Overcome Your Fear of Therapy: Try These Tips

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By Grace Wood, MA

Many people google therapists, read articles like this one, and even drive around the parking lots of potential therapist’s offices…but they don’t schedule an appointment and follow through.

Often, people struggle far too long with concerns they would like to talk about with a counseling professional because they are worried about the risks, the process, and how they’ll be perceived by loved ones or even the therapist they see.  Fear, stress, and anxiety can get in the way of treating our fear, stress, and anxiety!

Here are some ways to overcome your fear of therapy and find relief in the safety of the therapy room:

1. Stand up to Stigma

As much as we educate ourselves about mental health, the stigma of being unable to manage challenges on our own still looms, even though we long for support. Is that what worries you? Or, are you afraid your loved ones, boss, or even your partner will wonder what’s wrong with you instead of what’s right about getting the help you need?

You’re not alone. Mental health stigma can be scary; it’s scarier to suffer without knowing how to stop your pain.

Try to think about this differently. How would you respond to a family member or friend who felt terrible physically and suffered daily? What if they told you how much they wanted to feel better, but that they were afraid you’d look down on them for going to the doctor? Would you say they were weak, or that they were faking their illness?

Of course, you wouldn’t! Don’t wait to get relief. The stigma around seeking help for your mental health is an obstacle you have every right to bulldoze on the way to feeling better!

2. Rethink Your Problem with Labels 

Diagnoses can feel scary, as though we are being physically branded with a label for the rest of our lives. It can feel as though we are no longer ourselves.

Yet, to go on suffering for fear of finding out what’s wrong cannot be the answer either! Your relief is too precious to sacrifice to the fear of having a label. Again, let’s turn this on its head: knowing what is going on for you is the freedom to know yourself better. It’s the freedom to find the right counselor and treatment for your needs.

If your therapist diagnoses you with a mental illness (which, often they do not), you can use your diagnosis as an opportunity to find friends and supporters who get you. Even better, you can be a support for a community of people who need you and know you understand them.

3. Assert Yourself and Talk Back to Your Inner Critic

Negativity can sink motivation and perseverance if we let it take hold for too long. When you start to think thoughts like, “I’m too far gone for therapy,” or “I’m not hurting enough for professional help,” recognize them as fear-based self-talk. Don’t let that voice steal your chance at peace and progress. The inner critic doesn’t have your best interest at heart.

You have every right to pursue happiness and well-being. Assert your right to speak up for yourself, first in your own head, and then in the safe, supportive environment of your counseling sessions. You deserve it.

4. Be Mindful, Compassionate, and Patient

We can get worked up and upset when we need help. Therapy may seem like a slap in the face to our self-sufficiency and independence, as though we have failed at being healthy, strong, and self-sustaining.

But that isn’t the case at all. We are wired for interdependence and belonging. We’re made for cooperation.

It’s okay to be different, to struggle, to feel whatever you feel; and it’s okay to deal with that in therapy, a support group, or through your own self-reflection and exploration.

Notice and allow yourself to feel the fear of therapy. Don’t beat yourself up for it. Patiently start to work on yourself. Set a goal to call a therapist. When you’ve made the appointment, set another goal to attend the first appointment or have a friend drive you and keep you accountable. Take it one step at a time.

Remember, you’re not in this alone. Therapy is a first step you can make to take care of yourself. It’s okay to reach out for help in navigating the challenges you face in your personal life and in your relationships.

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Grace Wood, MA, LPC Intern, is currently accepting new clients at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. If you are still unsure about beginning therapy, start by reaching out and giving Grace a call at (512) 270-4883, ext. 116, or request an appointment online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page. We’ll take care of the rest.

How to Keep Your Relationship Strong When Struggling with Anxiety

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By Ellen Rohr, M.Ed.

Anxiety disorders have been documented from antiquity to the present. Anxiety is a normal emotion, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to manage.  

If you or your partner are struggling with chronic anxiety, you know the impact it can have on your relationship. It’s important to do whatever you can to keep your relationship strong despite struggling with anxiety. You and your partner will both need to be understanding, flexible, and willing to work together to combat anxious thoughts and feelings.

It’s possible to have a wonderful, fulfilling, successful relationship, even if one or both partners are struggling with anxiety symptoms.

Use the following tips to keep your relationship solid.

Live in the Moment

Anxiety can make a person fearful of what might happen or what is to come. In a relationship, that will eventually cause a lot of distrust. It’s important to live in the moment and be fully present, rather than thinking of the “what ifs” of the future.

If you’re the person with anxiety and you struggle with fears of the unknown, you’re not alone! One of the best things you can do is to pause, tune in to your emotion, and reflect on the cause of the anxiety. Rather than focusing on what you don’t know and what you can’t control, try pinpointing what you do know and what you can control.

