Individual Counseling

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.

Top 10 Self-Care Tips to Take You Into the New Year

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By Mirela Bitkowski, MA

As the new year begins, many people start thinking about New Year’s goals and resolutions, or how they can better themselves in the months ahead.

Focusing on taking better care of yourself can make it easier to complete the other goals that are important to you.

Follow these 10 self-care tips as you enter the new year, and you’ll undoubtedly see how much easier it will be to keep up with your plans and goals for the new year and feel great while doing it.

1. Find a Support System

Everyone needs a strong support system in life, no matter what they’re going through. Whether this year has been rough for you, or you just need a group of people you can depend on when you’re feeling stressed, don’t be afraid to reach out for support when needed. You don’t have to go through anything alone!

2. Be Physically Active

You don’t need to have a weight loss resolution to have a reason to hit the gym. Being physically active can help with so many different things—strength, mood, and confidence, to name a few!

Keep in mind that being physically active doesn’t necessarily mean getting a gym membership. Do something that you enjoy to make sure you’ll stick with it. It could be something as simple as an evening walk or joining a dance class. Get moving, and you’ll feel more energized.

3. Be More Compassionate

Being more compassionate toward yourself and others is a great character trait that will not only help you to feel better but will easily rub off on others, too.

When you show compassion and empathy, even when it’s difficult to do so, you’ll feel satisfied and fulfilled.

4. Reduce Stress Levels

Stress is inevitable in today’s world, but it shouldn’t completely take over your life. Too much stress can lead to things like anxiety and depression.

While you may not be able to eliminate stress from your life completely, think about which self-care tips you can implement to reduce your stress levels. Deep breathing exercises and meditation are great options that can help to combat stress each day.

5. Get More Sleep

An important part of self-care is getting more sleep. As a society in general, most of us aren’t getting the sleep we need. 

Getting adequate, restful sleep each night will help to give you energy, ease anxiety, reduce stress, and keep you healthier. Do whatever you can to create a calm, relaxing sleep space for yourself, and commit to going to bed 30 minutes to an hour earlier than you typically do.

6. Strengthen Relationships – In Person!

Social media is great for keeping in touch with people and staying connected to friends and family you may not get to see as frequently as you would like.

Even so, strive to strengthen your in-person relationships in the new year. Talking to someone face- to-face will make you feel less isolated, and you might be surprised at how different that person’s life looks (and how your own life looks) when it’s not filtered through a Facebook or Instagram post.

7. Put Down Your Phone

Speaking of more real-world interaction, try to ditch technology more often. Smartphones can be great resources for many things, but they’re also extremely distracting.

By staying off your phone at work, you can be more productive during the day. By putting it away at home, you can focus your attention on your spouse, your children, and even yourself. The less you’re on your phone, the more you can be in the present moment, which can help to reduce stress.

8. Let Go of Negativity

It isn’t always easy to let go of things – especially things that have been holding us down. However, letting go of the negative things in your life, or things you can’t control, will allow you to feel a sense of peace and freedom.

Whether it’s certain people, a specific situation, or something else that’s out of your control, it’s important to put it behind you in the coming year. By prioritizing self-care tips that help you do that, you’ll likely notice your negativity and stress levels go down.

9. Speak Positively To Yourself

A big part of self-care is positive self-talk. You might think it sounds silly at first but think about the things you tell yourself daily. Chances are, you “talk” to yourself more than you realize.

Unfortunately, many people only focus on the negative things they tell themselves. Maybe you tell yourself you’re not good enough, smart enough, etc. Try to turn that negative self-talk into something positive. By speaking positivity into your life, you can build your confidence and self-esteem. Soon, that will carry over into other areas of your life.

10. Take Time to Reflect

It may not always feel like it, but you’re constantly growing and learning. Now that the last year has come to an end and you’re entering a new 12-month period, think about everything you’ve experienced and what you’ve learned. Think about how much you’ve grown from this point last year.

You can take those reflections with you into the new year, acknowledging areas where you can continue to grow, and accepting the fact that you’re getting stronger all the time.

The more you choose to value yourself and practice these self-care tips, the better this year (and many years to come) can be.

