Individual Counseling

Anxiety Under Control: 6 Ways to Calm Down Quickly

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By Roy Faget, MA

Anxiety abounds in a world filled with 24-hour news cycles, hectic schedules, social expectations, and our own state of personal ups and downs.

You don’t have to expect to just muddle through with worry and stress as your constant companions. You can get your anxiety under control and live the free and productive life you long for. But how?

The idea is to keep anxiety reserved for real danger and to feel more in control when worry and fear creep up. You can develop the power to rein in your thoughts and restore calm quickly and effectively. These tips for getting anxiety under control can help you relax:

1. Make Self-care Happen

This one is non-negotiable.  A lack of sleep, poor diet, and a sedentary lifestyle can have a huge impact on your mental health. To feel less pushed around by anxiety, improve your sense of balance and self-control with the basics:

  • A regular sleep routine. Take a nap if you need it!

  • Healthy eating and hydration habits

  • Daily movement, exercise, and enjoyable activities

  • Repeat an uplifting mantra throughout the day

Self-care is the cornerstone for your overall health. Don’t put your personal needs aside. You matter!

2. Address your Stress

Stress and uncertainty are a part of life. Some of us can roll with life as it comes. Some of us need a bit of help managing the roller coaster ride. There’s no shame in building in some daily techniques to reduce the strain on your mind and body. Practice one or more of the following to ease anxiety on a regular basis:

  • Meditation

  • Tai Chi, Yoga, or deep stretching

  • Deep breathing exercises

  • Journaling

  • Calming visualization

3. Reduce Mental Input and Pay Attention

In other words, step away from the beeps and buzzes alerting you to your technology. Let the emails and voicemails wait. Turn off the newsfeeds and background noise. 

Do your best to get quiet and notice what’s happening within you. 

  • What thoughts are recurring?

  • How is your body responding?

  • What feels soothing or distracts you from the worry?

Anxiety counts on your inability, or unwillingness, to slow things down. It counts on racing thoughts and reaction. Choose to be deliberate and thoughtful about what you allow to affect you and how you respond. Remind yourself that you are in charge of you. Stay present and intentional.

4. Put Your Thoughts to the Test

Be tough on your racing thoughts. Get real with the critic in your head.

  • Will the wedding toast really be “totally humiliating?”

  • Does your partner truly have one foot out the door?

  • Does your boss really think you are the worst employee on his team?

Challenge the thoughts you allow to derail your peace and participation in life. Regret and fears don’t have to rule you if you can learn to recognize unhelpful rumination and push through it. Calm down quickly by logically rejecting what isn’t true about you and others.

Ask a few of these questions to reduce anxiety:

  • Are my worries realistic or likely to occur?

  • Is the worst-case scenario, really so bad? 

  • How might I manage my imagined catastrophe?

  • What do I think being unprepared or incapable of handling bad things says about me? Is this true?

Think things through. Let yourself process, challenge, and put to rest unproductive thinking.

5. Get Busy: Goals, Generosity, and Gratitude are a Great Start

Some clichés are based on reality. It’s true that when we focus on the suffering of others, we find peace and calm. There may be nothing more centering than kindness.

 Life is much more than a list of worries, possible problems, or unwanted uncertainties. What if you weren’t upset so often? How would you live if you were worry-free? Who would you reach out to if you felt sure and confident? Those are the things that give life meaning and direction.

To get out of your head and restore calm, you must act more and obsess less.

Make a point of doing what matters to you, giving your time and energy to others who are in need. Actively look for things and people to be grateful for.

6. Accept What Is and Embrace Your Place in the Present Moment

You may have been frightened, freaked out, overwrought, even panicked. Okay. Tell yourself the truth about that (without judgment) and allow it to be the former state of things. Realize too, that all you must deal with right now is to calm down quickly. 

And, what’s happening right now? You are reading this blog, seeking help, and exercising a moment of freedom and choice to overcome anxiety. Congratulations! Reaching out for help by talking to trusted friends or a counseling professional is a brave first step toward reducing excessive worry and anxiety.


