Let Your Values Be Your GPS
Written by Pamela Heilman, PsyD, LCP
A value represents something that matters to us, something we view as important, or a principle that guides our behavior. When we experience problems in life, whether we are depressed, anxious, or having relationship difficulties, many of us respond based on how we are feeling in the moment. If we are anxious or fearful, we may want to run away or avoid the situation. When we are depressed, the urge is often to withdraw or isolate. If we are angry, the urge is to attack or behave aggressively. Our emotions are messages from our brains that are communicating something to us about a situation. While it is important that we honor them, if we react based solely on how we are feeling, we can often make things worse. Knowledge of our personal values can serve as a much-needed guide when navigating life’s challenges.
Identifying what is important to us is an essential part of creating change and building healthy habits. If we don’t know what our priorities are, there isn’t much incentive to take action. Therapy often consists of dialogue and/or an activity such as a values clarification exercise to help clients identify what is most important to them. Once this information is obtained, it can serve as a very useful foundation in the therapy process. Awareness of values can help us with conflict resolution, boundary-setting, decision-making, self-confidence, and sense of meaning and purpose.
Emotions can motivate use to take certain actions and connect with others. Problems can arise when we get in the habit of reacting out of emotion without stopping to consider the potential impact of our actions. These types of situations often result in regret and compound our problems. When we can stop and honor our emotions while also considering our values, we tend to respond more reasonably and are likely to feel more connected. Responding from a values-based perspective can be especially difficult when we are highly activated. Warning signs include heightened physical sensations such as racing heart, feeling flushed, sweating, trembling, or shortness of breath. This impacts our ability to focus or think clearly. When this occurs, it is best to take a break and engage in some form of relaxation or exercise to help calm the body physically before deciding how to respond to the situation.
If we know what is most important to us in life, this should be a good indicator of the types of limits we need to set for ourselves and others. For instance, if we identify family as a top value, we may set a boundary at our work place to leave no later than 5pm each evening. If free-time is important, it is helpful for us to set limits regarding our availability for work or social events.
Having clearly identified values helps us to make more informed decisions. If we are considering a career change or whether to get involved in a relationship, we are likely to be more successful if our choices align with what is most important to us. It is also helpful to ask questions about other’s values in order to get a sense of whether we will be well-suited for a particular career or relationship. Knowledge of our values can assist us in making everyday decisions as well, such as the food we put into our bodies and how we spend our time. In order to maintain a values-based perspective it can be helpful to keep in mind which decision will bring us closer to the future self we wish to be.
When we respond to situations based on what will feel good in the here and now, this can erode our sense of self-confidence. Essentially, this type of response can reinforce the idea that we are incapable of handling discomfort or doing the hard work necessary to achieve our goals. Conversely, if we are able to align our daily choices with our values, we are likely to improve our confidence in our ability to manage life’s challenges and achieve our goals.
Sense of meaning and purpose
As human beings, we long for a sense of meaning and purpose. We want to know how our existence in the world makes a difference. The more that we can take actions that align with our value system, the greater chance we have of feeling a sense of purpose. When we take values-inspired action in our relationships, daily decision-making, and the manner in which we cope with life’s difficulties, we create the opportunity to live a more enriching and meaningful life.
Here are some helpful questions to consider:
The reality is that life’s journey is a bumpy road, full of ups and downs, twists and turns. As challenging as it can be, there are also beautiful trees, flowers, birds, and interesting landscapes along that road. Living a values-inspired life allows us to keep moving in the right direction down that bumpy road while also noticing all of the beauty along the way.
If you are interested in learning how to incorporate values based work into your treatment goals, call 630-570-0050 or email us at Contact.OH@OakHeartCenter.com.
The Other Side of the Dressing Room: 7 Lessons on Body Image from a Retail Worker’s Perspective
Written by Megan Allegretti, MA, LPC
My name is Megan Allegretti, and I am a counselor at OakHeart, Center for Counseling. I specializes in working with individuals who experience distorted eating patterns. Before becoming a mental health provider I worked in different fields, including a retail clothing store.
It’s wild to look back through the lens of understanding Eating Disorders and see how misleading the retail clothing industry can be, and is designed to be. I worked with and sold clothes to predominantly female identifying individuals. I know that female identifying individuals are not the only ones who experience unrealistic messages and pressures around body image. Diet culture does not discriminate. But it is important to note the lens through which I am writing through.
