4 Keys to Anxiety Management

anxietyAnxiety. Just the word can bring a little flutter to the stomach or make the heart beat a little faster. Most of us don’t like to   experience anxiety. Our bodies and minds can seem to be on overload when it is happening and for many they experience panic attacks as well.
The good news is that there are many ways to cope with and treat anxiety. I will mention for keys here to get you started.
#1 Coping Skills for In the Moment
This is the first essential step. Knowing how to have some things to do when you feel anxiety and/or a panic attack is the priority in knowing how to deal with it. There are many things that can be done to calm the body and mind down. One is breathing. This is often mentioned in a cliché manner, but breathing breathewell can really work wonders to calm the body and mind. Other solutions can help too, like calming music, talking with a friend, journaling, or tapping.
#2 Increasing Habits that Will Keep Anxiety Away
All treatment of anxiety includes this important step. It is crucial to know how to manage it in the moment, but research shows us that there are things we can include in our lifestyle to literally impact or brain physiology and decrease our anxiety. These are mostly activities that include calming and mindfulness. For example, meditation. Including even a few minutes of meditation in your daily routine has been shown in research to calm your brain. The same is true for Yoga. It clears the mind in such a way that the anxiety is less likely to creep in. I would also include activities that improve mental health, such as exercise of any kind, socializing with friends, and journaling.
#3 Accept the Feeling
Although anxiety can be overwhelming, oftentimes the feeling is giving us important information. It is our body’s way of telling us that something is concerning or dangerous in our environment. For many people accepting the feeling of anxiety and then exploring the possible causes and triggers can reduce the feeling. Then, you can be empowered with the information about yourself and your environment to make choices and take actions that are healthy for you.
#4 Deal with Root Issues
Many people with anxiety have a history of circumstances and situations that have produced a high level of anxiety. It could be a high pressure family environment, traumatic events, abusive relationships, and the list goes on. Diving in to find out what some of the root issue may be can help resolve the anxiety once and for all. I would recommend doing this part of the work with a trained psychotherapist who can help guide you through this process. It is empowering to get to know yourself on a deeper level and work through thinrootsgs that have happened in your past.
The most important thing is to do something! You do not have to live with anxiety controlling your life!
Rachel Harrison, LCPC, NCC

4 Myths About Grief and Loss

4 Myths About Grief and Loss

Myth #1  There is a time-limit for grieving.time-to-heal

Grieving is often defined by time.  Employers may offer time off for awhile, many people will talk about grieving for a year, or even less.  The truth is that the loss of a loved one or any other significant loss may result in grieving for a long time.  In fact, most people experience grief in waves.  There are reminders, anniversaries, etc. for years to come that will bring on a wave of grief.  This is normal.  Grieving does not look the same for any two individuals.  It is important to allow yourself the time and space to grieve as you need to.

Myth #2  Grief is appropriate only when someone has passed away.

funeralGrieving a loss of a loved one is very real and very significant.  However, there are many other losses as well that send people into grieving.  It can be the loss of health or finding out you have a serious illness.  It can be the loss of a dream, such as having a baby or building a business.  Grief also comes with the loss of a relationship.  This may be a divorce, or it may be an estrangement of friends or family members.  It is also common to grieve after a traumatic event.  Grieving the loss of safety, or the loss of personal property is very common.  It is healthy to grieve any kinds of losses that you have experienced.


Myth #3  If I just stay strong, I will get through the grief without a problem.

tears_of_sadness-700x210Some people cope with grief by ignoring it as much as possible, or just by continuing on with daily life in order to avoid the emotional pain.  A common misconception is that avoiding emotional pain is a sign of strength.  In fact, the opposite is true.  Individuals who allow themselves to experience the feelings associated with a loss are more likely to feel better in the future.  Those who avoid the emotional pain often end up carrying that pain for many, many years.  This can sometimes evolve into complicated grief, which requires professional help.  Allowing yourself to grieve as the emotions come is the healthiest path to get through the difficult time.  And, of course, utilizing the support of friends and family can help make the pain more manageable.

