Ways that Compassion Can Help You Support a Loved One Suffering from Addiction

It can often be difficult knowing how to navigate a relationship that is tainted by addiction. Often, loved ones are told that helping an addict means creating codependency, and that the best thing to do is show some “tough love,” even if that means walking away.

But is this really true?

Is there a better way to relate to a friend or family member who is struggling with addiction? Is there a form of love besides “tough love” that can help us help our loved ones?

Recent research has found that loved ones can play an important role in an addict’s recovery. While loved ones can’t change their addicted friend or family member, there are things they can change about themselves that will benefit the relationship.

The most significant thing a person can do is to become more compassionate toward their loved one struggling with addiction. Compassion is key to recovery as it allows a person to love a friend or family member without condoning (enabling) their behavior.

Why Compassion is so Powerful in Recovery

When we offer a loved one genuine compassion, we voluntarily join them in their suffering and give them profound gifts that can be catalysts toward real healing and recovery.

Being compassionate means:

We See Them

Compassion allows us to really see our loved one and the suffering they are going through.

We Hear Them

All humans need to be heard, but those with substance abuse issues often feel they go unheard. Compassion allows us to talk less and listen more.

We Validate Them

To see and to hear are not enough, we must also let our loved ones know they have a right to express their pain, anger, sadness, or any other emotion they are feeling. Too often, friends and family members ignore or minimize their loved one’s suffering. Compassionate helps us validate the person.

We Comfort Them

Whether it’s physical, mental, or emotional pain, sufferers need to be comforted. Compassion guides us and helps us provide our loved ones with comfort through a loving touch, knowing glance, or a few kinds words.

It is also incredibly important to be compassionate toward yourself during your loved one’s recovery. Self-compassion asks that we treat ourselves kindly; that we see, hear, validate and show ourselves the same comfort we show our loved one. 

If you or a loved one is suffering with addiction and interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.

Top 5 Ways to Reduce Anxiety

It’s rare that any of us will get through life without experiencing anxiety at some point. But some people have the burden of dealing with anxiety on a daily basis. Whether it’s over something big or insignificant, anxiety stops us from living a normal life full of joy and potential.

Here are 5 ways you can begin reducing your anxiety:

1. Recognize You Are in Control

When you are in the grips of anxiety, it feels very much like it has total control over you. But the reality is, you are in control. While external events can trigger our emotions, ultimately, we have the choice whether we feel those emotions or not. So the good news is, you don’t have to suffer with anxiety, you simply have to decide to show it who’s really boss.

2. Stay Busy

The worst thing you can do when you feel anxiety coming on is to obsessively think about it. It is much better to do something, anything, and stay busy. You could do the dishes, vacuum or work in the garden. The more you can focus your attention away from worrying and toward something that is calming and even joyful (gardening not vacuuming!) the easier time you’ll have of waiting out the anxiety storm.

3. Move Your Body

Exercise is a great way to alleviate the muscle tension that goes along with chronic anxiety. Plus, exercise releases feel good chemicals in your body like serotonin. But don’t sweat it, you don’t have to do a grueling workout at the gym to gain these benefits. Just a half hour a day of walking, biking, swimming or yoga can significantly help reduce your anxiety.

4. Start a Gratitude Journal

Get into the habit of writing down three to five things you are grateful for each night before retiring. This is a simple way to train your mind to focus on all of the good that surrounds you.

5. Speak with a Professional

The cure for any physical or psychological ailment is to get to the root cause of it, not simply manage the symptoms. A therapist can help you access your inner world to uncover what is triggering your fear and also offer coping tools and strategies.

If you or a loved one is interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.

3 Ways Therapy Helps You Address Anxiety

Millions of people deal with stress and anxiety on a daily basis. Whether it’s a result of phobias, depressions, or post-traumatic stress, anxiety can take a toll on our mind and health.

If you deal with anxiety you most likely have looked into ways you can help calm your emotional rollercoaster. Perhaps you’ve even tried some self-help techniques in the past. While these methods can provide some relief, it’s often temporary.

To rid yourself of overwhelming anxiety once and for all, you’ve got to get to the root cause of it – the underlying factors. A therapist can help you identify and eliminate these underlying factors.

If you are suffering from an anxiety disorder, here are 3 ways therapy can help:

1. Uncover Root Causes

Like any other health issue, effective treatment gets to the root cause. For instance, your doctor can either prescribe a medication to try and manage your hypertension symptoms, or she can request you clean up your diet and exercise, addressing the root causes of your high blood pressure.

