A Furry Friend a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

By Bethany Nickerson, LMSW

Growing up I never had pets. A neighborhood dog chased me home from school one day and it terrified me. For many years I was scared of dogs and went out of my way to avoid them. It wasn’t until I moved out on my own and in with someone who had a huge dog that I started to work on my fear. Then in 2013 a friend came to stay with me and brought with him a teeny tiny puppy named Hugo. From the moment I met that little guy we were bonded together. I would rush home from work to play with him and he would follow me all over the house. My friend found his own place and the time came for him and Hugo to move. I was devastated. The day before he was set to move out he came and told me that he would like to give me Hugo. Needless to say, the rest is history.

I think its safe to say that most people can list many reasons why their life is better because of their furry friends. I decided I wanted to do some research about how companion animals benefit our health. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there has been a fair amount of articles written on this topic. Learn more below: 

  1. Better outcomes in patients with heart disease. There was a very interesting study that followed up with patients one year after they were discharged from a coronary care unit. The patients who had companion animals were more likely to be alive than those who did not. “Because coronary heart disease is a stress-related disease research suggested that the protective effect of pet ownership is due to its effects on psychological risk factors” (Patronek and Glickman 1993). 
     
  2. Increased social support. It's well known that lack of social support is a big risk factor for subsequent physical and psychological issues. Companion animals not only provide support by reducing loneliness and providing unconditional love, they also “act as facilitators of social interactions between other human beings” (Beck and Katcher, 2003; Kruger and Serpell, 2006; McNicholas and Collis, 2006). There are few things that unite people like talking about their beloved pets!
     
  3. Higher (self report) life satisfaction and perceived health (Norris et al, 1999). 
     
  4. Elevated levels of Oxytocin (the “love hormone). Increased Oxytocin levels are associated with improved bonding with others, reduced aggression, more empathy and improved learning. 

I’ve always knows that Hugo makes my life better, but now I can prove it with science! If you are looking to improve you health and happiness try spending more time with your pets or volunteering at an animal shelter. 

References: 

  • O’Haire, Marguerite. (2010). Companion animals and human health: Benefits, challenges, and the road ahead. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 5(5), 226-234.
  • Takashima, G., & Day, M. (2014). Setting the One Health Agenda and the Human-Companion Animal Bond. International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health, 11(11), 11110-11120.

Bethany Nickerson is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support in prioritizing and taking care of your mental health, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.

Therapist Feature: Shaudi Adel, LMSW

We are excited to welcome Shaudi Adel, LMSW to the team! Learn more about Shaudi below.

What initially inspired you to pursue a career as a therapist?

When I was in middle school, I had a goal to reach out to all the 7th and 8th graders with hand-written notes to get to know my peers better, offering the opportunity to chat about any issues. To my surprise, so many students reached out to me – whether it was about boy troubles, issues at home, self-harm behaviors, or eating disorders. I felt that through this experience of providing empathy to others and being supportive, I had recognized my future career path – and I have never looked back since!

As a therapist, what are you most passionate about? 

At the top of my list, I would have to put helping clients achieve a healthy balance in life, take action (small or large), identify their true life purpose, understand and live out their core values, and achieve their goals.

What are your specialties and what drew you to them?

My specialties are addiction and eating disorders. Growing up, I saw how drug and alcohol addiction impacted multiple family members, which made me wonder why some people struggle with addiction and others do not. With my professional work in the field of addiction, I began to see the co-morbidities of other mental health conditions that impacted the quality of life for my clients, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, and eating disorders. I found the interplay of addiction and other mental health disorders intriguing and stumbled upon it as my specialty by the nature of the work I was doing with clients. Also, I have previously struggled with an eating disorder and so I find it truly rewarding to help clients with eating issues work towards recovery and a life free from dysfunctional eating.

What makes you unique as a therapist?

As a standard procedure when I first meet clients, I take inventory of client’s strengths and unique abilities that can be applied to the therapeutic process. I also believe that at an intuitive level, all clients have the answers and have somehow lost sight of that connection to their intuition. I work hard and at the pace set by clients to help them better reconnect with themselves and discover a life full of meaning and worth.

How would you describe your therapeutic approach?

I tend to be very focused on recent history to the here-and-now. I use a direct approach when needed, and I have been told I am a warm, welcoming therapist. I use humor and see the therapeutic relationship as a “real relationship between equals.”

Everyone needs self-care. How do you practice self-care?

I am a big fan of using the 5 senses to self-soothe, so burning a rose candle, sipping a hot tea, cooking one-mindfully after a busy day, and spending time with my half-Persian, half-Munchkin cat Lulu usually does the trick. I also lead a physically active lifestyle, including weight training, yoga, volleyball, and taking mindful walks around Central Park.

What is your favorite...

Quote: “You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” –Brené Brown

Book: The Bible

Movie: Tie between Wall-E and Grease.

What is one thing that is important for anyone to know? 

All emotions, whether positive or negative, are temporary in nature. Sometimes, we get so caught up with an emotion we are experiencing, and cling to it with such intensity that our whole perspective is distorted through the lens of that fleeting emotion. In these moments, it is helpful to take a mindful stance of detachment and remind ourselves that no emotion lasts forever and we can learn to manage our emotions effectively and with acceptance.  

Shaudi Adel is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. To schedule an appointment with her or learn more about how therapy can support you in reaching your goals, contact Cobb Psychotherapy.

Reassessing Friendships in the New Year

By Jessica Glynn, LMSW

Friendships can change drastically over time, making it important to assess these meaningful relationships and how they are affecting us. Especially, if you feel the friendship has been changing in a negative way. When friendships struggle from a disagreement, disappointment, or inconsideration, it can affect us deeply. Often, the reflections on our friendships come at a point of change in our lives. During a difficult time, can that friend be there for you equally to when all is going well? Alternatively, if you are experiencing new positive changes in your life, such as a progressive career change or a new romantic relationship, is that friend truly happy for you or does jealousy start to arise? Here are a couple concepts to consider when deciding if a friend in your life is deserving of your time and energy.

