out much, and even as a teen she is well behaved. But what worries me is that she is very shy. This has caused her to avoid making new friends, trying out for sports teams, or really just getting out into the world. When she was younger I didn’t think much about it, but she is just two years away from graduating from high school and I don’t see her being able to move out and live independently if she remains this insecure. Now I’m worried.

 

It sounds as though your daughter suffers with social anxiety. According to the National Institute of Mental Health nearly 10% of adolescents struggle with this fear.

You are right to be concerned. As you point out, this anxiety has robbed your daughter of some important experiences that would have helped prepare her to confidently launch off into adulthood.

It’s interesting to note that researchers have found that good social skills (which includes mastering social anxiety) when measured in kindergarten predict success in early adulthood.

Not to worry. It’s not too late to help your teen build the confidence and skills she needs to successfully and confidently transition into adulthood. Let me point to some research that back up my optimism (aside from my experience in helping many teens make this shift from anxiety to confidence). In a recent study investigators looked at the difference between socially anxious children (ages 7 to 14 years) that successfully learned the skills needed to conquer anxiety, and compared that group to anxious children who had not learned those coping skills.

This is what is called a longitudinal study. That is, the researchers measured the childrens' progress over the course of many years. What they found when they followed up, years after the study began, (the children were now young adults, between the age of 18 and 32 years) is that the youngsters who learned how to cope with social anxiety were significantly less likely to struggle as adults with substance abuse, phobias, panic attacks and anxiety in general. 

Take away lesson? It’s terrific that you are wanting to take steps to help your daughter, and it’s not too late for her to learn new skills that have the power to change her life trajectory.

So, you're wondering how to go about the task of helping your little girl. Glad you asked. Let’s look at several steps you can take.

ONE    You can begin by sharing your concerns with her. Be careful to frame your remarks in a way that it does not come across as criticism, just concern. The whole point of this conversation is to get her on board with the hard work that will follow.

Once she accepts the idea that the next two years will be devoted to building her social confidence, you can move on to pick a series of goals. Your daughter needs to help select these goals so she feels some ownership of the process.

Help her pick some goals that focus on social interaction with peers. This might include getting involved in the high school Yearbook Club, trying out for a sport, auditioning for theater, or joining one of the clubs on campus.

Those clubs/sports where she has a friend/acquaintance will be the best targets for this goal. Having a friendly familiar face will be reassuring.

Once she has joined a sports team or club she will find it relatively easy to befriend new teens. After all, they have something in common, and they need to work together as part of the club or team to which they both belong.

Do not forget to celebrate her successes along the way. If, for example, she signs up for the school Yearbook Club, be sure to congratulate her. Let her know that you are proud that she has taken this first step. Then, when she attends her first meeting at the Yearbook Club, you will also want to tell her how terrific she is for pushing aside her fears.

TWO    Encourage her to have a ‘sleep over’ with one of her current friends (at your home at first so she is more comfortable). After a couple of successful sleepovers, have her invite that same friend and a newer acquaintance to the home for another sleepover. This will stretch her socially (because she does not know the new girl that well), while providing the support of a well-known friend.

THREE    Have her obtain a part time job. Preferably in the service sector. Will she be fearful of taking this step? Yes, but there is nothing like having to interact with the public to quickly develop a sense of confidence in her ability to deal with various personalities.

FOUR    If you belong to a church have her join the youth group. This will provide more practice with interacting with peers. Moreover, many youth groups go on overnight camping trips (chaperoned by adults). Getting away from the security of her familiar surroundings and relying on peers for support during that time is a great confidence booster.

FIVE    Role model with her various social situations and coach her on how she can respond. Yes, I know, she is a teen and may think this is the dumbest thing in the world. Even so, try your best to engage her. Many children with social anxiety simply have not learned to master the social skills that allow one to comfortably interact with others.

CONCLUSION

The general idea that I outlined above is for you to gradually increase the amount of time your daughter spends in situations that she has avoided. That way she slowly develops the confidence and skills needed to face the challenges that await her in a few short years as a young adult.

If this seems overwhelming, consider seeking the help of a therapist who has experience working with anxious teens. I think you would also find it helpful to look at the ‘Anxiety’ section of the Essential Tools page on my website. You’ll find links to websites, and books that will be very helpful.

