New Years Resolutions

I'm going to lose some weight.
I'm going to go to church and pray every week.
I'm going to talk to my father more.
I'm going to finally quit drinking and smoking.
I'm going to go back to school.
I'm going to end this affair.
I'm going to volunteer.
I'm going to love myself.
I’m going to write more blog posts as advertised (whoops).

New years resolutions can be fun. I had a few last year and batted about .500 on them. It begs to question though - why do we make these things? Maybe it’s something psychological - the ending to a year. A clean slate on the horizon. I saw that at lot as a school counselor - meeting with students early in the semester to give them extra encouragement to make this the best year they can. Starting fresh.

Sometimes, though, these resolutions can set us up for failure. A buddy of mine used to work at a local gym and he’d notice how much the gym memberships would spike around January then fall off around March. A return to the mean, if you will. And as much as we could entertain the idea that it’s because some people “just don’t want it enough,” I also think it has to do with the approach we take in setting goals. So for today’s post, I want to give a few considerations for you to take into account when approaching the 2019 year.

1) Take into account the “whole self.” Before even etching out a goal, check in with your mind, your body, and the inner and outer orbit of those who you surround yourself with in your life. What would it look like for things to be different? How would these changes affect the different aspects of our existence? It’s good to check in so that we can have a multi-faceted approach to making these changes sustainable as well as fulfilling. For example - a goal could be “I will take a few extra shifts or overtime so that I can make more money and further my job/career.” Not a bad goal - but how will we take into account the extra time and energy spent at work? How will we counter-balance the extra energy spent with extra self-care? How will our relationships be impacted by this? How will our mind be impacted by this? Of course, there are exceptions, but sustainability is an important variable to take into account - and that can be achieved when we consider the whole person.

2) Don’t go big or go home. Lofty goals sound great in our heads in the beginning. I get the mindset - “shoot for the sun, maybe you’ll land on the moon.” But as soon as we start to see that the goal we set is more distant than we thought, then we get discouraged. Then we start to doubt ourselves. And that’s all it takes for us to arrive to the idea that it’s not worth doing in the first place. I recommend that when making a resolution, try to consider goals that are reasonable.

3) Make your resolutions concrete, measurable, and attainable. This is an idea adopted by lots of clinicians. Compose a goal that is concrete. For example, instead of saying “I will love myself more,” break it down into actions you can take - “I will practice self-compassion on a daily basis with meditation, exercise, positive affirmations, and interacting with my support system once a day.” Notice how this is also measurable in that we can easily evaluate whether or not we engaged in those actions for that day. Allowing ourselves to quantify our efforts makes it so that we can better track our progress and build confidence in ourselves. And finally, and I know this comes back to point #1, but we’re making goals that are attainable to us so that we can build a foundation of growth, rather than subscribing to all-or-nothing thinking.

4) Share them with the right people. I wrote a post on boundaries already, but this can most certainly be applied to resolutions. Be careful who you share your goals and especially challenges with. Take some time to develop an understanding of your support system as well as your environment. This includes social media and certain social circles/communities. Reflect on what it is that you need most from your support system to encourage you as you strive for change. Some of the changes we want to make come from pretty intimate places, so don’t jeopardize the progress you want to make because you shared your journey with less-than-supportive figures in your life.

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And that should about do it! Hope you all reading this have a Happy New Year and whatever that your goals or resolutions are, that you take care of yourselves! Until next time!

See ya in 2019!

Back to School Tips for Parents

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The beach vacations, road trips, and getaways have been had. Summer camp is long over with. Coupons on school supplies from your local department stores have been rolling in the mail a few weeks now in tidal-wave form, crashing into your tv set as Billy Madison rolls its 3rd re-run of the day. $300 off at Best Buy for that new Lenovo laptop you were eye-ing a few months ago? What type of pencil case defines my child as a person? Why does my child's school supply list look more similar to a doomsday prepper checklist!?

And the speckled notebooks. All of those stacked, twenty-nine-cent speckled notebooks in your local Walgreens, towering over the premises like multicolored skyscrapers leaning under the flickering fluorescent light. I thought we'd be done with speckled notebooks by 2018. They would always lose their binding and fall apart by Christmas break, but the nostalgia always pulls you back into buying a set over those abrasive spiral notebooks.

Maybe it's just that feeling of the beginning of the school year. I was always skeptical when my 3rd grade teachers would tell me that everyone starts off with an A in the beginning of the year, because I felt A's were earned. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't complaining. We were all big fans of this proposition.

But Mrs. Hassell was trying to communicate that it's a clean slate from that point and that it was on us to keep that A (also, to tell a bunch of eight-year-olds that they all actually have zero's would be cruel and counter-productive).

It's a new beginning. A fresh start.

I've found that people take this information in different ways. Some are quite happy about how last year went and want to just keep the ball rollin'. Some take it as the beginning chapter to a redemption story. Maybe we fell a little short the year before. We were in a "rebuilding period" as some franchise owners would say. Proud in some areas, but the yearning for improvement is prevalent and we're excited for what is to come for this year. 

Others, though, utilize it as fuel for procrastination. Still getting over the summer blues, if you will. All the way into mid-October. "I've got all year. What's the rush?"

Form is everything though. Any high-performing athlete could tell you that in his or her line of work. And when we start off behind and still looking for proper footing early in the race, it's really tough to catch up.

So here are a few useful tips for some of you parents out there who have some slight beginning-of-the-year jitters and want to help your kids start off on the right foot for the upcoming school year:

Set the tone - Build up that confidence! I've mentioned in a past blog post that our kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. They pick up on vibes. If you present yourself as doubtful about a particular situation, they will feed off of that energy. They look to you for empowerment and direction.

It's a race...with yourself - It's human nature to compare your experiences to the experiences of others. Your kids are going to do it and you're going to do it. But try to resist the urge to. Instead of focusing on how another child is doing, adjust the focus to where your child was a year ago. Six months ago. Three months ago. A week ago. Trying to be a better version of who we were yesterday is the task of a lifetime, so the sooner we teach our children to embrace growth and trust the process with hard work, self-compassion, love, and patience, the better off they'll be.

Build a routine - Expectations help generate security. Build a routine your kids can depend on. Set breakfast times, homework times, dinner times, play times, bath times, and bed times. Make some rules and stick to them. Be wary about putting a reset to that routine on the weekends too. Restrict technology. Sleep, hygiene, and nutrition cannot be neglected; and as of this writing, there is no substitute for it. Most maladaptive behaviors or mental health challenges in early child or adolescent development have at least some roots in these areas.

Create some goals - Sit down early in the year and set some goals for the school year with your kids. Check in with them. Talk to them. Make sure they're concrete, measurable, and attainable. If possible, build a rewards system around it to generate extrinsic motivation so that it encourages an internal drive.

