The Warning Signs of Suicide: How to Tell if Someone is Suicidal


Substance Abuse in Teens: How to Recognize & Prevent it as Parents

How to Recognize & Prevent Teen Substance Abuse as Parents

Has your teenager's behavior changed suddenly? Do their clothes have a familiar smell you remember from your high school days? How do you know if they are using drugs? As a parent, severe substance abuse in teens is often a concern but rarely a reality. Teenagers are apt to experiment with drugs like alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana. However, any drug misuse can negatively affect your child's health and well-being.

There are steps you can take as parents to help your teen make better choices and get the rehabilitation they need. Goodman Psychologist Associates offers therapy programs for adolescents who use drugs, as well as counseling for parents and families.

The best thing a parent can do is pay attention to their teens and initiate honest conversations. Parents need to know how to spot drug use and what to do if it is suspected. You can do this by understanding teen substance use, recognizing warning signs, and knowing how to get your child assistance.

Suspect your teen might be abusing drugs or alcohol? Take these steps:

  1. Get a general knowledge of drug and alcohol use in teens.
  2. Learn the signs and symptoms of substance abuse.
  3. Talk to your teen using our Dos and Dont's.
  4. Learn how to prevent teen substance abuse.
  5. Get professional help.

What is Teenage Substance Abuse?

Before confronting your teenager, it is essential to understand the terms associated with drug use. Drugs are any substance that alters your physical or mental state. Drugs can be licit (legal) or illicit (illegal). Common drugs among teenage users include:

Licit Drugs

  • Caffeine
  • Nicotine
  • Alcohol

Illicit Drugs

  • LSD
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines

State Law/Misuse Dependent

Recreational drug use is the occasional use of drugs, usually in a social gathering. Casual drug use may lead to addiction, but not always.

Prescription drug misuse happens when anyone uses a prescription drug that isn't theirs or if you use your prescription in ways that are not medically justified.

Drug abuse is an umbrella term meaning licit or illicit drugs are used recreationally or for self-identified necessity or convenience.

Recreational drug use, prescription drug misuse, and drug abuse can lead to Substance Use Disorder (SUD), a disease in which a person becomes addicted to a substance both chemically and psychologically, despite the likely damage it does to the person's life in areas like wellness, relationships, and employment.

How Common is Teen Drug Abuse?

It may come as a surprise, but teen drug abuse is not as prevalent as once believed. According to NIDAH and a study by Monitoring The Future, substance abuse declined after 2021. The study of surveyed teens across America found that drugs were used or tried by 11% of 8th graders, 21.5% of 10th graders, and 32.6% of 12th graders.

Most of the drugs students tried were nicotine, vaping, cannabis, and alcohol. Less than 3% of the teens surveyed tried narcotics (excluding heroin). Other studies have shown that many teens will try alcohol before graduating high school, but recurring substance use is less common. However, no drug or alcohol use by an adolescent should be taken lightly or ignored.

Risk Factors for Substance Abuse in Teens

There are several risk factors that can contribute to drug and alcohol use in teens that range from brain development to economic status. Understanding why an adolescent begins experimenting with drugs is one way to control further risk factors impacting your child.

Why Do Teens Try Drugs and Alcohol?

The teen years are about seeking new freedoms by pushing boundaries and a desire to find their own identity and place in the world. However, the adolescent brain is still developing, which can affect social reasoning and judgment when under emotional duress, increase risky behavior, and decrease impulse control. Our frontal lobes won't mature until we are young adults in our 20s.

Another natural part of our developing brains is our westernized need to take risks and seek thrills. Teenage drug use satisfies these urges when no other, safer outlets exist.

Common Risk Factors for Drug Use

Besides the behaviors and desires of a maturing brain, teens may also try drugs or alcohol for the following reasons:

  • Peer pressure
  • Availability
  • Cultural or social norms
  • Feelings of loneliness or isolation
  • Social rejection
  • Stress
  • Economic status
  • Low self-esteem
  • Older friends
  • Curiosity
  • Risk-taking and impulsive behavior triggers

In addition to reasons why a teen might try drugs, there are risk factors that may increase the chance of addiction and substance use disorder, such as:

  • The addictive qualities of the drug used
  • Social alienation
  • Chronic pain
  • Genetics
  • A family history of drug or alcohol abuse
  • A history of trauma or traumatic events
  • Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
  • Co-existing mental disorders like anxiety, depression, or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Kids with mental health disorders are at a higher risk for drug abuse, particularly those with ADHD and anxiety. Remember that even mentally healthy teens who like to party are also at risk for drug abuse.

For adults and teens, smoking, drinking, or misusing drugs is a way to calm down and relax. Unfortunately, drugs are also a way to self-medicate co-existing behavioral health problems. The good news is that treatment for ADHD, anxiety, and other mental health diagnoses improves a teen's ability to control impulsive behavior and avoid the need to self-medicate.

Signs and Symptoms of Teenage Drug Use

Teenagers can be a mobile bag of chaos as they try to figure out who they are. These alterations to their appearance or behavior are a normal part of growing up. But, sometimes, too many changes can indicate a serious problem like drug use. If a few of the following signs and symptoms of drug use in teens apply to your kid, it's time to check in with your teen and seek professional counseling.

Personality and Behavior Changes

  • Extreme emotions like hostility, aggression, paranoia, depression
  • Threatening violence on others or self-harm
  • Apathetic and unmotivated
  • Uncooperative or withdrawn
  • Lying, secretive, or excessive excuses
  • Lack of inhibitions or self-control
  • Hyperactive, manic, or very tired; oversleeping
  • Theft, or money, valuables, and prescription drugs are missing

Communication Changes

  • Speech is incoherent or slurred
  • Problems comprehending simple statements
  • Uncommunicative
  • Trouble focusing
  • Rapid-fire speech

Relationships and Social Changes

  • Avoidance of relationships with family, friends, or social circles
  • New friend group or older friends
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Missing for long periods or breaking curfew
  • Skipping school, work, or once-loved activities
  • Getting into trouble at school
  • Grades dropping

Hygiene Changes

  • Clothes or breath smells of smoke or other unusual smell
  • Excessive use of mints or gum
  • Messier than usual appearance
  • Wearing dirty, wrinkled clothes
  • Poor hygiene, stops grooming, bad oral health
  • Wearing inappropriate clothes like long sleeves on a hot day

Physical and Health Changes

  • Lack of coordination, clumsiness, fidgeting
  • Burns or sores on fingers or lips
  • Bloodshot eyes, pinpoint pupils, or dilated pupils
  • Nosebleeds and/or runny nose not caused by allergies or a cold
  • Sores or spots around the mouth
  • Sudden weight changes
  • Hyper perspiration
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Finding any of the following items in your teen's possession: vapes, cigarette lighters, zip lock baggies, square folded envelopes, or tinfoil

The Dangers of Substance Abuse in Teens

Drug and alcohol abuse is dangerous for everyone, but teenagers are especially vulnerable to the effects of addiction. Even trying a substance for the first time can have severe consequences, such as:

  • An increased risk of violence
  • Unwanted sexual activity
  • Pregnancy
  • Impaired driving
  • Overdose
  • Interference with brain development
  • Drug dependence, cravings, and a higher risk of using more addicting substances
  • Mental health disorder development like depression or SUD
  • Underachievement in school
  • A cessation of normal or beloved activities
  • A cycle of intoxication, crashing, and withdrawal that can consume your life
  • Poor judgment
  • Physical disability or disease

How to Talk to Your Teen if You Suspect Drug Use

If you suspect or worry about substance abuse in teens within your family, you need to talk to them. You can use some Do's and Dont's to make your conversation productive.