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 Roy Faget, MA, LPC Intern, LMFT Associate, works at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin with both couples and individuals who are experiencing anxious thoughts, feelings, and anxiety-provoking life circumstances. For support in combating worry in your life or your partner’s life, give Roy a call by dialing (512) 270-4883, ext. 109, or request an appointment online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

How Exercising and Resting Your Mind Can Help You Cope With Stress

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By Jim Duncan, MA

Is stress keeping you down, exhausted, anxious, or depressed? Research shows us that, to cope with stress, exercise might be the answer!

It is just as important to take care of your body as it is to take care of your mind, and studies repeatedly demonstrate the important links between physical fitness and mental health.

If you are feeling out of shape or overwhelmed by stressors in your life, exercise may be the solution to both problems.

Here’s how exercising and resting your mind can help you cope with stress.

Physiological Factors

There is a natural, biological reason stress affects us so negatively. The brain is impacted when our minds begin to experience stress and sends signals to other body parts. Stress can make our muscles tense and our breathing shallow or irregular, while also impacting our sleep cycles and lowering our alertness and concentration.

When the effects of stress hit the body, we can feel powerless to stop them. But, just as our bodies are designed to chemically feel stress, they are also designed to fight against it. When chemicals called endorphins are released by our brains, we naturally feel more positive. Endorphins act as our body’s natural painkillers and can even produce a euphoric sensation.

Two Birds, One Stone

Exercising is one of the easiest ways to trigger endorphin production in the brain.  Studies have shown that those who exercise regularly live generally lower-stress lives than those who do not. And, with the countless benefits of exercise, it is not hard to see why!

When we exercise, most of our focus shifts to the task at hand. Physical activities such as walking, running, biking, swimming, hiking, climbing, or dancing require coordination and concentration. While our minds still wander during exercise, we must devote a moderate amount of mental energy to the motions and movements mandated by the activity.

Therefore, it is impossible to run, bike, swim, or hike while balancing the checkbook, writing data reports for work, sitting in on office meetings, tending to our small children, or any of the many other stressful tasks in our lives.

Exercise gives us a very tangible break from the things that are stressing our minds and allows for mental rest—all while engaging our bodies and improving our health. And moving our muscles while resting our minds is a very effective strategy against feelings of overwhelming stress.

Benefits of Exercise to Cope with Stress

While we understand that exercise physiologically improves our chances of fighting stress, the benefits of exercise can also be found more immediately on the surface. We don’t need to know the science behind endorphins to know that exercise simply helps us feel good.

It’s motivating enough to know that exercise can improve our moods and help us cope with stress nearly instantaneously.

Some of the greatest benefits of exercise include:

  • Deeper and better sleep

  • Increased self-esteem and self-confidence

  • Boosted energy levels

  • More positive outlook and attitude

  • Decreased feelings of depression and anxiety

  • Better bodily function and overall physical health

  • Mental clarity

Stress has a way of convincing us that we do not have time or energy to devote to exercising. The truth is, however, we cannot afford to not exercise. Feelings of stress, depression, anxiety, and worthlessness can be significantly decreased through regular exercise. With consistent physical activity, our moods are better, and our minds are calmer.

Exercise is one of the most effective tools against stress, and it is both completely free and widely available. If you want to improve your health and free your mind, begin incorporating exercise into your routine to cope with stress.

Moderate exercise that is done most days of the week is best, but any movement is better than none! However, always consult your physician before starting any new exercise program. Good luck and good health! 


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Jim Duncan, MA, LPC Intern, works with couples and individuals at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. As a Certified Personal Trainer, Jim has a unique understanding of the link between physical fitness and mental health, and incorporates this when working with clients who may be experiencing stress in their lives. To schedule a session with Jim, call him at (512) 270-4883, ext. 117, or request an appointment online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

Lonely? Tired of Trying to Find Love? – Individual Relationship Counseling Can Help

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By Mirela Bitkowski, MA

If you’re like many people, you may have assumed that relationship counseling is reserved only for those already in a relationship. Although relationship counseling is typically focused on couples, it is beneficial for single people, as well!

