Coping and Personal Growth

27Jun 2017

Life Lessons from the Dog Beach

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

Hugo is 18 months old and weighs about 30 pounds. He’s our French Bulldog (the breed is also referred to as “Frenchies”). Hugo, like many Frenchies, is a big personality in a small package. He loves people and other dogs, and he’s exceptionally playful and affectionate. Hugo brings us endless, unconditional joy and love – and he’s taught me some important life lessons. Spending time with Hugo is one of my favorite coping skills – he’s a black and white, four-legged, tongue-wagging stress management gift.

About a year ago, we started taking Hugo to the dog beach every Sunday afternoon. We live about 2 miles from the beach in South Florida. I was resistant to the idea at first. Sunday afternoons used to be the time I reserved for completing any weekend chores, and maybe carving out an hour or so to relax. I thought that going to the dog beach would be one more task in my long list of responsibilities and demands. The dog beach required permits and fees, schlepping beach chairs, and cleaning up beach sand after we returned home. But Hugo (and my wife) insisted that we give it a try.

I didn’t like the experience – I totally loved it. When we let Hugo off his leash – about 50 beach yards from the ocean – he took off like a bat out of hell. I’ve never seen a dog run so fast, kicking up clouds of beach sand behind him. Watching his little butt wiggle side-to-side as he scooted toward the water brought a huge smile to my face. I laughed until I cried. Hugo became one of my greatest teachers. He taught me how to appreciate life in an entirely new way.

Hugo’s Life Lessons

  1. Change your environment – Like many South Florida residents, we rarely go the beach. We live here, work here, and complain about all of the tourists who clog the roads and restaurants during vacation season. After years of summer beach vacations when we lived up north, the thrill was gone. Now we go to the beach every Sunday, and it’s like I never knew what I was missing. Now I see this environment through Hugo’s eyes – it’s a wonderful playground filled with interesting characters. Changing my environment every week is refreshing and invigorating – it changes my point of view and my emotional state.
  2. Be in the moment – For many years now I’ve practiced and taught mindfulness and various meditative practices. One of the most important functions and benefits of mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness. Being in the moment allows us to focus and concentrate more clearly, and to appreciate the value of every experience. Hugo is a living example of this Zen-like principle. He is fully engaged in the moment, without a care in the world. Every Sunday he invites me to join him in each precious moment.
  3. Take a break – Are you in a rut? Are you bored with the “same old” thing? Are you stressed out and overwhelmed by life’s demands? Maybe it’s time to take a break. More specifically, it’s time to prioritize and schedule life-enhancing, rejuvenating activities. I’m not talking about crashing in front of the TV, or escaping into video games or shopping trips. Hugo taught me some unexpected benefits of prioritizing routine, scheduled breaks. These Sunday outings are now a sacred part of our schedule. Our weekly trips to the beach create a true, mentally healthy attitude adjustment.
  4. Disconnect – Research studies show that the majority of adults spend more time on their mobile devices, computers, and TV than they do in direct connection with other people (even their spouse and children). We see a lot of people who bring their dogs to the beach every Sunday. Rarely do we see them using their phones. It’s like some kind of time warp, taking us back to the days when people interacted without texts, tags, or emojis.
  5. Reconnect emotionally – I love the way Hugo scampers up the shore line, in hot pursuit of some dog that’s much bigger and faster – and just when we think we need to run after him, he turns around and runs back to us. This happens repeatedly every Sunday. He knows we’re his people. And the connection is emotionally based. Brain science shows us that we are hard-wired for this type of emotional connection (humans and dogs have very similar brain structures). Our limbic system and amygdala react with danger signals to abandonment and loss – and rewards us with pleasurable sensations when we reconnect. This release of oxytocin (the love hormone) is probably the best stress-buster of all time. Hugo is the embodiment of limbic resonance (we literally feel each other emotionally).
  6. Make new friends – Hugo is my role model. He just runs right up to anybody – a dog or a person – ready to play or to be petted. He’s not self-conscious, and doesn’t worry about rejection or being judged. And if some dog doesn’t like him (all of the people do!), he doesn’t sulk, and he doesn’t take it personally. He just moves on the next animal. It’s what most little kids do before the world teaches them to fear.
  7. Take risks – We love watching Hugo play with other dogs and run into the surf. He knows his limits (most of the time – he’s still pretty young and a little reckless). He can’t swim – he sinks in the water like a bowling ball. But he’s learned to go as far into the surf as possible – he’s even learned to time the waves crashing into the shore. He seems to be quite fearless (although a big pink inflatable raft gave him pause one time – he froze in his paw prints, letting out his characteristic “woo-woo-wooo”). As I get older, I notice that I’m a little more conservative – a little more risk averse. Sometimes to a fault. I’m working at putting myself into Hugo’s shoes – or paws.
  8. Appreciate vicarious joy – I’ve always appreciated the value of positive experiences. A loving embrace, beautiful music, a great movie, travel, a good book. Hugo reminds me of raising children. The joy you get from watching them experience new things. Thank you, Hugo, for giving me the gift of vicarious joy. It’s like every week at the beach is brand new – something he’s never done before. His excitement and passion is no less than it was a year ago – after 52 Sundays at the beach. When I’m stressed out or feeling low, all I need to do is to think about Hugo prancing across that beach without a care in the world.
  9. Be light hearted – (Thank you to one of my clients who talked to me about this today. He’s learning how to get out of his head, and into his heart.) Hugo has the gift of a small cerebral cortex – humans have the gift, and the curse, of a large one. That’s our thinking brain. Hugo never thinks it through at the beach. He just does it – with lots of heart and gusto. I’m thinking (but not too much!) about getting a tattoo with a drawing of Hugo, and the motto “What would Hugo do?”
  10. Run-Play-Rest – Running is healthy and life-affirming. We run for exercise and we run for survival (running to work every day). Play is for kids and for dogs. And for our inner child. All adults need healthy play – it nourishes and restores our youthful vitality. And then we need to rest. Hugo runs, chases and plays with other dogs, and then he collapses, exhausted, resting until the next opportunity comes along. Thank you, Hugo, for reminding us of our essence – our very nature. I’ll meet you at the beach next Sunday!

