Denver counselor Gideon Killion explains why men should view their emotions as useful tools.
If it’s difficult for you to talk about feelings, you’re not alone.
In working with male clients in my Denver counseling practice, I’ve noticed a pattern around how men interact with their emotions. In short, we tend to think of feelings as inconvenient. We often try to minimize or ignore them.
I’ve seen this pattern with my male friends as well. At times, I’ve even seen it in myself.
The world tells men that we need to get better at understanding our feelings so that we can be more open to our loved ones. But that’s not the only reason.
In my experience, ignoring our emotions means we can miss out on important information about what’s working well (or not working) in our lives.
Why Is This Emotion Stuff So Hard?
It’s not surprising that most men find it difficult to navigate emotional terrain. In fact, there are lots of reasons why it can be really tricky.
- Some emotions are nuanced and complex. We can have conflicting emotions that come from different parts of ourselves. Sometimes these mixed emotions are hard to untangle, and all we know for sure is that strong feelings are painful. So we look for a way to distract or numb ourselves.
- We’ve been trained to hide emotional reactions. Society teaches us that showing emotion is weak, especially vulnerable feelings like sadness. As kids, we may have been bullied for showing our feelings. Or maybe we were told that we should “toughen up” or “be strong.” So we learned to turn those emotions into anger or other acceptable responses.
- We judge emotions as positive or negative. No one wants to experience “negative” emotions. The name implies that we’re bad if we feel them. But negative emotions can lead us toward needed change.
- Some emotions show up as sensations, not words. It can be tricky to identify emotions when they show up in the form of body sensations. For example, if you have a lump in your throat, you may not realize that this could indicate sorrow or regret. A recurring physical pain, such as a headache or backache, may also be related to emotions. Some men develop physical pain through unexpressed feelings of hurt, anger, fear, or sadness.
Why Wrestling with Emotions is Worth It
Even when emotions are messy and uncomfortable, it’s usually worth it to sort through them. That’s because there is often useful information waiting there. Emotions are messages from the parts of our brains that we don’t directly control. These messages tell us what matters most to us so we can prioritize what’s important. When we crack the code of our emotions, we can make choices that are in line with our needs and wants.
For example, we often feel a tension between duty and desire. This can leave us feeling as if we’re trapped in an unsolvable equation. The trapped feeling shows up as anger, sadness, anxiety, or shame. These emotions are clues that we need to resolve the tension by making a change.
It’s okay to take a step back from overwhelming emotions. You can give yourself the space to sort through what you’re feeling. It’s only harmful if you choose to stay disconnected or distracted as a long-term tactic.
The bottom line
Emotions are useful data that can lead us toward more fulfilling lives. If you’re interested in making your emotions work for you, I can help you do that through counseling or coaching at one of my Denver offices. Get in touch and we’ll set up a free consultation.
Denver counselor Gideon Killion shares some insights about the impact of anxiety.
We all have moments of anxiety in certain situations, whether it’s a performance review at work or waiting to hear the results of a medical test. But for some of us, it goes beyond that, with anxiety showing up much more often and in more ordinary situations. When it does, this kind of anxiety can have a real impact on your relationships and work (not to mention your ability to enjoy life). If this sounds like it might be you, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that 18% of Americans over 18 have experienced the effects of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is something that I have struggled with, so I know what it’s like. I’d to share with you some of the signs of anxiety to watch out for, as well as what you can do to get a handle on it.
Signs of anxiety to watch out for
Here are some of the most common signs that anxiety is interfering with your optimal functioning. One or two of these experiences could be due to other factors, but if you find that multiple items are relevant to you right now, anxiety could be the culprit.
Things to watch for at work:
- You have intrusive thoughts about your own shortcomings, in which any mistake becomes a catastrophe.
- You avoid normal interactions with people, such as by procrastinating on returning voicemails.
- You feel overwhelmed, “out of control,” or like you can’t cope with job expectations.
- You are extremely nervous about meetings, presentations, etc., to the point of having physical symptoms (such as nausea) or being unable to participate.
- You find yourself arriving late or leaving early in order to minimize the time spent at work.
Things to watch for in your close relationships:
- You feel annoyed by or suspicious of the other person with no particular trigger, or your reaction seems out of proportion to what the other person has done.
- You make excuses to be alone rather than with the other person (for example, saying that you don’t feel well or have to work late).
