APO's Blog

Anxiety and the Holidays

on Nov-20-2012


by Lisa Shepard, MA, LPC


As the Holidays approach we feel excited, happy and we look forward to time with family and friends. However for many people the start of the holiday season triggers anxiety, depression and sadness. All families are not alike. Some families struggle to meet the pressure of daily living. The anxiety of approaching holidays can sometimes cause fighting, depression and a sense of hopelessness. Our culture is constantly bombarded with images of what to buy, what one must have, the perfect dinner for company, Black Friday and now Black Thursday. Thanksgiving has not arrived and we are seeing Christmas advertisements in the stores and on the TV.

The pressure of the “perfect” holiday causes all of our irrational beliefs and past experiences about the season to feel like they are happening again in the present. For families who don’t have enough money to assure the “perfect” gift or the time to prepare the “perfect” feast or the resources to travel and have the “perfect” trip for the holidays; “perfect” turns into “failure”. If this idea invades our thinking then all of our reactions to the world around us are affected.

So what to do? Recognize there is no perfect. It doesn’t exist. Perfect is a way to sell objects; perfect is the word that drives the anxiety. If we can surrender and embrace “ok” or “good enough” we are then able to create a “real” holiday rather than a surreal and unachievable fantasy holiday.

Please yourself first. If you are happy then you are able to set clear boundaries with relatives, travel and participation in events. Ask yourself “what would make me feel happy about this event?” It may be something very small but find that something and aim towards that target first.

Just do what you can. Only take on tasks that you can accomplish and that will help you to please yourself.

If you find a time during the holidays when you are feeling sad or anxious or just down - stop what you are doing and take in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Ask yourself what is going on right now that is contributing to my reaction.

If you must visit people during the holidays or be in situations that cause discomfort set a time goal. Prepare yourself knowing that the time spent in the situation has an end.

The Holidays are what we make of them. We have choice, we can set the tone and we can decide for ourselves how we want to celebrate them.



Back To School

on Aug-13-2012

As summer comes to a close we gear up for another school year. For many children this signals an anxious response. School is not easy for all. For many children this anxiety presents as crying or refusal to attend. For others the behavior can appear to simply be not wanting to attend. How do we figure out the difference? If the behavior continues to intensify or if the behavior causes the school to become involved one could say that the child is not just refusing but suffering for some reason. The reasons can vary: Bullying that they have not been able to explain or discuss with you, anxiety about not measuring up to parental expectations or perceived expectation, anxiety due to stress at home, grief due to loss of a loved one or loved pet. School anxiety also occurs due to changes in routine. A new environment, a new bus schedule or moving to the next grade level can cause a stress reaction in children.

So what to do? First if you believe your child to be having a stress reaction of any kind talk to them about it. Ask questions that the child has to use more words than yes or no. Second, call the school sooner rather than later to gather information about what might be happening at school of which you may not be aware. Third, if your child has a history of anxiety due to change start early and practice the bus route, discuss the new school or classroom, help to identify ways of coping with the changes that may be occurring.

Observe your child and identify any unusual reactions to the environment. Children have a limited view of the world. They are not able to judge a situation that causes them anxiety. Instead they act out or behave in a way that is not usual for them. It is their way to let the adults know that something isn’t right.

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Weathering Winter

by Tony Onorato
on Feb-01-2012

Winter is a time of year that many people would like to avoid. It’s cold and dark. These realities force us to compensate in ways we don’t have to during the rest of the year. The cold weather means putting a lot of energy and resources toward staying warm. We wear heavier clothing, turn up the heat in our homes and have to warm the car up before we drive. Snow and ice require that we take time to shovel the driveway and result in the need for extra driving precautions. The lack of sunlight has a lot of us waking up in the dark and coming home from work in the dark.

All in all, many of us would rather go the way of the bear and hibernate until spring arrives. We imagine how nice it would be to curl up in a warm cozy place and stay out of the cold and sleep while it’s dark.

The only problem is that we don’t have that luxury. We still have to go about our daily activities and take care of our responsibilities. In a way, wishing that it was spring makes it worse. The more time we spend trying to escape the winter weather, the more power we give it over us. We end up dwelling on the things we like the least and making the winter seem longer than it is.

