Maladaptive Coping Skills

We all naturally look for ways to cope with our problems, hence the term “coping skills”. Some coping skills are healthy, positive, and help us get through difficult times. Unfortunately, some coping skills are maladaptive, meaning they are bad for us. Especially during the pandemic, we are all looking for ways to get through challenges at work and at home. Take a look at the list of healthy or “adaptive” coping skills and maladaptive coping skills. If you see one of your go to coping strategies on the maladaptive side, try to replace it with one from the healthy coping skills list!

Maladaptive Coping Skills vs. Healthy Coping Skills

Eating junk food
Eating healthy snacks: nuts, fruits, and vegetables

Drinking alcohol
Drinking tea, coffee, water or fresh juice

Screaming at the dog
Taking the dog for a walk

Obsessing over things you can’t change
Making small changes to things you can

Beating yourself up with words
Showing yourself compassion with words

Biting your nails
Getting your nails done as a treat

Sleeping too much
Waking up early to exercise

Online shopping
Organizing your clothes to donate old stuff

Blaming others
Taking responsibility

Punching the wall
Squeezing a stress ball

Overextending yourself
Setting healthy boundaries

Worrying about what may happen in the
future
Practicing mindfulness

Picking at your skin
Adult coloring books, journaling or drawing

Hanging around complainers
Spending time with positive peopled


Staying busy to push away feelings
Accepting feelings, knowing they will pass

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What are You Feeding Yourself?

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Okay, we do not mean that literally. This is not information regarding food or dietary concerns rather, what messages are you feeding your brain with your self-talk? What are the automatic thoughts that you are saying to yourself? Take note of your self-talk and you might be surprised by the thoughts that just pop into your head. These automatic thoughts can be very powerful and lead to how we react and feel. If you happen to feed yourself negative thoughts, consider the negative cycle or steps that can result.

  1. 1)  Negative thought
  2. 2)  Create doubts worries
  3. 3)  Produce unpleasant feelings
  4. 4)  Make you feel sad, depressed, anxious and uptight
  5. 5)  Affect what you do
  6. 6)  Feel disinterested and unmotivated
  7. 7)  Confirm your failure (and back to #1)

Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? Well, the good news is that it doesn’t need to continue. We challenge you each to PAY ATTENTION to your thinking!! You can break the negative thought cycle and change to a positive thought cycle. Once you know what you are telling yourself, you can counter think those nasty thoughts. Try not to get so distracted by the world and what is going on around you. Pay attention to what you are telling yourself and show yourself kindness and compassion with your internal dialogue.

So what do you do with these negative thoughts once you identify them? First, remember, a thought is just a thought. You have the power to dismiss it or continue thinking negatively – It truly is your choice. Here are some strategies:

  1. 1)  Perhaps, you note the negative thought without self-judgement and imagine it floating away from your mind. Picture yourself holding a balloon with the negative thought inside and imagine yourself releasing the balloon and watching it float away.
  2. 2)  Perhaps, you recognize that you just catastrophized something and notice the absurdity of the thought- (What are the chances of this happening to me? What is the worst thing that can happen to me in this situation?) Ask yourself if your thoughts are rational or irrational.
  3. 3)  Perhaps, you find yourself labeling: Instead of saying, “I made a mistake,” you tell yourself, “I’m such an idiot.” Take a deep breath and speak kindly to yourself – Gently, correct your error, if you made one. Everyone makes mistakes and that is okay!

So, PAY ATTENTION to your thinking and make the choice to feed yourself healthy thinking. Feed yourself good healthy positive thoughts and the throw the negative ones into the garbage!

Stay calm and breathe deeply, Suzanne and Karah

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October is Domestic Violence Month

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October is Domestic Violence Month- What is domestic violence?  You may be surprised to see what experts consider to be examples of domestic abuse and violence……

Physical Abuse– Hitting, punching, slapping, throwing objects, pushing, shoving, kicking, posturing, hair pulling, confinement, restraining, biting, restricting movement, forcing medication or food on a person  or withholding it.

Emotional Abuse– Manipulation, gas lighting, passive aggressive behavior, silent treatment, shaming, blaming, scapegoating, humiliation, punishing, controlling, social isolation, dismissing your opinions and needs, ignoring, unreasonable demands, nitpicking, mood swings, exaggerating flaws, intimidation.

Verbal Abuse– Screaming, cursing, name calling, backhanded compliments, sarcasm, offensive jokes, ordering, verbal rages, lying, threats, constant undermining and interrupting, talking down to, unwarranted accusations, constant criticism.

Sexual Abuse– Using physical force, unwanted sexual advances and comments, child molestation, statutory rape, incest, sexual assault, date rape, having sex with an intoxicated person, cheating and infidelity.

