Social Anxiety Disorder: How to Manage and How to Thrive

Imagine being caught in a riptide. Your breath hitches and heart starts beating so loudly that you can’t hear the crashing waves. You are paralyzed and don’t know whether you will sink or swim. Suddenly, you feel energy flood your body and every hair on your back and arms stand up with anticipation.

You begin to swim, focused on nothing else except the beach. All of this takes less than 15 seconds, but when you get out of the current, you feel like you’ve been swimming for 15 hours.

This example of a flight-or-fight response is similar to the ones people experience in most dangerous, life-threatening situations. Our brain assesses the risk and tells our body how to respond

It is called an automatic stress response to danger, and under it, the body moves faster, bleeds less, and floods muscles with energy hormones while the brain disengages from all other input other than the main threat. This response is instinctual and meant to aid in survival.

But what if this happened every time you had to talk with someone new? Or every time you went to class, or church, or a party? What if this automatic stress response kicked in at coffee shops and shopping malls and yoga studios, and it always seemed like you were being swept out to sea, even when you were on a business call? This kind of survival response can be exhausting when triggered all the time, and can seriously affect a person’s quality of life.

Social anxiety disorder is like this. People with social anxiety fear embarrassment, being judged and evaluated negatively by others, and finding themselves in situations where they could be scrutinized. This fear leads to the avoidance of social situations altogether.

Sometimes this anxiety can be overwhelming. Social anxiety disorders correlate with a low quality of life. There is a greater risk of dropping out of school, experiencing lower work productivity, and receiving a lower income (Edmund Bourne, Ph.D. 2015). For this to be a clinical diagnosis, however, this fear or anxiety must stick around for six months or longer.

Humans crave connection and we are created for community and positive interaction. Social interaction is necessary for people to thrive. Just as food helps fuel the body, social interaction helps fuel the brain. When a social anxiety disorder is ignored, it puts a person at risk for unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.

While anxiety in itself can be helpful (it typically serves as a prompt to grow or change), paralyzing anxiety can be dangerous. The key is to learn how to manage the anxiety so that it is not so overwhelming that the person is unable to function.

Planning Recovery

Several interventions exist for addressing and treating social anxiety, but the most important thing to know is: ask for help. Help can look different for each person but exists in many forms. Read a book on different treatment approaches, enlist the support of family and/or friends, or meet with a therapist. Just take the first step!

We hope this post will provide you with an overview of successful interventions and give you examples of common treatment plans for this disorder. The four following approaches can help people cope with their social anxiety:

1. Relaxation Training
2. Core Belief Transformation
3. Exposure Tasking
4. Personal Assertiveness Practice

While these four things aren’t the totality of intervention for a social anxiety disorder, they give a good overview of what a therapist might do to help someone manage their diagnosis.

Relaxation Training

We tend to perform best when we feel relaxed. We are more alert and energized, and willing to approach uncomfortable situations. With an anxiety disorder, however, relaxation seems out of reach. This is partly because the fight-or-flight response is antithetical to the relaxation response.

It takes practice. Relaxation training decreases an overactive heart rate, respiration, high blood pressure, muscle tension, and oxygen consumption. It calms the overly analytical brain and increases skin resistance and alpha wave activity in the brain. (Edmund Bourne, Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, 2015).

Since people with social anxiety disorders often have past negative social experiences, they avoid future experiences in an attempt to mitigate any humiliation or degradation they might perceive. This avoidance ultimately strengthens the anxiety response to social situations. With mastery of relaxation techniques, the same person can gain confidence in social situations (even if they had past negative experiences).

Relaxation training can take the form of guided imagery, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, and abdominal breathing. The method one chooses isn’t as important as the frequency with which they practice their chosen method. Twenty to thirty minutes a day can produce positive, life-changing results.

This is typically the first step to overcoming social anxiety. If you can relax, you can better assess risks. Relaxation helps free a person to face the situation they have previously learned to avoid.

Core Belief Transformation

Our thoughts are powerful, and when they are unhelpful, they can be powerful barriers to overcoming social anxiety. Our willingness to participate in social activities is directly related to how we think about ourselves, about others, about the situation, etc. Negative thoughts lead to increased anxiety.

We find that the more intense the thoughts are, the more intense the feelings are. The goal of managing any anxiety disorder is to reduce anxiety levels so that one is free to engage their social world. For example, someone with a social anxiety disorder might think and believe that they will look foolish if they speak in a meeting.

The more they think this, the higher their anxiety climbs, making it almost impossible for them to speak up. If they can change their belief that they are “foolish” and switch it to something less intense, like “I’m concerned others won’t like my ideas,” they are freer to explore ways to challenge that thought and speak up.

Edmund Bourne, Ph.D., recommends five questions for lowering the intensity of negative thoughts and challenging mistaken beliefs:

1. What objective evidence do you have for this belief?
2. Does this belief ALWAYS hold true for you?
3. Does this belief take into account the negative and positive outcomes? (Does it look at the whole picture?)
4. Does this belief give you peace of mind or promote your well-being?
5. Did you choose this belief on your own, or did it come from your experience growing up in your family?

Asking these questions will better help a person develop new thoughts that are less anxiety-provoking. While difficult to do at first, a supportive therapist can help those with social anxiety challenge their core beliefs so they can engage their social world without fear.

Exposure Tasking

Social anxiety disorder acts like a phobia. When you are afraid of something, you tend to avoid it. People with social anxiety disorder avoid social situations. They experience anxiety when confronted with particular stimuli (speaking in public, taking public transportation, attending parties, etc.), and when they avoid that stimulus, their anxiety is reduced.

The avoidance is like a reward-system and the more it happens, the more it creates a pathway in the brain to allow it to happen. The brain starts making the connection automatically, and the avoidance becomes second-nature. When anxiety reactions get hardwired into a person’s brain, it can be difficult to re-route.

