Monday, September 29, 2014

Anxiety: It’s all about the Breath

A few years ago I attended the yearly convention of the American Society for Clinical Hypnosis.  One of the presenters held a session on hypnosis and anxiety. To my surprise, the first words out of her mouth were, “anxiety disorders are breathing disorders.” Could it really be that simple?

After much more study on this issue, I’ve realized she was right.  We know that, despite the fact that the brain accounts for only 2% of our body mass, it needs 20% of the oxygen we take in to function properly.  When we get anxious, our breathing becomes shallow and we don’t get the same amount of oxygen as we do when we are calm and breathing deeply. 

The brain is all about survival and it wants you to live.  If it doesn’t get the amount of oxygen it needs, it responds by “shutting down” the functions it considers least important—this happens to be executive functions that enable us to plan, think logically, and cope effectively.   Once executive functioning is “off-line,” this leaves the primitive brain in charge—and it responds in the only way it knows how—fight or flight!  And this is anxiety.

So now when I work with clients who struggle with anxiety, I invariably incorporate breathing exercises to help them keep those executive functions engaged.  Here is a simple one that anyone can try when feeling particularly stressed or anxious:

  • You can lie on your back, sit, or stand up as straight as possible 
  • As you inhale, allow your belly to move outward while keeping your chest still
  • Inhale for a count of 2 
  • Hold the breath for 1 count 
  • Exhale for a count of 4
  • Rest for 1 count before inhaling again
  • The important thing to remember is to exhale about twice as long as you inhale and to breathe as deeply as possible

Practice this exercise regularly and notice how the tension decreases.  Your brain will no longer be in a state of alarm because it’s now getting sufficient oxygen.

Want more ideas on how to regulate your breathing and calm anxiety?  There are several apps you can download on your phone.  Just type in “breathing” and choose one that works best for you.

By Deborah Planting, L.P.A; Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist at Grew, Morter, and Hartye, P.A. in Raleigh, NC. She specializes in treating anxiety through psychotherapy, hypnosis, and neurofeedback.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Treating Symptoms of ADHD in Adults: What You Don’t Know May Hurt You

You tell your primary care physician or psychiatrist that you are having difficulty focusing and concentrating, struggling with chronic disorganization, and are easily distracted.  Your doctor says, “Well, you might have Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD/ADD), but you have to see a psychologist to be evaluated.”  You may ask yourself, “If I’m experiencing the symptoms of ADHD/ADD, and my doctor acknowledges that, then why do I need an evaluation?”
It’s not uncommon for adults to struggle with attention, concentration, and motivation at some points in their lives; however, there are factors other than ADHD that can contribute to these experiences, including:

  • Lifestyle Habits— Chronic multi-tasking, overworking, and sleep deprivation can create problems with attention and concentration as they subtly change the way the brain operates.
  • Other Mental Health Issues— Anxiety disorders and depressive disorders can create, or exacerbate, symptoms associated with ADHD/ADD such as difficulty focusing and concentrating, memory impairment, irritability, and disorganization.
  • Unrealistic Expectations—Failure to perfectly meet the overwhelming demands of work and home can be due, in part, to unrealistic expectations.  These expectations are increasingly common as employees are asked to do more with less, and social media typically provides only “polished” glimpses of other people’s lives.

At present, there is no single test available to definitively diagnose ADHD/ADD.  However, a comprehensive psychological evaluation can help clarify ADHD/ADD symptoms associated with attention, concentration, mood, activation and memory—and rule-out other factors that may be contributing to these problems. 

Understanding causal factors is essential; it enables the psychologist to recommend the most helpful behavioral interventions, and it helps the physician to determine what, if any, medication could be useful.  Understanding causal factors can also help clients avoid temporarily worsening their symptoms (as is the case when stimulants are prescribed when, in actuality, an anxiety disorder is what’s driving the problem).

Most importantly, however, psychological evaluations can help people understand themselves better, and effectively address the multitude of factors impacting their lives.
By Amy Quinn, Psy.D; Psychologist at Grew, Morter and Hartye, P.A. in Raleigh, NC.  In addition to providing psychotherapy, Dr. Quinn conducts psychological and psychoeducational testing to assess for ADHD/ADD and learning disabilities.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Managing Children's Screen Time

Each generation of parents has a new set of struggles.  Today’s parents seem to be in a constant battle with electronics.  Almost every parent with whom I interact laments about the amount of time their children are engaged in “screen time.”  Aside from concerns about the time their children spend watching TV, playing video games, and trolling social media, parents are also concerned with how to keep tabs on the content of these pursuits.  Parents often say that it feels like monitoring their children’s electronics usage is a full time job.
Parents are not crazy; our children are really overly plugged-in. The American Academy of Pediatrics claims that children spend an average of seven hours per day engaged in electronics use, five hours more than the daily recommendation for children over the age of two. (Incidentally, the AAP recommends that children under the age of two avoid all media).