Empower Developmentally-Appropriate Autonomy - Having worked with hundreds of adolescents, one key challenge I've seen is the seemingly expedited process of establishing autonomy. The stinging phrase "you're only a few years away from being an adult" creates such a distinct grimace once landed, and it couldn't be closer to the truth in those cases. But building a sense of independence does not start when your children are thirteen. It starts far earlier. So try to instill ownership in your children early in with developmentally appropriate tasks and hold them to those expectations regularly. He or she will thank you for it later on.

Collaborate when necessary - You cannot put a price on the value of a collaborative relationship with a teacher, school counselor, administrator, tutor, therapist, or pediatrician. They can extinguish anxiety, provide helpful insight, aid in tracking progress, and give peace of mind. Having been in private practice and a previous school counselor for years, I can tell you that even a moderately over-involved, but proactive parent with good intentions is an absolute delight to hear from. It's the often withdrawn and distant parents who cause the most strain and heartache. So don't feel shy about reaching out, even if it's early in the school year.

Take interest in academics, but nourish the whole relationship - Check in with your kids and monitor them about school accordingly. Sometimes, that may demand more focus and attention. But remember that academics isn't everything. Don't reduce your relationship with them to performance evaluation. Have some curiosity with their interests. Their social circles. Their beliefs. Their perspective on things. Share a hobby. Do things together as a family. Being a kid today has its own set of unique challenges. Show them regardless of the circumstance, that they can depend on you for love and support.

Questions? Comments? Feel free to shoot me an e-mail at desongytherapy@gmail.com and best of luck to you and your family for the following school year!


 

The Cool Parent

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I can vividly remember, as a struggling teenager, the conversation with my father the morning after getting caught drinking underage. I was fifteen and hungover. In a rusted 1985 Chevy Astro Van. The Old Yeller of transportation. The exhaust protested with each voyage across the Metairie metropolis. You could only enter the vehicle through the sliding door. It was eerily similar to Little Miss Sunshine, except this van had a lot less character and more saw dust. And instead of Steve Carell or a plot associated with a charming and dysfunctional family, there was instead my father and his furrowed eyebrows toward a heavily abused cracked windshield.

Frustrated. Disappointed. Lots of rhetorical questions and lectures to accompany them while we sat in the drive-thru of Tastee's Donuts on a Saturday morning. Glazed donuts, something, something. Pun about inebriation. 

Adolescence, whether folks like it or not, has a lot to do with curiosity and exploration. It comes with the package of developing autonomy. Parents should want their kids to explore. That's how they begin to understand more intimately who they really are. They will make mistakes. That's why we want our teens to share those inquiries at a time when they are surrounded with consistent support.

"What do you think would happen if you got alcohol poisoning? How would you feel about that? Not so good, huh?"
No answer.
"You could've been arrested for underage drinking. It's illegal what you did. You could get kicked out of school too. Completely jeopardize your career. Your life. Your mom is so upset."
No answer.
"So what were you thinking?"
"Clearly I wasn't."
"Duh." The '-uh' was dragged out as he was in between bites and fishing for his wallet to complete his purchase.

Clearly, he was angry. But anger's a secondary emotion. At his core, he was terrified. Scared of me falling into bad habits that could compromise my health, or the health of others. He was also scared of missing the opportunities to educate me on these risks. Most of all, he was hurt that I made these decisions. He processed these emotions verbally as the conversation eventually transitioned from contempt to concern.

I've worked with a good number of teenagers at this point who have experimented with drugs and alcohol - ranging from merely touching the stove to full-blown addiction. I get questions from parents often about how to best prepare their kids - and themselves - to make the right choices regarding substance use. With it being Carnival season, I figured it'd be helpful to share some insight on how parents can better prevent drug and alcohol use and abuse in their teens.

For one - teenagers are not "little adults." Their prefrontal cortex - the part of your brain that deals with decision making, planning, judgment, moderation of social behavior, and self-awareness, is in the very beginning stages of development. fMRI scanning has shown that this part isn't close to being fully developed until our late 20s and in some cases early 30s! There's a lot of growing left to do, and the usage of drugs and alcohol at that age can have severe neurodevelopmental consequences.

We can learn a lot about how prepared our kids are to say no to drugs or alcohol based on who they surround themselves with. It's the people, places, and things that can make a world of a difference. If your child surrounds himself/herself with individuals who share negative attitudes towards drugs and alcohol, he or she will be much more likely to abstain from using.

As parents, you must keep in mind that you are models of wellness in your own home. That means if you are consuming drugs or alcohol on a regular basis and are doing it in front of your kids, it will be much more difficult to deter your children from experimenting and engaging in risky behavior. You are still their primary educators and must take responsibility in demonstrating healthy attitudes regarding drug and alcohol use.

It's important to have a plan - especially for events such as dances, proms, concerts, and Mardi Gras. Talk to your children about what those situations may look like. Remind them of the legal consequences and that drug or alcohol consumption can put their health at risk. Make them vocalize to you what they should do if they are in such a situation. Most of all - encourage them to contact you in case if they feel unsafe and need a way out. Remove the consequences associated with it and make sure that they understand, above anything else, that they are welcome to reach out to you. It's far easier to take a phone call from your child in the middle of the night than from a state trooper or an emergency medical responder.

And finally - quit trying to teach your kids how to "socialize" or be "prepared for college" by sponsoring "safe places" to throw parties and provide alcohol or drugs. There's overwhelming research showcasing that distributing alcohol to minors - even when they are 18 and about to go off to college, significantly increases the likelihood that they will develop a pervasive addiction in their lifetime. The falsehood that they can always get their hands on it and that everyone is doing it perpetuates the idea that we should mitigate the risk by providing it ourselves, but it's that type of dangerous thinking that enables substance abuse.

Social Norms Theory, developed in the 1980s by H.W. Perkins and A.D. Berkowitz, posits that we underestimate the healthy behaviors of others and overestimate unhealthy behaviors - leaving our perception skewed to the idea that "everybody is doing it." The reality, though, is that drug or alcohol use in adolescents has had an overall nationwide downwards trend within the past quarter of a century. This is not to say that drug or alcohol use isn't a problem. It most absolutely is something that should continue to hold our concern. But it's very far away from everyone that is doing it.


I know I already said this in a previous post, but I'll say it again. Your children don't need an extra friend. They need an authoritative figure that can teach them right from wrong and how to take care of themselves. Someone that provides unconditional love and a secure figure to confide in when things get difficult. They're going to meet you with resistance - and that's okay. I'm sure I showed my father great resistance after getting caught. But he displayed to me some very important things in that conversation - his disapproval, frustration, hurt, compassion, love, and concern.

I didn't have a friend in him that day. I had something far more valuable.

Social Norms Theory
Myths Debunked: Underage Drinking of Alcohol at Home Leads to Real Consequences for Both Parents and Teens

Why Does It Feel Like Everything is on Fire

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I've been wanting to do a blog post specifically on anxiety for a while now, but there were a couple of reasons why I was holding off on it. For one, there's such a wealth of information already presented online regarding the topic. It's a mental health issue that could always use more understanding and compassion, but the knowledge is out there and accessible. There's also a lot of innovative ways to manage it - including mindfulness exercises, meditation, cognitive-behavioral and experiential approaches, narrative therapy, relaxation and breathing techniques, and we haven't even talked about considering medication management yet.