However, our brains are built to adapt, change, and form new connections. This is called neuroplasticity. This rewiring process is also called exposure and exposure helps people unlearn “the connection between anxiety and a particular situation.” (Bourne, 2015).

Exposure tasking allows a person to enter a scary situation, feel their anxiety rise, endure the anxiety, and realize they can survive it. This ultimately allows that person to unlearn their anxiety response and gain confidence in their ability to handle it.

The key to doing this is to break down the exposure tasks into manageable chunks. The anxiety can be mastered in successive stages instead of all at once.

For example:

Fred is afraid of public speaking. He chooses exposure tasking to help him conquer his fear. He first imagines himself on stage speaking in front of a crowd. While doing this, he acknowledges all his thoughts and feelings.

If they are negative, he replaces them with positive. Next, he practices in front of a mirror. After he feels comfortable, he gathers a group of friends. On this goes until he is able to face the anxiety-provoking situation, literally rewiring his brain.

Personal Assertiveness Practice

The final approach that can help someone cope with social anxiety is assertive communication. This is a direct, non-reactive, clear, and honest form of self-expression that allows a person to interact with others in a non-anxious way.

The key elements of assertive communication include the following:

  • Identifying personal needs;
  • Describing facts;
  • Sharing personal feelings;
  • Making personal requests;
  • Providing positive reasons for need.

For example, if Fred was angry at a friend who always canceled plans, his first step would be to figure out his need. His need would be reliability. After identifying this need, he would sit down with his friend to discuss the facts in a non-emotional way. “You have canceled plans the past 5 times we’ve made them.”

Then he’d share his feelings. “This makes me feel unsure and confused.” Finally, he’d make his request by providing positive reasons for it. “I need you to keep plans when we make them or not make plans until you know for sure that you can go. It will help me feel confident in our relationship and give me assurance that we are in a good place.”

Even if Fred’s friend did not respond well, Fred has demonstrated that he can stand up for himself and not let his anxiety rule his friendships or create unhealthy relationships. Practicing this is key to being able to do this in everyday situations.

Conclusion

These four areas of intervention are just a small overview of what treatment looks like for social anxiety disorder. This is not a substantial how-to, as much as it is an informative look at what needs to happen when approaching this diagnosis.

There is help, intervention, and healing for social anxiety. Recovery is achievable and with the right supports in place, it is a journey worth taking.

Photos

“Blue Sea”, Courtesy of Clem Onojeghuo, Pexels.com; CC0 License; “Relaxation,” courtesy of Kosal Ley, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Time to Think,” courtesy of Enrico, Flickr Creative Commons; “Group Therapy”, Courtesy of Rudamese, Pixabay.com; CC0 License

Christian Marriage Counseling: Should You Try It?

If you and/or your spouse are considering marriage counseling, you should not be surprised if you encounter a great deal of resistance. Typically, when a couple reaches the point of needing a marriage counselor the situation has become bad enough that they are even willing to talk to a stranger about it.

In many cases, shame has entered the picture, making the choice to seek counseling even more difficult and more complex. By this point, you are probably asking if there is any real value to marriage counseling, or if it even works.

It should come as no surprise that the answer is yes, but that its relative success depends entirely on both parties’ level of dedication both to each other and the counseling process.

Though there is a spectrum of opinions on marital counseling, the fact remains that you are attempting to fix the one relationship that is most valuable to you, so you might need to get past a degree of reluctance start down the road.

Arguments in Favor of Marriage Counseling

1. The Need for a Mediator

Unfortunately, when a couple realizes that their marriage needs help in the 11th hour, communication deteriorated to the point that they are unable to talk through the important issues without arguing.

They need someone to play referee and send each of them back to their corners, to make calls on fouls or boundary violations, and help redirect the way they talk to each other. This way, each person’s side can be voiced and emotional responses toned down.

As our anxiety or anger grows our ability to reason declines, as well as our ability to bond. Only when both spouses contain or manage their emotions (with deep breathing techniques, for example) is mature conversation about tough subjects possible.

Until both parties are able to control their emotions, it is necessary to have a third party on hand to prevent important conversations from degenerating into an argument.

2. The Need for a Fresh Perspective

A second class of issues that can develop within the marriage relationship is conflict that has sometimes formed over the course of years or even decades. A couple can find themselves trapped in unhealthy cycles of feeling, thinking, and communicating. When these problems are left unaddressed over time one can begin to feel that change will never happen.

Talking with a counselor can not only bring a fresh set of eyes to the problem but should ideally add some expertise and experience to the mix. Therapists have the skills to help you break down the walls you’ve put up in response to painful relationship problems, understand the core issues, and establish workarounds to eliminate their effects.

3. The Need to Bring Hope

Long-term persistence of marital issues can lead to that the situation will never (and indeed can never) change. Staying together while feeling like this will only result in living in a world where your relationship is a mere shell of what you’d hoped it would be.

Making the decision together to seek help from a marriage counselor is a hopeful sign for the future. This simple action proclaims that overcoming your problems and finding a new and better way to relate, encourage emotional growth, and encourage relational health is possible.

Remember that while happiness may be a by-product of having one’s needs cared for, it is not the main goal. Feelings of happiness come and go, but feelings of gratitude and trust are ultimately more.

4. Improving Bonding by Overcoming Hardship as a Team

Marital problems can make the relationship seem like a war zone. You begin to feel like you are stuck in the same foxhole shooting at each other.

Once you come to admit what a terrible waste of time it is, a therapist can help you learn to work together against a common foe. Working as one, you will learn to safely navigate the battlefield together, or even better, fortify your firing position to create a space of strength from which the two of you can face anything life brings.

Have you heard the term “war buddy bond”? When soldiers have experienced war together they develop a bond deeper than family ties, stronger than friendship or affection. It is a deep-rooted interest in the other person’s wellbeing which drives their ability to fight for them when they are fighting through internal or external turmoil.

