Psych Central

Anxiety Articles

Forgiving Can Protect Your Health:Evidenced-Based Strategies

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

shaking handsThere are lots of reasons that we forgive.

To err is human; to forgive, divine. (Alexander Pope)

 An eye for an eye, and the whole world would be blind. (Kahil Gibran)

While many reasons are ingrained in our moral fiber and cultural roots, a more recent one has been the finding that forgiveness changes our emotional state and as such our physical well-being. Forgiving is a way to stay healthy.


An Unrecognized Reason That Married Men Have Affairs

Friday, September 27th, 2013

man on benchEvolutionary theory, gender differences, stereotype, media myth and cultural expectations invite us to recognize that men have more sexual desire than women both in frequency and intensity, are wired to have many partners, have more difficulty with monogamy and that as such, married men are more likely to have affairs than married women. The reality is that while married men have more affairs than married women –The difference is not that great.

  • In the largest most comprehensive poll of its kind in 1994, Edward Laumann and colleagues found that 20% of women and just over 31% of men in their 40’s and 50’s reported having sex with someone other than their spouses.
  • Young and Alexander in their 2012 book, The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex and the Science of Attraction accept a rough estimate of 30 to 40 percent infidelity in marriage for men and women.

The other reality is that while extra-marital affairs by definition involve a romantic and emotional relationship that has a sexual or sexualized component, research suggests that sexual drive is not the primary reason married men have affairs.


Overreacting in Your Relationship: Reasons and Remedies

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnyone is a relationship knows that partners have the uncanny ability to bring out the best and worst in each other. Accordingly, whether newly married or celebrating many years together, partners can find themselves overreacting in a way that rarely happens anywhere else in their lives.


Would You Risk Rejection for Happiness?

Monday, July 15th, 2013

womanrejectionGiven that most of us don’t associate being rejected with feeling happy, it is understandable if your inclination is to decline.

A brief look at the growing research on risk-taking and happiness and the connection of happiness with social relationships, may give you pause to reconsider.

A consideration of risk-reducing strategies may even make it seem possible.


The Ohio Kidnapping Case:The Moral Injury of Witnessing Atrocity

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

oldcoupleonbenchIn the past two weeks it has been difficult to be anywhere without reading or hearing about the Ohio Kidnapping, 10 year captivity, sexual abuse, torture and beatings causing miscarriages to three young woman and one daughter, locked in a neighborhood house by one man.

Both in and outside of my office people have commented and questioned:

  • How does something like this happen?
  • I can’t watch the news anymore.
  • How could the neighbors not know?
  • Why is there such evil in the world?
  • I could never have survived. 
  • Can these women ever be the same?

Judith Herman tells us that a traumatic event is one that has the capacity to provoke fear, helplessness, or horror in response to the threat of injury or death, or witnessing that in another.

When the trauma is that of nature, we speak of disaster.

When the trauma is man-made, we speak of atrocities.

It is worth considering that in face of this Ohio atrocity, whether we live in that neighborhood or witness the horror in the virtual community of viewers, we cannot easily shake this inhumanity because it is not only traumatizing— it evokes moral injury.

According to psychologist Brett Litz, moral injury is the (social, psychological, spiritual, behavioral) impact of perpetrating, failing to prevent or bearing witness to acts that transgress our deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.

Much like the impact of bearing witness to the horror of the Holocaust, the Genocide in Rwanda, or the modern slavery of human sex trafficking, the Ohio kidnapping transgresses our moral code.

  • We are compelled to talk about it, read about it, rage and despair in face of it because it assaults our beliefs and implicates our humanity.
  • We not only identify with the fear and terror of victims, we fear that we could resonate with the guilt and shame of perpetrators.
  • It disturbs us on many levels.
  • As humans it is beyond us to accept that one of us could do this to another.
  • Yael Danieli suggests that in face of moral horror, we suffer the “Guilt of the Just.”

How Do We Deal …


When Couples Stop Talking: Reasons and Remedies

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

couplecrpdMost couples know the positive sounds of silence–the mutual experience of sharing time and space together without needing words. Be it walking the dog together, cooking side by side or listening to music–it is the silence of connection and love.

Many couples also know the silence that reflects tension, conflict or disconnection. Unable to speak beyond the necessities of daily life, these couples report, “ We just don’t talk anymore!”

