Nov 182014

By Jenelle DiManno, MS

It is easy to become overwhelmed with the daily tasks of everyday living. It is normal to feel stressed every once in a while. In fact, stress can be helpful in motivating you to meet deadlines or to make sure you are prepared for a big job interview, but after a certain point, stress can stop being useful and start causing some serious damage to your health, mood, relationships, and quality of life.

How do you know when your stress levels have crossed the line between being helpful and being damaging? That depends a lot on how you, as an individual, respond when you are put in a stressful situation. Psychologist Connie Lillas described three of the most common ways that people respond when they are feeling overwhelmed by stress.

The first response is called “Foot on the gas”. In this response, the individual becomes angry and agitated and may become overly emotional and unable to sit still or relax. The second response is called “Foot on the brake”. In this response, an individual is likely to become withdrawn or depressed and shut down, showing very little emotion or energy. The last response is called “Foot on both”. In this response, a person will tense up or freeze. The individual will be unable to do anything under pressure and on the outside may look paralyzed, but underneath, feel extremely agitated.

Although many people picture stressors as something negative, a stressor can be anything that puts high demands on you or forces you to adjust. This includes positive events such as getting married, having a baby, going to college, or getting a promotion at work. Stress may also build up from excessive worries about something that may or may not happen or from having pessimistic thoughts about life.

One of the most important parts of identifying what causes stress is your own individual perception about an event or situation. Something that is very stressful to you may not even faze someone else. For example, Bob thrives under pressure and performs best when he has a tight deadline, while his co-worker Matt shuts down when work demands escalate.

It is important to know your own limits! Your ability to tolerate stress depends on many different factors including the quality of your relationships, your general outlook on life, your emotional intelligence, and genetics. Being able to identify when your stress levels are getting past the breaking point will help you better understand how to manage your stress better.

Just as there are many causes of stress, there are also many ways you can learn to manage stress in your life. There is no “one size fits all” solution so it is helpful to experiment and find out what works for you. Some of the easiest ways you can deal with stress is to make sure you set aside time for relaxation, make time to exercise, eat a healthy diet, and get a good night’s sleep. Focus on what makes you feel calm and in control.

Jul 182013

By Maria C. Luciani, LMSW

The summer season can inspire dieting and an increase in physical activity for many people. Concerns about appearance and general health vary tremendously among individuals and focusing on food intake can become an unhealthy obsession. Three specific eating disorders include: Bulimia Nervosa, Anorexia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder. Bulimia Nervosa and Anorexia Nervosa are eating disorders accompanied by a terrifying fear of weight gain and utilizing unhealthy means to decrease body fat. Binge Eating Disorder is now recognized as a mental health issue that warrants clinical attention. There are distinctions and similarities among these disorder and the dangers are significant for each.

Anorexia is driven by inaccurate perceptions of one’s own body. People with this disorder think they are fat even though they are typically underweight. The intense fear of gaining weight further encourages weight loss efforts. The primary means used to meet their weight loss goals are through excessive food restrictions.  People with this disorder are starving themselves to be thin, sometimes even to death.

Bulimia includes the excessive fear of gaining weight but it is managed differently than Anorexia.  People with Bulimia engage in binging episodes followed by purging to counteract the inordinate food intake.  These individuals typically have a normal body weight. Excessive exercise, vomiting, and the use of laxatives or diuretics are the means used to rid the body of the additional calories.

Binge eating is considered the most common of the eating disorders. Like Anorexia and Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder includes distress related to eating but the fear of weight gain is not present.  It includes consuming an exceedingly large amount of food a few times per week for at least a six-months. People report a lack of control over their eating behavior, which follows with psychological distress and a variety of uncomfortable emotions. Those with this disorder are typically overweight or obese and suffer from the serious health issues associated with this physical state.

Treatment can encompass a variety of approaches, which include individual therapy, family therapy, anti-depressants, inpatient and outpatient treatment. If left untreated, the consequences can be dire. If an eating disorder is negatively impacting you or a loved one, consulting with a licensed therapist can determine which treatment approach is most effective and take control of these dangerous disorders.