Sometimes, “we have met the enemy and he is us”. We allow negative self-talk to control our thoughts. Spouses who are closely bonded can point out each other’s negative attitudes without initiating feelings of shame. Instead, they can help the struggling spouse back to a more accurate self-evaluation.

There is a kind of beauty in fighting the battle together. Eventually, you will come to realize that you are actually living out your marriage vows by loving, honoring, cherishing, and being there for each other as God has designed for you to be.

5. Doing Hard Things

People typically take the path of least resistance. This is not uncommon or something to feel bad about. However, nearly everything meaningful in life requires effort – sometimes a lot of it. Of course, there are occasions when you need to “take your ball and go home” but giving up too easily and too often can make it one’s default setting.

Unless our marriage has been damaged such that there is nothing left worth saving, there is typically something good left that is worth the effort to try to save. Something in our spouse caused us to say, “I want to be with this person for the rest of my life.” This is something to keep firmly in mind.

Working through marital issues together with a counselor is the best way to return to the place where you recall what you loved about your spouse, and also to discover some new things about them to love.

6. The Stakes are Huge

When a marriage fails, it never does so in a vacuum. Every single relationship that the couple has is impacted. It goes without saying that the failure usually causes devastation to both partners, and in more ways than one. Any children involved can be so heavily damaged by it that it can destroy their capacity for trust in relationships and affect their ability to commit to marriage, themselves.

Meanwhile, relationships with extended family are fractured, even when a divorce is “amicable”. Family bonds are damaged as well, and though they may survive, they will be forever changed.

Friendships can fracture, as mutual friends of the divorcing couple are forced to take sides. In the same way and for the same reasons, church relationships can become strained. Finally, there is still a stigma rightly associated with divorce. Even if you eventually move past it, at some level you will always feel regret.

Arguments Against Marriage Counseling

In spite of the arguments in favor of Christian marriage counseling, but it isn’t for everyone. A number of things should be considered, such as your current emotional state, the level of willingness, and whether you have the diligence to find a suitable counselor. The following factors should be considered if you are thinking about marriage counseling.

1. Both Spouses Need to Be (or Become) Committed

It happens quite frequently that one or both partners experience some hesitation to begin counseling, although those feelings typically dissipate as the benefits of counseling become more obvious. However, when one spouse wants counseling and nags their partner into attending, causing the resistant party to sit there with arms folded, refusing to cooperate, no real progress is going to be made.

It takes hard work to bring about change, and a spouse continues to resist the process shows themselves to be unwilling to change. If your spouse is recalcitrant it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to get therapy, but when their resistance continues through therapy sessions, it might be wiser to end the therapy.

But if the spouse is willing to continue the therapy and shows any signs of engaging, even with a bad attitude, it is best to give the therapy a chance. How they’re engaging is less important than the fact of their engagement.

However, if the spouse sits there in silence, or only responds with negativity or criticism, it is probably best to just be done. In order for any progress to be made, both partners have to want it to work.

2. It May Be Too Late

Sadly, some couples don’t try to get counseling until they are way past the point of no return. If communication has deteriorated to the point that words are only being used as weapons, no progress can be made in or out of counseling.

Progress can only be gained when both partners are willing to humbly repent of their need to be right, vindicated, and to pay back their spouse for injuries (real or imagined).

Both spouses need to be convinced that something was good in the relationship that though lost, can still be saved. This can only happen when we can admit to and repent of our part in the breaking of the relationship. Lack of forgiveness spells the beginning of the end in any kind of relationship.

3. Spouses Have to Want to Change

If a spouse is involved in infidelity, agrees to counseling, but refuses to stop the affair, progress in therapy will be impossible.

Perhaps a spouse is engaging in destructive, disruptive or damaging behaviors and refuses to get help. This means that they are choosing their behavior over their marriage, which amounts to a violation of their marriage vows. They essentially saying that they will hurt whoever they want in order to please themselves.

Such a statement will bring nothing but heartache to the betrayed partner. Such a spouse no longer has your best interests at heart and has already left the marriage at least on an emotional level.

4. Individual Issues May Need to be Worked Through First

Marriage counseling may not currently be the best choice if either or both spouses have a history of serious emotional trauma before the marriage. Extra work may need to be done so that the person can separate old emotions related to the trauma from new emotions associated with the marriage.

Some couples may begin counseling together, only to split off into individual sessions in order to focus on their individual needs. If progress is made individually, therapists may reconvene the couples’ counseling or stop sessions if progress was sufficient.

5. Know Your Limits

There can be any number of personal reasons why counseling wouldn’t be beneficial though a person may have to give counseling a try in order to figure out what those reasons are. People sometimes have a pathological aversion to taking advice or are so pridefully convinced that they are right, that no one can convince them that they are wrong.

However, if a person with that attitude actually wants counseling, it is a good indicator that they recognize that there is a problem in the first place and want change. The extent of the possible change won’t be evident to them until they give counseling a try.

Anxiety at the very thought of marriage counseling could prove incapacitating, preventing one from ever seeking it. In that situation, a psychiatrist can help you find the proper medication to reduce your anxiety to the point that you can get counseling.

6. Finding the Right Counselor

Sadly, there are some therapists who provide really bad counsel. For example, a counselor advised a woman in marriage counseling to have extra-marital affairs in order to better understand the adulterous feelings she had – behavior which would be disastrous to the marriage.

If you become persuaded that your therapist is not helping fix your marriage problems, break things off, immediately. This doesn’t mean that you throw in the towel on counseling, but it is better to have no counseling than worthless or destructive counseling.

Typically, it is better to get counseling for seemingly insurmountable problems in a marriage, than not. If both spouses desire to work at it with a counselor then there is a good possibility of success.