All of the above examples are signs of domestic abuse and violence. Domestic violence affects all social classes, cultures, races, and religions. . The elderly, the disabled, men, women, and children can be victims of domestic violence. There are many forms of domestic violence and abuse.  You do not need to get a black eye to be a victim of domestic violence. Words do damage too. Domestic violence is always wrong and is always damaging. If you or a loved one need support contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or  Domestic Violence Services of Lancaster County at (717) 299-9677. These services are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  You can also call 911 in the case of an emergency.  The therapists at Morning Star would be happy to help you process your concerns and experiences related to domestic violence. Please do not stay silent; we are here to support you and to help you heal.

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Creating a More Positive Mindset

How to become more positive and see the glass half-full and not half empty?

·        A GRATITUDE JOURNAL- write down five things that make you happy each day. You can then go back and see all the good things that happen to you daily when you are having a tough time.

·        SAY THANK YOU- Try to say “thank you” to 5 people daily. Do this with a smile on your face. You can thank the cashier, the person who holds the door open for you, your spouse, your boss, anyone.

·        PRACTICE AFFIRMATIONS-   Start with “I am”… ( then fill in the blank with your talents and positive traits) Try looking in the mirror and say these aloud or journal them.

·        PRACTICE MINDFULNESS – Focus on the present and don’t stress about the past or the future

·        EXERCISE- Get out and moving to release all of those feel good chemicals in your body.

·        VOLUNTEER- Giving back is a great way to help your community and makes you feel grateful for what you have.

·        BLOCK NEGATIVE THOUGHTS- When you start ruminating and focusing on the bad, block those thoughts! Visualize a referee blowing his whistle, a stop sign, or anything that indicates for you to knock it off as soon as those negative thoughts enter your mind. Sometimes a change of scenery helps: stand up, go outside, or go to another room.

·        RELAX- Rest can be very productive. Try to schedule a few minutes each day to just relax, breathe and be calm. It is easy to be negative if you feel stressed and if your schedule is packed.

·        LEAN ON YOUR HIGHER POWER- Pray, go to church, meditate and explore your faith. Believing in something bigger than yourself will give you peace and make you more positive. It is also comforting and soothing. 

·        START YOUR DAY IN A POSITIVE WAY- Do something that makes you feel good first thing in the morning: have a cup of tea, do some push-ups, call your mom, or walk your dog. Get out of bed on the right side!

·        LAUGH AND SMILE- With positive thinking, you can fake it until you make it. Practice laughing and smiling. Your body releases chemicals when you laugh and smile that make you feel good.

·        FIND POSITIVE FRIENDS- Surround yourself with people who have good attitudes. It will rub off on you! Avoid complainers and nasty people as much as you can.

·        PRACTICE POSITIVE SELF TALK- Change “I can’t” or “I won’t” to…. “I can” and “I will”. Do not say mean things to yourself. Show yourself compassion and kindness with your thoughts and your words.

One of the few things that we can control in life is our attitude. At times, it seems impossible, but we can decide to be positive. It is your choice if you see the glass half-empty or half- full. Practice these suggestions and you will start to see the glass half- full soon!

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October is Hispanic Heritage Month- Embracing Diversity and Mental Health

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Diversity is one of Lancaster County’s greatest strengths and treasures, and the Latino population has shaped and contributed to our communities in so many ways.  Take time this month to learn about and appreciate the many countries, cultures, and languages from Latin America and Spain. Learning about Hispanic heritage can also benefit your mental health and you as a person!

Learn Spanish– It helps with cognition, memory, and will expand your social circle.

Get to know your Latino neighbors– It will help broaden your horizons and make you more open and understanding. You will see how much you have in common too. 

Eat Latin food– Food brings people together and in Lancaster County, you can enjoy Colombian, Peruvian, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Mexican and Spanish cuisines.

Listen to Latin music– Music can calm you down and lift you up. Listening to music can be a great way to get in touch with emotions. It also gets you up and moving! Music in Spanish is popular all over the world, and there are so many genres to explore.  Listen to salsa, merengue, vallenato, tango, bachata, ranchera, cumbia, flamenco or reggaeton.

Appreciate Art– Art is another way to get in touch with your emotions and observing art is an opportunity to practice mindfulness. There are many excellent local Latin artists in Lancaster County and you can also Google and learn about some of the internationally acclaimed Hispanic artists such as Frida  Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Fernando Botero, Wilfredo Lam, and Cundo Bermúdez.

Learn about Latin History-  Did you know a large part of our country was once part of Mexico? The history of the conquest of the Americas, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and many of the wars and political movements in Latin America directly have shaped the United States. Learning from the past is a great way to spark change and avoid repeating mistakes. It also can make you grateful and appreciative.