Here are seven lessons on body image I learned from working retail:
1) Mannequins Lie
Mannequins are not designed to represent the bodies of the people who will be purchasing the items! They are designed to present the clothing and perpetuate an image of fiercely unrealistic body types and diet culture. Guess what: most people are not 6 ft tall and don't exist exclusively in nonchalant modeling positions. And the only way those clothes fall perfectly on the mannequin is because of an absurd amount of tucking, pinning, and shape shifting to the garment itself. It was truly more of an art piece with fabric as the medium, not accurately reflecting how the clothing was created or could possibly be worn on bodies. I would hear women want to look like the mannequins and blame themselves for not looking the same, when that was an unrealistic expectation to begin with. This illusion fueled individuals to blame themselves for not looking a certain way or having a very specific body structure.
2) Size Does Not Mean S**t
The specific store that I worked for showcased many different designers. I would try on clothing that were new to the store so I would know how to communicate them to the customers. Depending on who was making the product my size would range SIX sizes! Let that set in- six sizes difference between different designers. And it was not my body that was changing shape. I noticed some people had strong reactions when having to shift sizes based on designers. Some were either happy that they were going down a size, or upset going up, perpetuating fat phobia that is marketed to us from diet culture! Your body, and happiness within your skin is not defined by how others make their clothing. What the size on the label says does not measure your worth.
3) Privilege Comes to Smaller Bodied Individuals
Let’s acknowledge the privilege that comes to people who live in smaller bodies. They are marketed clothing to, they are showcased in ads for the clothing, they are photographed wearing the clothing, the mannequins in the stores most represent their bodies, and designers make more options of clothing for them. I know this list can go on even further. More recently there have been initiatives to stop photoshopping models, so we as the consumer have a more reasonable expectation for what clothing looks like on real people. There have been more size inclusive mannequins used to promote body sizes that represent the population more accurately. The fashion industry started including more inclusive size ranges when making clothing. We are seeing a shift in inclusion, and that should be celebrated! But it is also acceptable to recognize there is a lasting impact on the privilege that was already set in place. Time and continued changes to the industry standards are important in dismantling one specific idealized body image.
4) Clothing Is A Form of Self Expression
Clothing can be the medium of expression for who you are! There is so much room for creativity that comes with presenting yourself in an authentic way. I saw many customers who struggled when an ‘on trend’ style was looking different on their body than what they had in their head. What I noticed was it was because that was not really their style, it was not in-line with who they were. They were playing into what they thought they should be wearing, versus what they actually wanted to wear. When I saw people who dressed authentically to their style it was remarkable to see how different they carried themselves in the world.
5) Buy for where Your Body Is Now
I cannot even begin to tell you about the amount of times I would be working with someone who would purchase a size of clothing that was not fitting their body at that moment. And I am guilty of previously engaging in this behavior too! You have a ‘goal piece’ of clothing, and this item is your motivation to change your current body shape. This is not helpful! Clothing should not be a punishment for you. By buying clothes that do not fit properly it dismantles accepting and appreciating your body. If the size of your clothing upsets you, cut out the tag and you do not have to look at it. It is so much nicer on your body to put it in clothes that fit it, and you feel comfortable in.
6) Comments on Expressions Versus Fit
There is so much emphasis on women to look a certain way, based on what diet culture markets to us. This leads to comments on how a body looks and not how someone feels in the clothing. I heard a multitude of unhealthy body comparisons speak in the dressing room. How negative it was that their bodies looked different than the unrealistic one that is marketed to us. I offer the following as a shift in perspective: instead of commenting on how you look in the clothing, comment on how you feel wearing the clothes. How happy, comfortable, empowered, or authentic you feel in the clothing. This small change can shift the focus off how we ‘should’ look versus how we feel in clothing.
7) You Are Worth More Than Your Clothes
We have come so far in the world of body positivity, but we still have a long way to go. Remember that your clothes are there to make you feel better about yourself, and if they are not fitting or bringing negative thoughts out, get rid of them. You are worth so much more than your clothes. Your worth comes from who you are and not how you look. Diet culture likes to place it the other way around to sell us products we don’t need. But we don’t have to listen to those messages. You are worthy exactly where you are at, and in the body you are in.
These are some of the lessons that I learned about body image from working retail. I thought that it would be good to share them with you this week as we end National Eating Disorder Awareness week. Body image is just one component of distorted eating patterns. By becoming aware of the unhealthy messages around body image that are portrayed to us, we can then challenge our own unhealthy thoughts and the culture around one specific idealized body shape. My goal for you is to treat your body like a home. Create a place for you that feels comfortable, and is an expression of who you are.