Photos:
“Couple on Seine,” courtesy of Zoetnet, Flickr Creative Commons, 2.0 License; “Conversation”, courtesy of Christin Hume, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Committed,” courtesy of Zoriana Stakhniv, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Heartache,” courtesy of Takmeomeo, pixabaycom, CC0 Public Domain License

How to Navigate the Five Primary Grief Stages

Grief is an incredibly difficult thing to go through. At some point, we are all likely to experience it in some form – whether through the loss of a loved one, the breakdown of a relationship, or even a personal failure. You may have heard of the “stages” of grief.

These are often used to try and define the different coping mechanisms we employ in response to grief, as we come to terms with loss and heartache. But they are by no means one-size-fits-all – people will experience grief in very individual ways.

Simply put, there is no one right path of grief, and you should never feel under pressure to conform to one particular way. David Kessler, an expert on grief, writes that the stages of grief “are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling.”

He suggests that they are not merely some sort of “stations of the cross” to be performed in order. In fact, not everyone experiences every one of them, or if they do, it is not in a set order. He hopes the stages of grief will provide a knowledge of the landscape of grief, better helping us to handle the loss. Grief will be as unique as the individual experiencing it.

Grief can be incredibly lonely. Despite your best efforts, you may not be able to fully explain how you feel, making it an extraordinarily isolated place to be. That said, there are some recognizable elements of the grieving process that can be common to many people.

Indeed, it is important to become familiar with these, so that you are prepared for when they hit. Again, it is vital to stress that there is no “right” way to grieve, and each person will develop their own individual methods of coping.

Christian Hope for the Grieving

While it might feel as if no one truly understands what you are going through, the Lord knows everything there is to know about it. Indeed, not only does God promise to come close to us in our pain and heartache, but he also declares, in Revelation 21:4, that “He will wipe every tear from [your] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.”

Christ knew the depths of earthly grief and can identify with our deepest pain. At the grave of Lazarus, the Bible says that “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Of course, Jesus went on to resurrect Lazarus, demonstrating his ultimate power over the “final enemy” of death.

The Longterm Process of Grief

Grief is a process and should be viewed in the long-term. Too often, we look for a “quick fix” or the ability to rush through the prescribed “stages of grief,” failing to give ourselves ample time. It is important to note, however, that even with all the time in the world, the pain may never fully leave you.

Grief can be a long process, and though the pain may ease over time and as you deal with it alongside friends, family and a trained counselor, it may always be with you.

It is worth looking at the latest version of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), which is used by mental health professionals to analyze and diagnose their patients. In the part about depressive disorders, it has a caveat that demonstrates how important it is to distinguish between grief and actual mental disorders:

“Careful consideration is given to the delineation of normal sadness and grief from a major depressive episode. Bereavement may induce great suffering, but it does not typically induce an episode of major depressive disorder.”

Death is an Amputation

So, with this in mind, it is important to point out that there should never be an “end goal” for grief – it is a process that must be managed carefully and sensitively. A trained counselor will assist you to move forward in your life while always honoring the person lost.

Theologian and writer C.S. Lewis, who lost his beloved wife, wrote that “the death of a beloved is an amputation.” He also wrote of how no-one ever truly “gets over” a loss like that, but that they learn to adapt to their new life without having the person around.

In his book, A Grief Observed, Lewis wrote: “He will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones, and he will always be a one-legged man. There will be hardly any moment when he forgets it. Bathing, dressing, sitting down and getting up again, even lying in bed, will all be different. His whole way of life will be changed. All sorts of pleasures and activities that he once took for granted will have to be simply written off.”

Grief and love are intimately related. You only grieve someone so much because you loved them so much.

Grief is Not Just About Death

When we think of grief, our minds often jump to the aching loss of someone we love. But as we mentioned earlier, there are plenty of other life events that can cause you to experience a season of grieving.

Examples could include:

  • Loss of a pet
  • Loss of employment
  • Loss of physical or mental capabilities
  • Separation from someone you love
  • End of a friendship or relationship
  • Infidelity
  • Divorce

These are highly emotional events and may evoke a reaction of grief similar to the death of someone close to you.

The Five Grief Stages

With that being said, it is worth looking at a few of the more prominent aspects of grief to gain a more general understanding of the grieving process and what it usually looks like.

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of death from her book “Of Death and Dying serves as the most significant work in this area. Though somewhat trivialized through the years, these aspects are still incredibly helpful to understand when exploring the topic of grief. She defined the five grief stages as:

1. Denial

Denial is a typical reaction to the immediate shock that hits you when something emotionally devastating occurs. It can be a way of coping that can help us to get through a loss during those painful and traumatic moments.

2. Anger

Though it may seem counterintuitive, anger may at times be helpful because it helps us release our emotions, instead of merely turning numb. Though the anger may be directed at any number of different things, it is always rooted in pain.

3. Bargaining

This reaction is likely to be an initial attempt to rationalize what has happened. Of course, that is impossible to do – what has happened cannot be undone. Nevertheless, our human nature will try its very best to do something to rectify the situation. We cling to any hope that tells us the situation could possibly be reversed.

4. Depression

When some time has passed, depression often sets in. The initial shock has worn off, and you are left feeling bewildered, sad and hopeless at the devastating loss.

5. Acceptance

Acceptance doesn’t mean that we have forgotten about what happened and have totally moved on with our lives. Instead, acceptance comes when we face the stark reality of the loss and figure out how to live with what happened.

Focusing on the Four Tasks of Mourning

Another helpful model for understanding grief stages comes from William J. Worden. In his Four Tasks of Mourning, he sees a more active role for the person who is grieving, rather than merely floating passively through the grief process.

This model can assist people in moving beyond the denial that is frequently experienced in the immediate aftermath of the death of a loved one. Worden believes that intentionally trying to work through the four tasks is absolutely essential in order for “equilibrium to be reestablished.”

The four key tasks are:

1. Accepting the reality of the loss

2. Working through the pain of the grief

3. Adjusting to life without the deceased

4. Finding a lasting connection to the deceased while also moving on with your life

Getting Help

If you or someone you know is facing grief, contact a Christian counselor guidance, support, and reassurance as you process your pain. Counseling is a protected and confidential space in which you can express your grief whatever way you feel. A good counselor will both honor the profound depth of your grief while also providing support as your process your loss.

