Category: Mental Health

The Art of Listening

The Listening Center believes strongly in the power of listening.  (Hence, the name.)  Our Vision statement reads:

The Listening Center believes that active, respectful, intuitive listening by professional therapists, fitness coaches, behaviorists, and other health care specialists will ultimately enable and empower individuals to hear their own story and realize that they can make a difference in the quality of their life.”

The truth is the quality of both your relationships and your work will improve dramatically if you hone your listening skills.  In relationships, communication breakdown is often behind many of the issues people face.  While it is important to work on being clear with others in what you say and what you are asking for, it is equally as important to be an effective listener.  Everyone wants to be heard, to be acknowledged, and to know that they are cared for.  In work, active and focused listening will help you see both possibilities and the holes in what is being said to you.  A good listener is a much better business person than one who only half-listens to what is being said simply because a good listener won’t miss as much.

The good news is that listening is a simple skill to hone.  The biggest step you can take is to simply be aware of how you are listening.  Just focusing on listening better will make you an exponentially better listener.  If you find your mind wandering while you are listening to another, simply redirect your attention and focus back to the person speaking.

There are two main components to being a good listener.  The first is the active component: your attention.  You cannot be a good listener without actively paying attention to what someone is saying to you.  Actively focusing on what is being said, how it’s being said, and any non-verbal cues from the speaker are all avenues on which to focus your attention.  The other main component to listening is more receptive in nature and that is being open and receptive to what another is trying to tell you.  Very often our own judgments, agenda, prejudice, or assumptions block us from really hearing what someone is trying to tell us.  That’s why it is so important to keep an open mind and an open perspective when you are listening to someone.  For instance, how often do we get stuck in a communication rut with our loved ones, having the same argument over and over?  Next time, clear your mind of all preconceived notions about what the other person is saying to you and try to take it in as if it was your first time hearing it.  This might help you have a fresh perspective and open up a line of communication between the two of you that had previously been closed.

A final tip on being a good listener is a strategy that “double-checks” you to make sure you really heard what someone was trying to tell you.  Sometimes, even if you are a great listener, you might misinterpret someone simply because they are having a hard time being clear.  That’s why most good listeners will reflect back what a person has said in an effort to be sure they heard it right.  This is a great tool for relationships because it cuts down on the possibility of miscommunication and it helps to make both parties in the relationship feel heard and validated.  Most reflect-back statements start something like, “So what you’re saying is…..” and then you just simply repeat what you heard.  If you got it right, great.  If not, the speaker has the opportunity to clarify.

We will end with one of our favorite quotes about listening, featured on the home page of our website:

“I suspect that the most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.” -Rachel Naomi Remen

Every New Year’s people make resolutions in an effort to start fresh, turn over a new leaf, and in some way, shape or form, improve their lives.  The most popular resolutions made in America today are usually health-related, so here is The Listening Center’s Top 10 New Year’s resolutions to improve your mental, emotional, and physical health in 2014:

1. Eat healthy, nutritious, whole foods.  Minimize processed foods and foods high in sugar, saturated fat and salt. If you regularly consume processed foods high in sugar, saturated fat, and salt, you have to fight even harder to stay balanced.  You have to fight against yourself.  Think of it this way.  Your body is like the car you drive.   If you regularly abuse it and starve it of the fuel it needs to function properly (i.e. essential vitamins and nutrients), then it simply will not be able to perform under any sort of pressure.   Everything is connected – our minds and our bodies are one.

2. Exercise regularly. Our bodies are meant to move.  A natural mood-booster, regular exercise has been proven to reduce anxiety and depression.  It has also been shown to improve memory and brain power.

3. Commit to sleeping 7 – 8 hours a night, consistently. Lack of sleep is proven to cause great stress on the body, physically, mentally, and emotionally.   The importance of good sleep hygiene cannot be stressed enough.

4. Take a fish oil supplement daily. Omega-3s, found in fish oil, are essential amino acids that the body does not produce on its own and, therefore, must be consumed through the foods we eat and supplements we take.  People who don’t get enough omega-3s in their diet face an increased risk of developing conditions such as dementia, depression, attention-deficit disorder, dyslexia and schizophrenia.