You have a unique history of romantic relationships; perhaps you have a list of simmered out flames, ghosting stories, or even a romantic void.

No matter your situation, individual relationship counseling can help uncover some of the layers and wrinkles that may be preventing you from finding love.

Here’s the scoop on how individual relationship counseling may be helpful for you.

What Is Individual Relationship Counseling?

Individual relationship counseling tackles the concept of relationships using a two-fold approach. In addition to examining how you relate to others, this method also looks at the relationship you have with yourself.

The relationship you have with yourself tends to set the standard for your other relationships. In short, it’s ultra-important! Individual relationship counseling gives your self-identity, self-compassion, and self-esteem plenty of time on center stage.

Individual relationship counseling helps to map toxic patterns and identify old wounds, rooting back as deep as childhood. Plus, this type of counseling promotes a deeper understanding of human interactions and why you do the things you do in relationships.

How Can Individual Relationship Counseling Help You Find Love?

Counseling has the potential to uncover a lot of mystery in your relationship patterns and habits. It may even answer lifelong questions to help you find solutions to your relationship hold-ups.

Encourages Self-Love

Counseling helps promote a deep love and respect for yourself. The more you learn about yourself, the more you acknowledge and embrace your core values. As a result, you begin to develop an authentic love for who you are.

Respecting and valuing yourself is an unrivaled healer and can do wonders for your other relationships, too.

Examines Relationship Patterns

Individual relationship counseling takes a magnifying glass to your relationships, not just romantic interests and previous partners, but with other important people in your life, as well. Rather than pointing out what you’ve done wrong or how you’ve failed, it simply identifies patterns.

People can unknowingly sabotage their romantic relationships because of painful inner wounds that are getting in the way. These wounds can be difficult to spot and nurture back to health on your own.

Talking to trusted friends or family members, or an experienced counselor, can help you spot areas in your life that need to recover from past hurts. This type of inner healing supports vulnerability in your life, which is a fundamental characteristic of healthy romantic relationships.

Establishes Good Relational Habits

As well as identifying patterns in relationships, individual relationship counseling helps to establish good relational habits in your life. These positive habits trickle down throughout your entire life, impacting all your relationships.

Relational habits may include communication skills, intimacy rituals, goal-setting, self-expression, fighting fairly, etc. When you display these valued traits, you begin to attract the right kind of people to you.

When Should You Seek Individual Relationship Counseling?

Many people believe that counseling is only beneficial when things in an existing relationship are bad—rock bottom kind of bad. However, there is no reason to wait for that! Take control of how you want to be in a relationship that’s healthy for you.

It may be that you have trouble attracting the right kind of partner. Perhaps, you don’t know what you truly want in a potential mate. It could be that someone really hurt you in the past and you are having trouble moving forward.

The reasons are endless for feeling unhappy with your current relationship status. The good news is that you don’t have to remain lonely or unhappy. Be proactive! Read books and articles on good relationships, notice couples whose relationships you admire and ask them how they make it work, or seek the help of a relationship counselor who can walk with you in your journey of self-discovery.

By exploring topics such as what a healthy relationship is, and learning more about what you want in a relationship, you are setting your heart and mind on the right course to find love.

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Are you ready to find more satisfaction and happiness in your relationships? If the answer is yes, Mirela Bitkowski, MA, LPC Intern can help. To schedule an appointment with Mirela, give her a call at (512) 270-4883, ext. 103, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

 

 

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.

7 Ways A Healthy Relationship with Yourself Makes Life Better

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By Linlea Schwarz, 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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Linlea Schwarz, MA, LPC Intern, works with both couples and individuals at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Linlea works with clients to develop a stronger sense of self and find personal empowerment in their lives, which carries over to help strengthen their personal relationships. To schedule an appointment with Linlea, call her at 512-270-4883, ext. 118, or request an appointment online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

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.

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.

 

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.

 

8 Ways to Motivate Yourself and Move Forward When Your Ambition Stalls

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By Ellen Rohr, M.Ed.

Looking for ways to motivate yourself?