Photos
“A Private Grief”, Courtesy of Nicholas Bui, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “The Road Ahead”, Courtesy of Johannes Plenio, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Grieving Man”, Courtesy of Tom Pumford, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Lightning Storm”, Courtesy of Jeremy Bishop, Unsplash.com; CC0 License

How to Help Your Child Overcome Symptoms of Anxiety

When we imagine childhood, often thoughts of being carefree and happy flash across our minds. We hope for the same things for our children, yet more kids are showing symptoms of anxiety.

Unfortunately, they aren’t immune to anxiety. They enter this big, scary world and face many mountains of their own. Think about moving towns, changing schools or even having to participate in a spelling bee when there’s a learning or attention issue. Anxiety can be crippling at any age.

What Do Symptoms of Anxiety Look Like in Children?

All children get stressed at some point in life. They might have a test coming up or a tryout for a sport that turns their tummy into knots. If that’s the case, how do you know if your child is overly anxious? Children struggling with anxiety may have frequent stomach aches, headaches, completely stop eating and stop playing with other friends.

If your child is worried about an activity months or weeks in the future, this is a major indicator anxiety is consuming him. Children can also worry about catastrophes that are unlikely to happen and ask many ‘what if’ questions like, “What if our house catches on fire during the night?”

A child’s anxiety can extend beyond himself and affect his family. Some parents plan their vacations around finding a place that won’t disturb their child and trigger anxiety.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel helpless when your child is facing anxiety, but when you remain steadfast and calm you can be fully present to guide your child through their everyday anxiety.

To help a child overcome anxiety, it’s important to first understand what’s going on in their mind. Children form anxious thoughts after sensing a threat and lacking the ability to cope. It derails them from daily activities when they get stuck in this pattern of thinking. The things that cause your child anxiety might not appear major, but it’s crucial to understand and empathize with your child’s struggle.

How to Keep Your Child From Worrying

Make sure your children feel heard and understood when they begin to worry. Don’t dismiss or minimize their feelings. To them, the feelings and thoughts are as real as you are and they need your reassurance. Next, teach them about two different paths the mind can take. Your anxious child automatically goes down the worry path without realizing that another option exists.

Help your child understand how the body changes when experiencing fear and anxiety, so he can begin to recognize the signs. Teach your child to talk back to their worries and fears. Imagine worry as a big bully or monster that can be conquered by telling why it isn’t welcome in your world.

The worry bully exists to keep everybody from enjoying life. Parents and siblings can even gang up on the worry bully together so that one child doesn’t feel isolated in this. The worry bully is an enemy we all must face together.

Show your child how he has the power to change his thinking. Give an example of a situation that could potentially cause anxiety for your child. Maybe even the thought of riding a school bus without you would cause him anxiety. The thoughts and feelings might range from, “What if nobody sits by me? What if the bus driver leaves me somewhere wrong? What if I get picked on? The bus is scary.”

Instead, you can think of it this way, “The bus driver is a professional and cares about the kids. My classmates show up every day to school without getting left somewhere else. My good friend Robby would sit with me if I asked him. My classmates even talk about how much fun it is to ride a bus.” The thoughts slowly shift to ones of excitement and confidence.

Don’t Give Up

Rewiring the brain to externalize anxiety takes time. If the family continues to focus on working together as a team to fight the worry bully, your child will experience different ways to overcome those anxious thoughts and not allow worry to wear him down. Talking with a counselor can help the family navigate through anxiety and brainstorm strategies for overcoming its influence.

Photos:
“Girl,” Courtesy of greekfood-tamystika, pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Worried,” Courtesy of Eneas De Troya, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Afraid,” Courtesy of Joseph Gonzalez, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Plea”, Courtesy of Bkrmadtya Karki, Pixabay.com, CC0 License

What is an Emotional Affair? Identifying and Protecting Against It

When we think of affairs, we often think of soap opera scandal, and of husbands and wives jumping into bed with each other. But many types of affairs actually occur on a purely emotional level.

Maybe you’re wondering, “What is an emotional affair?” An emotional affair is when a spouse is getting their needs met by someone of the opposite sex who is not their own partner. And it happens a lot.

What is an Emotional Affair? Here are Some Examples

So, say a husband has a real interest in music but the wife has never been at all musical. Sensing a lack of interest from his spouse, the husband may join a community music group. There, he meets an attractive woman, and they get on well. He realizes that he shares a common interest with this woman and that she appreciates his talents more than his own wife does.

He starts looking forward to spending time with the woman, as he enjoys the company and appreciates being encouraged and built up in his abilities. He starts to think about her more and more, and begins trying to figure out a way that he can spend time with her alone.

Or maybe it is a wife who is very artistic, but her husband has no interest in her work. She has a group of artsy friends who she likes hanging out with. A handsome man joins the group and his artistic ability is incredible. She is impressed by both his looks and his skills.

The pair begins to bond over their shared love of certain famous artists and begin to meet up so they can work together on different projects. The wife starts to work her schedule around the man so that they can spend more time together. She also begins to take longer to get ready for when she meets him because she wants to look good for him.

Identifying Emotional Affairs

Emotional affairs always develop outside of the spouse’s awareness. They increase gradually and become more dangerous over time, as bit by bit the two people grow closer.

It is worth thinking regularly about any people you might know who meet a need in your life that is not being met by your own spouse. If you realize you have been engaging in an emotional affair, don’t beat yourself up.

It is, however, time to deal with it by being open and honest with your spouse. Don’t rush in and accuse your spouse of neglecting your needs, but think carefully about how they are feeling, and be cautious with your words.

In a marriage, very little is ever beyond repair. Yes, you might have got a bit lost along the way, but with the right help, you can get things back on track.