Reciprocity: Does your friend put similar effort into maintaining the relationship? If one person is always trying to make plans, and the other is not following through or canceling last minute, this can feel very hurtful. Typically, if a friend values your relationship, they will make time to keep the friendship going strong. All relationships require time and nurturing in order for them to be a positive support in our lives. If one person is consistently absent, then they cannot expect their friend to wait around for when they are ready to put forth sporadic effort. This also holds true for reciprocity in sharing vs. listening. Each person should be allowed the space to share and have the other listen with a supportive, understanding ear. If one person is always the sharer and one is always the listener, the listener may miss out on the support they need from that friendship and feel resentful.

Positive Support – Does your friend provide you with positive support and make you feel good about yourself? Often, when we've know someone for a long time, we start to feel comfortable joking around or poking fun at one another. When this light hearted, jovial banter becomes increasingly hurtful or negative, this may be someone who is trying to put you down rather than supporting you to feel proud and good about yourself. It is important to a healthy friendship that you can acknowledge these feelings with your friend and they respect you enough to alter this behavior. Whether friends are there to support you through a break up or there to celebrate with you over a great accomplishment, it is important that you feel your friends truly wants to see you happy

Trust - Are you able to tell your friend personal issues or feelings and know that they will be held in confidence? If you notice you and a particular friend’s conversation always seems to trend towards gossip, this may be a red flag to take into account. Not only could this be a sign of a jealous or competitive person, but could also leave you questioning what they are saying about you to others. Trust is an important component to a friendship that is a source of support in one’s life. If that trust is not there, you may as well be telling your personal secrets to any passe by willing to listen. A friend that you can confide in will be one that will hold your personal conversation as privileged, even when they are angry with you or you have a disagreement.

Jessica Glynn is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you find yourself seeking support with navigating friendships visit cobbpsychotherapy.com to learn more about how therapy can help.

Understanding and Tolerating Guilt

By Rosie Barton, LMSW

We all experience guilt over the course of our lives. It’s one of our many emotions—just like sadness, joy, shame, or anger. And yet, I frequently work with clients who are experiencing a deep sense of guilt, often as a chronic, persistent feeling that they are never good enough or doing enough. During graduate school, one of my professors asked us in a class if we knew what the definition of guilt was, and I’ve never forgotten his response. He told us that “guilt is real or imagined wrongdoing.” 

I was struck by the concept of “imagined wrongdoing.” While I never want to invalidate a client’s feeling of guilt — after all, the feeling is one hundred percent real to him or her, I often try to explore whether they have actually done something so terrible as to merit those intense feelings of guilt and self-recrimination. 

Feeling guilty isn’t always a bad thing. Guilt serves a purpose after all — it’s a sign that we’re aware of what’s right and wrong, which is crucial as a member of society. Guilt also allows us to acknowledge when we have done something wrong, and to therefore make amends for it and change our behavior. However, guilt becomes less adaptive when we begin to feel guilty for who we are, rather than for something we have done. For example, a client with an eating disorder might feel guilty for eating a meal and then think “I am bad.” An important part of recovery is being able to tolerate that feeling of guilt and to still not skip the meal because of it.

For example, sometimes you might think:

  • “I can’t say no to my mom, I’ll feel too guilty.” 
  • “I’ll feel too guilty if I ask my coworker for help when she’s already so busy.” 
  • “If I take a break from studying to meet my friend, I’ll feel guilty.” 

And so what if you feel guilty? Can you set boundaries, ask for help, and practice self-care despite the feelings of guilt that might ensue? Chances are, feeling guilty is probably something you can live through. Being able to tolerate guilt (what I might call “imagined wrongdoing” in these instances) can actually be a sign that you are taking care of yourself and identifying your needs, which can feel very foreign and uncomfortable at first, especially if you are used to putting everyone else ahead of you. 

It’s ok to let yourself feel guilty, and more importantly, to not act on it through avoidance or perfectionism. I often find that clients avoid certain actions or conversations that might be beneficial to them because they fear feeling guilty. I like to remind them of exactly what I stated in the first paragraph: guilt is just one of many emotions that we will experience as humans. And, like all emotions, eventually guilt will shift and give way to other feelings. Sometimes that requires us to tolerate the discomfort of a feeling we might rather avoid. But the more we can allow ourselves to experience the full breadth of our emotions without avoiding them or pushing them beneath the surface, the more well-equipped we are to fully engage in our lives and with the people around us. 

Rosie Barton is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support in exploring and managing emotions, visit cobbpsychotherapy.com to learn more about how therapy can help.

 

Self-Care for the Commuting New Yorker

 By Kristen Quinones, LMSW

New York City is known as the city that never sleeps for a reason. There is always so much to do and lots of great things going on. As wonderful as that can be, living in this city also means walking amongst large crowds of people and using mass transit as you go about your daily routine. This can be stressful and very emotionally overstimulating. Here are some ways to practice self-care around commuting.

  1. Plan Ahead

    Mass transit can be unreliable at times. Plan ahead and give yourself more of a time cushion to get to where you need to go. Even fifteen minutes can make a difference. If you get to your destination early, do some extra self-care! Grab a coffee or tea, watch an episode of your favorite show online, go for a walk, call a friend, or do anything that gives you a few minutes of relaxation! This can help you emotionally settle into your day with more peace of mind.
     
