Dealing with Fear—Three Steps to Developing Confidence and Conquering Your Fears

Fear is an experience we are all familiar with. It is the chest tightening, palm sweating, heart pounding barrier that holds us back from living the life we want to live—the life we are called to live. But there’s good news! We can overcome fear and train our brain to develop greater confidence.

Theology of The Body (TOB) reminds us that, for the Christian, confidence is not about feeling as though we can do anything we put our minds to, but rather that we can accomplish all things through Christ who is our strength. Christians are often afraid of cultivating confidence. It feels prideful. We get caught up in the world’s idea that confidence means puffing yourself up and believing that “nothing can stand in my way because I’m awesome in every way, just the way I am!” Although we know that isn’t true. For the Christian, confidence comes from knowing that God is working with us, in us, and through us to make the world right. When we experience a problem, our job isn’t to power through it on our own, it is about cultivating trust and confidence in Christ’s power to show up for us in every moment.

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Do you want to overcome fear and live the life you were meant to live?

Check out:

Unworried–A Life Without Anxiety!

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In doing this, it is first important to understand more about what fear really is.

A study out of Texas A&M University states,

Prevailing scientific theory holds that fear and anxiety are distinct, with different triggers and strictly segregated brain circuits. Fear — a fleeting reaction to certain danger — is thought to be controlled by the amygdala, a small almond-shaped region buried beneath the wrinkled convolutions of the cerebral cortex. By contrast, anxiety — a persistent state of heightened apprehension and arousal elicited when threat is uncertain — is thought to be orchestrated by the neighboring bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST). But new evidence from Shackman and his colleagues suggests that both of these brain regions are equally sensitive to certain and uncertain kinds of threats.

So how do we overcome this fear and anxiety and train our brain to develop greater confidence?

Uncertainty vs Curiosity—Often fear/anxiety is triggered by a sense or cultivates a sense of uncertainty. This causes us to feel insecure, which makes us shut down, get defensive, or run away. We can counter this uncertainty by leaning into curiosity. While uncertainty causes us to pull away, curiosity compels us to lean in, to move forward, to explore. We can counter this sense of fear and cultivate confidence by asking questions such as, “What can I learn from this situation?” “What can I learn about myself during this process?” And “What can I bring to this circumstance?”

Feelings are a Choice–We often feel as if feelings of fear or feelings in general are something that happen to us.  And they are, but we don’t have to stay stuck in the emotions that overtake us.  We can chose to take actions that will help us feel better, stronger, calmer, more confident, and more hopeful.  No, your emotions can’t turn on a dime.  You can’t make yourself super-happy if you’re feeling sad, or perfectly peaceful if you’re feeling anxious.  But by challenging the false messages that run through our minds, we can turn sadness into hope, anxiety into resolve and powerlessness into purposefulness.  Instead giving into the thought that, “there is nothing I can do,” we can remind ourselves that, “Even a small change can make a big difference.”   Instead of saying, “No one cares about me.”  We can remind ourselves to reach out to the people in our lives honestly and give them a chance to be there for us. Instead of saying, “This situation is hopeless.”  We can remind ourselves that with God, all things are possible, and begin to ask him what changes we can make that will give him glory.

Reach Out–When you are feeling scared, powerless, or hopeless, that can be a  sign that you are trying to handle too much on your own.  Challenge yourself to reach out to God and the other people in your life–especially if you feel they won’t understand.  Make it your job to make them understand or find other people who will.  Remember God’s words in Genesis, “It is not good for man to be alone.”  We were created for community. If you’re feeling scared or low–even if you don’t want to be around others–do everything you can to make yourself connect with the people in your life and leave yourself open to other’s efforts to connect with you. Our minds are literally wired to feel better and more positive when we feel connected.  Making the effort to reach out to others for help, for support, or even just a distraction, will trigger your social brain to start producing feel-good chemicals that will help boost your mood overall.  Work with the design of your body to increase your sense of hope, strength and confidence.  Reach out to God and others and let the love that is there for you fill all those dark corners of your heart.

If you would like more support in overcoming the fears that are holding you back in life, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Conquer Conflict–How Empathy Can Help Us Be Communication Warriors

When caught in a conflict, the last thing we want to do is be empathetic. Our natural response is often to become defensive, offensive, or to flee from the scene. While these reactions can be effective in getting us away from the original problem, they don’t really help us solve the problem.

So how do we overcome these natural reactions and work through conflict effectively?

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Are you dealing with frustrating people in your life?

