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Self-Care Activities You Can Do Right Now

When we think of self-care, our minds often go too expensive or elaborate options, like spa days, massages or weekends away in the mountains. However, there are many smaller things that we can do at any time to recenter and calm ourselves when we are harried, anxious or depressed. Having a stressful day? These are self-care actions you can take right now to ease your mind:

1. Get outside
Head somewhere outdoors and either sit or take a walk. The greener it is out there, the better. Research shows that being outside in natural settings reduces stress levels. Even a few minutes outdoors can be what you need to clear your head and allow you to get back to your day.

2. Watch a video that makes you laugh
Laughter releases endorphins, stimulates the lungs, heart and muscles and increases your intake of oxygen. The result is a dramatic reduction in your stress levels. Immediately after a good laugh, you'll feel more relaxed and readier to take on the challenges of your day. Subscribe to a few comedy channels on your favorite video network so you always have something handy.

3. Do someone a small favor
Whether it's picking up an extra coffee for someone else in the office or assisting someone with a small task, helping others has the power to offer you an emotional boost. A recent study on people's activities and moods indicated that people who do things for others on a regular basis reported higher levels of happiness than those who spent more time engaging in hedonistic activities like buying things they wanted or going out for a meal.

4. Give yourself permission not to do something
Have something on your to-do list that never seems to get done? An email you have been meaning to read that stubbornly sits, unread, in your inbox? If the item is not something necessary, scratch it off without guilt. Having small tasks hanging over us can make us feel pressured and overworked. It's okay to let a couple of activities go.

5. Meditate for a minute
Don't have time for a full hour of meditation every day? Even a minute or two spent calming and emptying your mind can provide a boost. Researchers discovered that even short periods of meditation can make us calmer, more compassionate and more open to seeing others' points of view. If you find silent meditation difficult, plug in some headphones and listen to short meditation recordings.

When we take a little bit of time for ourselves, we increase our reserves of the energy we need to deal with the demands of work, family, community and more. Make self-care a regular commitment to improve your mood and to keep yourself on a more even keel. 


Finding Middle Ground When You Disagree

No relationship, whether it's a marriage, a friendship or a relationship between siblings, can completely avoid some conflict. The way that you deal with those conflicts, however, will play a large role in the health of these relationships. In many cases, the best way to resolve a conflict is to see where you can find middle ground. A few of the ways to help this happen:

Truly listen to one another
Instead of listening for things to counter, listen to what the other person is saying to understand their point of view. Do not break in when you hear something you disagree with; listen to the end to hear the full version of what they have to say.

Try to put yourself in the other person's place
Your spouse who is investing many nights in fantasy football is not doing it for the purpose of sticking you with all the responsibility around the house. They're pursuing an activity they enjoy. The sibling who ardently supports a political candidate you hate isn't delusional; they're pursuing the path that they feel will bring the best outcome. It's okay to disagree, but it's unhelpful to mischaracterize someone's motives. This just leads to a bigger divide.

Find out what's most important to each party
The components of a compromise that works for everyone include each person getting what is most important to them. Think about your priorities and what will make you feel satisfied. In some cases, these priorities will be incompatible, but in others, you can each get part of what you want.

It's okay if some topics are off-limits
Politics, religion, child-rearing styles and a few other topics can sometimes just be too hot for people to handle with the ones who they love, but whom they disagree with.

While open communication is a powerful tool for closer relationships, it's not a must on every single topic. Do not feel that you are doing the wrong thing if you avoid certain hot button discussions.

Let it go
We're not always going to be able to change one another's minds. Some of the people who you love will stay steadfast on an opinion or a course of action that you find objectionable. Sometime simply letting it go without attempting to change them is the most loving and peaceful course of action. While this is not a tenable path when it comes to things like physical safety, it's often the best way forward when you are dealing with a simple difference of opinion.

The ways that we interact with the ones we love determines the strength and health of those relationships. No matter how sharp a conflict, moving forward with a loving and open attitude can help smooth the rough spots and keep you both satisfied and fulfilled.