5. Adopt a mindfulness practice such as meditation. Meditation has been proven to help relieve stress, manage chronic pain, help with depression and anxiety, as well as enhance feelings of compassion, calm, and peacefulness.

6. Spend time outdoors on a consistent basis. Time in Mother Nature has been shown to have a restorative effect and to help both attention and impulse control.  As a species, much of our evolution is rooted in our connection to the earth.  It is only in recent modern times that we have been disconnected from that source.

7. Practice the art of listening. So often, miscommunication is what leads to our daily stresses and relationship troubles.   Really listening and reflecting back what another has said to you will go a long way to improving your life and your relationships.

8. Begin a gratitude journal. It’s easy to lose sight of all your blessings, especially when you are going through tough times.  Keeping a journal in which you write five things each day that you are grateful for trains your mind to seek out gratitude moments throughout your daily life.

9. Live each day as if it were your last. Just as it is easy to lose sight of our blessings, it is also easy to lose perspective.  When you find yourself getting caught up in your sadness, depression, or anxiety, ask yourself, “How would I handle this if I knew today was the last day of my life?”  It may sound morbid, but it will quickly put things in perspective for you.

10. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Change is not comfortable.  It’s not supposed to be.  If you remain “comfortable” you will never successfully achieve any resolution you decide to adopt.  In those moments when it feels like your whole body is itching to go back to its old ways just for the sake of comfort, push through.  Remind yourself that the itch you feel is just a symptom of the change you are making and that it’s a good thing.

Meditation for Children

In this day and age, with all the research and practical experience, there is no denying the benefit of meditation.  It has been proven to help relieve stress, manage chronic pain, help with depression and anxiety, as well as enhance feelings of compassion, calm, and peacefulness.

Meditation is a practice.  The results get better with time and consistency.  That being the case, it is greatly beneficial to introduce this habit to your children at a young age.  Not only will it help them in their present lives just as it does adults, it will also set them up to reap the benefits of a lifelong practice of meditation.  Many adults who try to adopt a meditation practice encounter some difficulty incorporating it into their daily lives and remaining consistent, especially because at first it is very difficult to settle your mind.  Children who grow up meditating will be at a much better advantage.

Having a regular mindful meditation practice will help your child remain calm and in control of his/her emotions, curb your child’s impulsivity, and help them to be more balanced and compassionate.  In older children, it can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.  Below are some tips for introducing meditation to your child:

  1. Set a Good Example. As with anything you ask your child to do, it’s best if you lead by example.
  2. Help Them to Understand Why. All children want to know why.  Understanding the benefits of meditation will empower them to really try rather than just go through the motions.
  3. Use Guided Meditations. Guided meditation is a great way to start.  It gives your child something to focus on, which is sometimes easier in the beginning than trying to “not think”.
  4. Be Realistic. It’s best to start off slow.  Especially for young children, just 3-5 minutes in the beginning is enough.  If meditation becomes overwhelming, it will cause stress for your child rather than reduce it.
  5. Keep Them Sitting Up. Lying down can be too relaxing and lead to falling asleep.  While naps are great, they do not carry the same benefits as a mindful meditation practice.

Many adults have a hard time dealing with anger, so you can imagine that many children are in the same boat.  Managing anger in an appropriate and healthy  manner is a learned skill, so here are some tips to help you teach your child how to effectively deal with their anger:

  1. Be a Good Role Model. Kids model behavior, so one of the most effective tools you can use to teach your child is to manage your own anger in an appropriate and healthy manner.
  2. Remain Calm. If your child is in the middle of a tantrum, it is important to remain calm and to resist engaging with your child until he/she has calmed down.  If you can effectively help your child get calm, then do so.  Otherwise, wait until the storm has passed.  This will help you to remain calm, as well as help your child learn that problem solving only happens when everyone is calm and in control.
  3. Help Your Child Express His/Her Feelings. Often, children get angry because they cannot express themselves effectively.  Expanding your child’s feelings vocabulary can really help.  Tip: It’s best to expand the vocabulary when your child isn’t angry.  Practice using the new feeling words when your child is displaying anger, or when he/she witnesses somebody else in anger.  Ask them what they think that person might be feeling.
  4. Develop Anger Management Strategies Together. All children (and adults) should learn the golden rule to help calm the anger response:  deep breathing and counting to 10.  Above and beyond that, it is helpful if the two of you come up with other strategies together.
  5. Give Praise. If your child shows improvement in dealing with their anger, give lots of praise.  This will help them continue to develop the healthy behavior, rather than the unhealthy behavior.  When they don’t do as well as you would hope, resist admonishing them, making them feel shameful.  Remember how easy it is for anger to get the better of anyone, and that it takes practice and repetition.  Once the situation has de-escalated, talk with your child about how things could have gone differently.  Get your child involved in coming up with an alternative scenario of how he/she could have handled their anger better.  This gets the two of you ‘on the same side’ and helps your child take ownership over their own behavior.