  2. Be Open to Change

    Rush hour commutes can be exhausting. Be open to change; try to travel more at off-peak hours.  Maybe go into work a bit early or leave an hour later if you have that flexibility. Try out a different mode of transit, maybe a different train or bus service. Mix it up and see if you can find alternative routes that are less crowded.
     
  3. Walk, Walk, Walk

    There are so many benefits to walking. Not only does it benefit your physical health, but it can benefit your mood and lower stress. Get off the train a stop early, walk a scenic route, or take a short walk whenever you can to give you an extra boost of energy and stress relief.
     
  4. Use Awareness as Mindfulness

    In New York City you have to constantly be aware of your surroundings to keep yourself safe and alert. This can be draining. Use your awareness as mindfulness. Mindfulness focuses on experience, keeping yourself in the moment, and using your five senses to ground you to the present. Focus on the live music you hear in the subway, take in the smell of food cooking when the train doors open at an above ground station, or observe what people are doing around you. If you need a good distraction from a stressful commute, you can also ground yourself in some reading or meditation.

Kristen Quinones, LMSW is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support in incorporating self-care into your life, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.

Therapist Feature: Dan Perlman, LMSW

We are excited to welcome Dan Perlman, LMSW to the team! Learn more about Dan below.

What initially inspired you to pursue a career as a therapist?

I was inspired to pursue a career as a therapist following a tragic accident that befell a lifelong friend after seeing his amazing emotional resiliency and recovery.

As a therapist, what are you most passionate about? 

As a therapist I’m most passionate about helping patients turn the tide from defeatist thinking toward inspired thinking and being their full authentic selves.

What are your specialties and what drew you to them?

My specialties are adult and adolescent trauma and crises. I was drawn to them as a result of seeing and feeling people grapple with seemingly insurmountable medical & emotional issues as couples and individuals, and emerging stronger and more balanced. 

What makes you unique as a therapist?

What makes me unique as a therapist is my genuine love of being with patients where they are. My desire and commitment to understanding patients and sitting with them in their place of pain separates me from many others.  I also have a business background so I understand the resistance toward taking time out and making ourselves vulnerable. 

How would you describe your therapeutic approach?

My therapeutic approach is psychodynamic with the use of CBT when it dovetails.

Everyone needs self-care. How do you practice self-care?

I practice self care by playing ball and actively studying companies from my first life as a Stock analyst. I’ve also got a few kids so that’s tremendous fun too. 

What is your favorite...

Quote: Well my grandfather was a philosopher of sorts so I’ll give you a few. 

“The unexamined life is not worth living” 
“Don’t let a season of mourning turn into a lifetime” 
“They know the price of everything and the value of nothing” 

Movie: Again I’ve got to give you a few.  As a kid it was Ordinary People, then I fell in love with My Cousin Vinny, and these days it’s Forrest Gump.   

What is one thing that is important for anyone to know? 

I think everyone should do therapy at some point. Taking the time to stop everything else and consciously focus on how we feel takes courage and is empowering.  Learning objectively about our feelings is not just a gift to ourselves, but I believe also leads toward better choices, more money and more stable relationships.  

Dan Perlman is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. To schedule an appointment with him or learn more about how therapy can support you in reaching your goals, contact Cobb Psychotherapy.

Make Your New Year's Resolutions SMART(ER)

By Dorette Greene, LMSW

Are you thinking about making a New Year's Resolution for 2018? Well, you’re not alone. Millions of people make resolutions each year and it’s estimated that many of those people fail. According to StatisticsBrain.Com the most popular resolution made in 2017 was to lose weight/have healthier eating habits at 21.4%. I’m going to go out on limb here, but I have a feeling this will be the most popular resolution again this year (and likely, by a majority of the folks who resolved this in 2017). BUT WHY?!

Resolutions aren’t necessarily hard to make, but for many they can be extremely difficult to keep. StatisticsBrain.com also reported the number of individuals who failed at their resolution completely was 42.4%. This just shows us that what we resolve to do in the New Year is not as important as how we resolve to do it. So how do we make a resolution and actually stick to it?  Think of your New Year's Resolution as a goal. Then do some goal setting. Sounds simple enough, right?

My favorite goal setting method is creating SMART goals. SMART being an acronym for specific, measurable, attainable/achievable/action oriented/assignable (pick whichever "A" is most pertinent to your goal), relevant, and time-related. If you want to be fancy you can also try SMART(ER) goals which include Evaluation and Review. Here’s an idea of how to get started thinking about SMART goals and how to change your 2018 resolution to a goal you will be able to actualize.

Make your goal....

Specific: The beauty in goal setting, especially when using SMART goals, is the ability to be specific. This means being concrete in identifying not only the target but also the metrics you will use in the process. Stay away from creating vague, broad, overarching goals. This part of the process is about the details.

Measurable: Creating measurable goals makes it easier to visualize your progress. Remember those metrics we just spoke about? That’s your yard stick. Use it to measure how far away from your goal you are and more importantly how much progress you have made since you started. Measuring your progress makes it easier to consider changes you can make to get better results, or reconsider things that may be hindering your progress.

Attainable/Achievable: Conceptualizing how attainable a goal is may be a matter of subjective opinion; however, it goes without saying that it’s never a good idea to create a goal you don’t believe you can actually achieve. Remember these are your goals, so you can set the bar as high as you want. Just make sure the bar is still within your reach.

Action-oriented: Set goals that require concerted action. This means you not only have a clear objective in mind but you also have a plan towards how you will mobilize those actions.

Assignable: If you are setting goals that involve others, make sure that the roles towards achieving those goals are assignable. Goal setting towards a collective goal requires that the other people involved are aware of the goal and understand their responsibilities in the process.

Relevant: Ensure that the actions you are taking are relevant to the goals you have set. There’s nothing worse than self-sabotaging, which is what happens when the actions you choose are not congruent with the goals you would like to accomplish.