How Doctors Are Using a Simple Computer Game to Short Circuit PTSD

Post traumatic stress is not uncommon after a serious ordeal. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, around 7.8% of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. PTSD's symptoms can lead to problems that include persistent anxiety, depression, difficulty expressing emotion and other issues that can plague sufferers for years even with treatment. While the treatment of PTSD continues to evolve, other doctors are working in the area of prevention. Scientists studying the prevention of PTSD released a surprising discovery in March, 2017. They found that people may be able to reduce their chances of developing PTSD by playing 20 minutes of Tetris.

The Mechanics of PTSD
For many people who suffer from PTSD, recurrent negative memories continually plague them. Flashbacks and traumatic memories cause stress and anxiety. Research has shown that people who experience intrusive memories soon after a traumatic experience are more likely to develop PTSD later on.

In the study, doctors theorized that playing a repetitive yet engaging game like Tetris can disrupt the process of forming traumatic memories. The resources in the brain that are used for developing memories are also used while playing a game like Tetris. If those mental circuits could be kept busy, maybe the memory would not become as deeply implanted.

Individuals who had suffered car accidents participated in the study at the hospital after their accidents. While a control group participated in a writing exercise for 20 minutes, the study participants spent 20 minutes playing Tetris. Both groups were then instructed to record how many flashbacks they had during the week following the accident. Those in the writing group experienced an average of 23 flashbacks. In the Tetris group, participants experienced an average of just nine.

Why Tetris?
Tetris was chosen because the activity of arranging the falling pieces to make solid lines was engaging enough to distract patients while also being simple enough to keep participants engaged. The game is familiar to many, especially those who grew up in the late 1980s when the Russian game's popularity exploded.

The researchers said that any activity that called on similar skills or concentration could be helpful. Among the activities they suggested were drawing and playing other casual games like Candy Crush.  

Continuing to Learn About PTSD
Our understanding of PTSD and how to treat it are still developing. The results of this study are still considered preliminary, especially since participants were only tracked for one week after the Tetris activity. Since symptoms must be present at least one month after a traumatic event to be diagnosed as PTSD, it remains to be seen how valuable distraction techniques like playing Tetris will be in the long term. Future studies will most likely focus on the effects of playing the game for longer periods of time or playing at multiple points during recovery.

By following this and other developments, we can learn more about our own minds and how to protect our mental health. 


5 Tips for More Constructive Arguments

All couples disagree sometimes. The key to whether these disagreements tear you apart comes down to how you and your partner handle them. There's a right way and a wrong way to fight. Keep these tips in mind to ensure that your arguments do not cause damaging rifts in your relationship.

1. Use "I" statements, not "you" statements.
"You" statements are accusatory. They put your partner on the defensive, which can lead to bad argument behavior on their part. Instead, focus on your own feelings. "It's upsetting when I am left alone at a party where I don't know anyone," is more constructive than, "you always abandon me when we go out!"

2. Target behavior, not character.
No matter how angry you are, it is never okay to call your partner names or to pin negative adjectives on them. "You're so selfish!" is combative. "Leaving me to deal with all the dishes was selfish behavior," is less so. By always focusing on the behavior instead of the person, you reassure one another that you value each other deeply. Many relationships come apart because of negative things said in a moment of anger. After all, why would someone want to stay with someone who thinks they are selfish, lazy or stupid?

3. Keep it to the current topic.
Does the fight focus on the current issue? Or does it get pulled onto topics like his late night hangouts with his friends or her expensive trip to Rome last year? When you dredge up every grievance you've ever had, you just add anger to the conversation without adding any practical value. Happy couples discuss one issue at a time instead of bringing everything that has ever made them angry at their partner.

4. Take a breather if it gets too heated.
If you are both getting angry, you will find that you are not communicating effectively. Agree to take a time out whenever it seems you are coasting over the same territory over and over. You can simply change the subject if you are both able to do that. If necessary, take a few minutes away from one another by taking a walk or going to different rooms. This shouldn't be an angry gesture; tell one another lovingly that you need to take a breather for the sake of the conversation.

5. Allow some cooling down time.
Anger isn't just emotional; it's physical. Your body will release neurotransmitters and hormones such as adrenaline that fuel your anger. It takes time for those chemical levels to go back to normal after a fight. Give one another space so that you have time for the physical effects of anger to subside. Otherwise, your brain may look for new reasons to be angry even though the current situation has been resolved.