If you or someone you love is struggling with body image concerns and could benefit from therapy, please call 630-570-0050 or email us at Contact.OH@OakHeartCenter.com.
Mindfulness: During The Pandemic and Beyond
Written by Lindsay Tobin, PsyD, LCP
Although we find ourselves in the new year, 2021, not much seems to have changed. A lot of us are still working remotely and many children are still learning virtually. Many times these events are happening in the same home with multiple family members all day. The weight of the Coronavirus pandemic and its consequences have followed us into this new year. How can we enact change in our lives when so much is the same? Oftentimes we look for our outside environment to change in order to trigger changes in us, our behaviors, our relationships, our moods, our goals, etc. Thus many people are feeling stuck right now. Stuck in anxiety and low mood, stuck in the ruts of old habits and poor communication. What can change? What agency do we have?
In the practice of mindfulness we find answers to those questions. Mindfulness practice helps us relate differently to our thoughts and feelings. It allows us to remove ourselves from the constant frantic pace of the doing mode and move safely to the being mode where we can observe our thoughts and feelings with openness and curiosity rather than as problems needing to be solved. When we do this we can choose whether or not to respond (rather than reacting). We open up a universe of creativity when we are in the being mode, whereas doing mode narrowly focuses our attention on the perceived problem, leaving little room for creativity and big picture thinking.
How does it work? By practicing mindfulness meditations daily you can improve your ability to be in the present moment (rather than ruminating about the past or anxiously anticipating the future). This changes how you relate to thoughts and feelings and thus your ability to communicate with others. Think about it, if you are talking with someone and half your mind is thinking about past issues you’ve had with this individual or anticipating what the best response/argument is to what the other is saying, you are not really in the moment with them, hearing what they are trying to convey. Daily mindfulness practice has been shown to improve mood, lower the risk of relapse to depression, reduce symptoms of anxiety and irritability, and improve sleep.
Sounds easy, right? The practice of mindfulness is simple, but not easy. There are many resources for engaging in mindfulness meditations. Meditations are guided and run from 3 minutes to 40+ depending on the meditation and the desired focus. All it takes is setting aside the time to engage in the practices and listening. It sounds easy. It is not. Our brains actively resist the being mode. They have been trained over many years of formal education to value the doing mode (i.e. problem solving, critical thinking, etc). However, we were all born with the ability to be fully aware in the present moment. Just look at a baby discovering his or her hands and fingers, feet and toes. Both modes of being are useful and good. We presently have a great imbalance between the two which can lead to and/or contribute to low energy, low mood, high anxiety, feelings of burnout, sleep disturbance, depression, and other physical health concerns (i.e. cardiovascular issues and intensification of chronic pain).
If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness practices, the best place to start is MBCT (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy). This is an evidence based practice that is used to help individuals manage all the symptoms mentioned above. But you do not have to suffer from depression or anxiety or chronic pain in order to benefit from MBCT or a daily practice of mindfulness. To learn more, I highly recommend Mindfulness: An 8-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World (by Mark Williams and Danny Penman). This book comes in many formats and includes a link for guided meditation practice. It leads you through an 8-week plan of habit disruptors, mindfulness practices, and guided meditations. Mark Williams, one of the authors, is one of the founders of MBCT. If you would like more guidance, please contact me at OakHeart Center to schedule an appointment.
If you are interested in learning Mindfulness Skills as part of a therapeutic experience, please call 630-570-0050 or email us at Contact.OH@OakHeartCenter.com.
How to Help Someone with OCD
Written by Johanna Younce, MA
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a really difficult thing to have and experience for yourself, but it is also difficult to care for someone who experiences it. When someone has a diagnosis of any kind, psychological or physical in nature, it is always better to have support from loved ones. If you are reading this because someone you love has OCD, I want to start by thanking you for caring so much. The first step is to do more of what you are doing right now: Seek out information. One excellent source for information on OCD is the International OCD Foundation website (start with https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/). This will help to get a basic sense of what the disorder actually is. This is important because OCD is often misrepresented in media and popular culture, so what many people think they know about OCD may not be completely accurate. As you learn more, it is important to remember that OCD is a complex problem and it looks different for everyone. Some people with OCD have symptoms that most people are aware of, such as fear of germs and washing rituals, but others experience completely different types of obsessions and compulsions. In fact, some people perform compulsive rituals entirely in their minds (for example, repeating phrases over and over in their head). Look for reputable sources to find information, but also ask your loved one about what OCD looks like for them.