How To Re-Engage With Your Spouse

Re-engaging with your spouse is an absolutely essential part of recovering from an emotional affair. This can be difficult if the affair has been going on for some time behind the spouse’s back. You must both be willing to work on engaging with each other once again.

If you are both committed to fixing your marriage, here are some key steps you can take:

Get Into Counseling

Marital disconnection is often deeply rooted in past trauma. In order to identify the triggers for the emotional affair in a safe and secure environment, it is worth getting some counseling. This will give both parties a chance to voice their frustrations and concerns with a trained therapist who can help decipher exactly what is going on.

Set Healthy Boundaries

After being married for a while, it can be easy to fall into a pattern of feeling as if you never get your own way. Both partners should be allowed to say “No” in any given situation without a massive relational fallout.

When disagreements do arise, it is important not to engage in knee-jerk reactions that only serve to heighten emotions and bring about more strife. Setting personal boundaries in terms of individual decision-making is absolutely essential, and these must be respected at all times.

Ask For Needs To Be Met, But Be Able to Hear “No”

Related to the last point, a healthy marriage is one in which either partner is allowed to ask for their needs to be met, but is also allowed to say “No.” This may be a crucial element in protecting your sex life. If you say “I think we should have sex,” and your partner responds “No, I don’t want to right now.” That should be taken as a final answer and you should not push it any further.

By allowing each other to express how you feel, you are showing honor to each other as respected adults, and are ridding your marriage of coercion and unhealthy power dynamics. You must always seek to work toward a mutually-respectful relationship where you are both fully listened to, steering clear of the parent-child relationship in your marriage.

Work On Pairing Action With Emotion

Reintroduce some emotion into your marriage. If you are leaving for work, don’t just slam the door without as much as a wave goodbye. Leave a few minutes spare to hold your spouse, to tell them how much you love them, and to kiss them properly.

Try and get off autopilot when it comes to showing affection. Be sacrificial with your time and spend it willingly to reconnect with your spouse in a physical way.

Engage in Healthy Dating Behaviors

Make a list of places you want to visit, restaurants you want to have dinner at, or walks you want to take together. Go on some dates! Reconnect in a romantic setting. Compliment your spouse when they have made an effort to look nice for you. Buy flowers, take them on surprise trips, and just make them feel special!

Find Your Spiritual Practices As A Couple

Find a way of connecting with God as a couple. Be creative and wise in this. For example, if you both struggle to stay awake after getting into bed, scrap the bedtime Bible and prayer time. Agree to get up an hour earlier and do it first thing in the morning. Go to Church together, hang out with Christian friends in the community and spur each other on in your faith.

Put Your Spouse First

Prefer your spouse over others. If your friends ask you to come and hang out with them, check with your spouse before saying yes. See if your spouse wants to do something that evening, and let them know that they take priority over anyone else. Similarly, if you sense your spouse could do with a bit of time on their own, make it clear that you are totally okay with this.

Stay Alert, Protect Yourself From An Affair

Keep your eyes open to any possible threats to your marriage. Perhaps an attractive man or woman has just joined your small group, and you find your eyes lingering on them for a moment too long.

Catch it early. Let your spouse know of any potential snares and figure out ways to combat them. If you are highly attracted to someone, be wise and don’t hang out with them on your own, no matter how plausible you deem the reason to be.

If you are worried that someone may have taken a personal liking to you at work, talk to them about your spouse in a positive light – this will kill any potential emotional affair!

Be tuned in to your emotional state when you are around people. If you feel a fluttering of the stomach when you see someone who isn’t your spouse, take note of that and be sure to avoid spending too much time with this person.

These are just a few tips and tools for reconnecting with your spouse and protecting yourself against an emotional affair. Remember why you married your spouse, keep your wedding vows close to your heart and mind and be bold in tackling the difficult things of marriage together as a couple that is united under the protection of God.

Photos:
“Telephone Mobile to Call”, Courtesy of Niek Verlaan, Pixabay.com; CC0 License; “The Waiting Game”, Courtesy of Louis Blythe, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Boundaries”, Courtesy of Thomas Smith, Unsplash.com; CC0 License;”Dinner Date”, Courtesy of Jack Finnigan, Unsplash.com; CC0 Licens

A Counselor’s Trauma Definition: 10 Common Examples

If you’ve ever wanted to wake up from a nightmare only to realize it’s a reality, you might have experienced a form of trauma. Often trauma comes after a life-threatening experience, but it can also develop after an incident that is perceived as life-threatening. Trauma invades our individual sense of control after a deeply terrifying circumstance. How we perceive what has happened to us is where the trauma lies.
 

Trauma Comes in Many Shapes and Forms

Let’s take a moment to look at the 10 most common types of trauma in order to understand and to consider whether it could be what you are experiencing.

1. Sexual Assault, Abuse or Harassment

According to the United States Department of Justice, sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Normally, sexual assault can fall into three categories:

  • Acts of penetration either with objects or body parts.
  • Forced physical contact with the genitalia, breast, buttocks, or other intimate body parts through groping, fondling or kissing.
  • Exposure of genitalia, breast, buttocks or other intimate body parts. This includes being subjected to explicit materials like pornographic images, texting nude photos to minors or exploiting a child sexually. It can also be a neighbor exposing himself to children as they walk by his home.

2. Physical Assault or Abuse

Physical abuse or assault is intentionally inflicting pain or harm upon another person. An example might be a parent throwing his child against the wall after making a mistake or a teenager stabbing another teenager during a fight. If a person is deliberately hurt by someone else, this is physical abuse.

3. Emotional Abuse

Most people have a pretty clear and accurate idea of physical abuse, but emotional abuse is easier to miss. If your friend experienced physical abuse, bruises and scars might be left as reminders, but emotional abuse leaves invisible bruises like feelings of humiliation, shame, and depression.

