changeahead My daughter is a senior in high school.  That means we have spent much of the past year focusing on ACT testing and scores, college applications, essays, etc., etc.  On February tenth all of the hard work, anxiety and stress of this past year came to an end as she received her acceptance into her number one choice of schools, which also happens to be both of her parents’ alma mater, so to say we were all thrilled would be putting it mildly!   But something else also happened once the dust settled, I realized that very soon my first born will be leaving for college, not only a huge life change for her but a major life transition for me.  While the abstract idea has always been there, now it is staring me in the face and is something I can no longer ignore.   What does that mean for me?  The past 18 years my primary focus has been on parenting my kids, and in two short years they will both be in college.   So part of my “job”, and a lot of my identity is going to change.  While I will always be mom to my son and daughter my role in their lives will without a doubt soon be different.   I am sad about my kids leaving home but I also realize once I have readjusted there will be many positive aspects of my new life, such as more time for me and my husband to do things on our own without worrying about 2 other people’s schedules, and time to begin focusing more on myself and consider other interests in my life I may not have had time for before.   I joked as senior year started that I wasn’t quite ready for this but it was coming whether I was ready or not.   Life moves on and changes are going to happen, whether we are ready or not!  Getting married, starting a new job, moving into a new house, having a child, the list goes on and on, are all positive changes in life.  But even the positive changes are stressful and can be hard to deal with.  There may be mixed emotions, I can absolutely relate to feeling very happy and very sad at the same time as we approach graduation day.   There might be feelings of loss, even about a much anticipated event, and there can also be an identity shift, all things I can currently relate to.  Major life transitions cause stress, that is a fact.  If you don’t take care of yourself the stress can lead to increased anxiety, health problems and even depression.   During major life transitions it is important to pay attention to yourself and take care of yourself.

The following article by Dr. Shannon Kolakowski talks about ways to make the most of life transitions and has some good pointers on how to take care of yourself during major life changes.
https://trans4mind.com/counterpoint/index-goals-life-coaching/kolakowski.shtml


I believe one of the most important things to do during any stressful time is to rely on your support system.  It can be helpful to turn to supportive people in your life during these times.  If you feel like you need some added support surrounding a major change or transition in your life give me a call or send me an email and we can set up an appointment, 706-425-8900 or beth@ca4wellbeing.com    Beth Jackson, LCSW  Alpharetta, Georgia   profile415  

Therapy is exercise for the brain

If therapy is exercise for your brain, that makes me a personal trainer.  Time to rethink my work wardrobe!

I have a confession to make.  If you promise to keep it just between us I will tell you.  Agreed?  So, sometimes my clients will say to me “Hey, this was really helpful.  I appreciate what you’re doing for me.”  My response is generally, “I’m so glad you found our session helpful.”  But inside?  Inside I’m thinking “I have no idea why this was helpful.  I really thought we didn’t get much done today.”  Rest assured, I’m not some dope who’s faking his way through being a therapist.  Every therapist I know has a similar story.

There’s an excellent book on the subject that has eased my mind and helped me make sense of what might be happening for my clients in therapy.  It’s called Why Therapy Works: Using Our Minds to Change Our Brains by Loius Cozolino.  It has to do with the concept of neuroplasticity and how thoughts actually change our brains functioning.  According to Cozolino neuroplasticity “refers to any changes among, between, and within neurons as a result of learning or the natural processes of healthy development.  It is the ability of the nervous system to change in response to experience and to encode that experience into its structure.”  In other words, our brains literally change in response to our experience.  I liken this change to the growth we see in our muscles because of exercise.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of hanging around with some serious weightlifters you might have seen them nudge each other in the ribs, give a head nod towards someone walking by, and snicker.  Then in a conspiratorial whisper one says, “Someone skipped leg day.”

