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How To Mourn A Break-Up And Move Past Grief and Withdrawal

How To Mourn A Break-Up And Move Past Grief and Withdrawal

A relationship can be a living, breathing entity that you and your partner co-create. A relationship can also be a literal chemical addiction. So, a breakup joins two of life’s most challenging experiences: paralyzing grief and the overwhelming physical and emotional withdrawal from an addiction.Read More

What To Do When You Don’t Trust Your Partner

What To Do When You Don’t Trust Your Partner

Learning to trust each other

One of the hardest things about trusting someone is learning to have confidence in your own judgment. Trust is about much more than finding signs that your partner has been unfaithful. It’s about believing that they have your best interests at heart.Read More

When Your Anxiety Doesn’t Have a Trigger

When Your Anxiety Doesn’t Have a Trigger

It’s very common for clients to tell me that they’re feeling anxious, but they’re not sure why. They say they recently haven’t experienced anything particularly stressful or anxiety provoking, so it doesn’t make much sense.Read More

7 Signs You’re Too Hard On Yourself

7 Signs You’re Too Hard On Yourself

Are you more critical of yourself than you deserve?

People who are too hard on themselves typically see their self-criticism as justified. Perfectionists are especially vulnerable to this. To give yourself a reality check, read through these seven types of excessively negative self-judgment, and note which you can relate to.

1. You psychologically beat yourself up over mistakes that have minimal consequences.

The vast majority of the time, when we make mistakes, they’re small ones that have no or minimal consequences. For example, you’re usually vigilant about checking sell-by dates, but one time you don’t, and you end up buying a huge tub of yogurt that’s expiring the day you buy it. Or you usually choose fruit carefully, but you manage to pick three rotten avocados in a row.

Tip: Try giving yourself a threshold for mistakes to cut yourself some slack on—for example, mistakes that waste under $5 or under 10 minutes. (This strategy of creating rules of thumb is a great way to minimize needless judgement on yourself.

2. You keep criticizing yourself after having corrected a mistake.

Earlier today, I called someone the wrong name in an email. I realized my mistake a couple of minutes after I hit send and messaged the person straight away to apologize, but then continued to criticize myself for it, particularly because I’d done the same thing to someone else a couple of weeks ago. On and off all day, I’ve been telling myself how rude and disrespectful it is to get someone’s name wrong. While this is true, I’d done what I could to make the situation right, so my self-criticism probably should have stopped there.

Tip: Recognize that the healthy role of guilt is to motivate us to make amends and to endeavor not to repeat mistakes. Allow yourself to move on once you’ve done your best to correct an error.

3. Your self-care is continually bumped off your to-do list in favor of your other priorities. 

Let’s say you need a new mattress, because you current one has become uncomfortable. You’ve been trying to find the time and energy to mattress shop for six months, but it keeps getting usurped on your to-do list by other things.

An example of that is that the last time you got a massage was three years ago when you were pregnant. Pretty much since then, you’ve been thinking, “Once X, Y, and Z is over, and I have more time, I’ll go get another massage.” Inevitably, something else comes along that keeps me busy, and I never go. You might be far from miserable, but still, three years is a long time to never prioritize something you’d like to do!

Pay particular attention to when you continuously bump health- and fitness-related self-care, since these are high-stakes areas of life.

Tip: You might take care of yourself reasonably well in some ways, but have some domains of self-care that you never prioritize. Consider allowing yourself the time, money, or mental space you need.

4. When someone treats you poorly, you find a way to interpret it as your fault. 

When something goes wrong inter-personally, do you always see it as your fault? For example:

  • If a teammate doesn’t follow through, it was your fault for not reminding them.
  • When someone wrongs you, you second-guess yourself about whether you’re entitled to feel angry. You tell yourself the problem must be some aspect of you, like you’re too fussy or demanding.
  • There are practical and relatively simple things you can do to reduce your self-criticism.
  • To be motivated to try these strategies, you’ll need to understand why ditching harsh self-criticism will benefit you. It’s not just about feeling better—being less self-critical can also help you make better decisions and waste less time and emotional energy, which in turn will make you more productive.
  • If someone doesn’t communicate with you clearly, it must be because you’re unapproachable, or you didn’t make it easy enough for them to communicate.If you find yourself wanting to speak up in situations when you feel annoyed or aggrieved, do you do it? Or do you second-guess yourself and chicken out?Tip: Recognize the middle ground between taking too little personal responsibility and too much. If you currently take 100 percent of the responsibility when things go wrong, self-experiment with taking 50 percent and go from there. Ask yourself, “What’s the most helpful level of responsibility to take?” in each specific situation that comes up. By this, I mean what level of responsibility-taking is likely to reduce the chance of the problem reoccurring? It’s unlikely to be letting the other person escape any responsibility.

    5. You always go the extra mile.

    Going the extra mile is admirable, but constantly going to the last inch of the extra mile is exhausting. If you deplete yourself by doing this, there will likely be negative consequences you experience as a result. For example, you’re so busy being perfect in relatively unimportant areas that you leave important things unattended to.

    Tip: This pattern can stem from imposter syndrome, where you fear that not being excessively conscientious will result in your flaws being revealed and a quick unraveling of your life. The easiest way to break this pattern is to practice not going the extra mile in tiny ways. Each time you do this and nothing terrible happens, it will get easier to do. Likewise, if you don’t go the extra mile, and something small goes wrong as a result, you’ll recognize you were able to handle it.

    6. You feel like a failure, even though you mostly have your life together.

    People who are self-critical look at their life and see all the areas in which they’re not perfect. They overlook all the things they do right.