If we recognize “ talking together” as a metaphor for the communication of confidantes, the special interest of partners and the pillow talk of intimates, then we understand that this is a silence that can start to feel emotionally deafening.

Why do couples who once had so much to say end up feeling this way? Is it inevitable as time passes in a marriage? Is there a way back?

Years together need not result in negative sounds of silence.

Yes, events can disrupt harmony and patterns can erode vitality, but if couples are curious rather than blameful about the silence between them, they may find some reasons and remedies to speak together again.

The Reasons:

If we look closer at those partners who end up sitting in a restaurant with nothing to say, painfully aware of the couples happily chatting around them, we find that partners are often unaware of what they may be doing or what has happened to shut down the verbal connection.

Here are some possibilities:

  • The Monologue: Sometimes a partner is in so much need of attention, affirmation or containment by the other that they never stop talking. More interested in what they have to say, they barely realize there is no space for dialogue. The listening partner often complies as audience for a time but there is no real ” we sharing ” and eventually no reason to continue talking.
  • The Critique: Sometimes speaking has become unsafe if one or both partners imply by verbal criticism, overt disinterest or non-verbal gestures that what the other is saying is of little interest or importance. Some are embarrassed or enraged into silence. Some give-up. Some find outside confidantes who want to listen—while the silence at home …

An Asset to Couple Intimacy: The Capacity “To Be Alone”

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

capacity to be aloneWhile the definition of intimacy may vary depending on the relationship, it is generally felt to be the “ authentic” connection between two people. As such, the connection reflects a mutuality of loving feelings shared and expressed in thought, affect and behavior.

A host of factors including safety, trust, effective communication and sexual exclusivity have been identified as important for intimacy between partners.

Less discussed and perhaps surprising, is the importance of the “capacity to be alone” in establishing true intimacy.

What Is The “Capacity To Be Alone?”

  • Originally coined by the British pediatrician/psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott, the “capacity to be alone” refers to the development of individuality that starts with the infant’s ability to be alone in the presence of the mother.
  • It is the child’s ability to move from the sense of the mother’s compassionate, comforting and loving presence, to his/her ability to hold on to her presence, even when alone.
  • This internalized sense of the comforting mother develops into the psychological capacity to regulate anxiety, self-soothe, and experience a true authentic self. In essence, this is the capacity to be alone.

Why Is This an Asset To Intimacy?

  • True intimacy starts with a comfort in your own sense of self.  If you like yourself and feel comfortable, you will be able to relate in a real and genuine way with another person.

You won’t have to be what someone else wants or needs you to be.

  • True intimacy is possible when you have the “capacity to be alone” because it implies choice. You may want to be with someone. You don’t have to be with someone because you fear that being alone leaves you without stability or value.

You don’t have to cling to someone to avoid abandonment or avoid someone for fear of rejection.

  • True intimacy is possible when there is psychological separation or room for partners to come and go from each other physically and psychologically.
  • Couples often report that when they are apart from each other during the course of the day, they think more positively and romantically about each other than at any other time.

Neurochemistry supports …


When Injury Disrupts Exercise: Five Ways to Reduce Stress

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

sneakersThere is considerable evidence that exercise benefits our mental health. Research suggests that in addition to improving memory, lifting mood, moderating depression, and reducing attention fatigue, exercise is a significant stress reducer.

Whether you are a varsity player, a daily walker, a gym rat or an avid golfer, it is likely that the exercise you do helps you psychologically as well as physically. What happens when you get injured?

In most cases physical injury happens in the two minutes we never see coming.  It is physically and psychologically disruptive because it not only involves physical pain and concern about intervention and recovery; it reminds us of the unpredictability of life, and the reality of our vulnerability. For athletes, as well as those determined to exercise, it is a loss that insults our sense of self as well as our sense of mastery.

 “ I can’t be injured, we are in the semi-finals. I have to play!”

 “ I just got the motivation and the routine going and now I break my ankle?”

 “ What will I do if I can’t golf?”

  • If you have ever been taken off the court or out of your usual routine by injury, it is likely you have felt the constraints of a Catch 22.
  • At a time when you are feeling more pain and stress than usual, the one thing you can’t do is use your usual stress reducer–Exercise will make matters worse!

How Do You Proceed?

No matter what anyone says in the first hours, days or week of an injury, it won’t feel right.