There is no magic formula for how parents can find the “right” balance for their children’s electronics usage. A few recommendations, however, can make the task feel less overwhelming:

1. Create parameters that align with your value system and your child’s maturity level. Make decisions about the devices and content your children have access to based-on what you think is best, not what “everyone else is doing.”

2. Be clear about when and where the electronics are allowed to be used.  Expectations might include, for example, between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., only on weekends, or never in the bedroom.

3. Have access to all device and social media passwords.  This gives you the opportunity to perform random checks and know what your child is experiencing.

4. View with your child.  Watch an episode of their favorite show, play or observe 15 minutes of their favorite video game, scroll through their social media sites with them.  Have discussions about what they are seeing.  Decide if the experiences are appropriate for them and discuss why or why not.

5. Reframe the issue.  Rather than simply conveying the message that children need to spend less time with electronics, parents can establish expectations around the need to spend more time on other activities—spending time outside and in nature, spending face-to-face time with friends and family, working on creative hobbies, providing help to those in need, and taking on new challenges.

Being clear about your expectations and staying connected with your children are the best methods for helping your children find the right balance in their “digital diet.”  And although staying on top of current trends in technology is no easy task, being intentional about talking with your children, their friends, and other parents will help you along the way.

Amy Werner is a Certified Parent Coach in Raleigh NC. Through individual or couples Parent Coaching, Amy works with parents experiencing frustration with their current circumstances through a solution-focused coaching method. She can be reached at 919-274-0227.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Navigating Difficult Conversations

Do you ever wish you could talk with your partner about something important to you, but decide against it?  Many people decide never to bring things up because they fear there is no way these conversations will go well.

What are we afraid of? Often, we believe the other person will feel attacked and will become defensive.  We may feel certain the other person will turn the conversation back onto us, and in the end, we will be blamed, criticized, or hurt.  Or we may anticipate the other person will “shut down” in response to the conversation we’ve initiated, leaving us feeling abandoned.

While we cannot control our loved one’s response, there are ways to improve the chances that our message will be heard and that we will feel understood.

These recommendations are based on the extensive research of relationship expert John Gottman, Ph.D. According to his research, criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling are four toxic elements in a couple’s communication that are predictive of divorce.  So how can we practice talking with our loved ones differently?

1. Gentle startup.  First, it’s important to realize that it is common for people to feel attacked when you have a complaint. Be careful not to lead with a criticism of the other person, but rather with your own feelings. Begin with the attitude that you are confiding in your loved one about your own feelings. You are sharing how his/her words or actions are bringing up feelings in you, and what you need instead.

2. Express a positive need.  Rather than focusing on what you don’t like and what you don’t need, share with the other person what you do like and what you do need. Give your loved one the recipe for success with you (i.e. “It would mean so much to me if you _____”)

3. Take a break.  If you find that either of you seem to be getting overwhelmed by the stress of the conversation, it is okay to take a break from it! Let your loved one know you do need to come back to the conversation, and take anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours to calm down before returning.

4. Take responsibility.  Keep your focus on your needs and feelings, rather than on your partner’s faults. Loved ones will be more interested in examining themselves if that is what you are doing. If you can understand where your partner might be coming from, share that. Take responsibility for any part of the conflict or problem that you realize you’ve contributed to.

Practicing these new skills takes time; there is no couple that does this perfectly!  Being mindful about how we communicate can help foster increased closeness and connection in our love relationships, and help sustain them over time.

By Natalie Van Dusen, Psy.D; psychologist at Grew, Morter, and Hartye, P.A. in Raleigh, NC.  She works with couples to help clients identify and change destructive patterns in their relationships.  

GMH Starts a New Chapter

Welcome!  We are pleased to announce the launch of our new website and blog. Here you will find information straight from our clinicians about topics that are important to you, including:
  • Relationships
  • Self Care
  • Parenting
  • Mental Health
  • Practice News such as staff additions, weather closings, community  events  and new services
  • Special Events such as workshops and groups
With decades of experience in a wide variety of therapeutic techniques and disciplines, we think our staff has a lot to share. We hope you find Gmhpsych.Com to be an interesting and informative site, and we look forward to being a part of your journey towards health and wellness.

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