A Raleigh Therapist's Blog

Thoughts on counseling, healing, and creating the life you want

How to Cope When Anxiety and Perfectionism Become “Overkill”

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I’m more than a little bit of music nut. And, when I really sink my teeth into an artist that I love, I can become something of a super fan. Take, for instance, my multi-decade abiding affection for Colin Hay. He used to be the lead singer of Men at Work back in the 80s. As an aside, if that’s news to you: 1) Slap yourself around a little bit for missing out on lots of good tunes 2) Go download all his solo albums on Itunes. For Pete’s sake–I can help you with your mental health, but you’re responsible for developing a decent taste in music on your own.

Me and Colin HayJust because I need a public venue to share this photo, here is a picture of me and Colin Hay my long-suffering husband took a few years ago at a concert Colin did in Orlando. I *may* have waited outside the stage door like a psycho stalker in the hopes that he would come out and sign my CDs. And look at that, he did. Doesn’t he appear to be thrilled about it too? Just kidding. He was actually super, duper nice–the sort of person you hope your musical idols will be.

A few blog posts back, I mentioned that I secretly have mix tapes (or whatever the youngsters are calling them now–mixed MP3 lists?) in my head for various topics I address in therapy. At the top of my anxiety mix tape is a song Colin Hay first did with Men at Work titled “Overkill.” You can listen to it here in case this topic is of intimate concern to you:

In the interests of total disclosure, I can be an anxious person myself. When I was in graduate school, I had gnarly panic attacks that seriously threatened the thing I enjoy very most in the world–learning new stuff. A professor of mine called the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge “nerd joy.” I am a total captive to nerd joy on the daily. But, back then, I didn’t have any good tools for balancing my anxiety about the rigors of school with my single-minded drive to be the very best anyone can ever be at everything. I have been guilty of being a perfectionist of the first order.

The thing that anxious people seem to feel most about their anxiety (other than physically unwell because the body process of it sucks) is embarrassed. I know I was. A well-meaning instructor decided that I would become the class project in my doctoral hypnosis class. They were going to “fix” my social anxiety by focusing on me. Yeah, let me tell you about how well that worked. I considered dropping out after 8 years of college just to escape from those kind ministrations. And, the more upset I became that my anxiety was visible to others, the more my anxiety began to eat me alive and the more visible it really was. See how that works? Wishing it away with the utmost fervor you can muster only serves to make it more entrenched. Ugh.

When I see clients presenting with anxiety now, I can empathize with how helpless they feel to address their concerns. Most of the folks that end up in my office complaining about panic attacks and ruminations are extremely high-functioning people. They are smart, capable and have more than a little bit of a sense of humor about their anxiety. However, the more they try to apply the same fixes to their anxiety that they have used in other parts of their lives (study, attack and white-knuckling) the more they struggle. Hey, I’ve been there.

So, what do we do instead?

1) Quit Hating on Yourself: Seriously, it’s not helpful. Research has found that people who are socially anxious actually have increased empathic abilities and an elevated ability to correctly attribute other people’s emotions. That super power can shoot you in the foot big time if you get raw and overstimulated. There is some wisdom to learning that just because you observe something, you don’t have to attend to that thing. Maybe someone in the back of the room is bored by your presentation. Maybe Aunt Vicky doesn’t like your crab salad. Your energies are precious. Give yourself permission to ignore some stimuli and focus on the ones that are salient to your life.

2) Challenge Perfectionism: Perfectionism is not really about having higher standards than the rest of the world, though that may be a part of it, sure. Really, it’s an intrinsic terror of making mistakes and looking silly. Moreover, perfectionism is the thief of spontaneity because it is a form of rigid thinking that drives you like a little motor. When things “have” to be a certain way in order for you to function, you can no longer take joy in what you are doing and experiencing. And, you will make the folks around you miserable as well. Challenge your worst fears about what will become completely unmanageable if you aren’t perfect. And, please, don’t encourage perfectionism in your kiddos. Eventually, they will need to be able to choose their battles and process which things are more important than others. If they really can’t progress through the day unless their partners load the dishwasher a certain way, have you increased their happiness in life?