Time-related: Create deadlines! Not just for the overall goal but for the actions around that goal. This ensures that you are consistently checking in with yourself and assessing your progress.

Evaluation: Consistent evaluation of your goal to asses for not only progress but patterns helps to maintain momentum in following through with a goal. Momentum is important as it's easier to maintain momentum than it is to stop and then start over again.

Review: This is where you reflect on whether you have completed the goal or not. Consistent assessment is integral to your success. I also like to tell my clients that the R can and should also stand for reward as you should reward yourself along the way. Particularly when you have little wins towards your greater goal.

Making a lasting change in your life is a daunting process and is difficult for most, but it can be done. New Years can be a great time to begin implementing changes in your life as well as setting new goals and more importantly accomplishing them. It doesn’t have to be hard, you just have to be a little SMARTER about it.

References:
https://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/
https://www.projectsmart.co.uk/brief-history-of-smart-goals.php

Dorette Greene is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy.  If you are looking for support in making and reaching your goals,  visit cobbpsychotherapy.com to learn how therapy might be able to help. 

Emerging Leader Award From NASW

We are excited to announce that our founder and lead therapist, Elizabeth Cobb, has been awarded the Emerging Leader Award from the National Association of Social Workers New York City Chapter! 

Our founder: Elizabeth Cobb, LCSW at the 11th annual leadership awards dinner. 

Our founder: Elizabeth Cobb, LCSW at the 11th annual leadership awards dinner. 

 
THe NASW-NYC Leadership awards recognize "social workers who demonstrate exemplary leadership qualities and a unique commitment to the improvement of the social and human condition."

THe NASW-NYC Leadership awards recognize "social workers who demonstrate exemplary leadership qualities and a unique commitment to the improvement of the social and human condition."

Where There is Willingness, There is a Way

By Amy Brightman, LCSW

In the midst of the holiday season, there are many things that pull us in different directions—family time, holiday parties, travel, shopping—causing the holidays to bring up a lot of things we have to do rather than things we want to do. As a result, many clients express anxiety during the holidays and added pressure with the “I have to” statements, particularly when it comes to making New Year’s resolutions. So, how do we bring back that long-lost child-like sparkle during the holiday season? Sometimes a simple shift in our willingness can make all the difference with our motivation, enjoyment, and satisfaction.

Willingness is about being open to our demands without judgement or refusal. It is about changing our mindset and making a choice to participate. So, when you have to go to your Aunt Sally’s seven hour dinner, are you willing to go or are you doing it because Mom said you have to? When you make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, are you willing to diet and exercise or are you just saying it because you have to lose weight? It is worthwhile to check in with your willingness and to identify reasons why you’re choosing to participate. Try asking yourself these three simple questions:

  1. Why is this important?

  2. How will I enjoy this?

  3. What am I willing to do?

When something becomes your choice and you understand what it will entail, you become willing to do whatever it takes to do it. It’s about not focusing on what you think it will take from you, but rather what you’re willing to give it. So, yes, you are going to go to Aunt Sally’s and listen to Uncle Richard tell the same story about his cat, Felix, for the 50th time, but you will go because it’s important to you to see your cousins and family, you will enjoy eating good home-cooked food, and you are willing to put on a smile. Be in charge of your own experience and, from this, happiness will join you.

Amy Brightman is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support with prioritizing self-care, visit cobbpsychotherapy.com to learn more about how therapy can help.

Therapist Feature: Rosie Barton, LMSW

We are excited to welcome Rosie Barton, LMSW to the team! Learn more about Rosie below.

What initially inspired you to pursue a career as a therapist?

I was inspired to become a therapist during my junior year of college after having such a positive experience of support at my college counseling center. After one of my childhood best friends died suddenly in a car accident, I found that I wasn’t coping in a healthy or adaptive way. Luckily, I had a friend who noticed what was going on and she walked with me to set up my first appointment at the counseling center. I was nervous to start therapy, but it ended up being the catalyst to healing, growth, and my future career.

As a therapist, what are you most passionate about? 

I’m most passionate about forming a trusting and warm relationship with my clients so that we can work together to identify goals and directions for treatment. I want my clients to know that therapy isn’t something that “happens” to them, but rather it’s a dynamic, engaging process in which we collaborate to help them achieve more meaning in their lives—whatever that might look like.

What are your specialties and what drew you to them?

My specialties are eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and professional and relationship issues. I’m drawn to these issues in particular because I’ve experienced the way that societal influences, our history, and negative thought patterns can come together and limit our quality of life. And I’ve also experienced the way that these limiting beliefs can be challenged and overcome. I believe that life is full of richness once we are able to relinquish the patterns that aren’t serving us, such as coping through isolation, perfectionism, or managing food and body shape.

What makes you unique as a therapist?

When I first started therapy, I imagined that my therapist never had any problems or struggles because she seemed so wise. What I’ve realized since then is that as human beings, we all struggle and feel shame over some aspect of our lives. That’s what makes this profession such a gift. In our current age of social media and constant stimulation from technology, it’s easy for us to feel isolated with thoughts of guilt, self-doubt, worthlessness, or hopelessness. I want to help my clients feel less alone in that experience. My warmth and acceptance helps others feel more comfortable and ready to take on challenges in therapy, no matter how daunting they may seem at first.

How would you describe your therapeutic approach?

My therapeutic approach is collaborative and active. I aim to understand what my client is looking for in therapy so that we can identify concrete steps to take toward his or her goals. My therapy combines teaching skills, such as cognitive behavioral techniques to reframe thoughts, as well as psychodynamic work, in which we explore the client’s history and the experiences that influence current ways of relating and functioning in the world. I don't believe that therapy should be manualized and I invite my clients to play an active role in making treatment decisions.