With that said, I still felt there were some worthwhile things to share from my professional and personal experiences regarding anxiety:

Anxiety, much like ADHD, unfortunately share a stereotypical presentation that is often misconstrued. People who suffer from anxiety aren't exclusively individuals who constantly worry about things and suffers from panic attacks from time to time. Anxiety can manifest in different ways, such as anger, depression, substance abuse, etc. as a means of trying to cope.

Anxiety often has comorbidity, meaning the presence of two or more chronic disorders. This does not mean that someone with anxiety must absolutely suffer from something else, but it increases the chances of the individual struggling with an additional mental health issue. This is important because it gives us a more comprehensive context in understanding, addressing, and treating mental disorders.

Managing anxiety is very tough and requires an aggressive approach. You're literally teaching your mind to reorganize thoughts, practice behaviors to limit cognitive distortions, and you're re-training your body to respond more appropriately to reduce the instances of that somatic alarm system from going off regularly. And that's when you're prepared and willing to do so. Sometimes you're too exhausted, it's on hour fourteen of your day and you just don't have much left in the tank to keep it together. I've seen many people successful in managing it, both professionally and personally, but it should never been taken lightly.

A common theme of mindfulness, meditation, yoga, etc. is the goal of slowing down the mental processing. When anxiety is heightened, it's often described that one is experiencing "racing thoughts," so slowing them down to a speed that makes them less overwhelming to deal with has been deemed to be very helpful. Though the approaches listed above have been critical in anxiety management for many, that doesn't mean you can't be creative in finding a way to slowing down those thinking patterns. Going for walks, exercising, participating in a passion or hobby, and reading for pleasure are excellent ways to accomplish this.

Don't shame people with anxiety. By shame, I don't just mean making fun of them. I also mean, in a very subtle way, imply that what they're going through is inappropriate or unacceptable. Phrases with positive undertones such as "it's not that big of a deal," "I don't see why you're upset," "you're over-analyzing the situation," and everyone's personal favorite, "you need to calm down." No one with anxiety has ever benefited from any of these - especially the last one. Want to be helpful? Be present with them and encourage them to see through their emotions so that they de-escalate properly. Let them process it verbally with a non-judgmental attitude. Validate their experience.

One of my favorite professors (and people) I've ever worked with and had the pleasure of knowing is Joan Fischer, my first supervisor and practicum teacher at the University of Holy Cross. She often preached of "equifinality," which she defined as "many paths to God" and encouraged us to work with those suffering with the understanding that there are many different roads to a life of wellness. There are many, many ways to treat anxiety. Some ways work better for some than others. If cognitive-behavioral therapy seems too cold and clinical, try meditation and mindfulness, and vice versa. Workshop it, and don't give up hope if something doesn't go as well as planned.

Thoughts? Feel free to e-mail me at desongytherapy@gmail.com and thanks for reading!

Building Boundaries

If we are everything to everyone that we meet, then what will be left for those truly blessed to share their presence with us?
— Unknown

You may be thinking to yourself, "well...the last few topics were about ADHD, the interwebs and money. Donny must be running out of things to talk about if he's deciding to tackle boundaries." It's a decent thought; but from my experiences, ambivalence towards boundaries have got to be in the top 3 most common issues I've seen individuals, couples, and families face. It's a real problem, though often overlooked. 

So what are boundaries?

In the broadest sense, boundaries are forces we create and maintain to protect our own personal limits. Our lines of defense to overextending ourselves. These limits can be emotional, mental, or physical - and we have varyingly different ranges of them too. We set these boundaries through our daily transactions with our spouses, our kids, our immediate and extensive family members, our friends, and even our coworkers and members of our community. Sounds simple, right?

Well, things can get complicated - especially through our intertwined network of relationships. There are many dynamics that come to play, including family roles and culture, region, experiences, personalities, level of transparency, etc. What may look like rigid boundaries for one person may be loose boundaries for another. Not to mention that one may have different limits for different groups of people.

It's important to remember that "rigid" or "loose" boundaries bring in their own sets of problems. Though rigid boundaries protect our limits, they can also stunt growth in relationships in that they're restrictive to openness. Loose boundaries may cultivate openness; however, they also invite privy information to fall into the wrong hands and cause intense friction in our relationships. Ideally, we want to fall somewhere in the middle of two - flexible boundaries that are malleable and open to newer connections, but also take into consideration our ever-changing needs and limitations.

So how to build and maintain healthy boundaries? It can be a long process that takes discipline, but here are some prompting questions at least to chew on when you have time:

  • What are my mental, physical, and emotional limits?
  • What are the mental, physical, and emotional limits of my partner? Of my family?
  • Does a system exist to where these limits are established, respected, and reconsidered?
  • Do children in my family (sons, daughters, younger cousins, nieces and nephews) have their own set of boundaries to protect them from developmentally inappropriate life stresses?
  • What kind of transparency would I want to cultivate in my relationships?
  • Is there a hierarchical system I have in place as to what level of "personal clearance" I give to those in my life?
  • When is the fastest I have divulged to another person I've just met delicate personal information? Does this happen often?
  • How many people in my life possess the "highest" level of clearance?
  • Are there people in my inner circle, the ones that have "top clearance" of my most intimate thoughts and feelings, who abuse that power? If so, how do I respond? Do I fall into this issue often?
  • Are there a scarce amount of people who fall into this category? Do I, or my inner circle, feel in any way isolated? Does the "Us vs. Them" narrative apply often to my daily experience?

There's a book series on boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend you can find on Amazon that's pretty affordable . It's rooted in Christianity; but even if you're looking for a more secular approach to establishing healthier boundaries in your life, it's got a wealth of information on how to do so from a number of different categories.

Questions? Comments? Feel free to write me at desongytherapy@gmail.com and take care!

ADHD in Adulthood

ADHD, also known As Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, has been a significant topic in mental health for the last quarter of a century. The CDC and the APA have estimated that somewhere between 5-11% of children suffer from the neurodevelopmental disorder. There has been an increasing emphasis on developing effective treatment to ADHD in children from different scopes of practice; however, ADHD in adulthood brings its own set of challenges that span from career to relationship struggles. Though I usually try to tackle certain topics in my monthly posts through peer reviewed literature coupled with professional experience, I decided to try something different.

I came in contact with a young entrepreneur who, to this day, struggles with ADHD and asked him some questions:

What is ADHD to you?
ADHD is a core element of my personality and something I have to constantly understand/deal with on a daily basis. Its expression keeps changing on me as do my strategies for dealing with it.

How long have you known about your ADHD?
Since I was around 10 or 11 years old.

What was it like growing up with ADHD?
Varied completely. It's obvious, at least from my perspective, that where you are developmentally will have an impact on the nature of force of your ADHD. Sometimes it was an inability to stick with one task for an extended period, sometimes it was forgetting things, sometimes it made it hard to interact socially.