Your brain is not a muscle.  In fact, it is the fattiest organ in your body.  It makes up only about 2 percent of your bodies total mass but is uses 20 percent of your body’s energy.  No wonder it’s so exhausting when you’re anxious all the time! (For more brain facts click here)

Okay, but what does that have to do with your brain and therapy?  Well, therapy is exercise for your brain.  If you have had depressive thoughts for a while your brain has developed to easily have those thoughts.  Meanwhile, your ability to experience “happy” thoughts is undeveloped.  You might say that you’ve been skipping happy day.  When I’m asking clients in therapy to describe what they would like to be doing differently, what they might prefer their life to look like, I am like a spotter in the gym encouraging them “C’mon!  You can do this!”  At first it can be very hard for someone who has felt depressed for years to even imagine what “happy” is for them.  However, with practice they can literally change the structure of their brain so that it becomes easier to bring to mind those “happy” thoughts.  The same concept applies to people who are anxious all the time.  They are well practiced at having anxious thoughts.  Their brains have been shaped by these experiences and so they come “naturally”.  Through therapy we will do the work necessary to reshape the brain.

Is it easy?  No.  Is it fun?  Sometimes, but it can also be painful just like any other workout.  Is it worth it?  DEFINITELY!

Aaron D KirkwoodIf you’re constantly plagued by depressive or anxious thoughts, contact me today and let me be your personal brain trainer.  I can be reached via telephone at (706) 534 – 8558 or e-mail at Aaron@ca4wellbeing.com.

turning complaints into requestsHaving spent many years working in customer service before starting my career as a therapist, I have long been aware of the idea of turning complaints into requests, or as it was usually put, into opportunities to build relationships.  Essentially, by responding to a customer’s complaint with understanding and actively seeking out a solution you turn that interaction around.  They go from having a negative experience to having one that they will be glad to report to their friends and family while singing your praises.

What does this have to do with relationships?  I would argue that just as a complaint from a customer is actually a request in disguise, the same holds true for relationships.  Whether the parties involved are friends, relatives, or lovers when someone is complaining about YOU what they are really doing is making a request.  Of course, when someone is complaining about you the likelihood that you will hear their complaint as a request is pretty minimal.  Instead, you’re more likely to feel attacked and either counterattack that person or retreat (physically or emotionally) to avoid their “attack”.

But, I hear you saying, she ALWAYS leaves her toenail clippings on the bathroom counter and she knows I hate that.  Don’t I have the right to complain?!  Well, sure.  It’s perfectly understandable that we become irritated with others from time to time because of things they do that annoy us.  But ask yourself this, do you want the person to know that you’re annoyed or do you want them to behave differently?  If you want them to become recalcitrant and you want them to remind you about the things that you do which annoy them, then by all means complain away.  If you want them to listen to what you’re saying and entertain your point of view, then you will fare much better making a request.

Does that mean I can never complain about anything, you might wonder?  There’s a song from the 1960’s by The Byrds called “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and it says that there is a time for everything.  If your boss really got under your skin today and you would like to complain about it to your partner I think that is a wonderful idea.  Relationships are supposed to be buffers from stress and one of the ways it works is your partner provides a safe place to share your frustration.  However, if your partner does something that bothers you, instead of complaining, take a moment and rephrase the complaint in your mind as a request and then present the request to your partner.  I think that you will find they are much more receptive to your request than they will be to a complaint.  This doesn’t just apply to your partner however; this applies to anyone in your life that you have a relationship with.

What about on the other end of things?  If your partner is complaining about something that you have done, can you pause and try to figure out what the request is behind their complaint?  This can be a difficult task but doing so might stave off conflict and help build your relationship.  First, you’ll need to ignore that gut reaction which tells you to point out what they have done that you don’t like, thereby launching your own complaint right back at them.  Or maybe for you in that moment you just want to tune them out and get away from the situation.  Either response does not address the underlying issue and leads your partner to feel that they have gone unheard.  Instead, acknowledge what your partner has said by rephrasing and checking that you understand what they meant.  Notice, you are not necessarily saying that you agree at this point, you are simply checking that you have understood.  Next, ask your partner what they would like you to do differently.  Again, repeat back to them what they have said and make sure that your understanding matches their intention.  From here you can either agree to try and fill your partners request, or you can discuss your thoughts and feelings about the request if you do not fully agree.  Whatever the outcome, I’m sure you can see how this will leave both people feeling much better than doing things the old way of complaining, having an argument, then not speaking about it until it comes up again as a complaint.

For more information about turning complaints into requests click here.

Aaron D KirkwoodIf you would like to work on improving your relationships give me a call at (706) 534-8558 or e-mail me at Aaron@ca4wellbeing.com to discuss setting up an initial appointment.