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God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts!
Making Peace With Difficult People 

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Theology of The Body reminds us that, at all times, we need to treat other people–even people we disagree with or find offensive, obnoxious, or upsetting–as persons.  When we are in conflict, our natural, fallen response is to stop treating our opponent as a person and, instead, see them as an enemy, an idiot, a nuisance, an irritant, or an aggressor.  As soon as we start thinking of someone that way, we indulge our sinful tendency to depersonalize the other–treating them as a thing to be ignored, overpowered, dismissed, or shouted down.  None of these responses are consistent with our call to create communities of love and to treat others as unique and unrepeatable persons deserving of dignity and respect.  So what do we do?  We empathize. Empathy is the quality that allows us to accept that people do things for reasons that make sense to them and that we are obliged to do what we can to understand those reasons.  Empathy does not require us to agree with what the other person thinks, approve of what they are doing, or excuse any offenses.  It simply requires us to assume that–whatever they are doing–there is at least a positive intention or need that is driving their thoughts, words, or actions.  Empathy gives us a starting point for respectful change.  It reminds us that the best defense is not a good offense but rather compassion.  Empathy allows us to be strong enough to encounter someone we disagree with and say, “Help me understand what you are trying to do and then let’s work together to find a respectful way to meet that need.”

Although empathy in conflict is important, it can often be difficult. Here are three steps to effectively cultivating empathy in difficult situations:

1. Let God Be Your Mediator–It often doesn’t occur to us, but it’s tremendously helpful to ask God to mediate our conflicts.  Anytime you feel your temperature rising, remind yourself to “STOP!” Then invite God in with a prayer that goes something like, “Lord, help us to really listen to each other and find ways to take care of each other through our disagreement and find solutions that glorify you.”  Then, take a breath, and solve the problem.  Remember, you are a Christian. That means we invite Christ into all we do.  Don’t handle conflicts on your own.  Ask God for the grace to find peaceful, loving, mutually-satisfying solutions to all the disagreements with the people in your life.

2. Practice Conflict Virtues–When you are dealing with conflict, remind yourself to ask, “What virtues do I need to handle this well?” Patience? Understanding? Consideration? Self-Control?  Assertiveness?  Take a brief moment to identify the virtues or qualities that would help you handle the present disagreement well. If that sounds a little pie-in-the-sky, it isn’t. In fact a recent study found that people who naturally practice what researchers called “virtue based problem solving” do a better job of keeping their cool in conflict, finding effective, objective solutions to conflict, and recovering more quickly from conflict.  Faith and science agree.  Not only is it possible to be more intentional about bringing Christian virtue into disagreements, it’s the key to peace.

3. Treat Resistance as a Message–We have a tendency to treat resistance as stubbornness that has to be overcome by talking even louder..  Avoid this.  Learn to see resistance as communication. When the other person is resistant or reluctant to your ideas or commands, what they are really saying is, “But if I do what you’re asking, how will I get to do this thing that is also important to me?”  If you are getting resistance about your needs or concerns from someone else, don’t get defensive. Instead, stop and say, “Obviously, I need you to take what I’ve said seriously, but what are you trying to tell me that you need?” Then make a plan for meeting that need.  You’ll be amazed how often this causes resistance or even disobedience to evaporate without the power struggle.  Treat resistance as a message.  Identify the need.  Create a solution, and move on.

For more resources for dealing with conflict effectively, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.

Three Steps to Peaceful Parenting

 

Parenting can be beautiful and stressful, fun and difficult. We often wish that our kids came with an instruction manual so that we could take out some of the guesswork. The good news is that God actually has given us a guidebook, we just need to know where to look.

Theology of the Body (TOB) reminds us that families are schools of love and virtue where we all learn to live life as a gift, and that parents are the most important teachers in this school of love.  Catholic parents are empowered through God’s grace in the sacrament of marriage to do more than just “get through the day” with our kids. The world needs loving, responsible, godly people and God asks his faithful couples to give the word what it needs. The more we can approach parenting in a thoughtful, intentional, graceful manner, the more we are able to fulfill our mission as Catholics–to let God change the world through our families by raising the next generation of faithful, courageous, loving, responsible, and godly men and women.  It’s a tough job, but God gives us the grace to do it.