Many people who suffer from ADHD have a less-than-positive outlook on treatment, practices, perception, etc. What has been your perception of this neurodevelopmental disorder?
From what I understand, once it started to be better identified/treatments started to emerge and become more well-known, there was a wave of kids receiving medical treatment in the 90's and 2000's. This seems to have led to a perception of over-medication or parents that “can't possibly believe their kid isn't perfect in class.” I really can't comment on how accurate those claims are, but I distinctly remember there being somewhat of a social stigma (which still persists).

What were/are your daily, unique struggles with ADHD?
Memory is a constant issue. I forget little things constantly because I get “off track.” I have to write things down a ton, even simple tasks that should be easy to remember to do such as taking out the garbage or calling someone important. I also have to be acutely aware of how fast I am talking and how much I am talking about what I care about. It takes a lot of effort to slow down and defer to the other person. I am genuinely interested in other people and genuinely want to hear what they are doing/care about, but everything leads to some connection in my head (“Oh you like cars? My buddy is a big fan as well and...”) and I end up having a strong compulsion to share it *right then*.

What skills/coping strategies/tools/ways of thinking have you employed to combat these struggles?
Exercise, a dutifully updated calendar, and just really actively listening (mixed results). I also take a low dosage of medication on and off as needed. Every day I start by thinking about my day and determining the best way to “treat myself” for the day. Maybe coffee is the right move, maybe it's jumping in right this second because my work drive is really high, maybe it's taking medication to keep me on track and complete several tasks. It's really a day to day thing.

What are some unhealthy ways in which you have coped with your ADHD?
Self-medicating with coffee too frequently. That's how I identified it might be time to take real medication after being off it for almost 10 years. The problem with coffee is it can be super hit or miss depending on how I am that day. Some days it helps me stay really even-keeled and focused, some days it makes me an anxious mess who paces around the room.

What role has medication played in your treatment?
As mentioned above, it's definitely part of the equation. Some weeks I'll take it every day, other times I'll go weeks without it. It's super case by case but there is no doubt it has improved my life in many ways. I am grateful to have a combination of medication and “coping strategies” to go with it.

What, if any, ways has ADHD contributed positively to your life?
I think it allows me to handle typically overwhelming situations better than most. I find many people around me can get very anxious and overwhelmed (sometimes my fault!) and I am totally in control. It takes a hell of a lot to overwhelm me – though when it happens, I'm not good at handling it.

What is it like to have ADHD in adulthood?
Honestly it's kind of interesting. It can be frustrating at times, but I enjoy learning about how my brain works and learning how to build a work/life that works well for me mentally. It's a shame that insurances by and large (if not all) basically don't acknowledge and cover adult ADHD.

How has ADHD impacted your relationships?
Most people either “figure it out” (though I do not like the idea that “ADHD = Hyper” to many people. It's more complicated than that for many of us) or I tell them in conversation. I've become more open about it as I've learned more. I don't run around wearing it on my sleeve, but it can help people better understand me I think.

Many, but not enough, adults are diagnosed with ADHD in their adulthood. What effect do you feel being diagnosed with ADHD in your earlier years had on you, rather than having been diagnosed later on in life?
It gave me time to process it, decide to go off medication on my own, then come back on my own. This is not necessarily for everyone, it's just how my trajectory went. I was also lucky to have a support network that didn't judge me or reject my claims that maybe I needed help. ADHD can be very embarrassing under certain circumstances and I am happy to say I never felt like I couldn't explore the subject and options.

Though it could be argued that we live in a world where ADHD is being more normalized, there are still many misconceptions floating around regarding ADHD. What are the biggest misconceptions in your opinion?
As I mentioned earlier, “ADHD = Hyper.” In addition the old “Plastic bag!” joke where basically anyone with ADHD acts like a dog who just saw a squirrel. ADHD has many forms and for some people it is absolutely crippling – I am lucky to have what some would consider a light to moderate case. I distinctly remember in undergrad someone telling me that ADHD was completely nonsense – and mind you, this was someone I seriously respected and considered informed – and it hurt a lot. They were completely incapable of seeing how it can be compared to anxiety, depression, etc. Many children and adults suffer from it. Some learn to cope, some work fine with it, others are lost and confused as to what's happening to them every day. It's not a national crisis that needs everyone to stop what they're doing and pay attention to, but people need to stop viewing it as unimportant or completely fabricated.

Is there any advice or recommendations that you would give to someone who is, or may be suffering with, ADHD?
Don't be afraid to explore medication – going on or off of it with the help of a licensed expert – and find good practices that can supplement or replace it. I know a lot of people have had success with daily meditation, exercise, and more. Everyone has different needs, so don't be afraid to talk to your doctor about what can work best for you. You owe it to yourself to be at your best.

Are fidget spinners really that big of a freaking deal?
I used to move a pencil between my fingers in high school constantly to keep my mind more focused. I would have loved one as a kid, no lie. People are just being annoying and joining the easy hate train.

Many thanks to this person who had the courage to share his experiences with such a debilitating and misunderstood obstacle such as ADHD. If you have any additional questions you would like to ask my interviewee or myself, feel free to shoot me an e-mail at desongytherapy@gmail.com. Thanks for reading!

Capturing Social Media

You'd be hard-pressed to find someone under the age of 40 that does not have some form of social media. Most Americans take part in it. And we do it for various reasons - whether it be to share our unique experiences, to connect with others, or both. In the very early stages of its existence, the internet served direct purposes. Sending e-mails. Keeping up with news. Watching dogs do human things like this.

How did they get the dog on the right to hold that cigar!?

How did they get the dog on the right to hold that cigar!?

All important and life-enhancing tasks. Somewhere along the line, though, these tasks became embedded into how we connect in everyday life. Social media, in particular, has substituted how we receive and verify information as well as how we keep up with people. It has its advantages, for sure. For one, it's relatively affordable - as long as you have some form of device and access to internet. It's incredibly convenient and instantaneous. There's a wide range of outlets and subgroups to choose from, which gives variety to a shared voice. Multimedia allows for different formats, whether it be text, videos, or pictures (Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, etc.). Up to this point, we've never been more connected with one another. So why is social media a concern to mental health?

Well, there's a few reasons, but the focus should be more on the how than the what. These social media platforms aren't intrinsically unhealthy like a box of Popeye's biscuits. It's how they are integrated into our facilitation of needs. If we utilize these tools with a healthy balance and keep in mind its limitations, we can increase the likelihood of not being sucked into the distorted reality presented. But if we are constantly preoccupied with being "connected," it can deter us from true and intimate connection and also take away the chances for us to be satisfied with ourselves.