3) Meditate: There is no possible way that I can emphasize to you enough how important meditation has been in my life. I practice Transcendental Meditation and think it’s one of the absolute best ways for anxious people (well, and everyone really) to manage their health differently. You can learn more about that here: http://www.tm.org/. If that training is out of reach, you can come in, and I’ll teach you a similar technique. I know you don’t want to have to do something every day. I know you already have more than enough to keep you busy. But, do you have time to feel crappy? How much more could you accomplish if you devoted just 20 minutes to good mental health hygiene? Most folks don’t expect that they can work out once a month and have that suffice. So, as much as we would all like to be watching reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (is that just me?) it behooves us to set aside time to take good care of anxiety–a place where our emotional and physical lives intersect spectacularly.

Are you concerned that you’re not handling things as well as you have in the past? Would you like to develop new skills to evolve even more? Why don’t you come on in so we can talk about it.

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:

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Texting, Facebook and Infidelity in the Internet Age

I’m really disappointed. The Jetsons promised me that by now I would be much closer to zooming out of my driveway in the sky and flying around in a fancy space car. Instead, on my way here today, I spent a tedious 30 minutes sighing and fretting in my decidedly non-airborne vehicle. Science needs to step it up a bit. But, while we’re waiting, lets talk a bit about the very real ways in which technology impacts our relational lives.

These days, most people who find their way into my office to address cheating have a good deal to say about how Facebook and their smart phones have aided and abetted their affairs. In fact, I can’t think of any couple that I have seen for infidelity in the past five years who were not left sorting out how  gadgets and social media acted as silent partners on the slippery slope towards becoming inappropriate. Why is it that when we’re staring at that screen, we may allow ourselves liberties we wouldn’t in person? Read on for some things to ponder as you decide if you’re getting yourself in deep waters with someone who isn’t your main squeeze. Here are the elements of dangerous electronic communications:

1) Immediacy: In days of yore, cheating was harder. If you wanted to contact the object of your forbidden desire in the evening, you had to call his or her home and risk the partner answering. In order to do that, one had to have made a really conscious, evaluated decision to step around boundaries. These days, it’s easy to fire off a message under the guise of a work-related (or volunteer-related, or child-related–insert how you know the person here) inquiry, while kind of wanting that conversation to continue to develop organically. If you are doing this, be honest with yourself about the type of communication you are hoping will result. Folks tell me all the time that their affairs “just happen.” However, when we deconstruct the history of that relationship, we are able to pinpoint a series of small choices that architected the connection rather intentionally. That doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person. People who cheat rarely are. Instead they are, like all of us, complex people with complex motivations who could stand to develop some transparency between their intentions and their actions. As a matter of fact, telling a betrayed partner that you have no idea how the affair occurred is one of the very worst things you can say. If you are completely in the dark about how you began to stray, how could you possibly hope to reassure your partner that it won’t happen again?

2) Privacy: Imagine a husband and wife sitting beside one another on the couch. Each person has in her or her hand a marvel of technology–a microcosm of personal information and communication. You could be playing Candy Crush or posting pictures of your latest vacation. But, you could also be messaging your old flame from high school, “just to see what he’s up to these days.” Your partner would never know there’s something he should be objecting to, therefore there are fewer brakes otextn the momentum. Picture a boss giving a presentation. Employees are tapping away on their laptops. They could be taking notes on her third quarter plan. Alternatively, they could be texting a coworker inside jokes and planning to have an intimate lunch. Could the message you’re sending be interpreted as flirtatious or overly personal? Suppose either of your partners read the missives between you. Would you be upset or embarrassed? If you think that anything you’re sharing would be unsettling in the light of day (or a partner’s eyes) it’s time to reconsider the nature of the relationship you’re cultivating with that outside interest.