In Part 2 of our anger management series, we focused on how to diffuse the anger bomb in the moments leading up to a possible explosion.   In Part 3 of this series, we will focus on tips and strategies to help you lessen that heightened anger response and reduce your need to employ the strategies we discussed in part two.   If you commit to the process, you will see a dramatic decrease in both the quantity and intensity of your anger response.

  1. Determine if you need to seek help. Some of us cannot grapple with our anger demons alone, and would be best served to seek the help of a professional.  Take stock of your life and the role your anger plays in it.  Is it destructive? Is it severe?  Does it destroy relationships?  Does it rule your life?   How often are you very angry?  Do you feel out of control much of the time?  Ask your friends and family, people you trust to be honest with you, whether they think you should seek help.  Remember, you are not your anger.  If you do, in fact, need help, it does not mean there is something wrong with you.  It simply means that, for whatever reason, you have not yet learned how to effectively deal with what is otherwise a natural, normal emotion, and that you need a little help to do so.
  2. Keep an anger log. Log every time you get angry, and the situation or person that angered you.  This will give you clues as to what your particular anger triggers are.  If something consistently angers you, you can set up your life to avoid that trigger as much as possible.  For instance, if your anger is constantly triggered by your teenaged son’s messy room, keep the door shut.  If you don’t see it, it won’t anger you.  Or, if you consistently become infuriated in rush hour traffic and have to commute to work every day in that traffic, consider taking the train instead, or carpooling with someone who does the driving half of the time for you.
  3. Stop demanding, start desiring. People who are chronically angry tend to demand things such as fairness, appreciation, and the willingness of others to do things their way.   Most people want these very same things and feel hurt and disappointed when they don’t get them.  But, there is a difference between wanting / desiring and demanding.  When angry people demand, their hurt and disappointment quickly turns into anger.  No one will ever be able to give you exactly what you need in the exact moment you need it, every single time.   That unrealistic expectation and demand is what sets you up for your anger response in the first place, rather than the normal emotions of hurt and disappointment.
  4. Practice gratitude. It’s hard to be angry when you are grateful.   A gratitude practice will go a long way to help you feel less angry.  Oprah is famous for her gratitude journal and talks about it a lot because it is a powerful tool.  Make it a daily practice to write down five things you are grateful for that day.  It teaches your mind to look for what you can be grateful for as you go through your day.  It can be something as simple as the great piece of fish you had for dinner or something that cuts a little deeper like the health of your child.  A mind with that type of focus will be much less likely to get caught up in the common, daily struggles of life that can cause a person with anger issues to explode.  
  5. Practice forgiveness. Harboring grudges and holding on to past wrongs is a sure fire way to stay in anger mode.  We are human and we make mistakes.  Often, it is our mistakes that lead to our greatest growth.   If someone hurts you or wrongs you, forgive and let go, for your sake as well as theirs (after you’ve calmly stated your concerns and grievances of course).   It’s toxic to hold onto grudges and will make you anger more easily. 
  6. Practice the art of listening. Too often, miscommunication and misunderstanding are the culprits of our anger triggers.  That is why it is so important to hone your listening skills.  When someone is speaking to you, really dial in on what they are saying, rather than preparing your own response or focusing too much on how they are saying it.  (This especially applies in arguments because people often don’t say things in the best possible way when they are angry.)  A good technique to employ is to immediately reflect back what you just heard someone say.  That way, if you got it wrong, they have the opportunity to correct it and you don’t risk getting angry for no reason.
  7. Live each day as if it was your last. Very often, the things that trigger an anger response are pretty trivial in the grand scheme of things.  If you consciously live each day knowing that you are not guaranteed another, you won’t get caught up in the little, everyday grievances.  Instead, you’ll get caught up in the everyday, breathtaking beauty that we too often take for granted, such as the smile of someone we love, the kindness of a stranger, the beauty of a blue sky, and music of laughter.