Good luck, and let me know how this turns out.

When Does Medication Make Sense

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Depression, Anxiety, Medication & You

Depression and anxiety are two of the most common psychiatric concerns among adults, adolescents and children in the USA. The impact of depression and anxiety can be devastating.

Just looking at depression, research from the World Health Organization shows that it is the fourth leading cause of disability. In younger individuals the impact of depression has far reaching consequences. For example, depressed teens are much more likely to become pregnant than their non-depressed peers. Their peer relations are also negatively impacted, as is their ability to prepare for adulthood.

Depressed college students are 60% more likely to drop out of school than their non-depressed peers, and marriages where one spouse is depressed are more likely to end up in divorce.   

Not surprisingly, depression frequently has a profound economic impact. Annual household incomes where one spouse is depressed are significantly less than households that are free of depression.   

The list of problems associated with depression could fill the pages of a book, but I think the picture is clear, depression is a serious problem.

The case is the same when looking at the impact of anxiety (and severe emotional distress in general).  

These statistics paint an alarming picture – having anxiety or depression is not a matter of simply dealing with distressing emotions. Instead it is a matter of dealing with something that can turn your life inside out in a dozen different ways.

When you, or someone you love, has anxiety or depression, some serious decisions need to be made regarding treatment. Living with depression or anxiety for years, or worse, for a lifetime, is a horrible option. The cost is too high.

When faced with anxiety or depression, one needs to decide how to overcome the challenge it presents. Many people turn to psychotherapy as a proven means for bringing about positive change (as an aside, research shows that medication and psychotherapy in general are equally effective, but therapy produces longer lasting results, and medication provides faster results). 

At some point during therapy you are likely to discuss with your therapist the idea that medication could be a help. How can you wisely decide whether this is a road worth travelling down?

The Down Side of Antidepressants and Anxiolytics

When the topic comes up in conversations with those that I work with I find it helpful to focus on the risks versus benefits of medication. For most healthy individuals the risk attached to taking an antidepressant or anxiolytic (medication for anxiety) are minimal.

Even so, some people do experience one or more side effects. These may include nausea, blurred vision, drowsiness, diminished libido, dry mouth, upset stomach, insomnia, fatigue, and a several other symptoms. With anxiolytics there may be the risk of developing a dependency on the drug, and eventual abuse needs to be guarded against.

Of course, the specific side effects and probability of developing these symptoms, varies according to the specific medication. As a psychologist I don’t prescribe medication, which means that my clients need to see their personal physician, or a psychiatrist, to obtain medication and have follow up visits to monitor for side effects.

To summarize, the main cost of taking medication for anxiety or depression includes the possibility of developing one or more of the side effects just mentioned; the time/money required to see a physician, and; the need to follow up periodically with medical checkups.

The Benefits of Antidepressants and Anxiolytics

But what of the benefits?

On this side of the ledger there is one major benefit… and it can be a game changer. Medication can quickly allow someone with anxiety or depression to feel better, and in doing so unleash their potential to benefit even more from therapy.

Keep in mind, severe anxiety and depression robs a person of the ability to fully utilize his or her strengths. The depressed or anxious person is operating under the incredible weight of these disorders, and this means that they have a difficult time tapping into skills that would otherwise allow them to make greater progress.

An analogy may be helpful (stay with me, this will make sense in just a moment). Imagine you just bought a new car and are driving it home on a country road, enjoying the terrific deal you made (and trying to ignore how much the car depreciated once you drove it off the lot). A dog runs out in front of you, and with Dale Earnhardt like reflexes you swerve, artfully missing the little canine but sending your brand-new set of wheels off the road and into a ditch.

The dust settles. You slowly exit the car and carefully examine it from fender to fender. With a dramatic flair you fall to your knees in gratitude and shout out "Not a scratch! Not a single ding!”  But then, looking around, you realize that you, and your car, are not going anywhere.

It may have all the horsepower and all the other wonderful customized features that first attracted you to it, but you are still in a ditch. That car isn’t going anywhere as long as it is in the ditch.

What do you do?