“ So You Won’t Run Anymore- You will Do Something Else!” 

“ Don’t Worry—You will be back.”

It is difficult to suddenly adjust to the loss of something that has added value to your life and it is also difficult to suddenly believe you will be ok, when you don’t feel ok. But it does get better…

What seems impossible starts to become possible when you realize there are many ways to reduce stress if you are able to focus on healing, open options, risk possibilities, and draw upon your resiliencies.

Five Ways To Reduce Stress

Become …


Five Strategies to Reduce Excessive Worry

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Given natural disasters, school violence, unemployment, deployment, the fiscal cliff, the flu, erratic weather patterns and tax changes, there are plenty of things to worry about. Everyone worries. The question is how much?

Worry is the negative thinking we do when we are faced with a real or anticipated threat. It is the “ thinking” component of the physical heart racing, shallow breathing and sweaty palms that make up anxiety. “ What if I lose my job?”  “ What if we are hit with another storm? What if something happens to my child?”

Whereas a certain degree of worry may prompt us to plan ahead, ask for help, or change behavior patterns, experts tell us that excessive worry is toxic.

What Causes Excessive Worry

The common misconception that fuels excessive worry is the belief that worry actually accomplishes something positive:

“ I want to be ready when the other shoe drops.”

The Impact of Excessive Worry

  • In reality, excessive worry is not only ineffective as a strategy; but often sets in motion a vicious cycle of paralysis, poor problem solving and fear of coping which in turn escalates more worry.
  • Physically, excessive worry is costly. It trips the release of stress hormones, disrupts sleeping and eating patterns and often compromises the immune system.
  • Overall, spending time ” anticipating the worst” debilitates rather than prepares us for what may or may not happen.

Five Ways to Reduce Toxic Worry

Worry need not become a toxic cycle that takes more than it gives. Here are six strategies that wind down toxic worry:

Reconsider and Refocus

Are you worrying about “ What if” or “What is?” Most excessive worry is about  ‘What if’ – something that we have no proof will ever happen. Keeping you focus and energy on addressing ‘what is’ is not only more realistic but more likely to positively impact your life.

From Thought to Action

As a rule of thumb, if we are acting out too much, it makes sense to start thinking and if we are thinking too much, it makes sense to start acting.

Accordingly, another valuable strategy for reducing worry is to move from thought to action. No …


Understanding Anger in the Aftermath of Trauma and Disaster

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

“Is Anyone Else Angry?”

anger and traumaTrauma theorists tell us that while traumatic events are in themselves physically and emotionally assaultive, it is often the emotions suffered after the smoke clears and the media goes home that become painful and disruptive to our recovery. One of these is anger.

Anger in the aftermath of a traumatic event, be it the loss of a child, the destruction of one’s home, a life-threatening diagnosis or the sequel to combat stress is a common and complex response. It can be experienced as a physiological state, an emotion, a way of thinking, a behavioral response or a combination of these.

  • You are not alone if you feel angry about what has happened.
  • Essentially you are suffering. The problem is that when anger persists–it obscures everything else.
  • The ability to make meaning of it and redirect it, keeps it from holding you back and taking more from you.

Understanding some of the feelings and dynamics that underscore anger after trauma may be an important step in your journey forward.

Anger as Residual of Fight/Flight Response

It is to our advantage that our biological arousal system goes into survivor mode in face of danger causing an increase in heart rate, rapid shallow breathing, cold sweats, tingling muscular tension and often-antagonistic behavior.

The problem is that when the danger has passed, our body often remains in a state of hyperarousal, leaving us reacting with anger to what would ordinarily be mildly distressing stimuli.

  • We blow up at the relatives who keep asking if everything is starting to get easier.
  • We storm off the line that feels too long at Starbucks.
  • We find ourselves fighting over everything with our partner.
  • We are driving faster and yelling more than usual.

Because this is a physically driven anger, we need to work from the body out to bring it down. We need to re-set our body rhythms by moving, sleeping and eating well. Moving in any way (exercise, walking, re-building, cleaning, physically helping friends) is crucial.

One widow, who told me she was mad at God after 9/11, started walking and didn’t stop until the tears and …


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Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP & Dianne Kane, DSW are the authors of Healing Together: A Couple's Guide to Coping with Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress. Pick up the book today!

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