If you’re trying to support your partner with anxiety, encourage them to breathe deeply and slowly to regulate their anxiety. Using tools, such as breathing exercises, to regulate your nervous system and slow down, will help you to work through the anxious thoughts and fears together.

Communicate

Communication is important in any relationship, but it’s necessary when someone is struggling with anxiety. The more you keep your anxious thoughts and feelings inside, the worse they’ll become.

While you might be embarrassed or feel silly about your anxious thoughts and worries, it’s important to share them with your partner. The more you communicate what’s going on in your head, the easier it will be for two of you to tackle it together.

Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

Struggling with anxiety often leads to fear and feeling limited in what you can do to alleviate your unpleasant and uncomfortable emotions.

Learn skills that will prevent uncomfortable thoughts or ideas from completely taking over. Try focusing on the emotion you feel, give it some space for a couple of minutes, acknowledge that it’s there. Notice where you feel it in your body. Start to get comfortable with what is uncomfortable, rather than spinning a thought around in your mind. You might find your anxiety easing.

If you’re not the partner struggling with anxiety, it’s also important that you are understanding and compassionate. Don’t force your anxious partner into anything but encourage them calmly. Remind them to breathe, focus on the discomfort in their body, and provide support and positive reinforcement to help them.

Understand How Anxiety Impacts Your Relationship

The more both partners in a relationship know about anxiety, the better. When you learn more about the signs and symptoms, it’s easier to focus on how you can both manage them. Having a support system, or someone on your side can be a big help.

Understanding anxiety often means having a better idea of what causes or triggers your anxious thoughts. That’s a scary road to travel, for most people. Having a partner who understands how anxiety impacts you and your relationship and being with you along the way can make the process much easier.

Once you better understand why you are struggling with anxiety, you can seek help to treat it.

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Ellen Rohr, M.Ed, LPC, is a senior staff counselor at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. If you or your partner struggle with anxiety and need guidance, Ellen can help. She can work with you to develop a plan to manage your anxiety and build a stronger relationship with your partner every day. To book with Ellen, call her at (512) 270-4883, ext. 115, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

 

7 Ways A Healthy Relationship with Yourself Makes Life Better

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By Lauren Thomas Hale, MA

The relationship you have with yourself is the most important relationship you’ll ever have in your life. It sets the standard for all others. Even so, it’s often the most overlooked relationship.

Having a healthy relationship with yourself can make your life better in a multitude of ways. The greatest thing about establishing this relationship is that it’s all up to you!

If you’re curious about the value of this unique relationship, here are seven benefits just for starters.

1. Establishes Your Core Values

We all have things in life that we value more than anything else. For some, continual learning is important while others place more value on building financial wealth.

Everyone is different. Yet, when you make the effort to get to know yourself, your life makes a shift to align with your core values. As a result, you find more fulfillment and joy in life altogether.

2. You Feel Empowered

Having a healthy relationship with yourself is a lot like learning a new hobby in that it naturally builds your confidence.

Like learning a new language, getting to know yourself can be confusing and downright challenging at times. Still, you continue to practice, and every day you understand just a little bit more.

When your persistence pays off and you realize how “fluent” you have become with yourself, it can feel incredibly empowering, boosting your confidence miles high.

3. Positive Affirmations Boost Self-Esteem

No longer will you think to yourself, “I’m not good enough.”

Having a healthy relationship with yourself means getting to know yourself, respecting and loving the person you are. As a result, the self-doubt inside will begin to feel more like a squeaky mouse in the corner rather than a roaring lion in your face.

Many people start building this healthy relationship by repeating positive affirmations in the mirror. Sound silly? Keep in mind that your body hears and remembers what you say to it. The emotional energy you release matters.

4. It’s Easy to Be Grateful

When you have a better relationship with yourself, you naturally evolve into a more mindful person. You notice more and can tap into more gratitude.

For example, you might have the confidence that you can overcome an obstacle such as the car breaking down. When you do successfully get through the situation, you tend to be more aware of, and grateful for, having a functioning vehicle.

It sounds simple but those in an unhealthy relationship with themselves often overlook the lemonade in life’s lemons.

5. Mental Struggles Decrease

Having a healthy relationship with yourself leaves less room for mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression.

In fact, when anxiety creeps up or depression attempts to take hold, you are able to recognize it. Furthermore, you are more likely to know what to do to safeguard yourself from mental health concerns. Your regard for yourself and your own needs affords you the ability to seek out time and space to recover should you experience a rotten period in your life or relationships.

6. You Prioritize Self-Care

As you may have guessed, having a healthy relationship with yourself involves taking care of yourself. This means you have the knowledge to develop a customized self-care regime that ensures that you feel your best and live your best life.