You thought you knew what you wanted. The drive and ambition were there. You could feel them in your bones and your heart. Whether it was completing a degree, working on a project, or implementing a new fitness regime, you were dedicated to your goal.

Yet, somewhere along the line, your ambition began to waver. You lost focus and things just stalled out.

Now you feel stuck, struggling to bring up the drive to get started again.

You’re not alone. Consider these tips for finding your motivation so that you can move forward once again.

1. Take a Step Back

Sometimes we get so hyper-focused on a goal that we miss out on what’s happening around us. The first step towards re-motivating yourself should always include taking a step back. This allows for a renewed perspective. Perhaps there was something you missed? Something that could help you find your ambition again?

2. Take a Break

Consider whether a complete break from what you are doing is in order. If you aren’t “feeling it,” then it may not be worthwhile to keep forcing it. Walking away affords you the opportunity to refocus your energy on other things. You never know, this might create the spark that brings you back to your original goal and ambition, or it may set you on a better and more fulfilling path.

3. Set Small Goals

Maybe you had set a major goal, such as running a marathon or starting a new company. Your goals are great! However, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and lose your ambition when a goal is so broad. Instead, break it up into manageable, smaller goals. For example, start with a 5K, then a 10K, working your way up to a full marathon. Your dreams of corporate ownership may be better realized if you concentrate on a concrete business plan before jumping into an investment or property.

4. Make the Time and Space

Have you ever caught yourself saying, “if I only had the time”?

Most of us lose motivation when we don’t believe that we have the time to work on our goals. Ways to motivate yourself may require specific planning and setting aside a designated period routinely to follow your ambitions. Use a calendar and schedule allotted time to work on your goals. Hold yourself accountable for that time.

5. Give Yourself a Daily Pep-Talk

A good old-fashioned pep talk might help break up your lack of motivation so you can move forward. You could stand in front of a mirror and say to yourself, “You can do this” when your confidence falters. Or, achieve the same end by hanging a picture or changing your phone’s background photo to something that reminds you of your ambition. This could be your dream of graduating, or a picture of that literal, or figurative, mountain you want to climb.

Many people also find that repeating a daily mantra like “I am capable and clear-minded. My dreams are within reach,” helps focus them on their goal.

6. Talk to a Mentor

Perhaps you believe you just don’t have the knowledge or experience to fulfill your ambition. If so, seek out a mentor who can help. Mentors not only pass on their knowledge but can provide perspective, motivation and encouragement when you need it.

7. Ask If This is What You Want

Think about it. If you have lost the ambition to do something, question whether it’s something you really want. This doesn’t mean quitting, but it does mean reassessing what your objectives and desires are. Open your mind. Perhaps you can still fulfill your ambition in a different way. For instance, if you want to own your own business, you might need to try a few different paths before finding success.

8. Take the Plunge!

After everything is said and done, nothing helps more than just taking the plunge and going for it. For a writer, this could mean simply sitting down and just start writing. If your ambition is to be more physically fit, take that first step around the block towards a healthier you. Whatever your goal, don’t overthink it. Don’t beat yourself up for previous false-starts.  Get up now and start towards your dream!

Losing your motivation and ambition doesn’t have to mean giving up. Try not to think of the situation in all-or-nothing terms. Instead, consider ways to motivate yourself and approach the problem realistically. Use the above ideas or come up with your own strategies to regain your ambition. If necessary, seek the help of a counselor or life coach who can help you look at things objectively, identify mental or emotional roadblocks, and organize your thoughts.

You’re still in charge of your future. With a plan and support, you can keep moving forward to achieve your goals.

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Ellen Rohr, M.Ed., LPC, is a senior staff counselor at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Ellen helps guide both couples and individuals through life’s challenges, and provides insight when you may feel stuck in moving towards your goals. To get the perspective and encouragement you need to move forward, reach out to schedule an appointment with Ellen at (512) 270-4883, ext. 115, or visit the RCC Austin Scheduling page to request your appointment online.