- You are rarely able to relax with your partner or have fun together.
- You are so focused on your own thoughts or worries that you feel emotionally disconnected from your partner.
- You have feelings of dread or pessimism about the relationship, even though it has previously felt stable and supportive.
If several of these descriptions apply to your experience in a relationship or at work, you may be seeing the side effects of anxiety.
Things that Don’t Help When You’re Anxious
It may be hard to know what to do when anxious feelings come up. These are a few of the most common — but also least effective— responses to anxiety.
Ignoring it: For many people, the natural tendency in trying to cope with anxious feelings is to minimize or deny the problem. You may find yourself hoping that anxiety symptoms will just go away on their own. What often happens, though, is that trying to ignore anxiety can make it worse—either more frequent or more intense.
Isolating: A common side effect of anxiety is self-consciousness. You may worry that you’re acting strangely around others (or that they will guess how anxious you’re feeling). Although trying to stay away from others provides a short-term solution to this problem, isolating yourself can make coping with anxiety more difficult in the long term.
Self-medicating: It’s tempting to use alcohol or drugs to take the edge off your anxiety symptoms, but they come with their own problems, like dependency. There are healthier ways to address the problem.
Handling anxiety on your own
If mild anxiety is having a negative effect on relationships or causing problems at work, you may be able to counter it simply by providing yourself with in-the-moment techniques to reduce anxiety right away. Here are a few things that can be immediately useful at times when you notice you are feeling anxious:
Count blue things. It sounds ridiculous, but this simple trick can be very effective in calming your nervous system. Look around the room and silently identify each thing you see that’s blue: “the spine of a blue book, a blue highlighter, two people wearing blue shirts.” This technique works because it tricks your brain into shifting gears and focusing on a cognitive task.
Listen to the ticking of a clock or analog watch. This has a soothing effect for most people because a clock ticks at about the same speed as your own normal resting heart rate. You don’t even need an actual clock or watch—a virtual one will do. Search for “ticking clock” on YouTube, or download an app like G Clock that replicates the sound of the swinging pendulum of a grandfather clock.
Engage in proprioceptive actions. Proprioception refers to your own physical sense of your body in relation to the things around it. Thus, any action that involves proprioceptive input can help to calm your nervous system. This can be as simple as chewing gum, or as complex as playing a ball game like basketball or football in which your body comes in contact with the ball. Other simple proprioceptive techniques include squeezing a stress ball, pushing your palms against a wall, or eating a crunchy food like pretzels.
Getting help with your anxiety
When your anxious feelings don’t respond to the simple techniques listed above, or if you feel so anxious most of the time that you’re having difficulty functioning in your normal work and home routines, it’s a good idea to get professional help. Anxiety can be treated through counseling as well as through medication, or both.
A medical doctor, like your primary care physician, or a psychiatrist, can evaluate your symptoms and prescribe medication. It can take a few tries to get the right medication and the right dose, and all medications can have side-effects, so it’s important to stay in contact with your doctor during this process.
Counseling is also an effective treatment for anxiety, for most people. Simply talking to a counselor on a regular basis can be helpful for some people, but the treatment can also include things like uncovering subconscious thoughts and feelings, challenging or defusing intrusive thoughts, or practicing mindfulness and relaxation skills. If you are wondering whether counseling might be able to help you with your anxiety, I would be honored to talk to you. Please contact me and we’ll set up a free, 30-minute consultation at one of my Denver counseling locations.
Denver counselor, coach, and therapist Gideon Killion shares some thoughts on the cost of undiagnosed depression.
Are you struggling to stay motivated at work? Have you been feeling physically or mentally tired or had difficulty concentrating? Do you have trouble making decisions or keeping track of important information at your job?
Career difficulties can arise for both external and internal reasons, but it’s important to ask yourself whether a psychological condition like depression could be the root cause.