Here are three ways that God calls us to live as teachers in the school of love:

1. Remember To Lead–When you’re correcting your kids, only 5% of your energy should be focused on what they did wrong.  The other 95% should be focused on leading your children to a better place. Before you correct your kids, ask yourself, “What does my child need to handle this situation better next time?”  Put your energy into teaching those skills.  Punishments don’t work.  Teaching does.  Using techniques like do-overs, role-playing, time-in, cool-downs, and other loving guidance approaches to discipline focus on giving your kids the skills they need to succeed next time–instead of shaming them for failing this time.  Lead your children to virtue by showing them a better way to express their emotions,  communicate their needs, accomplish their goals, get along with others, and manage their stress.  The more energy you put into teaching instead of punishing, the quicker your kids’ behavior will improve overall and the less stressed you’ll be!

2.  Celebrate Success–Tell your kids when they handle a situation well by acknowledging the virtue they displayed.  You don’t have to throw a parade–in fact, it’s much better if you don’t–but simple comments like, “That was really responsible.”, “You handled that really respectfully.”,  “That was very generous.” “That was a very loving choice.”  and similar comments help kids understand that virtues aren’t just a list of words to memorize, but a practical guide for handling life’s ups and downs with grace.  Believe it or not, kids want to be good, and they desperately crave your approval.  By remarking on all the ways that exhibiting virtues help them manage their emotions, express their needs, negotiate stressful situations, and get along with others, you are showing your kids that they already have what it takes to do the right thing AND you’re making them want to get even better at it. Celebrate your kids’ successful efforts to display virtue by letting them know you saw what they did and that you are proud of them for doing it.

3. Fill the Tank–There is a fuel that drives good behavior.  Don’t forget to fill the tank. Both research and generations of wise parents will tell you that extravagant affection is the fuel that makes kids want to behave and try harder to please you.  Research shows that affection is actually communication.  Taking time to hold your kids close all throughout the day actually helps them reset  their heart rate, respiration, body temperature, and other bodily rhythms when they are feeling stressed, frustrated, angry, anxious, or overwhelmed.  Affectionate parents literally incline their children’s hearts to them, and make their kids naturally turn to their parents for guidance and comfort. Yes, you will still need to teach your kids what to do but affection is the fuel that makes correction work.

For more resources on becoming a more peaceful parent, check out Parenting With Grace—The Catholic Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Kids, and visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

How to Calm Your Amygdala and Live A More Positive Life

Would you like to be a more positive person?  You can.  It turns out that you just need to learn a few simple ways to trick you brain into letting you be happy.

Our brain is naturally wired to be attentive to negative stimuli. Negative thoughts, experiences, or images trigger a structure called the amygdala which is the fear/threat system in our brain. This part of our brain is often hyperactive in an attempt to keep us safe from potential danger, however psychologists at the University of Miami have found that it might have a negative impact on our long-term psychological health and happiness.

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If you are struggling with anxiety and would like more resources for calming your mind and living a more positive life,

Check out:

Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety

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Psychologists have found that even small amounts of negative stimuli can have a large impact on our overall happiness, stating, “Suppose you drop your morning coffee and it splatters everywhere. Later a colleague drops by to say hello. Do you grumble a testy acknowledgment, or cheerfully greet her?” This example demonstrates that “how a person’s brain evaluates fleeting negative stimuli — such as that dropped cup — may influence their long-term psychological well-being.” Lead researcher of this study, Nikki Puccetti, stated, “One way to think about it is the longer your brain holds on to a negative event, or stimuli, the unhappier you report being,”

To conduct this study, psychologists evaluated 52 participants through a process of psychological questionnaires, nightly phone calls evaluating overall daily experience, as well as functional MRI scans measuring the effects of positive, negative, and neutral images on brain activity.

The results of this study revealed that people whose amygdala held on to negative stimuli for fewer seconds were more likely to report more positive and fewer negative emotions in their daily lives — which spilled over to a more enduring well-being over time.

So how do we teach our amygdala to hold onto negative stimuli for less time in order to increase our overall happiness?

Focus on gratitude—When we intentionally focus on what we are grateful for, we create greater activity in our hypothalamus, hippocampus, and balance our amygdala. The hypothalamus and the hippocampus are primary brain structures that regulate emotions, memory, and bodily functioning. Focusing on gratitude is a helpful way to increase our psychological well-being as well as our physical health. Practice gratitude by writing a gratitude list and adding to it as you move through your day.

Recognize the Gift—Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that you shouldn’t say “thank you” to someone who is “just doing their job” or “just doing what they are supposed to do.”  There are lots of people who don’t do their jobs and fail to do what they should.  The fact is, it takes effort to try to do what’s right and fulfill our responsibilities to one another, and it’s an effort that deserves to be recognized.  In a world that sees people as objects and takes everyone for granted, we Christians have a special duty to remind each other, and the world, how important each and every person is in the eyes of God and how precious a gift it is when someone does something–anything–to make our lives a little easier or more pleasant. Be that person who recognizes the gifts others give you today.  Acknowledge everything someone does for you today with a simple “thank you” and a smile. 

