Thursday, March 24, 2016

Traveling to Improve Your Mental Health

By: Nate Webster, IMH

Nothing has taught me more about life than when I traveled abroad. Something amazing happens when you get out of the familiarity of your life to somewhere new. New foods, new people and new sights just have a way of changing the way you see the world. Going to new places and seeing news things does wonders for our mental and emotional wellbeing. In my own travels, a few things have stuck with me and I hope they can convince you to take some time abroad as well.

1.      We always have a lot to learn: A professor once told me, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” A simple adage with a big point. You can feel like you know a lot but chances are there’s a whole lot you don’t know. Most of us see education as a season of our life that we’ve thankfully graduated from, but being a life long learner is the biggest key to success. During his career Thomas Edison was quoted saying that he didn’t fail a 1000 times, he just found a 1000 ways to NOT make a light bulb. Traveling has a wonderful way of reigniting your curiosity and appetite for understanding, learning and knowledge, and with those things we become kinder, humbler and more open-minded individuals.

2.     There’s a different way of life: Sometimes when you’ve been in the same situation for so long you can forget that there are other ways of doing things. I love traveling because it reminds me that there are different ways to do all the things in life that we all regularly do such as relaxing, relationships, work and even holidays. It’s important to remember that the life you’ve come from and the things you’ve experienced isn’t the way the whole world operates and that can be really good news. Many of us come from families that were really tough in one way or another, and it’s encouraging when we realize there is a world outside the things we know.

3.     Get to know yourself: When you travel you often have much fewer distractions and you often run into things that will make you feel uncomfortable. These may sound pretty basic, but how often do you turn off the distractions of your life and really challenge yourself with something new? The combination of less distractions and discomfort are one of the healthiest things we can do for our minds, because they really give us a chance to learn more about ourselves. When you don’t have things distracting your emotions and thoughts, you get to really ask yourself what you’re feeling. When you experience something that makes you uncomfortable, you have space and opportunity to ask yourself why.

There is so much therapeutic value in traveling, it helps you become a life long learner, realize there are different ways of living life and most importantly, it helps you to learn yourself. Whether it’s a day trip to a neighboring city or a pilgrimage half way around the world, make a point to incorporate travel into your schedule. Your mind and emotions will thank you!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Advice From a Friend Going Through Chemo

By: Christine Hammond, LMHC

I must admit that when my friend shared she had cancer, it evoked vast amounts of fear mostly because my understanding was lacking in this area. But now with the advancement of many medications, surgical procedures, types of chemotherapy or radiation, various treatment options, and many cases of cancer survivors, many forms of cancer are no longer as intimidating.

Yet walking through this with my friend for the first time was daunting. While each experience with cancer is unique, having a base of what is nice, hard and informative to a patient is very useful. Here are a couple of tips from my friend, the conqueror.

Some nice things that happened during treatment:
  • Friends and family traveled from out of town to spend time and just sit.
  • The meals offered to the entire family were a huge blessing and an enormous help.
  • She was fortunate enough to have a supportive spouse take on additional responsibilities and give large amounts of grace.
  • The hospital staff at the cancer center was kind, respectful, informative, and constantly attentive.
  • More dreams surfaced like wanting to travel on a historical vacation and plans were made to carry it out.  
  • Since energy is limited, essential things like visiting with family, reconnecting with friends, and even reconciling damaged relationships became more imperative.
  • She spent more quality time with her children doing the things that drive their passion.
  • Her priorities quickly shifted from worrying about the condition of the house to focusing on getting better.
  • Many things that caused anxiety in the past become insignificant and almost silly now.
  • She enjoyed being relieved of heavy or laborious work to reserve her strength.
  • Family and friends were better about initiating contact and maintaining close connection during treatment.

Some hard things that happened during treatment:
  • While the treatment was explained clearly, the details of the tests were not. Some of the tests took longer than thought and even caused unexpected physical pain.
  • Her desire to just begin the process and get it over with was stronger than anticipated. This created unforeseen anxiety.
  • She disliked all of the waiting and grew impatient on several occasions.
  • Getting the port put in for the medication was surprisingly painful and took a while to recover.
  • “What’s wrong with you?” was a comment an acquaintance made seeing her one day with her scarf turban. The lack of sensitivity was shocking.
  • Her thoughts seemed to slow down quite a bit as she struggled on occasion to find the right word to express herself.
  • The desire to stay on top of her kids to help them succeed was stronger than ever however, she lacked the strength to do all of what she wanted.

