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Relationship Stress During the Holidays

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‘Tis the Season: Shopping, decorating, holiday gatherings, baking, wrapping, and still juggling the day to day responsibilities of work and home. It’s no wonder the holidays can create such stress in our lives and friction in relationships.  Unfortunately the enjoyment of the season can be lost when the tension invades your love life.  However, a few simple changes can help you to maintain peace and make the most of your time together during what is supposed to be a memorable and meaningful time of the year.

Make it a point to tell your partner something positive that you like about them every day.  Do they look nice or did you appreciate something they did?  Be sure to approach the season and your loved ones with an ‘attitude of gratitude.’  You’ll find it is contagious and sets the tone for positive interactions throughout the day! 

Take time each week to spend together relaxing and enjoying each other’s company.  It’s easy to put this one on hold during the holiday season since there are often so many holiday gatherings that can consume your weekend time.  But if you set aside some time to spend together, even if it is taking an hour or two before or after a holiday party, the benefits can go a long way.  Spending some of this time reflecting on memories from previous holidays can be a delight!  Talk about your joys from the past year, your favorite holiday memories, the events you are looking forward to in the year ahead.  You will be quickly reminded that it isn’t the ‘things’ that matter, it is the love and the relationships that make the season so special.

Listen to your partner. With all of the activity at this time of year, tension can build up within each of us as we run from one activity to another.  It is therapeutic just to feel heard.  By listening to what your partner is saying, any tension that they may have accumulated throughout the day could be diminished simply by feeling you have listened to them.  When they feel less tense, you will too!

Remember the ‘Reason for the Season.’  Regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas, Hannukah, or Kwaanza, the message remains the same:  Spread peace, be thankful and remember that the joy comes from giving rather than receiving.  Being a giver during the holidays as a partner and a friend by listening, slowing down to take time for each other, and being thankful for the simple pleasures in life, can recharge a relationship and help you to get the coming New Year off to a great start!

Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC


Exercise and Anxiety

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I have long been a proponent of exercise and the value it has in helping people to manage their anxiety.  Here is an interesting article from Science Daily that really states this case:

Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC

Growing Pains

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As unpleasant as sadness and disappointment are to experience, it is often in the midst of those times, or immediately following them that one feels most inspired and philosophical about life. It is a time when, in trying to make sense of what has happened that has hurt or angered someone, or in any way left them feeling uncomfortable, that they try to understand from many angles the benefit or learning experience contained in the situation.

It is our nature as human beings to learn from painful experiences.  For example, if a child were to touch a hot stove and be burned, rarely would that child do it again.  The memory of the pain is stored in the limbic system of the brain reminding him that touching a hot burner hurts.  Similarly, we are cautious about emotional experiences after being “burned”.  However, emotional wounds are far more complicated as we try to understand why something good such as falling in love with someone, could cause so much pain when it ends.  Most people are willing to venture into future relationships after such an experience, but never is it as naively as it is with the first love, when one has not yet experienced the pain of love lost.  It is our nature as human beings to learn from discomfort, be it physical or emotional. There is opportunity in most discomfort from which we can learn and grow.

Things to think about:

Think of two or three of the saddest times in your life.  Describe them and what the disappointments were that were involved.

Think of two or three of the happiest times in your life.  What was so elating to you about them?  Did you reach a goal?  Did you feel pleased with a choice you made?  Was there something unconditional about the experience?

Now think about whether or not there is any relation between those sad times and happy times.  Were there things you learned or valued more as a result of the struggles that contributed to your happy experiences?

Without sadness would we really know what happiness is?  Is it not that due to the contrast we can truly experience and enjoy the good things life has to offer?

Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC

Anxiety Trap

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Anxiety is an issue that plagues many individuals, impacting every aspect of their lives.  If you are one of those individuals, you are not alone.  Feelings of being frozen with fear of any multitude of things, unable to enjoy time with friends or family, or continually stressed by the need to leave the comfort and safety of your home in order to go to work are common experiences faced by anxiety sufferers.  As a result,  relationships are strained and careers are threatened.  Imagine the woman who cannot enjoy a dinner with friends for fear she will have a panic attack in front of her friends, or the person who cannot escape from unfounded worries about their health.  For many of these sufferers, panic attacks become an issue as well.  This can involve a racing heart, nausea, and jitters, in addition to a feeling that one may faint.  It can be absolutely immobilizing as one tries to break the cycle of worry that follows their fears, concerns, and the effort simply to avoid having a panic attack.

The roots af anxiety are often genetic and can be triggered by trauma or stress.  The acute awareness of experiences in life that are beyond control is the precipice for the worry.  Learning how to let go and manage those fears is the key to relief.  The good news is that anxiety is treatable and sufferers can get better.  Talking with a qualified therapist who works with anxiety can make all the difference.  Determining the root of the anxiety (which is often based in a traumatic event or experience), and discussing the neurobiology of the anxiety is the place to begin. 

