CBS Austin News Nov 1

Here’s how you can B.E.A.T. anxiety

Americans have long been motivated to compete against each other. Whether it’s a rival sports team, a political opponent, or a greater cause like cancer, hunger, or AIDS, people look for things to beat. But what is it about anxiety that leaves people feeling defeated and experiencing such despair?

Everybody experiences anxiety—it’s a natural response that helps humans survive. The unease and worry that comes with uncertain outcomes have protected people for a long time. Think of your weariness to walk down a dark alley alone, or the instinctual urgency you have when a fire alarm goes off. Those make sense, right?

Read the full article at CBS Austin News


What Mask Are You Wearing?

Since it is almost Halloween, it seems appropriate to talk about masks.  Whether we like to admit it or not, we all tend to wear them, just not the plastic, store purchased ones.

Here are five masks that people tend to wear to hide what is really going on inside:

  1. Bozo the Clown – Did you know that laughing is one of the ways people stuff feelings? You can usually tell when someone is genuinely laughing or when it seems forced and unnatural.  Many people hide their sadness and hurt by constantly telling jokes or making silly comments.  The appearance is that they are happy, but if we could see inside, we would find hurt, sadness, loneliness, fear and several other feelings that are hard to acknowledge.
  2. Einstein the Know it All – Some people use facts, explanations and data to prove that they are right and intellectually can defend any premise. The problem is, they are really hurting inside, just like Bozo.  Intellectualization is one of the most common ways we run from our true feelings.
  3. Egor the Angry – Some wear a constant scowl that says to everyone around, “Don’t mess with me. I am about to blow up and you don’t want to be the one that lights my fuse.”  It is sadly very effective at keeping people at a distance so they don’t have to reveal themselves.  Just like Bozo and Einstein, Egor is full of fear, a sense of failure, loneliness, sadness and maybe guilt and shame.  People tend to walk on eggshells around Egor.
  4. Weaknfrail Some seem to have the back of their hand velcroed to their forehead…as in “Woe is me.” I think of the character on Saturday Night Live, Debbie Downer.  This mask indicates that the person wearing it cannot handle any bad news, is overwhelmed and beaten down.  How could you ever ask them for help or support?  It is a way to assure that your true feelings of fear and inadequacy won’t be challenged.
  5. Perfectionista – This mask indicates that the wearer is exceptionally organized, rarely makes mistakes, if ever, and can handle anything that comes their way. The mask indicates that no matter how high you set the bar, I can jump over it.  I don’t need anybody and I will judge you if you do not meet my expectations.  Just like Bozo, Einstein, Egor, and Weaknfrail, Perfectionista is hiding a feeling of inadequacy, anger, guilt and shame and fear.

WE all tend to judge our insides by others’ outsides.  The truth is, we are all imperfect beings who have feelings and want to experience a sense of connection and belonging.  Our society and culture encourage a lot of this.  Our self-worth is often measured by the house we live in, the car we drive, our appearance the school our children attend or our annual income.

We are all worthy just because we are here.  As Dr. Brene Brown says,” There are no prerequisites for worthiness.”  Finding out who we really are is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves.  Often that takes therapy and a journey of self-discovery.  There is nothing more rewarding, challenging, scary, but ultimately joyful, than finding out who we are and taking off our masks.

CBS Austin

Are the people in your life really supportive?

What is the secret to making lasting change? A few minutes browsing books online could yield countless results on how to cultivate motivation, willpower, and enlightenment. We all go running to these resources as we ask ourselves:

• Why do I keep taking on more than I can handle?

• Why can’t I say “no?”

• Why does my kid keep failing their classes even though I have given them every possible resource I can imagine?

• Why can’t I stick to a diet?

We arm ourselves with information and all the self-discipline we can muster and jump headlong into yet another “lifestyle change.” However, the fatal flaw in our sustained progress, or that of our loved ones, is that we go at it alone, all by ourselves. Let’s admit it: it’s uncomfortable for others to know how and where we struggle and to what extent. Or perhaps we don’t think anyone is capable of helping. Despite all of this, it is the action of stepping out and recruiting healthy support, that is the first and most powerful step in making anything really happen, and stick.