We must also take into consideration how these platforms can substantially impact the construction of our internal and external world. Three factors contribute to this:

  • We are, most often, presented with a sanitized narrative. Rarely, if ever, do people share photos, ideas, or videos that do not run congruent with their self-image. This can be taxing, especially to those who use these platforms for the purpose of primary connection and comparison.
  • Almost all social media platforms incorporate algorithms based on your individual online activity. These algorithms, though sometimes useful, can also generate powerful echo chambers that filter out contrasting thoughts and ideas. For example - if you spend an hour on WebMD looking up Cancer-like symptoms, you are very likely to be flooded sponsored ads and news regarding medical concerns on your news feed for weeks. Very anxiety-inducing. This can also, surely, have an effect on politics, current world events, social stances, etc.
  • We usually add and share these online experiences with "like-minded" people. Though comforting, it can also stunt our growth in building perspective. Such developmental plateauing can be divisive and even potentially dangerous.

If we are to largely base our connections to social media, we are surrendering opportunities for intimate interaction. Below are some tips for healthy usage of social media:

  • Limit your daily usage. I stick with 30 minutes maximum.
  • If it's hard with that flashing icon located on your phone docket, create intentional obstacles to make access to your social media more difficult. For example, my Twitter, Instagram and Facebook icons all sit on a folder on the last page of my phone so I don't have to deal with the temptation of checking it every time I look at my phone. You can also set your accounts to not log you in automatically so access would take a little bit longer. Be creative.
  • Keep the desire for a sterilized online-image-of-the-self in check.
  • Avoid long-standing debates. Discourse isn't a bad thing. Getting involved in a two-week-long twitter war can be consuming and toxic. Maybe this can be hashed out through a 30-minute phone call. Or you can just block them.
  • Make a rule to not check social media while you're with company. Not only does it dilute interaction, but it's also just straight-up rude.
  • Before you make broad generalizations such as "it seems like everyone is ____________," take the online echo chamber concept into consideration.
  • Take some breaks here and there. Unplug and set a goal to not use it for a few days. Think of it as a "stimulus cleansing."
  • If all else fails, maybe just stick to watching the dogs do human things again.

More Money, More Problems?



Many of us have heard this at one time or another:

"More money, more problems." 

or

"Money just complicates things."

You may be saying to yourself, "Well...yeah. Money is what determines my food, clothing, shelter, and quality of life." It's fascinating, though, to think that one specific component of a relationship can completely interfere with 'til death do us part. I've seen it first hand how money can affect trust in a family. How it can inadequately replace acts of appreciation. How it can tear apart relationships.

So does more money mean more problems?

Harvard Psychologist Dr. Daniel Gilbert, in his work "Stumbling on Happiness," reported research conducted regarding money and its associations to happiness. The findings indicated that money does buy happiness - to an extent. At some point, though, cited between $40-70,000 a year salary, an increase in money means a lesser and lesser positive effect on happiness.  This is not to say that you're wrong if you're focusing on making more than $70,000 a year. Goals are great to have. Problem is, more often than not, people don't take this decline of impact on happiness into account. There's a hyperfocus on making money that ignores the sacrifices. This may come in the form of overworked individuals that neglect their self-care in the process (sleep, exercise, sobriety, nutrition, stress-reducing activities), or a preoccupation with saving/earning despite having already achieved a comfortable lifestyle.

Money is a sensitive subject. But even the most sensitive topics are approachable when engaged with delicacy. If you or your partner are experiencing tension regarding your present or future financial state, here are a few tips:

  • Be transparent. I've seen healthy couples handle money in all sorts of ways, but it's important to be up-front and honest about your expectations and desired lifestyle
  • Be realistic. Take a practical approach to what the both of you spend and make. If you anticipate an already expensive year, don't put too much of a burden by running your credit card up with vacations and luxuries.
  • Have a shared vision. Construct the blueprint for a lifestyle that takes the both of you into account - your work week, how many hours a week spent, groceries, living arrangements, debt management, luxuries, health, vacations, career advancements, family planning, retirement, etc.
  • Respect each other's vision. It's an anxiety-inducing topic. Many perceive their capacity to earn or provide as a measurement in self-value. Treat each other's vision with honesty, patience, and kindness.
  • Build a plan you can both stick to.
  • Talk regularly. At least once every fiscal quarter. Evaluate your budget. Any surprises? Are you still on course? Any issues? Anything you would like to add to the planning? It doesn't have to be a stern and cold few hours talking about money. Order some pizza. Light some candles. Make a date out of it.
  • Don't talk about it too much. Set aside some time every once in a while depending on the condition of your financial stability. Some couples fall into the trap of this idea that the more they talk about it, the better situation they'll be in. But just like the money/happiness relationship, there's a diminishing return and can, at some point, generate some unnecessary anxiety.
  • Consult with a financial advisor. I can't stress this enough. It's worth the investment, especially if you have significant anxiety about your future. If you can afford it, you don't have to do this alone. Set some money aside so that you can get financial direction from someone who is well-educated in developing long-term plans.

These are just some tips that I've found to be helpful, but there's a lot of great information online. Questions? Comments? Feel free to e-mail me at desongytherapy@gmail.com. Thanks for reading!


 

 

Just Trying to Be a Person

The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.
— Carl Rogers

Self-actualization is the realization of fulfillment of one's fullest potential. Carl Rogers, the developer of Person Centered Therapy or Rogerian Therapy, emphasized that for a person to reach self-actualization, he or she must reach congruence of the ideal self with his or her actions.

The questions and statements below are meant to be considered with time and patience:

What does your ideal self look like?

Think physiology. What does your body tell you when you've reached that point of optimal functioning? Are you eating several balanced meals a day? What does your caffeine intake look like? Are you taking medication that's prescribed by a doctor as advised? What about your posture? Are you tense or relaxed? Are you hydrated? What are your sleep patterns look like when you are at your best? Do you get an entire night's sleep? Do you address physical/medical concerns as they come up? Are you sitting often throughout the day? Do you exercise?

Does your body ever let you down? Are you at peace with it? Are these disappointments things you can control? What value do you hold on your physical self when considering your sense of self?

Now think mentally and emotionally. What your thoughts look like when you are at your most ideal self. Are they optimistic? Are they realistic? What tone do they take? Do you ever suffer from "cognitive distortion?" What contributes to your thinking? What kind of emotions are on display when you are at your fullest potential? How do you use your emotions? Are they at times in conflict with your thinking? Do you trust your thoughts and emotions? What value do you hold on your emotional and cognitive self when considering your sense of self?

What's your internal narrative?

What about your relationships? What do your relationships look like when you've self-actualized? Who are significant figures in your life at this time? Do you depend on them? Do they depend on you? Do they share your self-image? What role do your relationships play in this journey, if at all?

What value do we hold for the different roles we have in our lives? To our families, friends, coworkers and communities?

With all of this in mind, what supports these elements? What gets in the way? Are there times when a certain component of yourself supports certain elements and can interfere with others? To give an example, I struggle with anxiety at times. Anxiety is a wonderful tool when I'm trying to multitask and am under lots of stress to accomplish many things in a short period of time. It's a driving force and can create pressure. Anxiety is useful. It's also harmful though when I don't keep it in check. When I don't consider its impact on my physiology, relationships, or mental well-being. Because of this, I check in on it often. I know my indicators and protective factors. I know what I have to do to insulate myself from it. Some days are more successful than others though. How well do you understand the elements that impact your sense of self?