If you’d like to see more pictures of Hugo at the beach – or if you want more information about stress management and coping skills – please contact us today.

29Aug 2016

StarTrek

 Life Lessons from Star Trek
≈ Star Date September, 2016 ≈
By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

 

Without followers, evil cannot spread.
                     Mr. Spock, Season 3

September 2016 is the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. Fifty years of Star Trek on television (five different series) with a new show, Star Trek: Discovery, due to premier on CBS All Access in January, 2017. And 13 motion pictures beginning in 1979, with the most recent release this past summer: Star Trek: Beyond. The original series, developed by screenwriter and producer Gene Roddenberry, was campy, sophomoric, and way ahead of its time. The moral and ethical philosophy of Star Trek includes 50 years of highly entertaining lessons on coping skills and social skills.

The United Federation of Emotional Intelligence

In Star Trek, Capt. Kirk, the commander of the Enterprise, is emotional, impulsive, and passionate. His emotional intensity is balanced by Science Officer Mr. Spock. Spock is half-human, but operates mostly from his logical Vulcan side. An effective balance between emotion and logic is a cornerstone of emotional intelligence and effective social skills (which parallels the alliance of diverse species in the United Federation of Planets). And Spock’s logic often reflected an evolved level of moral and ethical principles – a hallmark of emotional and social intelligence. For example, when the Enterprise returned to the 20th century to save the humpback whales, he remarked that “To hunt a species to extinction is not logical.” To which, the 20th century marine veterinarian Dr. Gillian Taylor replied, “Whoever said the human race was logical?” This balance of emotion with logic is one of our most essential coping skills.

The appropriate expression of primary emotions like anger is another indication of emotional intelligence and good coping skills. Doc McCoy (“Bones”) would frequently express frustration and anger in a manner that was both authentic and endearing (“Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor, not a physicist!”) This was a great example of using effective social skills to manage an emotional crisis.

To Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before

The main premise of Star Trek is “…to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations…” One of our most important coping skills is to face our fears and “boldly go” toward the challenges and goals that will improve and expand our personal universe. Capt. James T. Kirk epitomized the no risk – no reward approach to life. He always believed in a positive outcome, and he would never give up. For Kirk, there was no such thing as a no-win scenario. Starfleet designed a simulation called the Kobayashi Maru to test the character of its cadets – the test was designed as a no-win situation. Kirk found a way to defeat the test, saying “I changed the conditions of the test. I don’t like to lose.” The Starfleet Academy questioned his integrity, but could never question his charming social skills – and his ability to get the job done and save humanity.

Aliens are Us – Diversity, Acceptance, and Inclusion

Star Trek aliens are a mirror in which we see the best and worst of ourselves—and one in which we see that we’re not as different from one another as we might think.
                                               Alex Fitzpatrick – TIME’s Star Trek: Inside the Most Influential Science-Fiction Series Ever

Fifty years ago Star Trek explored the strange new world of diversity. The original TV series cast included a racially and culturally diverse group of men and women – many of them in leadership roles. In the fictional 23rd Century, the Star Trek crew found a galaxy full of diverse life forms. The show often emphasized the importance of social skills in sharing the universe with alien creatures. Positive, life-affirming social and coping skills such as non-judgmental acceptance, inclusive practices at work and in communities, teamwork, negotiation and compromise. Skills that seem to be practiced all too infrequently in our relationships and today’s world in general.

The Prime Directive

In the fictional universe of Star Trek, the Prime Directive is the guiding principle of the United Federation of Planets. The Prime Directive is a non-interference policy which prohibits Starfleet personnel from interfering with the internal development of alien civilizations. In our current world, this remarkable philosophy and practice is often ignored by governments, families, couples and individuals. As a social skill, non-interference respects the autonomy and free will of others. As a coping skill non-interference helps us maintain serenity and balance by practicing unconditional acceptance and positive regard for other people’s rights, opinions, and behavior.

Character & Friendship

I have been . . . and always shall be . . . your friend.
                   Mr. Spock, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

On the starship Enterprise, friendship and character always trump ego and explosions. That’s one reason why I’m a Trekkie. The best Star Trek shows and movies are character-driven. And what characters they are! Full of life, love, passion, and friendship – along with Vulcan morals and logical practicality. The movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is a prime example of friendship and effective social skills across the centuries. And the newest Star Trek movies faithfully replicate (pardon the pun for you Trekkies!) these wonderful characters, and the relationship chemistry in their friendship.

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Capt. Jean Luc Picard was a great leader with impeccable character traits. His advanced coping skills were demonstrated beautifully when he accepted an alien presence on his starship, attempting to understand and negotiate with the unwelcome life form – instead of resorting to power struggles and phaser guns.

Sacrifice and selflessness

Many of the problems in our world today can be traced to greed, a sense of entitlement, ego and narcissism. In Star Trek, personality traits, communities, and evolved governments operate from a sense of mutual cooperation for the common good. Social skills such as sacrifice and selflessness seem old-fashioned today, but not in the 23rd Century. In a poignant scene in The Wrath of Khan, Spock says, “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Captain Kirk answers, “Or the one.” Imagine the possibilities for creating more satisfying relationships – and a better world – when we mindfully use this type of coping skill to solve our problems.

For more information about social skills and coping skills, or to set up an appointment for a consultation, please contact us today. And to all of our friends, colleagues and families, “Live long and prosper!”

15Aug 2016

Coaching / Blackboard concept (Click for more)

What is Performance Coaching?