Everyone needs self-care. How do you practice self-care?

For me, I feel most connected to myself and the world when I’m near the water. I try to take a walk out to the East River as often as possible, even if that means bundling up in the winter. I also enjoy activities that ground me in my life, such as cooking while playing music, checking out a new book at the library, or writing at my favorite coffee shop.

What is your favorite...

Quote:I love the poem Wild Geese by Mary Oliver, but especially the beginning lines:
“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
Love what it loves.”

Book: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Movie: The little girl in me could probably watch Matilda every day of my life.  

What is one thing that is important for anyone to know? 

The first step towards healing is self-compassion, no matter what you’re going through. Learning to be gentle and forgiving with yourself isn’t easy work. Often times our thought patterns and beliefs are so deeply engrained that it takes a long time and great effort to change. It can be discouraging at first to continue to struggle with old habits, which is why it’s crucial to be self-compassionate in that process. 

Rosie Barton is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. To schedule an appointment with her or learn more about how therapy can support you in reaching your goals, contact Cobb Psychotherapy.

Are You Avoiding Happiness?

By Vanessa Kensing, LMSW

Why do people avoid things that make them happy? For a long time I knew that things like exercise, mediation, going to therapy, eating healthy, etc., all lead to a more happy, balanced, and healthy life. However, engaging in those activities was met with a lot of mental resistance, which meant making them routine was that much harder. While I am far from having a perfectly balanced life, I have made some pretty significant changes in the past five years. Looking back, there were a few things that I realize were keeping me from making those changes earlier and faster, and they might be holding you back too.

  1. Change is scary! 
    You don’t have to have an anxiety disorder to fear the unknown. Our brain is programmed to experience uncertainty about new stimuli, this is both adaptive and protective. However, when in excess or not moderated, it can reinforce unhelpful narratives about how scary the new thing might be, and keep us from engaging. 

    To help yourself manage this, awareness is key. Say you want to try a new yoga class but you haven’t yet. Begin to explore some of the thoughts around signing up: perhaps you are worried because you’ve never done yoga, or don’t know what the instructor may be like, or worry you won’t be very good. Once you’ve identified the fears, you can normalize them. Tell yourself that it’s “ok” to be nervous about something new, but that you won’t let that keep you from trying. Our inner voice can be our cheerleader or critic, you get to choose!
     
  2. Change is hard!
    Our brains are also wired to go the path of least resistance. So if we have a habit or established routine it’s hard to break! Therefore doing something new or different takes a lot of mental energy before we ever actually engage!

    One of the ways we can increase motivation is by facing the discrepancy between what we want and what we are doing. For example, if you want to have more moments of peace and happiness, but spend your 45 minute commute listening to a podcast about stressful national news, you might find misalignment! That doesn’t mean you have to give up listening to the news, but you may have to add something else (say a meditation or breathing exercise) to your morning commute.
     
  3. Worthiness
    Sometimes our failure to engage in self-care comes from a more subconscious barrier. While you might not hear your inner voice telling you that you aren’t worth a gym membership or shopping for more healthy foods, you may find that you’ve put it off several months in a row in lieu of “more important” things. Similarly, you may find that even when sick you feel like you need to go into work and can’t take a day off.

    The thought of putting ourselves first or taking care of ourselves may bring up painful untrue beliefs about personal selfishness or worthiness, however engaging in these acts often produce the inverse experience. When we treat our minds and body with respect and love, the feelings of loving kindness towards ourselves abounds.  
     
  4. Lack of Immediate Gratification
    If I get a headache I take a pain reliever. But eliciting happiness isn’t nearly as easy as that one to one correlation. In fact, things like meditation and yoga don’t often induce happiness immediately and instead slowly change your mind and body for the better. This lack of immediate gratification can be very difficult.

    Therefore tracking your engagement and mood over time will help you see the long term benefit and reward. Also, learning skills that help you self-soothe when you have gotten emotionally flooded and overwhelmed can be of benefit.

While each of these aspects may be contributing to your avoidance, all can be addressed more thoroughly in therapy. Some of the interventions described above are related to therapeutic techniques associated with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing (MI), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). Working with your therapist can help you overcome avoidance to your own peace and happiness.

Vanessa Kensing is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support with prioritizing self-care and reaching your goals, visit cobbpsychotherapy.com to learn more about how therapy can help.

How to Improve Your Holiday Season (Even if You're Not in the Holiday Spirit)

By Erica Cramer, LMSW

The holidays mean different things to different people.  For some, it is a time of luxury gifts and exotic vacations.  For others, it is a time of loneliness and despair.  When you feel depressed, it’s hard to enjoy the holidays as much as a Hallmark card would want. Here are simple ways to improve your holiday season even if you are not in the holiday spirit:

Be grateful.  Everyone has a few things in their life that for which they are grateful. Write them down and put them in a place that you look at every day.  When you are feeling sad and as though nothing in your life is going right, look at that list and think of what you are going to add to it in the upcoming year.

Make resolutions.  Reflect on the previous year.  Examine what went well and what did not go so well.  Think of what made you happy and not so happy.  Think of what you would like to do more of and what you would like to do less of.  Based upon your analysis, make resolutions to improve your life in whatever ways you feel necessary.  The more realistic your resolutions are the better.  

Extend yourself.  You would be surprised by how many people don’t have places to go during the holidays.  Extend yourself to others during this joyous season.  Invite someone who is going to be alone to celebrate with you or smile at a stranger on the street.  Regardless of how small or large the gesture, it may make a big difference in someone’s life and could help improve the quality of their holiday.

Identify triggers.  For some people the holidays are an extremely difficult time.  It may be a time when you think about the family you wish you had or the lack of progress you have made over the past year.  Think about occurrences, dates, or people that bring up difficult feelings and prepare to handle these challenges to the best of your ability ahead of time.