Part 2 of our anger management series focuses on tips and strategies to help you control your anger response in the very moment you are experiencing it.  As with anything, the following strategies will get easier over time, becoming more like second nature as you practice them.  Experiment to find out what works best for you; which tips and strategies help you to control and diffuse your anger response quickly and easily.  While these tips are designed to help you ‘in the moment’, they will also help you long term because the less you give in to your anger (and the more you become accustomed to these techniques), the less hard-wired your brain will be towards uncontrollable anger (and the more hard-wired it will be to the calming effects of these strategies).

  1. Take a time out and BREATHE. This is the first, very important step to diffusing anger, and it is very powerful.   Some experts tell you to count to ten; others say to take three long, deep breaths.  We say try both, together and separate, and see what works best for you.  Either way, it should be the very first strategy you employ when you start to feel the anger bubble up inside of you.
  2. Check in with your thoughts and downgrade as necessary. Often when we are angry, our thinking centers around words like “awful, terrible, everything is ruined” which contribute to how angry we are over a given situation.  Once you are calm, gain perspective and downgrade those thoughts to, “This is frustrating and annoying, but not the end of the world.  I can find a solution to this issue.”
  3. Express Your Anger Clearly and Assertively without Aggression. When you are calm, express your concerns in a non-confrontational, direct manner.  State your needs clearly, and without hurting others.  Stay away from “always” and “never”, in both your thoughts and speech.   When you think in terms of “he always does this,” and “she’ll never change”, it fools you into thinking your intense anger response is justified and that there is no solution to the problem.  When spoken, it alienates and humiliates the people around you and makes problem-solving very difficult.  Instead, stick with “I” statements, like “I’m upset that you left the table without offering to do the dishes,” instead of “You never help out around the house.  I always have to do everything.”
  4. Think before you speak. Anger can cause us to say things we would never dream of in our more calm and loving moments.   Words can hurt and can’t be taken back once spoken.  When anger is involved, it is wise to pause before speaking and ask yourself, “Do I really want to say this? Is there a better way to express how I am feeling?”  If you are unsure, imagine how you would feel if what you are about to say was said to you.
  5. Focus on solutions. If you keep focusing on the problem (which is what angered you in the first place), it will be very hard to stay calm because every time you think of the problem, you will be angered all over again.  Instead, purposely switch your focus on finding a solution to the problem.

Anger is an emotion, plain and simple.  It is neither good nor bad, although it is often painted with the brush of being a “bad” emotion.  In reality, there is no such thing.  All emotions are natural and normal, anger included.  However, like any other emotion, anger can become unhealthy and “bad” when it spirals out of control, when you can’t or won’t express it properly, and when you get “stuck” in it.  When anger becomes unhealthy, it can negatively affect not only your relationships and quality of life, but your health as well.

How you express anger is an important component to whether your anger is healthy or unhealthy.  The instinctive, natural way is to respond aggressively.  After all, anger exists to help us survive situations where we are attacked.  In that respect, it is essential to our survival.  However, since we can’t lash out aggressively in the everyday occurrences that anger us, we have developed other conscious and unconscious ways to express our anger.  The three most common ways are 1.) to express the anger in an assertive, but not aggressive way, 2.) to suppress the anger, and 3.) to calm the anger.  The healthiest approach is to express your anger in an assertive, non-aggressive manner, but many people employ the calming approach first in order to get a ‘hold’ of the emotion before they feel able to express it assertively without the aggression.  This is completely fine as long as you follow it up by expressing  your anger in a healthy manner once you’ve gotten it under control. Suppressed and unexpressed anger is very toxic and can lead to all sorts of problems including health issues, destructive passive-aggressive behavior, anger explosions that are out of proportion to the situation, and a chronically cynical negative outlook towards life in general.