Celebrate the People In Your Life–Is there someone you especially appreciate? Someone who makes a difference in your life just by being who they are?  When was the last time you told them how important they are to you?  Today, take a minute to actually hand write a short note to tell them how much they mean to you.  You might thank them for something specific they did, or for how they make you feel, or just thank them for being in your life. Let them know what a gift they are to you and how you wouldn’t be the same without them.  Then drop it in the mail or leave it someplace where they can be surprised to find it later on.  It doesn’t take much effort, but you’d be surprised by how much of a difference  this little effort can make.

For more resources on increasing your mental health and well-being, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!

Taming The Beast—3 Ways to Understand and Overcome Anxiety

Anxiety often feels like a terrible beast that runs roughshod over our lives. It can cause us to feel scared, hopeless, or worn down. It can even feel like something that becomes more of who we are rather than something we can manage or get rid of.

So how do we manage something that can become such a large presence in our lives?

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Do you want more information on overcoming anxiety?

Check Out:
Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety

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Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (TOB) reminds us that anxiety is not God’s will for us.  Before the Fall, even though Adam and Eve were completely vulnerable, they were confident in God’s care and their love for one another. They were completely at peace.  Only after the Fall, when they were separated from God, each other, and their best selves did they feel exposed, ashamed, and anxious.  Confronted by the bigness of the world and their own sense of smallness and insufficiency when separated from God they hid, cowering behind the bushes. How often do we feel that way?  TOB tells us that while worry and anxiety are common enough experiences in the modern world, the answer to our worries is to recenter ourselves in the loving arms of ABBA, daddy, the Father who loves us, cares for us, and shelters us from the storms of life–especially when we feel alone, scared, and helpless.  That’s why Pope JPII, was constantly reminding us, “Be Not Afraid!” Yes, the task before us is great, but God’s love and providence is greater.  In the face of life’s battles, let our battle cry be, “ Jesus I trust in You!”

 

Here are three ways to win your battle with anxiety:

1. Focus on the Right Target–Resist the temptation to think that your anxiety is caused by all the things going on around you or happening to you–the overwhelming amount of work that has to be done, the weight of all your responsibilities, the problems that you face.  Yes, these are serious things that need to be taken seriously, but they can’t cause anxiety in and of themselves.  Anxiety is created in us when we let external events distract us from the need to maintain our internal sense of wellbeing.  If you are feeling anxious, it is not because you have too much to do or too many problems to face. It is because you are forgetting to take care of yourself in the face of those responsibilities and problems.  Instead of focusing exclusively on all the external things that need to be addressed, ask yourself, “What do I need to do to take care of myself while I handle these situations?  How will I pace myself?  How can I approach these challenges in a way that will allow me to stay reasonably cheerful and connected to the people that I love? How will I face all the things I have to deal with in a way that allows me to be my best self–mentally, physically and spiritually?”

Don’t brush these questions aside and say, “I can’t worry about that. I have too much to do!”  It is exactly that tendency that causes anxiety.  Remember, you can’t solve any problem or accomplish any task well if you are allowing yourself to get rattled, sick, hostile, and stressed.  The MOST important job you have to do is make sure you are keeping your head and health about you even while you handle all the things life is throwing at you.

2.  Tame the Tornado–When we’re worried and anxious, our mind spins between “I have to get control of this!” and “There’s nothing I can do!”  Tame this mental tornado not by focusing on the ultimate solution to the situation that is upsetting you, but rather by focusing on the next step. What is the next tiny step you can take that nudges you toward a satisfying resolution, gathers new resources,  enlists more support, or at least makes you feel a little more taken care of while you think about what else you can do?  If you can refocus enough to identify the next step, then the next, and the next, God will help you tame the tornado in your mind and help you find the answers–and the peace–you seek.  Don’t try to solve the whole problem at once.  Focus your mind on addressing the next tiny step in front of you and then celebrating that small success.  The more you concentrate on breaking big problems down into bite-sized pieces and celebrating the little successes you achieve along the way, the more your peace will increase.