 Maintain boundaries.  The holiday time can be an exciting time and people can lose sight of what is in their best interest the rest of the year.  How much money you spend on gifts can be one way your boundaries can be tested during the holiday season.  Just because it is the holidays does not mean your bank account must suffer.  Make decisions that are right for you.  After all, the most important thing is that a gift is thoughtful.  

Erica Cramer is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you want support preparing for the holidays or prioritizing self-care, visit cobbpsychotherapy.com to see how therapy can help.

How to Talk to Your Children About Tragedies and Other Bad News

By Alisha Bennett, LMSW

There has been no shortage of bad news over the last few months, particularly since the school year has started. From Las Vegas to Texas to nearby in Tribeca for us New Yorkers. And in recent weeks it seems like there have been more sexual assault charges and allegations making the news than ever before. The constant headlines with the 24 hour news cycle have been pretty overwhelming.  With our own difficulties as adults with this information, how do parents talk to children about tragedies and other bad news? 

My first response is to begin by simplifying what you know. Our younger children do not have the same repertoire of knowledge that we as adults do. Even if you told them every detail of every situation, they may be unable to process and understand it because they do not have the background knowledge, education, or experiences that we do. Sometimes our own anxiety about a tragedy can transfer to how we think that we should answer our children’s questions, but it does not have to be as complicated as it feels. Below are some quick tips for talking to your children.. For more detailed information, please see the guide from the Child Mind Institute (link may require an email address submission). 

  • Ensure safety for your children. Review all of the ways that they are safe and protected in their home and all of the different places you go. 
     
  • Validate any and all of their feelings, while reassuring safety, protection, and comfort from you as their caregivers.  
     
  • Stay calm when you have conversations with them, even if you as the adult are scared or anxious. They need to know that you are a source of comfort and protection and that they can come to you with anything that they need. 
     
  • Really try to listen to what they are saying and asking. As adults, we may make assumptions about their questions based on what we know. Don’t overwhelm them with information that they didn’t ask for or don't need to know. Use open ended questions if to get more information about what they’re actually asking. 
     
  • Limit how much your child is watching the news or has access to the news. As mentioned before, they don’t have the same capacity as adults do to understand this information which can make events even scarier for them. 
     
  • Take the opportunities to educate and inform your child, and support them in developing problem solving strategies and positive ways to cope. Ex: educate about safe and unsafe touch and what to do if they’re ever in a situation that involves unsafe touch.
     
  • Do not feel that you have to provide detailed answers to all of their questions. It’s okay to say that you don’t know why certain things happen. 
     
  • Assure them of how rare particular tragedies are and that they do not happen very often like in the case of mass shootings and terrorist attacks in the US.

Alisha Bennett is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy.  If you our your child are looking for support visit cobbpsychotherapy.com and learn how therapy can help. 

The Importance of Connection

By Cherise White, LMSW

As both winter and the holiday season approach, it's common to see an increase in people connecting with family and others. It's also common for people to feel lonely, isolated, and become psychologically impacted by the weather and time changes. Baumeister and Leary (1995) underline how little to no social connection can be linked to poor physical and psychological health. This lack of social connection can increase one’s susceptibility to disease and death more than smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, and lack of physical activity. Further, poor social connection has been found to increase anxiety depression, antisocial behavior, and even suicidal behaviors.

On the other hand, having strong social connections is found to yield 50% increase in life longevity (Holt-Lunstad, Smith, Layton, 2010). Other benefits of social connection include strengthened immune system, lower rates of anxiety and depression, and increased recovery time from diseases (Pressman et al., n. d.). Therefore, social connection results in a positive cycle of promoting increased emotional, physical, and psychological health (Seppala, 2012). 

Do you want to improve your social life but struggle to think of how or where to start? Here are some ways to connect to others:

Connect through Exploration

  • Visit your neighborhood shops and build rapport
  • Volunteer at schools, shelters, nursing homes, animal shelters

Connect with your Current Network

  • Speak to your neighbors
  • Reach out to old friends you haven’t spoken to in a while
  • Visit old cities, friends, and places that you previously enjoyed
  • Call, visit, or facetime family 

Connect through Technology

  • Apps where you can find friends or activities going on near you: (Bumble BFF, Meet my dog, Meet up, Nextdoor, Peanut (for mothers), Skout, Nearify, MeetMe)
  • Google events happening in your city this week
  • Find online communities

Connect through Groups

  • Look for college alumni groups
  • Church and religious groups
  • Professional organizations
  • Support groups 

Connect through Approachability

  • In big cities, during transit try not having in earphones so you are more approachable
  • If in college, sit beside someone new or change up were you sit 

“We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don't function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.” -Brene Brown

Overall, it's not unhealthy to have alone time but it is beneficial to find a balance. 

References:

Cherise White is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support in exploring strategies for increasing social connection, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.

The Key to Happy Holidays: 3 Tips to Minimize Holiday Stress

By Allie Lewin, LMSW

With thanksgiving right around the corner, our focus begins to shift from the back to school mentality of fall to the effervescent holiday season that is winter. While the holidays are associated with gratitude and love, for many people they tend to bring out stress and anxiety. Even those who love the holidays are likely to find themselves feeling uneasy at times due to the sheer number or commitments and expectations involved this time of year. Here are three tips to minimize holiday stress and help make the most of this holiday season: 

Self Care

My first tip to staying sane during the holiday season is to make sure you are taking time for yourself, no matter who is around or what you think you need to be doing to make the holiday events run smoothly. When guests are in town, people often succumb to an implicit rule disabling them from leaving the house or spending time alone, fearing doing so will offend someone or will seem ungrateful.  If this belief resonates with you, remind yourself of what happens when you give up all of your freedom. You are likely to start feeling antsy, irritable, and even resentful as you labor away in the kitchen or sit around engaging in never-ending small talk.  No matter what is going on in the house, you owe it to yourself to recharge, whether that means going to the gym or for a walk, nestling in a quiet nook to read, or even meeting up with a friend for coffee to escape the family chaos.  If you can take some time for yourself to stay grounded, you will find yourself being more grateful and pleasant to the people around you, guaranteeing a more positive experience for all!