Depending on your relationship with your loved one, you may want to help them find a therapist if they don’t already have one, or if their current therapist is not experienced in treating OCD. When looking for a therapist, look for a specialization in OCD or anxiety disorders, and ask whether the therapist is trained in exposure and response prevention (ERP), the gold standard treatment for OCD. For a list of providers at OakHeart that specialize in treating OCD and utilize ERP, visit our OCD specialty page. ERP for OCD is very well-researched and effective. For more information on finding a therapist, see the past blog post "How to Find the Right Therapist for You" by Dr. Katherine Harris.
This next piece can be harder to do. When a loved one experiences great anxiety, our impulse is often to help them get rid of the anxiety by helping them avoid or escape their triggers (feared object or situation). This is super helpful when someone’s anxiety is caused by a truly dangerous thing - when our loved ones are actually in danger, we want to help them and ourselves get to safety. However, when the anxiety is unhealthy and disproportionate to the actual danger involved, we find that these escape and avoidance behaviors actually worsen the problem. When loved ones help the client avoid, we call this “accommodation.” When I work with the families of individuals with OCD, we talk a lot about identifying accommodating behaviors and stopping them. This is often very hard to do, because this makes your loved one more anxious in the short-term, but it is essential to their recovery. It’s similar to when a person struggling with alcoholism begs for alcohol - it’s going to make them feel better in the short-term, but it feeds their problem. We wouldn’t want to give alcohol to an alcoholic, so we also don’t want to give accommodations to our loved ones with OCD.
One of the most common accommodations is reassurance seeking. People with OCD will sometimes seek reassurance from others regarding their fears. If the fear is that they are secretly an evil person, they might ask a parent or partner if they did something wrong or if they are a good person. If they have fears that the house will burn down if the oven isn’t turned off, they may ask someone if they did indeed turn the oven off. It is difficult to do at first, but we as loved ones must learn to stop giving reassurance. If the loved one is in treatment, you can remind them of their treatment goals and tell them (gently) that you will not answer their question. Sometimes I will have the client write down the loved one’s typical response to their reassurance seeking, and the loved one can simply remind them to look at what they wrote the next time that client asks for their reassurance. It feels difficult, and it may go against everything you have been doing for this person for a long time, but finding a way to stop accommodations and communicate your love and support in more fruitful ways will be the best you can do to help your loved one with OCD.
Finally, take care of yourself. Those of us in the helping professions put great emphasis on self-care because we cannot support others well unless we are taken care of. Take care of your body, mind, and spiritual self. Look for support from others.
I believe in you.
If you feel you would benefit from talking with a clinician who specializes in OCD call OakHeart at 630-570-0050 or email us at Contact.OH@oakheartcenter.com.
OCD and “Unacceptable” Intrusive Thoughts : You are Not Alone
Written by Johanna Younce, MA
When most people think about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), they think of the stereotypical symptoms: needing everything to be perfectly organized or “just right” and fear of contamination. While these are valid and common presentations of OCD, there are other types of symptoms that are less often discussed. One of these symptom types is the fear of unacceptable thoughts or repugnant obsessions, which feel incredibly scary and threatening to people with OCD. This type of OCD can cause an immense amount of shame and fear, and I believe we need to discuss it more openly to decrease the shame and give less power to these thoughts.
What does “unacceptable thoughts” mean? This type of OCD involves sexual, aggressive, and religious/moral obsessions. These obsessions involve very taboo thoughts that are hard to talk about, even with people who we are closest to. Many people with OCD have these unwanted, intrusive thoughts and think they are the only ones. However, research has shown that about 94% of people experience intrusive thoughts. That’s almost everyone! Almost every single person has intrusive thoughts from time to time. It is extremely common; People just don’t talk about it because it is so taboo and uncomfortable.
So, wait, if so many people have intrusive thoughts, why do only some people have OCD? Thank you for asking; That is an excellent question. The difference is that people with OCD place an enormous amount of meaning on and responsibility for these thoughts. In other words, they interpret the thoughts differently. When most people experience unacceptable intrusive thoughts, they brush them off and recognize them as random and meaningless. People with OCD often think that having the thoughts must mean that they are terrible, awful people. But this simply isn’t true! The fact is, we cannot control what thoughts come into our heads, and sometimes the thoughts are taboo and uncomfortable, and that is ok. The same goes for dreams: Having a dream about something does not mean it is something you want to happen.