    Tip: Ask yourself what your life looks like to other people. If other people would view you as having your life together, consider whether there is at least a grain of truth to that. Is the reality of your life and decision-making less rosy than other people might perceive, but considerably better than you give yourself credit for? What do you do right that you take for granted? For example, you pay your bills on time.

    7. You see other people’s “dumb” mistakes as understandable, but not your own.

    We all do stupid things. For example, you turn on your blender without the lid on properly and get smoothie all over your walls. When other people do things like this, do you see their mistakes as understandable? After all, it’s easy to get distracted and make mindless mistakes. Conversely, when you make these types of mistakes, do you cut yourself no slack whatsoever and launch into self-criticism?

    Tip: When things like this happen, ask yourself what you’d say to someone else who you like and respect in a similar situation. Try saying this to yourself!

    Take-Home Messages

  • There are practical and relatively simple things you can do to reduce your self-criticism.
  • To be motivated to try these strategies, you’ll need to understand why ditching harsh self-criticism will benefit you. It’s not just about feeling better—being less self-critical can also help you make better decisions and waste less time and emotional energy, which in turn will make you more productive.
Healing the Shame of Childhood Abuse Through Self-Compassion

Healing the Shame of Childhood Abuse Through Self-Compassion

“Shame is the lie someone told you about yourself.” —Anais Nin (attributed)

If you were a victim of childhood abuse or neglect, you know about shame. You have likely been plagued by it all your life without identifying it as shame. You may feel shame because you blame yourself for the abuse itself (“My father wouldn’t have hit me if I had minded him”) or because you felt such humiliation at having been abused (“I feel like such a wimp for not defending myself”). While those who were sexually abused tend to suffer from the most shame, those who suffered from physical, verbal, or emotional abuse blame themselves as well. In the case of child sexual abuse, no matter how many times you’ve heard the words “It’s not your fault,” the chances are high that you still blame yourself in some way—for being submissive, for not telling someone and having the abuse continue, for “enticing” the abuser with your behavior or dress, or because you felt some physical pleasure.

In the case of physical, verbal, and emotional abuse, you may blame yourself for “not listening” and thus making your parent or caretaker so angry that he or she yelled at you or hit you. Children tend to blame the neglect and abuse they experience on themselves, in essence saying to themselves, “My mother is treating me like this because I’ve been bad” or “I am being neglected because I am unlovable.” As an adult, you may have continued this kind of rationalization, putting up with poor treatment by others because you believe you brought it on yourself. Conversely, when good things happen to you, you may actually become uncomfortable, because you feel so unworthy.

Former victims of child abuse are typically changed by the experience, not only because they were traumatized, but because they feel a loss of innocence and dignity and they carry forward a heavy burden of shame. Emotional, physical, and sexual child abuse can so overwhelm a victim with shame that it actually comes to define the person, keeping her from her full potential. It can cause a victim both to remain fixed at the age he was at the time of his victimization and to repeat the abuse over and over in his lifetime.

You may also have a great deal of shame due to the exposure of the abuse. If you reported the abuse to someone, you may blame yourself for the consequences of your outcry—your parents divorcing, your molester going to jail, your family going to court.

And then there’s the shame you may feel about your behavior that was a consequence of the abuse. Former victims of childhood abuse tend to feel a great deal of shame for things they did as children as a result of the abuse. For example, perhaps unable to express their anger at an abuser, they may have taken their hurt and anger out on those who were smaller or weaker than themselves, such as younger siblings. They may have become bullies at school, been belligerent toward authority figures, or started stealing, taking drugs, or otherwise acting out against society. In the case of sexual abuse, former victims may have continued the cycle of abuse by introducing younger children to sex.

You may also feel shame because of things you have done as an adult to hurt yourself and others, such as abusing alcohol or drugs, becoming overly sexually promiscuous, or breaking the law, not realizing that these behaviors were a result of the abuse you suffered.

Unbeknownst to them, adults who were abused as children often express the overwhelming shame they feel by pushing away those who try to be good to them, by sabotaging their success, by becoming emotionally or physically abusive to their partners, or by continuing a pattern of being abused or subjecting their own children to witnessing abuse. Former abuse victims may repeat the cycle of abuse by emotionally, physically, or sexually abusing their own children, or by abandoning their children because they can’t take care of them.

Shame can affect literally every aspect of a former victim’s life, from self-confidence, self-esteem, and body image to the ability to relate to others, to navigate intimate relationships, to be a good parent, to work effectively, to learn new things, and to care for yourself. Shame is responsible for myriad personal problems, including self-criticism and self-blame, self-neglect, self-destructive behaviors (such as abusing your body with food, alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes, self-mutilation, or being accident-prone), perfectionism (based on fear of being caught in a mistake), believing you don’t deserve good things, believing that if others really knew you they would dislike or be disgusted by you (commonly known as the “imposter syndrome”), people-pleasing and co-dependent behavior, tending to be critical of others (trying to give shame away), intense rage (frequent physical fights or road rage), and acting out against society (breaking rules or laws).

Shame from childhood abuse almost always manifests itself in one or more of these ways:

  • It causes former abuse victims to abuse themselves with critical self-talk, alcohol or drug abuse, destructive eating patterns, or other forms of self-harm. Two-thirds of people in treatment for drug abuse reported being abused or neglected as children (Swon 1998).
  • It causes former abuse victims to develop victim-like behavior, whereby they expect and accept unacceptable, abusive behavior from others. As many as 90 percent of women in battered women’s shelters report having been abused or neglected as children (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2013).
  • It causes abuse victims to become abusive. About 30 percent of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2013).