The best way to handle the effects of winter is to find a way to make them work for you rather than feel as if you have to fight them all the time. For example, one can look for the beauty in a snow covered landscape or the pure joy of a sled ride down a hill. In a world filled with incessant noise, revel in a few moments of the peaceful quiet that a snowy day brings. The cold can be used as an excuse to cuddle with a loved one. Driving conditions can provide an opportunity to slow down the pace of life a little bit. The dark gives us a chance to go to bed a little earlier than usual.

We can’t get caught up in allowing the weather associated with this time of year to negatively influence the way we view life. That is exactly what makes us feel out of control and adds an unnecessary stress to our lives. Winter should never control ones frame of mind, otherwise three months out of the year (or a quarter of our lives) will be something we would rather avoid.

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Managing Stress

by Tony Onorato
on Nov-18-2010

The effects of long-term stress can be devastating. Its impact on the body is seen in the form of suppressing the immune system. Its impact on the mind is found in emotional problems such as worry, anxiety and depression.

In response to this discovery, volumes of books and tapes have been produced that give tips and advice on the issue. Everyone has a “Ten Ways to Reduce Stress” list. In this age of information, finding a practical and affordable way to manage stress can be confusing. It may actually add to the stress one already feels.

While most stress reduction lists focus on techniques, they forget to provide a foundation from which to build the skills. Without the foundation, the skills do not help as much as they could.

The best foundation for reducing stress is to identify what you can control and what you cannot. The major build-up of stress within people comes from trying to control things they cannot and not doing something about the things they can control.

How do you know what you can and cannot control? Take all the things that occur within you, such as your emotions, thoughts and actions and place them in the “I Can Control” category. Take everything else and place them in the “I Cannot Control” category.

The only things a person has any chance of controlling are those that come from within. Learn to focus your energy into the way you choose to think about a situation. Concentrate on directing your emotion in a way that is helpful to you. Work on spending your time doing what is most important to you.

When you start to notice a build-up of stress or pressure, work to pinpoint the source of the stress. Is it something related to you or a circumstance that is beyond your ability to control? If it is you, then you have some direct control over the outcome. If it is outside of you, then at best, you may have some impact on the outcome but no control over it.

Keep your mind focused on the areas you can impact. It will allow you to be in more control of you rather than feeling like situations control you. You will also notice that you are making progress instead feeling like you are spinning your wheels in quagmire.

The other stress reducing aspect of keeping your mind focused on what can control is that it enables you to let go of the things that are beyond your control. Your mind becomes so occupied with doing your part that the rest slips into the background.

It is amazing how making a small adjustment to where you put your mind’s energy can make stress much more manageable.

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The Many Faces of Grief

by Tony Onorato
on Aug-18-2010

The risk of loving is the fear and consequences of loss. Committing one's life to spouse, child or profession risks the pain we know awaits in the future if these connections are severed or drastically altered.

Grieving is the process by which we come to terms with these losses. We slowly replace the pain and the fear of feeling that pain again with the courage to once more risk commitment or love. Trying to skip the grieving process will most likely lead to an inability to make future commitments, ultimately leaving us isolated and alone.

The most commonly recognized form of loss relates to the death of a loved one. We all understand the pain associated with death, yet there are other etiologies for losses we experience that may also elicit the need to grieve such as injury, illness, divorce, infidelity, substance abuse/addiction, civil or criminal charges, unemployment, disability, professional disciplinary actions and many others. Any of these can sever our connection to important elements of our lives.

People who experience serious illness or disabling injury often grieve the loss of the person they used to be. They view their subsequent situation and its limitations in comparison to the health they previously enjoyed. They may miss activities they once performed easily and well, yet now require intense effort and concentration if able to perform at all.

Divorce can foster a sense of loss in parents and their children. Each will lose significant periods of time once spent together as a family. Both may lose friends. Those divorced may lose mutual friends of the couple who have stronger ties to their former spouse. Children may lose friends through changing their place of residence. In large part the adjustment of divorce is related to grieving for lost or altered relationships.

Another form of grieving involves the loss of a dream. We are often faced with the death of dreams for children, careers, lifestyles and relationships. Real and perceived losses of children such as those related to substance abuse, infertility, spontaneous and induced abortions, stillbirths, and newborn through adult deaths often impact one's hopes and visions for the future. Yes, we can grieve the loss of something we never even had.

During the course of life we all inevitably and repeatedly lose people and things we love, valued parts of our lives with which we are strongly connected. These losses come in a variety of ways but hidden within their pain are opportunities for personal growth. Grieving may not be so much about letting connections go as it is about finding new ones, new ways to enjoy life and in the process become more than we were.