Woman enjoying the water in a swimming pool
Christy Gualtieri

Feel The Relax

On the last day of the swimming season, my family and I were graciously invited to the nearby pool by our neighbors, who are mainstays of our township and some of the most entertaining and generous people you’ll ever meet.  I grew up in and around swimming pools, but don’t recently frequent them because whenever you offer me the opportunity to go to the pool alone with my two young children who can’t yet swim, I’ll often decline. (It’s a lot of work trying to keep two alive by myself at once, is all I’m saying.)  But my kids who can’t swim are a bit older now, and have these next-generation floating devices that are way above and beyond anything I had as a kid, so we agreed to go.

It was a beautiful afternoon.  It had been forecasted to rain but it held off, and so it wasn’t as hot as it had been, but not terribly cold, either – the perfect temperature.  We got in the pool and my kids had a great time splashing around, even paddling a bit to the wall in the few feet of water we were in. My daughter bobbed by, a miniature pink buoy, her hands in the water and her face looking ahead, concentrating.  She mumbled something, and I leaned in to hear her:

“Feel the relax,” she said.

I watched as she stretched out her hands, pawing at the water the way a cat would, slowly making her way to the wall from my arms.

“Feel the relax.”

I was just as struck as I always am listening to my kids.  I wasn’t relaxed at all that morning – I was upset at having to buy a bathing suit last-minute (always a terrible experience)  and not looking forward to spending hours at the pool while both kids constantly clawed and clamored on me in the water, having to think about how much sunblock I’d applied and whether it had been enough or not – and I was dumbfounded by how much she knew, inherently, that the power to relax was inside her, just waiting to help.

In the hectic, frenetic weeks before school started and as the end-of-summer activities and to-do lists stretched on, I had completely forgotten all about the point of summer: to relax.  To just stop and observe the world around me. To let my muscles un-tense themselves, to feel the air on my face and the heat of the sun on my skin.

I watched my kids playing, and observed the joy on their faces as they partook in the last of the great summer traditions before school started the next day.  I looked up for longer than a second or two at the cloudless sky, and noticed that the leaves on the trees surrounding the pool were beginning to turn. I listened to the loud roars of the buses passing, and a train that had come by; and when the teenage lifeguard blew the whistle for adult swim, I passed my kids to my husband and went for lap after lap, the same way I used to do when I was little.

I felt the relax, and kept feeling it when we returned home.  Felt it as I threw their suits and towels in the laundry machine, felt it all through dinner, and as I packed my son’s lunchbox the next day.

Sometimes I forget to feel it, still, when the anxieties of the day crowd my mind; but I remember the innate wisdom of my little girl, take a deep breath, and try again.  A new season is coming, after all – and each and every one needs just as much relaxation, wonder, and peace.

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor online

About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

 

Teacher and pupils
Don Laird

Back to School: A Mental-Health Check List

It’s that time of the year again. When a simple three-word phrase evokes dread for most school-age kids and relief for most parents: “Back to School.” Yet, ask any parent, child or teacher, heading back to the classroom is not without its challenges. It can be an exceptionally difficult time of transition for children who suffer from a mental health or learning issue.

Anxietyespecially unrealistic self-expectations and generalized fear of the world at largeis growing among school-aged children and adolescents these days. Potential root causes for this are both broad and complex, and worthy of a separate, stand-alone article. So returning to school can be an enormously challenging task for any child. Let alone one who struggles with anxiety.

Let’s look at it through a practical lens. Children are away from home and routine, and the rules have changed. The school environment requires certain demands that a typical summer setting does not. Summer rarely needs a child to sit still, stay organized, remain focused and on task and adapt to an extremely structured schedule.

Here are five things you should keep in mind before the first homeroom bell rings:

  1. Anxious Parents, Anxious Kids.

Modeling confidence and calm behaviors are central to most parenting situations, particularly when preparing a child ready for school. By fostering structure and daily routine in family life (bedtime, homework, etc), parents will find this transition period to be much smoother. Giving your kids too many choices about routine can backfire and ultimately put them in the seat of control. Remember, you are the parent.

Anxiety issues and traits can run in families. Children with anxious parents run a greater risk of experiencing anxiety themselves. It is still debatable (just read all the conflicting studies when you are having trouble sleeping) as to whether it is genetics, environment, both or something else, but there is no smoking gun when it comes to the root sources for anxiety.  Yet, it is quite observable that children – and most adults – can be like energy sponges, absorbing energy and assimilating behaviors. Remember, a child is usually no calmer than his or her least-relaxed parent. Anxiety can impact someone’s ability to focus, stay on task and is generally categorized by a state of unrealistic and persistent worry.