It doesn't have be this concrete. Think of the arts - literature, painting, song, poem, film, photography, etc. The colors, sounds, words and visions that bring us to a better understanding of ourselves, and all of ourselves. Not just the pretty parts. The capturing of our truest form.

We can think about our ideal selves all day long, but the journey is our steps towards congruence. That moment of experiencing self-actualization. 

I hope that some of these thoughts offered an opportunity for you to investigate further into your sense of self. Feel free to like, share, or provide feedback at desongytherapy@gmail.com.
 

An Open Letter to Parents

Parenting can be tough. It's a full-time job, there are pretty much no days off, and there's no definitive manual on how to do it right. There's plenty of resources to choose from regarding parenting tips or support either online or at any bookstore...which is sometimes helpful, and other times overwhelming. Having worked with families in private practice and in the school setting, families who have faced all sorts of struggles big and small, I feel it would be useful to provide some thoughts about arguably the toughest job in the world.

For one, kids are much smarter than you think. They're pretty insightful themselves and easily impressionable. This is a blessing because it gives you the opportunity to shape your home and family life the way you want it to be. Take caution, though. They also pick up on your energy. Your mannerisms. The language you use and the ways in which you communicate your needs. How you deal with distress. I want to express that it's perfectly fine for your children to see that you're upset or stressed out because they need to witness how to handle bad days. They're going to have some of their own, and you're the best teacher for how to overcome them.

Kids are also very resilient. More than most give them credit for. I've had the honor in working with children who have faced horrific circumstances. Watching them externalize their troubles, reorganize their thoughts, learn to trust their emotions and tear down the monsters that have plagued their childhood has been inspiring and has provided me proof in the power of the human condition. Before rescuing them from every monster they come across, try to find ways to empower them first.

It's good to have expectations, but be patient with your kids. Meet them where they are - not where you want them to be. Give them a little room to grow towards the sunlight. It's pretty common for parents to fall into the habit of comparing their kids and their accomplishments, but be careful. Projecting one child's experience onto the other's can be harmful.

What may work for one of your kids may not work for the other. Don't give up on age-appropriate responsibilities such as house chores because one approach didn't work. Use trial-and-error. Learn what motivates your kids and sculpt around that. Extrinsic motivators work to a degree, but understand that intrinsic motivation is valuable for a lifetime.

Boundaries are not just helpful. They're essential. You're the parents. Take an authoritative approach and give them a voice, but you run the show in the end. Don't try to be your child's friend. You can be friend-ly, but not their friend. They can get enough of those on their own. They need a parent. A consistently available and responsive attachment figure is irreplaceable. Kids need a secure base when life is a mess. When they want to take chances and explore the universe. When they're uncertain of who they are and what they should do. And no one provides that secure base better than a parent. It's the greatest gift you can give to your children.

Divorce may mean the end of a marriage, but not the end of the family unit. You're both still parents and it's still a family to your children. I know that there are exceptions depending on the nature of the divorce; but more often than not, successful coparenting is absolutely a possibility and makes a huge difference in the overall wellness of your kids.

If you have a concern, contact their school counselor about it and keep them in the loop. School counselors are very helpful. They can give you perspective as to how your child is behaving in an environment outside of the home - which can really provide clarity on things! They can also offer resources within the community if necessary. You may even be worrying about something that might not even be a problem at all.

Questions? Comments? Feel free to contact me at desongytherapy@gmail.com and know that if you are having troubles with effective parenting, don't hesitate to see a counselor and invest in the wellness of your family.

 

 

Surviving the Holidays

"It's the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle-belling

And everyone telling you be of good cheer
It's the most wonderful time of the year"
-Andy Williams, performer, arch-villain to those suffering from holiday blues

Ah, Christmas. That time of year where it finally gets a little bit colder (at least in the south, that is) and everyone is excited about spending time with their loved ones. Not everyone is excited about the holidays though. In fact, it's pretty common that people tend to experience heightened stress, anxiety, and depression around this time. And how couldn't they? It's an expensive time - fiscally, emotionally and cognitively. It's such a powerful force that it currently qualifies as a specifier to Major Depressive Disorder.

So in order to combat the potential incoming waves of holiday blues, I figured I'd offer some tips on how to make the season a little more manageable:

  1. Acknowledge your emotions. You're not happy, and that's OK. You can try to fake it 'til you make it, but just know that you don't have to. Our emotions are such a useful tool. Don't shut them out. Put them to use.
  2. Keep your expectations in check. Once Black Friday hits, we tend to get an overwhelming wave of what the holidays are "supposed" to look like, from television and internet ads to social media posts. While there's no initial harm to buy into the spirit of the season, the expectations can build up and, soon enough, you'll find yourself with too many presents, plans and pressure. So be honest with where you're at during this point in you or your family's life. Do you feel overwhelmed with the constant juggling of obligations that have been bestowed upon you? What's essential? If you can, write a list of all the things to do and the "obligations" you have to take part in. Sometimes it's helpful to have a list so that we're at least no longer juggling in our heads the many things left to complete. If you see a list that's simply too long to accomplish, take a moment to scratch out 50% of what's on it. Maybe it would do some good to dial back the pressure a bit on making 2016 the "best Christmas yet" in efforts to salvage your sanity. On the other end, if your list is too small, then reach out to your community - neighbors, co-workers, old friends, distant family members. You never know what may come from a simple inquiry. If you suffer from social anxiety, try to stick to 1-2 events to prevent from being incredibly stressed out about each one. 
  3.  Check in with yourself. What kind of year has it been? Stressful? A busy one? Any major life events? Loss of a loved one or tension in the family? When there's a death in the family, this time of year can be incredibly difficult. It brings back old memories and potential "unfinished business," not to mention the adjustment of traditions without that person. What are your wants and needs around this time of year? Take a piece of paper and, for each season of 2016 (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter), write a thought, emotion, and major event that best captures what was going on with you around that time. This helps to provide a chronological perspective to what our minds, bodies and hearts have endured so we can more appropriately consider what we may need these next few weeks.
  4. Avoid grievances/tense discussions during holiday events. Politics/religion is a no-brainer, especially around this time where such a polarizing presidential election just took place. If you have a particular problem with a family member or friend, try to sort it out before the event. Don't let that tension cast a cloud over a get-together. Holidays can also provide great moments for forgiveness and repair, but only if you're ready to.
  5. Switch it up. Nothing wrong with trying out some new traditions to break up the monotony. Ask around your family and friends and see if you can get some help with it.
  6. Volunteer. Take part in something bigger than yourself. It can be a soup kitchen or a shelter, but you can be creative and come up with other ways to give your care to noble causes.
  7. Avoid alcohol and unprescribed drugs/medication. The answers to your seasonal depression aren't going to be found at the bottom of a bottle. Alcohol is a depressant. Though it may numb the pain for now, it's a temporary fix and has the potential to amplify the problems you are facing. Mind-altering substances also take away the many opportunities for you to experiment with new solutions you may have not thought of or have had the confidence or capacity to try.
  8. Notable holiday life-hacks.
    • Can't stand the invasive Paul McCartney bragging to you about how he's simply having a "wonderful Christmas time" at every department store and coffee shop you goto? Keep some spare headphones on you at all times and don't put up with it, and for the love of God stay away from Magic 101.9. 
    • Shopping online can potentially save you lots of time and money, which can greatly reduce stress. 
    • Under significant financial burden? Take a year off gifts-giving. If they're your loved ones, then they should understand.
    • Worried about what to get? Still haven't met one person that's turned down a gift card. 
    • Is it your turn to host Christmas dinner and you're simply too boggled down with the holiday blues? Call your family members and switch out for another obligation in the near future, explaining that you're currently going through a lot right now.
    • Too overwhelmed with social media? Take a break from your Twitter / Facebook / Snapchat until 2017. It'l all be there when you get back, and you're not missing more than people standing by Christmas trees, people standing by fireworks, and lots of cats doing mostly nothing. I know plenty of people who don't use social media at all anymore, and they seem to hold up just fine.
  9. See a therapist.  Sometimes depression can be too big for us to handle ourselves. Just know that there's no shame in starting therapy or picking up right where you left off during this time. 