Consequently, you’re happier, healthier, and not as likely to fall for the “selfish trap,” thinking that self-care is self-indulgent. Knowing exactly what your mind, body, and spirit needs, you confidently provide yourself with adequate self-preserving activity and solitude.

7. Encourages Meaningful Relationships

As mentioned before, the relationship you have with yourself sets the standard for all others.

With that said, having a healthy relationship with yourself encourages other meaningful relationships in all areas of your life.

There’s a unique personal depth you tap into when you establish a healthy relationship with yourself. This authentically reverberates throughout your entire life, drawing people to you and allowing you to better perceive which relationships are best for you.

Developing a healthy relationship with yourself clearly has its benefits. It is important to be aware that developing it can also uncover present hurts or past wounds. If you need help managing these difficult topics, talk to trusted friends, family, or a mental health counselor.

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For support in navigating your personal story, needs, and goals, please contact Lauren Thomas Hale, MA, LPC Intern, at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. You can call her at (512) 270-4883, ext. 114, or request an appointment through the RCC Austin Scheduling page. We hope to hear from you.

 

Dating Mistakes: 10 Missteps People Often Make

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By Grace Wood, MA

When you meet someone who you would like to know more about, whether that is through an online dating site or app, at an event, or through friends or family, the first date is more than just a time for you and the other person to learn a bit more about each other; it’s a time to make a wonderful first impression.

If you’ve been in the dating scene long, you’re painfully aware of the different types of first dates.  There’s the coffee meet-up with someone you have nothing in common with; the dinner with the person who keeps bringing up their ex; and then, sometimes, there are drinks that you just don’t want to be over.

Depending on how things go with that first date, one or both of you may decide the initial interest in each other is no longer present, or you may want to get to know each other even more and move on to a second date (and beyond!) 

Dating someone new is an exciting time. You’re getting to know each other and having fun together. However, dating can also be stressful and exhausting, even disappointing when your hopes for the dating relationship don’t materialize. The process must start again, this time with a little less optimism.

If you’re tired of this merry-go-round, consider these dating mistakes people make and learn to avoid them.

1. Misreading the Signs

When the “sparks” fly on your first date, enjoy the feeling--and be cautious. 

The limerence you feel for the other person may be strong, but it does not mean you’re in love. Love builds over time and is not something you can be sure about after the first few dates. When you feel the spark, and the chemicals in your brain are making you feel incredible, be aware that even though it feels wonderful, it can also cloud your judgment and it may not last. It’s easy to take those feelings and interpret them as love before you really know the other person.  Notice the feeling, appreciate the feeling, and focus your attention on truly getting to know the person you’re having the feeling toward.

2. Having Alcohol Present on Every Date

Do many or all your dates start, or end, at a bar?

Getting together for drinks after work is a good excuse to get together, and wine with dinner is great. However, try to mix it up so that you have different experiences together. The same goes if both of you use substances recreationally.

Alcohol, and other substances, cause a release in your brain that makes you happy.  You want to be able to find a deeper connection with each other than simply using substances and riding on that high.

3. Spending Too Much Time Together Too Quickly

Have you ever seen a relationship go from “nonexistent” to “always together” very quickly? Spending a lot of time with this new person in your life may be fun, but it can cause things to burn out just as quickly.

It’s perfectly acceptable to have boundaries and slow things down in order to learn more about one another before diving in too deep.  Drawing that line can be difficult, but it is worth it in the end.

4. Staying Constantly Connected

Are you constantly texting and messaging with one another? Are you bouncing between Snapchatting, following each other on Instagram, and sending Facebook messages of cute puppies? When you’re in a new relationship, every message you get may be electric and intoxicating.

The excitement these messages bring can lead to the biggest dating pitfall. It’s perfectly healthy to create space and have your own lives while you are dating.  Allow for space, and appreciate the moments you do spend together. 

5. Not Being on the Same Page in Life

Are you established in your career and the person you are dating is still trying to figure out what they want to pursue in life? Are you looking for a committed relationship, but the other person just wants to date? Do you want children in the future, and you meet someone who does not, or perhaps they have children already and are not interested in having more?

These are examples of not being on the same page in your lives. It doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker, but it does mean you may not want the same things.

Slow things down and take the time to get to know each other over time.  Remember that there are many wonderful people out there, and that connection doesn’t always imply compatibility. 

6. Talking about Your Previous Relationships

Talking at length and in detail about your previous relationships is a common mistake some people make when first getting to know someone new. Focus on the present and getting to know your partner. There is time to learn more about each other and your previous relationships, but sharing too much too soon can send both people into over-thinking spirals. 

If you are still hurting from your last breakup, maybe you’re not ready for a new relationship, which could be unfair to the other person. If you talk a lot about your ex, your first date or two may not turn into more.  Allow yourself the space to grieve the past before diving into the future.