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Mirela Bitkowski, MA, LPC Intern, sees clients at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. Mirela works with both couples and individuals to overcome challenging moments and move toward a purposeful and fulfilling path. For help creating more positive changes in your life, contact Mirela at (512) 270-4883, ext. 103, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

Why Self-Awareness Matters For The Life You Want

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By Roy Faget, MA

Who’s the most important person in the world for you to know? Not your boss, not your lover, not your soul mate. The answer is - YOU! Self-awareness is fundamental to personal growth, good relationships with others, and success in life. Self-awareness is no small thing. Lack of it can break you. Some spiritual traditions even teach that the biggest cause of suffering is not knowing what is going on inside yourself.

We all want to improve our relationships, our occupations, our income, our health, and our happiness. Unless we build our self-awareness, we risk failure before we even start.

What Is Self-awareness?

According to writer and expert Daniel Goleman, who popularized the concept of emotional intelligence, people who are self-aware have these abilities:

  • Emotional Self-Awareness. Those who are self-aware recognize their emotions and the impact these emotions have on their lives.
  • Accurate Self-Assessment. Self-aware people can accurately identify their strengths and limitations.
  • Self-Confidence. People who are self-aware know their worth and capabilities.

Though we may think we know these things about ourselves, we often fail to see that emotional triggers are making us act defensively. We may overestimate our abilities and bite off more than we can chew. Or we may underestimate ourselves and assume that we are less capable than we are.

Some research on self-awareness suggests that although most people believe they are self-aware, only 10% to 15% of adults are truly self-aware.

Self-awareness and Your Personal Growth

Self-awareness won’t change your basic temperament. Knowing that you’re closer to the introvert than to the extrovert end of the spectrum won’t suddenly make you the life of the party.

But gaining more emotional self-awareness can help you understand why you feel the way you do in certain situations and suggest better ways to cope.

For example, do you feel anxious in a crowd, but your sales job requires frequent attendance at conventions and trade shows? It would be helpful, then, to understand the reasons for your anxiety before you try to learn the skills you need to cope with your emotions.

Or, you may decide that the stress associated with sales is too much and find a position more compatible with your personality type.

Becoming self-aware opens you to growth by making you aware of how your assumptions and thought patterns can limit you. Knowing who you are gives you the power to choose your perspective. Then, you can act consciously instead of just rolling with the punches life throws at you.

Self-awareness and Your Path to Success

Cultivating self-awareness gives you the insights you need to achieve success in all areas of your life. As a person who is self-aware, you will understand your own thoughts, beliefs, and emotions better. You will also become aware of how others perceive your attitude and responses and be able to make adjustments to avoid any problems or misconceptions.

Self-awareness and Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Knowing your strengths will let you use them to get through difficult situations. Understanding your weaknesses will help you pinpoint what you need to do to improve. Facing your strengths and weaknesses with maturity lets you take the bad with the good, forgive yourself, and move forward.

Self-awareness and Understanding How Others See You

Understanding how others see you is key to success. Unless you understand how you are perceived by others you risk having them misunderstand you or alienate them.

Self-awareness and Working with Others

People who are open to the contributions and ideas of others are not only better team players, they’re better leaders. Examining your own actions and thinking about what you personally need to change to solve a problem makes it less likely that you’ll point fingers at others. Self-awareness leads to taking responsibility.

Take the Next Step to Knowing Yourself

To grow personally and achieve success, the best place to start is self-awareness. Knowing your temperament and personality, your emotions, your strengths and weaknesses, and understanding how others see and react to you gives you a sense of who you are. It also shows you a vision of who you want to become.
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Roy Faget, MA, is a counselor at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. He works with couples and individuals to help them understand their emotions and behaviors. If you would like to improve your self-awareness, contact Roy at 512-270-4883, ext. 109, or request an appointment with him on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

Overwhelmed By Personal Loss? 5 Ways To Help Ease The Pain

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By Mirela Bitkowski, MA

We often associate personal loss with the death of a loved one. Grief, however, is not confined solely to death. A health crisis, career change, a home sale, or the termination of a relationship or marriage– there are numerous pieces of life, that, through the progression of time, we might eventually lose.

Grieving the parts of life that we once loved and cherished is painful, and the steps we take towards recovery may be very similar to the grieving process of losing a loved one.

Whether it was anticipated or not, don’t diminish the loss you’re experiencing. Instead, use the following five ways to help cope and ease the pain of your personal loss.