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Octubre es el mes de la herencia hispana, aprovecha de la diversidad y los beneficios para la salud mental.

La diversidad es una de las fortalezas más grandes del condado de Lancaster y la población latina ha formado y contribuido a nuestras comunidades de muchas maneras. Tómate tiempo este mes para aprender y valorar los países, las culturas y los idiomas de América Latina y España.  ¡Aprender sobre la herencia hispana te puede beneficiar como persona y tu salud mental!

Aprende español– Ayuda a la cognición, la memoria y expandir tu círculo social.

Conoce a tus vecinos latinos–  Ampliará tus horizontes y te hará una persona más abierta y comprensiva. También verás que tienen mucho en común.

Come comida latina– La comida sirve para unir a la gente y en el condado de Lancaster, puedes aprovechar de comida: colombiana, peruana, dominicana, cubana, mexicana y española.

Escucha música latina– La música te puede calmar y te puede subir el ánimo. Escuchar música es una buena opción para conectarte con tus sentimientos. ¡También te ayuda a moverte!  La música en español es popular alrededor del mundo y hay muchos géneros para gozar. Escucha salsa, merengue, vallenato, tango, bachata, ranchera, cumbia, flamenco o reggaetón.

Aprecia el arte- El arte es otra fuente para conectarte con tus emociones y observar arte es una oportunidad para practicar la atención plena. Hay excelentes artistas locales en el condado de Lancaster, pero también puedes investigar por Google y aprender sobre los artistas hispanos reconocidos internacionalmente como Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Fernando Botero, Wilfredo Lam y Cundo Bermúdez.

Aprende sobre la historia latina– ¿Sabías que una gran parte de nuestro país antes era territorio mexicano? La historia sobre la conquista de las Américas, la crisis de los misiles de Cuba y muchas guerras y muchos movimientos políticos en América Latina han impactado los Estados Unidos. Aprender del pasado nos ayuda a cambiar y a evitar cometer los mismos errores. También te puede hacer una persona más agradecida.

Therapist Karah during her work in the Dominican Republic

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Red Flags of Toxic People to Watch Out For! How to Know When to Run for the Hills and Not Look Back!

Some relationships in life are choices and some are not. We cannot pick our family or our boss but we do get to pick our friends and our romantic partners. Especially if you just met someone new, it can be difficult to identify the red flags of toxic people and it is not always easy to know whom to avoid in life. Many wolves hide in sheep’s clothing and often you have to step back and take a closer look to see red flags in relationships.  Unless people really want to change and are willing to put the work into change, they will continue to do the same lousy stuff. Pay attention to the below list of red flags so you can avoid yourself big headaches in the future. If you notice these traits in your friends or romantic partners, evaluate the benefits of having these people in your life. Surround yourself with people that build you up and make your life better. No one is perfect and we all have our faults, but if you can identify some of these red flags in your relationships with your friends or boyfriend/girlfriend, you may want to reconsider their role in your life.

Catching them fibbing– Lying tends to be a habitual behavior. It is also a symptom associated with many mental health disorders.  Lying about big things and little things is equally a big deal and a big red flag.  Can you spot inconsistencies in their stories?  Dating someone who has already cheated? You are getting into some risky business….. You need to trust your friends and romantic partners. If you have noticed a pattern of lying, you have no trust in your relationship. It is hard to have a healthy relationship if you do not have trust. Also once you lose trust; it is tough to get it back. Lying is a major red flag.

People who have a lot of crazy ex partners, crazy family members and crazy former friends

If someone shares with you early in a relationship that their ex-wife, ex-girlfriend, mother, or former friend is “crazy”, odds are it is not true. Healthy people do not usually go around calling people they once cared about “crazy”, especially not early on in a new relationship. Usually people with serious relationship difficulties like to blame their failures and wrong doings on other people being “crazy”.  In psychology, we call this projection. I do not like the word crazy so I will say emotionally  unstable…….often emotionally unstable people talk about  a history of “crazy” past relationships.  Red flag and get your running shoes on!

Superficial compliments,  shallow flattery, and being too nice– Therapists are often very suspicious of the nicest most charming guy or girl in the room.  That is because they tend to be on the high side of acceptable narcissism and putting on a show. They are not showing you their true self.   Be careful because this can be done is a flashy attention seeking or more humble way so it is not always easy to see.  If someone is constantly giving you compliments, flattering you, and being oh so nice and or so sweet, they probably are too good to be true.  People often demonstrate this behavior to hook you in only to disappoint you or manipulate you later. If someone is always bending over backwards and acts more like your butler than your friend or boyfriend/girlfriend, especially in the beginning of a relationship, they could have issues with boundaries or attachment too.  Find nice friends and romantic partners but if it seems over the top, phony, or not genuine, pay attention!