One final anecdote - Since 1966, there's a Christmas tradition in Gävle, Sweden where, at the beginning of Advent, the community erects a giant version of a Swedish Yule Goat made of straw. Since its inception, the structure has become famous for being destroyed in arson attacks. Yes, you read that right. Arson. I'm not making this up. One year there were three unsuccessful attempts at the goat, so someone knocked it over with a car. Despite increased security efforts over the past few decades, the goat has been burned down or damaged a total of 36 times. There's a detailed timeline and documentation for each attempt of vandalism on the structure found here. Now, I'm obviously not sharing this to inspire the reader to start committing arson or acts of destruction in protest of the holidays, for that is dangerous, illegal, and wrong! However, I would like to point out the underlying truth in all of this to anyone who may be lacking the holiday spirit around this time of year...

You're not alone.

You're not alone.

Have a happy holidays, take care of yourself, and see you in 2017!

Reasons to See a Therapist and the Common Excuses Not To

This would be so much easier to write if I just rambled off a list of life events into a neat bullet-point format like one of those awful off-brand prescription medication infomercials at 3 AM. I'll be frank and say that's how my initial draft looked - just a bunch of bad things that could happen to people that would push them to a point of distress enough to call a stranger, set up an appointment, and pour their hearts out. I decided against that approach, though, namely because our problems are far more colorful and intricate than:

  • Marital issues
  • Depression
  • Addiction
  • Children "acting out"
  • Stress

It doesn't make it false. Those five hand-picked examples are excellent reasons as to why a person, a couple, or a family should seek counseling. But just like our lives, our problems are also complex and demand complex solutions. Also, I feel as though we tend to read the list of possible problems and tell to ourselves "Yup! I have all of those things." That can unsurprisingly lead to lots of self-diagnosing and unnecessary anxiety.

I could imagine that if I would ask every single person I know and anyone who is reading this blog post to give me every reason why someone should get into counseling and compile that comprehensive list together, it would still not encapsulate the endless list of essential moments that would warrant someone to enter therapy.

Instead of presenting a handbag of common issues presented, I chose to provide some questions:

Is there a component of your life that you are significantly unsatisfied with? It could be associated with interpersonal, social, relational, physical, mental, emotional, academic, or professional struggles. If the answer is yes, then think of the ways in which you've tried to alleviate such dissatisfaction. What's worked? What made things worse? What haven't you tried? What are you willing to try? How long have you been suffering from this? Do you feel that this problem is solvable? Can you figure this out on your own? How much longer are you willing to deal with this? Do you have a plan to solve this problem? What will you need? How will you evaluate whether or not your plan is working? Can you hold yourself accountable to see that this plan turns to action?

People tend to enter therapy when they've tried everything else and nothing has worked. When things are critical and dire. And by this point, they usually don't even know where to start. I wouldn't recommend waiting that long. Answer these questions honestly. If you feel some uncertainty about any of your answers, then maybe you should see a counselor. Even if it's to just get some clarity on what it is that you really want and how you are going to make it happen.

Common Excuses Not to Seek Counseling

"I don't have the money or time."

I know first-hand that there are plenty of wonderful counseling agencies who provide excellent services with a flexible schedule for a sliding scale - sometimes even free. I would also like to ask - what price are you willing to put on your own wellness? Therapy is, more often than not, a life-altering experience that can cultivate opportunities for growth that can transcend relationships and punctuate our most difficult obstacles in a healthier manner. Whether it be time or money, it's important to invest in yourself. Even machines need maintenance sometimes.

"I went to a counselor one time and it was a terrible experience."

This one is particularly disheartening. People suffer for years before seeking proper help because of a bad therapist/client fit, a misunderstanding of the therapeutic process, or even a "bad counselor." Truth is, counselors are people too - some good, some bad. But giving up on mental health services because of one poor experience is like giving up on haircuts because your barber in sixth grade took some liberties with your sideburns. Unless if you plan on a ZZ Top cover band, you'd probably just find another barber. Share that perspective with counseling. Even before you schedule your first appointment - do some research. Ask about his or her therapeutic approach and see if he or she has a personality that would mesh well with yours. See if there is information readily available online. And recognize that this, like many things in life, takes time and work. Don't expect everything to be fixed in one session and embrace the process.

"I don't need to see why I would need to see a therapist. I can just get all this information from a book or website."

One of the misconceptions about therapy is that we're somehow these wise and masterful creatures that can somehow "fix" the problems of our clients. Though we may have advanced knowledge on particular issues such as marital distress or mental disorders and such, there is so much more to the process than simply providing information. Therapists empower, facilitate, and direct change through our experiences in session. We track progress, coordinate appropriate services, and provide a reservoir of strength and reassurance when needed so that our clients may become experts of their own lives.

"Therapy is for crazy people. I'm not crazy. I don't need a therapist."

"Crazy" is such a dismissive term. You shouldn't even begin entertain the idea of identifying therapy for just "crazy people." I've seen clients for quite some time, and I can say with confidence that none of them are crazy - because each one of them were strong enough, and fed up enough, to do something about it. Something brave and different. Didn't Albert Einstein famously say "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results"?

"I don't want to trust a stranger with my personal information."

Understandable - but I must remind that, as mental health professionals, we are bound by ethical and legal standards to protect the confidentiality and privacy of our clients and will not share or use any information provided in the therapeutic process without the consent of the client unless if he or she is a harm to him/herself or someone else. Also, there's a benefit to the therapeutic experience in that it is shared with unbiased, seemingly anonymous figure. I like to think of it as sort of an experimental, nonjudgmental playground for your thoughts and emotions. We have a duty to protect the privacy of our clients in order to maintain the safe space that is talk therapy.

"I don't even know who to go to or where to start."

PsychologyToday is a great place to start. They can even filter options by insurance, specialty, location, etc. Do some digging. And ask around!