1.   Be patient

It’s important that you give yourself the time and space to grieve. There’s no time limit for how long you should feel sad, nor is there a schedule for when you should be experiencing particular emotions. This is a normal time to undergo a wide range of emotions, so try not to judge yourself for feeling the way you do. This is a tough and transitional time, as you may be encountering something foreign for the very first time; remember to be as kind to yourself as you would be to a friend.

2.   Express and share your feelings

Having a support group of close friends and family members is crucial during trying times. Keeping your feelings bottled up will only be harmful to you, in both the short term as well as the long run. You don’t need to share your struggle with coworkers or surface-level friends, but it will be beneficial to confide in those you trust.

You may also consider reaching out to a professional. Getting in touch with a therapist is often beneficial. This doesn’t have to be a life-long commitment, but it is helpful to process your feelings with a professional during such times.

3.   Find a positive rather than a negative outlet

Experiencing personal loss elicits a surplus of negative feelings. Thus, it’s crucial that you discover a way to cope with these emotions. Some people turn to drinking, smoking, drugs, gambling, or compulsive shopping as a form of relief or distraction, but each of these activities only masks the problem and could eventually lead to an addiction. Instead of turning to one of these, seek healthier options. Journaling, exercising, and practicing self-care are all good alternatives to negative coping mechanisms.

4.   Don’t hold onto regret

Ruminating on thoughts like “I should’ve been more communicative in my marriage,” or “I wish I had gone to the doctor sooner,” won’t change the outcome of your current situation. Of course, you can use what you’ve experienced as a learning opportunity moving forward, but don’t hold onto it as a form of self-punishment. There is nothing you can do to change the past, so instead, try to focus on the future.

5.   Make plans for the future

There is a mourning period for every personal loss, and, as mentioned earlier, it’s important to remain patient during this time. It’s also important, however, to remember that with time, the pain will ease. You will not be in this negative or low emotional state forever. To remind yourself of your potential, positive future, try taking small steps. Look forward to what the future might have in store.

Keep in mind that with change comes growth. It’s okay to look to something better ahead. For instance, if divorce or financial loss requires you to sell your home, get excited about decorating your new one and making it all yours. Explore the new area where you’re going to live; find new restaurants, coffee shops, hiking trails, etc. Allow yourself to be excited about the future without forgetting about the past.

If you’re struggling with a personal loss, remember that recovery and healing with the help of a therapist or a support group can be a valuable part of your process. Hold onto the hope that, with time and the proper coping skills, you can find relief and move ahead with cherished memories and lessons learned.
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Mirela Bitkowski, MA, LPC Intern, sees couples and individuals at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. For more help navigating personal loss in your life, contact Mirela at (512) 270-4883, ext. 103, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

I Hate My Life! I'm Always Alone! How Do I Make A Change?

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Creating and maintaining a social life can be difficult. Most of us have lost friends over the years, made new ones, and lost some again. We’re busy with work and adulthood, but we still crave the social interaction that friendships provide. During transitional periods of life, it’s common to feel alone or a lack in your social life. In fact, a recent study showed that 72% (almost three quarters!) of Americans experience loneliness. The good thing about loneliness, however, is that there’s a solution to it. Make a change in your social life by trying the following five tips:

Find a cause you care about

Think about what makes your heart hurt – what in this world makes you the most upset? Maybe it’s homeless veterans, maybe it’s children of incarcerated parents, or maybe it’s the suicide rate amongst teens. Find the cause that you’re most passionate about and join an organization that seeks to make a change. You will not only feel more fulfilled by volunteering and truly making a difference, you’ll also meet other people who share this same passion. You’ll associate yourself with people who have a heart for the same things, and you’ll automatically share a deeper connection.

Stop glamorizing social media

Although social media is intended to keep people connected, it ironically leaves most of us feeling even more disconnected. When we log onto Facebook or Instagram, we’re bombarded with our “friends” highlight reels – pictures they’ve posted on their very best days. These pictures aren’t indicators of their day-to-day life, but what they want the social media world to believe their day-to-day looks like. These false perceptions can leave us feeling left out or questioning why our lives don’t look like this as well. Try taking a step back from social media. See it for what it truly is – don’t let these outlets fuel your feelings of loneliness.