Drinking too much or doing drugs– For most people this is a no brainer but sometimes problem drinking behavior or drug use is not so easy to spot. If your friend or romantic partner cannot seem to have just one drink ever, this is a red flag.  If they want to have a few drinks before they go out on Saturday night, this is a red flag. If they only drink on Fridays but every Friday they get sloppy drunk, this is a red flag. If they are hiding what they drink from you or lying about it, this is a red flag. If they look to drink or do drugs when they are stressed or have a bad day to relax, that is another red flag. If they cannot celebrate something special without drinking or drugs, yep big red flag. A few drinks or using drugs every day, even if they do not get intoxicated is a red flag. Do you get in fights with them when they drink or use drugs or about their drinking or drug use? Yep, not good. Do they drink and do drugs and have no problem driving home? BIG RED FLAG. Do they make poor choices when they drink or do drugs? If so, you better think twice about having this kind of person in your life.  Proceed with EXTREME CAUTION if you observe any of the above behaviors in your friends or romantic partners.

Being physically aggressive:

If a friend or romantic partner ever hits you, pushes you, or threatens to hurt you. You leave that relationship. No further explanation needed on this one. If they do it once, they will do it again. You deserve better.

Name calling or being verbally aggressive:

Healthy adults do not call you names or scream at you. If your friends or romantic partners speak with you in a disrespectful way this is not healthy for you.  Watch out for backhanded compliments, passive aggressive behavior and put-downs. Not cool.

People who stand you up:

People who cannot keep their word, constantly show up late or are just unreliable will stress you out and make your worry.  Same thing goes for people who will not return your call or take hours to return a text.  People make time for you if you are important to them. These behaviors are red flags.

People who cannot commit to anything:

Individuals who constantly switch jobs, can’t make plans in advance, and struggle making decisions tend to have deeper problems beneath the surface. Watch out for these things!

Ups and downs… the rollercoaster relationships

If your friends or romantic partners are moody and you never know if you are going to see the nice version or the mean version, this is a red flag.  Mood swings, unpredictable behaviors, and emotional breakdowns are not normal parts of relationships.  It is perfectly fine to be angry or sad if you have a reason to be. It is not okay to flip out for no reason.

Always the victim

Many people have bad luck and we will all go through hardships but watch out for people who are always playing the victim role.  If your friend or romantic partner is always reporting that people are unfair to him/her, take advantage of him/her or some huge injustice is always happening to him/her, this could be a red flag.

Impulsive decision-making

Most people think before they make a big choice. If your friend or romantic partner all of a sudden buys a car, sells their house, quits their job, or  on a whim  wants to move to China with you with no plan, you may want to take a few steps back and evaluate this relationship. There is a fine line between being spontaneous and being irresponsible. In general, people who lack self-control and make impulsive decisions tend to be very problematic in relationships.

Not pulling their weight

Do you always have to pay the bill, make the reservation, plan the event, clean, cook etc.? Relationships are never 50/50 but you should not be the person always stuck doing all the work maintaining the relationship. You get to forget your wallet once, twice and it is a red flag!

These are just a list of some red flags to look out for in relationships. There are countless others. Listen to your gut and try to get in touch with your intuition. If something does not feel right, it probably is a sign that something or someone is not good for you. Watch out for those red flags guys and gals!

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How to Talk About Tough Stuff….

One of my favorite expressions is; “It’s not what you say but it’s how you say it.” It also has a lot to do with when you say it, where you say it, and to who you say it. Communication seems to be a dying art and difficulties with communication will always cause problems in relationships.  At work, at home, or out with friends, eventually you are going to have to talk about something uncomfortable.  In any kind of relationship, you will have conflict that you are going to have to discuss.  If you master the art of communication, you will see how your relationships will improve and how much calmer and happier you will feel.

Communicating tough stuff with little kids:

Children are smarter than you think and they can understand more than you realize. Always tell kids the truth but use language and examples that are appropriate for them. Do not lie to them to soften the blow! I work with kids and they tend to remember the times adults lied to them trying to protect them; in my experience, children usually hold this against adults and become angry when they discover the truth.  Trust is important in any relationship and is especially important in an adult/child relationship. If you do not know an answer, tell the child that you do not know it. Be patient and calm when you talk to kids. If they ask the same question repeatedly, answer that question patiently repeatedly.  Try not to tell them tough news before school or before things they are excited about like sporting events or dance class. If you really don’t know what to say about a tough subject there are many books you can buy to talk to kids about topics like divorce, adoptions, moving, and grief.  Whatever feelings your child expresses, make sure you honor them by communicating: “I know you are sad”, “I am sorry you are upset”, “I can see that you are angry”, etc.