Questions or comments? Feel free to e-mail me if there are any other excuses you've heard of that were not mentioned or if you're considering counseling. And feel free to like and share!

Why We Fight

I hear this so often in marital counseling and even with friends and family. “So-and-so fights too much” or “I can’t stand it when we fight.” And my personal favorite, “it’s just something that we don’t discuss.”  Fighting has been frequently tagged as an indicator of an unstable and unhealthy dyadic relationship or family system. But is that depiction fair?

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War states that confrontation is “the construction and destruction of mankind.” We engage with one another for the sake of progress, and sometimes that means addressing the obstacles that are in front of us.  To do otherwise would be to halt such progress, and ultimately, allow us to fall into stagnation. Dealing with a seemingly “unsolvable conflict” can make us feel stuck. Sometimes we may even practice avoidance because we want to "shield" our partner and protect him or her from letting us down. Instead of addressing our thoughts and feelings, we store them and allow them to become toxic. Attunement diminishes. Opportunities for strengthening the relationship are lost. Patterns turn into destructive habits. The relationship crumbles.

Fighting prevents that. Fighting is necessary. There is such a thing as healthy fighting in a satisfying, stable relationship. What does that look like though?

It can vary from relationship to relationship. Healthy fighting should include:

  • No physical or verbal abuse whatsoever.
  • A safe, private space for all parties involved to express one another effectively.
  • Your undivided attention. Limit distractions as much as possible. Sobriety is necessary.
  • More energy towards listening than talking, about a 3 to 1 ratio.
  • Giving each person the opportunity to express himself/herself uninterrupted.
  • The practice of recognizing and acknowledging indicators of discomfort in your partner and adjusting delicately and accordingly.
  • A potential solution provided - what would allow for this to be resolved for all parties involved?
  • Success in acknowledging the fighting cycle. "You" and "I" statements are an excellent tool for identifying and addressing recurring problems - ex: "When you do __________, I do ___________, then you do ___________, and I respond with ___________."
  • A duration/frequency limit. Productive arguments should last no more than a half hour with few exceptions of the circumstance. Breaks can be of great help.
  • Honesty and openness.
  • An ending. Revisiting the fight over and over again through a small patch of time rarely helps to find new solutions.

Struggling couples may already implement these strategies and think to themselves, "we know how to fight." But how do you repair? Fighting, even when successful, can be physically, mentally, and emotionally draining - especially if the argument was focused on a sensitive topic. One should consider the introduction of a post-fight ritual. De-escalation. Bringing down the energy or putting it somewhere that may allow for "construction" to take place. A few examples:

  • Massages
  • Cooking a meal together
  • Going for a walk
  • Pillow fights! (trust me)
  • Some brief distance. Respect the de-escalation process of your partner!
  • Exercising
  • Couples bath or shower
  • Find a funny movie you both enjoy
  • Plan for something exciting - a trip, remodeling of the house, or social gathering
  • Share a delicacy such as a fancy coffee or dessert shop

What are some feel-good, positive activities that you and your loved one can enjoy? They don't have to always cost money or a lot of time. Take a moment to be creative, but it doesn't always have to be. What types of activities can elicit reciprocated appreciation for one another? Don't put too much pressure on this. Experiment and troubleshoot what works for you and your partner. Discuss it with one another. Build newer moments to redefine the relationship.

Questions? Comments? Shoot me an e-mail at desongytherapy@gmail.com or tweet/follow me @DonnySongy. I'm going to keep adding to the list of repair activities throughout the remainder of the month, so feel free to provide some suggestions!

-Donny

Sleeping Better


Let's talk about sleep. You need it. I need it. We all need it. We're not machines, even though the daily demands of school, work, and relationships may often suggest otherwise.  A gallup poll from 2013 found that at least 40% of Americans receive less than 7 hours of sleep, the minimum amount suggested by the American Psychological Association and the National Sleep Foundation.  Countless studies have shown that less sleep has associations with negative performance, medical, and even psychological outcomes. But why is sleep so important?

Getting proper sleep can play a monumental role in your physical health - from lowering your risk of all sorts of heart complications to lessening the chance of obesity. Your immune system relies heavily on sleep so that you can combat common diseases.  It affects your hormone levels and your body's reaction to hormones being released and balanced.  

While you are sleeping, you brain is also repairing and preparing for the next day of activities.  With a lack of sleep, you may struggle with making effective decisions and engaging in problem solving behaviors and creativity.  Sleep depravity has also been linked to attention issues, depression, suicide, and risk-taking behaviors.

Children and adolescents especially need sufficient sleep because it supports healthy growth and development. It's such a concern that medical professionals and psychologists have historically called for the school day to start later.  I can professionally attest to this being a school counselor, as the first thing I notice with students that struggle personally and academically are their very poor sleeping habits.

So how much sleep is enough?

According to the National Institute of Health, most healthy adults (18 and older) require between 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep per night to function at their best.  Adolescents (12-18) need between 8.5 and 10 hours of sleep.  A recent study from the University of California discovered that some may have a gene that enables them to function ideally with six hours of sleep at night; however, that gene is very rare - less than 3% of the population.

So how do we get back on track with better sleeping habits? Here are a few tips:

  1. Diet - Try to limit your caffeine intake and quit any sort of caffeine a few hours before bed time. Eating large meals before trying to goto bed can also affect your sleep negatively since you have to still digest, so try to have dinner a little earlier to avoid these problems. Having a few alcoholic beverages to help you get drowsy for bed isn't a good idea either, as alcohol can actually dehydrate you and affect your REM. It's not just about the amount of time being asleep, but also the quality.
  2. Disconnect - Put all the technology away at least an hour before you want to fall asleep. The more stimulated you are, the longer it will take to coax your mind to a low enough level to fall asleep. Put your phone on Do Not Disturb and set it aside. This may sound like a crazy idea - but taking your television out of your bedroom may help reduce the temptation of that "one more Netflix episode" you want to catch.
  3. Exercise - Physical activity has exceptional benefits to your overall well-being, including sleep. Give your body a reason to need that extra half-hour of sleep.
  4. Routine - I cannot stress this enough. Turning behaviors into habit and, eventually, into a routine is essential. Our bodies and minds function and perform well with consistency. Be creative and put together a routine that sets yourself up for proper sleep.
  5. Bedding - Have an old, decrepit mattress a few extra bucks lying around? It might be a good time to financially invest in your sleep. If your body does not feel comfortable and supported in a position for several hours throughout the night, it can easily disrupt the amount of REM sleep you receive. Supportive neck pillows and memory foam mattress covers can do wonders!
  6. Talk to your doctor. Sleeping disorders are pervasive and could take therapy to resolve, but you may benefit from seeing your primary care physician to rule out any medical components associated with your lack of sleep.

Here are a few websites and sources that are great for looking further into bettering your sleep:

http://www.sleepfoundation.org
http://www.journalsleep.org
http://www.nimh.nih.gov
Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to A Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success

Any further suggestions or questions? Feel free to contact me at desongytherapy@gmail.com and let me know what you think.