By Greg Douglas, LMHC

o Performance coaching improves motivation, empowerment and commitment.

o Coaching clarifies goals, major life decisions, and strategies.

o Performance coaching improves productivity and career success.

o Coaching improves confidence and self-esteem.

o Performance coaching promotes and accelerates positive change in relationships, school and sports performance.

A performance coach is a trained professional who guides and motivates people to achieve goals. Performance coaching helps individuals define and clarify goals, major life decisions, and the steps and tasks necessary to achieve success. And coaching is a process of personal development and change.

Performance coaching includes 4 major types of coaching:

1. Life Coaching – addresses personal goals, life choices and changes, along with the steps necessary to achieve your personal goals.

2. Career & Academic Coaching – In this type of coaching we assess career and academic strengths and limitations, and develop of an action plan to reach desired outcomes.

3. Relationship Coaching – to enhance and improve healthy, positive relationships (improved communication, intimacy, and partnership).

4. Sports Performance Coaching – teaches the proper way to focus, motivate, and manage the “internal, emotional game,” and unlock true potential to perform at the highest level.

What are the benefits of performance coaching?

A Fresh Perspective – Positive change and success often begins with a new perspective. Looking at an old problem or obstacle in a new way often leads to new ideas that fuel positive action.

Decision Making Skills – Working with a performance coach can help people understand how they make decisions, how to make more effective decisions, and what factors need to be considered before making difficult choices.

Clarity – We often fail to make the best choices or reach our full potential due to a lack of clarity. Performance coaching can define the most important goals, objectives and action plan – and empowers the path toward an ideal future.

Productivity – Coaching helps unlock your true potential and identifies the most productive path. Understanding the barriers that have prevented you from taking action allows for new insights and increased motivation.

Confidence – Working with the strengths that we already have enables us to feel confident about what we are doing and increases self-esteem. Coaching builds confidence by focusing on existing strengths.

Accountability – Meeting regularly with a performance coach helps to keep you accountable with your action plan. Each session is used to measure the progress made since the last meeting. The plan may be modified depending on progress or obstacles.

How is coaching different from traditional therapy?

There are some similarities, and some important differences between a performance coach and a therapist. Performance coaches do not treat disorders like anxiety, depression, and other emotional problems. Performance coaching is best suited for individuals who normally function well and want to improve their lives in a specific area.

Past, Present and Future

A performance coach will help you with your current situation and future goals rather than analyzing the past. Traditional psychotherapy is often centered on uncovering patterns of behavior that continue to cause distress in an individual’s life. Coaching is focused on goals, decisions and action plans.

Solution Focused vs. Problem Focused

A major difference between performance coaching and therapy is a focus on solutions. Therapists tend to be focused on a specific problem or disorder. Performance coaching is focused on solutions that allow you to move from point A to point B as quickly as possible. The focus of performance coaching sessions includes finding new ways to think and act that will allow you to reach your goals.

The Role and Function of a Performance Coach

The Performance Coaching process starts with a full assessment of client needs, goals, values and strengths. A written plan of action is developed with specific steps and time lines. And the coach guides the action stage where the plan is fully implemented. The specific roles of the coach include:

* Motivator

A life or performance coach is a source of motivation and inspiration that gives you the push you need to reach your full potential. You might hire a performance coach for similar reasons that you would hire a personal trainer. You may already be fit, but have specific goals that need more guidance and motivation. This type of motivational coaching is excellent for goals like weight loss, workplace or household organization, academic, work, or sports performance.

* Strategist

Performance coaching also helps people identify and develop the most effective strategies for meeting their goals. A performance coach is focused on efficiency – the best strategies to achieve results quickly and productively, to create lasting change.

* Accountability Partner

A key aspect of performance coaching is to monitor progress toward goals. Coaching encourages people to keep moving forward in a positive manner. It can be difficult to hold oneself accountable for making changes, but checking in with a performance coach encourages forward momentum.

Performance coaching will hold you accountable to achieve your personal, professional, and life goals. Your personal coach will be at your side each step of the way to provide you with an effective strategy and will motivate and empower you to keep moving forward. Coaching helps you to navigate the hurdles and road blocks on your path, and challenges you to succeed with all of your goals.

For more information about performance coaching, or to set up an initial session with our experienced staff, please contact us today.

21Jun 2016

New York, USA - June 12, 2017: Memorial outside the landmark Stonewall Inn in honor of the victims of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando in New York City in 2016.

A Year of Grief and Loss

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

We thought that 2016 would be remembered mostly as a unique year in politics – one of the most intriguing and disturbing presidential elections of all time. Now it seems like 2016 may be remembered mostly as a year of tragedy, grief and loss. The mass murder of 49 young, innocent people in Orlando was heartbreaking and deplorable. And with the year only half over, we’ve also lost many other talented, influential and inspiring individuals. Muhammad Ali, Prince, David Bowie, Christina Grimmie, Nancy Reagan, Patty Duke, Morley Safer and many others. For those of us who have lost friends or family members, the grief is much more acute and painful. The coping skills we teach at our Center somehow seem inadequate to address this level of sorrow.

Reactions to Grief and Loss

Most of us know about the “normal” reactions experienced with grief and loss. Coping skills can be helpful, but we still experience overwhelming, painful feelings. Some of the most common reactions include:

o Sorrow – The feeling of sorrow includes intense sadness, anguish and desolation. Undoubtedly, sorrow is the most common emotional response to grief and loss.

o Anger is also a common reaction to loss. Anger is the natural and biologically driven fight instinct – when we need to blame and “push back” against the real or perceived cause of our loss. And anger is the way we protest against the loss.

o Denial and a sense of unreality. This is one of our most natural, inborn coping skills. When we are shocked or overwhelmed by the magnitude of a loss, the brain needs time to adjust to this new, excruciating reality.

o Guilt – When my father died I experienced an overwhelming sense of guilt. I thought I should have known more about his condition – I should have done more to help him. I should have spent more time with him. The feelings are commonplace, but terribly disturbing. Therapy helped me correct these somewhat irrational and unnecessary beliefs.

o Anxiety and FearAnxiety often results from denial or suppression of unwanted, painful feelings. When we struggle against our feelings, our feelings tend to push back. We also experience fear at times of great loss because of our basic vulnerabilities – such as fears of being alone or abandoned, and fears about illness and our own eventual death.