Here is an example; Dad was arrested and has to go to jail for three months so what do you tell Johnny who is five?

Don’t Say…… “Daddy is doing a special job far away and is so excited to be working. He loves you very much and will call you every day.”

Do Say….. “Daddy made a bad choice and has a consequence because of that mistake so a judge decided he has a punishment away for three months. We all make bad choices but he loves you very much and will call you when he can.”

Communicating tough stuff with teenagers:

Teenagers can be a tricky group for adults to talk to and most of them have their own language, which is also hard to follow. Teenagers are looking for independence and want freedom to make their own choices. It is hard to give them advice because sometimes they just do not want a family member to tell them what to do, AGAIN. One way you can get around this is by asking your teenager if you can give them a suggestion, then they have some control because they are deciding to accept or not accept you giving that suggestion. You may also try asking them what their opinion is on a subject or how they feel about something. This makes them feel valued and like they have some control. Then listen to them!  Do not interrupt, look them in the eye, and really listen.  You are the adult and get to make the final decisions but your approach and making your teenager feel heard and valued will go a long way in a conversation. Timing with teenagers is key; if they seem stressed, irritable, or sad wait for a calm moment to talk. Do not get into a screaming match with a teenager ever. It is okay to call your teenager out on bad behavior but do not shame them with your words. Things will turn dramatic quickly and nothing will get accomplished!

Here is an example; your 16-year-old daughter always goes to the movies with her friends on Saturday nights but her grandmother is very sick and you want the family to visit her. What can you say to her?

Don’t Say……. Your grandmother is sick so do not think you are going out with friends on Saturday night; you are going to be considerate and visit her with us because it is the right thing to do.

Do Say….. Hey, can I give you a suggestion? Your grandmother is sick and we are going to visit her Saturday night; I think it would be special for Grandma if you skip hanging out with friends and go visit with us, it would mean a lot to me too. How would you feel about that?

Communicating tough stuff in romantic relationships:

All couples fight and argue; that is normal. You will disagree but how you disagree is important. Name-calling, screaming, and eye rolling should not be parts of disagreements. Try using “I statements” because then you are taking responsibility for your feelings and not blaming your partner; I feel…. I want….I like…. I need…etc.  If your partner is not a morning person, do not touch on a heavy topic at 6 a.m.  Instead of focusing on the negative, try to turn something negative into a positive request.  Saying the traits that your partner has that you like and would like to see more of will be better received than complaining about what they do not do or do not have. Sometimes in communication, less can be more. Speak your mind once clearly and directly then see what happens. Do not turn a 5-minute conversation into a 5-hour fight. Do not nag; say what you got to say, then walk away! The secret is to do this calmly and in a caring way. Do not use the silent treatment or withhold communication to punish or teach your partner a lesson. If you see change or improvement, make sure you tell your partner that you notice.  Make sure you say “thank you” and “please” to your partner for little things; this should be done multiple times a day. Everyone likes to feel appreciated, valued, and respected so make sure your words and tone always convey that.

Here is an example; you are annoyed that your husband is never around on the weekends and is always with his friends.

Don’t say….. I hate how you always go fishing with your friends and you never make any time for me. You are such a selfish jerk and I feel alone in this relationship.

Do say…. I really feel loved when you make time for me, I had such a great time last month when you took me out for dinner, when can we do that again?

Communicating tough stuff at work:

Work is often one of those environments where you have to stand up for yourself. So what do you do if you need to talk to your boss or co-worker about something that you feel is unfair or you do not like? Be calm, direct, and assertive. Do not compare your situation to one with another coworker. Make an appointment to talk about your concern and do it face to face. A lot can be misinterpreted through E-mail or text. Practice what you want to say before you say it. Say it aloud in the mirror, how does it sound? You can start the conversation by asking for clarification on a policy or for more information about the expectations for you and then say what you need to say.  Being an active listener is also a communication skill. You never want to make someone at work feel attacked and sometimes it is better to give your boss or a coworker the opportunity to talk first so you can listen and get all the facts and then you respond. You always want to communicate with respect to everyone but especially at work pay close attention to your tone, language, and vocabulary.

Here is an example; a coworker tells you how she is off next week on the same day you wanted off even though she told you she did not follow company procedures to ask for the vacation day. You want to talk to your boss about this. What can you say?

Don’t Say…….. “Why did you approve Shelly’s vacation day next week and deny my request when I put the request in two weeks ago? That seems to me like you are playing favorites and that is what a lousy boss does.”