When talking to your teen about drugs, DO:

  • Find a time in which neither of you will be interrupted. Be sure to turn off the T.V. and set aside phones.
  • Choose a comfortable, friendly, familiar space.
  • Ask a variety of questions about your teen's personal experiences and their opinions.
  • Ensure honesty from all parties involved.
  • Be prepared to answer their questions and divulge your drug or alcohol use.
  • Make it clear to your teen (and yourself) that this is a non-judgment conversation - and mean it.
  • Remember that this is about the behavior, not the teen. Make sure they know you don't see them as a bad person, but they are making decisions you are not comfortable with. 
  • Remind your teen that you do not condone the use of drugs or alcohol, and be clear about your boundaries.
  • Explore ways to resist peer pressure, like rehearsing drug-offer refusals.
  • Remind your teen how drugs and alcohol will impact the things they love, like hobbies, after-school activities, sports, and driving.
  • Discuss the media's role in sending the wrong messages to kids about drug and alcohol use.
  • Emphasize the dangers of substance abuse in teens without using scare tactics.

When talking to your teen about drugs, DON'T:

  • Talk to your teen when you are angry, frustrated, or judgmental. Discussions should be calm conversations, not lectures.
  • Talk to your teen when either of you is not sober.
  • Try to hide your use.
  • Yell or threaten.

What can you do as a parent to prevent substance abuse in your teens?

Unfortunately, feeling guilty is second nature for parents. It's critical to remember that our children don't live in a bubble of parental protection. Parents influence their children, but they don't have total control. Social media, friends, and communities all influence teenagers, too. When a child has the flu, parents are there to help their children get well. Substance abuse in teens is no different. Parents can identify and treat the issue by getting the professional help needed.

Most teens go through anti-drug programs in school, so they are likely getting the information they need. However, parents still need to have open conversations with their teens so they know you are a safe space to talk about drug and alcohol use. Therapists can help parents mitigate these issues with their teens, as well as help alleviate the guilt that parents likely have if their teen starts using drugs.

There are actions parents can take today to try to prevent substance abuse in teens. Besides talking openly and honestly with your teens about the consequences of drug use, the Mayo Clinic suggests:

  • Knowing your teen's whereabouts and activities and whether or not there will be adult supervision.
  • Establishing fair rules and regulations regarding drug and alcohol use.
  • Knowing your teen's friends.
  • Providing your teen with support, encouragement, and praise.
  • Keeping track of the prescription medication in your family's homes, including your teen's grandparents.
  • Setting a good example.
  • Rehearsing ways to say 'no' to peer pressure.

Treatment Options

The majority of teens using substances are not truly addicted but use drugs and alcohol socially with friends. Teens may also use drugs to self-medicate for other issues, so parents should not ignore any substance use. 

Early intervention is critical. Often, therapy with a mental health professional can be enough to help your child make better choices. The therapist can also help determine if your teen may need a focused treatment program or long-term inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation.

Substance abuse in teens affects the whole family. Be sure to get professional help for parents and siblings from therapists who specialize in drug abuse and family dynamics. You can find these experienced therapists at Goodman Psychologists Associates. Unfortunately, teen drug use happens, but you don't have to face this challenge alone. Find a therapist, book an appointment, or call 630-377-3535 today.

 If you are in a crisis, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

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Anxiety vs. Depression: Do I Have Both?

Anxiety vs. Depression: Do I Have Both?

"I'm not afraid of storms, for I'm learning how to sail my ship."

Louisa May Alcott

Sometimes it seems like our lives are wrapped in storm clouds that bring frightful thunder and drape our world in gray tones. The storms keep us tense as we anticipate the next lightning strike and hopeless because there is no joy in a colorless world. If you feel like you are constantly under these rain clouds? Exhausted but can't sleep, obsessively worried? Do you feel like the sun will never shine again? You are likely experiencing the symptoms of a mood disorder. But is it anxiety or depression? Are you wondering, “Do I have both?”

The short answer is yes. You likely have both anxiety and depression, and this is exceptionally common. Almost half of the people diagnosed with a depressive disorder are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Conversely, feeling anxious all the time leads to deep depressive episodes.

The trick to managing these mental health disorders is to learn which one is the driving force in your everyday life and which is a symptom of the other. There are ways mental health professionals, like those at Goodman Psychologist Associates, can help by first assessing your symptoms, diagnosing specific disorders, and offering treatment options.

Anxiety vs. Depression: Are They the Same Thing?

Everyone experiences feelings of sadness, grief, fear, and depression. When these normal emotions persist and interfere with average day-to-day living, work, or relationships, they become mental health conditions usually called Depressive Disorder or Anxiety Disorder. Depression and anxiety can come from genetics, current circumstances, each other, or even medical conditions. While these disorders often go hand-in-hand, they are two distinct mental health issues. So, how do you know if you have anxiety, depression, or both? The key differences are in the diagnostic definition and criteria.

Anxiety Disorder

People with anxiety have intense and excessive fear and worry. Often thoughts start with the question, "What if?" Anxiety disorders are distinguished by symptoms involving anxious thoughts, unexplained physical sensations, and avoidant or self-protective behaviors experienced most of the time for at least six months.

Depressive Disorder

A person whose primary diagnosis is depression often doesn't show the same fear and uncertainty that people do with anxiety disorders. People with depression don't worry about their future because they already believe it will be full of the same bad stuff that is happening now. Instead, they have feelings of hopelessness and intense sadness. A depressive disorder is diagnosed when a person experiences symptoms for most of the day, every day, for at least two weeks.

Shared Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression

Depression and anxiety can be hard to tell apart because they have many overlapping effects on mental and physical health. You could have depression, anxiety, or both if you experience these common symptoms: 

  • Crankiness and irritability or feeling out of control
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking
  • Lowered motivation
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Poor memory or a foggy feeling
  • Weight changes or a reduction or increase in appetite
  • Sleeping too much or too little or insomnia
  • Digestive issues
  • Muscle tension, aches, pains, or headaches
  • Exhaustion and fatigue
  • Restlessness

What Causes Anxiety and Depression?

Both anxiety and depression can result from trauma, a physical injury, stress, inherent genetic predispositions, drugs or other substances, physical changes like menstruation, pregnancy, disability, or another mental health condition. Anxiety, depression or both can also stem from the same medical condition, such as:

  • Cancer.
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
  • Heart disease.
  • Diabetes.
  • Thyroid problems.
  • Respiratory disorders like asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD).
  • Drug or alcohol withdrawal.
  • Chronic pain or irritable bowel syndrome.

How Are Anxiety and Depression Different?