Sometimes it can be difficult to vet between what is age-appropriate behaviors and anxiety, but if you have concerns you should first discuss these with your child’s teacher and then a mental health professional should the behaviors continue to escalate.

  1. Teachers Can Be Your Best Ally.

Teachers get to know how a child behaves without family being present. Thus, parents can gain information about learning difficulties and peer problems and friendships. Teachers are your closest allies when it comes to your child’s success in school, and you should talk to them regularly. You will learn more about how your child is navigating his or her world, both academically and socially, by talking with the teacher.

  1. Routines Are Crucial.

Above all, be positive and encouraging. Examples of some good routines might include creating an uncluttered work space in the home; organizing a backpack, reviewing assignments; and discussing homework. You can observe your child’s strengths and weaknesses this way while also establishing and fostering good study habits. Also, be sure that your child is staying hydrated with lots of water and has the recommended amount of sleep for his or her age group.

  1. Don’t Worry.

Kids grow, learn and develop at different rates. A delay in one area of development doesn’t necessarily mean your child has a disorder. There needs to be significant evidence and some testing to reach any firm conclusion. However, if you suspect there might be a problem with your child’s development, talk to her teacher and consult with a mental health professional.

  1. Leave Them Alone.

This may sound counterproductive or even counter intuitive, but a child needs downtime. A schedule that is bursting at the seams, with little or no room for relaxation is also ripe for an anxious or depressed child. Give them time. Life is short, sometimes hard. Don’t unpack your stuff on that person who happens to be your child. Give them breathing room, and let them find out that the world can be a secure and inviting place without regimented schedules.

If you would like to continue the conversation or discuss more techniques to overcoming anxiety, contact me to schedule an appointment or free phone consultation today.

In Good Health,
Don

Woman playing with the Rubik's Cube. Rubik's cube invented by a Hungarian architect Erno Rubik in 1974.
Christy Gualtieri

The Summer Puzzle

I gotta tell you…as a child born in the early 1980s, there was no shortage of fun and excitement to experience.  Not in the “let’s spend every waking hour outdoors, surrounded by nature while being parented by all of the neighborhood mothers” sort of ways, like the 1970s kids experienced, but in the “what is this thing I can buy and take home and be entertained by” sort of way.  In the ‘80s, if a thing could be packaged and sold to you, it was; and one of the things I coveted most as a kid (but never received) was a Rubik’s Cube.

A Rubik’s Cube, if you are not familiar with it, is a six-faced cubic puzzle that has entranced (and frustrated) millions of people the world over in the nearly 40 years since its invention.  They were enchanting to me; I’d watch commercials of whiz kids turning the cube this way and that in record time, matching up all of the colors in some ridiculously quick amount of seconds. I’d see one at a friend’s house and give it a try here and there, but I had never mastered it.  It was way too confusing for me.  I’d look at it, turn it over in my hands, and eventually leave it alone, walking away completely disoriented.

I thought it was a kid thing.  Surely, as an adult, I’d be able to figure it out with little to no effort! So when my son, who celebrated his birthday earlier this year, was gifted with a Rubik’s Cube, I’d sneak it out of his room at night while he slept, determined to best the thing once and for all.

Did I do it? Friends, I did not.

I still haven’t.  But I smiled. Because…I found it!

Here’s what I mean: earlier this summer, I had toyed around with the idea of coming up with a Summer Project – a skill I could commit to learning that wouldn’t take too long to do, but also something that would boost my self-confidence.  I’ve tried this in past years, but I needed something that would presumably be quicker than the more laborious work I had chosen, like knitting and crocheting, and something not too intense (as most stay-at-home moms will tell you, being at home with kids in the summertime is often intense enough).  I wasn’t able to find anything, and was getting discouraged by my lack of follow-through. So when the Rubik’s Cube came into the house, I had a thought: I could do this! Maybe not in record time, and definitely not on the first try (or fiftieth, apparently), but it could definitely happen.

So I’m still going to try to hit my summer skill goal.  And you can, too! Maybe it’s not a Rubik’s Cube. Maybe it’s perfecting a new recipe, going from point A to point B without using a Google Maps, or it’s learning how to change a tire or sew a button…whatever is manageable for you is the perfect choice!  And because it’s still summer, there’s still time! Let’s try a new Summer Skill, and once you’ve chosen one, let me know in the comments, and we’ll boost our confidence together. Good luck!