Some informative parts:
  • Even in the pod (room of four people who are receiving treatment at the same time), each individual experience was very unique.
  • The side effects are not similar for all patients, each medication had its’ own distinct outcome.
  • She was surprisingly thirsty during the chemo treatment and found drinking the additional water to be far easier.
  • During the treatment, she was tired, but was not as tired between treatments.
  • Immediately prior to each chemo treatment, she experienced greater anxiety than expected. However, it did dissipate during and after the treatment.
  • She would rather talk about her experience than avoid the subject.
  • has been a good way to keep everyone informed about the progress.
  • She hoped to lose some weight during treatment but that did not happen.

These points can be used to begin a discussion with someone going though chemo treatments. While each experience is unique, allowing a person to openly share their journey is very therapeutic.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Five Do's and Don'ts After a Relationship Ends

By: Matthew Sandford, LMHC

When a marriage or relationship is over there is of course a lot of heartache, upheaval, and a strong longing for normalcy. The longing to not be in pain and to have stability again can lead anyone towards some poor choices. Let’s look us some of those decisions that can turn out to be detrimental or damaging, and then I’ll offer some suggestions for healthier alternatives.

1.     Using Substances
Putting something in one’s body to alter their mood and enable them to go numb or avoid pain is an approach that has been around for thousands of years.  And although it provides absolutely nothing productive in the long term, it continues to be the go-to coping strategy for many. Look, if you have say one or two bad nights in which you cope by getting buzzed, it isn’t the end of the world (as long as you don’t drive or do something stupid, I guess I mean do something else stupid or dangerous). The problem is that when this approach seems to help ward off those sad or painful feelings, and you don’t have a better idea, then you may find yourself using it more than those one or two times. And that’s bad. Coming to rely on substances to cope or get through a day is not the way to live and not the way to overcome or grow or move on or get normalcy back. 
2.   Isolation
It is not uncommon to be in an uncomfortable place with one’s friends and family. Maybe they have judged you or been unsupportive through the process?  Maybe they have been supportive ‘in their way’, but it feels trite or more about lectures and lots of advice giving? Or maybe it feels like they are now patronizing in their support? Maybe it’s none of those, but it just doesn’t feel like it used to? But whatever it is, you find yourself retreating from social interaction. Again, having a couple of times in which you chose to be alone is not really a big deal. It’s when you’ve gone weeks and you’re state of mind and mood is drawing more inward and more down in the dumps. The issue is that isolation can feed itself and cause you to drift farther and farther away from the support and resources that could help you. 
3.   Emotional Flooding
 This is about getting sucked into the heartache and loss and fear and being overwhelmed with negative thoughts. It often piggy-backs on isolation, doesn’t it? So, this is another reason that isolation is unproductive – it often leads to depressing places – and we can get flooded with the pain.
4.   Revenge Seeking
 Whether in isolation or with those friends who join us in “hating” on the ex, we can be drawn into our hurt and anger in such a way that it feels satisfying to contemplate the other’s downfall. We relish them hurting the way they have hurt us. It feels right. We may even begin to think of ways to actively make it happen. But even if it goes not farther than cooking up scenarios in our heads, it is unhealthy and won’t help us to move on or heal. This kind of rumination feeds our hurt and anger rather than leading to resolution.
5.    Find Someone New
Another tried and true method is the “rebound relationship”. Maybe the thinking is that I will fill the void, or maybe one believes that they have moved on and they are ready for someone else? Or sometimes, there is a piece in there that wants to send the message to the person who ended things that I am fine without you – and the thought is that the best way to send that message is to be with someone else (along with maybe just a little revenge motivation).  Often it is simply motivated by the thought that I deserve to be happy.
But there’s the problem. The notion that jumping into another relationship will fill the void or make me happy is unfortunately misguided. I am not trying to rain on your parade. Just the opposite. I want to prevent you from more heartache. Most of these relationships do not last and do not turn out to be satisfying. One reason for that is because when you have these types of motivations, your ability to choose a partner is skewed. Because you are looking for gratification you are more likely to seek out someone who makes you feel good. And selfishness and being emotionally needy are a lousy basis for relationship building. Besides, the only people who would be willing to be used by someone in this way are probably driven by their own self serving motivations, or they are conditioned for being taken advantage of or rescuing lost puppies.  

