The Mind-Body-Spirit Connection: Unexpected Ways to Help Heal Anxiety & Depression

by Cameron Butler Wooten, LPC, LMFT

Most people have heard that the best treatment for mental health disorders includes counseling/psychiatric treatment and medication. While this is true, there are other aids to help in healing those who suffer from mental illness, particularly anxiety and depression. As humans, we are not only made up of our mind, but also our body and spirit. It is important to consider the whole person when treating the mind.

According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Anxiety Disorders are the most common mental illness in te U.S., affecting 40 million adults, or 18.1% of the population every year. Nearly one half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

The good news is, we know these mood disorders are highly treatable. Along with counseling/medication/psychiatric treatment, people can aid in healing their minds by taking care of their bodies. There is most certainly a Mind-Body Connection.

One helpful & less known way to heal depression/anxiety is food intake. There is a strong connection between the brain and “gut”. Research shows that approximately 95% of serotonin is produced within the gastrointestinal tract. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps in regulating mood and behavior. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that relay messages between nerves, and the neurotransmitters in your gut are almost identical to those in your brain (Dana Korn, “Living Gluten Free for Dummies”). Due to this gut-brain connection, it makes sense that the type food we eat will help nourish our gastrointestinal tract…thus impacting our brain. Adopting a healthy diet promotes the health of the gastrointestinal tract, and according to Jessica Black, author of “The Anti-Inflammation Diet and Recipe Book,”a better-functioning gastrointestinal tract improves serotonin secretion, which improves sleep and mood.

So what does a healthy diet look like? There are all kinds of popular diets these days, so it can be confusing to know which diet is best. The answer is that everyone is different, but some of the rules apply to everyone. Eating a balanced diet of meat, poultry, eggs, nuts and seeds, veggies, fruit, and healthy fats is a great start. Limiting foods high in sugar, carbohydrates, alcohol, and caffeine, can help alleviate stress on the body.

Another way to aid in the treatment of anxiety and depression is getting enough sleep and exercise. Sleep is the body’s way of rejuvenating itself. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the recommended sleep for adults 26-64 years of age is 7-9 hours. Our bodies require long periods of sleep to restore and repair tissues, process memories, synthesize hormones, etc (www.sleepfoundation.org). Poor sleep is directly related to anxiety and depression. Sleep aid techniques can include shutting off technology 1 hour before bed, sleeping in a completely dark room, meditation, & deep breathing. Daily exercise is also a great way to aid in sleep and take care of one’s body. Exercise relieves stress, improves memory & mood, and reduces symptoms of mood disorders.

With the high levels of anxiety and depression in our culture, it is encouraging to hear that there are some natural approaches to aid in healing (along with counseling and potentially medication), as simple as eating, sleeping, and exercising. After all, the mind, body, and spirit are all connected. Remember the mind-body connection and take care of yours.

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Cameron is a Licensed Professional Counselor who enjoys working with individuals, teens, and families in the Marietta & Kennesaw area. Learn more about her and other therapists at Foundation Counseling here.

Wrestling with Honor

by Phil Zaffos, LPC

I love words. Hidden in the words we choose, we find clues that lead us to the depths of the heart and soul, from great desire to heavy grief. Words are the offering of a story, bringing to life one’s experience, building a bridge for connection with the world within and around us.

One word has come to stand out recently for me in the stories I have heard: Honor.

I’m wrestling with honor. No one is perfect. No one had a perfect childhood and we have all been harmed on some level. Many people in the journey of counseling struggle to acknowledge this harm in the name upholding honor.

The sentiments are familiar ones: Honor your mother and father, live honorably, A person’s word is their honor.

The original word in Greek (timao) literally translates as price (n) or to price (v) and more loosely, to consider the cost of. And yet I witness people daily hide behind honor (often unintentionally) as a way to avoid or minimize the cost of life events or relationships. For instance, someone refusing to “say anything bad” about their loved one because they did the best they could. To honor is to hold the tension of acknowledging good intentions and the harm done in spite of these intentions.

Honor moves us toward freedom by inviting us to more truly consider the cost of living. Let us begin to hold with honor the cost of having the parents we have. Let us begin to use our words to acknowledge the weight of the world around us. Let us venture boldly into the harm we have met and begin to feel the immensity of its burden.

To consider the cost does not mean an invitation to gossip or talk in demeaning fashion about another in contempt. Contempt is more about degrading another and less about considering the harm done to your heart. Honor leads to a place of compassion toward yourself and those who have harmed, you bringing healing to your heart and freedom in your life.

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Phil is a Licensed Professional Counselor and founding director at Foundation Counseling. He enjoys working with groups, individuals and families in the Marietta & Kennesaw area. Learn more about him and other therapists at Foundation Counseling here.

