Licensed Professional Counselor
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Helping people to heal and grow in their lives.

Developing New Skills & Behaviors to Address Anxiety, Depression, and Relationship Struggles

A major key to successfully working with anxiety, depression, and relationship issues is to address the source of these problems. This is why resolving emotional trauma and attachment wounds is a significant area of focus with my counseling approach.

As powerful as trauma and attachment work is though, it's also essential to develop new skills and behaviors that can support your healing process.

Healthy skills and behaviors help to establish the types of strategies, routines, and a lifestyle that supports you to be more centered, grounded, resourceful, self-aware, confident, and empowered - qualities that prevent and neutralize symptoms of anxiety, depression, and relationship struggles. The skills and behaviors most important for addressing anxiety, depression, and relationship problems fall into 2 categories:

  1. On the personal level there are self-care skills. Self-care skills include any health-promoting routine, practice, method, behavior, or technique that helps to increase your adaptability, sense of empowerment, and general well-being.
  2. On the interpersonal level there are relationship skills. Relationship skills help your personal relationships with the significant people in your life to run smoothly and increase your sense of joy and fulfillment.

There are countless ways that self-care and relationship skills can help address anxiety, depression, and relationship struggles. By assessing your symptoms, imbalances, and areas of struggle, we can determine specifically which self-care and relationship skills you need to develop to help reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life. The skills you will be developing loosely break down into 5 categories: Physical, Emotional, Cognitive, Relational, and Spiritual (although there is a strong interrelationship between each category and all skills impact all levels of well-being). Below is a closer look at each of the 5 categories:

1. Physical Self-Care Skills

When addressing anxiety, depression, and relationship struggles, working with physical self-care is a great place to start for two reasons. First, emotional reactions - stress, anxiety, sadness, anger, etc. - will generally intensify when your physical health is compromised. Second, supporting physical health increases mood, adaptability, and the ability to handle stress and anxiety. Fortunately, there are many physical health strategies that can benefit anxiety and depression and your overall well-being. For example:

  • Exercise is known to boost mood and increase energy, relaxation, and a sense of empowerment
  • Eating a diet of amino acid-rich protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and complex carbohydrates provides your brain and body with the nutrients needed to improve your mood and support emotional stability
  • Taking mood-boosting and anxiety-reducing nutritional supplements can improve emotional well-being
  • Using diet to balance blood-sugar levels, which supports stable energy, mental clarity, calmness, and a sense of well-being
  • Establishing healthy sleep habits increases the quality sleep needed to feel good
  • Getting adequate exposure to sunlight is known to benefit mood
  • Being outdoors and in nature has significant therapeutic value
  • Relaxation and stress-reduction skills (e.g. progressive muscle relaxation, body scan meditation, deep breathing) are valuable for reducing anxiety, depression, and stress.
  • Learning to use your body to ground and center yourself in the present moment

2. Emotional Self-Care Skills

Emotions can be an incredible resource that can add a lot of benefit to your life. Unfortunately, for many people emotions are seen as a real problem - something to be stuffed or suppressed. When emotions are avoided, they tend to build up and cause problems such as emotional reactivity; stress and tension; anxiety and panic; and relationship problems. However, if you learn to work with your emotions skillfully, they can assist you significantly.

There are two key aspects to working with emotions. The first part is learning how to recognize and process difficult emotions (e.g. grief, sadness, anger, hurt, fear) so that they can be resolved and you can learn from the experiences that triggered the emotions. Many people did not learn how to be in relationship with their emotions in childhood; left alone with their painful feelings, understandably their emotions seemed intimidating. Like many skills though, when you learn how to work with your emotions, the process becomes manageable and rewarding.