Now that I have popped your balloon and taken away all your regular coping – let me suggest some alternatives that I believe will be more productive and healthier and help you to truly move on.

1.     Develop Your Self Care
Learn to take care of yourself. You heart has been through the ringer. Tune in to what you need to reestablish equilibrium in your life. Elsewhere I have written about the Four Legs of The Stool of Self Care.  Check it out here:
2.   Focus on Building Healthy Relationship
Yes, there is this depressive pull towards isolation and self pity. You’ve got o fight it. One way is through supportive, healthy relationships. Some of this requires you to have some safe people in your life. Some of that means people who won’t judge or lecture or give trite advice. They have decent listening skills and you trust that they won’t gossip. They believe in you and they don’t try to “fix” you.
3.   Grieve
We don’t do grief very well in our culture. But grieving is the healthy way to process through our losses and come out the other side, able to move on. Grieving means to not stuff or deny or avoid our feelings, but to feel them, to acknowledged the hurt and its impact on us, without becoming lost in it. You see, avoiding our pain keeps us trapped in it, but feeling it and processing it (with those safe people) is how we can move through it and come out the other side. This takes time and can be draining. That is another reason we need that support. Grieve work is hard; don’t do it on your own.
4.   Get Involved
Something else we need is to stay connected to the world and to people; the opposite of isolation. Support is vital. But we will also really benefit from engaging in something bigger or beyond ourselves. Find a place to help others, serve, give, encourage, etc. It will keep us grounded and remind us that life is more than our problems, and will keep our pain in perspective.
5.    Grow
At some point, we will greatly benefit from reflecting on the relationship and what I can learn and grow from it. What went well and what went badly? In what ways did I contribute to what went well and what did not go well (without beating yourself up)? We can grow through our hurts and losses. My encouragement on this is that you don’t need to jump to this point in the process too quickly. Get the others going first. Growth often follows a good grieving process (or in conjunction with it). But growth can also be emotionally taxing, so you’ll want these healthy elements in place to be able to hold up under it.

Relationships can be hard, even when they are going pretty well. We are relational beings; made for relationships. But the end of a relationship, although difficult, can lead to a process that is healing and helps us to grow and become better people; better for ourselves and better for all our relationships.

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Matt Sandford is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and has been counseling for 8 years. Previously he worked in student ministry for 14 years, including two years in China. He has been married for 21 years and he and his wife are raising twins. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Improving a Complex Emotional Life

By: Nate Webster, IMH

Our emotions are more like their own living creature than many of us would like to admit. We have to feed them and let them out and we also need to listen to them and give them time to vent. But many of us have a love-hate relationship with our emotions. Sometimes our emotions awkwardly make messes all over life, and other times they feel so locked up in a chest we’re not sure how we’ll ever pry them out! Well, many things contribute to what I like to call a “Complex Emotional Life” or CEL for short. Below are four behaviors that may be keeping you in your CEL.

Your emotions aren’t a hurdle, they’re a compass: If you want to get out of your CEL, start paying more attention to what your feelings may be saying instead of trying so hard to make them go away. If you’re always anxious, think about what may be scaring you? Maybe you find yourself sad, reflect on how your needs are not being met. If you treat your negative feelings more like a compass that may be leading you to what is wrong in your life, you will get a much better return on the things you’re feeling. You will perhaps even alleviate some of your chronic struggles with negative emotions as well.

There may be no space in your life to feel: Sometimes the impossible is solved with the practical. Before you go and do something drastic to change the way you feel, simply try creating some space in your life first. No one gets out of their vehicle at a stoplight to start cleaning their car. They take 2 hours of time with a proper bucket, maybe a radio and a friend to really scrub everything down. Your heart is not so much different! One way to create space for your emotions is to have a few hours where your mind and heart are not so occupied and distracted by technology and work. Do an activity that would allow your mind to slow down and your emotions to decompress. Then after this time, try spending a moment journaling, writing a song, drawing a picture or talking to a friend. You’ll be amazed at how rejuvenated you’ll feel.