The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”                         – Elisabeth Kübler-Ross-

 

Coping Skills for Grief and Loss

In the first paragraph of this article I mentioned that the coping skills we teach and practice seem inadequate at a time like this. While these coping skills have proven to be effective and necessary in dealing with grief and loss, they are inadequate because we need to feel bad. We need to feel anger and sadness because these feelings help us to cope with a loss that seems unacceptable.

1. Give yourself permission, and time, to feel and to think about your loss. Eastern philosophy teaches us that pain in life is mandatory – but suffering is optional. We suffer when we struggle against our thoughts and feelings. Acceptance is the key.

2. Express these thoughts and feelings openly and without judgment. Crying and appropriate expression of angry feelings is healthy. Journaling or expressive art work can be helpful. And sharing with a trusted and understanding person is very important.

3. Take care of yourself physically. Eat regular meals even if you’re not hungry. Try to get enough sleep, and consult your doctor if you can’t sleep for more than a few days. Meditate, pray, exercise or do yoga. Physical health and mental health are inextricably linked.

4. Support or bereavement groups are available in most communities. Check with your local hospital, your county or city community services division, or local non-profit service agencies.

5. Seek professional help if you are unable to function normally at work, school or at home after a reasonable period of time. There is no prescribed time period for grief and loss. It takes time for the feelings and thoughts to subside, and some of the feelings may always be there – at least just under the surface.

Another type of coping skill is the knowledge that we can always hold on to memories of those we’ve loved. There are times I will have imaginary conversations with my deceased parents – or “hear” their voices giving me advice or encouragement.

Death ends a life, not a relationship.”           – Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie –

The counselors and therapists at our Center have a great deal of personal and professional experience in dealing with grief and loss. Please contact us today for further information about coping skills and professional support for dealing with trauma and loss.

18Apr 2016

Exercise for Mental Fitness

Illus-BrainLiftingWeight-Blog

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

The ancient Greeks understood that a sound mind is inseparable from a sound body. Current medical research confirms this philosophy. As a devoted exercise enthusiast I can attest to the many physical, emotional and mental benefits of a regular fitness regimen. Depression, anxiety and worry runs in my family. I’ve struggled at times with these conditions, and there’s no doubt that my personal commitment to fitness has helped my mood states considerably. And my routine of gym workouts, jogging, and boxing is excellent for stress management!

In this article I’ll summarize the research results on the benefits of regular exercise – most notably the alleviation of depression, anxiety and worry, along with stress management. The last part of this article will outline specific exercise methods and strategies for mental and emotional well-being.

Exercise Benefits for Mental Fitness

* Improved Mood – Regular physical exercise results in improved mood states. Physical exercise signals the brain to release endorphins – hormones that activate opiate receptors which reduce pain, inflammation and stress. Studies show that exercise is generally as effective in reducing mild to moderate depression, anxiety and worry as antidepressant medications. Exercise is also shown to reduce the symptoms of a more serious major depression. Other studies show that anxiety disorders, including panic attacks and phobias are improved by regular physical exercise. James Blumenthal, Ph.D., a psychologist at Duke University conducted a comprehensive medical study reported in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, 2007. “Exercise, he concluded, was generally comparable to antidepressants for patients with major depressive disorder.”

* Stress Reduction – As indicated above, endorphins are released during exercise. These hormones are highly effective in stress management. With the reduction of stress due to regular physical exercise, people also sleep better, and regulate their emotional states more effectively. With less depression, anxiety and worry, people are better able to manage stress in their lives.

* Self-Esteem – Research shows that physical exercise helps to improve self-esteem. Exercise improves self-confidence, and leads to feelings of personal empowerment. When we exercise we feel a sense of accomplishment and self-respect – another antidote to depression, anxiety and worry.

* Increased Brain Function – Recent medical studies indicate that regular physical exercise prevents cognitive decline. This means improved abilities to learn and to think more clearly and with improved focus and concentration. Exercise has been shown to reduce symptoms of ADD and ADHD, and to improve memory. There are indications that exercise also reduces obsessive rumination (commonly experienced with anxiety and worry). Stress management skills are enhanced with an improved problem solving abilities.

* Improved Behavior Management – People who exercise on a regular basis report increased motivation, energy, even creativity. They function at higher levels at work and at home. They also report an improved ability to manage angry feelings, with more behavioral control and emotional equanimity. Along with improved stress management skills, people are able to relax and find balance in their lives. Fitness programs are now very popular in rehabilitation programs for alcoholism and drug addiction – and for many good reasons. Since exercise tends to reduce the symptoms of depression, anxiety and worry, people experience fewer urges to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.

* Trauma Recovery – Physical exercise is a highly effective therapy for trauma recovery. Trauma results from childhood physical or emotional abuse, neglect or abandonment. Adult trauma results from life threatening accidents and injury, witnessing serious trauma situations, injuries or death, and other tragedies. Trauma survivors, such as those with PTSD, can suffer with chronic depression, panic attacks, anxiety and worry. Along with other therapies, physical exercise has significant, proven benefits. Yoga, martial arts, and boxing are especially effective for trauma, as indicated in the next section.

* Social & Interpersonal Benefits – Many fitness programs and sports involve groups of people (such as exercise classes). Many studies have shown that social interaction with others is essential for good mental and emotional health – and essential for combatting depression, anxiety and worry. The combination of exercise and social interaction accomplishes two goals at one time – and it often makes exercise more fun.