It can take practice to put good argument habits into place. It's okay if one of you backslides; don't hold grudges because of lapses. Simply work together to disagree more lovingly for the health of your relationship.


Clean Eating on the Go

We all know that our diet has a huge effect on our moods, our productivity and our energy levels. We all work hard to eat the right things when we are at home and have time to plan the healthy and nourishing dinners we prefer. However, all that flies out the window when we have too many busy days in a row. To avoid dining at the vending machines or sneaking out for a fast food fix, keep the following tips in your arsenal:

Breakfast food isn't just for breakfast.
Some of the healthiest and fastest food choices are the ones we eat to get ourselves going at the start of the day. Oatmeal is a whole grain option that comes together in minutes. It can be as satisfying and filling for lunch as for a breakfast treat.

Pick options that do not negate the benefits of whole grain oats with high amounts of sugar or fat. This is where it pays to be a label-reader; many brands will tell you in the nutritional labels whether they are a good choice.

Prepare the night before.
If you know that Tuesday is going to be a killer, some meal preparation is in order on Monday night. Make a breakfast and lunch that you can grab as you head out the door. If you have the energy to plan dinner, too, consider loading up your crock pot. Put it on before you leave for the office in the morning and you will have a warm and healthy meal to greet you when you walk in the door. Having this in place cuts the chances of calling for pizza when exhaustion stands between you and cooking your evening meal.

Don't forget fruit.
Hard fruits like apples and oranges can sit for days in a desk drawer without showing any signs of wear. Fruit is highly portable, nutritious and delicious. If you have a sweet and crunchy honeycrisp tucked away, you are more likely to eat it than a snack from the vending machines when mid-afternoon hunger strikes. 

Dried fruit can also be part of a great mini-meal. Just make sure that you pick options without added sugar and that you watch your portions. Because the water content is removed, dried fruit is a lot more compact than its fresh equivalent. It's very easy to mindlessly suck down 200-300 calories of dried tropical fruit mix without noticing.

Eat mindfully even when you are busy.
We've all had the experience of opening a bag of chips at our desk and slipping one after another into our mouths as we continue with work. Instead, force a five minute break to pay deliberate attention to what you eat. When we truly dedicate our senses to eating, we feel more satisfied and are more likely to stay aware of what we put in our bodies.

A few small changes can make a big difference in how we eat. By incorporating these tips, we can keep up the same dedication to healthy eating when we are away from home.  


5 Proven Tricks for Dealing with Toxic People

You know who they are. Those people, at work or elsewhere, who are relentlessly negative. The folks who manage to kill your enthusiasm and your mood. The ones who, if you are not careful, can drag you into interpersonal drama and can completely sabotage your productivity. Unfortunately, we don't always have the power to avoid these people and we just have to find ways to work around them. A few of the most effective tricks for dealing with the toxic people in your life:

1. Limit your exposure to toxic people.
When you are able to, work to keep physical distance between you and toxic family members and coworkers. Arrange schedules so that yours and theirs do not match up. The less you are together, the less chance that they will contribute to a poor emotional state.

2. Be mindful of your emotions.
Check in with yourself. Think about how you are feeling. If you are not aware of your emotions, it is that much easier for a chronic button-pusher to get you worked up. By becoming more aware of your own emotions and your emotional patterns, you will be better able to stop, take a breather, and set yourself on a more constructive path.

3. Practice honor toward yourself.
Be respectful of your own emotional and mental health as you would another person's. Stand up for yourself when people are attempting to manipulate or intimidate you. Feel comfortable saying no when you do not want to spend time with someone or participate in a specific task. By treating yourself well, you increase your self-esteem and help develop a steadier emotional keel.

4. Understand that it's not your fault.
When someone is negative or toxic, it's not about you. Chances are, they are not thinking at all about how their words and behavior affect you at all. Their actions are about their inner lives. When you truly realize that this behavior is not personal, it is easier to separate yourself from how this person treats you. Realize that what they do reflects on them alone and you will find that you are less likely to become bogged down in negative emotions.