When comparing anxiety vs. depression, they can clearly have the same symptoms and causes. A good way to distinguish anxiety from depression is to examine the prompting events that may have triggered one or both of the disorders and learn if there is a family history of mood disorders. Another way to tell these conditions apart is to look at symptoms that are unique to each.

Additional Mental Symptoms of Anxiety:

  • Feeling overwhelmed with worry, fear, and dread
  • Fear of the future, injury, sickness, and death
  • Rapid, intrusive, or frightening thoughts
  • Hypervigilance
  • Disassociation or detachment from reality, or depersonalization

Additional Physical Symptoms of Anxiety:

  • Elevated or fast heart rate and palpitations
  • Shortness of breath or rapid breathing
  • Tightness or pressure in the chest
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Sweating and shakiness
  • Dry mouth
  • A choking or strangling feeling
  • Hot flashes or chills
  • Tingling in the arms and legs
  • Avoidance of typical situations or events

Please Note: Many physical anxiety symptoms mimic the symptoms of a heart attack. If you are unsure what you are feeling, call a medical professional or 911.

Additional Mental Symptoms of Depression:

  • Intense and persistent sadness, sorrow, or grief; feeling tearful
  • Feeling empty, guilty, or hopeless
  • Persistent thoughts about worthlessness or guilt
  • Lack of interest and enjoyment in activities that used to be fun and interesting
  • Thoughts of self-harm, death, and suicide

Please note: If you have thoughts of self-harm or suicide, call the Suicide and Crisis Hotline by dialing 988. All calls are confidential, and the phone lines are available 24 hours a day.

Types of Anxiety Disorders

The differences between these mental health conditions are more apparent when looking at the types of disorders relating to either anxiety or depression.

There are multiple types of anxiety disorders. You can have one or more of these disorders, including:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is common. An estimated 5.7% of Americans experience GAD at some time in their lives. GAD is characterized by chronic anxiety and worry that is often not triggered by external circumstances.

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder includes feelings of intense anxiety and is characterized by the repetition of unexpected and sudden moments of extreme fear and panic. These feelings are often accompanied by physical sensations such as palpitations, hyperventilation, chest pain, lightheadedness, and gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea or pain.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that develops after a frightening ordeal or event in which physical harm was threatened or occurred. Military combat, physical or sexual assault, and disasters are examples of PTSD-inducing traumatic events.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Sometimes called social phobia, this anxiety disorder manifests with intense symptoms of anxiety accompanying social interactions.


A phobia is an intense fear of something or someone that is unlikely to cause harm or that is unlikely to be encountered. For example, a fear of spiders (arachnophobia), small spaces (claustrophobia), or dolls (pedophobia) are common examples of phobias. Encountering a phobia, or even thinking about it, can cause severe anxiety and panic attacks.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD is an anxiety disorder characterized by unwanted and uncontrolled thoughts or feelings and ritualistic-like behaviors used in an attempt to alleviate stress caused by thoughts.

Types of Depressive Disorders

Just like anxiety, depression also has multiple disorders, categorized as follows:

Major Depressive Disorder

Major depression is what most of us think of when we envision depression. It is the most common type and involves an overarching feeling of darkness and sadness. It can lead to thoughts or actions of self-harm and suicide.

Persistent Depressive Disorder

Persistent depressive disorder is less intense than major depressive disorder and allows many people to function daily despite their low mood. However, people with this disorder often have mild depression that has lasted for two or more years and have trouble experiencing joy or feelings of optimism and general happiness.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

SAD occurs as the nights get longer as winter approaches. Changes in emotional status from feeling ok to being depressed can occur from disruption to our circadian rhythm, as well as our serotonin and melatonin production. Often this depressive disorder can be treated simply with light therapy but can also be managed with talk therapy and medication. SAD generally gets better as the nights get shorter and more natural sunlight is available.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, once called manic depression, differs from anxiety and depression. Bipolar disorder is characterized by intense highs (mania), moderate highs (hypomania), and severe lows (depression). These mood changes may come on suddenly and last for several days.

Treatment for Anxiety and Depression: The Same, But Different

Treatment for any mental health condition is tailored to the individual's diagnosis and needs. Anxiety and depression disorders each have their own treatment recommendations, although these plans often overlap in both medications used and the types of psychological assistance given.


Both anxiety and depression are regulated by serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that acts like a hormone. According to Cleveland College, "Serotonin plays several roles in your body, including influencing learning, memory, happiness as well as regulating body temperature, sleep, sexual behavior, and hunger. Lack of enough serotonin plays a role in depression, anxiety, mania, and other health conditions."

When it comes to medication for anxiety and depression, there is little distinction. Both disorders have been shown to improve using selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). You will likely receive a prescription for an antidepressant SSRI medication for an anxiety disorder, which can be confusing.

Examples of SSRI medication for the treatment of both anxiety and depression include:

  • Citalopram (Celexa)
  • Escitalopram (Lexapro)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Fluvoxamine (Luvox)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Vilazodone (Viibryd)

You could also be prescribed serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Like SSRIs, these medications work to increase serotonin. Unlike SSRIs, they also increase the levels of norepinephrine. Examples of popular SNRIs include:

  • Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq)
  • Duloxetine (Cymbalta)
  • Levomilnacipran (Fetzima)
  • Venlafaxine (Effexor XR)


Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most effective treatment for depression and anxiety disorders. CBT is a form of talk therapy (also called psychotherapy) that aids in managing mental health issues by changing how you react, behave, and think.

CBT also teaches life skills so we can cope more effectively. Subsets of CBT include dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). A typical CBT treatment plan involves limited and structured sessions with a mental health professional. CBT may be used by itself or in combination with other therapies or medications.

Additional Treatments

In addition to talk therapy and medications, both anxiety and depression can benefit from lifestyle changes and a willingness to get help. Some examples include:

  • Get treatment for the medical condition causing the mood disorder.
  • Exercise.
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in vitamins and nutrients.
  • Join a support group.
  • Utilize meditation practice and relaxation techniques.

Still Not Sure if You Have Anxiety, Depression, or Both?

Because anxiety and depression have similar symptoms, causes, and treatments, knowing which common mental health disorder is the primary condition can be difficult. Remember that anxiety tends to be about fear, and depression tends to be about hopelessness.

While depression and anxiety exist separately from each other, there is a high probability that a person with a depressive order has an anxiety disorder as a secondary symptom and vice versa.

To know for sure and to get the proper treatment, you need to see a mental health professional like the experts at Goodman Psychologist Associates. Our therapists are trained in anxiety and depressive disorders and have extensive experience treating both. Make an appointment today or call 630-377-3535. 

When those storm clouds surround us, it is hard to see our way out of them. It is even harder to ask for help. We encourage you to reach out to mental health specialists or to friends and family to talk. You don't have to tackle these issues alone.

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Achieve Balance Amidst the Chaos with a Meditation Practice

Achieve Balance Amidst the Chaos with a Meditation Practice

Have you ever wished you knew a way to manage stress better? You may have heard of meditation but aren't sure it would work for you or don't know how to start a meditation practice.