It is a mistaken belief that if you let it “all out” or vent your anger, it will offer relief.  In fact, it does the opposite, escalating the anger emotion and rendering problem solving and solution finding practically impossible.  Unless you are being attacked in such a way that your life is in jeopardy, or the life of someone you hold dear is in immediate danger, it is not recommended to let your anger loose like that.  It will do you no good in normal, everyday circumstances.

The overarching goal of anger management is to control your anger response.  After all, we cannot control outside circumstances and it is futile to try.  We can only control our response to them.  In Part 2 of this series, we will discuss tips and strategies to employ in the immediate moment to help control an anger response.  Part 3 will delve into long-term strategies to minimize the anger response, and Part 4 will offer advice on how to help your child with his or her anger emotions.

In our fast-paced, driven culture, where the competition is fierce, and many of us work long hours only to come home and run our kids to soccer and ballet and Tae Kwon Do, and somehow, someway, get dinner on the table, then help our kids with homework, after which we finish the day with laundry, dishes, and our own “homework” that we didn’t have time to finish at work, it’s no wonder that most of America is sleep deprived and places sleep last on the list of priorities.  “There isn’t enough time for a good night’s sleep,” we protest.  But, here’s the thing.  The consequences of consistent and chronic lack of sleep are too dire to ignore, and too serious not to put forth every effort to make it a priority in your life again.

Chronic sleep deprivation is responsible, directly and indirectly, for obesity, heart disease, lowered immune function, memory loss, lowered learning ability, fatal accidents, depression, suicide, risky behavior, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and kidney disease.  On a short-term basis, sleep deprivation can cause problems with learning, focusing, and reacting.  You may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, remembering things, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change.  You may take longer to finish tasks, have a slower reaction time, and make more mistakes. So, while our business world is set up to reward those who ‘put in the long hours’, in actuality, the ones who go home and get some rest are more productive and better able to make sound judgments and decisions.

You may be wondering, “How much sleep is enough?  And how do I know if I am getting enough sleep?” On average, adults need 8 hours of sleep, but some operate optimally with only 7, while others need 9.  It varies from person to person.  One way to check if you are sleep deprived is to keep a sleep diary.  Here is a link to a great sample diary, as well as more in depth information about sleep and sleep deprivation:

A quick note about napping and sleeping ‘extra’ on the weekends:  Napping is wonderful, and if you can manage a half hour to an hour nap in the middle of the day, you will wake up with the freshness of morning.  Your quality of work will improve and you will be more productive, not to mention in a better, brighter mood for the latter half of your day.  But, a nap does not replace lost sleep from the night before.  There are specific things your body and brain get from the continuous sleep and corresponding sleep cycles that do not occur during a short nap.  As for sleeping extra, this also does not make up for lost sleep and can, in fact, exacerbate sleep deprivation because regular sleep/wake times are an important component to your body’s ability to get a good night sleep on a regular basis.

The following are some simple steps to help you sleep better:

  • Keep a regular sleep schedule.  Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day.  Also, try to keep the same sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends. Limit the difference to no more than about an hour. Staying up late and sleeping in late on weekends can disrupt your body clock’s sleep–wake rhythm.
  • The hour before bed time should be quiet and relaxing.   Avoid bright artificial light, such as from a TV or computer screen, which may signal the brain that it’s time to be awake.
  • Avoid heavy and/or large meals within a couple hours of bedtime. (A light snack is fine.)
  • Avoid nicotine, caffeine, sugar and alcohol before bed.
  • Exercise daily and spend time outside if possible. (Try not to exercise after dinner, as it might keep you awake.)
  • Keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.  Your bedroom should be designed as your sleep sanctuary.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day.  If dehydrated, your body will respond as though it’s in stress, and stress hormones are “awakening” hormones.
  • Do something relaxing before bed.  Adopt some relaxation techniques, meditate, or take a hot bath, for example.

One out of every eight children in the U.S. suffers from an anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.  If your child is one of them, read on to learn some simple nutrition tips that will help reduce your child’s anxiety.