Read the full article on CBS Austin’s website.


A Season of Second Chances

Have you ever heard someone say I EARNED a second chance? Or I MADE a second chance? What about I CREATED a second chance? No, not really. Generally, we say we GOT a second chance. So why is it that we feel we GET second chances?

Because we do! We all GET second, third, fourth…countless “second” chances. Just take a look around you. Brown lawns are turning green. Bare trees are growing leaves. Flowers are blooming. The sun’s filling the days with more light. Spring rains are washing away the winter.

It’s like the earth is saying, “Hey guys, I know it’s been dark and cold for the last few months, but that was just a season. We’re turning this around now.”

Spring is a season of second chances. It’s a time to break cycles. Change behaviors. Start fresh.  And even if you’re not religious, it’s a time of resurrection – rebirth, new life. Because it really doesn’t matter how many times we fall, it matters that we keep getting up.

Here are three things you can do now to take advantage of this season of second chances.

Forgive. Few things impede development like blame. Learn to forgive AND accept forgiveness.  Withholding forgiveness usually does more harm than good. It often leads to bitterness, anger or resentment that ultimately takes a toll on our physical, emotional and mental health. Forgiving yourself – or accepting someone’s forgiveness – is also a critical part of shedding burdens that weigh us down.

Hope. Depression, anxiety and addiction can lead to feelings of helplessness. This can leave us feeling vulnerable and strip away our hope.  So it’s critical to find and embrace hope. Hope comes in lots of forms. It may be in a conversation with a good friend, attending worship services, professional counseling or a morning run. Wherever you find hope, embrace it.

Serve. Nothing helps us look past ourselves like helping others. A religious man once said, “He who gives money gives some. He who gives time gives more. He who gives of himself gives all.” Serving others through volunteerism can be rejuvenating. Some studies have suggested that a part of our brain lights up when we help others. That part of our brain produces feel-good chemicals like dopamine that may lead to reduced stress, anxiety, possibly even mild depression.  Find ways – everyday – to incorporate small acts of kindness or help bear someone else’s burden.

Take this time of year to start fresh and embrace your second chance. If you’re suffering from depression, anxiety or addiction, this is another opportunity to find hope, new life and a resurrection from your old self. If you have trouble finding that hope, please call us and let us walk that path with you.


Strategies for Coping in a Climate of Fear

In the wake of the horrific attacks in Brussels,it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by sadness — and fear.

These are times that we’ve never seen on such a global level, and that’s part of the challenge with coping—we’re in uncharted territory. There are countries that have lived with the daily reality of terrorism and violence for decades or longer.  But for many parts of Europe and especially for us in America, this is something relatively new that we’re learning to live with.  The other challenge is that when a terrorist attack happens, we have an overabundance of information and images at our fingertips.

The two mistakes we don’t want to make are looking for something terrible to happen everywhere we go—or—acting as if those things will never happen. So how do we live with the in-between?  How do we balance that tension and guard against irrational thoughts and fears in this new reality?

A few ways to cope:

Be responsible with information and limit how much we take in
24-hour news and social media expose us to an overload of information that can actually magnify an event in our minds. When something horrible happens, we almost immediately have access to graphic pictures, iPhone videos, eyewitness accounts and seemingly endless news stories.  We see things up close in a way we never did before.  So one of the things we have to do is manage how much of our mind and our time we occupy with it. It’s critical to limit how much we watch and take in, and guard against obsessively reading or reviewing coverage.

Be mindful of our thoughts
When a violent attack like yesterday’s or those in Paris or San Bernardino happens, it’s easy to slip into a mindset of fear and start looking for a threat around every corner.  Because these events are so shocking, they strike us at an emotional level.  So we have to step back and let our rational thoughts mix in with our emotional thoughts to have a realistic perspective on our safety and the probability of danger.  Think about getting on a plane soon after reading news of a plane crash.  We all know that statistically, flying is much safer than driving around our own neighborhood, but at an emotional level our thoughts can get the better of us.