The second part is learning to use your emotions to provide you with information about yourself and your experience of the world. Feelings provide a tremendous amount of information about core needs, likes and dislikes, boundary setting, and they support authentic connection with others. These are extremely useful qualities that can help you to navigate your way through the world, improve your relationships, and find fulfillment in your life. Examples of helpful emotional self-care habits include:

  • Learning to be aware of and making sense of your emotions
  • Learning how to respond to - not react to - your emotions
  • Skillfully expressing your emotions to others
  • Learning to process your emotions
  • Developing emotion regulation skills
  • Writing in a journal
  • Overcoming self-critical, perfectionist, and workaholic tendencies
  • Developing deep breathing skills
  • Self-soothing
  • Cultivating self-compassion
  • Creating opportunities to enjoy life
  • Using Energy Psychology to help calm emotional reactions

3. Cognitive Self-Care Skills

The human mind is an incredible resource that can offer tremendous benefit to your life. Using your mind to engage in intellectual interests, to pursue creative outlets, to work through important problems, to plan, strategize, reflect, prioritize, and take action are all extremely useful skills.

For many people though, their mind is a significant source of suffering. This is because the mind constantly creates thoughts. While certain thoughts are extremely useful, many thoughts can be emotionally disturbing (e.g. worries, fears, negativity, self-criticism, doubt). The human mind has the capacity to remember the past and anticipate the future. Distressing thoughts often revolve around past negative experiences or future worries; either way, they can be a significant source of anxiety, stress, and depression.

Learning how to act on useful thoughts and let go of toxic and/or distracting thoughts is essential for putting yourself in charge of your mind, as opposed to allowing your mind to be in charge of you. Developing mindfulness skills can help you to filter out unproductive thoughts so that you can use your mind to focus on what's most important to you. Examples of helpful cognitive self-care habits include:

  • Utilizing mindfulness
  • Using guided visualization
  • Reflecting on your life
  • Practicing gratitude
  • Transforming negative/irrational thoughts to positive/adaptive thoughts
  • Thought Stopping/Thought Changing
  • Reframing stress-producing thoughts
  • Planning, organizing, and following through on goals
  • Developing work-life balance
  • Prioritizing your time
  • Maintaining perspective
  • Managing expectations
  • Learning to problem solve
  • Understanding your limitations
  • Thinking through potential consequences of planned actions
  • Stimulating your intellect

4. Relational Self-Care Skills

Human beings are hardwired to connect with others. When our relationships are healthy, they can be an enormous source of fulfillment, joy, and satisfaction. Unfortunately, all too often, relationships are a source of pain and frustration.

Relational self-care starts with a strong connection to yourself. Taking care of yourself is essential for being a present and engaged participant in your relationships. If you are happy, at peace with, and connected to yourself, it will be easier to connect more authentically and deeply with others.

Learning to be skillful in your interactions with others is also essential for positive relationships. Developing healthy relationship skills naturally leads to happier, more fulfilling relationships. Examples of the self-care habits that support healthy relationships include:

  • Making time for yourself
  • Developing a healthy support system
  • Understanding and expressing your core needs
  • Setting healthy boundaries
  • Learning to be vulnerable
  • Differentiating yourself from others - finding your own "voice"
  • Using effective communication skills
  • Learning to not let resentment build up
  • Increasing sensitivity, empathy, and compassion
  • Learning to collaborate effectively
  • Developing conflict resolution skills
  • Learning to manage challenging family dynamics

5. Spiritual Self-Care Skills

In terms of spirituality, there is nothing to obtain that you do not already have; rather it is a matter of creating space to deepen your connection with your true nature, which is an essential and core part of your being. Qualities that can be used to describe your true nature include: calmness and stillness; presence and awareness; love and compassion; wisdom and understanding; happiness and contentment; a sense of interconnectedness, completeness, and wholeness; and acceptance for things as they are. These qualities are a natural outcome of connecting deeply with your true nature. Further, your true nature cannot be traumatized or emotionally wounded; it is a powerful resource that can support you through life's challenges. Because your true nature is always accessible, any activity can be used as a vehicle to connect deeply within, but some obvious examples include:

  • Meditation
  • Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong
  • Stillness
  • Engaging in contemplation
  • Prayer
  • Spending quiet time in nature
  • Any practice/activity that brings presence or "being-ness" into your life
  • Balancing "being" and "doing"

