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Is anxiety hurting you at work or in your relationships?

Denver counselor Gideon Killion shares some insights about the impact of anxiety.

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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.

8 Fun Ways to Make New Friends in Denver

Counselor and coach Gideon Killion shares some ideas for getting out there and meeting people.

Picture of bowlersMaking friends and building community can seem daunting when you don’t know where to start. There’s a lot of abstract advice out there about expanding your social circle, but sometimes it’s easier to work from a list of concrete actions.

With that in mind, here are some specific ideas for ways to make new friends in Denver.

1. Find a Church (or Something) That’s Right for You

Regardless of your religious or spiritual persuasion, the Denver area almost certainly has a gathering to suit your needs. I thought of including some links, but there are just too many and I don’t want to favor any one in particular. Start by plugging keywords into Google to find your options. If you’re not sure which religion might be the right fit for you, you can take BeliefNet’s Belief-O-Matic quiz.

What if you don’t consider yourself religious or spiritual? You might want to investigate First Universalist Church of Denver, which honors all paths including atheism and operates from a set of guiding principles rather than a religious creed. Or you could check out Denver Sunday Assembly, a gathering for freethinkers and atheists that describes itself as “a place to go to listen to great music, learn from intelligent speakers (like TED talks), and meet other people in your community.”

2. Get Involved in Politics or a Worthy Cause

A great way to meet like-minded people is to donate your time to a worthy organization, whether that means getting involved in local politics or supporting a cause whose mission you value. If you’re interested in politics, a good starting point would be the Democratic Party of Denver or the Denver GOP.

Looking for a meaningful way to volunteer? Maybe you’d like to help veterans transition back to civilian life through the Helping Veterans program, or lend a hand at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. Or you could join Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, which offers opportunities for taking part in outdoor stewardship projects—everything from trail maintenance to fire and flood restoration. If none of those options sound right, try looking for other types of volunteer opportunities in Denver by searching the Volunteer Match database.

3. Join a Sports League

If you enjoying tossing a ball around, you may find that a sports league is the ideal way to connect with others. Denver offers a ton of options, including bowling, pool, softball, and volleyball. In the warmer months, you can play volleyball at Wash Park (here’s a map). There are leagues and pick-up games happening most weekends when the weather is nice. There’s also a meet-up group called Sports Monster that organizes volleyball leagues, outings, and open court events.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for something more low-key, how about kickball? The Denver Kickball Club organizes league play, pick-up games and day-long tournaments throughout the city.

4. Become a Regular

Here’s another way to make friends: be a regular at a bar frequented by the kind of people you want to meet. (It doesn’t have to be near where you live.) Naturally, there are plenty of bar options in Denver, so you can narrow it down by type. Soccer fan? Try the Three Lions. Want to hang out with a cool eclectic group of regulars? Check out the Thin Man Tavern.

5. Connect through Meet-Ups

No matter what activity you enjoy the most, you’re guaranteed to find a Meetup.com group in the Denver metro area for people who are into the same thing. Here are a few random examples:

  • Denver Medieval Combat Sports is for people who enjoy foam weapon combat (yes, hitting other people with fake swords) and other LARP-related activities.

6. Take Part in a Support Group

If you struggle with any particular issue and want to meet others with similar challenges, you can join a support group. For example, here’s a list of Denver area AA meetings. Also, the Psychology Today website has a searchable database of Denver support groups on a range of topics.

7. Sign Up for a Class

A great way to meet people is to start taking group classes in something you’ve always wanted to try. How about…

8. Start Your Own Group or Cause

Of course, if you don’t find exactly the kind of group you’re looking for, you can always start your own group, cause, meet-up, etc. Who knows? Maybe there are others out there looking for the same thing.

Just remember …

Regardless of which social avenue you decide to pursue, you’ll find greater success in making lasting friends if you keep two principles in mind. First, be persistent and consistent—keep showing up and be a visible part of the group. Second, practice good relational skills, like listening more than talking and making space for conversations to happen. (For a refresher, see my previous blog post on How to Make Friends and Amp Up Your Social Life.)