If so, you’re not alone. The American Psychological Association estimates that based on 2013 data, up to 9% of adult men experience feelings of depression or anxiety on a daily basis. But depression and other mood disorders can be tricky to identify correctly on your own, given that men’s depression symptoms may not always include the “classic” elements such as sadness. Sometimes depression symptoms may also show up as physical indicators, such as digestive changes or simply feeling more tired than usual.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression in men can include some (but not necessarily all) of the following symptoms:
- Feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, or anxiety
- Unusual anger or irritability
- Fatigue, either physical or mental
- Difficulty focusing on work or trouble with short-term memory
- Changes in sleep patterns or appetite
- Physical pain, including headaches, digestive issues, or cramps
- Reduced interest in activities that used to be pleasurable, including family life, hobbies, and sex
- Difficulty functioning in everyday life, both at work and at home
Here are some of the ways that chronic depressed mood could negatively affect your day-to-day effectiveness at work and even have long-term consequences for your career.
Impact on Productivity
No one is at their best professionally when they’re struggling with depression. A chronically depressed mood makes it difficult to concentrate on detail work or keep track of important data. It can also lead to problems with time management, thanks to depression’s way of dulling your ability to make executive decisions and stay focused on one activity at a time. In a chaotic work environment with many interruptions, the irritability associated with depression may make it difficult to avoid blowing up at others.
No Motivation to Move Ahead
If you’re barely mustering the energy to show up on time and put one foot in front of he other, it makes sense that depression can put the brakes on a promising career. One of the hallmarks of major depressive disorder is the loss of interest in activities that you once enjoyed. When depression has sapped you of motivation to take on new responsibilities and seek opportunities to be promoted, it’s unlikely that you will move beyond your current rung on the career ladder. And the mental or even physical fatigue that comes with chronic depression can make small challenges seem insurmountable.
Cumulative Effects on Work Relationships
Depression can intensify some of the challenges of day-to-day work, such difficulty coping with tense co-worker dynamics or unexpected policy changes. Men who are depressed often find themselves withdrawing from peer interactions at work, leading them to feel increasingly more isolated.
Telling your boss—or not—is another challenge of depression in the workplace. It may feel good to be honest about your struggles and ask for specific accommodations, or you may be afraid to disclose this information to management.
Regardless of whether you decide to let your supervisor or co-workers know how being depressed has affected you at work, it can be helpful to connect with others outside the workplace who understand the struggle of coping with a mood disorder. Here in the Denver area, there are several Meetup.com groups focused on depression, including one called Freedom From Anxiety and Depression. There are also several structured support groups for people with depression in the Denver metro area; for details, see NAMI Colorado.
Sometimes chronic or severe symptoms of depression can require professional help in order to improve. If you need help with resources for counseling in Denver or specific ways to cope with depression, give me a call at (303) 952-0168, email me at email@example.com, or use my contact form.
Denver counselor and coach Gideon Killion shares some ideas about loneliness and what to do about it.
These days, a lot of people — particularly men — struggle with feeling lonely and disconnected. Sometimes loneliness can be a motivator to connect with new people, as when we change jobs or move to a new city. But for many people, loneliness is a chronic problem. We want close friends and meaningful relationships, but we don’t know how to go about finding and building them.
Aside from being a really uncomfortable emotional experience, loneliness also has negative health repercussions. A lack of close friends can contribute to both mental and physical health problems. One study of senior citizens found a tie between loneliness and the likelihood of developing dementia. Chronic feelings of loneliness have also been linked to heart disease and other serious health issues.
Almost everyone experiences periods of loneliness, but it’s helpful to identify the main factors in your particular situation. Which of these statements describe you?
- You have tons of friends, but you still feel lonely or like you don’t truly belong anywhere.
It’s common nowadays to have lots of superficial connections that we call “friends” and yet still be lonely. These friendships lack closeness. They are people who will do stuff with us, but not ones who actually care enough to ask how we’re doing. In the end, it’s the quality of friendships that matters most for your health, not quantity. Without close and meaningful friendships, we are emotionally isolated.
- You had devoted and emotional friendships as a kid, but your adult friendships aren’t as deep.
In the book “Deep Secrets,” Niobe Way explores the emotional intimacy that young boys often experience with peers—a connection we tend to lose in adulthood in favor of friendships that are activity-based but not emotionally significant. Much like the phenomenon of “work friends” that don’t remain friends after changing jobs, these activity-centered friendships tend to fade out when the shared activity is no longer a priority for both men.
- You have several close friends, but none of them are friends with each other.
Most people find that they have lots of one-to-one relationships with people who are not connected to each other. When our key friendships all happen independently, we are more likely to feel lonely. In contrast, when some or most of our closest friends are also friends with each other, we have a greater sense of belonging due to being part of a like-minded group.
- Most of your social interactions happen through social media—online, not in person.
The ubiquitous presence of smartphones in our lives means that we constantly have texts, email, Twitter, and Facebook at our fingertips, giving us the illusion of connection with others but in a very superficial way. We may feel as if we’re “connected” 24/7, but there may not be much substantial connection really happening. Meanwhile, we’re missing out on potential real-world connections all the time by never looking up from our phones.
- You’ve had successful romantic relationships, but you have no idea how to connect emotionally with male friends.
Our culture is incredibly focused on finding a mate, to the point that all of our energy goes into finding and keeping romantic or intimate relationships. This has taught us not to prioritize finding and keeping friends in the same way, so we haven’t really developed the skills it takes to maintain platonic friendships. Our culture has also made this more difficult by offering a limited notion of what it means to be a man. Many men constrain their expression of emotions with other men out of fear that they may be perceived as “unmanly” or gay. Unfortunately, this keeps us from being able to experience significant friendships in which we can support our male friends on an emotional level and receive that support from them in return. (This narrow understanding of manhood or manliness has many other negative effects both on men, whether gay or straight, and on society in general.)
These are some of the factors in modern life that can lead men to feel lonely. Some men are able to get unstuck from this pattern of aloneness on their own. But sometimes a long-term sense of loneliness can only be untangled with the help of a therapist or life coach as a trusted companion on the journey. Click here to learn about counseling and coaching for men in Denver, or here to learn more about all the services LifeCraft Counseling & Coaching offers men and women in Denver.
Many men have a feeling that something is missing, or have a longing for something more. Some may even have a sense of what is missing, but feel trapped by commitments, responsibilities, or practical realities. For others, though, the dissatisfaction, unfulfillment, or stuckness shows up in symptoms like anger, depression, anxiety, or addictions.
If you struggle with some of these things, it may be a sign that you have an unacknowledged and unmet need. By identifying what is missing or needed, and figuring out how to find it, you may end up resolving other issues.
Sometimes we hesitate to ask for help on problems like this. I get it—I’ve been in that place of not wanting to admit vulnerability or struggle. I thought I should be able to handle it on my own. What I came to realize is that there are so many other areas of life where we enlist help to get us where we want to be, from finances to fitness. It just makes sense to save time and frustration on personal struggles, too, by collaborating with someone who can provide a better toolkit for getting what you want.
I know what it’s like to feel stuck, and to know that change is needed but not know what direction to move in. That personal experience is part of what led me to begin providing therapy for men in Denver. I’ve taken on a personal quest of sorts—to figure out not only what I needed, but what most men need in order to be happy and fulfilled.
This is not to say that we can or even should get exactly what we want. But, to borrow an idea from the Rolling Stones, we can usually get what we need. Yes, each of us is unique, and we don’t all want the same things. But most of our desires are representative of deeper, more basic and fundamental needs that all humans share.
In fact, I’ve created a list of 10 fulfillment factors to summarize those fundamental needs. This list is distilled from significant influences that have shaped my approach to counseling for men, including Sebastian Junger, “Tribe”; William Glasser’s “Choice Theory”; Daniel Pink’s book “Drive”; and the work of Tony Robbins.
The 10 Fulfillment Factors:
- Belonging (to be part of a group)
- Purpose (bigger than yourself; or meaning)
- Significance (to know you matter)
- Identity (to know who you are)
- Mastery (or competence)
- Control (or autonomy, power, freedom)
- Stability (or certainty, safety)
- Variety (or uncertainty, fun)
- Love (to be someone’s priority)
- Hope (that the future is as good or better than the present)
Once these basic needs are understood, it is much easier to figure out how to meet them. You could get there on your own with years of work. Or you can take the direct route to a fulfilled and purposeful life by enlisting a professional helper.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- Do you find yourself fantasizing about a different career, or even a different life?
- Do you feel trapped or held back by some part of your life?
- Are you disappointed in how life turned out?
- Do you feel like you were made for more than this?
- Do you sometimes wonder what the point of your life is, or whether you matter?
- Do you wonder why you aren’t as happy as other people seem to be?
If you’re not satisfied with your life, and you aren’t sure why (or what to do about it), or if it’s something you’ve tried to change and haven’t been able to, then it may be time to let someone help you. Click here to learn more about counseling or life coaching for men in Denver.