5. Focus on solutions instead of problems.
When we stew about how someone acts or how they make us feel, we are only amplifying the problem. Instead of dwelling on what you cannot change, think in terms of how you can make things better in the future. Can you switch to another team? Can you commit to slowing down and examining your emotions before you get deep into a funk? Thinking about healthier patterns puts the power back in your hands.

There will always be times that we have to deal with toxic people. While they cannot be avoided, the harm that they do to you can. By taking control of how you react, you can reduce their impact and improve your own resilience and health. 


Short Circuit the Insomnia Cycle

Sleep is incredibly important to our physical and mental wellbeing, but sometimes it can be elusive. At any given time, about a third of adults are having trouble falling or staying asleep for the night. Once you've experienced a sleepless night, you'll often find that the common ways of coping with them leads to more of them. Late naps can make it even harder to fall asleep in the evening. Caffeine can keep you going through a rough day, but it can also make it harder to fall asleep and become truly rested. To get back into a healthy sleep pattern, you need to short circuit the cycle. These tips can help:

1. Go easy on the caffeine.
Many people are more sensitive to caffeine than they think; an afternoon cup of coffee may offer a pick-me-up, but can keep you tossing and turning at night. Instead of turning to coffee or energy drinks, try to revive yourself with a brisk walk or a few minutes of meditation.

2. Don't look at your phone when you can't sleep.
You're in bed, you're bored... why not see what's happening on Facebook? There is actually good reason that that social media peek can harm. Our screens blast blue-tinted light in our faces that makes our brains think that it is time to be awake and alert. Every time you take a look at your phone, you are setting yourself up for more wakefulness.

3. Don't stay in bed when you can't sleep.
Your bed should be associated with calm and restful sleep. If you spend hours tossing and turning, you will find that you begin to associate your bed with insomnia instead of rest. Try getting up and sitting in another room. Read something dry and boring that will not engage you and keep you up.

4. Consider making your bedroom screen-free.
Our cell phones, monitors and other objects all give off light even when they aren't on. Most have indicators that they are charging or have messages to show us. Also, it is too easy to get caught in a Netflix binge or a Wikipedia freefall, staying up hours past the time you should have gone to bed. By taking screens out of the room, you remove both stimulation and temptation.

5. Use medication sparingly.
Medical therapies like Ambien are only meant to be used for a short period of time to reset your sleep schedule. Research shows that the sleep you get with sleeping pills is not the deep, restorative sleep that comes naturally. Becoming dependent on pills can make it harder to get natural sleep and lead to getting less quality sleep overall.

For most people insomnia lasts a few days or a couple of weeks. By changing your habits, you can stop the insomnia cycle and start getting the deep rest you need to be your most effective self.


Indoor Exercise for Stress Reduction

Cold winter weather can make heading outside for a jog unappealing. But, becoming idle during the winter months can have a negative effect on your moods. Incorporating indoor exercise helps you stay fit and active just when need the activity to beat holiday season stress. A few of the activities that can keep you feeling your best:

1. Climb stairs.
No need to hit the gym for a cardio machine. Walking up and down stairs can give you the sort of workout that can help you work out some energy and get the mood-lifting benefits. To get an even better workout, grab a couple of dumbbells and do bicep curls while you go.

2. Do planks.
The plank challenge went viral for a reason. This exercise helps you build your core strength, which can help cut back pain. Since pain and stress are deeply related, this is an exercise that is good for both. Hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds. 

3. Dance!
Experts recommend that we get 30 minutes of cardio activity at least five times a week. If you don't want to do that all at once, consider breaking it up into three 10 minute mini dance parties. Ten minutes of dancing is usually about three songs. Pick out playlists that make you happy and get you moving. Including favorite upbeat songs gives you the benefit of the movement and the music.

4. Do a sun salutation.
This yoga move can be done as slowly as you want to get the best benefit. Take time in each step of the pose to breathe and relax. By making it a moving meditation, you can get the calming benefits along with pain-relieving stretching.

5. Do lunges.
These work muscles in the lower half of your body and can even offer an aerobic boost. Try doing lunges down a hall in your home or office. Instead of going back up to a standing position, just step into the next lunge.

The best part about these exercises is that they can be done wherever you are and require no special equipment. By adding even a few minutes of motion every day, you can do a lot of good. You will find that you have more energy, less stress and that you feel healthier and happier all winter long.