7. Expecting Perfection

You’re on your third or fourth date and discover that the other person isn’t as perfect as you expected. It’s going to happen! 

If you hold everyone to an impossible standard, they will eventually fail. Be understanding and know that everyone is not going to live up to their online profile or the glowing reports from friends who introduce you.

8. Thinking “This Is The One”

Don’t go into a first date wondering if “this is the one.”  It’s not fair to you, or the person going out with you, to put that much pressure on the date.  Just wondering “do I or do I not like this person” is pressure enough!

Why not go into a date thinking, “I hope to meet someone nice,” instead of thinking that they could be “The One.” It takes a lot of pressure off you and them. You might also find that the other person may not be a future romantic interest, but he or she could turn out to be a good friend.

Friendships are nice too!

9. Using Self-Deprecating Humor

Don’t devalue yourself! Even if you feel you have plenty of flaws, it’s a mistake to put yourself down or beat on yourself when dating someone new.

Dating someone new is an opportunity for you to shine. Be proud of your accomplishments and what your goals are in life. You don’t need to boast or talk about yourself constantly, but don’t put yourself down either, even if it’s humorous.

Being confident in yourself will draw people toward you, being down on yourself could push them away.

10. Not Listening

Have you ever had a date that you thought went really well, and were surprised when you never heard back from them?  This might be your pitfall.  After spending a date talking, the talker often perceives the date as having gone well--the listener, not so much.  If you can’t listen effectively on the first few dates, how do you expect to have a relationship? After all, communication is a cornerstone of a good relationship.

You don’t need to have perfect listening skills, but you should be open to learning more about the person in front of you.   Listening, being attuned to what the other person is saying, and being curious and asking questions about what they’re telling you is an excellent way to get to know someone better.

Dating is hard, and everyone encounters pitfalls as they go along.   Acknowledge your own, and do your best to be gracious toward others’.  Hopefully these tips minimize dating mistakes and allow you to make the best of your dating experience.

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Grace Wood, MA, LPC Intern, is a therapist at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Grace works with individuals in their 20s and 30s who are exploring identity, values, and driving forces in their lives. If you have found yourself stuck on the merry-go-round of bad dates and are looking to improve communication, listening skills, or self esteem, we can help. Call Grace at (512) 270-4883, ext. 116, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

Why Including Meditation in Your Relationship Makes It Better

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By Grace Wood, MA

Most of us think of meditation as a solitary exercise, a quiet way to create inner calm and awareness. Of course, that is very true. Still, you may not have considered how the same soothing practice could help you foster a nurturing and accepting environment for your relationship as well. Over time, you may even find that meditation aids your relationship in surprising ways, expanding insight and intimacy between you your partner.

So, how does including meditation in your relationship improve the way you and your partner interact? Let’s consider four key areas:

1. Meditation Improves Personal Insight 

Every relationship is comprised of two people. The more that each individual knows and understands themselves, the more they will be willing to let their defenses down with their partner. There is less fear of being engulfed in the relationship, being rejected, or being taken advantage of.

Routine meditation gives you a healthy space to check in with yourself and gain internal clarity. Your core beliefs and values are allowed to be noticed but not controlled.

Getting to know yourself at this level of intimacy leads to better self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-compassion. Practicing meditation in your relationship allows you to practice being more authentically you. As you become more secure in yourself, you can interact and set boundaries confidently.

2. Meditation Supports Flexibility Between You and Your Partner

When we feel “stuck” in a relationship, we can often lose the ability to respond to each other well. We may be rigid and inflexible. We forget how to relax, shift gears, or give each other leeway when things get hard.

Negative emotion gets stuck in our bodies and interrupts the flow of positivity and problem-solving energy that we need to work through difficult times.

To expand our abilities to respond to each other in productive ways, we can learn to open ourselves  to a variety of unfamiliar responses. Essentially, meditation can slow down automatic reactions and help you recognize them.

When you make a habit of it, meditation can quickly become a means of injecting conscious, healthy response into your daily interactions.

3. Meditation Makes You Better at” Getting” Each Other 

Research regarding brain health, strong attachments, and effective communication tout the benefits of meditation.

Mindfulness meditation is the practice of paying attention in the here and now. Exactly where your partner needs you to be when they are sharing with you. Meditation teaches you to be still, listen, tune in. Then you can act with purpose and intention. These skills will make you a dream communicator for the one you love.

 4.  Meditation Promotes Higher Levels of Compassion and Forgiveness

Relationship partners aren’t perfect. Sometimes we say hurtful things. Sometimes we do things we shouldn’t. Meditation helps sift through our behavior without judgment or shame.

The goal is to observe and perceive with less emotion and more intention. This allows you and your mate to look at tough situations with more clarity. In addition, you are more able to allow a feeling to come and go and focus more on the values that drive your relationship. Your shared humanity becomes the focus and giving each other more grace becomes routine.