3. Recall God’s Mercy–We often get anxious because we allow the stress of this moment to obliterate our memories of all the other things we’ve been through, all the other times God saved us, supported us, and carried us even though we thought we were overwhelmed, doomed, or done for.  Before throwing yourself into this next pile or problems, take a moment to remind yourself of all the past times in your life when you felt overwhelmed, stressed, defeated, and not up to the task and remember how God helped you make it through all those past times, even when you weren’t sure how you were going to do it.  Chances are, at least some of those situations turned out really well. At the very least, you made it through.  In both cases, God was present and he provided for you. Remind yourself that this time isn’t any different.  God loves you.  He has demonstrated his love to you by delivering you from your troubles and overwhelming responsibilities time and time again. Bring that love with you into this latest challenges. When you start feeling anxious, take a moment to close your eyes, thank God for all the times he has carried you through your past worries and ask him for the grace to face the challenges in front you with courage and peace.  The more you remember to intentionally recenter yourself in God’s mercy, providence, and grace–especially in the middle of all the craziness–the more your peace will increase.

 

For additional resources and support for overcoming your anxiety, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

Four Simple Ways to Change Your Thoughts and Change Your Life

Memories have a powerful impact on our lives.  They shape how we feel, how we act, and the choices we make.  When painful memories emerge, it can be especially hard to shake the negative feelings that bubble up and the way they affect our quality of life.

A new study by the University of Alberta provides us simple ways to manage the level of emotional intensity that we experience when recalling past memories.

Researchers report that when we recall our memories from a third-person perspective we are able to decrease the emotional intensity of that memory. “Specifically, the results show that recalling memories from an observer-like perspective, instead of through your own eyes, leads to greater…interaction among brain regions that support our ability to recall the details of a memory and to recreate mental images in our mind’s eye.”

Not only does this third-person perspective allow us to recall memories with higher accuracy, but it also enables us to experience relief from troubling or even traumatic memories more successfully.

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Do you want to overcome past hurts and live a whole, healed, and healthy life?

Check out Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety

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Learning to decrease the emotional power of negative memories is especially important because it helps us overcome limiting “core beliefs.”  Cognitive behavioral therapy defines core beliefs as central beliefs that people hold about themselves, others, and the world. These core beliefs then influence what CBT refers to as automatic thoughts—those thoughts or beliefs that seem to pop into our mind that shape our daily self-talk.

In addition to recalling our memories from a third person perspective to decrease their emotional power, here are three ways to re-story our core beliefs and develop healthy self-talk:

Label Thoughts—One of the best ways to get control of our self-talk is to label our thoughts as either helpful or hurtful. When we do this, we can learn to lean into helpful thoughts and let go of hurtful thoughts, just like we would listen to helpful advice from others and dismiss unhelpful advice.

Live Intentionally—When we live busy lives it’s easy for us to operate on “auto-pilot.” We go about our day moving through our tasks without really being present. But when we live in this more passive state, we are living more out of reaction rather than intentional action. Gain control over your negative feelings by being intentional about your actions and your self-talk. This can be as simple as changing your self-talk from “I have to go to work,” to, “I’m choosing to go to work because…(of this benefit I get from it).” Likewise, instead of saying “what is the day going to bring?” you might say, “what do I want to make happen today?” Living intentionally helps us regain control over our emotions and our lives.

Focus on Strengths—We often focus on what we didn’t do well or what we wish we could do better. However, this kind of thinking often leads to negative core beliefs and automatic thoughts.  Instead, practice focusing on what you CAN do instead of what you can’t do. Make a point of acknowledging your successes throughout the day. Even in the face of hardships, identify the strengths that you displayed and give yourself credit. For example, did you have a positive conversation with your spouse, co-worker, kids, or friend? Acknowledge that as a success and identify, “I was thoughtful, respectful, empathetic, (etc.) in that conversation which helped me be successful.”

For more ways to re-story your core beliefs and self-talk, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

Becoming More Playful — The Added Benefits to Our Overall Well-Being

*This post is a continuation of the series based on Catholic HOM—Family Discipleship. Join the discussion in our facebook group.

There’s a lot in life that we have to take seriously. A lot to think about, a lot to manage, just… a lot. In the face of all this seriousness, one of the first things we adults lose is our ability to be playful.

Are problem solving and playfulness mutually exclusive?

A growing body of research has actually found that playfulness in our daily life has a large impact on our ability to handle challenges effectively, as well as increasing our overall life satisfaction.

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Do you want to cultivate greater joy and satisfaction in your family life? Check out

Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Guide to Raising (Almost) Perfect Kids

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Researchers from the University of Zurich and Pennsylvania State University teamed up to conduct a study on 533 participants. The participants were separated into three groups, two groups were given exercises pertaining to practicing and recording playfulness in their daily lives, the third group acted as a control group and were given exercises unrelated to the study.