1.  Basic Nutrition 101

Everyone who eats a healthy diet feels better, and so will your child with anxiety.  Before we get into specifics, here are some basic rules regarding the three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat.  It is important to have all three represented at each meal or snack.  The body most easily processes food when all three are combined, plus it will help your child feel properly satiated. (Remember, carbohydrates include any fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains.)  So, for instance, while an apple is very healthy for your child, it’s not a great snack on its own because it has no protein or fat.  Instead, pair it with peanut butter or cheese, which would add the protein and fat to the snack.

2.  Keep Blood Sugar Stable

Simple sugars are found in foods that contain refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup such as white bread, desserts, soda and juice.  Simple sugars spike glucose levels in the blood, giving a short burst of energy.  This short burst is immediately followed by a crash which can lead to increased anxiety.  This up and down, roller coaster pattern wreaks havoc on the hormone levels of adrenaline and cortisol, which can also exacerbate feelings of anxiety.  You can avoid this easily by opting for slow-digesting, nutrient rich carbohydrates that come from whole grains, fruits, or vegetables.  These will keep your child’s blood sugar levels nice and steady.

3.  Eat Enough Magnesium

Most Americans don’t eat the daily recommended amount of magnesium (350g).  Recent studies have shown a link between magnesium and anxiety.  Scientists believe magnesium acts as a sort of gatekeeper in the brain, making sure certain receptors don’t get too “worked up”. It also regulates the production of stress hormones.  Thankfully, the same foods you can feed your child to stabilize their blood sugar are often also rich in magnesium.  For example, whole grains like quinoa and buckwheat, leafy green vegetables, and seeds, nuts and legumes.

4.  Reduce Stress Hormones

When someone is stressed, they release cortisol into their body.  While this is beneficial to the body after a traumatic injury or during a life and death situation, chronically elevated levels of cortisol due to anxiety wreak havoc on the body.  It is important to minimize this as much as possible by avoiding foods that can trigger the release of cortisol, mainly processed foods with refined sugar and simple carbohydrates like white bread, rice and pasta.

5.  Don’t Forget the Omega-3’s

Omega-3 fatty acids are an important part of anyone’s diet for a myriad of health reasons, but specifically for the anxiety your child experiences, omega-3’s are known to have a protective effect on the brain.  They have also been shown to be great mood enhancers when consumed on a regular basis. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fatty fish like salmon, cod, sardines, shrimp and scallops, flaxseeds, walnuts, and soybeans.

For parents of children with ADHD, it may seem pretty obvious as to why time ‘outside’ would benefit their child.  Children with ADHD are served well by physical activity, a release of their extra energy.  But, what may be surprising is that the type of outside environment can greatly affect a child’s symptoms.

The Landscape and Human Health Lab, a multidisciplinary research laboratory at the University of Illinois that is dedicated to studying the connection between mother nature and human health, has recently conducted research studies on children with ADHD.  While the number of studies is small, they have consistently shown that time spent in “greenery”, AKA nature, has a restorative effect on children and adolescents with ADHD, and improves their attention skills.  In one recent study, 17 children diagnosed with ADHD were taken on walks in three different environments over the space of three weeks. After each walk, concentration was measured using the Digit Scan Backwards test.  Results showed that children with ADHD concentrated substantially better after a walk in the park than after walks in the city or a suburban environment.  According to one of the study’s researchers, Dr. Frances Kuo, they were able to concentrate “shockingly better”.

Thus far the lab has only studied nature’s effect on attention because theory suggests that nature helps restore attention fatigue, which would exacerbate symptoms in a child with ADHD.  However, based on their studies with children of the general population, there is reason to believe it may also help reduce impulse control issues as well.

It appears that time spent in Mother Nature may do more for a child with ADHD than simply expend energy.  The following are some ways parents of children with ADHD might be able to utilize this knowledge to help their child:

  • Take walks outside in Mother Nature between tasks that require concentration, such as homework assignments.
  • Spend time outside when your child is displaying exacerbated symptoms.
  • Use regular Mother Nature time in conjunction with any therapies and/or medications to help optimize the results.
  • If you know ahead of time that your child is going to be asked to do something that is normally difficult for them because of their ADHD, try to work in some Mother Nature time directly before.
  • Expend excess energy AND get restorative, Mother Nature time by playing outside with your child in a green space like a park.
Powered by WordPress and Motion by 85ideas.