Keep in mind that meditation is a practice, not a project. Be gentle with yourselves and each other as you learn to do it well. Remember to focus your attention internally first and allow the peace you feel to radiate out and create deeper connection with your partner and others.

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Grace Wood, MA, LPC Intern, works with individuals and couples at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Grace’s focus lies in helping clients better understand themselves and their relationship through mindfulness practices. To gain more clarity, schedule an appointment with Grace by calling (512) 270-4883, ext. 116, or request an appointment online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page. We hope to hear from you soon.

Benefits of Premarital Counseling - Training and Tools to Do Your Best in Love

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By Lauren Thomas Hale, MA

Many people cringe when they think about going to couples counseling. There’s a myth that you only go to couples therapy if something is wrong.

Nothing is further from the truth!

Premarital counseling can be an especially helpful tool for preventing problems in your relationship. Why wait until there’s an issue when you can keep issues small and manageable with therapy?

Premarital counseling provides couples with the tools to build a strong foundation for a healthy relationship.

Marriage changes things in your relationship. It can bring up a lot of issues that you may not have dealt with before as a couple. In premarital counseling, you can anticipate, predict, and plan for those issues before you get married. By doing so, you’ll have a realistic sense of what to expect from your marriage. More importantly, you will learn the skills to work through problems while things are still positive in the relationship.

Premarital Counseling for Current Issues

Just because you’re planning to get married soon doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have relationship issues that can be addressed now. Many couples find themselves struggling during the time prior to marriage. The pressure of planning a wedding alone can create stress in the relationship. Therefore, you might first address immediate issues in premarital counseling.

For example, what disagreements do you have about the wedding? Do you both wholeheartedly want to move ahead or do one (or both) of you have some ambivalence? Maybe there is just one nagging thing that is holding you back from setting a date. Premarital counseling can help you address these common concerns.

Plan to Prevent Problems in the Future

Getting married is about blending two lives into one. Each of you has individual hopes, dreams, and goals for the future. Ideally, you both want the same basic things. However, there will always be some areas of disagreement. Premarital counseling provides the perfect place to start working through those potential problems. Some of the things that you might discuss include hopes, expectations, and beliefs about:

  • Managing finances and making financial decisions

  • Issues around having and raising children

  • Gender roles in your home

  • How to celebrate holidays

  • Religious traditions

  • The importance of travel, work, and friendships

  • What your relationship with your in-laws and extended family will be

You may already be aware of potential issues. Counseling gives you tools to work through them. Additionally, a therapist specializing in premarital counseling can help you think about things that you might not yet realize could be a problem in your relationship.

Building Communication Skills in Premarital Counseling

Premarital counseling isn’t just about identifying a problem and fixing it. Instead, it’s about learning how to be in a healthy relationship with one another. This begins with communication. If you can learn to communicate about difficult topics, then you are well on your way to handling the many stressors that will arise in your marriage over the years. Learning to do this now, before the two of you have established too many negative communication patterns, can make those issues much easier to navigate.

One thing you might practice in premarital counseling sessions is putting your marriage first. You can learn how to view problems as enemies of the relationship. In other words, arguments won’t be about who “wins” but rather about how to find a solution or compromise that is best for the relationship.

You can learn this and other skills in premarital counseling where you might be encouraged to practice:

  • Accepting and celebrating your differences

  • Authentic sharing of your emotions using “I statements”

  • Listening to your partner with openness and non-judgment

  • Noticing signs that a conversation is going awry so you can take a break

  • Respecting one another despite differences

  • Sharing routines, traditions, and rituals that strengthen the relationship

Premarital counseling is an investment in your relationship now and in the years to come. Attending sessions with your partner indicates how much you value your relationship and want to start your married life together with skills and tools to be sure your marriage remains strong through the years ahead.

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Lauren Thomas Hale, MA, LPC Intern, works with premarital couples at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin as they prepare for their upcoming wedding. Lauren guides couples by giving them any communication and conflict-resolution tools they may need as they embark on the next leg of their relationship journey. If you and your partner want to prepare to tackle any hurdles married life may throw your way, call Lauren at (512) 270-4883, ext. 114, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

Emotional Awareness: How to Check In With Yourself During Conflict or High Stress

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By Grace Wood, MA

When you have conflict with someone, do you tend to lash out and stomp off? Do you withdraw? Perhaps you hurry to lean in and clear the air?

Conflict and stress are a normal part of life. However, some people struggle more than others with managing their emotions during times of high conflict and stress. 

How good are you at staying clear on what’s going on with you in those moments? Is emotional awareness a skill you know how to use?

It’s okay if you aren’t sure. Many of us have little idea of why stress incites certain feelings in us. We’re often surprised at how hurt, reactionary, or offended we become when communication gets tough.