You call a tow truck, which comes and pulls the car out of the ditch, back onto the road. Now all of those features that could not be made use of while the car was in the ditch are available to you again. You say goodbye to the tow truck, and serenely ride down the road.

Medication can function like that tow truck. When anxiety or depression has put you in a ditch so deep that your abilities and skills are not able to be employed, the right medication can help. It can relieve the symptoms enough to unlock your potential to face challenges, think more clearly, develop creative solutions, to persist toward your goals, and to make the most of therapy.

CONCLUSION

When you are faced with the decision of whether to take medication to help with symptoms of depression or anxiety, consider the costs and benefits. One of the best reasons to take medication is that it has the potential to “turbo charge” your psychotherapy by unleashing the skills and abilities that anxiety and depression have kept suppressed. If your depression, or anxiety, is so severe that it has blocked you from tapping into your strengths, cut you off from those abilities that would help you to effectively fight back and overcome these problems, then medication should be 'on the table.' Don't let your fears, or pride, keep you from taking medication.

By the way, I’m not a physician, so none of the above should be considered medical advice. It is, however, the sort of practical advice I’ve seen work well for many many people.

Let me know if you have any questions. Would love to hear from you.

How to Find The Best Therapist (Part 2)

therapist best depression anxiety trauma folsom

Last week we began looking at how to find the best therapist for you. This process can be a bit of a journey. But it is well worth the effort to find the right therapist. Someone with whom you can develop a close working relationship, and who has the knowledge and skills to be of help. A brief recap of last week's post may help:

1.    Interview several therapists

2.    Expect that a therapist will talk with you like a normal human being

3.    Make sure to work with someone who has experience helping people who are struggling                     with the very thing that has caused you to seek therapy

4.    Most importantly, find a therapist that you find to be warm, sincere, and capable (this type               of therapist has the highest level of good outcomes)

Last week I also promised a few more tips to round out the process.  Let’s dive right into these.

ONE: Do not pay too much attention to what degree the therapist has earned (LMFT, LCSW, MD, PhD). Research has shown that there is no meaningful correlation between the quality of therapy and the specific degree a therapist has earned. (I know, sad, because I have a Ph.D.).

TWO: Be certain to ask questions when interviewing a therapist. It’s fine if you want to know how many people they have worked with who struggle with anxiety, depression, trauma, oppositional teens, and so forth.

You are probably also interested in knowing how they go about helping the people with whom they work. That’s a fair question, ask away!

Perhaps you want to know whether they give advice, or do they mainly listen and help clarify issues (leaving it up to you to decide what to do at that point). Does the therapist have books/websites to recommend?

It's reasonable to ask how long it is likely to take before your goals are reached (although an exact answer to that question requires the power of a fortuneteller, a reasonable guess of some type can usually be made).

THREE: Don’t put too much emphasis on how many years a therapist has been in practice. Why? Because research shows that most therapist do not significantly improve their skills after the first five years or so after graduating.

This is not always the case, but it is the norm.

The reason why most therapists stop improving their skills over the years is that they do not engage in the process of systematic and deliberate self-evaluation. This is not a gratuitous criticism of therapists (graduate training doesn’t teach one how to perform meaningful and practical self-evaluation). If you find a therapist that does engage in continuous self-evaluation of his/her performance, and then uses that information to improve his or her skills, that's terrific. Put a star next to their name.

There you go. Honest, it is as simple as that.

Follow these guidelines and you will dramatically increase your chances of finding the best therapist for you. Just to make things easier, I have formatted the tips from today’s post, and last week’s post, into a single checklist.  In case you missed it last week, I will also post again (below) the links to four major therapist directories.  Until next time.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us

https://www.theravive.com/forcounsellors/sign-up/welcome-page.aspx

https://www.goodtherapy.org/

http://www.christiancounselordirectory.com/

 

How To Find The Best Therapist (Part I)

 Best therapist Folsom Granite Bay El Dorado Hills

Best Therapist For You

Finding a good therapist can be challenging. But even more difficult is finding a good therapist that is also the best therapist for you. In this blog post, and the one that follows, I will give tips that make this search much easier. In fact, if you follow the steps I recommend you’ll be just about guaranteed to find a therapist that works well with you.