Stick with Routine

With so much going on during this time of year, it’s important now more than ever to feel mentally and physically healthy in order to truly enjoy the holidays.  Despite the craziness, try your best to stick to your normal routine, ensuring you continue to exercise, get adequate sleep, and eat balanced meals when not taking part in the holiday feast. We are more vulnerable to experiencing negative emotions when we are tired, hungry, and don't prioritize taking care of our bodies.  As humans, we tend to engage in all-or-nothing thinking, which means the instance we break a rule or get off track with our routine we often say "screw it," and give up completely on our intention. Missing a day or two of exercise and getting to bed late on occasion happens, but avoid falling into the trap of ditching your routine completely. 

Set Realistic Expectations

When we think of the holidays, we often fantasize about what they will look like based on earlier positive memories, and then feel let down when those expectations don’t line up with reality. Or we fear drama and conflict, which causes anticipatory anxiety. Remember, life and people are complex and barely anything ends up being as we imagine it will be.  One way to set realistic expectations is to ask yourself, “What’s the best case scenario?” and “What are the chances of this occurring (0-100%)?”  Next, ask yourself, “What’s the worst case scenario?” and rate that probability. Finally, ask yourself, “What’s most likely to occur?” again rating the probability.  Often our minds jump right to the extremes, when in reality, the extremes rarely occur. By engaging in all three scenarios you are forcing your brain to form an assessment based on what’s actually likely to occur (typically somewhere between worst case and best case scenario), as opposed to what your imagination will trick you into believing.  If you can ask yourself what the holidays realistically will look like, and then embrace change along the way, you are setting yourself up to be pleasantly surprised as opposed to let down when plans change and something goes wrong. 

Taking time for self-care, trying your best stick with routine, and setting realistic expectations all play a vital role in maximizing holiday enjoyment. While these tips do not encompass solutions to all stressful situations, hopefully they can serve as springboard for starting the season off right. Happy holidays everyone!

Allie Lewin is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you want support preparing for the holidays or prioritizing self-care, visit cobbpsychotherapy.com to see how therapy can help.

How to Thrive During Thanksgiving When in Recovery From an Eating Disorder

By Salina Grilli, LMSW 

In an ideal world, the holiday season would be filled with nothing but joy, love, and happiness. The reality, however, is that this ‘joyful’ time of year is often filled with stress, disappointment, and sadness. Family issues, social commitments, and financial worries are just a few examples of potential stressors that can pop up around the holiday season. 

For individuals in recovery from an eating disorder, the holiday season can be especially stressful. The central role that food plays in celebrations can exacerbate anxiety and obsessive thoughts around eating. Learning to cope effectively with holiday stress can help to reduce eating disordered thoughts and behaviors.  

Here are some tips to help navigate the holiday season while in recovery from an eating disorder: 

  1. Plan Ahead. 
    Having a plan can help buffer against the eating disordered thoughts that often swirl during family and social gatherings, many of which are centered on food. Create a structured meal plan with your nutritionist or therapist. If you have a meal plan for Thanksgiving, there will be less room for your eating disorder voice to creep in and try to convince you use an eating disorder behavior.     

    Another way to plan ahead is to create a list of eating disorders thoughts that might pop up over the holidays. Next, enlist the help of your therapist to challenge or reframe each disordered thought.
     
  2. Identify Triggers.
    Make a list of anticipated holiday triggers and ways to cope. For example, that Great Aunt who, without fail, always seems comment on your appearance, body size, or food? Come up with a polite response to steer the conversation away from triggering topics.  You can even enlist the help of a family member who can provide support in those moments and help advocate.  
     
  3. Tap into your Support System.
    In eating disorder recovery, the focus often gets shifted onto food, and thus, away from the true joy of the holiday season. The holidays are a perfect time to shift your attention to what matters—relationships and moments that make life truly meaningful.  Focus on giving thanks for the support system you do have in your life.  
     
  4. Self-Care
    Amp up your self-care routine to cope ahead with holiday stress. Self-care can look different for different people. This may mean getting enough sleep, eating properly, and scheduling in relaxation time to wind down. 

Above all, practice self-compassion. Life is imperfect, and so are you. If you slip up, the best course of action is to make the next healthy decision.

Salina Grilli is therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support with disordered eating or body image struggles, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help. 

How Pets Can Help Reduce Your Stress

By Heather Matzkowitz, LMSW

When I walk into my apartment after a long day and see my dog running towards me all I can think about is how happy I feel. I have always been an animal lover and can speak to the profound health benefits of being around them.  

Studies have shown that being with an animal can increase the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and decrease production of the stress hormone cortisol. This makes sense, right? As you know, pets provide us with the unconditional love that makes us feel at ease. This can help people who are experiencing depression or anxiety. Research shows that pet owners recover faster from serious health conditions, experience less illness, and tend to be more content as opposed to those who do not have a pet.

So what type of pet should we get/play with in order to reap these benefits? The answer is any type your heart desires. Even fish are proven to help with calming the nervous system. Aquarium therapy has been used to calm children with hyperactivity disorder and is also used to help anxious dental patients feel more at ease. 