Exercise Strategies for Mental Fitness

* Fitness Level – Almost everyone can exercise, regardless of their level of fitness. Those with physical limitations, or people who have never exercised on a regular basis, can easily start off slowly. Any exercise is better than none at all. And it’s easy to increase your activity level when you take it one step at a time. People who struggle with depression, anxiety and worry may need to push themselves – to push through the internal resistance to exercise. And getting support and encouragement from others can be motivating – it’s a comprehensive approach to stress management.

* Have Fun with Fitness – Running was never fun for me. Listening to music while I run makes it more enjoyable, as does running in new locations. Now I only run once a week, so I incorporate other types of workouts during the week. I discovered boxing a few years ago, and it’s great for stress management. Boxing is an excellent cardio alternative to jogging, biking, and swimming. It’s challenging, and it requires a high level of focus and concentration, while staying loose, flexible and balanced. Find something you like to do and it takes the “work” out of working out. And having fun while staying fit is a “no brainer” for combatting depression, anxiety and worry.

* Balance – Incorporate a variety of methods in your fitness program: walk, jog, bike, swim, and play sports. Resistance training with weights or other fitness systems is important for maintaining bone strength and musculature. Today there are many fun alternatives for a range of fitness activities: high-tech spinning boutiques, specialized gyms with great instructors and trainers, boot camps and various types of challenge courses. A fitness program that balances cardio with weight training and other methods is an excellent stress management strategy.

* Mindfulness, Yoga, and Martial Arts – Many research studies are now showing that mindfulness methods are highly effective in treating depression, anxiety and worry, and other emotional problems. Mindfulness – open awareness without judgment – is also an excellent stress management technique. When mindfulness is incorporated into a fitness program, the benefits are multiplied. Yoga is a prime example of a mindful fitness method – in fact, it is one of the original, ancient fitness programs! Yoga and Tai Chi are examples of a true mind-body path to physical, mental and emotional fitness. Martial arts, such as Aikido, Karate and Judo also use mindfulness practices along with physical training. Boxing is a more contemporary version of martial arts, and in boxing I’ve found an increased ability to focus, concentrate and lose self-consciousness in a mindfully aware manner – and it’s a great workout for stress management and anger management, with all of the physical benefits of a full body workout.

* Personal Trainers and Exercise Classes – I’ve used personal trainers at gyms for many years. The cost varies depending on the gym, but with the right trainer it’s worth it. An experienced trainer with the right kind of background can be highly motivating and will personalize the best workout for your needs. Exercise classes are a fun, low cost alternative, and many have trainers who can provide some one-on-one guidance during the class. Exercise classes are also a great way to get the social benefit from fitness – and to make new friends.

The professional counselors and therapists at the Relationship Center of South Florida have many years of experience helping people with depression, stress management, anxiety and worry. Contact us today with any questions, or to schedule an appointment.

My deep appreciation to Juan Carlos Santana, international fitness expert and founder of IHP (Institute of Human Performance); and Rio Santana, Gym Manager at IHP, in Boca Raton, FL – www.IHPfitness.com. I’ve been to dozens of gyms all over the U.S. and Europe, and IHP is the most professional training facility, with the most highly qualified and dedicated trainers I’ve ever experienced.

21Jan 2016

Health and Happiness

7 Reasons to Practice Mindfulness and Loving-Kindness

Power of meditation

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind.                                                                                                                                                                                                              Buddha

It’s easy, free of charge, requires as little as 5 minutes a day, and creates health, happiness, peace of mind, and improved relationships. Too good to be true? Loving-kindness meditations are practiced daily by millions of people across several continents. Research studies over the past 15 years have shown conclusively that this type of mindfulness practice improves coping skills and confers significant mind-body health benefits.

What is Mindfulness and Loving-Kindness Practice?

Mindfulness is a type of mind-body approach to peace of mind and stress management. Based in meditation practices that have been perfected over 3000 years, mindfulness is one of the most effective types of coping skills. In its most basic form, mindfulness is awareness without judgment. When we practice mindfulness, we maintain a moment-to-moment awareness of our internal experience (thoughts, beliefs, and feelings) and external situations (other people, places and things) – and we gently let go of opinions and judgments (especially negative valuations). We avoid emotional reactivity and practice emotional and spiritual equanimity and balance.

Loving-kindness practice includes compassion, empathy, goodwill, benevolence, and friendship toward one’s self and others. Loving-kindness is practiced with meditation and acts of goodwill toward others. This type of mindfulness practice is one of the most effective types of coping skills for stress management and creating more loving relationships.

How to Practice Mindfulness and Loving-Kindness

There are many types of mindfulness and loving-kindness practices. Most of these methods begin with one breath. Our breath brings us back to center – the center of our being (some would say our soul or spirit). The one “cleansing breath” involves inhaling through your nose, diaphragmatically (the stomach area expands and the shoulders remain stationary), and exhaling through your mouth. Some of the most effective coping skills begin with this breath.

I suggest starting with a simple 5 minute mindfulness meditation every morning. Make it a part of your usual morning routine. Close your eyes, and start with the cleansing breath. Then breathe normally and notice the sensation of breathing in and out. Your mind will wander – notice what comes up for you (thoughts and feelings). Gently let go of those thoughts and feelings and return your awareness to your breath. Toward the end of the 5 minutes silently repeat a loving-kindness affirmation or prayer. A typical example follows:

May I be filled with loving-kindness;

May I be well;

May I be peaceful and at ease;

May I be happy.

The second repetition may be focused toward someone you love or care about (“May you be…”). The third repetition may be directed toward someone you’re angry with or dislike. A final repetition can include everyone, or a group of people.

It is also quite beneficial to do a gratitude exercise at the end of your mindfulness meditation. Specify 5 people or things you are grateful for today and repeat this sentence for each of them – “I’m grateful for…” This type of gratitude exercise has been shown to be a highly effective coping skill in dealing with stress, anxiety, depression, and relationship distress.