A therapist will assist you in accessing your emotional world so you can study your thoughts and feelings and uncover patterns. Often, unhealthy beliefs and thoughts lie at the root of anxiety. Once you identify what is causing you anxiety, your therapist can begin to create a plan to help you face these underlying issues calmly and confidently.

2. Therapy Helps You Change Your Behaviors

We’ve just talked a little about therapy helping you uncover the thoughts and beliefs that are causing the anxiety. Those thoughts and beliefs are not only making you feel bad, they are causing you to have certain behaviors that may result in negative consequences.

For instance, your anxiety leads to insomnia or denial of intimate social connections. Therapy will help you make lifestyle and behavioral changes. You’ll learn how to cope with difficult situations in a more relaxed manner. Therapy will help you to stop avoiding certain people and situations and develop a calmer and more balanced sense of self.

 3. Therapy Offers Continued Personalized Support

 All change is hard, even change that’s ultimately good for you. One of the biggest benefits of therapy is that it offers continual personalized support. Your therapist wants to see you succeed and will offer encouragement and advice without judgement.

If you’ve been living with anxiety, know that you don’t have to deal with it alone. If you or a loved one is interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.

Common Excuses People Make to Keep Drinking

For many people, drinking alcohol is something that is done on occasion and in moderation. Having a glass or two of champagne on New Year’s Eve or a cocktail out with friends is nothing to be concerned about.

For others, however, alcohol is not something one marks a special occasion with; it is the main event.

There are a variety of factors that can influence a person’s behavior when it comes to drinking such as genetics, biology and the environment. While the reasons one becomes addicted to alcohol can vary, what is consistent is a desire to keep drinking, despite being shown the devastation it is causing to their life.

Here are some of the most common excuses people make to keep drinking:

I’ll Lose My Friends if I Quit Drinking

Many a social life is based on partying and having a good time, and that typically includes drinking alcohol. This is especially true for younger people, who feel pressured to drink when they are around their friends. “No one will invite me to their parties if I refuse to drink.” “Everyone will think I’m weird or uptight if I’m the only one not drinking.”

While friends and associates may take notice, it’s important to realize that real friends will want to spend time with you no matter what. Those that don’t may have a drinking problem themselves and are uncomfortable around your healthy change in behavior.

Wine is Good for Me

While numerous studies have suggested consuming alcohol, red wine in particular, can benefit the heart and improve cholesterol levels, all speak of consuming in moderate amounts. In fact, a majority of US health agencies recommend no more than two drinks a day for men, and only one for women.

So, while some studies suggest drinking in moderation is good for health, the amount is really key. If you find you are drinking more than one or two glasses each day, you are no longer promoting health.

Drinking Relieves Stress

It’s no secret that stress can wreak havoc on our health. And no one can really blame a person if they want to somehow “take the edge off.” But alcohol consumption is not the healthiest ways to deal with stress. For those with unhealthy drinking behaviors, the one or two glasses needed to take that edge off turns into three, four and more. Stress and alcohol feed off of each other.

There are much healthier ways to alleviate stress such as meditation and yoga.

Quitting drinking is incredibly difficult, but, with the right support, it can be done. If you or a loved one has a drinking problem and is interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.

5 Signs That You Might be Struggling with Anxiety

It’s normal to feel anxious from time to time. Perhaps you get a bit nervous speaking in front of people or going on a job interview. But for some people, anxiety becomes a frequent and forceful occurrence that completely takes over their lives.

Since anxiety comes in many forms, for instance panic attacks, phobias and social anxiety, it can often be difficult to tell if what you’re experiencing is “normal” or has crossed the line into a mood disorder.

If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, you may want to speak with a counselor who can help you cope with your anxiety.

Excessive Worry

General anxiety disorder (GAD), the broadest type of anxiety, is characterized by excessive worry. People with GAD worry too much about everyday things, both big and small. But what constitutes “too much worry?”

With GAD, people are plagued with persistent, anxious thoughts most days of the week. This anxiety can become so overwhelming it interferes with their daily life. If you are worrying to a degree that you have trouble doing daily tasks and are suffering with your emotions, it may be time to speak with a therapist.

Trouble Sleeping

Sleep issues such as falling asleep or staying asleep have been associated with a myriad of health conditions, both physical and psychological. It’s normal for people to have trouble sleeping from time to time. Perhaps you find yourself tossing and turning before a big job interview or giving a presentation.