The truth is that for most former victims of childhood abuse, shame is likely one of the worst effects of the abuse. Unless you heal this pervasive shame you will likely continue to suffer from its effects throughout your lifetime.

Facing the problems that shame has created in your life can be daunting. You may be overwhelmed with the problem of how to heal the shame caused by the childhood abuse you experienced. The good news is that there is a way to heal your shame so that you can begin to see the world through different eyes—eyes not clouded by the perception that you are “less than,” inadequate, damaged, worthless, or unlovable.

The Healing Power of Self-Compassion

Like a poison, toxic shame needs to be neutralized by another substance—an antidote—if the patient is to be saved. Compassion is the only thing that can counteract the isolating, stigmatizing, debilitating poison of shame.

Many of you may be aware of the writings of Alice Miller. Miller believes that what victims of childhood abuse need most is what she called a “compassionate witness” to validate their experiences and support them through their pain (Miller 1984). For many years I have personally experienced how being a compassionate witness for my clients can help them heal and how transformative having a compassionate therapist has been for me.

In recent years, many others, including major researchers have taken up the subject of compassion. Their work has revealed, among other insights, that the kindness, support, encouragement, and compassion of others have a huge impact on how our brains, bodies, and general sense of well-being develop. Love and kindness, especially in early life, even affect how some of our genes are expressed (Gilbert 2009, Cozolino 2007).

Research on Self-Compassion

By studying much of the research on compassion, I discovered that while I had come to understand the healing powers of compassion, I hadn’t truly recognized the importance of self-compassion—extending compassion to oneself in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering—in the treatment of psychotherapy clients, particularly former victims of child abuse. In 2003, Kristin Neff published the first two articles defining and measuring self-compassion (Neff 2003a, Neff 2003b); before this, the subject of self-compassion had never been formally studied. There have since been over 200 journal articles and dissertations on self-compassion.

One of the most consistent findings in this research literature is that greater self-compassion is linked to less psychopathology (Barnard and Curry 2011). And a recent meta-analysis showed self-compassion to have a positive effect on depression, anxiety, and stress across 20 studies (MacBeth and Gumley 2012).

Self-compassion also appears to facilitate resilience by moderating people’s reactions to negative events—trauma in particular. Gilbert and Procter (2001) suggest that self-compassion provides emotional resilience because it deactivates the threat system. And it has been found that abused individuals with higher levels of self-compassion are better able to cope with upsetting events (Vettese et al. 2011).

There is also evidence that self-compassion helps people diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In one study of college students who showed PTSD symptoms after experiencing a traumatic event such as an accident or life-threatening illness, those with more self-compassion showed less severe symptoms than those who lacked self-compassion. In particular, they were less likely to display signs of emotional avoidance and more comfortable facing the thoughts, feelings, and sensations associated with the trauma they experienced (Thompson and Waltz 2008).

Finally, in addition to self-compassion being a key factor in helping those who were traumatized in childhood, it turns out that self-compassion is the missing key to alleviating shame. Confirming what I knew from my extensive work with former victims of child abuse, research shows that traumatized individuals feel significant levels of shame and guilt (Jonsson and Segesten 2004). Shame has been recognized as a major component of a range of mental health problems and proneness to aggression (Gilbert 1997, Gilbert 2003, Gilligan 2003, Tangney and Dearing 2002). And it has been found that decreases in anxiety, shame, and guilt and increases in the willingness to express sadness, anger, and closeness were associated with higher levels of self-compassion (Germer and Neff 2013).

By learning to practice self-compassion, you will rid yourself of shame-based beliefs, such as you are worthless, defective, bad, or unlovable. Abuse victims often cope with these false yet powerful beliefs by trying to ignore them or convince themselves otherwise by puffing themselves up, overachieving, or becoming perfectionistic. These strategies take huge amounts of energy, and they are not effective. Rather, actively approaching, recognizing, validating, and understanding shame is the way to overcome it.

Debilitating Shame

“Shame is sickness of the soul.” —Silvan Tomkins

While many people suffer from shame, not everyone suffers from what is referred to as debilitating shame. Debilitating shame is shame that is so all-consuming that it negatively affects every aspect of a person’s life—his perceptions of himself, his relationship with others, her ability to be intimate with a romantic partner, her ability to raise children in a healthy manner, his ability to risk and achieve success in his career, and her overall physical and emotional health. The following questionnaire will help you determine whether you suffer from debilitating shame.

Questionnaire: Do You Suffer from Debilitating Shame Due to Childhood Abuse?