Do Say….. “Thank you for meeting with me, can you provide me with some information about the vacation day policy? I’m not sure why my request that I put in two weeks ago was denied. Can you please explain that to me?

Overall  Communication Tips:

  • Practice before you talk: write it down, say it aloud, run it by a friend
  • Stay calm: Do not yell, cry, or laugh when you are talking about serious stuff, if your emotions are getting the best of you, tell your listener you are struggling and need to take a break
  • Don’t email or text tough stuff; ask when you can talk face to face
  • Don’t do all the talking; conversations are two way streets and you need to listen as much as you talk
  • Sarcasm has no place in serious conversations and use humor wisely
  • Pay attention to your tone, speed, vocabulary and volume of your voice
  • Find a good time to talk, if someone already is having a bad day wait for a  better moment
  • Give your listener your undivided attention; turn the TV off, put your phone away and go someplace private
  • Be honest and direct; your listener may not like the message but you still have to say what you need to say
  • Don’t lie or sugarcoat the truth
  • Take responsibility for your actions and avoid blaming and comparing
  • Respect pauses and silence; sometimes your message needs to be processed. Give your listener an opportunity to think and reply
  • Follow up- This should be brief. Whether the conversation went well or not, follow up and thank your listener for their time, ask them if they have any questions or let them know how you felt after talking

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What is this Mindfulness Stuff all About?

If you have a therapist or read about mental health, I am sure by now you have heard the term “Mindfulness”. There are so many workshops for therapists and clients to learn how to be mindful and there are even more ways you can practice mindfulness. When Suzanne Presley and I are not working for Morning Star Counseling, one of our other tasks is to provide mindfulness trainings for staff and students in schools as school psychologists. I want to explain more about mindfulness, how it can help you, and how you can practice it.

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John Kabat Zinn is the pioneer and probably the founding father of the mindfulness movement in the United States and the research that supports the benefits of this practice.  He defined mindfulness as “The awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, in Purser, 2015).

Now I am going to humbly give you my way of understanding mindfulness.  To me, mindfulness is making a conscious effort to stay in and feel the current moment without bringing in information from the past or considering the possibilities that the future may bring. Sometimes the current moment is positive or negative but being mindful is about observing deeply what is presently happening in your world without judging yourself or whatever is going on in your environment. When you are mindful, you are accepting what is currently happening without analyzing it. You are paying close attention to what you can observe.

The life us modern humans live does not match how our brains were designed. Humans were never designed to stress about carpooling, traffic jams, mortgage payments, and what we should do if we can’t find a phone charger. Our modern world is filled with flashy distractions that we see on social media, television, and the internet. We are constantly running from one meeting or social obligation to the next. We worry about what happened yesterday and what tomorrow may bring. Rarely are we engaged and attentive to what is actually happening right now. What does this mean? We miss so much of what is going on today, and the days and all that we miss start to add up fast.

I like to think this is the unfortunate consequence of living in 2020, the structure of our society breeds anxiety, stress, and insecurities. We really have to fight against being sucked into that hectic fast pace life.  Sometimes the hardest thing to do when you are juggling work, family, friends, and bills is to slow down and take a breath.  We all need to slow down and take a breath. Why not stop whatever you are doing, and take a deep breath right now! That was nice, wasn’t it?

I think it is also important to explain what mindfulness isn’t. Mindfulness is not a faith based practice and is not a religion. Mindfulness can be a form of meditation. Most major religions promote elements of mindfulness and meditation. You can be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or Atheist and practice mindfulness. Think about mindfulness as an exercise for your brain, not your soul.

So what are the benefits of this mindfulness stuff? According to positivepsychology.com research has found that practicing mindfulness can:

  • Decrease stress and psychological distress
  • Improve mental health
  • Increase emotional regulation and self-control
  • Decrease anxiety, depression, worry, and obsessive thoughts
  • Reduce  problem drinking behavior
  • Enhance academic achievement
  • Improve focus and  attention
  • Improve social and relational skills
  • Reduce aggression
  • Reduce symptoms of burnout
  • Decrease turnover at work
  • Enhance job performance
  • Increase ability to cope with bullying
  • Improve resiliency

So how can you practice mindfulness? One of the recommendations that I give my clients is to start out small and to use their senses. Next time you are on a walk pick a sense, let’s try an example with hearing. Pay attention to all of the sounds that you hear, if any other thoughts come to mind just push them aside and focus on your hearing and the sounds in the environment. At first, it is hard to keep thoughts from popping up in your mind and they will show up and that’s okay, just bring your focus back to the sounds in your environment.