Meanwhile, a few tools for managing those anxiety triggers can provide some relief. Practice deep breathing when you feel the panic begin.  Good deep breaths from the diaphragm, not just the upper chest, provide increased circulation of oxygen to the brain.  Not only does this promote relaxation, but it helps you think more logically, making better use of your frontal lobe. Don’t fight the anxiety (or panic) attack.  Just notice it.  When you try to fight the attack you are creating more anxiety and panic.  You are fueling the problem rather than dissipating it.  So, instead, try noticing the way you feel.  Notice things usch as your heart racing, or your jitters.  Don’t judge them or worry about them, just notice them.  They will pass, just as they have in the past.  But when you aren’t fighting it, chances are it will pass more quickly. As yourself, “Am I in danger or am I just uncomfortable?”  Anxiety is the result of our brain telling us something is dangerous when in fact what we are experiencing or anticipating is simply uncomfortable.  When we respond to feelings of discomfort the same way we would respond to danger, it is unproductive at best.  At worst, it creates heightened adrenaline, followed by panic and the infamous “flight, fight, flee or freeze” response.  So, at the first sign of the anxiety, remember to ask yourself that important question.  More than likely the answer to your question will be that you are uncomfortable, not in danger.  What’s the best way to get comfortable when you need to? The answer: relax. The good news is there are ways to break the cycle of anxiety and get your life moving forward again.  With the proper tools and knowledge, it can be managed effectively so that you not only feel better, but have the confidence that it does not have to run your life.

Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC

Thankful List

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This time of year is the perfect time to begin a list that encourages you to reflect on the people, places, things and experiences in your life for which you are thankful.  The following exercise may seem easy at first, but as time goes on, you will find that it challenges you to look for the simple things in life that bring enjoyment to each day.  You might even find that you begin to look at the world through a new lens, with a more positive, grateful outlook!

The exercise: Each night before you go to bed, make a list of three things for which you are thankful.  The catch is that you can never repeat items on your list.  So, the first couple of weeks you might be listing things that seem obvious, such as family, your home, health, friends, etc.  But , once those items are listed, you have to begin thinking of other things that may not be so obvious.  Maybe you are thankful for a great bowl of ice cream you enjoyed that day, or a nice person who held the door open for you, or better yet, finding a first rate parking space somewhere you went that day.  You may find that as time goes on, you begin looking for the positives in each day, and enjoying those moments even more than you used to.  Be sure to date each entry, because it is such fun to reflect back on your list.  You will find it triggers wonderful memories and moments from days gone by.  You may be surprised at just how much you have for which to be thankful!

Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC










Nurturing a Partnership

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Finding balance between maintaining one’s individuality and independence and yet fostering connected, loving relationships can be a difficult task for many of us.  We are raised in a society that encourages independence, yet too much independence in a relationship can lead to trouble.  In an age of internet access, corporate travel, and two career households, it is important for couples to take the time to put equal energy into nurturing their partnership. aking the time to connect with each other and truly listen to what is going on in your partner’s life is vital to keeping the marriage alive and healthy.  Too often, we listen to each other in a way that only partially takes in the information the other person is saying.  We listen while contemplating our response, as opposed to listening to understand.  It isn’t necesary to agree, but simply to comprehend in a meaningful way, what is being said.  What is your partner really saying?  How do they feel about it? What was their experience like? By listening in a way that considers the other’s feelings, we have greater likelihood of staying in sync with each other.

With constant new developments in research and medicine, the average lifespan for an individual living today has increased dramatically over even so much as sthe last forty years.  With this change, a lifetime commitment to another person needs to accommodate the individual growth that happens throughout a lifetime of experiences.  So often I hear that one person in a relationship is unhappy because the other person is not the way they were, for example, ten years ago, when they first got married. I say, it is necessary to get to know each other constantly.  With each new experience we have, we learn and we grow.  We are constantly changing, regrouping and reconsidering.  A healthy marriage is one in which respect for individualtiy is shown toward each other, and a fascination with learning about one’s partner is a daily adventure.  Listen to understand.  Listen to learn.  Respect the other person as you would someone you were just beginning to date, appreciating them as a unique individual.  Respect can be contagious, and by showing respect and creating respect, a couple can foster or renew feelings of partnership.

10 ways to nurture your partnership:

1.Plan a date night at least twice a month.  Take turns planning the date.  Enjoy each other, laugh together, have fun and make good memories.  Don’t discuss the problems in your marriage during this time together.  Rather, focus on the positives. The enjoyment and relaxed atmosphere will go a long way toward minimizing individual stress levels and increasing intimacy and connection between you and your partner.