Be aware of what is driving our choices
When we find ourselves limiting our activities and what we do and where we go because of fears, we need to check those things out.  Without pausing to examine the reasoning behind our choices, we risk making our world so small that we are missing out on life.  It’s the same as not getting on an airplane because sometimes airplanes do crash.  If we continue to let fear make our world smaller and smaller, we’ve allowed our thoughts to irrationally affect how we move about and how we live (exactly what terrorists hope we’ll do).

I’m not saying we should be reckless and careless.  But we shouldn’t swing the other way and think we live in a world where there is no safe harbor.  Because the reality is that terror attacks, plane crashes and other horrible tragedies simply don’t happen as often as we might think. And it’s our thoughts and our conscious choices that can help us navigate this uncharted territory without the burden of fear.

If you try these strategies and are still feeling overwhelmed by fear or are experiencing obsessive thoughts, we encourage you to reach out to us or another professional.


The politics of anxiety

Bored at the office today? Try this. Go over to your co-worker’s desk and (depending on their political slant) tell them you can hardly wait for Donald Trump to get his finger on “the button”; or suggest that Hillary Clinton is a victim of the system and never intended to delete classified emails on her personal server!

Yup. Nothing brings out the political Honey Badger in us like a presidential campaign. Especially this one. We’re worried about big problems – national debt, education, race relations, immigration and terrorism – so public anxiety is steadily climbing to its summit. (Just rummage through your Facebook feed and you’ll see what we’re talking about).

A recent Washington Post / ABC News poll backs us up on this. The poll reported that 69% of Americans were anxious about a Trump presidency. And on the flip side, 51% of Americans were anxious about Hillary Clinton becoming president.

But there’s a take away here. (By the way, I was just joking about starting a political debate with your co-worker). You see, on a macro scale, society’s anxiety that is bubbling up over the presidential campaign is similar to our personal struggles with anxiety. There are certain triggers (job, sickness, relationships) and causes (genetics, how you were raised) that lead to anxiety, which in turn lead to panic attacks, worry, an active mind, fatigue or even sweaty hands.

Fortunately, anxiety disorders can be highly treatable (unlike our political problems). We work every day with people to make it possible for them to move forward with daily life activities in a supportive and encouraging environment. If you feel like you’re struggling with anxiety, we can help. Sit down with one of our trained professionals and start identifying the underlying cause or triggers that lead to your anxiety. And oh yeah, we promise not to bring up politics…



Even celebrities can be vulnerable

In December I joined with 11.2 million other people who watched Adele Live in New York City. Jimmy Fallon introduced her as a “once in a generation artist.” She belted songs from her former and most recent albums with such power and sincerity that I had tears welling up more than once. She got a standing ovation for When We Were Young, and then, she surprised me.

This woman: the voice of a generation, the one who can capture the attention of millions and whose album has stayed at the top of the iTunes charts since its release, she started to cry and thank the audience for welcoming her back.

She expressed her worry about being gone for so long and how she wasn’t sure about the response she’d get. She was overwhelmed by the acceptance this standing ovation communicated. Her worry had lied to her, seemingly made her doubt her abilities.

How often do you worry or feel anxious? How often do you look at others and only see confidence? Do you compare yourself? My guess is that this happens from time to time, and that’s why Adele’s crying moment was so surprising to me.

I tend to get caught in those comparisons too, thinking that if someone appears confident/successful/famous (fill in the blank), they must not struggle with anxiety. I start thinking that I’m different in the way I struggle.

The truth is that we all have times when worry gets out of hand; we get anxious. We all feel fear and wrestle with the questions of whether we’ll be accepted. It’s one of the needs we long to have met as humans – to belong. If you’re resonating as you read this, why not take a moment to consider how often you compare yourself.

If you’re spending more time on comparison than acceptance, worry might be dominating your life, and if that’s the case, we can help. Come talk, come play, come practice what it’s like to let that comparison go and to instead accept your feelings, knowing that most likely, they’ll change in another hour or two. And if you need something to do in the meantime, watch Adele sing and show us what it’s like to be vulnerable.