The results found that those individuals who actively looked for ways to be playful in their daily lives reported greater life satisfaction even 12 weeks after the experiment took place, whereas the control group reported no difference. Furthermore, the results indicate that it is possible to teach individuals who are typically not prone to playfulness how to be more playful simply through intentional practice and participation in playful activities.

This study, as well as research conducted by Dr. Gordon Neufeld, shows that playfulness in our daily life actually increases our ability to process emotions and solve problems. Dr. Neufeld refers to playful activities as “emotional playgrounds,” stating, “When words fail us, emotional playgrounds are our best answer for safe emotional expression and for feelings to bounce back,” and that “Play is where we are most likely able to feel our emotions safely.” Neufeld and other research demonstrates that this is the case for both adults and children.

Research such as this highlights the significant importance of creating and maintaining family play rituals, like the ones we describe in the Liturgy of Domestic Church Life and the Rite of Family Rituals.

The ritual of play allows us to not only build rapport and connection as a family on a regular basis, but also creates the opportunity for these “emotional playgrounds.” Play enables us and our children to become more emotionally intelligent and emotionally healthy. We are able to problem solve, increase our emotional intelligence, and emotionally regulate more effectively, if we integrate play/playfulness into our regular, daily lives.

But how do we make time for this ritual of play on a daily basis?

Here are a few ideas:


– Start a family tickle fight when getting out of the car on your way home after soccer practice.

– Take turns bringing a joke to family dinner.

– Turn on your favorite music and have a dance party while picking up the living room or washing the dinner dishes.

– Sing your favorite songs in the car or snuggled up before bed.

– Read stories together and/or have your kids read to you while you get chores done (like folding the laundry).

– Take a walk together.

– Bake a yummy dessert.

– Integrate crafts into school activities and sit down and do them together.

– Have a family movie night, but make it special with your favorite pillows, blankets, and snacks.

– Play a card game during/after a meal

Start your own list of fun activities! Have everyone add to the list, hang it on the fridge, and pick one thing off the list that you have time for every day.

For more ideas on cultivating the ritual of play—and all the rituals of connection—in your family, join the discussion at Catholic HOM and visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com

Stop Labeling Yourself: 3 Steps to Stop Holding Yourself Back

The terms “mental health” and “mental disorder” are extremely common, but research from biological anthropologists are calling into question these definitions in relation to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

New research published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology posed the question, “What if mental disorders like anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder aren’t mental disorders at all?” A summary of the results indicated that, “With a thorough review of the evidence, they show good reasons to think of depression or PTSD as responses to adversity rather than chemical imbalances. And ADHD could be a way of functioning that evolved in an ancestral environment, but doesn’t match the way we live today.”

So what does this mean for our mental health and treatment for such mental health difficulties?

As evidence has shown, we have a tendency to identify with our “emotional problems” in a way that we don’t identify with “physical problems.” When we contract a virus, we don’t say, “I am flu.” We say, “I have the flu.” But when we struggle with anxiety (or other emotional difficulties), especially if we deal with chronic disorders, we do often say, “I am anxious,” or “I am high strung,” or something similar. It becomes an identity statement. The problem is, when we personally identify with the anxiety we feel, we begin to think of it as a necessary part of who we are.

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For more on this topic, check out Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety
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How do we, then, break free from these labels and finally identify with our healed, healthy, “true” selves?

1. Identify with strengths, not weaknesses—To counter the tendency over-identify with our emotions it is important that we make an intentional effort to focus on our strengths. Write down at least one thing you did well every day. Identify the strengths that you displayed in that situation in order to handle that moment well. Prioritizing this thought process enables us to begin to identify with our healthy, true selves, rather than identifying with the areas where we may be struggling.

2. Stick to a routine, create “healthy habits”—No matter what we deal with in our daily lives, having a routine helps us to stay on track and cultivate healthy habits. Routines, like getting up and getting ready at the same time every day, doing chores at the same times every week, and going to bed at the same time every day, help us create order out of chaos and make us feel like we are on top of things. Make time for the things that help you feel good, such as journaling, prayer, exercise, or your favorite activity/hobby.

3. Be a gift to others—Look for ways to serve others, nothing is too small. Bake cookies for a friend, hold the door open for a stranger, let someone in front of you in line, reach out to someone you love or someone you haven’t checked in on in a while. Use your gifts to in big and small ways to be a gift to others. When we reach out to others in this way, we are able to make a positive impact on their lives AND feel good about what we have to offer at the same time.