  1. Do you blame yourself for the abuse you experienced as a child?
  2. Do you believe your parent (or other adult or older child) wouldn’t have abused you if you hadn’t pushed him or her into doing it?
  3. Do you believe you were a difficult, stubborn, or selfish child who deserved the abuse you received?
  4. Do you believe you made it difficult for your parents or others to love you?
  5. Do you believe you were a disappointment to your parents or family?
  6. Do you feel you are basically unlovable?
  7. Do you have a powerful inner critic who finds fault with nearly everything you do?
  8. Are you a perfectionist?
  9. Do you believe you don’t deserve to be happy, loved, or successful?
  10. Do you have a difficult time believing someone could love you?
  11. Do you push away people who are good to you?
  12. Are you afraid that if people really get to know you they won’t like or accept you? Do you feel like a fraud?
  13. Do you believe that anyone who likes or loves you has something wrong with them?
  14. Do you feel like a failure in life?
  15. Do you hate yourself?
  16. Do you feel ugly—inside and out?
  17. Do you hate your body?
  18. Do you believe that the only way someone can like you is if you do everything they want?
  19. Are you a people pleaser?
  20. Do you censor yourself when you talk to other people, always being careful not to offend them or hurt their feelings?
  21. Do you feel like the only thing you have to offer is your sexuality?
  22. Are you addicted to alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, shopping, gambling, or stealing, or do you suffer from any other addiction?
  23. Do you find it nearly impossible to admit when you are wrong or when you’ve made a mistake?
  24. Do you feel bad about the way you’ve treated people?
  25. Are you afraid of what you’re capable of doing?
  26. Are you afraid of your tendency to be abusive—either verbally, emotionally, physically, or sexually?
  27. Have you been in one or more relationships where you were abused either verbally, emotionally, physically, or sexually?
  28. Did you or do you feel you deserved the abuse?
  29. Do you always blame yourself if something goes wrong in a relationship?
  30. Do you feel like it isn’t worth trying because you’ll only fail?
  31. Do you sabotage your happiness, your relationships, or your success?
  32. Are you self-destructive (engaging in acts of self-harm, driving recklessly, suicidal attempts, and so on)?
  33. Do you feel inferior to or less than other people?
  34. Do you often lie about your accomplishments or your history in order to make yourself look better in others’ eyes?
  35. Do you neglect your body, your health, or your emotional needs (not eating right, not getting enough sleep, not taking care of your medical or dental needs)?

There isn’t any formal scoring for this questionnaire, but if you answered yes to many of these questions, you can be assured that you are suffering from debilitating shame. If you answered yes to just a few, you may still have an issue with shame.

Shame Is Not a Singular Experience

Just as the source of shame can be all forms of abuse or neglect, shame is not just one feeling but many. It is a cluster of feelings and experiences. These can include:

  • Feelings of being humiliated. Abuse is always humiliating to the victim, but some types are more humiliating than others. Certainly, sexual abuse almost always has an element of humiliation to it, since it is a violation of very private body parts and since there is a knowing on the child’s part that incest and/or sex between a child and an adult is taboo. (These taboos hold in nearly every culture in the world.) If the abuse involves public exposure—for example, being chastised or physically punished in front of others, particularly peers—the element of humiliation can be quite profound.
  • Feelings of impotence. When a child realizes there is nothing he can do to stop the abuse, he feels powerless, helpless. This can also lead to his always feeling unsafe, even long after the abuse has stopped.
  • Feelings of being exposed. Abuse and the accompanying feelings of vulnerability and helplessness cause the child to feel self-conscious and exposed—seen in a painfully diminished way. The fact that he could not stop the abuse makes him feel weak and exposed both to himself and to anyone present.
  • Feelings of being defective or less-than. Most victims of abuse report feeling defective, damaged, or corrupted following the experience of being abused.
  • Feelings of alienation and isolation. What follows the trauma of abuse is the feeling of suddenly being different, less-than, damaged, or cast out. And while victims may long to talk to someone about their inner pain, they often feel immobilized, trapped, and alone in their shame.
  • Feelings of self-blame. Victims almost always blame themselves for being abused and being shamed. This is particularly true when abuse happens or begins in childhood.
  • Feelings of rage. Rage almost always follows having been shamed. It serves a much-needed self-protective function of both insulating the self against further exposure and actively keeping others away.
  • Fear, hurt, distress, or rage can also accompany or follow shame experiences as secondary reactions. For example, feeling exposed is often followed by the fear of further exposure and further occurrences of shame. Rage protects the self against further exposure. And along with shame, a victim can feel intense hurt and distress from having been abused.

The following exercise can help you discover what your primary feeling experiences of shame are.

Exercise: Your Feeling Experience of Shame

While you may have experienced all the feelings listed above, you may resonate with some more than others. Think about each type of abuse that you suffered and the various feelings that accompanied it. Ask yourself which of the items listed above stand out to you the most for each type of abuse or each experience of abuse. In my case, for example, when I think about the sexual abuse I suffered at age nine, I resonate most profoundly with defectiveness, isolation, self-blame, and rage.

Further Defining Self-Compassion

If compassion is the ability to feel and connect with the suffering of another human being, self-compassion is the ability to feel and connect with one’s own suffering. More specifically for our purposes, self-compassion is the act of extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering. If we are to be self-compassionate, we need to give ourselves the recognition, validation, and support we would offer a loved one who is suffering.

Kristin Neff, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, is the leading researcher in the growing field of self-compassion. In her book Self-Compassion (2011), she defines self-compassion as “being open to and moved by one’s own suffering, experiencing feelings of caring and kindness toward oneself, taking an understanding, nonjudgmental attitude toward one’s inadequacies and failures, and recognizing that one’s experience is part of the common human experience” (224).

Self-compassion encourages us to begin to treat ourselves and talk to ourselves with the same kindness, caring, and compassion we would show a good friend or a beloved child. Just as connecting with the suffering of others has been shown to comfort and heal, connecting with our own suffering will do the same. If you are able to feel compassion toward others, you can learn to feel it for yourself. The following exercise will show you how.

Exercise: Becoming Compassionate Toward Yourself

  1. Think about the most compassionate person you have known—someone kind, understanding, and supportive of you. It may have been a teacher, a friend, a friend’s parent, a relative. Think about how this person conveyed his or her compassion toward you and how you felt in this person’s presence. Notice the feelings and sensations that come up with this memory. If you can’t think of someone in your life who has been compassionate toward you, think of a compassionate public figure, or even a fictional character from a book, film, or television.
  2. Now imagine that you have the ability to become as compassionate toward yourself as this person has been toward you (or you imagine this person would be toward you). How would you treat yourself if you were feeling overwhelmed with sadness or shame? What kinds of words would you use to talk to yourself?