Taking slow deep breaths is another mindfulness exercise. As you breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose and out through your mouth pay attention to how your breath feels as it moves through your body. Again, just push any thoughts that come to mind aside and bring your focus back to your breath and how it feels to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

Another idea is to observe something visually. Take a few moments to look at something on your desk. Maybe a flower? Identify all the colors and forms of the petals. How many different shades do you see? How would you describe that flower to someone? Only focus on the flower that you see on your desk.

Like these ideas? A quick Google search on Mindfulness exercises will give you tons more! Mindfulness is a practice and you will see so many benefits if you engage in mindful activities each day. Start small, maybe try to devote just 5 minutes to your mindfulness practice daily and slowly build it up.

We have so many beautiful and inspirational moments to our days. Unfortunately, we often miss special instants because we are running on autopilot and worrying about stuff we can’t do much about. Taking time to be present helps us to fully enjoy and recognize all the moments of our day. Being mindful helps you to appreciate the little things in life. It also helps you to feel calm and at peace. Being mindful helps us to slow down our mind and take control of the only thing we can, NOW.

How about you try one more deep breath again?

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How a Dog Can Improve your Mental Health?

Karah and Lady

Humans have been domesticating and living with dogs for thousands of years. Archaeologists even have found dog remains buried with human remains in ancient burial sites all around the world. It is hard to deny that people and dogs always have had a special connection. Today, there is a great deal of evidence to support this bond. Dogs aid humans in so many ways from sniffing out drugs, finding smuggled produce in suitcases, and identifying cancer in patients. Dogs work in prisons, nursing homes, airports, hospitals, and schools. Without a doubt, a dog’s most special talent is being man’s best friend; the way dogs offer unconditional and pure love to their humans is something special. This love calms us, soothes us, and uplifts our mood. I have a special love for dogs, and a bias toward beagles. In my opinion, there is nothing better for your emotional well-being than the love of a dog.

 As a therapist, I frequently recommend the idea of adopting a dog to clients struggling with anxiety or depression. Let’s get into the why…. a dog makes you get out and walk everyday no matter the weather forecast and will keep you active. A doghelps you to meet people in your community; everyone talks to me when Lady and I go for a stroll! A dog gives you purpose, something to love and take care of. Insecure in social situations? Many stores, parks, and employers are now allowing you to bring your dog so you can have a friend in these places. Feeling lonely? A dog will always want to hang out with you. Here is the big one: a dog will be loyal to you and love you unconditionally, and this feels good.

Plus, there is just something about seeing the excitement and joy on your dog’s face as you walk in the door day after day that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. The relationship you have with your dog is the perfect example of love. Your dog always forgives you, never judges you, won’t be mean to you, accepts you just how you are, will never abandon you, and basically thinks you are the greatest person ever. All these things help you to feel awesome. There is a growing body of scientific research that supports that dogs are a highly effective treatment option for mental health.

Numerous studies show that playing or cuddling with a dog boosts levels of oxytocin in both you and your dog. Why is this good for mental health? Oxytocin can reduce stress levels, make us feel bonded and loved, and help us to socialize. Oxytocin is a chemical that makes us feel intimacy, deep connection, and attachment. Studies also show that playing with dogs helps to lower level of cortisol that produces the fight or flight response, can make us feel anxious, and is linked to many physical health problems. If you are depressed or anxious, a boost in oxytocin from snuggling with a pup could help you feel better and a decrease in cortisol levels could make you feel more at peace and less anxious.

Spending time with dogs can make us feel calmer. Multiple studies have been conducted regarding the ways that dogs can help decrease anxiety and even some of those physical symptoms of anxiety; research indicated that in cardiac units and dentist offices, patients reporting anxiety stated a significant reduction in symptoms and lower blood pressure after visits with therapy dogs. Emergency departments where therapy dogs visited prescribed less pain medication and patients reported a decrease in anxiety compared to control groups.

Dogs also help to support depressed mood.  In long term care facilities such as nursing homes, psychiatric units, and other residential programs, residents who interacted with therapy dogs reported feeling happier, smiled more, and reported an improvement in mood with lower levels of depression compared to residents who did not interact with therapy dogs. Residents who interacted with dogs were also more active and inclined to help others. Dogs are incredibly good for our mental health and even can prevent disorders. Having a pet dog in childhood has even been associated with lower rates of schizophrenia in adulthood.

In trauma research, dogs have shown a benefit to individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder around mood and anxiety. The military, the Veterans’ Association, and other organizations that treat victims of trauma have seen successful outcomes and a reduction of symptoms after implementing dogs into treatment plans.