Myth #4  The stages of grief and loss appear in order.stages of grief

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross created a great model called, ‘The Stages of Grief’.  These stages include, Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining, and Acceptance.  Although this model is helpful to identify many of the different emotions and parts of grieving, many people have taken this to be a prescriptive path.  It is nothing of the sort.  People experience these stages at different times and in different orders.  It is not meant to be a blueprint, it is simply meant to describe the different elements of grief.  So, if you find yourself stuck in one stage of grief or going back to denial, that is all normal.  The important thing to remember is that these are all common feelings to have while grieving a loss.

To learn more about grief and loss, click here.



Rachel Harrison, LPC, NCC is in private practice in Durango, CO



 Did you make resolutions this year?  Do you begin the new  year with a sense that things are starting anew and there are new goals to be made and adventures to plan?  Most people report a sense of thinking about the new year for new possibilities, resolutions or not.  No matter what you resolve to do, remember these 4 truths about life change to help make your new plans successful:

Truth #1:  We live in the real world.  No matter what you want to accomplish, keeping your expectations realistic can help you achieve your goals and move toward success.  If you set your expectations too high, you will most likely burn out and give up.

Truth#2:  Do not rob Peter to pay Paul.  For example, if you begin an intense exercise program and decrease your time working or with family, eventually these areas of your life may become problematic.  Add in the exercise program, but do so in a way that works with your current life obligations.

Truth#3:  Magic pills don’t exist.  This is a time that products and marketing campaigns will try to sell you on miracle products or programs.  Change always requires discipline, time and energy, so don’t fall for the magic pill sales pitch.

Truth#4:  Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Most goals take many, many steps to accomplish.  There is a slow and steady way to get there, but it requires one small step at a time.  Set up bench marks for yourself along the way to help you see progress, even if it is slow.  It takes about 6 weeks of doing/not doing something daily to develop a habit. 

With these in mind, you may be able to set some realistic goals for yourself in 2014 and find a way (slow and steady) to reach them. 

If you find that you are feeling stuck or unable to move toward the goals that you want for yourself, there may be some deeper questions to ask.  Is fear of success or failure causing you to stand still?  Are you unsure what you want for yourself and your life?  Do you find yourself stuck in the past and not able to move forward?  Do you struggle with anxiety or depression that keep you from taking active steps toward your goals?  If your answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’, you may benefit from some psychotherapy to address the blocks in your life.  Call or email a licensed professional today and take the step to find healing and wholeness in your life today.


Coping with Violence

warrior pride1I am a warrior.  I am proud to be one, but on December 13, 2013 the circumstances at Arapahoe High School were nothing to feel proud about.  It was senseless violence, in a school…again.  Understanding what happened and why will be unfolding over the months ahead, but for now, this event brings up a good topic for everyone to consider:  How to cope with violence.

I am going to focus on the mental health side of coping, even though there are many other areas to cover.  The change that happens in someone’s brain when they encounter violence is clear.  It is life-changing.  Thought patterns change, biology changes, and life will not quite hold the same innocence as it once may have.  Everyone will have a reaction to the trauma and need to take time to allow themselves to process though it.  This may happen right away, but it may not.  For some people, it is too scary to talk much about and that is okay.  Even just talking about it can re-traumatize someone, so it is important to move at an individual’s pace.

Here are a few things that may help:

* Get back into a routine

* Be around others who experienced the trauma

* Talk about it as much as you need to

* Increase self care activities (exercise, hobbies, friends, spa treatments)

* Ask for help if needed

Some people are not able to cope and quickly recover from trauma.  These individuals are at risk for developing PTSD.   To see a list of  symptoms for PTSD, click here.  If any of these symptoms emerge, it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible.  The World Health Organization recommends EMDR for the treatment of PTSD.  You can read more about the WHO’s treatment recommendations here.  To read more about EMDR, click here.