Try something new

Exploring a new hobby or rediscovering an old one can help you pursue your interests. Take that art class, sign up for that tennis lesson, or join that book club you’ve had your eye on. Like finding a cause you’re passionate about, when you find a hobby you enjoy, you’ll be surrounded by like-minded people. Use technology to your advantage and download a community meet up app to look for local group opportunities.

Take initiative

It’s great to get out and try something new with new people, but how about taking it a step further? Making the first move in any kind of relationship (friendships included!) can feel intimidating, but you’ll never know until you try. Fostering friendships with people who share your interests is rewarding, so ask a new friend to grab lunch after your meetup or coffee before your next class. Extend an olive branch and you may be surprised by how well it’s reciprocated.

Change the way you think

Oftentimes the source of our loneliness stems from the way we think about ourselves, or the way we assume others think of us. For example, we’ve all reached out to somebody to make plans, only to be turned down. But after this happens, what do you take from it? Instead of believing that they already had plans, do you just assume they made it up, so they don’t have to spend time with you? Far too many people get into a rut of loneliness by assuming and ruminating on unproductive thoughts along these lines. Instead of overthinking and worrying that people don’t like you – take their response at face value and try again.

If you’re constantly feeling alone, you can make a change to turn things around. If you don’t know where to begin or need some support in the journey, schedule some time with a counselor or therapist. In the safety of a therapeutic relationship, you can hone your communication skills. Therapy can also help you glean some personal insight that can shore up your self-esteem. When you step outside of your comfort zone, you’ll be surprised by how far small, intentional steps can take you.
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Contact the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. if making a change in your life is something you want to explore. Call 512-270-4883 to schedule an appointment, or complete the form on the RCC Austin Scheduling page, and someone will contact you for scheduling..

Silence Your Inner Critic: 6 Ways to Stop Beating Yourself Up!

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By Mirela Bitkowski, MA

“You can’t do anything right!”

“You’ll never be able to do that.”

“What makes YOU so special?”

To some extent, we’re all familiar with this voice inside our head, the one that tells us we’re not good enough, undeserving, etc.

If you’re sick of listening to the abuse, silence your inner critic. Use these six ways to stop beating yourself up:

1. Identify the thoughts

The first step in combatting anything is to become aware of it. Some of us are so used to hearing our inner critic that we have trouble distinguishing between that voice and what’s actually true. Notice the thoughts that cross your mind and document the negative, self-patronizing ones; write them down if you need to! Once you realize which voice is your inner critic, you can then work on challenging what it has to say. It’s important to remember that your inner critic is a manifestation of your negative belief systems; it’s not an accurate representation of who you are.

2. Use balanced statements

Our inner critic LOVES to generalize, which is dangerous because it usually leads to catastrophic thinking. If we make one mistake, our inner critic can find a way to turn that into a character flaw. For instance, if you mess up on a work assignment, pay attention to your response. Is it something along the lines of “I mess everything up; I can’t ever get anything right?" If so, try challenging that thought and making the statement more balanced. Change your thought to “I have some great strengths as well as some weaknesses. It’s okay to mess up sometimes. After all, I’m only human.” You don’t have to go to the far end of the spectrum and praise yourself after you’ve messed up to silence your inner critic. Still, you need to be self-compassionate and understanding.

3. Talk to yourself like you’d talk to a friend

While it might sound cliché, talking to yourself the way you would talk to a friend actually works. Once you’ve identified the voice of your inner critic, imagine saying those things to a friend. Would you ever call your loved ones lazy, unmotivated, not good enough, stupid, or anything else that deprecating? No, because not only is it unkind and rude, it’s untrue. So, when you begin to beat yourself up, picture yourself speaking to a friend instead.

4. Practice self-care

The best way to treat yourself like a friend is to act like one. Prove to yourself that you’re worthy of love and attention by practicing self-care. Make time every day to do at least one thing you love. Buy yourself that book you’ve been wanting, take time for exercise, watch an episode of your favorite television show, pick up dessert from your local bakery, just because. When you take care of your soul, mind, and body, they take care of you in return.

5. Don’t ruminate

Everyone makes mistakes, but instead of dwelling on them, it’s crucial that you focus on the next best thing. There’s nothing good that will come from sitting around and reimagining a situation or conversation repeatedly. Fix what you can and move on from what you can’t. Silence your inner critic by practicing self-care and distracting yourself from the negative thoughts.