The good news is that any of us can learn to meditate quickly and easily. Better still, the benefits of meditation are almost instantaneous and can positively impact our ability to manage stress. If you're seeking calm amidst the chaos of daily life, Goodman Psychologist Associates Clinical Psychologist Karen A. Baker, PsyD, explains why you should consider a meditation practice.

The Benefits of Meditation

Many of us know about meditation's "soft" benefits—we feel calm, centered, and relaxed. We may have tried meditation before and felt some of the positive benefits, or we may have heard a friend talking about how meditation helps them decompress after a tough day.

However, a meditation practice is a little different. To get the full benefits of meditation, you should do it every day or most days—not just listen to an app or YouTube video to calm down on an “as-needed basis.” Research supports regular meditation practice to boost wellness in many ways, including:

The list of meditation benefits goes on and on. Much has been written on the science behind meditation and its connection to our health. Ongoing research continues to uncover new benefits and positive effects on our minds and bodies.

Meditation: The Answer to Today’s Stressful World

We know all too well what is going on in the world today. In fact, thanks to the internet and social media, we know more than ever and much of it feels scary. We are confronted with politics, war, conflict, crime, and disease (just to name a few stressful items) on a daily basis.

We don't have to look far to see that people are stressed, anxious, depressed, and even fearful of what's coming next. And who can blame them? So much of what is happening today is frightening and leaves us with a sense of uncertainty. I know sometimes I feel like it's not the safe and secure world I grew up in anymore...or is it? It may be a matter of perspective—and as we know, perspective is our choice. 

We don’t need to "live" in fear or worry; we can choose to shift our perspective. We can choose what we want to focus on and choose our thoughts. We can focus on things we can control and the positive aspects of our lives, which helps us feel more balanced, centered, and calm. This doesn't mean we ignore what's happening in the world; it just means we can balance it.

One thing that can help achieve this perspective shift and sense of balance is adopting a meditation practice. For example, equanimity that results from a meditation practice allows us to access rational and logical forms of thinking; stress impairs this ability. Meditation practice is the treatment that both functionally and structurally changes the brain.

If you want to feel calmer and more centered amidst the chaos, learn to meditate and set your practice—you will get back to that sense of balance. Isn’t that what we are all yearning for?

How to Start a Meditation Practice

If you're wondering how to start a meditation practice, it can help to explore some of the many online resources. Plenty of books, apps, and even videos can walk you through the basics of meditation.

The key to success is to make your meditation a practice—meaning scheduling it regularly and practicing meditation daily. Many people find it beneficial to practice at the same time each day, such as when you first get up in the morning or during a specific break.

Go slow at first. You don't need to meditate for 20-30 minutes right away. Even a brief, 3–5-minute meditation break can help you get used to the practice and build up your abilities. Research has shown that even short meditation breaks can offer some benefit, although you'll eventually want to work your way up to a more extended practice. The idea is to build a habit that you'll stick with in the long term. Combat stress and feel more balanced by starting meditation today. Even if you don't feel like you have time, it's essential to prioritize your well-being. Stress management is challenging, but we can all learn to prioritize our healthy habits for an improved perspective!

Dr. Karen Baker feels so strongly about meditation and connecting with our true self that she started the Delta Foundation for Spiritual Studies, which teaches meditation training in multiple formats at an affordable price, among other courses, lectures, and events, located in Geneva, IL. If you are interested in learning how to meditate, check out, or explore any other option you choose to learn and practice. Just Meditate!

Businessman afraid

How to Deal with Difficult People

How to Deal with Difficult People

Do you find yourself constantly drained from having to deal with difficult people at work or at home? Are you fed up trying to reason with people who seem as unmovable as a mountain or are always expressing their anger? Did you know you can learn ways to protect yourself, get what you need, and control your own negative emotions? With counseling and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), you can learn how to deal with difficult people. Here are five DBT skills to try the next time you must deal with these challenging situations.

The Telltale Traits of Difficult People

The characteristics of a difficult person can depend on the type of person they are in normal circumstances. Remember, sometimes people have difficult personalities, and sometimes a person is difficult because of circumstances. Perpetually problematic people often have one or more of the following traits:

Aggression: they antagonize, pick fights, are hostile, project emotions, are contrarian, and refuse to compromise or find a solution.

Callousness: they lack empathy, sympathy, and self-awareness.

Arrogance: they are narcissistic and hyperbolic, generally exaggerating their situation and crisis, and are reluctant to see other sides or perspectives of the issue at hand.

Dishonest: they are manipulative, play the victim, are suspicious, forgetful, unclear in communication, and sometimes lie or lie by omission.

In order to understand how to deal with difficult people, you need to know the truth:

  1. You can’t change a person’s behavior.
  2. The only way to deal with difficult people is to change your own behaviors.

A therapist trained in teaching DBT can provide you with techniques to alter your own responses to life’s challenges.

If you think you might be a difficult person, a therapist can help you, too!

What is Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a talk therapy and education program based partially on the techniques of cognitive behavior therapy. DBT focuses on teaching real-world applicable skills while acknowledging that life is complex, emotions can be contradictory, and feelings can fluctuate. Dialectical behavior therapy offers excellent training on how to deal with difficult people because it focuses on social relationships and emotion management.

DBT is divided into four focus areas:

  1. Emotion Regulation
  2. Mindfulness
  3. Distress Tolerance
  4. Interpersonal Effectiveness

The skills learned in each of these four components can be applied to encounters with those hard-to-deal-with people.

5 DBT Skills for Dealing with Difficult People

The next time you find yourself in a situation in which dealing with a difficult person is unavoidable, try using these five dialectical behavior skills.

Skill 1: Validation

Almost all humans have a hidden need for wanting to be understood and accepted. This is called “validation.” Validation is a powerful tool for creating empathy, sympathy, and a bond with people. It lets the other person know that you are listening and that you are trying to understand their point of view. It is not validating the unvalidatable or agreeing that what they are saying or doing is accurate.

Validation reduces anger, negative reactions, and pressure to “win” the argument.”  Examples include:

  • Repeating what the other person is saying to validate their emotions: “It sounds like you are mad at me because you believed I lied to you” or, “It sucks that it happened to you.”
  • Admitting your mistakes: “I understand that not taking the garbage out after I told you I would has upset you.”
  • Understanding their core message: “I think what you’re saying is that you want me to finish my to-do list by the end of the day. Is that correct?”

Skill 2: Mindfulness

Mindfulness is more than meditation. It is the act of consciously keeping your mind in the present moment without judgment, which gives you a better chance to control your reactivity and reduce suffering and fear.  Many times, when we deal with difficult people, we allow ourselves to operate on “auto-pilot.” If we are mindful of our feelings and emotions while dealing with an arduous situation, we are more likely to achieve a better outcome.

Here are a few ways to deal with difficult people using mindfulness:

  • Come back to the present moment by focusing on the sights, smells, and sounds around you.
  • Take deep breaths to control physical responses and stay calm.
  • Be aware of rising emotions and let them go by like clouds in the sky.
  • Allow yourself to be silent so you can really listen to the other person.
  • Be conscious of the tone and volume of your voice.
  • Be aware when the situation becomes too much to handle and you need to take a break.