This is the goal of self-compassion: to treat yourself the same way the most compassionate person you know would treat you—to talk to yourself in the same loving, kind, supportive ways this compassionate person would talk to you.

The Benefits of Practicing Self-Compassion

By learning to practice self-compassion you will also be able to begin doing the following:

  • Truly acknowledge the pain you suffered and in so doing, begin to heal
  • Take in compassion from others
  • Reconnect with yourself, including reconnecting with your emotions
  • Gain an understanding as to why you have acted out in negative and/or unhealthy ways
  • Stop blaming yourself for your victimization
  • Forgive yourself for the ways you attempted to cope with the abuse
  • Learn to be deeply kind toward yourself
  • Create a nurturing inner voice to replace your critical inner voice
  • Reconnect with others and become less isolated

I hope I have been able to convey to you how self-compassion can help heal you of your shame. For further help, contact me, Courtenay Monfore at 704-741-2082 to develop healthy ways to minimize and empower yourself.

Work Anxiety: 10 Tips to Manage Anxiety at Work

Work Anxiety: 10 Tips to Manage Anxiety at Work

Is work anxiety throwing you off balance and leaving you stressed? Follow these 10 strategies for managing workplace anxiety— you’ll feel better for it

Work anxiety can drastically affect your quality of life and leave you counting down the minutes until five o’clock comes around.  Roughly three out of every four people with stress or anxiety in their life say that it interferes with their daily lives, and the workplace is no exception. Anxiety can affect performance at work, the quality of the work, relationships with colleagues, and relationships with supervisors. And if you have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, then these challenges may prove even more difficult.

People report that deadlines and dealing with difficult people are the biggest causes of work-related stress. Conflict in the workplace will elicit many different reactions. Some people love the drama, while others would rather hide under their desks until the commotion subsides. Regardless of whether or not you thrive on conflict, lack of effective communication at your job can cause quite a bit of anxiety. When several people in the office are visibly affected by anxiety, the level of stress can almost feel contagious. People begin to miss more work, the quality of work goes down, and coworkers begin to gossip or vent rather than work together to solve problems. People stop talking to one another, they start collecting mountains of grievances, and the environment can become downright toxic.

The first step in managing work anxiety is building a personal wellness plan. If you’re getting adequate sleep, eating healthy, exercising, and engaging in social activities outside of work, then your odds for decreasing workplace anxiety are much greater.

But reducing anxiety in the workplace requires more than mindfulness exercises or a yoga class every now and then. You must also examine how you function in workplace system and how you deal with others. Do you hide from your boss? Do you gossip with your coworker in the neighboring cubicle? Do you wait to speak up until you’re seething with anger or bursting into tears? There are a few simple strategies you can start examining and practicing to help you arrive at work calmer and not take worries home with you. In addition to seeking professional help to manage anxiety, you can use these interpersonal strategies to help lower overall anxiety in the office and help you stay calm, focused, and productive. Let’s take a look at a few.

Know Everyone’s Name

Having a solid one-to-one relationship with people in the office makes it easier to address problems with the original individual rather than gossiping or venting to others. This starts by knowing people’s names and their responsibilities. If you forget a person’s name, don’t be embarrassed to ask again. It’s never too late to start building stronger relationships at the office.

Ask For Help

When work is hectic, it becomes all too easy to say “yes” even when you don’t understand how to do something. But the discomfort of asking for help or clarification is worth it in the long run, and it can decrease overall anxiety about responsibilities. Asking for help also communicates to your superiors that you genuinely care about doing a good job.

Avoid Triangles

Many workplaces are built on gossiping about coworkers or venting about others. Though this might provide temporary relief or entertainment, it only serves to build up tension and stress. You can almost feel it floating in the air when an office is full of this kind of negativity. Bonding with someone by talking about a third person is called “triangling,” and it’s an unhealthy way to manage work anxiety. Examples of triangles might include gossiping about a third person, criticizing someone behind their back, and using them as a scapegoat.

Though it might be tempting to vent to a coworker, consider how you can keep the issue between you and the person with whom you have conflict. Though it might be difficult at first, you can reduce your anxiety by approaching the individual and communicating the facts of the situation. Tell them you’d like to reach a resolution and are motivated to create an open and honest workplace. If you’re an employer or supervisor, consider how you can encourage employees to work out conflict between themselves and approach you honestly if they have an issue with your leadership.

Set Honest Deadlines

Anxious people sometimes will agree to deadlines and timelines that they know they cannot meet. Often it’s better to be honest upfront than to apologize later. Not every deadline is negotiable, but it will save you hours of anxiety if you can be honest upfront and work at a manageable pace. And if you finish the job ahead of time, that will make you look even better.

Use Neutral Language

Learning to use neutral and calming language in the office can help bring down everyone’s anxiety at work. Disagreements are more manageable when you begin a statement with, “Here’s what I’m thinking,” and end it with, “What are you thinking?” This lets people feel like they have input and makes them more likely to hear what you’re saying. Questions like, “What could we each do about this issue?” or “How could we prevent this from coming up in the future?” are also great for problem-solving.