So how exactly does having a pet help with your mental health? Here are some ways: 

  • Activity: We all know the numerous benefits of exercise for both physical and mental health, but sometimes it can feel difficult to get motivated. With an animal (such as a dog) that needs to be walked, you are obligated to get up and walk them. 
     
  • Physical Touch: Physical touch can be very therapeutic. Contact with animals has been found to have a soothing effect on people. Petting an animal can lower your heart rate and blood pressure and help you feel at ease. 
     
  • Socialization: Connecting with others helps us to feel happier. Loneliness is a known stressor, and stress can depress our immune system. When an isolated person obtains a pet, for instance a dog, they suddenly have a reason to go on a walk. They start talking to the people they meet on the street. When we are feeling down or anxious, it can be difficult to push ourselves to socialize. Having a pet makes it easier to get out and talk with other people. 
     
  • Companionship: We all crave companionship. Having a pet provides you with a constant source of healthy social stimulation. People with pet companions experience less loneliness and isolation, which is especially beneficial for those experiencing depression. Even if the companion is cat, bird or fish, the person is no longer alone, and the quality of their life can take a significant turn for the better. 
     
  • Sense of Purpose: Having an animal can raise your overall spirit. Connection with your animal can give you a sense of purpose because they depend on you. This sense of dependency can help you to feel needed and create a sense of self-efficacy, which translates into other areas of your life. 

Getting a pet may not be for everybody, and it is important to remember that each person is different. Simply going to a shelter or a friends house to play with an animal can be equally beneficial for your health. 

Heather Matzkowitz is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support in learning strategies for coping with anxiety or depression contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.

Tracking Your Needs

By Sarah Spitz, LMSW

How many of us take the time to check in with ourselves through out the day? We jump from obligation to obligation, filling up every last minute of our day with work, socializing, etc. Despite intentions to "to do more self-care," it seems that it is often the first thing to be sacrificed from our priorities. 

In my last blog post I wrote about Functional Action,  one of the main principles from a program called Eat Breathe Thrive, which is dedicated to supporting individuals who would like to overcome food and body image challenges. In this post I would like to explore another component of the program called “tracking of needs,” or cultivating a deeper awareness of what your body is communicating to you.

In every session of the 6 week program the facilitator leads the group through a “Tracking of Needs” meditation in which participants are invited to check in with themselves. They have a free app that includes the audio for the meditation, but it is also possible to adapt it as a quick check-in to do with yourself through out the day. You begin by placing one hand above your belly button, one hand below, and beginning to breathe deep belly breaths.

Then you check in on the following: 

  1. Sensations: What do you feel physically in your body?
    Example: tightness, pain, numbness, hollowness, butterflies, etc
  2. Needs: What are these sensations telling you about what you need in this moment?
    Example: hollowness = hunger, butterflies = anxiety, etc
  3. Reactions: What judgements arise from the sensations and needs?
    Example: "You already ate lunch, you shouldn't be hungry already!" 
  4. Actions:  What steps can you take to honor the needs that your body has communicated?
    Example: My body is telling me that I am hungry so I am going to have a snack

While there are 4 steps listed above, it is okay to begin with only part of the check-in. Placing your hands on your stomach and taking one belly breath may be enough the first time. This action may bring up various thoughts and feelings that may be uncomfortable. In these moments it is important to have self-compassion. Remember, mindfulness is an ongoing practice, and it is normal to have your mind wander or to experience resistance. If you are looking to develop a mindfulness practice and work on your relationship with food and your body, therapy can be a great place to start. 

Sarah Spitz is therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support with disordered eating or body image struggles, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help. 

Attending to Cultural Competency in Therapy

By Nadine Burgos, LMSW

Therapists strive to create both a trusting relationship and a comfortable environment with all their clients. Today, clients seeking therapy come from an array of backgrounds, requiring therapists to know and understand the various ways culture impacts the therapeutic relationship.  Cultural competence is defined by: The capacity to increase one’s understanding and knowledge of cultural differences, the ability to acknowledge cultural assumptions and biases, and the willingness to make changes in thoughts and behaviors to address those biases.

Culturally competent therapists must reach within and explore their own capabilities as clinicians. They must explore their own identities and attitudes towards working with different groups, including the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, and Queer) communities to prevent skewed counter-transferential views from adversely affecting therapeutic outcomes. Therapists often reflect on their own cultural identity and self-awareness with the understanding that these are the necessary ingredients needed for one to be a culturally competent therapist. 

Cultural competence is an ongoing process of examination and change, not a goal to be attained once. Culturally competent clinicians contemplate on an ongoing basis what life is like for people different from themselves. They embody inquisitive and open-minded attitudes toward other cultures and how other aspects of diversity play into the therapeutic process. While culturally competent clinicians account for clients’ varying cultural identities they must also be sensitive to diversity without simultaneously stereotyping. It is unreasonable to expect that textbooks, articles, or videos will tell us all (or a majority) of what we need to know.  It is imperative that therapists understand the nuances of cultural diversity, on issues of power, privilege, and marginalization and the impact of these constructs on the experiences of clients from diverse backgrounds. 

 Since cultural self-awareness is difficult to foster and evaluate, clinicians must strive to create a safe space for clients to openly share and explore their cultural similarities and differences. Therapists may also come to realize that not all individuals will benefit from a particular model of therapy due to cultural factors.  Since cultural self-awareness is difficult to foster and evaluate, the clinician must strive to create a safe space for clients.  Two integral parts of a multicultural competent clinician include humility and critical thinking. One must be humble enough to identify one’s own skills and challenges without bias, as well as be able to challenge one’s own assumptions. By appreciating a client's culture, therapists can tap into the most effective treatment strategies—those based on the personal and social strengths of each individual.

Nadine Burgos is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like more information on culturally competent practice contact Cobb Psychotherapy.