DSM-V, 2013

Jul 182013

By Douglas B. Stephens, Ed.D

In Wolfe’s novel, You Can Never Go Home Again, he made the point that the folks back in our home town will never see us the same way if we return to visit. Home is never again how we remembered it. Family is never again the same. I am reminded of this theme as I see many families preparing to launch their high school graduate sons or daughters to college or the military.

New graduates are quick to remind their parent, and not always in a caring fashion, that they are “adults now” and will be living on their own soon, so why should they have curfews, do family tasks, and worry about family rules NOW? They are ready, they think, for the changes before they even leave.

The strange thing is that when this happens in the summer before their departure, parents are drawn into treating the young adult as if s/he is younger and needing “controls”, such as curfews and opinions on their friend choices. However, this is a wonderful time to prove Wolfe incorrect. Young adults can go home again after college semesters, for instance. But before they leave for the fall semester students can rework their relationship with their parent by sorting out the rules around independence and responsibilities to the rest of the family. Parents benefit by being inviting rather than reactive and insisting on out-lived rules that no longer should apply to an 18-year-old.

So, talk with each other about how rules can be relaxed but in exchange for continued responsibilities to the family. Like what for instance?

Eat dinner with the family two nights a week, either helping in the meal preparation or doing the cleanup… in exchange for a loosened curfew for those nights by a couple of hours.

Or, vacuum the house and clean the bathroom twice a week and stay out later two nights a week.

What does this do?  It stresses that being in a family means you are there to participate.  It doesn’t mean you, the young adult, have lost your desire for “freedom” or “independence”.  It means that you are still connected to these family members and that relaxed limits are not just due to reaching age 18, it is due to how you negotiate needs with others.  That is one mark of a mature adult.

Jul 182013

By Holly M. Irion, LMHC

Being a teenager in the post-millennial world affords a vastly different experience than that of previous generations- much due to the creation of social networking websites. Oftentimes, this poses a challenge for parents who may not be as technologically savvy as their teens, making it difficult to provide guidance, set limits and protect their kids online.

The following are some recommendations for parents to promote safety online:

  • Take some time to learn the networking websites your teen is using (do not rely solely on your teen to help you navigate the site)
  • Set ground rules for internet usage and create concrete consequences if rules are broken (rules and consequences can be spelled out in a contract signed by parent and teen)
  • ‘Friend’ your teen so you can see what is being posted
  • Have the passwords to social media accounts and review content
  • Inquire about postings on your teen’s account from unfamiliar people
  • Once trust is earned and maintained, give your teen some space and review periodically to ensure rules are being followed

In 2012, approximately 93% of teens aged 12-17 go online, with about 73% of these teens regularly using social networking websites.  For adolescents, social media has both clear benefits and risks—potential benefits of engaging in social networking are an improved sense of self and community, a furthering of artistic talents and alternate forms of creativity, and development of a social media skill set that will be useful for a successful future in our digital world.

Cyber-bulling and peer harassment are among the risks, as well as a decrease in the amount of face-to-face socializing, the risk of technology dependence, and the possible threat of on-line predators.

Lastly, if you have concerns about your teenager’s safety online it is important to talk to him or her about it. If this conversation becomes increasingly difficult, please consider contacting a licensed therapist for support.

Panaccione, V. The Benefits of Social Media
Niemer, E. Teenagers and Social Media

Jun 042013

By Maria C. Luciani, LMSW

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by continual worrying about a variety of everyday things. This anxiety disorder can occur during childhood, adolescence, or adulthood. People with GAD are those individuals commonly referred to as “worry warts.” They experience anxiety regarding common issues that all of us worry about from time to time. For example, school grades, friendships, finances, family relationships, children, illnesses, and jobs are just a few of the commonly reported worries. However, the factors that indicate a problem are frequency and duration of the anxiety.