Stay in Contact

It’s human instinct to avoid or cut off contact with people who make us uncomfortable, and the workplace is no exception. Maybe you stop replying to emails that you don’t know how to answer. Or perhaps you avoid the break room after you’ve had a disagreement with a bullying coworker. Maybe you try and duck out for the day before your boss can catch you with a question. The problem with avoidance is that it’s only a very temporary solution. That twisting feeling in your stomach or other work anxiety symptoms will only get worse over time the more you use distance as a way to manage disagreement, confusion, or other difficult emotions.

Contact is a muscle you have to flex to make it stronger. The more you approach problems and communication head-on, the less anxious it will make you over the long term. Great leaders have the ability to maintain contact with people who have different points of view or styles of work. Staying in contact can also help you improve on saying “no” to additional responsibilities that make you overworked and less effective in your job.

Don’t Drag Others Down

Office drama can be entertaining at times, but it ultimately makes the environment more stressful and lowers morale. Try changing the subject when people talk poorly of coworkers or the boss, or simply come up with a reason to leave the room. Don’t respond to texts or emails that seek to drag others down.

Encourage In-Person Conversations

It can be incredibly difficult to decipher emotions and intensions electronically. Much workplace anxiety comes from misinterpreting emails or waiting to hear back about a difficult subject. If an issue is making you particularly anxious, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone or have an in-person conversation to clarify things.

Focus on the Facts

Your mind and emotions can feel pulled in many different directions when you feel overloaded, under-appreciated or misunderstood. The best way to lower anxiety is to control the conversation and what’s communicated. Try to verbalize what specifically is causing your anxiety and ask other people share their views. Then be sure to express how you’d like to this specific conflict to be resolved. Focus on the facts of the situation, and stay in the present. This probably isn’t the best time to pull up past grievances, no matter how relevant they may seem.

It will be tempting to pull out your arsenal of complaints when you feel reactive, but lowering anxiety is not about winning. It’s about resolving. Try to avoid emotionally charged exaggerations that use words like “always” or “never.” Begin your sentences with “I” statements, because “You” sounds too accusatory. If you’re concerned about a volatile reaction from a coworker, then consider having a mediator, usually an HR rep, join the conversation.

Access Resources

Many workplaces have offer counseling through employee assistance programs (EAPs) or can connect you to mental health resources in the community to help you manage anxiety. Though it may be intimidating to speak up about your anxiety, when you take responsibility for your wellness, you serve as a role model for others in the workplace.

When you build more solid relationships, improve communication, and ask for help, the entire office will benefit. Anxiety is always present to some degree in your daily life, but it doesn’t have to interfere with doing good work and enjoying your profession. Remember, though anxiety is an unpleasant emotion, it’s also an opportunity for you to grow in your career. The more you face anxiety in the workplace rather than run away from it or simply complain about it, the more significant a stressor will have to be to make you feel off your game.

Looking for further support for your work stress? Call Courtenay Monfore now at 704-741-2082.

 

 

Anxiety and Sleep

Anxiety and Sleep

Do you suffer from anxiety and sleep disturbance? Try these 6 tips for improving sleep problems and managing your anxiety

If you’re experiencing stress in your life, chances are that you might be struggling to fall or stay asleep at night. Your anxious worry about life and its problems may keep your brain from settling down, and the disruption of sleep is likely to keep you feeling more on edge the next day.

Sleep disruption is a common feature of mental health problems, and anxiety is no exception. You don’t have to have a diagnosed anxiety disorder to feel the impact the stress and worry can have on your sleep patterns. Over 40 million Americans say they experience a long-term sleep disorder, with many others experiencing occasional sleep disruption. 70% of adults report that they experience daily stressors, so it makes sense that Americans on average are reporting they get less sleep than in previous decades.1

Which Comes First?

So which comes first, the anxiety or the disruption of sleep? Researchers have found that the relationship between sleep problems and anxiety is bidirectional. This means that sleep problems can cause anxiety, and anxiety can disrupt your sleep. And just like anxiety, sleep problems can impact how you function emotionally, mentally, and physically.

Because sleep and anxiety have such a strong relationship, it’s important to address both when you meet with your doctor. In addition to anxiety, sleep problems can put you at higher risk for missing work or school, injuring yourself, and developing health conditions such as heart attack, hypertension, stroke, and diabetes among others.2 If you’re being treated for chronic insomnia, it’s essential to express any concerns you have about how anxiety affects your day-to-day life. Treating sleep problems without taking steps to manage anxiety and reduce stress is unlikely to have any real impact.

Treatment Options

Once you talk to your physician about your sleep problems, they may refer you to a sleep clinic to gather more information. Mental health professionals can also provide you with sleep education and help you design an action plan for sleeping through the night. To treat anxiety conjointly with sleep problems, professionals typically recommend medication, therapy, or a combination of the two. Cognitive behavioral therapy is an evidence-based form of psychotherapy that can help you challenge your anxious thinking.  Doctors or therapists may also recommend mindfulness meditation as tool for calming your busy mind.

Tips for Improving Sleep and Managing Anxiety

Move your body – Exercise has been found to both lower anxiety and improve sleep. But try not to exercise right before sleep, as it can keep you awake. Moving your body in the morning or afternoon can help you get your sleeping and waking cycle back on track and also treat insomnia or sleep apnea.

Tailor your environment – Controlling light, sound, and temperature can help you get a good night’s rest. The darker, quieter, and cooler you can keep your bedroom, the greater chance you have of calming your mind and falling asleep. Taking a shower or bath shortly before bed can also help lower your body temperature and help you fall asleep more quickly.

Limit caffeine and alcohol – Drinking too much caffeine or consuming it too late in the day can increase anxiety and inhibit sleep. Consuming alcohol close to bedtime can also increase your heart rate and keep you up. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, but don’t drink too much before bedtime, as trips to the bathroom can keep you anxious and alert.