To further the cause of normalizing unacceptable intrusive thoughts, let me share some thoughts (in the form of either words or images) that I have had or have heard from others:
Reading this list may have made you uncomfortable. You may have even found yourself judging either yourself or others for having these thoughts. The important thing here to remember is that these thoughts are intrusive, meaning they come into your mind without intending them, and they are unwanted, meaning they are not fantasies or desired outcomes. Just having these thoughts pop into your mind does not mean that you want them there and that you like to think about them. Fantasies are things that you enjoy thinking about (and every part of you enjoys it; there is not one part that feels anxious or thinks it is wrong). My random thought of myself driving off the highway this morning is meaningless and it does not worry me because I know that thoughts are just thoughts.
I hope this has helped you feel less alone in your more taboo thoughts or dreams. Almost everyone has them, and they are not meaningful. You are not alone, and you are not an evil person.
Remember, thoughts are just thoughts.
To hear more about one individual’s experience with unacceptable obsessive thoughts, check out NPR’s Invisibilia Podcast’s Season 1, Episode 1: “The Secret History of Thoughts.” To learn more about intrusive thoughts and OCD, visit the International OCD Foundation website.
If you feel you would benefit from talking with a clinician who specializes in OCD call OakHeart at 630-570-0050 or email us at Contact.OH@oakheartcenter.com.
Dealing with Political and Societal Uncertainty
Written by Hillary Gorin, PhD, LCP
Regardless of your political views, your understanding of the impact of COVID-19, or your beliefs about societal injustices, nearly every U.S. citizen is experiencing stress, uncertainty, and worry. Worry is an important cognitive function, as it helps humans solve problems effectively, plan for the future, and remain motivated. We may worry about solvable problems and, at other times, unsolvable problems. When we worry about solvable problems, we often find a solution and can put the concerns behind us. However, when we worry about unsolvable problems or problems that extend beyond our control, we can find it difficult to know what to do with the uncertainty. With an immense desire to solve an unsolvable problem, we can fall into what I like to call the ‘worry cycle’ or the ‘hamster wheel of worry.’ Our minds go around and around, searching for answers we cannot seem to find. So, how do you get off this hamster wheel? How do you accept uncertainty, particularly during these times of social unrest, political turmoil, and a terrifying pandemic?
Many may think, ‘I will just reassure myself!’ or ‘Everything is going to be fine.’ Alternatively, many try to distract from or avoid the worry. For some, this strategy may be effective. For others, the worry persists, early in the morning, late in the evening, while watching the presidential debate, while scrolling through social media, while reading about COVID-19, while obsessively searching for polling predictions. The worry persists, even though you say, “Hey brain, everything is just fine.”
Why don’t our brains listen to this self-reassurance? Why is it challenging for some, especially now, to believe that everything will be ok? Because the reality is, many of us have never faced risks/ threats of this magnitude before. These current threats are present and lingering in the background every day. Compared to various other points in our lives, the political unrest and looming pandemic have increased the chances that something bad could happen to us. Thus, no matter how hard we try to find evidence against our worries, we can’t find clear evidence that disproves our worry completely. So, worries propel through our minds, such as, ‘What if my loved one gets COVID? What if I lose my job? What if that candidate becomes president? What if social injustice persists?’ These are all possible, scary outcomes due to current, omnipresent stressors.
So, if reassurance and looking for evidence that everything will be ok does not work, how do we get these catastrophic thoughts out of our heads? One possibility is a technique called decatastrophizing. Decatastrophizing involves considering whether or not you could find ways to cope in the face of a feared outcome (Zinbarg et al., 2006). This technique assists us with changing our thinking from, ‘I could never cope if that happened’ to ‘This would be difficult, but I would find a way to cope.’ This could appear as asking yourself, ‘Will I survive this election?” The answer is – yes, you will, even if things don’t go the way you are hoping. Asking, ‘Will I survive this’ helps us see that the threat we are facing is not as imminent as it feels. In other words, we are not in imminent danger all the time, despite how these political, societal, and health crises may make us feel.
So why does your brain make you feel like you are facing an imminent risk while watching a debate from the comfort of your couch? Studies suggest that the area of the brain involved in detecting threat, the amygdala, is triggered by certain thoughts, certain worries, and uncertainty (Hilbert et al., 2014). Decatastrophizing can be an initial step to telling that part of the brain that it can settle down. Instead of telling ourselves, ‘I will never manage to live through this,’ we can say, ‘I don’t like the world right now but I will probably be able to find a way to live in it.’