For more on breaking free from labels and becoming the person you were created to be, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com and check out Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety.

Quarentine Blues: How Can Your Family Cope While You’re All Cooped Up

By: Dr. Greg Popcak

 

Beyond the obvious challenges we all face in dealing with the pandemic, many households are experiencing real shock as the activities that used to fill our days suddenly come to a grinding halt.  Schools are closed. People are working from home.  Life as we know it has been upended.

On the relational front, “sheltering in place” is guaranteed to ramp up your family dynamic at least 10 fold. When you’re around each other 24/7, you can’t avoid little irritations and personality conflicts as easily as you can when you’re running in a million different directions.That can be intimidating, but you can make it work to your advantage if you keep a few tips in mind.

1.Make a Routine & Stick To It.

When our schedules get thrown out-of-whack, we’re tempted to let our routines go out the door. All of a sudden we start getting up and going to bed at different times.  Mealtimes become a free-for-all. Chores may or may not get done. That can be fine for vacations, but for times like this, maintaining routines are critical for managing expectations and cultivating a sense of normalcy.

You don’t have to maintain the exact same schedule you did when the kids were in school and you were going to the office, but it would be a good idea to create a schedule and stick to it.  Get up the same time every day. Get dressed.  Eat meals together at regular times. Pick specific days for laundry, cleaning, and other chores. Go to bed at the same time every evening. Sticking to a routine can feel a little arbitrary when the school bus isn’t coming and your boss doesn’t see you coming in late, but do it anyway. The fact is, kids and adults need routines to feel safe, cared for, and connected. When we’re going through chaotic times, stable family routines help your household become a little island of sanity in a world gone mad.

2. Manage Your Relationships

When we’re following our normal schedule, we’re used to finding ways to connect (and stay out of each other’s way) as we move from thing to thing. But when the normal schedules are kaput, everyone’s expectations for the day—and each other–inevitably begin to clash. 

Now is the time to become more intentional about managing your relationships. If you want to function like a real team, you’re going to have to start planning for it.  Break up the day into chunks.  At breakfast, have a short conversation about what you all need/want to do with your time until lunch. At the same time, discuss little things each family member can do to take care of each other over the next few hours. Are there times when you will especially need quiet for a conference call?  What can everyone do during that time? Are there certain chores that really to get done?  How can you work together (or divide and conquer) to make them happen? Discuss how the next few hours between breakfast and lunch are going to go.  Have the same conversation about the time between lunch and dinner, and dinner and bedtime.  

Instead of letting your family devolve into an every-person-for-themselves dynamic, manage your time and expectations. Become the  team you’re meant to be.

3. Work Together

Do at least one chore together as a family every day.  It doesn’t matter if you usually do X chore yourself.  When you’re talking about how the day is going to go, choose a chore that you can all do together.  The kids might groan at first, but put on some music (let the kids take turns picking something appropriate), and do your best to keep a playful attitude while you all pitch in to get the job done.

Working together cultivates a strong sense of team spirit as you pull together to maintain a more orderly household and start getting used to counting on each other to show up–not just for the fun times–but the other times too.

4. Play Together

Don’t forget to have a little fun together everyday. Don’t let the kids play video games all day while you obsess over the headlines on social media. Dust off those boardgames and card games.  Read a book aloud to each other. Play catch. Just waste some time together—on purpose. Remind each other how fun it can be to be around each other. Maybe, when life gets back to normal, you won’t be in as big a hurry to spend so much time apart again.

5. Pray Together

Now, more than ever, let’s make an extra effort to pray as families. Take a few minutes every day to gather together and intercede for a quick end to this pandemic, for people’s health and safety, for the restoration of the economy, and for our own intentions.  While you’re at it, make sure to praise God for the times when he has led your family out of past difficulties and for the little blessings of each day. When we’re stressed, it’s important to remind each other that God has always been present and that he still is right here, right now, guarding and guiding us.

Though the witness of  Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection, Christians have been given the gift of seeing that it is possible to draw the greatest blessings out of the darkest times. Although we all hope for a speedy end to this global tragedy, I pray that you and yours will be able to use this time to rediscover the blessing your family has been meant to be all along. And I pray you will spark a connection that will bless you for years to come.

Dr. Greg Popcak is director of CatholicCounselors.com, a Catholic tele-counseling practice.