Skill 3: Cope Ahead

DBT teaches emotional regulation, and one of the skills learned is known as “cope ahead.” This skill allows us to prepare for confrontations with difficult people while helping to reduce stress and anxiety. Coping ahead requires us to vividly, fully imagine and rehearse encounters we are likely to have. Here are the steps to using cope ahead skills:

  1. Fully describe the situation. Let’s say you have a difficult coworker who doesn’t do his job and is unpleasant to be around. You are having a meeting with him in two days to discuss his behavior, and you use the cope ahead skill to prepare. Write down or think about all the facts of the situation: how many times he has called in, shown up late, or found checking his phone instead of taking care of customers.
  2. Decide on the skills you will use to deal with this difficult conversation. Maybe you will focus on mindfulness, validation, and active listening. Write out in detail how you will cope with your emotions and urges as well as his emotions and outbursts.
  3. Imagine the scene as vividly as you can. The more you can feel the possible emotions, like anxiety, the more prepared you will be if you encounter them.
  4. Rehearse the encounter. This may seem awkward at first, but write down or imagine how each part of that meeting could go. Rehearse your actions, your reactions to his potential emotions, how to cope with new problems that may arise or worse-case scenarios. Immerse yourself in ‘how to deal with difficult people' skills and feel the emotions that occur.
  5. Rehearse relaxing after the situation. Emotion regulation is important before, during, and after each difficult situation.

Skill 4: G.I.V.E. F.A.S.T.

One of the tools taught in DBT under the interpersonal effectiveness component is G.I.V.E. F.A.S.T. In all the ways we are learning how to deal with difficult people, this skill is the best way to de-escalate intense situations and help you keep your self-respect. G.I.V.E. F.A.S.T. stands for:

G: (Be) Gentle

When having a conversation with a hard-to-handle person, avoid physical and verbal attacks, rising to their level of emotion, judgments and use of the word “should”, threats, and mockery.

I: (Act) Interested

Listen actively and keep your face soft and approachable. Try to see things from their point of view. Don’t interrupt. Try to maintain eye contact and be patient.

V: Validate

As previously discussed, validation is key when dealing with overly emotional and problematic people. Use both words and actions to convey that you understand, or are trying to understand, the other person’s perspective. Their feelings are as valid as your own.

E: Easy Manner

Deescalate by using a little bit of humor. Smile if it seems appropriate. Keep your manner light and easy. Be softer in your tone and words. Try to be diplomatic.

F: (Be) Fair

Be fair to the other person and yourself. It is important to validate your emotions and experiences too. Try to treat both yourself and the difficult person equally by respecting boundaries. It is okay to set limits.

A: (No) Apologies

Don’t apologize for asking for something that you need or for just existing at all. You are allowed to have your own beliefs and opinions and to disagree with others. Remember, don’t validate the invalid.

S: Stick To Your Values

Know your own values and don’t abandon them to placate a difficult person. You have your values and integrity for a reason, and you don’t have to give those up because someone else is becoming a thorn in your side.

T: (Be) Truthful

Dishonesty makes people difficult to deal with, which is why you want to be truthful. Don’t exaggerate or make excuses.

Skill 5: Radical Acceptance

You know the truth: you can’t change the behavior of a difficult person or the facts of a difficult situation. You can, however, practice radical acceptance. Radical acceptance is “...the complete and total acceptance of reality. This means that you accept the reality of a situation in your mind, heart, and body. You stop fighting against the reality and accept it.”

This acceptance of truth does not mean you like the situation or condone the behaviors of others. It simply means, “it is what it is at the moment.”

Here is a possible scenario on how to deal with difficult people using radical acceptance:

  • The situation: Every holiday, my uncle comes to dinner and inevitably brings up unpopular political beliefs and racial comments as loudly as possible.

That is what happens, and it just is, whether you like it or not. Now that you have accepted this inevitability, you can focus on other skills:

  • Coping ahead: Write down the emotions and urges you have when you are around your uncle. Practice how you will react and whether you can avoid him.
  • Validation and G.I.V.E. F.A.S.T.: If he is unavoidable, you can still validate his feelings and your own. “Uncle Doug, I can hear that these issues are very important to you. However, I find it uncomfortable when you express these opinions during dinner.”
  • Mindfulness: Be aware of your body’s clues. Are you present with yourself and the moment? Are you getting tense and angry? Mindfulness will help bring you back to the skills you have learned.

At some point in our lives, we will have to deal with difficult people. We can make these encounters more pleasant, goal-oriented, and safer by using skills learned from dialectical behavior therapy. Contact the mental health professionals at Goodman Psychologist Associates if you want to learn more ways to deal with difficult people or if would like to address other issues. We can help you live life to the fullest!

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Can My Marriage Be Saved?

Can My Marriage Be Saved? The Benefits of Couples Counseling

“A successful marriage requires falling in love many times - always with the same person.”

Mignon McLaughlin

When our relationship with our significant other feels broken, some may see divorce as the next step. However, more couples are realizing that unhappy marriages can be mended. The divorce rate for Americans has decreased from roughly 872,000 in 2010 to about 630,505 in 2022. Couples counseling is one reason spouses can stay together. By getting professional help, couples can work through specific issues safely in a relatively short time. The question isn’t “Can my marriage be saved?” but “How can we save our marriage?” With the help of a qualified therapist and a mental toolbox filled with the following 8 skills, you and your partner will likely be able to repair the damage to your relationship and have a successful marriage.

Can My Marriage Be Saved? The Four Requirements

If you have a troubled marriage, the best thing you can do to save it is to get couples counseling. Marriage therapy doesn’t mean that you or your partner have failed. In fact, it’s the opposite. It means you are invested in the marriage and want to improve your situation together.

A marriage is a living entity. In couples counseling, the marriage is in therapy, not the individuals. There are no sides taken because both spouses are on the same team. Unlike traditional therapy for individuals, the most effective couple’s therapy does not plumb the unconscious or seek to identify the psychopathologies causing people to behave in destructive ways. Couples therapy works best when it focuses on the perpetuating patterns that are driving couples apart and what positive steps each person can take to change them.

There are some prerequisites that the marriage team (you and your spouse) need to agree with to have positive couples counseling results. These are:

  1. A common goal of repairing past and present relationship damage.
  2. Both partners have to put in equal amounts of time and effort.
  3. Both partners must commit to doing whatever is needed to solve the problems in the marriage.
  4. Both partners must understand damaging the marriage means you’ve damaged the trust between each other.

Marriages are saved by reconstituting the trust lost between each other. The damage is often done to our expectations and faith in ourselves and our spouse. Trust is the foundation of any successful partnership. For marriage, trust expectations may be expressed as:

  • You trust your partner loves you.
  • You trust your partner to keep their vows.
  • You trust your partner to tell you the truth.
  • You trust your partner to have your best interests at heart.
  • You trust your partner is communicating their needs to you.
  • You trust your partner respects your boundaries.
  • You trust that you are safe with your partner.
  • You trust that your partner trusts you.

If trust is broken and ignored, small issues become big problems fast.