The next important step can be considering how you would actually cope with certain feared outcomes. This can be accomplished by considering what specific coping strategies could help you manage the situation. For example, if you lose your job, what steps would you take to manage it? For some, a coping strategy could be updating your resume and looking for job opportunities.
Of course, this thought of losing your job will undoubtedly bring up anxiety, which brings me to another suggestion that I propose for most of my patients: The more we can start to accept uncertainty and sit with it, the less we will be propelled to continue running on the hamster wheel of worry. Sitting with anxiety is challenging and specific techniques are best applied with the assistance of a licensed mental health professional. However, beginning to allow yourself to feel anxiety, to ride the wave, and to let it come up and come down is important for everyone because we must see that we can tolerate anxiety, that it won’t last forever, and that we do not need to fear this emotion. Instead, anxiety/ fear is a critical emotion that keeps us alive. In life threatening situations, these emotions tell us when we are in danger. For example, many people experience anxiety and fear when they stand too close to the edge of a mountain. This anxiety/fear is normal and adaptive to keep us alive, as it prompts us to take a step back! However, sometimes we have this anxiety/fear in situations that are not life threatening, as our brains are mistakenly telling us that our lives are at risk. When there is nothing to act on immediately and when the worry is unsolvable, sitting with the anxiety and accepting that one person cannot eliminate our current health crisis or our political and social unrest, is important. Sitting with anxiety can be as simple as accepting the possibility of your feared outcome occurring. It may or it may not come true.
Many ask me, ‘Why doesn’t avoidance/ distraction work? Isn’t that what we learn at an early age?’ Yes, distraction and avoidance are useful, at times, particularly when our anxiety is in the low to moderate range. When we are feeling slightly worried or anxious, watching a funny movie, participating in relaxing activities, or taking a walk tends to help reduce our physical and psychological tension. However, when our anxiety becomes too high, our amygdala, or that threat detector in our brain, is on high alert. This threat detector acts quickly and efficiently, without much input from logical thinking or what are considered, ‘executive functions’ (LeDoux, 2000). Why? Because, in the face of a threat, we need to act quickly. We do not have time to think. Imagine if you are in the woods and you see a bear on the trail! Your first reaction will be fight, flight (run away), or freeze (hide and hope that you are not seen). You likely will not be able to think through the situation logically. In these situations, our amygdala or ‘emotional brain’ holds our ‘thinking/ cognitive brain’ hostage so that we can act on instinct, automatically (Okon-Singer et al., 2015)! So, when politics, health crises, and societal unrest trigger high levels of anxiety, our brain tells us to fight, flight, or freeze. When you tell it to ‘calm down,’ ‘chill out,’ ‘distract yourself,’ ‘Look at all the evidence you will be fine,’ our amygdala tells us ‘NO WAY!’ It believes it still has work to do to keep us safe.
Thus, I will again emphasize the importance of sitting with anxiety when we can, or with the help of a licensed mental health professional when we cannot. We need to let the anxiety peak and come down so that our logical, thinking brain can take back control! ‘Sit with it’ is a phrase my patients hear often because if you don’t sit with the anxiety and see that you will survive it, see you will cope with it, and see that it will not last forever, the ‘hamster wheel of worry’ can become very exhausting and self-doubt can grow. It is possible that your fears will come true. However, I am confident that you will find a way to survive and to cope with whatever comes your way.
If you're feeling like you need a little more help navigating through worry call or email us today to schedule an appointment to speak with a clinician. Take a look at our provider page for a full list on all clinicians that treat anxiety disorders.
Hillbert, K., Lueken, U., & Beesdo-Baum, K. (2014). Neural structures, functioning and
connectivity in generalized anxiety disorder and interaction with neuroendocrine systems:
A systematic review. Journal of Affective Disorder, 158, 114-126. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2014.01.022
LeDoux, J. E. (2000). Emotion circuits in the brain. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 23(1),
Zinbarg, R. E., Craske, M. G., & Barlow, D. H. (2006). Mastery of Your Anxiety and Worry:
Therapist Guide (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
The Healing Power of Creativity
Written by Pam Heilman, PsyD, LCP
This year has undoubtedly been one of the most stressful, scary, challenging times for many individuals. As a trained psychologist, I frequently discuss the importance of self-care with clients and my colleagues. Self-care refers to any act in which you are taking care of yourself. This can include tending to your basic needs: showering, brushing your teeth, exercising, eating healthy meals, attending therapy, taking medication as prescribed, and getting regular physicals. Self-care also consists of engaging in activities that bring you relaxation or joy: meditation, spending time in nature, taking a hot bath, having a spa day, listening to music or podcasts, singing, or snuggling with your pet.