Don’t bury them alive: Humor is a great way to sometimes deal with our emotions. That’s why it may be helpful for you to treat your emotions like potential zombies! Yes zombies. You see, how often do you bury your emotions alive, only for them to rise from the grave uglier and stronger than when you buried them? Avoid emotional zombies in your life by not burying them before they’ve been resolved. Have you really felt the things that are bothering you, or are you rushing through them to get to the other side? Are your emotions like the person who calls you, who you don’t really like talking to? Or are they the friend whose text messages you savor whenever they show up in your phone?

Flying birds don’t need to nest in your hair: One of my favorite sayings is, ”Birds can fly over your head, but they don’t need to nest in your hair.” This is a fitting analogy for our emotional lives. Perhaps part of the reason you find yourself in such a CEL is because you keep giving every one of your feelings a nest. Like an animal lover going to the pound, you can’t help yourself but adopt every dog or cat you see, even if it means you’ll run out of space, time and money. Not every emotion is good to adopt. The best way I learned to let feelings go was to change the way I saw them. I learned that some emotions just come as a result of pretty uncontrollable and spontaneous activity occurring in my brain. This meant that I wasn’t the owner and creator of every feeling I felt. I could distance myself, while remembering that birds can fly over my head but they don’t need to nest in my hair!

If you’re wrestling with a complex emotional life and would like some help to get out of your “CEL”, Life Works Group is a great place to start. You can visit us at or call us at 407.647.7005

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Why Are There So Many Narcissists?

By: Christine Hammond, LMHC

Narcissism seems to be on the rise. Teachers are frustrated by children who believe they are entitled to an excellent grade for substandard work. Parents are annoyed by teens who believe they are wiser than their elders. Employers are aggravated by employees who believe the rules don’t apply to them. Spouses are shocked when the charming person they married turns into a raging bully.
“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.” This was written approximately 400 B.C. by the Athenian philosopher Socrates. Yet many would believe it intended for this generation.
So why does it seem like there are so many narcissists? Here are a couple of possible explanations.
1.       Social Media. The mass influence of social media has introduced a perfect narcissistic breeding ground. A person can be anything and say anything they want without ever having to verify or produce evidence. They can photo shop selfies, plagiarize quotes, make grandiose statements, exaggerate achievements, and accumulate supposed “friends” all while maintaining a safe distance to prevent any real intimacy. And sadly enough, the more dramatic or shocking the comment, the more attention a person is likely to amass. This “attention” feeds the narcissistic ego and emboldens them further.
2.      Culture. Our current culture encourages and even rewards narcissistic behavior. As a general rule, narcissists love to be in the spot light. Their superior ego arrogantly believes they are “above others” and being recognized for their achievements propels them.  Movies glorify egotistical behavior, narcissistic politicians rise to the top of the pile, the music and sports industry indulges selfishness, intimidating bosses receive promotions, and arrogant professors rewrite history. Self-aggrandizement is viewed as a necessity and narcissists are masters at this.
3.      Economy. There is nothing like an economic downturn to remind society the need to depend on one another and create an atmosphere of humility. When everything is well, selfishness and self-sufficiency become the norm. A narcissist conceitedly believes that the reason they are prosperous is because of their own efforts. During a bear cycle, even the most accomplished of individuals tend to struggle and are forced to work more productively with others. This keeps a raging narcissist in check so the disorder is not so prevalent.
4.      Parents. This is a difficult section to address as the intention is not blame parents for all narcissistic behavior. However, it is important to note that some parents do encourage it even if it is not intentional. Kids will make mistakes, hopefully many while they are growing up. The essential process of making a mistake and suffering the consequences teaches kids responsibility, self-control, humility, team work, excellence, industriousness, initiative, and autonomy. Parents, who remove the consequences (either natural or unnatural) prematurely because they feel sorry for their child, stun the growth of their child and create an entitlement philosophy. This is the beginning of narcissism.
5.      Role Models. Perhaps the saddest of all the above sections is this one. Too often parents, teachers, employers, and society hold up narcissistic individuals as examples to follow. On the surface they look amazing with astonishing accomplishments matched with excessive recognition. But a quick examination into their personal lives reveals troubled personal relationships, lack of empathy of others, estrangement from family, and no real intimacy. These role models become the standard for excellence, achievement, and perfection.