7 Reasons to Practice Mindfulness and Loving Kindness

The use of mindfulness practice as an effective mind-body coping skill has been proven by numerous studies. The benefits range from improved physical and mental health to career and athletic success.

1. Reduced frequency and severity of anxiety and depressive symptoms.

2. Less chronic pain, headaches, and improved immune system functioning.

3. Improved stress management, and less anger. Improved ability to relax.

4. Increase of positive, and decrease of negative emotions. Improved ability to regulate or manage emotional reactions.

5. Improved focus, concentration, and retention of information.

6. Positive self-esteem and self-love. Reduced levels of self-criticism.

7. Improved relationships. More empathy, compassion and generosity toward others.

I’ve been practicing mindfulness methods, including loving-kindness meditations, for many years. Of all the coping skills, this one has always been the most helpful. When I’ve neglected my practice I notice that I’m more easily stressed out, anxious and irritable. The good news is that it’s easy to resume this practice, and it’s immediately effective. The counselors at our Center often use mindfulness methods with individuals and couples, and we hope you will contact us today for more information about this invaluable method.

22Dec 2015

Illus-GroupTherapy“This Group Saved My Life”

By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

When I was a 19 year old college sophomore, struggling with relationship problems and depression, I tried group counseling at my university counseling center. It’s been over 40 years, and I clearly remember one group session that brought me to tears. The therapist pointed out my disconnection from others in the group, and it changed my life. I realized how I protected myself emotionally with a rigid defensive façade, and the group helped me to feel safely connected in my vulnerability with others.

Now I’m the therapist, and I’ve been running counseling groups for a long time. Last month I was surprised and touched by a comment made by a 51 year old woman at the end of one our group counseling sessions. She gave me a big hug and told me “This group saved my life.” She had struggled with addictions, childhood trauma (abuse and abandonment), and serious relationship problems most of her adult life. With group support and feedback she got her life on track, and she’s become an informal “leader” in the group and her community.

Three weeks later, a similar comment was made by a member of my weekly men’s therapy group. One night after group he told me that “This group changed my life.” Over the past few years, this 46 year old man has been in individual therapy, marriage counseling, and has attended personal growth workshops. He told me he’s learned more about himself and has made more positive changes as a result of group counseling than everything else combined.

Why is group counseling so effective? What exactly happens in therapy groups, and how do they work?

Types of Group Counseling

There’s an almost endless variety of therapy groups. Some of the most common types include:

o Men’s groups, with a special focus on men’s issues and life roles. Anger, shame, and relationship challenges are often discussed. Men supporting and encouraging other men is an emotionally powerful, rewarding experience.

o Women’s groups often focus on relationship issues, self-esteem, anxiety and depression, and life balance issues.

o Mixed adult group counseling (male and female) – Relationships, depression, anxiety, addictions.

o Couples groups – Small groups of married couples (relationship issues).

Group Counseling Methods

o Process groups – My preferred method for conducting therapy groups is also considered to be the most effective in creating long-lasting change. Process refers to what actually happens in the group itself (in contrast to content – the topics people talk about in the group). The focus is on the here and now – the interactions between group members. What happens in group is an accurate reflection of what happens outside of group. The group becomes a “living laboratory” that reveals authentic feelings, behavior and styles of interaction. Process also provides an opportunity to practice new, more constructive ways to deal with feelings and relationships in the present.

o Experiential groups – Such as psychodrama and personal growth groups. Structured exercises encourage members to learn about themselves and others through actual experience. These exercises are often used with process-oriented group methods. Exercises include role playing, guided imagery, and the use of art and music to facilitate awareness and reflection.

o Client-centered and psychodynamic – These traditional therapy groups are less structured, free-flowing client discussion groups. The therapist provides personal and interpersonal insights and facilitates positive and supportive client interactions. Process group methods are frequently used in these groups.

o Problem solving and skill building – These focused groups usually address specific problem areas such as interpersonal conflict or avoidance, anger management, social skills, and others.

How Does Group Counseling Help?

Group counseling often provides benefits that are unlikely to occur in individual therapy. Group members are frequently surprised by how rewarding the group experience is. Group members are supportive, understanding, and honest in their feedback. They often have ideas and solutions counselors or therapists may have overlooked. There’s a wider range of perspectives, and group members often encourage and empower each other to make positive changes. Another important benefit is that group counseling is considerably less expensive than individual therapy.

Research studies have identified many “curative factors” in group counseling. Irv Yalom, M.D. is one of the most authoritative experts in group therapy, and he identifies the 12 most important curative factors in group psychotherapy:

1. Helping others – improves self-respect and reduces negative self-focus

2. Sense of belonging and acceptance by the group – feeling connected and understood by others

3. Universality – “we’re all in the same boat”; “I’m not that different from others”

4. Learning from the way others see us – how we come across to other people

5. Relationship skills – learning how to get along better with others; trust; vulnerability

6. Guidance – from group members and the therapist

7. Emotional release – expressing feelings and speaking one’s truth in a safe environment

8. Modeling behavior – learning new methods for dealing with feelings; learning new behavior and styles of interaction from others in group

9. Learning from the re-creation – we tend to re-create our patterns of behavior and reactions (often learned during childhood) with new people in a group

10. Insight – learning about our rigid opinions and attitudes, why we feel and react toward others

11. Hope – from watching others solve problems and make progress in their lives

12. Acceptance – of the realities in life that all of us face together (unfairness; loss; emotional and physical pain; loneliness; and the need to take responsibility)

We currently have openings in our men’s group, and we’re forming a new women’s counseling group. Contact us today for more information, or to talk to a therapist about joining one of our groups.