How Can My Marriage Be Saved? 8 Skills For a Successful Marriage

Can a marriage be saved just by going to marriage counseling? Maybe, but there is hard work ahead in counseling sessions, and you need tools to help you fix problems. Couples need to learn some essential interpersonal skills to step back from the brink of divorce and rebuild trust in each other.

Skill 1: Listen to Hear, Don’t Listen to Reply

Communication is key to any relationship. However, most couples find the problem isn’t a lack of communication but feeling unheard. Bad communication contributes to an impaired partnership. We are often too busy thinking about what we want to say next that we don’t hear what our partner says.  Try to listen without judgment.

Skill 2: Speak Honestly

Speak to your partner with vulnerability, honesty, and respect. Don’t assume they know what you need or what you mean. Although speaking honestly can create anxiety, the truth really can set you free and establish new bonds of trust.

Skill 3: Put Your Swords and Shields Down

Use “I” statements to avoid directly accusing your spouse of wrongdoing. Try not to take a defensive position when listening, either. Instead, try to relax and control your primitive, reactive side so you can listen without taking things personally. If something your spouse says really does hurt you or makes you angry, calmly explain to them how you feel and why you feel that way.

Skill 4: Validate Each Other

Don’t try to fix your partner's problems. Let them speak and empathize with them. Sometimes, we just need commiseration and a partner who understands. You don’t have to agree with your partner’s statement, but you can validate their feelings about the experience they are describing.

Skill 5: Learn How to Apologize

Sometimes simply saying “I’m sorry” isn’t enough. Resentment can build if the person who did something wrong doesn’t feel truly remorseful for their actions or doesn’t understand the full impact of their behavior.

An effective apology shows remorse, repairs damage to trust, and makes amends. If the spouse who was wronged gets an effective apology to their satisfaction, the relationship may be repaired. Apologies need to include empathy and compassion, the admittance of the mistake, and genuine remorse. Both partners need to understand the impact of the offending behavior and the repercussions on the trust bond. This isn’t about assigning blame, either. Apologies are done with the intent to heal and move forward.

Skill 6: Don’t Play the Blame Game

Couples tend to blame each other for the current state of the marriage. While the other person may be responsible for some issues, you are likely responsible in some way too. We can work on our behavior and come together to build a stronger union.

Skill 7: Forgive and Forget

Learning to truly forgive and forget is another skill couples can use to save a marriage. If you have received a satisfactory apology and amends were made, don’t hold your partner’s mistake over their head. It may take time for you to truly forgive your partner for their transgressions and rebuild trust bonds, which is ok.

Skill 8: Understand Your Partner’s Needs and Your Own

You need to know your own needs for a successful marriage. Respect each other's boundaries and solidify your non-negotiables. Boundaries and non-negotiable examples include:

  • Types and frequency of physical affection
  • Whether or not to have children
  • Parenting methods
  • Religion in the household

Can My Marriage Be Saved After Infidelity?

Yes, saving a marriage after infidelity is possible.  Infidelity does not always lead to divorce. Sometimes cheating can be a conduit for a better relationship if the unfaithful person and their spouse work with a therapist. The tricky part is determining whether the couple wants to stay together for the sake of staying together or if they truly want to move past the indiscretion. However, there are key things that need to happen for the spouses to move forward. These include:

  1. The person who was unfaithful needs to work on making the repairs to the marriage. They can begin by expressing true remorse for breaking the marital bond and hurting their spouse.
  2. The repairs made by the offending spouse need to be adequate and to their partner's satisfaction.
  3. Rebuilding trust after an extra-marital affair can take time. Allow space for healing and processing thoughts. 

Considerations Before Divorce

Before jumping straight into divorce, you need to consider all aspects of ending the marriage. Of course, the priority will always be the safety and well-being of all parties involved in the relationship.

Should you stay together for the sake of the children?

This depends on everyone’s physical and mental health. If you are screaming and fighting in front of the kids, seek couples counseling. Children are deeply affected by aggressive behavior, and you may be doing more harm than good.

Other considerations to make before divorce include:

  • Have you both done all you can to save the marriage?
  • Remember why you both got married and why you fell in love.
  • Do the positive aspects of your relationship outweigh the bad?
  • Consider the legal, financial, and living arrangement challenges of divorce. Always get legal advice before pursuing anything in the court system.

The Benefits of Couples Counseling

Couples counseling has many advantages, but the biggest benefit is having a safe space and a mediator to help you resolve conflicts. Couples counseling also provides instructions on how to use relationship skills to make the marriage work.

A relationship therapist will help both of you learn to take the middle path between your needs and your partner’s needs. Both spouses will learn the art of compromise when applicable, so you can each bend a little to reach a common goal. A therapist can help both people in a relationship see their partner’s perspective and develop empathy for what they are experiencing.

A therapist will also help you address issues as they come up. The best time for couples counseling is before problems begin so you both have the skills needed to deal with future conflicts and keep the marriage a priority.

Couples Counseling and Positive Results

You should be able to tell early on if the therapy is helpful. Within the first couple of sessions, each partner should feel that the psychologist or relationship expert understands his or her point of view and is actively structuring the sessions. The relationship should be improving in five to eight sessions.

People in couples counseling have over an 80% success rate. However, research shows that going alone to individual counseling for marital problems increases the chance of divorce. That’s because the client is telling only one side of the story to an empathetic therapist. In addition, therapy can become a gripe session about how unhappy the person is in the relationship. The absent partner looks even more like a monster, exacerbating the couple’s polarization. That is not to say you can’t have individual therapy sessions for relationship problems. For example, suppose one partner’s depression or commitment issues caused the discord. In that case, that person might benefit from individual counseling to work on those personal issues (though if the marital problems came before the depression, couples therapy is the way to go). It can also be helpful to bring in your partner for a session or two of individual counseling.

If you and your partner want to save your marriage, or if you want the skills needed to prevent problems in the future, consider making an appointment with one of our specialized therapists. Goodman Psychologist Associates has expert couples counseling therapists with well over 50 years of combined experience. Call 1-630-377-3535 or visit our appointments page to schedule a session today.

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Goodman-Banners_0004_Self Esteem For Kids

Building Your Child’s Self-Esteem

Building Your Child’s Self-Esteem

There are a lot of discussions these days about the importance of building self-esteem, especially when it comes to children and adolescents. Experts in parenting and human psychology recognize how crucial healthy self-esteem is to future success.

But building your child's self-esteem can be a challenge for parents. So, how do we create and instill healthy self-esteem in kids, and how do parents encourage their children to be confident, independent, and ready to face challenges?

What Does it Mean to Have Good Self-Esteem?

Many factors affect children's self-esteem. It's important to remember that even if you do a great job building your child's self-esteem, they will still face setbacks and challenges as they navigate through life. The way they approach these challenges will truly help reinforce and build their confidence and belief in themselves.

There are also many reasons children, particularly adolescents, might struggle with low self-esteem. Anxiety, depression, ADHD, and ASD can all play a role in a child’s self-esteem. Any disorder that makes it difficult to regulate their mood and impacts their school functioning can lower their self-esteem.