Parental Effects on Relationship Patterns: Finding Security in Connection

by Elizabeth Uhles, LAPC

“Hold on. Hold on to me. ‘Cause I’m a little unsteady. A little unsteady. Mama, come here. Approach, appear. Daddy, I’m alone. Cause this house don’t feel like home. If you love me, don’t let go…” Song Lyrics. Unsteady by X Ambassadors

Several weeks ago, I was on my morning jog when this song shuffled through my playlist. I pictured a toddler between his parents, hands stretched above his head, waddling side-to-side learning to walk. The toddler found his steadiness from his parents. It gave him the security and confidence to propel his body forward on under-developed muscles.

The hands of our parents give us the safety to develop not only physically, but also emotionally and socially. Steady and secure parental relationships in our childhood development, put us on the path towards social and emotional resilience.

So many of our parents did their best, but the safety we experienced as a child may have been intermittent (or for some of us, not at all). One moment our world was steady, the next we were faced with our parents’ distance, defensiveness, or loss of control. To survive the roller coaster, we develop defenses. We may have become anxious, demanding, or built a ten foot wall around our heart. As children, these defenses worked, but then we grew up, started adult relationships and found that our defenses were actually backfiring.
As adults, we may find ourselves confused, picking fights or walking away, even when our heart is really singing, “If you love me, don’t let go.” Even when this happens, it might feel safest to continue to use our same old, tried-and-true defense mechanisms. It takes courage to show vulnerability and communicate our needs. It takes courage to trust someone and learn a new way of relating.

Therapy can help you learn your past story and understand why you relate the way you do. You don’t have to repeat your backfiring childhood patterns; instead it is possible to reshape your relationships to be what you want them to be. A healthy relationship, can give you the confidence to propel forward to a life of care, trust, and resilience.

 

Elizabeth is a Licensed Associate Professional Counselor at Foundation Counseling. She enjoys working with individuals and families in the Marietta & Kennesaw area. Learn more about her and other therapists at Foundation Counseling here.

Four (More) Things I’ve Learned in Marriage

by Cameron Butler, LPC, LMFT

My husband and I will celebrate our One Year Anniversary this weekend.  This year has gone by so quickly, yet he & I joke about how it feels like we’ve always been married.  As mentioned in a previous post,  just because I am a professional counselor does not mean I am a pro at being married.  It has truly been through trial and error, not book knowledge,  that I have learned the most. To follow up on my Post, 4 Things I’ve Learned in 4 Months of Marriage, I’d like to add four more lessons I’ve learned throughout my first year of marriage.

  1. Marriage as An Emotional Bank Account: There will be times in marriage when one person feels like they are putting in all of the work, or making all the deposits, and the other partner is making all the withdrawals. This can feel unfair. While I don’t agree with one partner always carrying all the weight of the responsibilities, there will be times when the workload may be uneven.  For example, if one spouse is injured, sick, or slammed with work.  This is where you need to think of your marriage like an emotional bank account. The more deposits one partner puts into his/her Marital Bank Account (i.e. the more you give & serve your partner), the more there will be to withdrawal when you need your partner to step up and carry more of the load.  While we try to maintain a balanced load of responsibility, there are times when life throws curve balls and we need to adjust. This does not mean having one partner carrying most of the household responsibilities all of the time, because this will cause other problems….but it is helpful to see your marriage like a bank account. When you are continually depositing into it….there will be more for you to withdraw from later.
  2. Use Your Manners: As simple as this sounds, it can be difficult to always follow through with. We can become comfortable with our spouse, knowing that they are committed to us forever, and it can be easy to take advantage of this in how we speak to them. Its amazing how far “please” and “thank you” can go in marriage.  While it is nice to be able to be completely yourself with your partner, this does not mean it is okay to be rude.  It is not okay to take out your stress on your partner.  It is not your spouse’s fault you had a tough day at work or your back hurts.  Use your manners, take a hot shower or fix a cup of tea to relax, but don’t be rude to your spouse. Being rude will only create a problem that was never there.  And if you do mess up, “I’m sorry can also go along way. Use your manners!
  3. Listen to One Another: My husband is a problem solver. He is very good at coming up with solutions to a wide variety of problems. Sometimes I am so focused on my point of view that I’m not hearing what he has to say about a situation. I typically later realize that he had a really good point/idea all along! We need to really listen to one another in the moment. So many of the couples I work with don’t ever “hear” one another – when in discussion they are only thinking of how they will defend their ideas/feelings rather than truly listening to their spouse. Feeling heard can and does equate with feeling loved.
  4. Don’t sweat the small stuff: There is a lot that happens in life that is difficult, but leaving the dishes out on rare occasion is not one of them. My husband and I have both been reminded of the fragility of life this past year through various circumstances. We have learned that we have a choice on whether or not to make something a big deal….and perspective is important. Living with another person will inevitably cause disagreements at times, but there are too many “big” things in life to let something small becoming big. If your spouse leaves his or her (let’s be honest – his) clothes in the floor, don’t let it ruin your day!