Fortunately, the better we are at checking in with ourselves and becoming emotionally self-aware, the more at peace we’ll be and the happier our relationships will be.

How do you go about emotionally checking in with yourself?

These tips will get you started:

Ask yourself “How do I feel about this situation?”

Seems too simple, right? Maybe, but don’t skip this step. Slow down and let yourself sit with the question. Stew a bit on your response.

You may find that you’re not as sure as you thought about what emotion you’re feeling.

You could say you were “bothered,” “sad,” or “hurt,” and then move on. But, linger for a minute and clearly name how you feel.

Reflect on which emotions rise the most and feel strongest. Try to be specific, while defining and differentiating the emotions as clearly as you can. Ask yourself questions such as these:

  • Do I feel combative or aggressive?

  • Do I want to avoid or resist the emotions rising me?

  • Are the emotions I have curious and collaborative?

Emotional vocabulary matters. Clearly identifying your feelings helps you recognize and communicate your emotional needs more effectively.

Check in with, but don’t dive into, your emotions

What does that mean? Stress-based emotions can be intense. To deal with them appropriately usually requires a bit of perspective. As you’re looking at yourself and assessing how you feel, back up a little. Consciously ‘look at’ your feelings and responses as if you were viewing them from the outside. Try to be as objective as possible.

The goal is to acknowledge your emotions. Allow them to inform you, not overwhelm you.

Be an observer, not a fixer

When emotions run high, we can suppress or bury them, ignore them, get upset with ourselves or others, and even indulge in a lot of self-blaming and shame if we aren’t careful.

Checking in on your emotions through mindful observation helps interrupt all of that. It keeps emotions available without subjecting them to judgment.

Essentially, you remain present and attentive to what’s happening inside you. You can then allow the emotions to exist and give yourself permission to be where you are.

Experience your feelings and accept them. It is a key part of knowing how emotions support you or get in your way.

Notice what’s happening in your body for more emotional insight

Your body will tell you a lot about how you are feeling…if you will stop to notice it.  Aside from just observing and naming the emotion, notice your arms and legs, areas of tension in your neck and shoulders, discomfort in your stomach, your facial expression, and clenched or tightened muscle groups. What’s going on with your pulse? Your breathing? Do you feel grounded or physically disconnected?

These factors matter and inform your emotions. Simply stopping to tune into your body can help you recognize unhelpful reactions and change course for the sake of connection and cooperation in your relationships.

Seek cognitive clarity: Triggers, habits, and self-talk

When you are emotionally invested in a partner or other high-stress situation, it’s easy to get stuck emotionally and react irrationally. Thus, you are well-served if you can clearly determine how your emotions build and spill over during tough interactions.

Train yourself to recognize emotional build up. In other words, reflect on what was said, seen, thought, or done prior to stressful circumstances. Ask yourself what was going on before you felt anger, disgust, dismissal, offense, etc.

What triggers you? Which patterns of interaction lead up to fights or play out as you disagree? What are you saying in your head about how you feel about yourself or how you perceive the other person thinks about you?

Finally…

Improving emotional awareness for yourself is vital to healthy relationships. Don’t skip this journey. Seek guidance and support, if needed.

Journaling and working with a therapist are particularly helpful as you practice checking in with yourself. Both can greatly enhance your self-confidence, contextualize your experiences, and help shape more meaningful relationships. As you become more aware and emotionally intelligent you will likely discover that are living a happier and more deeply connected life.

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Grace Wood, MA, LPC Intern, helps couples and individuals learn how to navigate high conflict situations with different strategies. If you are struggling with identifying your emotions and communicating your feelings effectively to others, Grace can help guide you through this process. Give her a call at (512) 270-4883, ext. 116, or request an appointment with her online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

 

Pillow Talk: After Sex Conversations to Have to Feel Bonded

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By Jill Baumgarner, MA

“Sex is good. Pillow talk is better. Sex is easy, intimacy is difficult. It requires honesty, openness, self-disclosure, confiding concerns, fears, sadnesses as well as hopes and dreams…”

Hara Estroff Marano, author & Editor at Large of Psychology Today

Talking after sex matters. Science and societal wisdom agree that the post-sex period of heightened emotion and willing vulnerability is a precious time that builds intimacy and deepens your ability to connect well … in and out of bed.

How can you capitalize on the psychological and physiological need for attachment? What exactly do you talk about to continue to feel bonded?

Consider the following post-coital conversations as a pillow talk guide to get you started:

Pillow Talk Praise: Admire Your Partner’s Sexual Prowess

How can your lover resist you when you acknowledge their efforts to please you?

As long as the conversation is positive and comfortable, detail how lovely a time you had. Encourage your partner to keep doing that thing with their tongue. Remark that you appreciate how attentive/ energetic/ creative they were.