The 3 R’s of talking about teen suicide

Recently, two teen girls from Murphy, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, died in apparent suicides. Both of the girls attended the same high school, but police are unsure if their friendship played a role in their deaths.  Last week XGames icon, David Mirra, took his life with an apparent self inflicted gun shot.

Meanwhile in Utah, Wendy Montgomery, a co-founder of Mama Dragons, a group of Mormon mothers with gay children, reported recently that she had been told 32 young LGBT Mormons died by suicide since early November. Of those 32, the average age was 17 and all were between the ages of 14 and 20. Utah health department officials have confirmed 10 suicides in that age range in Utah since the start of November.

Sadly, the fate of these youth is not unique. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death”. This is why it’s critical to talk with your teen about suicide.  But it’s hard. I get it. Bringing up a conversation about young people taking their own lives can be just as uncomfortable as talking to your teen about sex and drug abuse.

But, as a parent or guardian, you have to be proactive when it comes to opening dialogue about suicide. Here are 3 ways you may be able to approach the conversation with your teen:

  1. Be Relevant. Sadly, current news stories, like those noted above, can be powerful tools in engaging your teen in an open discussion about suicide. Ask open-ended questions like, did you hear about the death of the two students in Murphy? What do you think about what happened? By avoiding questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” and “no”, you’ll be more likely to engage in a meaningful conversation.
  2. Be Relational – No amount of money or latest tech toys can substitute for spending time with your teen. By regularly engaging with your teen through activities you both enjoy, you’ll build a relationship of trust that naturally fosters open conversation. Be attentive to the moments when a natural conversation can be engaged without appearing confrontational or suspect.
  3. Be Responsive – According to the Jason Foundation, 4 of 5 teens who attempt suicide have given clear warnings. Nothing says “I don’t care” like not being responsive when your teen has questions or shows signs of depression or anxiety that may lead to suicide. As a parent or guardian of a teen, it’s your responsibility to be available to your child when they’re feeling vulnerable. Likewise it’s your duty to know the risk factors of suicide and to know your child well enough to spot a change in behavior that reflect those risks – and then act.Your teen has everything to live for. Yet because of societal/peer pressure, biological changes, depression or addiction, he or she may feel life is hopeless. There is no simple solution to ending teen suicide. But by staying informed and engaged, you’ll be more prepared to be a meaningful solution to helping your teen navigate a minefield of emotions that may lead to suicide. If you’re not sure where to turn, call us. We can help. Our trusted counselors can help you and your teen rediscover how to live a purposeful life.

Music expresses what words cannot

“Music when healthy, is the teacher of perfect order, and when depraved, the teacher of perfect disorder.” – John Ruskin

Not everyone can speak the language of music, but we can all understand it. It has a way of evoking emotion and become the expression of feelings for which we do not have words. Music is around us so frequently that we are often unaware of it. It is playing in the grocery store, at the doctor’s office, at work, and even in the elevator. We find music everywhere because it is so effective at influencing our mood.

Pay attention next time you are in a grocery store. Chances are you will hear soft and slow music playing in the background. Soft and slow music tends to put a person at ease. It slows our breathing and heart rate as well as our physical movement. Slower physical movement through the store often means more products in your cart.

Now think of the last time you were at a football game. Even if you are not a fan of the game, you can’t help but feel the energy in the air. The marching band plays loud and upbeat music to unite and energize the crowd to enthusiastically support their team.

When we have the opportunity to listen to music of our own choice, we often choose music to match our mood. Whether or not we aware of it, we are attempting to regulate our emotions by choosing music that helps us express what we are feeling. If you are heading out with your friends on a Friday night, you are going to play music that gets everyone excited. If you just finished a hard day at work where your boss reprimanded you, you will likely choose music with an aggressive or sad tone to it.

Regardless of what mood you are in, the music you choose can have a dramatic effect on your mental health. Recent studies have used MRI technology to see the brain’s unconscious emotion regulation processes and record neural activity as the participant listened to various kinds of music (see link below for specific study results). If music can have that kind of effect on our brains, it is very powerful indeed. As Bono famously said, “Music can change the world because it can change people.”