But even beyond facing a mental health disorder, kids’ self-esteem is influenced by many other factors in their lives. We can’t ignore the impact of social media on our tweens, teens, and young adults. It provides a fantasy world to compare themselves to. Social media is a place where kids are constantly exposed to curated images of others living their “best lives.” The comparison can make kids feel like they don't measure up and aren't good enough.

In addition to the challenges of social media, many kids today are overscheduled. There's no time for leisure, play, and imagination, which is essential for growth. Kids need time to try new things, different roles, and react to various new challenges to help them discover who they are.

There are other several factors that affect children’s self-esteem, including:

  • How much a child feels wanted, appreciated, and loved.
  • How a child sees themselves (often related to what parents and those closest to them say).
  • A sense of achievement.
  • How a child relates to others.

Positive self-esteem isn’t just “feeling good about oneself.” It’s about how a child sees themselves and their capacity within the world, how they feel secure and safe, and how they connect and communicate with others in their lives—peers, teachers, friends, and family.

Another crucial aspect of self-esteem is self-efficacy or the belief in one's capacity to face a given situation. Self-efficacy is related to resilience—how do children recover from setbacks and deal with disappointments and challenges?

The number one way for parents to help children build resilience is to allow children to fall down sometimes. It may sound counter-intuitive that building a child's self-esteem means letting them face failure. As parents, we may want to rescue and protect our children from facing difficulties. It's hard for parents emotionally and hard on a societal level as well.

It's important to remember that most little situations aren't going to matter in the grand scheme of things. Learning to cope with challenges builds resilience and problem-solving skills. Resilient kids have some level of accountability, know how to communicate effectively, and have parents and adults that model it for them. Many parents might not have been raised that way, so it’s challenging to learn to have open accountability and awareness of their actions.

How Parents Can Help in Building Their Child’s Self-Esteem

So other than allowing children room to navigate, make decisions, and, yes, even make mistakes, how can parents help build their child's self-esteem?

There are many positive ways to boost a child's confidence and sense of self-worth; some of the simplest and best ways are:

  • Appreciating your child.
  • Telling your child that you love him.
  • Spending time with your child.
  • Allowing and encouraging your child to make choices.
  • Fostering independence in your child.
  • Giving genuine importance to your child’s opinion and listening.
  • Taking the time to explain reasons.
  • Feeding your child with positive encouragement and positive affirmations.
  • Encouraging your child to try new and challenging activities.

Appreciating and affirming kids is critical to helping them build a strong sense of self-worth. A child's self-esteem suffers greatly when they aren't appreciated. What's more, kids know when we're being sincere and honest with them. When we're spending time with them, but we're dismissive or annoyed, our kids pick up on it. It's important that we devote time to genuinely enjoying our kids.

It's also crucial to show appreciation by thanking children and acknowledging positives. Tell your child that you love them frequently, even if you don't feel comfortable expressing it or think they already know. Thanking a child when they do something positive is a wonderful reward—children love to please, and they feel good when they know they've done something notable.

Encouragement is the fuel behind self-esteem. When we encourage a child, we help build a child’s self-esteem by allowing them to discover the path to success. Encourage decision-making, which leads to building confidence and independence.

Some people worry that offering external praise creates kids that are addicted to pleasing others. They need the praise to feel good. Encouragement is a little different and aligns more with what kids need. Encouragement empowers kids to create positive outcomes on their own.

Parents can also build a child’s self-esteem with mutual respect. Treating children seriously and with respect helps them realize that they’re valued as human beings. When we explain a situation and treat a child like an intelligent individual able to understand and reach conclusions, we empower them to rise to the occasion. We all want to be treated with respect, and kids are no different. When kids are belittled, patronized, or teased and put down, they start to suffer from a lack of healthy self-confidence. They question themselves and feel insecure. Mutual respect fosters trust.

To encourage a child to take risks and get out of their comfort zone, explore their feelings about the situation. Everyone feels fear and anxiety when they take on a new task. Helping kids understand that some risk avoidance is due to these fears and anxiety can help them overcome these feelings. As they engage in more challenging activities outside their comfort zone, they'll build up a higher tolerance for discomfort, and their bravery will increase with each success.

Helping a Child Build Self-Esteem When They Struggle

When a child has a diagnosis like ADHD, depression, or ASD, they may struggle with self-esteem. There’s always a tension between helping a child understand their mental health issues impact and encouraging them and accepting their uniqueness.

When a child falls, they shouldn't be made to feel like a failure. There's a difference between failing at an endeavor and BEING a failure. It's vital to help children view their mistakes and missteps not as failures but rather as temporary setbacks on the road to success. We should never tell children that they've let us down or can't succeed. Instead, we can act as a mentor and a model, helping children believe in their ability to succeed no matter how long it takes.

But what about when a child acts out or does something that needs to be discouraged? How can we offer discipline without damaging a child’s self-esteem? Rather than punishment, we need to think of discipline as administering consequences. It should come from a place of calmness.

As parents or caretakers, we can say, "I'm frustrated, and there will be consequences. I need to take a second." Rather than losing it and doing something we regret later, we can take a few moments to collect ourselves—physical forms of punishment like hitting or spanking cause more harm than good. Kids are more likely to understand and accept the consequences of their actions when they are explained and delivered calmly.

Spending time with our children is crucial to their self-esteem and confidence. For all kids, their relationship with their parents or caretaker is their foundation. Their foundational family relationships need to be solid, so they feel safe exploring the world—it offers them a place of unconditional love to fall back on.

As parents, we should offer non-judgmental support to help our children feel encouraged. Give them a place where they can discuss their thoughts and feelings without judgment. They're trying to navigate the world, and that requires exploration. Kids come to their own conclusions, often in the way we want them to. If they fear that we're judging them, they might keep things to themselves instead and make impulsive decisions.

If you feel like your parenting reserves are exhausted, or you've hit a wall in terms of understanding what's going on with your child, remember that you aren't alone. At Goodman Psychologist Associates, we offer support for children, families, and parents. If you need assistance getting past a roadblock and reconnecting with your child, reach out today. We’re here to help. 


Dealing with Emotional Pain

How to Deal with Emotional Pain: 3 Ways to Feel Better Today

Emotional pain can stop us in our tracks. It can feel unbearable—almost physically painful at times—but unlike physical pain, taking a pain reliever and getting rest doesn’t make emotional pain go away. If you’re wondering how to deal with emotional pain, you aren’t alone.

Some emotional pain can stem from a major life change or disruption like a breakup, a divorce, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one. When we can pinpoint the trigger of our emotional pain, it may help us to recognize that it’s part of the natural grieving process. Grief hurts.

Sometimes, though, the emotional pain can feel like it's too much to bear. It may last for months and may start to disrupt our day-to-day activities. When this happens, it's time to reach out for support. Whether the emotional pain comes from a life change or is more nebulous in nature, talking to a professional counselor can get you through. Reach out today to schedule an appointment with one of our therapists so that you can deal with emotional pain in a manageable way.

Why Emotional Pain Happens

Anyone who's experienced the deep emotional pain of a loss or trauma can attest that it hurts. Sometimes that hurt is so intense that it feels physical. In fact, it's not uncommon to experience physical manifestations of emotional pain.