Ask what you can do to increase their satisfaction too. Keep things light and playful. Prepare for more physical fun now that you’re a little clearer on what each other likes.

Express How being Together Makes You Feel

Who doesn’t feel good about being valued?

Make the most of the floaty post-sex high to talk each other up. Say the loving, complimentary things you used to say at the very start of your love story. Compliment the angles of his face or the curves of her body.

Remind each other that you know each other and like what you know. Honor the roles in you play in each other’s lives. Verbalize how much fun it’s been to work alongside each other as friends and parents. Celebrate the relationship you’re building with specifics, memories, and stories until you drift off. You’ll wake with a lovely sense of togetherness.

Share More of Yourself Between the Sheets

What better time to share more of yourself?

The moments following sex are often a safe, quiet time in which to go deeper into a conversation that you might forgo amid your daily responsibilities. If you find you’re awake and snuggled in, why not take some time to talk about what you usually just daydream about.

When is the last time you dreamed out loud together? Check in on ideas or plans that have changed or evolved in your minds. Invite your partner into the dreams or goals that preoccupy your thoughts.

Open Up about Your Vision for Your Relationship

What’s more reassuring than knowing for sure how your partner sees your future together?

Sex can be deeply intimate and signal a willingness to take your relationship further. Thus, sex and discussions about the future in bed can create close emotional ties that last long after the glow of the physical act fades.

If you have a strong indication that you both want to build a long term relationship, lay back, hold each other, and talk it through. You are both deliciously vulnerable and in a position to capitalize on the sense of trust and mutual satisfaction created physically not long before.

Not Comfortable with Pillow Talk?

Are you struggling with the idea of cozy conversations after sex with your partner? Is there something inside you, or between you, that holds you back?

It may be worth exploring your reluctance and discomfort with a trained couples counselor. Recent research shows that your after-sex moments are key periods for building a solid connection. Don’t lose that special opportunity for deep, emotional connection with your partner.

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Jill Baumgarner, MA, LPC Intern, works with couples at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Jill focuses on sexual health in her clients’ relationships by opening up the lines of communication to achieve enhanced intimacy. For guidance on harnessing the spark in your relationship, contact Jill at (512) 270-4883, ext. 108, or request an appointment with her online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

 

EMDR: When It Works Well and What It's Like

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By Mirela Bitkowski, MA

More than three decades ago, therapist and researcher Dr. Francine Shapiro, developed a type of trauma therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR.  The therapy was born from an observation she made walking in a park one day. Shapiro noticed that moving her eyes appeared to decrease negative emotions associated with certain bad memories.

She combined other therapeutic components with eye movement and developed the researched and validated therapeutic protocol that is used today. EMDR therapy is a useful treatment for the after-effects of trauma and other negative life experiences.

 When EMDR Works Well

EMDR works well when your brain finds an experience (or set of experiences) too overwhelming and interferes with or limits your ability to function in, and enjoy, your daily life.

Do you avoid, ignore, or harmfully cope with a past event or interaction? EMDR can help you reset how you accept and deal with the associated recollections and feelings.

The key idea behind this type of therapy is that our brains work optimally via an “adaptive information processing system,” much like that of computer mainframe or network. In this way, our memories, visual perceptions, emotions, and sensations are linked together.

In essence, our mental “computers” help us adapt during trying circumstances. It gets us through bad experiences by making a connection to our stored information that explains the situation and soothes our upset. Unfortunately, a traumatic occurrence can short-circuit that mental ability. Trauma is often a “processor virus” that crashes our brain’s adaptive operations.

EMDR essentially debugs that internal processing system.

What EMDR is Like

The key to EMDR treatment working well is rooted in a procedure called “bi-lateral stimulation.”

For instance, a therapist might move their hand or an object from side-to-side in front of you, instructing you to follow it with your eyes. At the same time, targeting a disturbing memory or trigger. Bilateral eye movements (or other external stimuli like taps or tones) help integrate, reprocess the way your brain has processed the experience.

EMDR has been proven to create new associations, allowing you to access the memories in a more adaptive way. You can remember, learn, and grow from the experiences without feeling emotionally wounded or held back by them.

In addition, EMDR has proven itself to be a more desirable and effective mode of therapy for the following reasons too:

  • EMDR treatment approaches anxiety differently. Rather than trying to overcome trauma exposure or trigger desensitization, EMDR ‘re-wires’ how your brain perceives the past as opposed to numbing you to triggers.

  • EMDR is a “less talk, more action” approach. Sometimes continually talking about a negative experience is problematic. Other therapy methods may feel overwhelming or hinder the pace of treatment. EMDR addresses memories in a more specific manner.

  • EMDR generally consumes less time. Some therapies which require group work or homework. EMDR is an in-session approach. Aside from a possible journal (to personally record progress), very little is required on your own.