Calm your mind – There are many relaxation techniques that can help you calm your mind throughout the day and improve sleep. Mindfulness meditation, yoga, and breathing exercise can help you achieve calm, but it can also be as simple as taking a walk when you have a short break at work. If you practice techniques for calming your mind during the day, then it will be easier to trigger your relaxation response at night. There are apps you can download on your phone that are specifically designed for meditations to help people fall asleep.

Limit screen time – Your phone, tablet, and TV emit light that keeps your brain awake, so try to limit them an hour before bedtime. Checking email or doing work right before bed can also trigger anxious thoughts and make it difficult to calm your brain. Consider setting an alarm to remind you to shut screens off at an adequate time before bed. Instead, consider listening to music or reading a book to quiet your mind.

Ask for help – Sometimes managing anxious worry and improving sleep is more complicated than simply turning off your phone or getting adequate exercise. Never hesitate to ask for help if you need it. Sleep problems and anxiety are highly treatable. Consider calling Courtenay Monfore at 704-741-2082 to help you rest your mind and body.

 

 

How Trauma and Dissociation Disrupt Your Ability to Form Memories

How Trauma and Dissociation Disrupt Your Ability to Form Memories

“Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.”  Haruki Murakami

We all know from popular drama (TV shows, movies, etc.) that traumatic events are often forgotten by the person who suffers from them. People who experience a devastating event such as a car accident, natural disaster, or terror attack often cannot remember the incident clearly. It’s also common not to remember what took place right before or right after the incident. In a similar way, many adults who suffered child abuse have difficulty recalling large chunks of time from childhood. In these cases, problems with memory can continue into adulthood as well, particularly when faced with emotional distress.

Our brain and nervous system have evolved to do spectacular things: we can read, write, make music, and contemplate the meaning of life. But the brain’s first and foremost duty is to keep us alive. When it comes to traumatic events, the part of our brain that protects our physical and emotional well-being takes control. In this process, the parts of the brain that are responsible for higher thought processes, such as forming and retrieving memories, are suppressed. Here’s some information on how all this works in the brain.

HOW THE BRAIN FORMS MEMORIES

On a regular stress-free day, memories for facts are made and stored in three steps: acquisition, consolidation, and retrieval.

  • Acquisition occurs through the combination of sensory experience and emotion. The amygdala processes and interprets the experience so it can become a memory.
  • The hippocampus consolidates the experience and sends the information off to the appropriate place for storage (memories are stored all over the brain).
  • It is thought that retrieval of factual memories occurs as a function of the prefrontal cortex. When we want to think of a fact, such as the definition of a word, the prefrontal cortex retrieves it and we remember.

When we are confronted with life-threatening danger, the brain behaves differently. The amygdala sends an emergency signal to the hypothalamus, which in turn activates the fight or flight response. Corticosteroids are then released into the bloodstream in order to prepare the body for action. Blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory function all increase to provide the body and brain with extra energy and oxygen. Our alertness increases, and our body is ready to move.

When this is happening, the amygdala inhibits the activity of the prefrontal cortex. When faced with danger, this is useful, as the prefrontal cortex operates substantially slower. While it is trying to work out what is happening, our body may be harmed. The quicker, action-oriented part of the brain enables us to respond rapidly and try to avoid danger. We act fast. Later, once we are safe, we have time to think. In respect to memory, the parts of the brain involved in memory formation are shut down when faced with a traumatic experience.

The activation of the fight or flight response prevents the parts of the brain responsible for creating and retrieving memory from functioning effectively. This is why we can forget what occurred around a traumatic event. In the case of ongoing trauma, such as with childhood abuse, ongoing problems with memory and the related process can occur, leading to what is understood as dissociation.

DISSOCIATION AND MEMORIES

At the heart of dissociation is memory disruption. During dissociation, the normally integrated functions of perception, experience, identity, and consciousness are disrupted and do not thread together to form a cohesive sense of self. People with dissociation often experience a sense that things are not real; they can feel disconnected from themselves and the world around them. Their sense of identity can shift, their memories can turn off, and the connection between past and present events can be disrupted.

In understanding the human response to trauma, it is understood that dissociation is a central defense mechanism because it provides a kind of mental escape when physical escape is not possible. This type of defense is often the only kind available for children living in abusive situations. Posttraumatic stress (PTSD) and complex posttraumatic stress (C-PTSD) often go hand in hand with dissociation. In studies investigating the impact of PTSD and memory, researchers have found that people with dissociative symptoms have a greater impairment with both working memory and long-term memory.

LONG-TERM IMPACT OF MEMORY IMPAIRMENT

To understand the long-term impact of memory impairment due to dissociation, we need to look at the context from which it arises. Dissociation occurs as a result of ongoing trauma which is associated with chronic stress. A chronically stressed brain and nervous system have difficulty learning. The hippocampus, critical for memory formation and consolidation, can become damaged from ongoing exposure to stress hormones. Researchers have found that the hippocampus actually shrinks in people who suffer from major depression. In addition to the emotional impact of chronic stress and abuse, difficulties with learning and memory can occur as well.

Implications range from difficulties with academics to reduced on-the-job learning and performance. In terms of survival, the implications are serious, as we all need the ability to prepare for, find, and keep employment. Unfortunately, once a person frees him or herself from an abusive childhood, the effects can follow into adulthood in unexpected ways. A damaged hippocampus and overactive nervous system can make life more difficult than it has to be. Over time, self-esteem and confidence can be negatively impacted as well.