3) No Rough Drafts: When you are communicating in person, there are abundant opportunities to feel weird–things come out awkwardly and body language can be off-putting. But, when one is connecting electronically, you have a chance to reread and edit what you send, crafting it perfectly. Conversations had this way are often a best-case scenario, not the way either person participates in real life. Carefully curated communications can give the impression of a perfect fit between the two people talking. But, these moments in the affair bubble probably aren’t representative of what an open relationship with that person would be like.

Do you need some help untangling yourself from that invisible phone cord? Are social media and texting in danger of dismantling a relationship that you care about? I can help you get clarity and figure out what to do next. Why don’t you come on in so that we can talk about it?

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:

Twitter: HollyCoxLMFT

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New Year’s Resolutions and a Freebie

elatedI love January. It’s the time of the year most fraught with possibility and pregnant with the momentum of all our freshly made resolutions. Call me cheesy, but I relish the idea of hitting reset. If you have fallen on your face the rest of the year, now is a socially sanctioned time to pick yourself back up, dust yourself off and get back in the saddle.

I don’t know about you, but I have a host of resolutions that are hot off the press and ready to be put into action. Want to know what they are?

1) Volunteer More: At the end of my pregnancy with Lily Belle, I volunteered at the Raleigh Rescue Mission, a truly amazing organization that not only provides shelter for the homeless in Wake County, but also offers a program to help them get back in the work force. In addition, I provided free counseling for service people through the Give an Hour Program. Now that I am returning from maternity leave, I hope to get back in action with both these amazing groups. If you would like to find volunteer opportunities that match your interests, check out www.volunteermatch.org for a listing of local activities for every taste from animal welfare to assisting the elderly. Need more motivation to get out there? Numerous studies have linked volunteerism with lower mortality, lower rates of depression and increased happiness and satisfaction. In fact, altruism has a positive impact on immune function. See? Science says kindness does a body good.

2) Meditate More: I truly believe that learning Transcendental Meditation saved my emotional life. There is no better remedy for anxiety, stress or trauma than to learn to access your own wisdom while managing the attendant body processes that make those things so challenging to our happiness. Every single client that walks through my door suffering from overwhelm and stress gets some instruction in meditation. As a person who has suffered from panic attacks, I know how scary and humiliating it is when anxiety strikes. But, you can carry meditation with you–an internal Rx and emergency room available to you at any time. I have meditated in bathroom stalls, in my car and any number of places when I began to feel icky. But, what makes that work for me is the dedicated practice I put in daily. That consistency gives me great emotional muscle memory for that calm place, and also helps me regulate body sensations I don’t like. There are myriad ways to approach meditation. Find one you like and make it a part of your routine. It’s good mental health hygiene.

3) Practice Gratitude More: I have been kind of grouchy lately. Lily Belle is still up and nursing every 3 hours and I have been coping with a relapse of my Grave’s Disease. This means that I have needed to limit lots of things in my life, including my work schedule and my exercise schedule–two things that I love and in which I find joy. However, I notice that I don’t feel that well when I choose to focus on the things that are diminished in my life rather than the many amazing things that are delightful. That’s not just feel-feel good positivity either. Studies show that people who make an effort to focus on the things they are grateful for experience a host of improvements in both physical and mental functioning. Want a concrete way to count your blessings? Head over to http://thnx4.org/ and anonymously participate in a study that the UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center is conducting about gratitude and social and emotional well-being. You get a free online gratitude journal and society gets an addition to the science of happiness.

As my first act of volunteerism, I’ll give a free, one-hour session to the first new client who can tell me the composer of one of my favorite pieces of music, the Lietenant Kije Suite. And……go!

Do you need some help formulating the exciting things you’ll be working on this year? Why don’t you come on over so that we can talk about it?

Your Partner in Healing,

Holly

Are you looking for individual, couples or group therapy in Raleigh? Call me today to schedule a consultation to learn how counseling can help you. Please contact me at (919) 714-7455 or email me at holly@lotustherapycenter.com. Visit me on the web at www.lotustherapycenter.com or:

Twitter: HollyCoxLMFT

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Facebook: Lotus Therapy Center

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