Who to Seek for EMDR Treatment?

Only trained mental health professionals provide EMDR therapy. A trained EMDR therapist has undertaken at a minimum, basic EMDR training and consultation. Many EMDR trained therapists continue their training by attending advanced classes addressing the use of EMDR in specific cases, such as anxiety, substance abuse, migraine headaches, PTSD, complex trauma, and dissociative disorders, to name only a few. Therapists can also become certified EMDR providers by meeting required benchmarks of case consultations and supervision.

Are you are suffering from persistent negative emotions? Does discomfort related to a difficult past event, relationship, or trauma in your past get in your way often?

EMDR may be worth investigating.

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Mirela Bitkowski, MA, LPC Intern, sees clients at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Mirela is trained in EMDR therapy and can use it to help you work through complex trauma, PTSD, anxiety, and beyond. If you are curious if EMDR therapy is right for you, contact Mirela at (512) 270-4883, ext. 115, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

 

Keep the Spark Alive in Long-Term Relationships: 9 Tips for Initiating Sex

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By Jill Baumgarner, MA

Early in your relationship, the thought that you might need tips for initiating sex were probably the furthest thing from your mind. There was a lot of sex and subsequently, a lot of talk about sex. Yet, over time, both the sex and the conversation surrounding it tend to slow down.  Realistically, it’s not surprising that lust cools and intimacy shifts as the relationship matures. But, if a couple is not communicating about their sex life, it can spell trouble.

The Stages of a Sex Life

Wait…there are stages?

The first step in keeping the sexual spark alive is recognizing that this spark can and often does fizzle after a period. We like to think we’re different. Our entire connection will be the proverbial “honeymoon phase” and we won’t need to talk about it to keep the excitement alive.  A more productive approach is to commit early to open communication about all things, including sex. If you accomplish this, there can be a healthy pattern to the stages of your sex life. For example:

  • Anything Goes. the dizzying early days when lust feels like a new discovery.

  • Finding a Rhythm. When you realize this is not a fling and settle into your own personal sex vibe.

  • Rhythm Becomes Routine. As time passes and responsibilities increase, you lose that spontaneous feeling.

  • Resisting the Cliché. “We will not become that couple everyone talks about!”

  • Acceptance. Okay, you sometimes are that couple but recognizing this creates room for…

  • Reinvention. With enough trust and lust, this process can always stay fresh.

9 Tips for Initiating Sex & Keeping the Spark Alive in a Long-Term Relationship

1. Open the Lines of Communication

Being clear and honest is sexy. Put aside assumptions and embrace direct discussion.

2. Redefine “Sex”

It can feel demoralizing if you experience long gaps between sexual encounters. Take a look at how you define “sex,” and remember that there’s much more to intimacy than just that one act.

3. Practice Seduction

In many relationships, one or both partners may feel they are taken for granted. Practice seduction. It makes things stimulating again.

4. Don’t Put it Off

If you have social plans, why wait to get frisky afterward? Don’t risk being too tired, full, drunk, or cranky. Do it when the opportunity feels right.

5. Take a Mini-Vacation

If you’re in the position to plan a getaway, make it happen.

6. Use Tech to Tease

We have these fancy devices with us all day. Why not use them to remind your partner that they make you hot? A mid-day text is a sweet way to build some suspense.

7. Don’t Pine for the “Good Old Days”

What you looked like and how you got down “back in the day” is of no concern today. Find what feels right for who you are right now.

8. Lots of Compliments

This is connected to the practice of seduction, mentioned above. Verbalize your appreciation and feel the sexual tension rise.

9. Be Patient

There is no blueprint or magic formula. Relationships require our full and constant attention. Be patient, trust each other, and reap the rewards.

Getting to the Root of the Issue

Sometimes there are unspoken, underlying factors to consider when it feels that the spark has left your relationship. Relationships are complicated and issues other than your sex life impact all aspects of your connection.

If it feels like the thrill is gone, you might want to ponder if the thrill is just being obscured by other things happening in your relationship. Perhaps there are things, such as hurt feelings, unresolved resentments, lack of intentional time together, busy schedules, etc., that are influencing your feelings about sexual intimacy with your partner. Many couples seek professional assistance by committing to meeting with a professional counselor to help them identify barriers that are keeping the sexual spark from igniting. In a safe and non-judgmental setting honest discussion can bloom, unhelpful patterns are exposed, new approaches are suggested, and additional tips for initiating sex explored. The result is a sharper awareness of how to stay intimate as your relationship evolves through the years ahead.

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Jill Baumgarner, MA, LPC Intern works with both couples and individuals at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin who are looking to regain the spark in their relationship. If you and your partner are ready to enhance sexual intimacy and restore an emotional and physical connection, call Jill at (512) 270-4883, ext. 108, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.