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor online

About the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

Beautiful young woman in a field on a sunny summer day.
Christy Gualtieri

A Leisurely Summer

I was having a conversation with some friends recently, and the topic of leisure came up.  I had assumed that the definition of leisure was something like “taking your time,” like a leisurely walk; or “relaxing without a specific goal in mind,” but I learned that it’s not always been defined in that way.  In the book “Leisure: The Basis of Culture,” philosopher Josepf Pieper describes it as:

…not simply the result of external factors, it is not the inevitable result of spare time, a holiday, a weekend or a vacation…it is a receptive attitude of mind, a contemplative attitude, and it is not only the occasion but also the capacity for steeping oneself in the whole of creation.”

In other words, leisure is the state in which your mind is free to explore and contemplate things – to really think.  (Hardly seems like doing nothing!) And, to be honest, it seems kind of difficult to pull off in today’s current world.  We have so much information coming at us from so many different angles (this news site, this social media page, this neighbor, this radio station, this friend) that it’s hard enough to step away from it, much less stop altogether and think long and hard about what we’re hearing.  Not only do we have to know everything that’s going on, it seems, we’d better have a good opinion about it, too!

That got me thinking a bit: how much time do I spend in contemplation? Turning things over in my head, examining them, figuring them out? As someone who struggles with anxiety, I can tell you – I don’t do much examining…I’d rather just jump to the worst conclusion possible.  It’s definitely not a healthy way to live, and I know I’d probably be better off if I decided to live a bit more contemplatively.

But how do we do that, cultivate a more contemplative life? One thing I know is that I need a lot more silence. In my home so far this summer, we’ve instituted a “quiet time” for the kids each afternoon, an hour of quiet in which they can occupy themselves, and it’s really worked wonders for their attitudes (when we can stick to it, that is!) It really is a leisure time in a lot of ways, where they do have the freedom to learn more about things by reading, exploring the backyard or watching the neighbors work on their landscaping. And I try to do the same for myself, too: free up a little time to learn more either about something I’ve been curious about, or even to learn more about myself by journaling or reflecting on my feelings about something. It doesn’t always come easy – and we aren’t always able to fit in in the day – but I think it’s worth it so far!

I’m sure your summer is pretty busy with lots to do with family and friends and work.  How can you “steep yourself in the whole of creation” this season? Does the idea seem intriguing to you, or does the idea of quieting down our minds in order to free it up for other things scare you? How can you experience a more “leisurely” summer this year?

Until next time, be well!
Christy

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eTalkTherapy - talk with a counselor onlineAbout the author: Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. Christy also blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com and tweets @agapeflower117. You can  follow her here on eTalkTherapy for inspirational articles and different perspectives as they relate to good mental health.

Two women friends in an friendly embrace
Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk

Part 5: The Essentials of Developing Quality Relationships

by Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk, MSPC, NCC

 A Series of Articles: 5 of 6 – Attachment Style and Developing Quality Relationships

This series is focused on relationships. Article 5 of 6 focuses on attachment style. Secure attachment, anxious, and avoidant will be explored.  How does your attachment style increase satisfaction and/or increase frustration in your relationships? Your attachment style assists in determining how well you engage in and recover from disagreements, struggles, tolerating frustration, adapting to difficult and unfamiliar situations; including, how you feel during good times, positive times, and the important moments in your life that you desire to be present for.

As a therapist and relationship coach, I work with clients grappling with their attachment style and the contributing discomfort, anxiety, stress, isolation, and relationship issues. Your attachment style and your partner’s attachment style have the probability to motivate behaviors, impact interactions, and increase or decrease issues within your relationship.

Avoidant Attachment

Individuals with avoidant attachment have difficulty connecting emotionally.  For example, if you and/or your partner have an avoidant attachment style there is an increased probability of experiencing difficulty in trusting others; many times, this includes romantic partners.  During uncomfortable and difficult communication, you or your partner may cease communication, deflect from the issues being addressed, or retreat completely feeling confused and frustrated.

In a newer dating situation, a person may cease contact without explanation.  At times, a person in a romantic relationship will feel ‘if only, s/he will let her/his guard down.  It took past relationships to build walls and working to allow one’s guard down is complex and extremely difficult for a person with an avoidant attachment.  At times, the individual is unaware that s/he isn’t connecting; many times, s/he feels the same void you’re feeling, yet, has extreme discomfort in engaging in any level of vulnerability, openness, or trust.  Other times, the person doesn’t connect emotionally and whether on the surface or on a deeper level doesn’t seem to have the desire to connect.