Emotional abuse can be an aggressive shout or giving someone the silent treatment to intentionally isolate him. Emotional abuse is designed to make the victim feel like they are to blame and often leaves the victim feeling unworthy, unloveable and fearful.

4. Neglect

Experiencing trauma has serious implications for mental health. Neglect can begin during infancy when the parents don’t have the capacity or willingness to properly care for their child. Neglect, in a nutshell, is a failure to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, medical care, proper hygiene or shelter.

It’s often found in cases of children or the elderly. If a baby is crying and a parent refuses to feed and comfort her child, trauma begins to form. Not acting on a child’s need when the caregiver has the power to act is considered neglect.

5. Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is often hidden because it happens behind closed doors under the roof of a home. It looks like physical violence, sexual violence, or emotional abuse among adults in a relationship.

Verbal threats also fall into this category. Domestic violence victims often feel helpless or terrified to leave the abuser. Children who witness the circumstances absorb the negative activity and can internalize it, causing traumatic behaviors.

6. Serious Accidents or Illness

Car accidents, house fires, medical procedures or a major injury can be traumatic. If you faced and defeated cancer, you could exhibit lingering trauma behaviors. Children that experienced various medical procedures might harbor a fear of hospitals or doctors and lash out.

7. War-related Trauma

Most are aware of the term post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. This can occur when someone has returned from a war zone where they experienced threats to life and other terrifying experiences. Memories are lodged in their mind and often flashbacks occur.

Many countries around the world are submerged in war and millions of displaced people have become refugees. These people might not personally be involved in combat, but have experienced shooting, torture, bombings, and forced separation from their country of origin. Families don’t know when they will be able to return to their homes and begin settling in other unfamiliar areas.

8. Natural or Manmade Disasters

If you keep up with current events, you have seen many natural disasters in the news lately. There have been hurricanes battering many states and countries, wildfires devouring property and sending people fleeing, earthquakes leaving a path of destruction and mudslides claiming many lives. In these instances, properties are swept away and lives are lost.

9. School Violence

When the Columbine High School shooting happened, it shocked the nation. It was hard to imagine such an atrocity occurring in a place where innocent children and teens go every day to learn. Unfortunately, the school shootings have continued to increase. Even if you weren’t injured during a school shooting, the sights, smells, and emotions can still leave severe symptoms of trauma.

10. Bullying

Kids on the receiving end of bullying wake up each day anticipating the moment they will be teased and tormented. School bullying is the reason why some young children commit suicide. It has devastating effects on young children. Social media has introduced cyberbullying.

It’s running rampant as keyboards become weapons for cutting others down. The computer screen offers security from the scars that are left. But behind that screen is a real person traumatized by the onslaught of negativity.

However, bullying doesn’t just occur on the school playground. Many adults in the workplace admit to having experiencing adult bullying. It’s not always something children grow out of since it’s an aggressive negative behavior. If you were bullied as a child, chances are it has impacted your adult life too.

Recovering from Trauma

If you can relate to any of the forms of trauma discussed in this article, a Christian counselor is ready to walk the road of recovery with you. Healing is a process and should never be forced. There are several methods of therapy and exercises that help with various types of trauma. Trauma recovery is designed to improve your quality of life on a daily basis.

Photos:
“Fishing boat,” courtesy of Alexander Andrews, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hair,” courtesy of Aricka Lewis, unsplash.com, Public Domain License; “Love Shouldn’t Hurt”, Courtesy of Sydney Sims, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “War”, Courtesy of Stefan Keller, Pixabay.com, CC0 License

Pre-marital Counseling Questions to Ask Before You Say “I Do”

According to Scripture, marriage is the very first human relationship created by God. Jesus spoke of marriage according to the Old Testament as being one man and one woman united into one flesh. The Apostle Paul exhorted husbands and wives to love, respect, and submit to one another, doing so in reverence to Christ.

The Bible places much emphasis on the institution of marriage as the fundamental relationship in a household. Choosing to enter into this union is both an exciting and sobering time of life.

Pre-Marital Counseling Questions

This article considers several important pre-marital counseling questions that can be asked to give due consideration to the life-changing step you’re about to take by getting married.

These pre-marital counseling questions can be addressed in premarital counseling to help process some of the most important issues related to the decision to get married.

Always remember that two of the most vital considerations in the decision to get married are emotional and spiritual compatibility.

Is this God’s Calling for Me?

Not everyone is destined for marriage. This lifelong commitment comes with responsibilities, privileges, and inherent limitations. Am I truly called to this for life? Can I commit to oneness with my spouse in a partnership that includes physical, emotional, and spiritual components?

Does the future look bright when I consider the two of us moving forward together? Is this person someone I can submit to in the way Scripture discusses, deferring my preferences and making sacrifices for them?

Do Our Personalities Mesh Well?

Do we have complementary personalities, and do we accept each other as we are? Is being around this person enjoyable, and do I find them likable at a basic level? Do we understand each other’s senses of humor?

Also, consider whether you feel emotionally safe enough to be vulnerable with your partner, to speak even unpleasant truths in love. Consider whether you both have the freedom to confront one another in love.

Physical attraction must be considered as well, along with your baseline of common interests and hobbies, and how well you can share a workload together.

What Are We Bringing into Marriage?

The past must be considered in light of how it will affect your future marriage relationship. (See Exodus 20:5-6.) Habitual sins that have not been repented of, or emotional healing that has not taken place, can lead to a repetition of harmful patterns.

Consider the wounds, losses, ways of reacting to the world around you, besetting sins, and expectations that you bring to the relationship. Think about how you and your partner have worked through (or have not worked through) any current issues or past realities. It’s also vital to discuss your families of origin and backgrounds and how they will affect your marriage.

How Do We Communicate?

Are we able to understand and communicate with each other well (James 1:19-20)? When conflict arises, or hurt feelings happen, how do we resolve those things (Ephesians 4:26)?

Are We Spiritually Compatible?