Violence is difficult to deal with, especially for kids and teens.  The good news is that there are effective treatments available.  In the case of the kids, teachers and staff from Arapahoe High School, there is also a very large community offering support in every way possible.

Those wishing to donate to the “Arapahoe High School Community Fund Honoring Claire Davis” can do so online by visiting denverfoundation.org


5 Tips to Keep the Holiday Cheer

As promised, here is the follow up from the last post on Holiday Blues.  There are active steps that you can take to help this season be a bit more merry and bright for you.  Try the tips below and hopefully you will find some holiday cheer this year!

 5 Tips for Keeping Holiday Cheer

5 tips To Keep the Holiday Cheer

1.     Take a Moment to think about this holiday season.  What do you love about it?  What fills you up?  Write it down and make it a priority in your holiday schedule.

2.    Embrace beauty this season.  Find a beautiful view, a light display, a Christmas cantata…something that allows some beauty in.  Allow yourself to be fully present to embrace the moment.

3.    Look over your holiday ‘to do’ list.  Now, go through it and cross off 2-3 items that are less important.  Also, ask yourself, ‘What can I do to make these things a bit easier?’ (i.e.: use gift bags instead of gift wrap, buy cookies instead of baking them, etc.)

4.    Breathe.  It sounds so simple, but it is really difficult to do.  Take moments throughout each day to just stop and breathe.  Feel the air moving in  and out of your body for a few moments.  You will regain perspective by taking this simple step.

5.    Plan for relationship challenges.  Everyone has some family stressors and/ or losses this time of year.  If you will be visiting someone who is difficult, take time to plan some ways to make your trip more pleasant (and an escape route if necessary!)  if this time of year brings up losses, take some time to do something to honor the Memories of loved ones.


The ACE Study

The ACE Study

Have you heard about the ACE study?  I am fond of any research that has implications for making treatment more successful.  This one seems to show what many therapists and counselors have already observed:  The more trauma an individual has in early life, the more medical conditions he or she is likely to have.  This study was huge.  It was done by Kaiser Permenente in California and it was a questionnaire that was given to every patient that came to their primary care physician.  The sample size was larger than most research in the field and the findings were very clear.  Individuals were asked if they had any early life traumas listed on the questionaire.  They were items such as abuse (all kinds), loss of a parent (by any means), having a parent with an addiction, etc.  They found a direct correlation to the number of traumas (see Do I Have Trauma) that an individual experienced and the number of medical issues experienced.  Yes, trauma and the body are connected!

You see, our minds and our bodies are CONNECTED.  Often our minds are able to put things on the back burner, or not think about certain things, but our bodies remember.  The trauma never goes away unless it is addressed and re-processed.  It is stored not only in our brains but in our body memory as well.  It would make sense, then, that these difficult experiences over time would have a significant impact on the body- a disease or an addiction.  Many people know this intuitively, but the beauty of this study is that we now have scientific data that backs this up.

If you have had difficult experiences in your life, please find a licensed, qualified therapist that you can talk to about them.  Better yet, find an EMDR therapist to help you work through these things and you can improve your mind and body health.  For more about EMDR, go to: What About EMDR or EMDR Trauma Therapy.

To read more about the study, go to:  www.acestudy.org


The Down Low on Depression

Depression is such a commonly used word these days.  Most people understand that depression is feeling down or low, but that can be part of everyone’s experience of life’s ups and downs.  Clinical depression is more significant because it does not get better on its own.  So, if you have a bad day, but get up the next morning feeling better, you are most likely not depressed.

Depression typically begins subtly, a sort of slow feeling of detaching from life, or not feeling much at all.  It can be accompanied by feelings of anger or periods of anxiety.  Most people who are depressed describe feeling ‘not themselves’.  People around them often notice changes in the way that a depressed person interacts or doesn’t interact with others.