6 Measures to Make Your Relationships A Priority This Year

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By Mirela Bitkowski, MA

Resolution #1: “Make Your Relationships A Priority”

From New Year’s Eve forward, we tend to jump into a myriad of resolutions and goal setting activities that fuel to-do lists, which may grow exponentially throughout the year. Resolutions focused on relationships, sadly, tend to get the least amount of attention.

Where do your relationships factor in your list of priorities? After the gifting and gathering of the holidays, do you find they get pushed further and further down the line? How many times have you felt guilty, stressed, or dissatisfied by the diminishing quality of your relationships as time goes by?

If you don’t have a solid plan to guide you to make your relationships a priority, you may end up giving the least attention to those you care for the most. You can avoid taking those you love for granted by checking in routinely, keeping communication flowing, and scheduling time together.

How do we do all that and reverse the inclination to put relationships on the back burner? Let’s see:

Try these 6 Measures to Make Your Relationships A Priority Year Round

1. Keep Communication Curious, Central, and Commit to it Daily

No relationship grows if interest and meaningful discussion stagnate. Healthy communication honors and facilitates deeper connections.

The people you care about need to hear from you, sense your interest, and believe that you are eager to know what they think and feel on a regular basis. They want to know that you are interested in what’s going on in their world. When they are sure they belong to your tribe, they are more likely to engage routinely and reciprocate your interest. In time, your relationships will naturally flourish.

2. Cut Down on Digital Distractions

There are so many conveniences and technologies pulling us away from each other. Despite their promises to provide time for the important things in life, social media, emails, and gaming often get in the way of our real-life connections.

Though it’s easy to think we’re connecting, we’re just distracting ourselves from the more personal investment of face-to-face relationships. Why not power down completely or use your phone to plan a real-world meet-up?

3. Pursue Passion & Develop Deeper Intimacy

As it pertains to your romantic partner, it’s vital that you pay special attention to waning affection and any sign of “roommate syndrome.” Use your new year calendar to schedule time together, plan vacations, and block out special celebrations.

Talk to your partner, allow them to share their ideas of intimacy. You may be surprised at what makes them feel closest to you.

4. Make Gathering and Goodwill a Year-round Activity

Simply put, this is a call to get together! Resist the automatic claim that you don’t have time to gather with friends or loved ones. Plan simple gatherings both at your home and away:

  • Welcome people in for your brand of hospitality when they least expect it. It doesn’t matter if it is a four-course meal or game nights with chips and dip.

  • Suggest dining out at a favorite deli, museum outings, nature hikes, or field trips to local tourist traps. Just make the invitation and follow through.

Experiencing life with people helps relationships grow and produces more memories and opportunities to know each other in various ways.

5. Don’t Forget the “Little” Things

There really are no small gestures in a relationship--especially your most cherished relationships. The daily ritual of “I love you” and a forehead kiss is gold to a spouse. A silly card in your child’s lunchbox communicates support and belonging. A photo sent to your great aunt via snail mail says you cared enough to say, “I’m thinking of you.” Grand gestures and gifts are wonderful, but thoughtful attempts to stay connected often mean much more.

The take away here? Do your best to listen, to stay on top of birthdays, and to take note of special needs or life changes.  List favorite things and possible gift ideas for loved ones throughout the year. Soon, your mindful, considerate actions will draw others closer and deepen your bonds.

6. Appreciate and Celebrate

Most of all, attempting to make your relationships a priority means understanding how much they enrich your life. If certain individuals in your life are high priority people, they deserve to know it and feel it. Show appreciation as often as you can. Celebrate who they are and your relationship with them. You owe it to yourself to feel the joy of sharing your appreciation and receiving their gratitude in return.

What’s Next?

Why not start the new year with the intention to continue to build and maintain your important relationships, and to begin improving your relationships with family and friends you may have neglected?

Prioritizing relationships may then seem less like something you have to resolve to do every new year and more like a natural, evolving part of your daily life.

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If you’re ready to make your relationships a priority and move toward increasing closeness and connections in your life, I would like to help.  Please contact me at (512) 270-4883 ext. 103 or request an appointment with me on the RCC Austin Scheduling page so we can discuss how to cooperatively achieve your relationship goals as quickly and effectively as possible. I look forward to hearing from you.