2.Find something to thank your partner for every day.  It could be something they said today or yesterday or ten years ago, but it had an impact on you, so let them know it.  It could be how hard they work or how well they parent.  Regardless, make an effort to be thankful and you may be surprised at how good it makes you, and your partner, feel.

3.Give your partner at least 20 minutes of your undivided attention every day. If we can find time to devote to work, exercise, children and other demands, we can certainly try to carve out 20 minutes a day to devote to our partner.  Take turns actively listening to each other.  When this becomes a habit, you will find you greatly look forward to this time each day.

4.Take a walk together.  Get away from the stress or demands of your work or home and enjoy a walk.  Exercise releases positive hormones called endorphins that reduce stress and increase positive feelings.  Not only will this help your relationship, but it may also improve your physical health.

5.Smile.  Body language goes a long way and makes a big impression.  Smile more and your partner will find it hard not to smile back at you.

6.Write your partner a note to give them at the end of the day.  (Or send them a thoughtful email).  It feels good to know your partner was thinking of you, and it feels even better to do something for your partner.  Kind gestures fuel more kind gestures.

7.Laugh together.  When we are dating and are caught up in the newness of another person, we tend to be surprised more at their humor or jokes, and we laugh more.  Like exercise, this too releases endorphins that are stress reducers and also can increase good feelings between partners.  But finding the laughter can be more difficult if you and your partner have been together for a while.  Try looking at your partner through a new lens.  What is charming about them? Take yourself less seriously from time to time.  Relax and don’t judge.  Every now and then it is good to be silly and just enjoy life together- and enjoy laughing together.

8.Focus on your partner’s strengths, not their weaknesses.  If you look for the good in your partner, you will find it.  Likewise, if you look for the bad…you will find it.  And remember, if they look for the bad in you…

9.Ask  yourself, “How has my partner grown over the years?”, as opposed to “How has he/she changed?”.  As I discuss above, change is inevitable as we experience new things.  Think of your partner’s life as their story.  If you were reading their “story” would you see the natural progression of experiences and growth? What has impacted them and how have they adjusted to those experiences?  This could provide you with countless opportunities to talk with them and learn about where they are in their lives right now.  This is a great way to keep the excitement alive in a relationship.

10.Find a hobby to share with your partner, and respect the hobbies you each maintain individually.  Enjoying an activity together is fun and can be something you look forward to and is something that will increase your bond.  But, it is healthy to have your own activities that you enjoy.  It also gives the two of you more to talk about as you share your experiences from times not only when you were together, but from the times when you were apart.

Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC

Taking Time Outs

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Have you ever had an argument with someone in which you became so angry that you said things you regretted, “lost your cool,” or “dragged in everything but the kitchen sink”? Or maybe you have been on the receiving end of an argument like that.  Either way, it is the type of argument that leaves both parties upset, and frankly can add to the miserable feelings rather than solving anything.  The problem for most people, though, is that they have never learned the tools for handling strong feelings in a productive way.  If you are among the millions of Americans who have struggled with this, here are some tips for turning those situations into something productive:

Take a time out, but tell the other person when you will be ready to talk.  Make sure that it is within three hours.  Don’t leave them hanging a long time, or worse yet, indefinitely.  Furthermore, decide on a place you will meet to reconvene the discussion.

During the time out, think about your feelings.  Identify, and write down, specifically what happened that upset you.

Next, write down how you felt about it.  Were you sad or jealous?  Did you feel ignored or lonely?  Did something that happened make you feel unimportant?  Really dig down deep and consider what you really felt. Anger is usually an emotion that bubbles to the surface as a defense, rather than being the triggering feeling.  It is often the reaction to a more painful feeling that throws us into defense mode, or even attack mode.  So, peel back the layers and examine what the feeling was that really sparked the rage.

Once you have examined your feelings, write down some suggested solutions to the problem.  What would make you feel better?  What seems like a reasonable solution? Don’t settle on one solution.  Brain storm and come up with several different options.

Lastly, re-read what you have written.  Often after writing about such heated issues, we cool down and see things a little differently.  Are there any changes you would like to make to your solutions?  Are they reasonable?

Once you have processed through the situation on your own, reconvene with the person with whom you were arguing and discuss the thoughts you have written down.  Allow the other person to do the same.  Chances are, this time the disagreement will go much more smoothly. 

Remember that time outs don’t have to be punishment.  They can be useful even for adults as they give us time to reconnect our emotions to our logic.  We regain balance and can then communicate more honestly and productively with others, thereby improving not only the relationships we have, but also the way we feel about ourselves.

Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC