Strategies for Dealing with Social Anxiety

Strategies for Dealing with Social Anxiety

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Identity Counseling Psychology is a counseling and psychotherapy practice in Ann Arbor, MI that treats a variety of mental health concerns in children, teens and adults. Our team of therapists specializes in counseling for anxiety disorders including social anxiety. To learn more about our services or how therapy can help you or a loved one who’s struggling with social anxiety, contact us today. To find out more about our licensed clinicians and their specialty areas, check out our team page

What Is Social Anxiety?

It’s normal to feel nervous in certain social or performance situations, like how going on a first date or giving a presentation may cause butterflies in your stomach. It’s also normal to at least sometimes worry a bit too much about what others think of you. So what sets Social Anxiety Disorder, also known as Social Phobia, apart from typical nervousness? 

In social anxiety disorder, anxiety is severe and persistent, and everyday interactions cause significant feelings of fear, embarrassment and self-consciousness. Social anxiety disorder is characterized by avoidance of social and performance situations where a person might be judged, criticized or rejected, and it can be so serious that it interferes with daily routines, work, school, and important relationships.

People with social anxiety almost always experience physical symptoms, and worry about appearing visibly anxious when their anxiety is triggered. These physical symptoms might include things like blushing, stumbling over words, sweating, or rapid heart-rate, and can develop into a full-blown panic attack. People dealing with social anxiety usually know that their reactions are unreasonable, and want to control them so that they can be more social, but feel powerless against their anxiety.

Common situations that can trigger social anxiety might include:

  • Going on dates
  • Job interviews
  • Parties
  • Public speaking
  • Business meetings
  • Reading aloud in class
  • Meeting with an authority figure
  • Being the center of attention

What Are the Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder?

It’s important to note that everybody is different and it’s normal for comfort levels in social situations to vary depending on factors like personality and life experience. Some people are naturally more reserved and shy, especially during childhood, and this isn’t necessarily a sign of social anxiety disorder or that a child will one day develop social anxiety. On the other hand, some people are naturally more outgoing and extroverted, and these people can have social anxiety too.

Behavioral Symptoms

People with social anxiety disorder tend to have lower self-esteem and put a lot of energy into avoiding their triggers. As a result, social anxiety commonly manifests in the following behaviors:

  • Apologizing often
  • Avoiding situations where you  might be the center of attention
  • Avoiding smiling at people or making eye contact 
  • Finding excuses to leave a situation, like going to the bathroom 
  • Keeping conversations focused toward others rather than yourself
  • Leaving social situations abruptly
  • Mentally checking out of situations, or daydreaming
  • Not contributing or saying very little in conversations
  • Seeking frequent reassurance from others
  • Spending excessive amounts of time preparing for social situations
  • Trying to blend in or not draw attention to yourself
  • Using alcohol to cope in social situations 

Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms can, and often do, accompany social anxiety. These might include:

  • Blushing
  • Dizziness
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Feeling that your mind has gone blank
  • Lightheadedness 
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Shaky voice
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Upset stomach

How Does Social Anxiety Affect You? 

Social anxiety disorder, when left untreated, can significantly impact your life. Social anxiety symptoms tend to be very disruptive and can interfere with daily routines, performance at work or school, and interpersonal relationships. Social anxiety also has negative mental health consequences, as people with the disorder are at an increased risk for developing clinical depression and substance use disorders.

Harmful effects of social anxiety can include:


Self-Help Strategies for Dealing with Social Anxiety

Although social anxiety disorder generally requires help from a mental health professional like a therapist or counselor, there are some strategies that you can employ on your own to reduce symptoms, improve coping abilities, and overcome personal hurdles. Treatment isn’t always available or affordable, and if you or someone you love is struggling with social anxiety, we recommend the following self-help strategies to deal with social anxiety disorder in a healthy and effective way. 

Ask for Help with Getting Help

Sometimes, having social anxiety can make it especially difficult to seek professional help. Reaching out to strangers can be very tough for someone with social anxiety, but there are ways around this. Fear shouldn’t stop you from getting the help that you deserve for your mental health needs. If your social anxiety is keeping you from starting counseling, we recommend:

  • Asking a supportive family member or friend to contact a therapist or psychologist for you first. They can even help you set up your first appointment.
  • Writing an email to the mental health professional that you’d like to meet with instead of making a phone call. This tends to be easier for people with social anxiety. (At IDENTITY, we make it easy to write a quick online message to set up an appointment with any of our therapists through our contact page.)
  • Finding a therapist who practices online therapy. In recent years, more and more counseling practices offer online therapy. There are also apps and platforms to help you find exactly what you’re looking for in your online therapist. 

Self-Care

Self-care is always important when it comes to managing your mental health. There’s so much that you can do to care for your emotional and psychological well-being, but below we’ve narrowed down some of the best self-care strategies for social anxiety disorder in particular.  If you have social anxiety, consider making time for following self-care steps:

  • Join a local or online support group for people with social anxiety 
  • Get regular physical exercise in a way that you enjoy 
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine intake 
  • Create healthy sleeping habits
  • Read a book about social anxiety 
  • Practice mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing or yoga 
  • Volunteer in your community
  • Perform random acts of kindness for others
  • Make time for hobbies that help you relax

Practice Your Social Skills

Knowing that you’re prepared and have put in the work is always a good way to reduce anxiety. We recommend applying this mindset to your social life. Start by thinking about your recent social encounters. Try to Identify the social skills that could use the most improvement or that you most commonly avoid. Below are some strategies for practicing and developing your social and communication skills:

  • Assertiveness – Many people with social anxiety have low self-confidence and lack assertiveness when communicating with others. Learn to become more assertive by making a point to practice communicating your needs in a calm and relaxed way that respects the needs of others. Usually, this takes the form of “I” statements, like “I feel disrespected when you interrupt me in meetings.” 
  • Nonverbal communication – People with social anxiety often adopt a “closed-off” stance in social situations and are reluctant to make direct eye contact or start conversations with others. They usually do these things without even realizing it, and aren’t aware of how it may be received. Practice relaxed posture, eye contact, and holding your hands at your sides to help you appear more confident and approachable in social situations. 
  • Verbal communication – Learning how to converse well with others can be very beneficial in reducing social anxiety symptoms. Practice joining in group conversations by listening first and then making a comment about what’s already being discussed. For example, “Are you talking about the midterm exam? I couldn’t figure out the extra credit question either.” It’s also important to practice being a good listener, asking open-ended questions, and sharing stories about yourself.

Tell Others About Your Social Anxiety

Your close friends and family may already know or have an idea that you have social anxiety, but it can be therapeutic, cathartic, and helpful in everyday life to share with others about your condition. If someone is important to you, talking with them about your symptoms and experiences can help them gain a better understanding of what you’re going through, and in turn, build a deeper and stronger connection between the two of you. If you’re feeling nervous to tell a friend or loved one that you have social anxiety, try to arrange a time where you can sit down and talk quietly and uninterrupted. You can also make a list of bullet points that you feel are important; this will help you if you tend to freeze up or your mind goes blank when you’re feeling nervous. 

It can also be beneficial to talk to your employer about your social anxiety so that you can receive accommodations or support that you might need in the workplace.


How Can IDENTITY Help?

Social anxiety disorder is a chronic mental health condition, but it does respond well to treatment. Treatment from a mental health professional like a therapist, counselor, or  psychologist has been known to greatly reduce symptoms, improve confidence, and increase the quality of life for those with social anxiety.

Psychological counseling or psychotherapy, has proven to be very beneficial, and many forms of therapy are known to be effective. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most popular approach for social anxiety, as it works by helping patients identify and combat the incorrect and negative beliefs about themselves that actually worsen their social anxiety. In therapy, the clinician and the patient work together to help the patient improve their coping skills and develop stronger self-confidence, engaging in exercises like social skills training, role-playing, and exposure therapy. 

IDENTITY is a psychotherapy practice located in Ann Arbor, Michigan that specializes in treating social anxiety disorder. Our licensed therapists are experienced in helping patients overcome and cope with social anxiety, and are passionate about seeing clients achieve growth and accomplish their goals. If you’re in the Ann Arbor area and you or someone you love is dealing with social anxiety, contact us today to schedule an intake or learn more about our counseling services. 


Common Anxiety Issues in College Students

Common Anxiety Issues in College Students

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Anxiety is one of the most common mental health concerns facing college students today. While experiencing some anxiety during the numerous transitions involved in going away to college is undoubtedly normal, many college students in the United States report feeling overwhelming amounts of anxiety, which can be dangerous and unhealthy. 

Anxiety is characterized by the tendency to: 

  • Worry excessively
  • Feel afraid
  • Experience a sense of panic

There are many factors that can contribute to these feelings for college students nowadays, and major lifestyle changes alone, like going to college, are known to exacerbate the effects of a mental health condition. There are some specific issues that are especially widespread on college campuses right now that seem to be triggering and adding to this rise in anxiety among college students. Below, we discuss some of the most common anxiety issues that are facing college students today.

If you’re struggling with anxiety on campus, you may benefit from the help of a mental health professional. Please do not be afraid to seek help and talk to someone about what you’re going through. Almost all colleges and universities have some form of counseling available on campus to help students with mental health issues. Campus counseling centers can either help treat students or provide an appropriate referral.

Sleep Disruption

Sleep disruption and anxiety go hand in hand, and poor sleep is one of the biggest contributors to anxiety disorders among college students. There are many factors that can significantly impact sleep in college. Aside from things like cramming for exams and partying late at night, even simply living with a roommate for the first time can have negative effects on a student’s sleep cycle. 

The following are some common causes of sleep disruption in college students:

  • Worrying
  • Phone or laptop use before bed
  • Drinking excess caffeine
  • Inconsistent sleep schedule
  • Pulling all-nighters

Some tips for practicing better sleeping habits in college include setting a consistent bedtime and wake-up time each day, limiting caffeine in the evenings and alcohol in general, putting away all electronics an hour or two before bedtime, and avoiding spending time in your bed for activities other than sleep, such as studying. 

Financial Stress

It’s common knowledge that college is getting more and more expensive, but not everyone understands how significantly the financial burden of paying for college affects college students today. Most students leave college with extreme amounts of debt and only entry-level salaries, leaving them in a stressful situation for years after graduation. This predicament has become a source of dread and anxiety for many college students, so much so that the anxiety caused by this financial burden often overrides the happiness and pride that should be associated with graduating from college.

Financial stress is also a source of anxiety for students whose parents pay for college, as this puts an added pressure on them to do well, finish on time, and get a high-paying job. These students experience anxiety surrounding the looming fear that their parents “spent all this money on their education for nothing” or that their parents “wasted their money on them.” Relying on their parents to pay for college can also delay development of important life skills relating to emotional and financial independence for college students, leaving them unprepared and anxious for the “real world” that lies ahead. 

The financial stress associated with paying for college can also make it harder for college students to find the time and space in the budget for doing the things that make them happy. Seeing a movie, going out to eat with friends, joining a gym, these are all things that can help college students cope with or reduce anxiety, but they are hard to do for students who are on a strict budget due to the cost of college, or who have to spend their free time working at a job. 

Loneliness

Loneliness is a common problem for college students, especially for freshmen. One of the biggest sources of loneliness for college students comes from homesickness. Homesickness is defined by functional impairment or feelings of distress caused by an anticipated or actual separation from home and attachments, such as parents, siblings or pets. People who suffer from homesickness often experiences bouts of anxiety, sadness, worry and nervousness and can’t shake their preoccupation with thoughts of home and family. Homesickness is one of the leading causes of loneliness for students who are away at college, especially when they’re first adjusting to the change. 

Social media and technology can also contribute to loneliness in college students, in more ways than one. First of all, social media can get in the way of students, especially freshmen, developing strong relationships with their classmates. Texting and facetiming old friend groups from back home can take away from college students putting time and energy into meeting new people around them in the real world. It can be tempting to stay within the comfort zone of the friends that you grew up with, especially with the ease and instant gratification of social media and modern technology.  But, it’s important for college students to break old habits and branch out when adjusting to their new environment. And, for students coming into college with social anxiety disorder or generalized anxiety disorder already, Netflix, social media and online gaming can become comfortable escapes that hinder their chances of forming meaningful relationships with their peers in real life. 

Academic Pressure

Academic pressure is another major source of anxiety among college students. Academic pressure can lead to generalized anxiety disorder, perfectionism, and test anxiety. Perfectionism, which can also cause or worsen anxiety disorders, is increasingly common in today’s college students. Perfectionism is defined by the need to be or appear perfect in one or more aspects of life. 

Often students feel this pressure to be perfect from:

  • The competitive environment fostered on many college campuses 
  • Financial stress from scholarships or strict parents
  • Comparing themselves to their peers on social media 

Even though some people view perfectionism as a positive trait, especially when it comes to academics and education, it can actually lead to mental health disorders, like anxiety and obsessive behavior, that end up making it more difficult for students to achieve their goals. 

Test anxiety is another big mental health concern for college students that can stem from academic pressure. Test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety that can be caused by fear of failure. Colleges have become increasingly competitive, and the added pressure to be the best can lead to test anxiety in college students.

Test Anxiety can activate the body’s fight or flight response, causing symptoms like:

  • Sweaty palms
  • Nausea
  • Racing pulse 
  • Dread
  • Shaky voice
  • Knots in the stomach

These symptoms end up making it harder for students to succeed and achieve their goals, and for students with chronic test anxiety, therapy, as well as relaxation and mindfulness techniques can be very beneficial.

Social Media

Social Media has become one of the most common anxiety issues for today’s college students. Having constant access to a highlight reel of what their peers are doing can cause extreme anxiety and self-comparison among adolescents. Everyone shows their best selves on social media, so for students who are struggling academically, socially, or with their body image, comparing themselves and feeling lesser-than is inevitable when looking at the pictures and videos of peoples’ greatest, most showoffable experiences. There is also worry that comes along with seeing that you’re being excluded, or feeling like you’re not living life to the fullest or experiencing college to the extent that you should be based on what “everyone else” is doing. In these ways, anxiety and worry become compounded by social media use. 

For students who already have anxiety, the positive reinforcement of getting “likes” and instant feedback on social media can help put their minds at ease, but negative feedback, lack of feedback or comparison to others, all which are bound to occur on social media, can actually end up causing more anxiety. Students prone to anxiety can also feel anxious from being disconnected for too long when trying to stop using social media. Often, students tend to make the connection on their own that social media is exacerbating their anxiety, leading them to try to take breaks from or “quit” social media altogether. This, due to social media’s addictive nature, can lead to more feelings of fear and worry about being disconnected from the world. 

How Therapy Can Help

Identity Counseling Psychology is a counseling and psychotherapy practice in Ann Arbor, Michigan that specializes in working with college students and helping patients manage anxiety. Our licensed counselors are experienced in treating anxiety and are passionate about helping students navigate the college experience and cope with academic concerns. If you’re a student seeking counseling in the Ann Arbor area, contact us today for an intake. Our office is located in the heart of Ann Arbor, next to Bearclaw Coffee, where Washtenaw Ave and Stadium Blvd split. 


Clinician Interview – Meet Tim Wilkins!

Clinician Interview – Meet Tim Wilkins!

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Tim Wilkins, LPC

Interview with Tim Wilkins, LPC

Check out our interview with Ann Arbor counselor and owner of Identity Counseling Psychology, Tim Wilkins. Tim is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) practicing psychotherapy in Ann Arbor, MI.  Click here to schedule an intake with Tim.

What do you specialize in?

Mainly, I specialize in anxiety disorders and issues related to identity.  My passion is to help others learn to listen to their mind and body in a real way. Through cultivating this type of mindful awareness, I believe that we can access what needs to be accessed for real change to occur. People that I commonly see struggle with things like anxiety, panic attacks, life transitions, sexual or gender identity concerns, life crises, and spiritual issues.

What made you want to become a therapist?

Growing up, I always thought that financial security would greatly contribute to my happiness (I know…). However, like many things in life, once I achieved this, it only made me realize that this was mostly an illusion. Many fantasies are this way. We think fulfilling the fantasy will make us satisfied, so we pursue them relentlessly only to be left with disappointment or worse. This experience, along with a powerful experience as a summer camp counselor, ignited in me the desire to help people in a real and direct way. My own internal work around how I wanted to do this ultimately led me to the field of counseling.

What can clients expect when they first come to therapy? What is a typical therapy session like with you?

First and foremost, they can expect a space of non-judgement. The counseling room is different than the rest of life. It is a time and a space set apart from normal life in which clients can engage with themselves in an honest and genuine way. A typical session lasts just under an hour. Therapy is highly individualized based on clients’ needs, however, it generally will consist of a check in, a main topic for the session, a possible intervention (such as a mindful breathing exercise or a guided meditation), and a discussion about the plan going forward. I use evidence-based practices from psychodynamic and existential theoretical frameworks. It is important that therapy be grounded in theory yet have the flexibility to adapt to client needs each session. Clients will hopefully find my style to be warm, inviting, and empathic.


How have you seen therapy be helpful to your clients?

Therapy is often a drastic interruption to one’s habitual patterns. Cultivating a new level of self-awareness can often lead to a trying time. For this reason, many may have the experience of things getting harder at first. This is likely because real work is being done and clients are facing their struggles head on, maybe for the first time. The good news is that there is often light and air on the other side of the mountain. Therapy is about vulnerability on many levels, so engaging with it authentically will often lead to a new way of being in the world. It will hopefully awaken clients to their deeply rooted defense mechanisms, sub-personalities, fears and passions, and ultimately to their inner self. I believe this type of work is helpful and will hopefully lead to the type of change my clients are interested in, but it takes courage and is not easy.

What do you think are the most important considerations when looking for a therapist?

All the research suggests that regardless of the theoretical orientation or therapeutic style, the most important ingredient in the therapeutic process is the real relationship that occurs between the therapist and the client. Though there are professional boundaries, it is a relationship similar to other relationships. Clients may find that the issues they face in their relationships outside of therapy could often pop up in therapy between the client and the therapist through a process called transference. If this happens, it is a sign that we are truly getting somewhere helpful.

What do you hope your clients walk away with?

I hope my clients walk away with a deeper sense of self and self-awareness that they can integrate into their relationships and work in the world. If there is an acute presenting problem such as recurring panic attacks, I want my clients to walk away with tools to cope with their symptoms. However, more importantly, I want my clients to walk away with the ability and willingness to listen to their symptoms and to allow the symptoms to mobilize them toward genuine transformation.

Visit Tim’s profile to learn more about his counseling services or schedule an appointment.

Clinician Interview – Meet Ariana Thelen!

Clinician Interview – Meet Ariana Thelen!

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Ariana Thelen, LMSW

Interview with Ariana Thelen

Check out our interview with therapist, Ariana Thelen. Ariana practices at Identity Counseling Psychology PLLC in Ann Arbor, Michigan and is currently taking new clients.

What do you specialize in?

I specialize in older adults and their associated issues. This ranges from adults struggling with caregiving for an aging spouse or parent, cognitive changes, physical changes, dementia issues, to figuring out how to live well in times of grief and transition.

What made you want to become a therapist?

I always wanted to help people in some way, and when I went to college I majored in psychology and knew I wanted to focus on the wellbeing of people – how can I assist in people living well? The more I learned, the more I realized I wanted to reach people on a deeper level; more so than in a clinic, or in groups of people, or in classes. I wanted to talk one on one or in small groups and reach people on a deep level.

What can clients expect when they first come to therapy? What is a typical therapy session like with you?

For my first session, I like to focus on background and who have you been up to this point of coming to therapy. Basically – what makes you who you are, what brings you into therapy, your primary concerns. I like to go all the way back and start off in childhood, and discuss relationships with siblings and parents, and how those relationships evolved through school, marriage, having your own kids, etc. I may ask what stressors you’ve experienced as you’ve gone through life so far and what strengths you’ve found about yourself. Your personal history, relationships, etc. are very informative on what you can work on in therapy. A good base from the first session can cause subsequent sessions to focus on the ‘now’ and can pull from that base.

How have you seen therapy benefit our clients?

I really like to see when my clients have lightbulb moments or ‘aha’ moments themselves. The therapist is really there to help in self discovery or self understanding. It’s not the therapist’s job to say, “This is what you need to do.” It’s best when a client comes to me and says, “Between sessions I was able to see this point and it helped me to understand that maybe I need to change my attitude for this particular thing,” or “I was able to notice this thing from our last session and I wasn’t able to do anything about it,” at least they’ve realized something and applied what they’ve been learning.

What do you think are the most important considerations when looking for a therapist?

It ultimately has to be the right fit and feel. It can be hard to know if a therapist is a good fit for you or not if you are just judging it by what you see on paper. You need to find a therapist that reports working with the specialties you are seeking assistance with or interest in the topics you plan on discussing, and give it a minimum of two chances, or better yet, three if you can. After three sessions you should know if your therapist is a good fit for you or not.

What do you hope your clients walk away with?

I hope my clients walk away with the feeling of being less burdened. So many people I see, whether it be depression, anxiety, transition, or grief, have so much on their shoulders and you can really see that they feel that weight. My goal, as a therapist, is to work with the client to find ways to make that weight less heavy. If they have tools to help manage their stress and handle things better, the weight can get a little lighter.

Visit Ariana’s profile to learn more about her, or to schedule an intake today.

Clinician Interview – Meet Lauren Proux!

Clinician Interview – Meet Lauren Proux!

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Lauren Proux, LMSW

Interview with Lauren Proux

Check out our interview with therapist, Lauren Proux. Lauren practices at Identity Counseling Psychology PLLC in Ann Arbor, Michigan and is currently taking new clients.

What do you specialize in?

I focused my graduate studies and subsequent clinical training on bereavement. Talking about grief often opens doors to other areas of concern, so I have additional expertise working with issues connected to a client’s family-of-origin and relationships (romantic and peer). I further specialize in a range of anxiety and depression disorders.

What made you want to become a therapist?

I initially attended college and studied psychology in order to become a therapist. My life took a left turn and I followed another love of mine: writing. After completing my graduate degree in creative writing, I taught college writing courses. Students often shared with me their personal issues. I had to maintain boundaries in my role as their instructor, but I wished we could talk more and work toward resolving their concerns. After taking time for my own introspection, I decided to return to my roots and pursue that path.

What can clients expect when they first come to therapy? What is a typical therapy session like with you?

In our initial session, I will ask a lot of questions about their background and what prompted them to start treatment. It is important that clients are honest and forthcoming from the beginning, but I understand how it might be difficult for them to share these details. I do my best to gauge the client’s comfort level and go from there.

In subsequent sessions, I ask more open-ended questions and expect that the client will do most of the talking. My therapeutic approach encourages and prompts deep exploration. By the time I am sitting across from someone, they have had decades of lived experiences that I want to learn about and extract understanding. From there, we will work together in challenging destructive patterns, learning skills to tolerate distress, and reaching a place of acceptance.

How have you seen therapy benefit your clients?

Early in my career I was surprised when clients said how much better they felt after the initial session when I’ve done little more than ask questions and encourage them to share. It made me realize how much comfort exists in simply being heard. Therapy provides a safe space for clients to talk without fear of judgment and practice new ways of thinking about themselves and others. As a result, I’ve seen my clients develop a deeper understanding of themselves, inner calm, and confidence.

What do you think are the most important considerations when looking for a therapist?

First, research has shown that the relationship a client creates with their therapist plays a large role in the client achieving their desired outcomes. This relationship is developed over time by establishing trust and working toward agreed-upon goals. I would encourage clients new to therapy to have at least a few sessions before deciding to try someone else.  

Secondly, it is important to work with a therapist skilled in the client’s specific area of concern. All therapists receive similar training, but some have expertise based on additional training and experience. For example, I specialize in grief and have worked extensively with college students. Therapists with additional knowledge about a client’s concern will provide more targeted tasks and goals.

What do you hope your clients walk away with?

The first goal in therapy is to reduce distress, so I hope my clients learn skills that will increase their resiliency. Depending on the length of time I work with a client, we will either start the initial steps or walk far down the path of self-discovery. Regardless of the time we spend together, I hope that my clients develop a deeper understanding of themselves and continue to value self-reflection. Finally, I hope my clients walk away with motivation to continue nurturing their own emotional well-being. It can be difficult to prioritize our mental health, but I want my clients to know they are worth the time and energy it takes to live happy, fulfilled lives.

Visit Lauren’s profile to learn more about her, or to schedule an intake today.

Clinician Interview – Meet Nicole Frasier!

Clinician Interview – Meet Nicole Frasier!

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Nicole Frasier, LLP

Interview with Nicole Frasier

Check out our interview with therapist, Nicole Frasier, LLP. Nicole practices at Identity Counseling Psychology PLLC in Ann Arbor, Michigan and specializes in therapy for women and women-specific issues, such as infertility, relationships, life transitions, and endometriosis. She is experienced in treating a variety of mental health concerns, providing counseling for anxiety and depression.

What do you specialize in?

I specialize in the treatment of anxiety and depression, improving relationships, women’s issues, and greater self-fulfillment for adolescents and adults.

What made you want to become a therapist?

From very early on, I have been drawn to all things psychology. I always knew I wanted to be in a profession of helping people. In college, I had two incredible professors that opened my eyes to the world of psychology as a career. From then, I was set on making this my path. I absolutely love what I do!

What can clients expect when they first come to therapy? What is a typical session like with you?

This is a great question and one I imagine many people have when thinking of starting therapy… When clients come to therapy with me, I strive to provide a comfortable and safe space to explore all thoughts and feelings. I aim to be as authentic and down-to-earth as possible. A typical session with me is filled with empathic listening, attentiveness to detail, and some humor when appropriate.

How have you seen therapy benefit your clients?

I’ve seen therapy be helpful in a multitude of ways. Feeling heard and understood are two important things we need in life. This is what I strive to provide in therapy. Having this unique relationship allows clients to get in touch with their true needs and wants in all relationships, including the relationship with themselves, while gaining the self-esteem, confidence, and understanding of innate worth to pursue those needs, leading to a healthier, more fulfilled life.

What do you think are the most important considerations when looking for a therapist?

I’m a believer that we all give off “vibes” and energy. With this being said, I think it’s really important that the client feel at ease with the therapist. If you don’t have a solid connection with your therapist, the disconnect would inhibit you from exploring all your thoughts and feelings, leading to less forward movements in treatment.

What do you hope your clients walk away with?

I hope my clients walk away with a better understanding about themselves, greater life satisfaction, and a sense that they are important and valuable. I also hope that they feel confident in their learned coping skills and are able to put them to use in their daily lives as struggles appear (and possibly reappear.)

Visit Nicole’s profile to learn more about her, or to schedule an intake today.

11 Ways to Reduce Anxiety Without Medication

11 Ways to Reduce Anxiety Without Medication

At IDENTITY, we often see clients who have been on medication before. While there are times when medication may be necessary for psychological health, most people find that they experience side effects and desire to reach a point where they can thrive in life without using medication. It’s common for many of our clients to have the goal of getting off of their anxiety or depression medication. I am passionate about partnering with my clients to achieve this goal.

Below are 11 common ways to reduce anxiety without using medication.

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  • Sweat
    • Exercise—it’s a natural mood booster
    • Go for a walk outside
    • Go swimming
    • Do yard work
  • Fuel your mind

    • Eat more leafy greens, whole grains, and antioxidant rich foods
    • Less caffeine
    • Less alcohol
    • Drink more water
  • Words of affirmation

    • Leave yourself little notes where you know you will see them
      • I can do this!
      • This too shall pass
      • It’s not a bad life, it’s just a bad day
  • Get creative

    • Listen to music
    • Journal your thoughts
    • Paint/draw/color
    • Join a pottery class
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  • Vent it out

    • Talk to someone
      • Friend
      • Trusted colleague
      • Family member
      • Talk with a Therapist
  • Focus on breath and remain present

    • Take a few deep breaths when you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed
    • Calm yourself with positive words of affirmation
      • I can do this
      • I acknowledge my self-worth
      • I love myself
      • I am strong
      • I am brave
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  • Create a peaceful environment 

    • Light your favorite candle
    • Diffuse essential oils—Lavender/Frankincense/Chamomile/Citrus
    • Take a bath
  • Furry friends

    • Pet animals—they are naturally calming
    • Volunteer at your local animal shelter
    • Take your own pet for a walk
    • Snuggle your pet
  • Sleep

    • Use your bed as a place of serenity—only use it for sleep related behaviors
    • Get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep per night
  • Reward yourself

    • For everything you accomplish/do that you don’t like, treat yourself
      • Go to the movies
      • Watch an episode of your favorite show on Netflix
      • Go out with a friend
      • Buy/make your favorite meal/dessert
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  • Unplug

    • Reduce your internet/phone use
    • No Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/Snapchat for a full day
      • If this isn’t “possible”, start with an hour and gradually increase your time away from electronics

I would love to partner with you on your journey towards reducing your anxiety. If you are interested in coming in to begin the process of therapy, or if you have any questions for me, feel free to contact me via the contact form below!


About the author: Nicole is a therapist at Identity Counseling Psychology in Ann Arbor, MI. Nicole specializes in working with people who experience anxiety and who feel stuck in life. Nicole is passionate about helping clients go from feeling stuck to feeling empowered, from feeling trapped to feeling free, and from feeling worried to feeling relieved.

Nicole is a Limited-License Psychologist (LLP) practicing in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Nicole graduated with a Master of Science degree in Clinical Psychology from Madonna University.


Why Do I Keep Making Bad Decisions?

Why Do I Keep Making Bad Decisions?

Decision Making and Cognitive Distortions

Often we know what the right decision is. We know that we need to eat well, sleep more, exercise regularly, work on our relationships, work on ourselves, but for some reason we sometimes just don’t do it.

This is a paradox. We often know the answer, and commonly continue to make the wrong choice. Why do we do it? One explanation is that we employ what are called Cognitive Distortions.

For one reason or another, our mind works out a way of being comfortable with making an unhealthy decision. At my Ann Arbor counseling practice, I work with clients to identify, understand, challenge, and restructure these common cognitive distortions:

Emotional Reasoning

We believe that our emotional reaction proves something is true

Our brain experiences a civil war. On the top of the brain we have our Human Brain, or Cerebral Cortex. This is what makes us distinctly human. It is driven by our Frontal Lobes and is responsible for complex thought, logic, reasoning, creativity, and much more.

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In the center and at the core, we have our Animal Brain. This part of our brain is older and is responsible for our animalistic instincts, fight or flight, and our emotional center (Limbic System). We owe our survival to our Animal Brain, so we often trust it deeply. The human part of our brain and the animal part of our brain are in tension. They are battling for ownership of our decision making. Both are involved in all of our decisions, however the extent to which they are involved varies.

When we experience a strong emotion it can transcend our logic. When we feel something strongly, it can keep us in our emotional center and prevent us from fully utilizing our Frontal Lobes. In therapy at my Ann Arbor counseling practice, I work with clients to become more aware of this and to challenge it.

Magnification and Minimization

We emphasize our failures and de-emphasize our successes

Sometimes we make a mountain out of a molehill. We can convince ourselves that something is a bigger deal than it really is. When we magnify the significance of a concern we can often prevent ourselves from making the healthy decision that we want to make. This commonly leads to anxiety.

Other times we can downplay the true significance of an emotion or concern. There could be a real tangible reason that is preventing you from making a healthy decision, and it is important to identify it. Minimizing is a step away from denial.

Splitting

We think of ourselves in terms of all-or-nothing

It is easier to think in terms of black or white. We either are a person who exercises regularly or we aren’t. We either are a great friend or we aren’t. We either eat well or we don’t. We are someone who processes our emotions or we are someone who hides from them. The list could go on.

The reality is that we can be, and often are, more than one thing at the same time, even if they are two characteristics that seem contradictory. When we go to funerals we often like to sum someone’s life up in a nice, clean, neat way. But the reality is that humans hold the capacity for the complexity of internal contradiction, and it is unrealistic to believe that we can be all “good” or all “bad.”

Thinking in terms of all-or-nothing is a common cognitive distortion that prevents us from making the choices we want to make.

Overgeneralization

We assume future outcomes based on a few experiences

Making sweeping generalizations is a human thing. Most of us do it in some way. We have a negative experience, and believe that all future experiences will yield a similar result. This type of thinking can prevent us from making decisions that we want to make.

In therapy we can learn to recognize when we overgeneralize, how it may be negatively impacting our functioning, and how we can go about challenging this habit.

Magical Thinking

We believe that if we’ve thought about doing something, we’ve already sort of done it

For example, say we have to grade papers this weekend. We continue bringing it up and mentioning it to our partner. I can’t do anything until I grade these papers, or, “When I grade these papers I’m going to attach rubrics with their score summarized,” or, “I’m so stressed because I have to grade these papers.”

A funny thing starts to happen when we continue to think about something we have to do. It can create the cognitive illusion that we have made some sort of actual progress. We believe that because we have continued to think about it, we are working on it. Magical Thinking is another way that we deceive ourselves with our thoughts.

Restructuring our Cognitive Distortions

The first step in addressing our cognitive distortions is to become aware of them. In therapy at my Ann Arbor counseling practice, I work with clients to identify how their thoughts may be actually preventing them from making the choices that they want to make.


Identify – Understand – Challenge – Reconstruct

Once we are aware of our cognitive distortions, it is important to identify specifically how they are impacting our functioning and where they come from. Once we build a deeper understanding of the cognitive distortions, we must challenge them. We will work on a plan to restructure our cognitive distortions to attempt to modify how we think and feel about ourselves in several ways. This often feels like breaking a bad habit and requires practice + time.

If you or someone you know connects with the maladaptive thought processes outlined in this post, feel free to reach out to ask questions or schedule an appointment with me. I’d love to work with you on building a healthier and more fulfilling life!


3 Ways to Reduce Stress Using Mindfulness

3 Ways to Reduce Stress Using Mindfulness

It’s another day at work, and you get one of those emails.

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You know… one of those emails.

Maybe the email is from a coworker, or from one of your bosses. Either way, it’s the email that you get about once per day, and it makes your blood boil. The thing they’re emailing about is last on your list of things to do, but the email is still enough to keep you in a constant state of stress and anxiety.

The WEIRD (Western-Educated-Industrialized-Rich-Democratic) culture that we live in continues to demand more and more of us. Living in this fast paced world can be extremely damaging to our health, and can leave us feeling disconnected from the earth and from each other. Stress has been shown to lead to significant health and relationship issues.

What would it be like to live a life free of chronic stress, fatigue, and energy depletion? How could I live a life fully connected to earth and focused on the moment?

It may sound like something you can never attain. This may be true; however, there are a few simple habits that can be integrated into your daily life fairly easily which have been shown to have a dramatic impact on stress and anxiety.

The techniques that I am about to explain are rooted in a practice called Mindfulness. This term may seem like the new “hip” buzzword, but it is rooted in an ancient tradition of practicing intentional living. I’ll start by explaining what Mindfulness is NOT.

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Mindfulness is not a method of escape. Unlike other meditative techniques which may attempt to clear your mind completely and escape life, Mindfulness is an active process of becoming more aware of yourself in the present moment. Mindfulness stresses (no pun intended) the importance of the moment.

Because all we have are moments to live. 

Since all we have are moments, Mindfulness allows us to more fully live them one by one. Here are a few helpful techniques to get you started (derived from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction training):

1.) 3 Minute Mindful Breathing 

Set your clock for 3 minutes. Sit in a chair with excellent posture. Close your eyes, and begin breathing in for 4 seconds, then hold your breath for 4 seconds, then slowly breathe out for 8 seconds.

In for 4, hold for 4, slowly breathe out for 8.

Continue this rhythm, and begin to notice your thoughts. You may have a thought that brings anxiety (maybe it’s the email you received earlier). In this case, instead of rejecting the thought, you are going to let it in. Let your mind experience the thought, and note the emotional experience that you encounter. It is important to not judge this. This is an intentional practice in non-judgment.

Let the thought in, notice how it makes you feel, and simply return to your breath.

Imagine this rhythm as if you’re driving down an empty highway early in the morning. Your thoughts are like the road signs that pass by. They come in, you experience their impact on your mind, and you return to the road. Continue for 3 minutes and when you’re done take note of your current state.

2.) Mindful Appreciation 

Wherever you find yourself, begin to think about 5 things that you are appreciative of. Try to focus on things that typically go unnoticed, such as the electricity powering the air conditioning in your office, or the infrastructure which provides water to your faucet. Spend a few minutes intentionally practicing gratitude for 5 things that you may take for granted most of the time.

 

3.) Mindful Body Scan

Lie on your back and close your eyes. Begin Mindful Breathing (see technique #1). Once you find a good rhythm of breath, begin to imagine a scanner moving up through your body. The scanner starts at tips of your toes, and is monitoring how each square inch of your body feels. Begin to move this virtual scanner up through your left foot, passing your ankle, your shin, your knee, until you hit your pelvic bone. Next, jump down to the tip of your right foot, and begin to move up toward where you left off before.

Continue this scanning method all the way through your body until you reach the top of your brain- all the while noting how each square inch of your body feels. Notice if any areas feel particularly good or bad. Once you reach the top of your head, imagine a hole in the top of your head releasing the energy that the scanner has put into your body. Take note of your current state, and compare it to how you felt prior to doing the body scan.

Practice these 3 techniques once per day for a week, and observe whether you feel or think differently.

Are you interested in engaging in counseling to help you live more mindfully? Do you have questions? Contact Tim.


How to Cope with Anxiety

How to Cope with Anxiety

What is anxiety?

On some level, anxiety is a good thing. Anxiety has allowed humans to survive this long. Our body has a natural alarm system which lets us know if something is going wrong or if something doesn’t feel right. If there is a real threat present, anxiety enters in order to prepare your body for fight or flight. Think of how your body would respond if you were walking alone in the woods and encountered a grizzly bear…

In a certain sense, anxiety is a gift.

But sometimes, our body’s alarm system goes off at all the wrong times. Our body tells us, “You can’t sleep right now, you have to worry about what is going to happen tomorrow,” or, “Just think about how the world is going to come crashing down when people find out about who I really am,” or even, “How could you work right now when this is going on inside?”

Anxiety can overtake us.

It can prevent us from sleeping, from working, and can really start to take a toll on our relationships. Anxiety will try to convince us that we have serious health conditions, that we aren’t capable of handling this. Anxiety seems to flow through the fabric of our being.

Anxiety can be paralyzing.

It can prevent us from doing the simplest of tasks. Maybe you had one thing that you really wanted to get done today, but somehow before you knew it, it was 2AM and you felt like you hadn’t done anything.

Anxiety can trick us.

It can make us believe that all threats will happen, or it can make things seem threatening that truly pose no real threat. Anxiety tells us, “Don’t put yourself out there, it’s not worth it.” Anxiety tricks us into living a life filled with a false sense of protection.

How can therapy help me deal with anxiety?

We will begin by diving into the question of, “What is this anxiety doing FOR you?” Your body responds in certain ways for a reason. Maybe it’s your intuition that is telling you that something feels off. If so, there is a reason why your intuition is communicating with you. There is a reason why your body works the way that it works. It thinks that it is protecting you, but in reality it is sometimes hurting you.

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The process of discovering the various answers to this question will lead us on a deep exploration into the fabric of your soul. What makes you, you? What drives you? How have relationships in your life played into the person you are today, and how have they influenced how your body communicates to you?

The journey of therapy is a process of listening to yourself.

In therapy, we learn to listen to our body, to listen to what it is communicating, and to dive into why it is telling us what it is telling us. Your life is a narrative. The story has a plot, major themes, and major characters. Coming to understand all of these things is important in the journey of doing the “inner work.” Through self-discovery, we can begin to understand this anxiety from the perspective of your life. It has a role, but it does not have to be the star in the plot.


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