How will you let it change you?


How play can change your life!

“The opposite of play is not work—the opposite of play is depression. Our inherent need for variety and challenge can be buried by an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Over the long haul, when these spice-of-life elements are missing, what is left is a dulled soul.” – Stuart Brown, M.D.

Play is an integral part of every child’s development. Through trial and error, imagination, and creativity, play provides a safe process for children to learn about themselves, how the world works, and how to engage in relationships. They test limits and begin to understand how to set and respect boundaries, and learn how to work through conflict. They experience failure at reaching an objective and begin to grasp the life lessons of determination, endurance, and resilience. Something changes, however, as we grow up. Many of us think to ourselves, “I’m an adult—adults don’t play.” “Fun, who has time for fun… I’ve got work, the kids, and I need a couple of hours to zone out in front of the TV before I go to bed and do it all over again tomorrow.” I’m guilty of that last one.

Recently, I read the book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown, M.D., and it has inspired me to re-prioritize play and fun as a value that I seek to pursue on a daily basis. In the book, Dr. Brown makes the case that even though there is a purposelessness to play on the surface, there are serious benefits for children and adults. On the National Institute for Play’s website it states that play has profound benefits for all stages of life: “play is the gateway to vitality. By its nature it is uniquely and intrinsically rewarding. It generates optimism, seeks out novelty, makes perseverance fun, leads to mastery, gives the immune system a bounce, fosters empathy and promotes a sense of belonging and community.” Through activities like sports, creative writing, painting, traveling, board games, and movies we can in turn impact other areas of our lives like work, relationships, and physical, mental and spiritual health.

At i360, we hold a value for play. We are intentional to play together as a staff, always looking for creative activities to do together to develop the team’s bond. We’ve been indoor skydiving, played trampoline dodge ball, and even ridden a donkey… don’t ask, you had to be there.

As part of our holistic approach with clients, we also want to help clients discover play again. For someone struggling with anxiety, depression or addiction, therapy can be a helpful tool to gain insight, self-awareness, and healthy coping skills. We provide individual, couples, family, and group therapy. However, we also realize that therapy is limited. As a co-worker once told me, “knowledge or insight is great, but if you don’t make actual changes in your life to meet your stated goals, then what’s the point?” In addition to the traditional therapies, we also offer a service called Life Development. Through Life Development, we walk with clients outside the office and in their everyday environment to help them translate their insights into behavior change. One benefit of this program is to practice the value of learning how to enjoy life again through meaningful relationship and healthy activity.

In his book, Dr. Brown describes the following 8 different play personalities. He states that typically each of us connects with a mix of a few of these and sometimes it depends on the environment or situation. Take a look below. Which types do you identify for yourself?

    • The Joker – You enjoy making people laugh, crack practical jokes, and engage in nonsense.
    • The Kinesthete – You are happy when engaged in physical activity, but not for competitive purposes. You feel alive pushing yourself to physical limits.
    • The Explorer – You love exploring the physical, emotional, mental or spiritual world through traveling, researching, listening to music or meeting new people.
    • The Competitor – You enjoy games with rules and play to win. You strive to be the top dog.
    • The Director – You live to plan, organize, and execute scenes or events.
    • The Collector – You desire to have the best of particular objects or experiences.
    • The Artist / Creator – You find joy in making unique things or experiences.
    • The Storyteller – You use your imagination through acting, dance, music, or teaching to tell a story.


Now that you’ve identified with one or more, take a moment to reminisce on that time of your life when that part of yourself thrived. How was that time? What activities did you enjoy? What was your mood like? How were your relationships? Finally, how can you incorporate these activities back into your life on a consistent basis? I encourage you to take play seriously, and learn how to have fun again. It just may change your life.

If you’d like to learn more about play and its benefits, check out the following resources:

Written By: Mitchell Isle, MA, LPC, CSAT – Clinical Coordinator and Therapist