Are we partners in our belief systems? When it comes to my relationship with God, how does this person affect that? Do I feel encouraged to become closer to God, or is it viewed as something incidental or unimportant? Do we pray together and encourage each other to put God first? Do we inspire one another to grow in our faith?

Do We Agree Financially?

Have we discussed our beliefs about managing finances and budgeting (1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17)? How will we merge our finances and manage our spending vs. saving habits?

What Do Others Think?

Do our families, friends, and/or church families affirm our relationship and decision to marry (Ephesians 4:15)? Do we have a support system in place?

Are We Emotionally Mature Enough for Marriage?

Do we display personal and individual emotional maturity (Galatians 5:22-23)? Can we both self-regulate our feelings? Do I view myself as responsible for my own emotions and struggles, and does my partner?

Are we honest and transparent with one another? Do I truly trust this person based on what they’ve done to earn that trust? Do they keep their word and tell the truth? Do either of us struggle with an addiction to anything? If we’ve had these struggles in the past, have we sought help and healing in a way that has allowed for restoration and growth?

Christian Counseling to Prepare for Marriage

If you would like a helpful structure in which to navigate these premarital issues, consider whether Christian counseling might be a valuable resource for you and your future spouse. A Christian counselor shares a similar worldview and value system and is a licensed professional who can guide you through these pre-marital counseling questions and help you discern your readiness for marriage.

Photos
“Engaged”, Courtesy of Ben White, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Hopes and Dreams”, Courtesy of Edward Cisneros, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Married Fight,” courtesy of Gratisography, pexels.com, CC0 License; “God-centered Marriage”, Courtesy of Ben White, Unsplash.com; CC0 License

Common ADHD Symptoms in Adults and How to Treat Them

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is most commonly known to affect children. However, it can impact the lives of adults, too. Indeed, as an adult ADHD can be a life-altering condition to live with if the correct help is not sought. It affects millions of people. Recent statistics show that around 4 to 5% of adults in the United States deal with symptoms of ADHD.

Many ADHD symptoms in adults were misdiagnosed in their childhood. Common ADHD symptoms in adults include a tendency to become overly emotional as well as signs of hyperactivity. Adults with ADHD are also likely to struggle with:

  • Following directions
  • Concentrating
  • Any tasks that require organization
  • Remembering key information
  • Finishing work on time

Those struggling with adult ADHD might even experience some negative emotions as a result of their condition. These may include anxiety, perpetual boredom, bouts of depression, difficulty controlling anger, forgetfulness, problems at work, low self-esteem, mood swings, procrastination, relational issues, substance abuse, addiction, and a low level of motivation.

An adult struggling with ADHD might find that their issues of low self-esteem stem from being labeled as an “underachiever” throughout their schooling years. The result may be an inability to hold down a job, an attitude of self-criticism and a depressive outlook. There can also be a tendency to rely on substances such as nicotine and alcohol in order to cope with these emotional difficulties.

Why Therapy is so Important for Treating ADHD Symptoms in Adults

Therapy is absolutely essential for an adult struggling with ADHD. Yes, medication can be helpful. However, the only way you will see a true and lasting difference is to combine this with the expertise of a professional therapist.

Therapy will help the person develop the tools and skills needed to manage their disorder, and will help them begin to organize their life in a way which will improve their overall emotional well being.

It can be incredibly frustrating not being able to achieve what you know you are capable of as a result of a disorder like ADHD. Therapy can help change this.

An open, safe and disarming environment will provide the person with the opportunity to get to some of the roots of their disorder and will ensure that they are given great encouragement as they progress.

Accurate diagnosis

When it comes to ADHD, it is absolutely essential that a correct diagnosis is given. Due to ADHD being partly genetic, it is common for someone with the disorder to be surrounded by others who exhibit similar symptoms, and thus do not believe there is anything fundamentally “wrong.” Therefore it is important for an external, independent medical professional to conduct a thorough assessment and assign an accurate diagnosis.

Behavior modification is an absolutely essential element of any therapy that is offered to someone dealing with ADHD, as they will likely struggle with their emotional response to certain situations. A therapist will help them unpack their thinking and will assist them in developing reactions that are more appropriate to the given situation.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) will help the patient hardwire new patterns of thinking into everyday lives, and will seek to replace unhealthy thought habits. This type of therapy will also help the person put their worries and problems in context, and will ensure they do not blow things out of proportion. When dealing with ADHD and its accompanying anxieties, this can be a very important thing to work on.

In conjunction with CBT, traditional talk therapy can also help the person develop a greater understanding of their own anxiety and emotional fluctuations. Suffering from ADHD can bring with it a whole host of emotional, relational and spiritual issues. Talk therapy can help relieve some of that burden.

Remember the precious scripture:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7

Raising self-esteem

Low self-esteem is one of the most common things that affect those who are dealing with ADHD. A person struggling with the disorder may have spent years being told they are “lazy” or “unmotivated,” when in reality they are battling with ADHD. These labels may cause them to feel very low. They might lack confidence and struggle to dwell on things that they are good at.

Therapy will help the person regain control over their thought patterns, and assist them in developing a positive view of themselves.

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.2 Timothy 1:7

There is a powerful spiritual element to all of this. A Christian therapist will ensure that God’s view of the person becomes rooted in the foundations of their thinking. God loves us unconditionally and has placed a call on each and every one of us. He is always for us and never seeks to tear us down. He is always calling us forward.

Through the right therapy, the truth about God’s heart towards you can become intrinsic to your daily thinking. With the assistance of Christian therapy, this fundamental shift in perspective has the potential to transform the life of someone struggling with ADHD.

Photos
“Lost in my Mind”, Courtesy of Hailey Reed, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Cartwheel”, Courtesy of Pedro de Sousa, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Agitation”, Courtesy of GoaShape, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Comfort Therapy”, Courtesy of Mindy Jacobs Unsplash.com; CC0 License