I look forward to continuing on this journey of marriage, learning a lot along the way. There are so many more ways to learn and grow, but for now we plan to sit back in thankfulness & celebration over the past year of joy.

Cameron is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist  at Foundation Counseling.  She enjoys working with teens, adults, and families in the Marietta and Kennesaw area. Find out more about her and other therapists here.

Choosing Kindness

by Adair Swayze, LAPC, LAMFT

“This morning at six when I awoke, loneliness was sitting on my chest like a dental x-ray apron, even though I was covered in hairy dog love. I prayed, ‘Help. I am sad and lonely, and already it looks from here like today is going to be too long.’ So I did a kindness to myself, as I would have if a troubled friend had confided her loneliness to me: I heated up the milk for my coffee and took the dogs for a short hike in the hills.”

Choosing Kindness

I love this scene from Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. She wakes up one morning, as we all do sometimes, anxious and lonely. She fears what the next few hours will hold. She cannot deny the heaviness of her loneliness nor the restless and deep longing that comes with it. And then she wrestles with what to do about it.

Anne chooses to engage with what she refers to as “radical self-care.” She imagines she is caring gently for a friend. She offers herself something cozy and comforting to drink. She seeks goodness for herself: beauty and adventure and play. Nothing she chooses is extravagant or expensive or complicated, but there is a simple kind of goodness and nurture.

And before any of these simple things are possible, she does something very important. She allows herself to feel the pain her heart holds. She allows herself to name how heavy and scary the loneliness feels and she engages her heart with such precious words. “Help. I am sad and lonely, and already it looks from here like today is going to be too long.”

Most of our unkindness comes from refusing to engage this place in our own hearts. We shove the feelings away and avoid letting them speak because we are deeply afraid of what comes next. Instead of kindness and gentleness, we choose to be uncaring and even cruel. We numb and silence our needs. We try to satiate our appetite with mindless eating, Instagram, Netflix. We get busy. And when we do engage the pain, we speak harshly to our tenderly aching hearts. We say:

“You shouldn’t be lonely. You’re so needy.”
Shame.

“No wonder you don’t have any friends. You’re such a loser.”
Self-contempt.

“Nobody will think to call you today. Everyone has forgotten about you.”
Despair.

Letting your heart speak, even if only for a moment, is the kindest space you can offer. And once you have listened, you can decide from a place of kindness what to offer yourself. Do you need a walk? Time with a friend? A good meal? Little by little you will teach your heart that it is safe in your gentle care.

 

Adair is a Licensed Associate Professional Counselor and Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist  at Foundation Counseling.  She enjoys working with children, teens, and adults in the Marietta and Kennesaw area. Find out more about her and other therapists here.

What a Bonded Romantic Relationship Looks Like: Bringing Clarity to the Science of Love

by Jim Stockton, LPC

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What characterizes a bonded romantic relationship? If you asked ten people this question, you may get ten different answers. You may get answers like good communication, the ability to problem solve, the ability to resolve conflict, or a vibrant sex life. Of course, these are all important elements of a healthy, loving romantic relationship. However, I believe these elements of a loving relationship are byproducts of the presence of a secure attachment and a deep bond, which I have come to embrace as the key elements of a loving relationship and which brings clarity when trying to define the science of love.

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I learned this while on my journey of getting trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples (EFT), a model of working with distressed relationships developed by the renowned Canadian psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson. EFT focuses on creating and strengthening the emotional bond between partners by identifying and transforming the key moments that foster an adult loving relationship. In EFT work with couples, I focus on getting the couple to break the negative and hurtful cycle that causes them to lose their emotional balance, by experiencing key moments of relationship that entails being open, attuned, and responsive to each other. This experiential process is what brings lasting change in the relationship and creates the safety and security the relationship lacked before. Once the couple begins to experience their relationship in this new way, they will enhance their ability to communicate, problem solve, resolve conflict, and have a more fulfilling sexual relationship.

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Looking at romantic relationships through the lens of attachment is paramount to understanding relational distress. Most couple fights are really protests over emotional disconnection and unmet attachment needs. Changing the dynamic of the relationship from disconnection and distress to attunement and emotional responsiveness calms down the frustration and anger reactivity in the couple’s present dynamic and now allows them to relate in a more positive way. This model paves the way for a deeper and longer lasting bonded relationship than merely teaching the partners communication skills. Asking them to remember their communication skills in the heat of their highly escalated cycle is like trying read “how to pull your parachute” manual when you are in free fall.