Before moving on to discuss these steps it is important to know makes for good therapy. That is, therapy that leads to success. It turns out that this topic has been studied for many years, and the conclusion is pretty clear. The thing that best predicts whether therapy will be successful is the quality of the therapeutic relationship.

More precisely, does a client feel understood by his or her therapist? Does the client feel that the therapist genuinely cares about his/her well-being (i.e., you are not just another client to check off the list)? Does the therapist appear competent and skilled? Lastly, does the therapist have a reasonable plan for resolving the problems with which the client is struggling?

There are other factors that influence outcome, but none of them are nearly as important as the four just mentioned. With that in mind let’s look at how you can go about finding the best therapist for you.

ONE: Interview several therapists. 

You can do this on the phone or with a face to face consult. If you interview therapist in person (I recommend you visit three or four therapists) most will charge for their time. This is money well spent. It could save you weeks, or months, of working with the wrong therapist.

Let each therapist with whom you meet know that you are interviewing them to see if they are someone with whom you wish to work. If this offends them, mark that therapist off your list. It should not offend anyone. If you were having a house built you would interview several architects or contractors: none would be offended. Neither should a therapist find this off putting.

After telling the therapist what concerns you are struggling with, and the goals you have, ask how they would go about finding a solution. In other words, how do they work?

Keep in mind that a therapist is really a coach. Just as someone who plays baseball might hire a batting coach to enhance their batting average. That coach would have a certain approach to helping players become better batters, and could describe the strategy to anyone who was interested. So too with therapists. Look for a response that is clear, spoken in English (not psychobabble), and makes sense.

Pay attention both to what the therapist says and how you feel as you discuss these personal matters. If you go away from the meeting thinking the therapist is someone with whom you can relate, and that his or her answers to your questions make sense, put that person on your list of finalists.

TWO: A therapist who has Experience with what matters to you.

Look for a therapist who has a lot of experience working with the issue with which you are struggling. For example, if you are interested in getting help with marital conflict look for someone who spends a great deal of time seeing couples in marriage counseling. Better yet, go to a website that shows you who, in your area, has specialized training in marriage counseling (https://www.gottman.com/couples/private-therapy/).

Avoid therapist who claim to have numerous specializations. Most therapists will have experience with half a dozen or less areas of emotional distress. If a therapist claims to specialize in ten or more areas, be cautious.

THREE: A therapist that really engages with you.

Find a therapist that talks. I know, sounds strange, but some therapists have been taught that they should seldom speak. It’s a throwback to psycho-analysis wherein the patient would do nearly all the talking and the therapist would nod, grunt, and on occasion provide an interpretation (“Ah, I see. You tell me that you were late for work again. I suspect the real meaning of that pattern of behavior is…  you hate your mother…. Or your father…. Perhaps both!”). The mysterious silent types are great for classic movies, but best avoided when searching for a psychotherapist.

On the other hand, you don’t want a therapist who is a chatterbox. The focus of therapy should be on solving your concerns, not listening to stories of how your therapist’s great aunt once had a similar problem. Therapy requires an interaction, with the focus on the client.

The basic idea is your therapist needs to be willing to genuinely engage you. To do this he or she will need to talk with you, respond to your questions, offer advice and insights. The exact balance of how much talk and how much listening is helpful, well that is up to you (which is another reason to interview several therapists, so you get an up close and personal sense of their style of interacting).

So, when you want to answer the question "Who is the best mental health therapist that has an office near me?", the three steps we just covered are where you should begin. I need to mention that there are other steps you can take as well, and we will cover those next week. 

If you don’t want to wait, however, to begin looking for a counselor, here are four links to some very good therapist directories that can help get you started.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us

https://www.theravive.com/forcounsellors/sign-up/welcome-page.aspx

https://www.goodtherapy.org/

http://www.christiancounselordirectory.com/

 

 

Living Your Best Life By Overcoming Challenges

Somewhere between toddlerhood and adulthood most of us learn to dial back our determination or desire to persist when faced with failure. We become complacent and settle for too little in life. We set aside dreams after failing to reach our goals after the first, second or third attempt. Many of us let the fear of failure keep us from experiencing what life holds for us.