One aspect of self-care I regularly explore with clients is engaging in creativity. Have you ever found yourself so interested or engrossed in a particular activity that you lost track of time and became extremely focused on the task at hand? This is what Mihaly Csikszentamihalyi, one of the founders of Positive Psychology, would refer to as “flow” in his 1990 book, Flow, the Psychology of Optimal Experience.
As Csikzentamihalyi described it, flow is “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost for the sheer sake of doing it.” Many people refer to this as being “in the zone” which happens when there is a balance between challenge and skill level. So, what are some of the reasons that flow might be so helpful? According to Arne Dietrich (2004), flow has been associated with decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex (in Oppland, 2020). This is the area of the brain that is responsible for executive function, or organization of thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals. As Dietrich (2004) suggests, this temporary inactivation may trigger feelings of distortion of time and loss of self-consciousness (in Oppland, 2020).
Perhaps the idea of flow has been catching on in more recent years. Many local businesses such as Pinot’s Palette, Chilled Palette, Bleu Palette, Board and Brush, Arts on Fire, and Color Me Mine have become popular for gathering with friends or for a date night. Businesses like these offer workshops where you can learn how to paint on a canvas, paint pottery, or even stain and paint a bench or wooden sign to decorate your home.
As a psychologist I like to practice what I preach. I had my first experience with painting acrylic on canvas several years ago with a group of friends at Pinot’s Palette. I was surprised by the amount of joy I experienced that night. Ever since then, I began attending more workshops and tried different types of projects. During the quarantine, I stocked up on painting supplies (acrylic paints, canvases, an easel, and brushes) from Michael’s. I began trying to set aside time every week to paint something new. In spite of the increased stressors during this difficult time, I have found my painting to be an amazing source of comfort and pride. I’m working on my skill level but what is more important to me is that I can create something with a blank canvas and just a few tools. I make myself a nice cup of coffee, put on some of my favorite music, have my basset hound close by, and I am content.
My hope is that I can help my clients to find something that gives them a sense of passion or purpose to help them get into their “flow” state of mind. It doesn’t have to involve creating art. This can be anything that you are so interested in that you are able to focus solely on the task and lose yourself in the moment. Think writing, playing an instrument, gardening, yoga, working with tools, putting together a jigsaw puzzle, doing crossword puzzles or sudoku. Feel free to try different things to see what you like. It took me quite some time to stumble upon painting but I am so glad I was willing to try different activities to get there. I’d like to share some of the artwork I have done in recent months. These pieces are filled with imperfections but they are mine and I am proud of them.
“The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul.” ~ Dieter F. Uchtdorf
If you'd like to schedule an appointment with one of our clinicians call (630) 570-0050 or email Contact.OH@OakHeartCenter.com.
For more blogs on self-care written by OakHeart clinicians, read Surviving Social Distancing or Practice Self-Care.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper & Row, 1990
Oppland, M. (2020, January 9). 8 Ways to Create Flow according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Positive Psychology.com. Retrieved from: https://positivepsychology.com/mihaly-csikszentmihalyi-father-of-flow/
Written by Brittany Male, LCSW, CADC
This is a stressful time for so many of us. Between social distancing, changes at work, a new and unique start to the school year, and the political climate, we’re all navigating through a lot of stressors. The stress that we feel, impacts those around us, including our partners. If you or your partner have been struggling to communicate in a productive way, take a moment to read these tips for fighting fair that you can start practicing today.
I’m hopeful that you are able to utilize these tips the next time you find yourself in a conflict with your partner or anyone in your life. Again, if you’re finding that you need more support, call (630) 570-0050 or email Contact.OH@OakHeartCenter.com to schedule an appointment with one of our clinicians. Relationships can be challenging, especially when there are so many external stressors that are out of our control. The key is knowing that you’re not alone and you can utilize help.
You've got this.
Coping vs. Avoiding
Written by Megan Allegretti
2020 has been a year to remember! Maybe not for the reasons we initially set out to remember - but one we will never forget. Think back to January and what plans or resolutions you had set for yourself. Was learning how to manage when your life gets flipped, turned upside down one of them? I am going to say with confidence that most of us had no idea what this year would look like. So, I wanted to start by congratulating you on doing what you needed to do to get through! The object of this post is not to make us feel bad about what we are doing or not doing, but rather increase our intentionality in the behaviors we are using. By being aware, we can see if we are in fact coping or avoiding a situation, and then observe to see if our actions are serving us well, or maybe not so much.