Fortunately, the prognosis of dissociation can be optimistic. Talk therapy, Brainspotting, EMDR and other therapeutic approaches that are designed to reduce stress and increase emotional resilience can also help.

If you are experiencing trauma or dissociation, you can call Courtenay Monfore at 704-741-2082.

4 Ways To Tell The Difference Between Stress and Anxiety

4 Ways To Tell The Difference Between Stress and Anxiety

On the surface, it can be hard to see any difference between stress and anxiety: after all, they’re both the negative emotional experiences that can make you feel exhausted and edgy, steal your focus, and leave you spending your nights sleepless and frantic, trying to calculate whether it’s more financially efficient to try to pay off your student loans or just fake your own death.Read More

Shaming Children Is Emotionally Abusive

Shaming Children Is Emotionally Abusive

Have you even been in a social gathering with friends, family, strangers and a bunch of cute kids? Have you ever over heard one of those cute kids quietly ask her mother or father for something and heard the parent explode and yell hysterically at the child?Read More

5 Reasons To Talk About Your Trauma

5 Reasons To Talk About Your Trauma

As humans, many of us loathe the idea of talking about the worst things that have happened to us. Discussing a painful experience can feel humiliating or terrifying. We think we’ll break down and never recover. We think that we’re the only ones to experience anything like it, and no one would understand.Read More

4 Ways To Cope With Stress You Likely Haven’t Thought Of

4 Ways To Cope With Stress You Likely Haven’t Thought Of

When we’re under stress, our thinking tends to narrow, and we don’t consider all the options and resources we have available for handling it. Here are four ideas to consider.

1. Talk it over with someone you don’t know well.

In general, our loose connections are a resource we tend to underestimate. If you’re having a problem, consider talking it over with someone you don’t know very well. Depending on the type of problem, this could be people like a colleague in another department, a neighbor, someone you knew a little bit in college, a friend of your sibling or partner, or an extended family member. You might get advice that you don’t expect, build a stronger relationship with the person you’ve confided in, and (since most issues are universal at their core) feel less alone in dealing with whatever you’re facing.

When you reach out to a loose connection, be aware that folks who’ve gone through the exact same situation and come out the other side may be a better source of practical information than emotional support. Paradoxically, people who’ve overcome an issue are sometimes less compassionate toward those who are in the midst of that journey. Pick other people if emotional support is what you’re after.

2. Make a less well-thought-out decision.

Coping with stress often involves making decisions. Conscience folks often think the more options and factors we consider for longer, the better decision we’ll make. However, this isn’t necessarily true. There’s a bunch of research about when considering fewer variables can actually improve decision making quality. Thinking about something for longer won’t necessarily help you make a better decision. If you’re interested in how simpler or more intuitive decision-making processes can result in better decisions, try watching YouTube videos of Gerd Gigerenzer talking about his work, or read the book Algorithms to Live By (particularly the chapter on “Overfitting.”)

3. Consider not doing something you think you have to do.

Stress often arises when we think “I have to do X, and I don’t want to,” or “I have to do X, and I can’t cope with it.” A mental trick you can use is to think about not doing it at all. For instance, you might think: “I could not write this presentation I’m scheduled to give. I could just cancel.” When you consider this option, your brain will likely jump in with reasons you actually want to do it, even if you’re feeling unsure, overloaded, or frustrated by your own lack of perfection. For instance, you might think: “Actually I do want to do this presentation of my research. I worked hard on it, and I want to explain my ideas.”

Another example: If you’re stressed out about organizing a family event and consider just not doing it, your brain might pipe up with, “Actually I do want to organize my family getting together, even though people can be high maintenance and a pain in the butt. They’re still my family, and they’re important to me.” If your brain doesn’t reactively generate some compelling reason you actually want to do whatever it is, consider really dropping it.

4. Try advice that seems too basic to be helpful.

It’s easy to be dismissive of simple advice. When you’re under stress, you might think, “Going for a walk or doing a fun activity for the afternoon isn’t going to take my problem away. It’ll still be right here when I get back.” Or, “How is sleeping on this decision going to help?” In The Healthy Mind Toolkit, Alice Boyes, Ph. D. wrote about how people tend to be dismissive of solutions that seem too simple, and those that might help a problem, but not solve it completely.

Increasingly, there’s science that helps explain why seemingly basic strategies work (e.g., why shifting your focus away from a problem and letting your brain work on it in the background can be very helpful). Even if you don’t entirely trust that attempting to enjoy yourself for a few hours could help you cope with your stress, be willing to give it a try. Accept that it won’t help every time and won’t completely take your anguish away, but there is still enough of a chance it may help that it’s worth a try.

As a therapist I know many “advanced” psychological tricks under the sun for coping with stress, and while I do use a variety of those, I also use a lot of simple strategies too. I particularly like activities that help me feel grounded (like doing crafts or making pizza with my child), and novel activities that get me out of the house (like going to a new museum exhibit.)

Wrapping Up

It’s easy to overuse your favorite methods for coping with stress, even if they’re actually compounding the problem. For instance, when overthinking is making you even more confused about what to do. If your go-to methods aren’t working, consider stepping outside your defaults and trying one of the alternatives mentioned.

Contact me for help at 704-741-2082 If you’re feeling stuck with methods to reduce your stress.

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You want and know you need help. You long to feel more freedom to be your true self and want to feel more capable in all areas of your life. There is no shame in seeking help, and you are ready to get it. You’ll be armed with better skills and a knowing sense to handle what life throws at you. You’ll feel more like yourself, with clarity and peace.

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