15Dec 2015

Photo-HappyGolfer-BlogBuild Confidence and Self-Esteem With Sports Performance Counseling

4 Keys to Success

By Greg Douglas, LMHC

Where does confidence come from and how can I become more confident? This is a question I have asked myself on many occasions and throughout many different situations in life. How can I build confidence so that I can feel competent and achieve success? At first glance there seemed to be no simple answer. No instruction manual to bolster the way I feel about myself and to perform at peak levels. Not until I discovered a pathway to build confidence and self-esteem – in the principles of sports performance counseling.

Building Confidence in Sports Performance – My Story

As a young junior golfer I became enamored with the sport and vowed that I would do whatever I could to master the game. I read golf magazines, sought out advice from seasoned professionals, practiced countless hours, and took regular lessons. Even after my extensive review of sports performance guidelines I was left with the thought that there was something missing from my game. Many athletes struggle with self doubt and feelings of anxiety or low self-esteem when they fall short of performance expectations. After hearing television commentators state that players “have to be confident in order to play their best” I wondered, “Is this what’s missing for me”?

I set out on a search to find a way to become confident about my golfing abilities. How will I do this? Will I need to wait until I have some level of success in order to feel competent? Can I find a way to build confidence and self-esteem from the ground up? How will I even know what being truly confident feels like? These were the questions that motivated my journey. At this time in my life I had no idea about how the principles of sports performance counseling could help me. I came to the conclusion that there would be no way for me to play well without being able to somehow develop a base level of confidence in my abilities.

At this point I decided to engage in an experiment to see if there was a way to develop confidence without first achieving success in a competitive situation. I developed a system to increase my confidence by setting small goals for myself. I marked off an area on the driving range and set a goal to land 2 shots in a row inside the designated area. I achieved this small goal, and felt good about the accomplishment. Then I changed the goal to hitting 5 shots in a row inside this area, then 10, and then 20. As I continued to achieve these small goals I felt better about my golf game and was pleased to experience improved self-esteem and a new confidence in my abilities. I had stumbled upon some of the most important principles in sports performance counseling.

I began to use these principles of sports performance counseling in other areas of my game. I set a goal to make five 3-foot putts in a row, and then 10, and then 20. At one point I became so confident in my putting that I would make a hundred 3-foot putts in a row before ending my practice session. As you can imagine, this newfound confidence in my abilities translated to the golf course. That summer I achieved my best success in tournament play to date and began to really believe that I could achieve success on a larger scale than I ever thought possible. My confidence and self-esteem reached new, higher levels than ever before.

4 Keys to Confidence in Sports Performance

I discovered four keys to increasing self-belief, improving self-esteem, and developing the kind of confidence needed to perform near peak capacity. These keys, which are central in sports performance counseling, include

  • Identify small, realistic, and achievable goals
  • Focus on the process of improvement – not the results
  • Give yourself credit for even small improvements
  • Use imagery to make practice feel like “the real thing”

The takeaway from this experiment: You can build confidence before you achieve success. There is no reason to wait until you win a game or tournament to feel a sense of competency and positive self-esteem. This rings true not only in the area of sports performance, but in many other aspects of life, including school or work performance, dating, speaking in front of groups, and making good parenting decisions. These keys can transform self-doubt, anxiety and performance fears to confidence, competency, and a true belief in your ability and potential.

Please contact us today to learn more about sports performance counseling.

16Nov 2015

Large cheerful family celebrating Thanksgiving day. They are holding a big white paper saying Happy Thanksgiving. [url=http://www.istockphoto.com/search/lightbox/9786778][img]http://dl.dropbox.com/u/40117171/family.jpg[/img][/url]

5 Steps for Transforming Stress & Family Problems

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Will it be a time of plenty and gratitude? Or will there be stress and family conflict? And you know what happens in December… Most of us will spend time with our families – dinners, weekend visits, and many of us spend a week or more with parents, children, in-laws and extended family members. Will the holidays bring joy and celebration, or will holiday stress and family problems create anxiety and disappointment?

Sometimes family problems and relationship distress are inevitable. Disagreements, old tensions, and outright conflict are undesirable, but normal, in human relationships. You might consider therapy – possibly family counseling – as part of your holiday preparations. In the meantime, we suggest 5 coping skills for transforming stress and family problems to serenity and family harmony – or at least some peace of mind and goodwill toward all.

1. Practice Holiday Mindfulness

Mindfulness is probably the single most important coping skill at any time. It’s even more important at times of stress, such as the holidays, with so many demands and family tensions. Mindfulness is simply awareness and acceptance of what is, without judgments or expectations. We can easily practice mindfulness by using the one breath – in through the nose, out through the mouth – as a centering device. As you focus on that one breath, remind yourself to detach from holiday and family drama. Don’t react to stressful situations. Take a breath and remind yourself that peace and serenity always come first. It’s the best gift you can give yourself.

(Many of us tend to drink a little too much – maybe excessively – during the holidays. Alcohol is a sedative drug and interferes with mindfulness practice.)

2. Holiday Loving Kindness

The antidote to anger, disappointment, frustration, and family conflict is unconditional love and an attitude of gratitude. The holidays are a perfect time to practice compassion and empathy toward others. The greatest gift of all is to love and be loved – and that includes self-love. Self-love is not selfish. Rather, self-love is a radical form of self acceptance. When there are family problems or disappointments during the holidays, remember to practice forgiveness: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

3. Create Peace of Mind and Celebration

The way we experience the holidays (and life in general) is determined more by the way we think and believe than by situations or other people. The great psychoanalyst Carl

Jung once said that “I am not what happened to me; I am what I choose to become.” We allow ourselves to be triggered by others, and then we form resentments – we blame, we feel like victims, and we become judgmental (bad, wrong, stupid, crazy, etc.). Mindful awareness allows us to create new meaning and serenity. We can change our minds about holiday stress and relatives who “make us crazy.” Mindfully choose peace of mind as you detach from the drama; and choose to celebrate the buzz of holiday activity. Even a shopping trip to the busy mall for holiday gifts is an opportunity to take a time out and find your inner peace and gratitude – while waiting for a parking space or in line to make your purchase.