6. Go to therapy

While each of us has an inner critic, some are louder than others. This can be for a variety of reasons – a history of depression and anxiety, a difficult childhood, emotionally abusive family members, or simply from repetitively listening to your inner critic. Sometimes people’s inner critics are so intertwined with themselves that they can’t differentiate the harmful voice. There’s no shame in seeking professional help from a therapist in order help combat this.

You don’t have to live life according to your inner critic. It takes time, but by practicing the six steps above, you can learn to silence your inner critic.
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Mirela Bitkowski, MA, LPC Intern, sees couples and individuals at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. For more help on developing love for the self, contact Mirela at (512) 270-4883, ext. 103, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling page.

Are You A People Pleaser? Use These 6 Tips To Break The Habit

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By Jill Baumgarner, MA

Humans are wired for connection to others. Relationships are important to us!

The feeling of being well-liked and well-loved by others - especially family, friends, and work-colleagues - is part of our innate desire to make and maintain connection with people who are important to us.

It’s natural to have a handful of people in your life that you want to make proud.

However, when that handful becomes most of your phone contact list then it’s likely you’ve adopted a people pleasing mindset. This perspective and its accompanying behaviors can quickly become detrimental to your life and physical well-being.

Is it possible to change your people pleasing behavior, stop stressing, and give up trying to make everyone else happy?

Of course!

Here are a few tips to say goodbye for good to the people pleasing way of life.

1. Recognize Your Choice in the Matter

People pleasing can be a cycle that makes you feel stuck.

Others see you as reliable and the person who will always pull through for them. But, do you often feel obligated or forced to please people the way you do? Do you feel guilt or shame about the prospect of saying “no” to requests or expectations others have for you?

One very important thing to remember is that you have a choice. You are not obligated to live just to make others happy.

Recognizing your choice will help you slow down and rethink the people pleasing cycle you are in.

2. Locate Where It All Started in the First Place

You might have wondered how you developed the people pleasing habit. Now is the time to figure out the origin of this behavior.

Were you rewarded or greatly praised for helping others as a child? Maybe you were raised by people pleasing parents and it’s simply been modeled for you when you were growing up. Being a people pleasure may feel like what you “should” do or the kind of person you “need” to be.

Knowing how it got started will help you to fill areas of your life with something else, rather than continuing down the people pleasing path.

3. Figure Out Why People Pleasing is Still Rewarding to You

You can also take your origin quest a step further and determine why people pleasing is still a way of life for you.

Why do you choose to make other people happy before making yourself happy?

Are you afraid they’ll be disappointed? Do you still seek the reward you were given as a child? Do you think people won’t like you if you stop living up to their expectations?

Knowing why you still feel obligated to please everyone will be a big step toward ending the behavior altogether.

4. Make a Very Short List and Stick to It

As mentioned before, it’s natural to want to others to care about you and be proud of you.

In your endeavor to stop people pleasing, intentionally determine whose happiness matters as much as your own. This list will likely include your partner, close friends, and family.

Everyone else will need to hear “no” from you more often from now on. Focus on those who truly love you and genuinely show them your love in return.

5. Learn to Accept Others’ Negative Response

One of the most difficult parts of giving up the people pleasing lifestyle is the perceived disappointment from others.

When you first start telling people that you won’t help, you might feel a little off-kilter. You might even feel like you let them down or that you are behaving selfishly.

The first few times you say “no” to a request, or don’t immediately volunteer to do something for someone are always the hardest. Lean into your feelings and realize that this is a normal part of breaking the pattern. Enduring the discomfort will help you learn to establish healthy boundaries for yourself. It may be a struggle in the beginning, but it will get easier the more you practice changing your people pleasing behavior.

6. Put Yourself First

Putting your own needs first might sound selfish. It’s anything but!

After all, how can you give your best to others if you’re constantly drained and exhausted from ignoring your own needs?

You can’t. And, that’s not something anyone deserves.

It’s important to take care of yourself first by establishing a healthy self-care routine. Think of it as keeping your gas tank full in your vehicle. Refuel your own tank routinely with premium grade nutrition, exercise, downtime, and rest.
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Jill Baumgarner, MA, is a licensed professional counselor intern at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. She works with men, women, and couples to help them break the people pleasing habit in their relationships. Contact her 512-270-4883, ext. 108 to schedule an appointment, or request an appointment with her on the RCC Austin Scheduling Page.