People with GAD struggle with these unmanageable negative thoughts for at least six months. While onset can occur at any age, many clients report having worried their whole lives. Left untreated, GAD can be an unwelcomed, lifetime companion.

Common symptoms that people with GAD experience are an interference with normal sleep patterns, inability to relax, experiencing exhaustion easily, feeling irritable, physical discomfort, and having a hard time concentrating. It is easy to understand how this constant state of worry can eventually affect every area of someone’s life. It is associated with negative impacts on physical and mental health, parenting, school and job performance, and family relationships. Living with constant anxiety means a reduction in quality of life. Nevertheless, there is hope!

Therapy is proven extremely effective at alleviating the symptoms of GAD and is the preferred course of treatment. Indeed, you can stop worrying. If GAD is impacting your life, please consider contacting a licensed therapist.

Anxiety and Its Disorders: The Nature and Treatment of Anxiety and Panic 2nd Edition by David H. Barlow, Ph. D.
The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook 4th Edition by Edmund J. Bourne, Ph.D.

Jun 042013

By Douglas B. Stephens, Ed.D

When two people join their lives together in a committed relationship, such as in marriage, they do so with great expectations, hope, and a desire to make a life of happiness and meaning. Many times when we see couples in counseling the partners’ realization that these earlier expectations have been damaged or dissolved comes as a shock to them.

We, as couples therapists, find ourselves helping very distressed partners come to realize that some of what had been expected was based in myth, never to possibly reach fruition. One such myth, though rarely stated by one, or both, partners is that I treasure him for what he can become with my love and nurturance… My love will make him into the person that I need.

People are attracted to each other not just for their obvious qualities, but also for their potential. As a result, many conflicts in couples’ relationships are due to intense emotional reactions over one partner trying to have the other partner change as a person, not just particular behaviors, to match that imagined potential. This cycle makes the couples’ relationship agreement, or contract, together a very fragile pact as it frequently does not include mutual respect and acceptance.

What is possible, though, is that how each partner treats the other can evolve, especially as a partner ages and has new developmental needs. When there is empathy, encouragement, compassion, and companionship there can then be a healthier relationship. When those qualities are absent, by either partner to the other, mistrust and anxiety festers to a point that the relationship is in jeopardy.

But the crisis is not because either person has stayed the same person over the years. It is that there has been little support of the person for who s/he is and what s/he wants to become.

A healthy, committed relationship can be a crucible for growth for either partner. It is not a melding pot where to have a connection each person must change to be like the other, melting all differences. There is no oxygen when that is pursued. Instead, a crucible can be where each person can emotionally grow in the heat of intimacy and care.

Gottman, J. and Silver, N. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.
Olsen, D. and Stephens, D. The Couple’s Survival Workbook.

May 142013

By Elizabeth W. Heathcote, LMSW

Have you ever wondered why many kids demonstrate angry behaviors? Many times, kids are more likely to exhibit misdirected anger, emotional withdrawal, avoidance, and attention seeking behaviors. Often, these children are misunderstood, and even more concerning, mislabeled as a bad kid. Children seeking additional attention through negative behaviors tend to do so due to their inability to effectively navigate emotional disturbances on their own. Children and teens easily display anger as a means of communicating more complex emotions.

Sorting out this complicated expression of emotion and negative behaviors may prove to be frustrating and confusing for any parent or guardian especially considering the vast differences between children and adolescents. Younger children typically require an increase in the family structure and emotional understanding, whereas, adolescents’ needs are typically more complicated. Adolescence, which is filled with many difficult emotional and physical milestones, is particularly complex to navigate alone.

Unfortunately, many adults believe troubled kids displaying negative attention seeking behaviors are “just looking for attention” and, in fact, deprive these children from the much-needed extra attention.

More often than not, angry and defiant behaviors are kids’ best attempts at a cry for help. Consulting with a licensed therapist to provide an assessment of a child’s current mental health status is recommended if the parent or guardian believes a child is emotionally struggling or acting out in anger.