However, if you find yourself night after night lying awake, anxious about specific problems (such as relationship problems or financial difficulties), or even about nothing in particular, it may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

Muscle Tension

Anxiety disorders can often be accompanied by persistent muscle tension. Do you find yourself clenching your jaw or balling your fists throughout the day? You may have lived with this chronic muscular tension for so long you don’t even realize it anymore. While exercise can help relax muscles, therapy will get to the root cause of the anxiety.

Digestive Problems

While anxiety lives in the mind, it is often manifested in the body through chronic digestive problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome. Our guts are very sensitive to emotional and psychological stress. Unfortunately, digestive upset can often make a person feel even more anxious.

Panic Attacks

Panic attacks can be a frightening experience. You are suddenly gripped with an overwhelming feeling of dread and fear. These are often accompanied by physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, racing heart, dizziness, and profuse sweating. Though not everyone who has an anxiety disorder will experience panic attacks, but those that do live in constant fear.

Anxiety disorders keep people from living a joyful and fulfilling life. Luckily there is help. A therapist can assist in uncovering the root cause of the anxiety and offer tools to cope.

If you or a loved one is interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.

Why Compliments Don’t Boost Self Esteem

When a loved one is suffering from low self-esteem, it’s hard to know what to say. Naturally you want them to see themselves as you see them. You want them to feel joyful about the reality of who they are, not be mired down in the falsities they insist are truths.

In the past, you may have tried showering them with compliments, only to wonder why they never believed a word you said. People with low self-esteem have strong beliefs about themselves. While your compliment may be factually based (“You absolutely deserved that promotion – you worked so hard.”), your loved one’s beliefs will have them instantly dismissing it (“I just got lucky.”).

No matter what you say, and no matter how true it is, they will bat away every compliment you throw at them. There’s a very good reason why they do this. They don’t just have beliefs about themselves, they have emotionally charged beliefs about themselves. Any ideas offered that are contradicting, even well-intentioned and factual compliments, will be met with strong resistance. It’s simply too hard to “argue” with someone with an emotionally-driven belief.

3 Ways to Communicate with Someone with Low Self-Esteem

There are certain techniques therapists typically use when speaking with someone with low self-esteem. You may find these useful when trying to communicate with your own loved one.

1) Agree – Then Disagree

Find something in their statement you can agree with, then put a more positive spin on the rest.

Loved one: “Why do I act like the biggest loser most of the time?”

You: “Well, nobody is perfect (agreement) and I happen to know for a fact you’ve accomplished a lot in your life – more than many people.”

The idea here is to be subtle with positivity so there is no outright contradiction of their belief. You don’t want to turn off your loved one so they never listen to you again, you just want to gently coax them into considering that what you say might possibly, just possibly be true.

2. Use Metaphors

Using metaphors is a great way to present a positive possibility to your loved one without directly contradicting their belief.

Loved one: “At this point in my life, I’m pretty worthless.”

You: “Yeah, it can be really hard knowing your own worth, can’t it? I mean, a beautiful painting can’t possibly know how beautiful it really is, and a ruby doesn’t know how valuable it is.”

Try and change the subject right after offering this counterpoint so it has time to sink in.

3) Reframe Negatives into Positives

This one can be tricky but the idea is to gently reframe negatives into positives. As they say, a knife in the hands of a surgeon is very different from a knife in the hands of a robber.

Here’s a for instance:

Loved one: “My wife says I’m stubborn.”

You: “That’s interesting. In what other ways do you show such determination?”

See what you did there?

When interacting with a loved one with low self-esteem, refrain from blatant compliments and instead try using one or more of the techniques laid out. You may also suggest to your loved one that they speak with a therapist who can help them discover the cause of their self-esteem issues and offer tools to boost it.

If you or a loved one has low self-esteem and is interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.

The Mental Health Benefits of Having a Pet

People with mental and physical disabilities have been using service animals and emotional support animals for decades. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), under Titles II and III, a service animal “is any dog specifically trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability.”

But it’s not just trained service animals that can help us cope with life’s challenges, all pets seem to have the ability to calm us, center us, and just make us feel all around better about being on the planet.

Indeed, there are many mental health benefits of having a pet, and here are some of them:

Petting Reduces Stress

Your dog or cat may love when you pet them, but it turns out it’s equally beneficial to you as well! Rhythmic petting has been shown to release oxytocin, the hormone related to stress and anxiety relief. Once this is released your blood pressure and cortisol levels will decrease and you’ll feel much better.

You Don’t Feel Alone

The only thing worse than actually being alone, is feeling alone when we’re around other people. So often we can be with friends and loved ones, yet feel totally disconnected.