It’s important for a person with avoidant attachment to ask whether s/he feels an issue is present. Then ask if the desire to connect, trust, and to learn to feel safe in sharing exists. Through therapy, you and/or your partner will have the opportunity to develop awareness to the issues that supported the development of an avoidant attachment, how to cope with and lower frequency of runaway cognitions that may not be beneficial in present relationships, and learn new ways to engage towards developing a more secure and mutually connected relationship.

Anxious Attachment

Individuals with an anxious attachment feel more fear and anxiety in relationships.  For example, if there is a disagreement or difficult communication, an individual with an anxious attachment style may continue to discuss the issues, and attempt to increase verbal engagement and communication.  It may feel that you and/or your partner continue the conversation after everything feels discussed- many times over, s/he may still desire to talk further. At times, you or your partner’s motivation is an unconscious attempt to decrease anxiety and increase feelings of safety by engaging.  S/he is attempting to connect. However, this leads to increases in feelings of anxiety and fear, runaway cognitions, ruminations, and decreases feelings of safety for the individual with an anxious attachment, and adds much confusion and frustration for each partner.

At times, an individual with an anxious attachment and an individual with an avoidant attachment will partner in a relationship. There’s potential for increases in frustration, conflict, confusion, and misunderstanding for partners that are an anxious/avoidant combination; this is more so when communication isn’t strong, communication patterns mismatch, and/or are difficult for one or each partner to understand. However, you are able to learn ways to increase communication skills, lower pressure, minimize demands, and lower the potential for emotional lability. In this environment, communication, understanding, and empathy for each partner is vital.  Couples therapy gives opportunity to begin to build awareness to internal feelings and motivations, how you give and receive love, and ways to increase emotional stability and safety.

Secure Attachment

Individuals with a secure attachment feel more security, confidence, actively engaged, and experience stronger feelings of trust in relationships. You and your partner are able to work through difficult and stressful issues with a level of reciprocal communication and responsiveness.  You’ll feel comfort in being authentic and genuine, and in feeling a level of acceptance towards and from your partner.  You and your partner have an increased probability in giving and receiving mutually, support is more easily embraced, and issues with communication are negotiated more successfully. Secure attachment carries into relationships with family and friends, and allows for a minimal preoccupation with being abandoned or with having the desire to create distance.  You’ll have an increased opportunity to develop a mature and long-term relationship with intimacy and the benefits of developing a healthier and more satisfying relationship.  It’s beneficial to allow flexibility, respect, support, and healthy boundaries.  Inevitably, there will continue to be stressors, tolerating frustration, and areas to work towards embracing, accepting, and working on as partners; this is part of being human.  However, working with a therapist to process your issues and develop a secure attachment benefits your romantic relationships and increases the quality of each area of your daily life.

Relationships consist of a combination of attachment styles and behaviors; each combination has the probability to buffer from or exasperate relationship issues and complexity. At times, you may experience more than one attachment style depending on the person you’re with, the type of relationship, length, and seriousness; however, most times, you’ll engage in a dominant style. Environments, genetic predisposition, past relationships, life experiences, and how you feel about yourself support your attachment style.

Temperament and personality impact attachment, communication, perceptions, and how you engage during difficult and positive aspects of life. Developing an understanding and awareness of you as a person and reflecting on where your partner is coming from allows for smoother navigation throughout the relationship.  Additionally, the presence of a fundamental connection and desire from each partner to learn and grow as a couple increases success and long-term satisfaction.  It’s important to be aware if you’re feeling that you’re having a relationship for two or if you’re expectation is for your partner to take on most of the relationship’s work and engagement. With that being said, take time to explore and build awareness to how each person gives in similar and different ways; it’s beneficial to make room for each.

In conclusion, developing awareness and comfort with your issues internally and in relationships is beneficial in working towards developing a secure attachment and increasing the quality of your relationships. Working with a therapist in a strong and supportive therapeutic relationship will assist in setting goals and giving yourself permission to develop a secure and healthy attachment, to develop trust, and heal from past relationship issues. You’ll have the opportunity to develop awareness as to what secure attachment is and is not, setting realistic expectations, reflecting on what works and what doesn’t in your relationship, setting healthy boundaries, and enjoying a relationship where you feel intimacy, connection, and security in a quality relationship.

COMING SOON: article 6 of 6 in the series.

Learn, grow, & enjoy,
Mandi

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MandiTurk[1]Mandi Dalicandro-Turk writes about a variety of topics related to mental health, behavioral health, relationships, stress, anxiety, aging, grieving, self-care, therapy, and improving one’s overall quality of life.