It seems like science is starting to show what people have known for thousands of years. Our furry friends are good for us and make our lives happier and better. If you are struggling with anxiety, depression, or mental health (and have the time and money to dedicate), why not consider getting a dog? Man’s best friend can also be your mental health intervention. From personal experience, I can tell you that my best friend and beagle mix, Lady, has brought so much joy to my life and has helped me to maintain a stable emotional well-being. Lady makes my happy moments more enjoyable and she provides me with comfort and love during tough times. I tend to agree with the research, dogs are great for our mental health!

One last recommendation from therapist Karah- Adopt or rescue a dog! Consider an older dog too. Mutts are great additions to your home! They will love you for saving them and you will feel that love back!

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Embracing Adversity

Life is filled with problems, setback, and disappointments. Life is not fair and it is normal to feel frustrated by your struggles. I actually encourage my clients to take the time to recognize injustices and to feel their feelings.  Next time you have a problem, look in the mirror and tell yourself “This is lousy.” You are allowed to be mad or sad when you have struggles.  It would be strange to feel happy about a stressful situation you have to deal with.  Just do not get stuck in that state for too long.

We actually have very little control over what happens to us in life. People die, get sick, get fired, get divorced, move, cheat, lie about us, etc.  One thing we can always control is how we think about and how we react to what happens to us. We always get to pick our attitude.  Sometimes life’s biggest disappointments turn into our greatest blessings. Adversity prompts change and growth.  Next time you are facing adversity consider what a setback can also do for you, adversity can…….

Photo by Matt Hardy on Pexels.com

Provide you with the opportunity to learn a new skill

Open the doors to a job that is more fulfilling

Help you to become more spiritual and have stronger faith

Allow you to have a healthier relationship

Introduce you to new people

Prompt changes to improve your quality of life or health

Provide you with more free time to enjoy hobbies

Help you to know yourself better

Make you more independent

Bring you closer to family and friends

Make you appreciative

Inspire you to help others

Make you stronger

Make you more resilient

Help you to be resourceful

It is tough to see it in the moment, but sometimes bad things happen for good reasons. If we are willing to change, grow, and think positively, adversity can be the bump in the road that leads us down the path we are meant to be walking.  The most beautiful rainbows often pop up after the darkest storms but you need to be patient and willing to look for them.  If it is storming in your life right now, get your umbrella and keep your eye out for your rainbow!

Cómo aceptar la adversidad:

La vida trae muchos problemas, contratiempos y dificultades. La vida no es justa y es normal sentirte frustrado por tus problemas. Yo animo a mis clientes a tomar el tiempo para reconocer las injusticias que les pasan y pensar en los sentimientos asociados con sus problemas. La próxima vez que tengas un problema mírate en el espejo y di en voz alta: “Esto está horrible” Tienes el derecho de enojarte y ponerte triste cuando tienes dificultades en tu vida.  Sería raro sentirte feliz cuando tienes que enfrentar una situación muy estresante, pero no te quedes con los sentimientos negativos por mucho tiempo.

En realidad, tenemos poco control sobre lo que nos pasa en la vida. Las personas se mueren, se enferman, pierden los trabajos, se divorcian, nos engañan, nos mienten, etc. Una cosa que siempre podemos controlar es cómo pensamos en y cómo reaccionamos a lo que nos pasa en la vida. Siempre podemos escoger nuestra actitud. A veces nuestras decepciones más grandes pueden convertirse en nuestras bendiciones más bellas.  La adversidad inicia cambios y crecimiento. La próxima vez que tengas adversidad en tu vida, piensa en lo que puedes lograr. La adversidad puede…..

Proveerte con la oportunidad de aprender otras destrezas

Abrir la puerta a una oportunidad laboral más significativa

Ayudarte a crecer espiritualmente y tener más fe

Permitirte tener relaciones más saludables

Iniciar cambios que pueden mejorar tu salud y tu calidad de vida

Proveerte de más tiempo libre para disfrutar de tus pasatiempos

Ayudarte a conocerte más profundamente

Hacerte más independiente

Crear relaciones más cercanas con la familia y los amigos

Inspirarte a ayudar a los demás

Hacerte más fuerte

Hacerte más resistente

Ayudarte a ser más ingenioso

No es fácil verlo en el momento, pero a veces las cosas malas pasan por buenas razones. Si estamos dispuestos a cambiar, crecer y pensar de manera positiva, la adversidad puede ser la piedra en el camino que nos hace cambiar la dirección de nuestra caminata. Los arcos iris más hermosos suelen aparecer después de las tormentas más fuertes, pero hay que tener paciencia y tienes que estar dispuesto a buscarlos. Si en este momento hay una tormenta en tu vida, agarra tu paraguas y busca el arco iris que está por venir.

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