But when we spend time with our pets, we feel like we’re with true companions. They make us feel happy, safe and secure. Perhaps it’s because they don’t judge us and love us unconditionally that allows us to connect in a way that is often not possible with other human beings.

Pets Help Us Be More at Peace

It’s hard for most people to be completely in the moment. We’re either regretting the past or worrying about the future. But when we engage with our pets, it helps us take our minds off of any negative stressors and focus them on the adorable fluffball in front of us.

They Help Your Body Release Feel Good Chemicals

When your dog rolls around on his back or your cat rubs her head under your chin, you can’t help but smile. And when you smile, your body releases serotonin and dopamine, which are nerve transmitters associated with calmness and happiness.

Don’t have a pet of your own at home? You can still gain these benefits by volunteering at a shelter. There are many animals out there alone who would love your companionship, and you’ll feel great in the process.

If you or a loved one is interested in exploring mental health treatment, please contact me today. While I’m not fluffy and don’t have a tail, I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help you.

What Addiction Experts Wish Every Parent Knew

Parenting is one of the toughest jobs in the world – if not the toughest. After all, children do not come with manuals or operating instructions. Looking for guidance, many parents turn to their own childhoods to pick up clues on how to raise children the right way, or at the very least, how not to raise them the wrong way.

But times change. Childhoods of just twenty or thirty years ago were vastly different than they are today. Modern kids, it seems, face more challenges and dangers thanks to the Internet and pressure from peers and the media to grow up way too fast. As a result, many kids turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope, fit in, and self-medicate.

While kids may not come with manuals, there are resources that can help parents raise them to be happy and healthy individuals and to avoid drug and alcohol addiction. Here are three things addiction experts want you to know:

1. The Longer You Can Keep Your Kids Away from Drugs, the Better

Numerous studies have confirmed that the younger a person begins experimenting with drugs and alcohol, the more likely they are to develop an addiction. For example, researchers found that nearly 40% of individuals who began using alcohol at or before the age of 14 developed dependence later in life, compared to only 10% who waited to drink until they were 21 or older.

This same pattern has been found with drug use. Each year of delay translates into a 5% decrease in risk of developing an addiction.

While the exact mechanism of this phenomenon isn’t entirely understood, what is known is that the brain is still developing well into a person’s mid-20s. Any change in structure or chemistry seems to make a child more vulnerable to drug and alcohol addiction later in life.

The takeaway here is this: The longer you can discourage your child from experimenting with drugs or alcohol the better.

2. The “European Model” Has No Validity

Some parents swear by what is called the “European Model” of drinking, where they allow their kids to have the occasional sip of alcohol at family events. The belief is that this teaches kids moderation and also demystifies alcohol, limiting its appeal and reducing the likelihood their kids will go “hog wild” later in life.

But this way of thinking is a relic of a bygone era. Today’s reality is that binge drinking is now a global epidemic. In fact, a survey conducted in 2011 found that a majority of European countries have higher intoxication rates among the young than America. In addition, European youth report getting drunk before the age of 13. Therefor the research concluded there is no evidence that a liberal drinking policy in the home reduced the likelihood of alcohol abuse.

Another long-term study of 561 middle school students found that those who were allowed to occasionally sip their parent’s beer or wine were four times more likely to binge drink once they reached high school.

The takeaway here is: while you may think you’re telling your children “drinking in moderation is okay…” what they may be hearing is, “my parents are okay with me drinking.”

3. Real Emotional Trouble May be Lurking Behind the Abuse

Many people experimented with drugs or alcohol growing up because they were curious, they’re friends were doing it, or they just wanted to appear cool. And it’s tempting for parents to assume that’s why their own child is experimenting now.

But it’s important for parents to understand that oftentimes, substance use is an attempt to self-medicate to escape sadness and depression. Adolescence is a time when mental health issues most commonly present themselves. For the first time in your child’s life they may feel anxious or depressed without knowing the cause or how to deal with these new feelings.

The key takeaway here is to pay attention. Your child’s substance use may not be about experimentation but rather a real cry for help.

If you suspect your child is using drugs or alcohol, speaking with a therapist can help both of you. If you’re interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.

How to Help Children Understand a Parent’s Depression

Many parents experience clinical depression each year. As if the disease weren’t enough, recognizing its effects on your children can be quite painful.

Studies have shown that children of depressed parents are at greater risk of not only developing depression themselves, but also of poor physical health, problems bonding, anxiety, poor self-esteem and aggressive behavior. Of course, different things will determine the severity of any potential issues the child may face down the road, such as the quality of the relationship between the parent and child, and how quickly the parent can recover and maintain a healthy mental and emotional state.