As your self-care and relationship skill set increases, you will generally experience significant benefits. For example:

  • Self-care skills are especially effective for managing difficult symptoms. Anxiety, depression, panic, relationship challenges, life transitions, stress, etc. are all easier to handle when you have the specific skills necessary to address those issues. For example, mindfulness is very useful for worries; deep breathing skills are crucial for handling panic; communication skills are essential for healthy relationships; and healthy eating and exercise is valuable for depression, anxiety, stress, panic, and general well-being.
  • Life brings about challenges that are unavoidable, such as family or work problems, major transitions, crisis, illness, and death. While these challenges are unavoidable, the suffering they create doesn't have to be overwhelming or consuming. Knowing how to manage stress, recognize and adjust unrealistic expectations, live in harmony with reality, connect with friends, and process emotions can help with handling difficult life circumstances more effectively.
  • Self-care practices help to keep life in balance. Exercise, adequate sleep, meditation, stress reduction, eating a healthy diet, keeping blood sugar balanced, spending time in the garden or in nature, connecting with other people, having fun, and connecting to your true nature helps with staying centered, grounded, and in balance.
  • Everyone has core needs - physical, emotional, mental, relational, and spiritual - that require attention in order to experience joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction in life. Knowing your specific needs and learning to be resourceful about getting your needs met, can help you to feel more whole, complete, and fulfilled.
  • All self-care skills improve relationships because feeling whole, complete, and fulfilled as an individual is essential for being healthy and present in relationships. Likewise, strengthening your relationship to both yourself and to others creates a strong foundation for your overall happiness and well-being.
  • Building new skills and behaviors increases resourcefulness, adaptability, self-support, and confidence. Utilizing new skills is also very empowering because it allows you to be an active participant in your healing process.

Developing new skills - self-care or relationship - is often crucial for people that have a history of trauma or attachment wounds. This is because people with this type of history commonly miss out on the development of certain key skills for a variety of reasons, such as: negative role modeling; impatient or uninvolved caregivers; positive reinforcement of negative behaviors; lack of positive attention, love, or nurture by parents; criticism and shaming by caregivers; role reversal (child taking care of parent); disruption in psychosocial development due to trauma and attachment wounds; and alcohol and/or drug abuse. Once these healthy skills fill in, a person is much better prepared to be happy with themselves, enjoy their relationships, and succeed in life.

Unfortunately though, at times it can be difficult for people who have experienced trauma and attachment wounds to establish new skills. This is because their nervous systems are overwhelmed with trauma, making it difficult to integrate new behaviors and skills. In these cases, when a person starts to resolve their trauma and attachment issues through the use of specific counseling techniques, they can often start to naturally integrate the skills and behaviors necessary to experience healthy relationships and personal fulfillment.

For a variety of reasons, sometimes people feel blocked around the idea of taking care of themselves. Most people know what it's like to nurture and support another person, or even their pet, but not themselves. Self-care is the process of turning that supportive, caring energy and attention toward yourself. Initially, this may be a challenge for some, but it is a skill that certainly can be developed, especially through a counseling modality called the Developmental Needs Meeting Strategy (DNMS).

The counseling approach that I find to be most effective for anxiety, depression, and relationship struggles incorporates working with both deep issues as well as developing new skills. Deeper work addresses the emotional trauma and attachment wounds that establish the painful triggers and emotional reactions that are at the heart of anxiety, depression, and relationship problems. Developing new skills not only aids symptom reduction and management but can help to make your personal life and relationships fulfilling, satisfying, and meaningful. Working with both skills and deeper issues is a powerful combination that can lead to positive changes and personal growth.

For Counseling in Portland, feel free to call me today at (503) 887-3309, email me, or use my Contact Form to book a counseling session or to set up a FREE consultation.

Office located in NW Portland, Oregon. Serving the Portland metro area, including Beaverton, Hillsboro, Lake Oswego, Tigard, West Linn, Milwaukie, Oregon City, Tualatin, Gresham, and Vancouver, WA.

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