Here is a checklist to help identify symptoms of depression for adults (the symptoms may be different for children or adolescents):

  • Persistent sad/low mood
  • Feeling empty
  • Feeling hopeless or guilty
  • Substance Abuse
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Fatigue
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Irritability
  • Increased crying
  • Increased anxiety or panic attacks
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Persistent physical ailments that do not improve with medical treatment
  • Thoughts of death/suicide

If many of these symptoms apply to you or someone you love, it is important to get treatment as soon as possible.  If you are uncertain about some of these symptoms or not sure if you are depressed, a therapist or doctor can help you make that determination.

The bad news is that it can feel very overwhelming and difficult to reach out and do the things that might help.  This is where treatment can come in.  Typically, after an assessment with a therapist, a course of therapy will be recommended that may or may not include medications.  The good news is that there is help and there are many therapies that can be done to help someone who is depressed feel better.  Depression is progressive and it can get worse if not treated.  Feeling better is worth the call to a counselor or therapist!



Do I Have Trauma?

Trauma is such a loaded word, and I think a very misunderstood one.  What is trauma, and how does someone know if they have been traumatized?  One of the leading researches who studies trauma is Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD who offers this definition: “A trauma is when your biology (physiology) is assaulted in such a way that you may not be able to reset yourself.”  So, according to this definition, it is less about what happens and more about how people are impacted by the event.

The biology of trauma is fascinating and not something I will delve into here, but the brain and the body automatically shift gears in an emergency in order to help elicit the fight, flight or freeze response.  This is purely human nature and serves people well in a crisis.  After the crisis, the brain and the body try to recover.  Sometimes this does not happen fully and there are ‘marks’ (biological changes) left on the brain from the trauma that make it difficult to recover.  This may come in the form of nightmares, panic attacks, avoiding situations/people/places, re-living the event, depression, anxiety, agitation, changes in sleeping/eating patterns, headaches, stomach trouble, etc.  These symptoms do not get better without treatment- that is the bad news.  The good news is that there is treatment!  A combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and EMDR (see What About EMDR?) can help many people who have been impacted by a traumatic life event.

And finally, many people ask, “What qualifies as a traumatic event?”  The answer is that it can be anything from a large scale natural disaster or terrorist act, to something more personal like the death of a loved one, divorce, or a move.  It can also be something that happened a long time ago, such as childhood abuse. Often, these things emerge later in life when people are in a place to deal with the past.  No matter what the event, if you or someone you know is experiencing difficulty after a traumatic event, make an appointment with a licensed therapist who has training with trauma and EMDR.



More about Anxiety

Anxiety may mean different things to different people.  Some people equate it with stress or nervousness.  To others, it is about having panic attacks or being afraid of heights or snakes.  All of these things are related to anxiety, but it is most important to note that anxiety is a physiological phenomenon that occurs in your body.

If you or someone you know has experienced a panic attack, it often feels like a heart attack.  The symptoms are very similar: sweating, heart palpitations, shaking, hyperventilating or trouble breathing, and dizziness.  Many people end up in the ER with their first panic attack for this reason!  Panic attacks are a clear signal from your body that your anxiety is too high and needs to be addressed.

The good news is, there are many things that can be done to treat anxiety, whether you experience it as a constant nervousness, fear of certain situations, or panic attacks.  Treatment should be two-pronged.  First, there are coping strategies and exercises to deal with the anxiety when it comes and to prevent anxiety from starting in the first place.   These include things such as breathing exercises and changes in lifestyle.  Next, the root of the anxiety needs to be discovered, examined, and dealt with.  Discussing your anxiety and triggers with a trained therapist can help address core issues and move past the anxiety.   Many clients express the feeling of freedom after working in therapy to address their anxiety.  In addition, EMDR therapy is a great tool to address this part of the process (see What About EMDR blog post).

More than anything, know that no one has to continue to suffer with anxiety!  There is help and healing.  Do not wait, set up a session with a Licensed Professional to address your anxiety today!