Though it is not possible to completely protect children from the effects of a parent’s depression, there are some things you can do to help your child understand and cope. While it will be difficult, children cope unusually well if their parent is honest, able to communicate what’s going on, and offer support as much as possible.

As communication is critical, here are some things children of depressed parents need to hear.

It’s Not Your Fault

From a child’s point of view, the world really does revolve around them. Translation: Children of depressed parents will naturally assume they did something to make mommy or daddy sad and angry. In order to help your child develop a positive self-esteem, make it clear that what is going on is not their fault.

You are Not Responsible for Taking Care of Me

Even if a child is convinced they are not the cause of the depression, they will naturally feel compelled to make their parent well. When nothing they do eradicates the sadness, they will feel as though they failed. It’s important you clearly communicate that getting better is your responsibility and not theirs.

I Love You

Let your child know how much you love them and that your goal is to get well so you can take care of them. Also, it’s important to articulate that if you feel you cannot take care of their needs properly, you will find another adult who can. Be sure to be as specific as possible about what need (driving them to practice) and who will help them (Aunt Sarah will take you and pick you up).

It’s Okay to Feel Your Feelings

Children will feel guilty for having bad feelings toward their sick parent. Though they love their parent, when their needs aren’t being met, they will naturally feel anger, sadness and perhaps resentment.

Be sure to let them know whatever they feel is okay, and help them find outlets and express these feelings. Drawing is a great outlet as is physical activity.

If you are experiencing clinical depression, the most important thing you can do to support your children is to take care of yourself. You are the most important person in your child’s life so taking care of yourself is critical to their well-being.

If you or a loved one is interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you and explore how I can help.

4 Ways to Improve Self Esteem When You Have Depression

Depression and low self-esteem are two sides of the same coin. While low self-esteem leaves people vulnerable to depression, depression can absolutely destroy self-esteem.

But, though low self-esteem may be deeply rooted, there are things you can do to improve it, even if you are suffering from depression.

1. Start Your Day with Positivity

It’s important you start each day positively. Doing so will help your mind to habitually recognize good, especially the good in yourself. So, surround yourself with positivity in the form of music, books, calendars, computer wallpaper, etc. You can even sign up to a service that will send you funny memes or cute animal videos each day. Feeling good at the beginning of the day will set a tone and help you be positive throughout.

2. Analyze and Correct Negative Thinking

Negative thinking is the catalyst for both low self-esteem and depression. The more one thinks negatively, the less able they are to see themselves and the world around them in an accurate light. Soon, the negative thoughts are on a loop like an old record that keeps skipping, causing the same lyric to play over and over again.

The first thing that is needed is the ability to analyze your own thoughts. When a self-critical thought occurs, ask yourself three questions:

  • Is there any evidence to support this thinking?
  • Would people that know me say that my thought is true?
  • Does having this thought make me feel good or bad about myself?

Once you realize there is no evidence to support your thought, that your friends and family would disagree with your thought, and that your thought makes you feel bad about yourself, it’s time to replace that thought. Not with a vague affirmation, but with factual and meaningful self-statements.

For example, perhaps you have taken on a project at work, and currently you find yourself feeling overwhelmed. Your thoughts may currently sound like, “Why did I say I could handle this? I never finish things on time.” You will now replace that thought with a positive factual thought, something simple like, “I’m doing better at this job everyday and am continuing to make progress.”

A healthy self-esteem is not about being perfect or thinking you’re perfect when you’re not. No one is. A healthy self-esteem is about acknowledging your strengths and accepting your weaknesses and realizing you’re like everyone else – human and beautifully flawed.

3. Treat Yourself Well

Though you may feel you don’t deserve it, by treating yourself, you will send positive messages to your subconscious mind that you ARE worth it. Consider taking yourself out to a nice lunch, buy yourself that sweater you’ve been eyeing, or go get a relaxing massage. You don’t even have to spend money; show yourself you’re worth it by spending time reading a book, going for a walk in nature, or doing anything that inspires you.

4. Seek Positive Support

You want to surround yourself with people who celebrate your strengths, not your weaknesses. This can include seeking the positive support of a therapist who can work with you on analyzing and replacing negative thought patterns. When we don’t have an accurate self-perception, it can help to get a new perspective from an objective third party.

Increasing your self-esteem isn’t easy, but if you practice these tips, you will be able to chip away at the negative self-talk every day.

Need help with your self-esteem? If you or a loved one is interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you about how I may be able to help.