Jim Duncan

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.

How Happy Couples Handle Disagreements: Tips for Conflict Management

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By Jim Duncan, MA

Have you ever heard of a couple who claimed to never fight with each other? As if learning to handle disagreements was a step they were fortunate enough to skip?

You might wonder how a “no fighting” relationship is even possible. The truth is, it’s not!

Arguments, disagreements, and conflicts will occur in an intimate relationship. It’s a normal part of any relationship. The key to successful conflict management is how the conflict is handled.

To get you started on the right foot, managing conflict like the happy couple you want to be requires a plan of action. You already know that learning to handle disagreements is a part of your relationship. It makes sense to have a plan in place for when those pitfalls occur.

Here’s how to make a conflict management plan like the happy couples do.

“Know Thyself” to Handle Disagreements Well

First, it’s vital to know how you respond to any type of conflict, friction, or confrontation. As you may have imagined, to “know thyself” requires some intense honesty on your part.

For example, do you have a compulsion for communication, desiring to talk it out? Or, does your blood boil, and you need a minute to step back from the situation to retract your claws?

Some might believe that there is a perfect way to respond to conflict—calm, cool, and collected. Yet, the funny thing about humans is that we’re not perfect. So, work with what you know about yourself to support the best results.

Respect Resolution Styles (and Triggers)

To go along with the previous point, be sure to know your partner’s resolution styles as well as your own. The same goes for their emotional triggers, too.

It may be difficult for the communicative partner to give some space to the blood-boiling partner. This is why it’s so important to have your plan of action in place before you approach a disagreement.

Happy couples take the time to get to know the inner workings of each other. Furthermore, they respect each other’s resolution styles.

Put the Blinders On

A common tip floating around online articles and magazines is to stick to the task at hand. It’s a solid key to better conflict management!

Happy couples fight about one thing at a time—not the socks on the floor, how the dog still needs his bath, or that awful gift from 10 years ago.

To handle disagreements like a happy couple, stay focused on the one issue at hand.

Keep It Above the Belt

When you stick to one issue at a time, fighting fair becomes much easier. However, it’s important to constantly remind yourself to keep it clean.

What this means is that your partner is your safe zone. You are your partner’s safe zone, as well. You share intimate details about your life with each other.

Ultimately, that sort of information should be handled with respect. Intimate information isn’t meant to be used against someone else simply to win a battle.

In short, don’t take cheap shots. Happy couples take the long way around a disagreement to come to a resolution.

Wear the Same Colors

Most importantly, being part of a couple is a lot like being part of a team. A good way to think of your partner is as that special person on your side of the playing field. The two of you wear the same team colors. A disagreement doesn’t automatically make them the opposition.

Remember, you’re trying to find a solution to the problem by tackling it together, not to ultimately win a battle.

Add Some Humor

Finally, when you take the team concept to heart, don’t forget to splash the conflict with some humor. Light humor, never at your partner’s expense, can help bring down tension and reset escalated emotions.

Even during a disagreement, your relationship is still the same one it’s been up until now. Find comfort in that.

Of course, there is a time to be very serious, but you’re also both imperfect humans. Which can be a laughing matter all on its own.


Jim Duncan, MA, LPC Intern, works with couples at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin who seek to improve their communication techniques with one another. For support in learning to handle disagreements and develop stronger conflict resolution skills with your partner, schedule a session with Jim. To make an appointment, give him a call at (512) 270-4883, ext. 117, or submit an online appointment request on the RCC Austin Scheduling page. We hope to hear from you.


Communication in Relationships: Stop Struggling to Talk to Your Partner!

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By Jim Duncan, MA

Have you noticed lately that you are struggling to communicate with your partner? If you are finding it harder to talk about important problems or even the everyday struggles, you are not alone.

Good communication is the foundation of every relationship, yet, we sometimes struggle to have even basic conversations.

Since we love and care about our partner, talking to them about anything should be easy, right? Unfortunately, it isn’t always that simple.

If you have noticed that your communication is lacking, you have already identified the problem. This is an important first step!

Now, you and your partner can work together to improve over time.

Mastering Communication Skills

Learning to communicate well takes time. Many of us are not born being strong communicators or effective listeners—these skills take practice to develop.

There is no overnight fix if you and your partner are struggling to communicate. To improve the communication within your relationship, you will both need to put in the effort and the time.

Here are several tips to help you and your partner learn to master the art of effective communication:

Designate a Place

While you are learning or re-learning great communication skills, you will need to consider your environment. Some places simply are not conducive to having a meaningful conversation—crowded malls, loud restaurants, and even in some areas of your home.

For the best chance at success, designate an appropriate place to have conversations with your partner. This could be during a walk around the neighborhood, at the kitchen table, or in the car during a long drive. By making the location of your conversations intentional, you and your partner will be able to communicate more effectively.

Designate a Time

Just as the location of your conversations is crucial, so is the timing. For successful communication, you and your partner need to consider the best times of day for your conversations.

Set aside a time that works for both of you, making sure to factor in personality preferences, as well. Are you an early bird while your partner is a night owl? Do you love to chat during mealtimes, but your partner would rather relax quietly? If the two of you are struggling to connect, designate a specific window of time to talk—and stick to it, even when your schedules change.

Listen More Than You Talk

For most of us, talking comes naturally. It’s usually the listening side of conversation that needs some work.

To be a successful communicator, you must learn to listen more than you talk. Make your partner feel heard and understood by giving them plenty of time to speak without fear of interruption. Rather than focusing on how you are going to respond, redirect your attention to what your partner has to say and make an effort to truly hear every word.

Focus on the Face-to-Face

In our digital world, it can be tempting to rely on text messages for many of our conversations. The truth is, however, that typed messages can be misinterpreted—not to mention that they remove body language and non-verbal cues from the equation.

Keep all important conversations strictly in-person. And avoid relying too heavily on your digital devices to communicate with your partner.

Considering Couples Counseling

If you and your partner have been actively working on your communication skills for a few months and are not seeing much progress, you may benefit from professional guidance.

Couples counselors, for example, are trained to help couples communicate more effectively. Additionally, therapy provides a safe space where you feel more comfortable discussing your feelings and asking for help.


Jim Duncan, MA, LPC Intern, works with couples in all stages of their relationship at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. If you and your partner find yourselves lacking tools to effectively discuss anything from big problems to small everyday struggles, we can help. To schedule an appointment with Jim, give him a call at (512) 270-4883, ext. 117, or request an appointment with him online through the RCC Austin Scheduling page. We hope to hear from you.

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


By Jim Duncan, 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.


Jim Duncan, MA, LPC Intern, works with premarital couples at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Vowing to share your life with another person is a monumental step, and Jim is here to help you practice all the necessary communication skills and tools before saying “I do.” To get started on your premarital journey, give Jim a call at 512-270-4883, ext. 117. You can also complete the scheduling form on the RCC Austin Scheduling page and someone will be in touch with you as soon as possible.