Get a Grip—Mastering Your Emotional Life

What feelings tend to get the best of you?  Do certain people or situations provoke emotional reactions in you that are hard to get a handle on?  For that matter, does someone you love struggle with their emotions and you’re not sure how to support them?

In order to handle these difficult situations for ourselves and others, it’s helpful to understand the answer to the following question: Are our emotional reactions universal, or are they conditioned by culture and environment?  

Researchers at the University of North Carolina examined the words used to describe feelings in over 2500 languages to see how people in various cultures experienced emotion.  They did find differences in the ways different cultures describe the experience of certain emotions.  For example, some languages view grief as similar to fear and anxiety, whereas others view grief as similar to regret.  But researchers found that ALL cultures think about and categorize emotions in a similar way. Specifically, all languages distinguish emotions primarily based on whether they are pleasant or unpleasant to experience, and whether they involve low or high levels of arousal. For example, no languages view the low-arousal emotion of sadness as similar to the high-arousal emotion of anger, and no languages viewed the pleasant emotion of “happy” as similar to the unpleasant emotion of “regret.”  This suggests that there are universal elements of emotional experience that are rooted in biology more than culture.  The takeaway? The challenge of  understanding, expressing, and cultivating a healthy emotional life is a universal human experience.

Theology of the Body reminds us that just like the rest of our bodies, emotions and feelings can only do what they were designed to do–that is, help us recognize what is happening in and around us and respond to it in godly, effective ways–if we learn to bring our emotions to God and ask him to teach us how to use them. 

Emotions and feelings are two different but related things. Brain scientists tell us that emotions are the body’s monitoring station. Emotions represent the primitive brain’s general, collective sense of both our overall state of our well being and the circumstances in our environment.  Feelings, on the other hand, are what happens when our cortex, our higher brain, gathers all these general impressions and creates a story about what these impressions mean and how we are to respond to them and that’s where things tend to get complicated.  Because of sin, we often do a poor job of evaluating emotional impressions well and developing responses to those impressions that work both for our good and the good of others.  By bringing our emotions to God we can relearn how to let our feelings serve our physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual wellbeing.

Here are a few, effective ways to understand and gain control over your emotional life:

Pause and Pray–Get in the habit of briefly pausing and praying before you act on an emotion–especially a negative emotion like anger, sadness, or anxiety.  When you notice yourself having a strong emotional reaction, pause–even for a second–and say something like, “Lord, help me correctly identify the specific thing I am reacting to and respond to it in a way that will glorify you.”  Brain scientists tell us that pausing even a second or two allows the higher brain to catch up with the emotional reactions generated by our more primitive parts of our brain.  This allows us to make better, and more complete,  responses to the situations that provoked our emotional reaction in the first place.  On top of this, bringing our emotional reactions to God reminds us our feelings aren’t God.  God is.  And everything we do–including acting on our feelings–has to be motivated by a desire to serve him.  If we can get in the habit of doing this, we give both God, and the natural talents for emotional management God built into our body–the opportunity to teach us to handle even the most provocative situations gracefully.

Add Feathers–Do you know how people can be really good at telling others how to manage their emotions but really bad at managing their own?  A new study by the University of Waterloo found that practicing one simple habit can allow people to manage their own responses as well as they can help others manage theirs.  The trick?  Add feathers.  Just like an arrow that has feathers flies straighter than an arrow without them, people who ask themselves what virtues they need to express their emotions well are much better at identifying and hitting the right emotional targets than people who just act on feeling.  If you want to be as good at taking your own advice as giving it, before you act on an emotion, ask yourself, “What virtue would help me express this emotion well?”  The study found that asking simple virtue-based questions like this helps people both avoid the temptation to repress negative emotions and also helps people make better emotional choices by reminding them to keep the big picture in mind. Next time you feel a strong emotional reaction welling up, don’t just let it fly with your feelings.  Add feathers, and let virtue guide the path toward the right response.

Get a Boost–Sometimes it can be too hard to learn to handle our feelings on our own.  If your emotional reactions are consistently complicating your life or relationships, seek professional help.  Psychotherapy is like physical therapy for the brain.  New research shows that modern therapy techniques help boost the brain’s ability to process emotional reactions more efficiently and identify healthy responses to emotions more effectively.  You don’t have to be a victim of your emotional reactions.  If you aren’t happy with the way your feelings are causing you to respond to the people or situations in your life, getting professional help sooner than later can help you get the skills you need to have a healthier emotional life.

For more information on gaining control of your emotional life, check out God Help Me! This Stress Is Driving Me Crazy!, and visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.