4. Change the Holiday Dance

Mahatma Gandhi once said “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” If your holiday dance used to be a SIDE shuffle (Stressed out, Irritated, Disappointed and Exasperated), create the change you want. Empower yourself to do it your way. Create positive action and solutions. When you’re stressed out, take a break. When family members are negative or complaining, set a loving boundary and don’t personalize.

5. Holiday Kinship

It’s easy to forget that we’re all in this together. We need support, friendship and intimacy almost as much as we need food, water and air. Know what you need and ask others for support. When you’re at odds with others during the holidays, create teamwork by suggesting, encouraging and inviting. And be willing to compromise and accept other ideas with graciousness and generosity.

As you prepare for the holidays, we hope these coping skills will help you navigate through stressful times. And if there are difficult family problems or any other holiday stress that feels unmanageable, we hope you will consider giving yourself the gift of support from one of our counselors or therapists by contacting us today.

11Nov 2015

Businessman HeroBy Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD

Self-esteem seems to have a bad rap these days. Recent reports indicate that a majority of millenials – those who reached adulthood around the year 2000 – are narcissistic. Narcissism, contrary to popular opinion, is not simply the result of too much self-esteem. Rather, narcissism is a type of excessive self focus, and says “It’s all about me and my needs.”

Workshops and self-help books may have over-sold an inflated version of self-esteem in the past. So much so that this popular movement was satirized by Al Franken on Saturday Night Live, when he portrayed the fictional character Stuart Smalley. Smalley told himself in the mirror that “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!” There’s even reason to believe the over-emphasis on improving our self-esteem helped to create a generation of narcissists (or at least a major portion of that generation).
Illus-PsychCartoon

Healthy self-esteem is very different from narcissism. Healthy self-esteem is caring about one’s self in a manner that actually includes caring for others. It is not based on a sense of entitlement. Emotionally balanced self-esteem is based on acceptance, forgiveness, responsibility, and self-care. In other words, healthy self-esteem is balanced with empathy and concern for others.

Narcissism

Narcissists put themselves first – their feelings and needs are more important than anyone else’s. It’s similar to being selfish or boastful, but more extreme and damaging. Narcissism can be a personality trait or a personality disorder. When it’s a personality trait, narcissists often put themselves first and focus mostly on their selfish needs. They may have a sense of entitlement, they can be grandiose, and at times they may lack empathy and concern for others.

In contrast, someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is that way almost all of the time, and they can’t or won’t see past their own selfish needs no matter what – causing serious life problems (in relationships, at work, etc.). Specific symptoms of NPD include

* Grandiosity (you could say they have a “superiority complex”)

* Preoccupation with ideas and fantasies of their own success, brilliance, ideal love, etc.

* The need for excessive levels of admiration or approval

* Unreasonable entitlement-based expectations

* Manipulates and uses others for their selfish needs

* A lack of empathy or concern for others and their needs

* Arrogance, overbearing, and prideful behavior.

10 Steps to Healthy Self-Esteem

My approach to self-esteem is based on many years of personal and professional experiences and lessons. Practice these steps every day, and you’re well on your way to healthy self-esteem.

1. Mindfulness & Acceptance – Awareness of all aspects of self and others without judgment. Can be practiced daily with brief meditations, and using the breath to detach and accept what is. (The breath is used by inhaling deeply through the nose and breathing out through the mouth.)

2. 7 Positive Traits – Write a list of the 7 most positive traits you’ve seen in the people you have admired and respected. This list of 7 traits actually belongs to you – “You spot it, you got it.” If you can see it in others, it resides somewhere in you. Keep this list with you, and read it every day as you look at yourself in the mirror, saying “I am ____________” (and fill in each of the 7 traits one at a time).

3. Self-Care – Taking care of yourself on a daily basis, physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally (see Positive Thoughts, below). Includes a healthy diet, regular exercise, emotional balance, work-life balance, and grounding one’s life in healthy beliefs and values (spirituality).

4. Positive Thoughts – Mindfully notice negative thoughts, judgments and beliefs and counter these with positives – and a realistic, proactive approach to life’s problems.

5. Responsibility – A mentally healthy adult is loving and responsible (see my article Who’s In Charge?). When we act responsibly, in relationships, at work, and with self-care, we literally build a positive sense of self, or self-esteem.

6. Acts of Love – One valid and important definition of love is that love is a verb – an action toward self and others. Self-love, loving acts toward others, and charitable acts of giving create self-esteem (in AA, people say that if you want self-esteem, do estimable acts).

7. Don’t Personalize – There is negativity and judgment in the world. I recently saw a funny T-shirt that proclaimed “People ARE judging you – get over it!” Mindfully, with the breath, release or let go of judgments, opinions, and negativity – they don’t belong to you.

8. Don’t React – This follows directly from #7, above. Practice using the breath mindfully to detach from negativity and judgment. Recognize the difference between responding and reacting – responsiveness is a healthy, caring act of responsibility. Reactivity is actually a type of narcissism! (Because when we react we make it all about us!)

9. Forgiveness – Toward yourself and others, on a daily basis. Forgiveness is simply a kind of letting go. Forgiveness doesn’t say that transgressions are okay – it says we don’t stay attached to the negative, and we’re willing to let it go. And certainly, we should set reasonable boundaries when someone steps on our toes.

10. Practice Gratitude – For anyone, anything and everything positive in your life, on a daily basis. Self-esteem is actually an act of gratitude (“I’m grateful for all that I have and for all that I am.”)

Remember that none of us are perfect – it’s about progress, not perfection. Self-esteem is maintained the way an athlete maintains his or her body – through regular exercise and practice. It’s like planting flower seeds – practice these steps every day, and appreciate the growth of beauty and love in your life.

Counseling and therapy is very effective in helping people to overcome the depression and anxiety that often results from low self-esteem. Contact us today to talk to one of our self-esteem experts.