When we're going through an emotional upset, we may have headaches, stomach pains, and digestive issues. Our sleep may be disrupted, and we may find that we're unable to focus on work or our usual activities. As a result, our performance can suffer in our jobs and personal lives.

We may also find that we don’t have much of an appetite, or some people may turn to comfort foods—feeling an almost insatiable desire to eat ice cream, cookies, chips, bread, and other carbs (they trigger "feel-good" serotonin in our brains and help us feel relaxed). Other people may turn to less healthy behaviors like smoking, drinking, or drugs in an attempt to numb and deal with emotional pain.

When we experience emotional pain, we can even experience real, physical symptoms. For example, as discussed in Scientific America's article, What Causes Chest Pains When Feelings Are Hurt?

“According to a 2009 study from the University of Arizona and the University of Maryland, activity in a brain region that regulates emotional reactions called the anterior cingulate cortex helps to explain how an emotional insult can trigger a biological cascade. During a particularly stressful experience, the anterior cingulate cortex may respond by increasing the activity of the vagus nerve—the nerve that starts in the brain stem and connects to the neck, chest, and abdomen. When the vagus nerve is overstimulated, it can cause pain and nausea.”

Those gut-wrenching, heart-achy feelings aren’t in our heads. They’re actual bodily reactions to the emotional discomfort. When we grieve or experience a loss, the physical sensations can be particularly strong and overwhelming.

At the same time, our brains are looking for patterns and reasons for the loss. We may find ourselves going through the stages of grief during a breakup or job loss, just like a death. We might experience "magical thinking” where we believe our thoughts, feelings, or actions might have inadvertently caused something to occur. We may try to rationalize and find a sense of control over the situation. Often, we may look for somewhere to put the blame or think, "If only I'd done something differently."

We may also experience guilt over what happened, or we may find ourselves feeling deeply sad, tired, and listless. It's not uncommon for those experiencing emotional pain to feel overcome with emotion suddenly. One minute we're standing in line at the grocery store listening to a song, and suddenly we're in tears.

During grief, sorrow, and emotional pain, we may also find that we feel anger. We might feel abandoned by our loved ones, unsupported in a situation at work, or enraged at our ex. All these complex emotions can come in waves—one moment we’re fine, and the next moment we’re ready to scream, cry, or both.

Emotional pain is challenging, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. It's essential that we feel grief and allow ourselves space to experience the emotions. However, when we don't know how to deal with emotional pain, or it becomes destructive and ever-present in our lives, it may be time to reach out. Whether our pain happens because of a loss or we're not sure what has caused our pain, a professional can provide the supportive space to talk through our problems.

Should we discover that our emotional pain is caused by depression, or if it’s a reaction to circumstances in our life, we can still find relief. While working with a therapist or counselor, it can also be helpful to try these three techniques to alleviate emotional pain.

3 Tips for Dealing with Emotional Pain

1. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness and meditation are helpful practices for addressing many different mental health concerns, including emotional pain and depression. When we're mindful, we bring our brains back "online" and help ourselves reorient to the moment. Instead of ruminating on the past source of our emotional pain (or worrying about the future), we look at the present. Even if these pockets of mindfulness are brief, they can help us find relief and deal with emotional pain.

Meditation and mindfulness are easy to learn. There are helpful apps out there like Headspace and Calm that can guide us through the process. There are also many resources online, including free videos on YouTube that can help you get the hang of mindfulness and meditation.

Practice mindfulness anywhere—at home, at the office, in the classroom. It doesn't require anything extra. To give it a shot, we can try to take several deep breaths, focusing on the air coming into our nose and out of our mouth. As we breathe, we can observe our thoughts and feelings. Rather than getting caught up in a thought, we allow the mind to acknowledge it and let it flow by.

Unlike depression and grief, which can trigger catastrophizing thoughts, mindfulness helps us feel calm and relaxed. We focus on the here and now rather than asking what if.

We can also try a mindful walk outside. During our walk, we can do a mental inventory. First, focus on what we see for one minute. Next, spend a minute focusing on the sounds we hear. For the next minute, focus on a physical sensation—like touching a tree, rubbing our fingers on a leaf, or taking off our shoes and walking through the grass. Then focus on the smells in the air, like the scent of flowers, trees, cars, even someone's cooking as we walk by. Repeat this sensory inventory for the duration of the walk.

2. Get Creative & Cerebral

Another way to deal with emotional pain is to focus on stimulating our brains in other ways. Therapy can often be part of the cerebral or cognitive approach (hence, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). During CBT or talk therapy, we often identify negative thinking patterns and counter them with a more positive perspective.

But in addition to therapy, engaging our brains in other positive pursuits can help us deal with emotional pain in a positive, forward-focused way. When we're learning about a new subject, reading a book, or attempting something new, we use a different part of our brain. We do not forget the subject of our grief (which is often a fear during a loss—we don't want to "get over" someone we love). Instead, we're shifting our brains a little to allow ourselves a rest and to focus on other thoughts.

Journaling can be another technique to help us get our creative juices flowing and start to help us deal with emotional pain. Write out feelings, compose a letter to someone, or look for journal prompts that can help us explore some of the complicated emotions we’re experiencing.

Other outlets such as drawing and coloring, playing music, dancing, or photography can also be excellent ways to work through emotional pain and sadness. While something like dancing may feel challenging (or even impossible) at first, we can channel some of the frustrations and energy into our movement.

Exercise is a great coping tool and can have other benefits for our bodies as well. Again, the thought of going for a jog may seem absolutely out of our range at the moment. But slipping on comfortable shoes and taking a brisk walk around the block, or even doing some jumping jacks in our bedroom can help us start to see positive benefits and boost our mood.

3. Supplement Support

Grief, sorrow, depression, and emotional pain often feel very lonely. We may believe that no one will understand what we're going through; we may feel guilty like we can't offer emotional support back to our friends, or we may feel like we're worthless and people don't want to be around us.

When our brain is experiencing emotional pain, these irrational thoughts can feel very real and insurmountable. But it’s crucial that we find a support system. A therapist or counselor is an important part of the journey, but friends, family, and other people can help too.

We can look through the people in our lives and choose a few key people who might provide a sense of support and empathy. It's important to remind ourselves that we aren't a burden. Part of feeling better is asking for and accepting help to get us through this difficult time. Eventually, we can pay it forward when we're feeling more up to it.

If we can’t readily identify a friend who could support us, consider a family member, a teacher, a coworker, or someone from church or our religious practice. Emotional support can come from many different places, so explore social circles to find a connection.

Even talking to and hugging a pet can be therapeutic and helpful to get us through a difficult time. We can walk the dog or play with a cat and feel less alone. Animals can also remind us to be mindful—after all, they live in the moment, and it can be an excellent example of how we can shift our thinking too.

Most importantly, realize that if you aren’t sure how to deal with emotional pain, you don’t need to go it alone. There are ways to get the support you need to help you move forward to a brighter future. Reach out today to schedule with one of our practitioners. We're ready to listen and help you find ways to feel like yourself again.


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