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What are the essential elements that create a healthy loving romantic relationship? I truly believe they are partner accessibility and attunement, responsiveness, and emotional engagement. It is these elements that foster securely attached and deeply bonded relationships.

Jim Stockton is a Licensed Professional Counselor with Foundation Counseling. He is trained in EFT (Emotion-Focused Therapy for couples work) and has extensive experience working with distressed marriages in the Marietta & Kennesaw areas. He also works with individuals, both adults and adolescents. Learn more about Jim at Foundation Counseling here.

Attunement

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By Phil Zaffos, LPC

Attunement describes how in touch a person is to another’s emotional needs, moods and feelings. A person who is well-attuned will respond with appropriate language and behaviors based on another person’s emotional state. They are good at recognizing moods and emotions in another and adapting their own response in accordance.
Attunement is so vital for the development of a sense of self, especially in childhood. When we are missed by others, our desire and need for relationship is unfulfilled, which can birth in us a confusion and shame, which we wrestle to cope with in various ways though life.

Simply stated: being misattuned to or not attuned to can create harm in a person.

Probably all of us have been impacted by the effects of having been ‘missed’ or harmed, whether in an acute moment or a more chronic history of events. How do you experience this influence within yourself? How do you see this impact your choices? Your relationships?

Being heard and understood by another let’s us know that what is happening within us is significant. Feeling significant by having our hearts seen, known and understood offers an affirmation and a reflection of the worth that we inherently possess. It also creates a security and safety through unconditional acceptance, connection and support.

Through counseling, what many experience is that attunement carries with it an inherent challenge because it invites you into experiencing your true worth. It simultaneously beckons you to wrestle with the pain and shame offered to your heart in your life and awakens your deepest desires. When this happens, the foundations of harm have been disrupted, releasing it’s grip over your heart and opens a door for healing. My hope as a counselor is that this sacredness can be a gift offered to those who are desiring more for life.

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Phil is a Licensed Professional Counselor and founding director at Foundation Counseling. He enjoys working with groups, individuals and families in the Marietta & Kennesaw area. Learn more about him and other therapists at Foundation Counseling here.

On Feeling Stuck & How Therapy Helps

by Lydia Minear, MA, LPC 

In my time meeting with new clients, I often hear some variation of this shared: “I don’t know…I just feel stuck.” This experience of feeling stuck leads many people to consider and potentially try therapy.  I have a hunch that at some point most people find themselves in such a place…

But what does it mean? This stuck-ness, what is it? And is it as vague as it sounds?

imageSometimes, yes it is. Unlike other times when a very clear obstacle or event causes pain, feeling stuck can mean finding oneself in a more general, emotionally undesired and familiar place. This place may involve a mixture of feelings – of frustration, anxiety, loneliness, envy, and sadness. Like wandering through a forest, hoping to find a clearing, yet winding back to the same ‘ole stump, it may feel like you have traveled in circles.
Perhaps you and the stump look a bit different now and the surrounding landscape has changed some too. However, the underlying ground and root issues remain, bringing forth similar tension each time.

If we dig a bit deeper and put names to these often-vague yet familiar places of being stuck, the following may serve as examples:

• Stunted…restrained by self-doubt, fear, and lack of confidence
• Lack of closeness and authenticity in relationships
• General boredom & apathy
• Unclear boundaries with others & people-pleasing behaviors
• Avoidance of emotions (i.e. “pushing down feelings”)
• Unsatisfied and frustrated by school, career, or overall life direction

…just to name a few.

How Therapy Helps:

In response to feeling stuck, I find that it is important to seek understanding. We need to understand what keeps us coming back to our familiar places in order to ultimately head in a new direction…

Therapy invites you to take intentional time for this. It involves a commitment to self – a decision to pause amidst the chaos and choose awareness. In doing so, we can begin to gain insight into the patterns and tendencies which continue to re-emerge. By taking this step we also learn more about how heartache, rejection, and how other painful parts of our individual stories have impacted us. Due to this, therapy includes a leaning-in to the discomfort of our vulnerable feelings to know what our emotions are telling us. It also entails asking important questions such as who am I, what causes me pain, and what do I hope for?

Finally, therapy is a brave step in the journey of healing. In the presence of a caring and focused counselor, therapy offers us a chance to go – at our own pace – into the hurting places of our hearts with purposes of being understood, seeking clarity, and finding new possibility. Along the way…perhaps we discover why we tend to return to “the stump” and with greater knowledge and comfort, find that we can move forward in a new way.

As a helping professional, I feel grateful for the chance to walk with people as they set aside the time to invest in their wellbeing and explore the depth of themselves in the hopes of growth.

 

Lydia is a Licensed Professional Counselor who enjoys working with individuals and families in the Marietta & Kennesaw area. Learn more about her and other therapists at Foundation Counseling here.