The cure for this is a more honest approach to each section with reasonable expectations. Unfortunately, unless everyone agrees, narcissism will continue to rise.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

5 Reasons Behind Road Rage and Other Out of Proportion Reactions

By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

So, I was driving into work today and I took some back roads so to speak. On the way a car in front of me had signaled to turn right and slowed down and then slowed all the way to a stop, without turning, so that they were sitting in the lane in front of me. I did what seemed wise, since no cars were coming and chose to go around them. But, as I went past the driver of this car became very upset at me and laid on his horn. He continued to stay there in the road and fumed at me as I went along up the road.
It got me to wondering, “what the heck was that about?” I reviewed myself and could not think of how I had deeply offended him that would provoke this level of response. I have had my share of irate and rather crazy people on the road. I’ve had a young man get out of his car and threatened to fight me while I was pumping gas at a gas station. I’ve had a water bottle thrown at my car. I’ve had someone spit on my windshield. I’ve had a bike rider bang on my car for getting too close to him I presume. I’ve observed a driver get out of his car and come over to my Dad’s car (he was the driver) and take off his shoe and bang on our car. And I have experienced and observed drivers endanger themselves and others with reckless driving in their rage.
Yes, there was some incident that provoked these folks to rage. But the question is whether the reaction is proportionate to the precipitating cause. Well, you already know the answer to that. There would be nothing to write about if the reaction was in proportion. That is what is so strange to the observer or the recipient of these strange and scary reactions. And so, what I want to try and shed some light on what may be going on inside these folks and then offer some ideas on how to handle it. Because it wasn’t you, it is about them.

1.       Drugs or Alcohol related
It could very well be that this person is not behaving rationally because they are stoned or under the influence of something.
2.      Projection
This is the psychological term for when we project an emotion from one situation onto a different one that follows sometime later. The classic example is the guy who is getting reamed out at work by his boss and he can’t defend himself and just takes it. But he goes home and kicks the dog. So, these folks had something that affected them negatively and they stuffed their emotions. And then you come along and trigger it and boom – out it comes!
3.      They were already raging. (Emotionally high jacked)
Look, you have no idea about this person’s state of mind or prior experience. Maybe they just broke up with their girlfriend, or found out she has been cheating on them? Maybe they just got fired? Maybe they just stole from a store and so they are really nervous? This time, they haven’t stuffed their feelings. They are just already at level 10 on the 1-10 scale of upset and are emotionally flooded and lacking in self control. It’s like a panic attack, but with the emotion of anger instead of anxiety.
4.      Your action is perceived by them as threatening
There are lots of people out there who are quite sensitive to any perceived disrespect, or belittling, or suggestion that they are wrong, isn’t there?! This is likely related to internalized shame and they have developed a coping strategy to protect themselves from the stinging pain of having that shame exposed. Often the protective strategy is designed around attacking and shaming the source of the exposure – to end the threat.
5.      They are crazy.
I know, I’m a mental health counselor, so I’m not supposed to use that pejorative terminology. I’m not judging them, but there are folks who have a psychological illness or condition, and some of them will have symptoms involving irrational reactions and rage.

What Can You Do in These Situations?
Most of the time you won’t be able to distinguish which of the above five you are encountering, meaning you cannot tell whether the person is dangerous or not. And with that in mind, my advice is to not engage them, but to move on. I know it is tempting to defend yourself or to confront them on their behavior. But that would just not be wise.
There is a strong correlation with aggressive driving and getting into more of these road rage type incidents. You may not be driving around raging all the time, but if you have aggressive tendencies you may draw the attention of the raging ones. Some of the behaviors that are known to trigger rage in other drivers include distracted driving while on phones and such, cutting someone off and tailgating.  
But what I want you to remember is just what I titled this piece – and that this is about them and not you. Because we can get caught up in someone’s out of proportion reaction and sometimes erroneously think and feel like we caused their upset and end up struggling with guilt or confusion. But even if you did cut them off in traffic, or some other offense, it is very unlikely that you provoked the severe response of rage in the other person. That’s what I want you to get out of this; that reactions of the type we are talking about are not about the current event.
Now, in case as you’ve been reading along, you’ve not only thought about the times that this happened to you but also about the times that you’ve been that super upset individual -  I am going to follow up this article with one to address that side of things; on what to do if or when you have out of proportion responses.
Stay tuned!

If you would like to see me for a counseling appointment, call our office at 407-647-7005.
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Matt Sandford is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and has been counseling for 8 years. Previously he worked in student ministry for 14 years, including two years in China. He has been married for 21 years and he and his wife are raising twins.