Coping is a big buzz word currently, particularly in the COVID-19 world of uncertainty. In the context of this article a coping skill will be defined as techniques that an individual applies to manage difficult emotions. Coping is different from avoidance. They look so similar! Both reduce distress, but there is a curtail difference- avoidance does not address why you are feeling the way you are. Instead it pushes the uncomfortable feeling away or deep down. This might be rewarding in the short term, because there is a good chance you will feel better by not engaging in whatever thought or behavior that triggered the distressing emotion. But by not confronting the situation or avoiding it, that emotion will find a way to come back out. Often it will leak out when you are least expecting it.
For all of my metaphor learners out there, this one's for you! Say you have a beach ball and you try to shove it down as far as it can go underwater. You can hold it there for some time but eventually your body gets tired, and it comes shooting out of the water with explosive force. This looks a lot different than holding the beach ball where it is at, instead of shoving it down, and then slowly bringing the ball back to the surface. This way you have more control over when you do want to bring the emotions back up to be addressed. That is the difference between avoiding and coping. The following tips are aimed at helping draw our awareness to our behaviors and choosing them with more intention.
We are all doing our best given the current state of our environment. The above tips are designed to help you identify if your difficult emotions are being coped with or not addressed. This is all subjective too! The beauty of human nature is there are many factors that influence our thoughts, emotions and behaviors. The goal is to bring awareness to the unique behaviors being used when our thoughts and emotions are distressing. The practice of using coping skills over avoidance may create some discomfort in the short term but it is allowing you more regulation of your emotions in the long term.
Stay safe, and know you are enough.
A 2020 REMOTE LEARNING SURVIVAL GUIDE: PRACTICAL TIPS FOR SUCCESS
Written by Katie Sheehan, MSW
Across Illinois, many schools are beginning, or have begun their first few weeks of full remote instruction. With this, comes the potential for overwhelming uncertainty. Will they adjust? What is my role as a parent? Am I doing too little? Am I doing too much? Below are a few suggestions to ease the possible uncertainty as we move forward.
1. Maintain normalcy in the areas that you can.
If back to school usually means school supply shopping or a new outfit, it can still mean that! Work to change the definition of a school supply. Get creative! Maybe this means blue light filtering glasses, new ear buds, or a back support pillow.
2. Weekends still should = FUN.
Across the country people have been reporting the phenomenon of days running together or time not feeling concrete. It has become increasingly difficult to tell weekdays from weekends. But weekends are a necessary time for rest, relaxation, and most importantly, fun. Try to encourage activities such as socially distanced gatherings, renting the latest movies to your living room, or family game night.
3. Monitor for changes in mood or behavior.
Things to look out for may include irritability, changes in sleep or appetite, lower energy levels, isolating from friends or family, or loss of pleasure in interests or hobbies. While one or two of these changes occurring infrequently, may be a typical response, more severe changes may indicate difficulty adjusting, and an increased need for support. If you're concerned, and would like more information regarding depression and anxiety disorders that may be triggered or exacerbated by the beginning of this unique school year, get more information on our website by following the highlighted links above.
4. Validate their feelings.
Many students may hyper-focus on the unfairness of the situation. Especially those who are missing out on milestone years, such as their freshman year, or their senior year. They may be feeling a profound sense of loss for an experience that they have looked forward to, or fantasized about for years. It may be difficult for them to verbalize in ways other than “It’s just not fair.” Steer away from accidental invalidations such as “at least we’re healthy,” or “it could be worse.” While true, this is not helpful for someone navigating emotional pain. Practice leaning into their feelings and trying out something like “I know this is unfair, and I’m so proud of your resilience.” If you're needing a little more guidance take a look at our previous blog on supporting someone when they're struggling.
5. Practice patience and compassion.
Grades may slip. Pajama pants may replace jeans. Suppress the urge to come down hard on them. Try to solve the problem collaboratively. Remember that in 10 years your child will look back and remember this time full of fear and uncertainty. They will remember how hard it was to go from classroom instruction and seeing their friends in-person everyday, to their worlds existing through a screen. This is your opportunity to show them grace, understanding, patience, and compassion.
If you are still finding that you or your children are struggling with the adjustment to the changes that this new school year is bringing, I encourage you to reach out for help. You can schedule an appointment with on of our clinicians at OakHeart by calling (630) 570-0050 or by emailing Contact.OH@OakHeartCenter.com.