And last of all, don’t feel bad if getting out there and meeting people seems a little intimidating. I would be willing to bet that most people feel the same. But if you feel so intimidated that it actually stops you, I can help. Drop me a line and I’ll be happy to talk it over with you.

How to Make Your Smartphone an Ally Instead of an Enemy

Denver counselor, therapist, and life coach Gideon Killion shares some thoughts on making technology work for you.

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If you’re like most people, you don’t go anywhere without your phone. Unfortunately, if you’re like most people, you have a love/hate relationship with it.

Smartphones can make our lives easier, more efficient, and more fun. They can also turn us into disengaged individuals who can’t look up from a screen to experience the world “in real life.”

For those of who struggle with this complex relationship, here’s some advice that has been effective for my coaching clients.

How to Let Your Phone Help You (Not Hurt You)

By making the most of what technology can offer you, it’s possible to turn your smartphone into a strong ally that support your values and goals. Here’s how:

  • Smartphones exist primarily for communicating with others, so find ways to use it in increasing quality time with friends and family. Have phone or video calls with family members who don’t live nearby. Get in touch with a local friend via text to set up a time for coffee or dinner. Or use your phone to sustain a long-running group email or text conversation.
  • Take advantage of smartphone apps that are designed to help you learn new habits, such as HabitBull, Loop Habit Tracker, or Fabulous. You can also use apps for specific types of activities, such as running, meditation, eating well, doing yoga, learning Mandarin, etc. Even the most basic reminder or timer app can be used to help you take a break from regular activities (especially sitting) to do things like taking a stretch break, drinking some water, checking in to be mindful of your current emotions, or making a call to a friend.
  • Use your phone to listen to books and podcasts while doing housework or driving. These mindless tasks can be enhanced by taking the opportunity to learn something new and connect with the world outside of your daily routine.

Don’t Let Your Smartphone Become Your Enemy

As you probably know, it’s easy to become addicted to the constant stimulation and distraction that your smartphone can offer. That’s because occurrences such getting an email notification or refreshing your social media feed to check for new posts can provide a dopamine rush in the brain—a pleasurable sensation that is comparable to the use of stimulant drugs.

And the idea of being away from your phone might be uncomfortable. In a 2015 study, researchers found that people who were separated from their iPhones for a few minutes actually experienced physical symptoms of anxiety, such as increased blood pressure.

If you don’t want to be dependent on your smartphone to get through your day, there are ways you can regain control:

  • Adjust your settings to turn off audio alerts for most things (other than emergency or weather alerts).
  • Decide which notifications are truly urgent for you, and which information you can wait to manually check at certain times during the day.
  • Set aside specific times of day to manually check voicemail, email, tweets, and so on.
  • Use a feed reader or news aggregator site to curate news from specific sources, then set a limit on how frequently you’ll look at it (and for how many minutes at a time).
  • Make a commitment to stay engaged with the physical world instead of always focusing attention on your phone. This is particularly important when you’re driving, biking, or walking across the street, when it’s not safe to be on your phone. It’s also important in most interactions with another human, when looking at your phone can come across as rude.

Smartphones can either help or hurt us. I believe that most people are happiest when they make conscious choices about how to use their phones and when to put them away. Remember, even when you’re waiting in line, sitting on a bus, or just out walking, there’s plenty out there in the real world to interact with—including other humans. Sometimes you might even use the opportunity to take a deep breath and relax.

How to Make Friends and Amp Up Your Social Life

Denver life coach, counselor, and therapist Gideon Killion shares some thoughts about make friends and improve your relationships.

Modern life can feel really lonely sometimes. It seems like we’re connected 24/7 to social media and our phones, but somehow that doesn’t always translate into a sense of being truly connected with others.

If you’re feeling a social disconnect and want to forge new friendships in real life, you may not be exactly sure how to begin. Here are some suggestions to get you started meeting new people.

snowshoe-conversation_denver_life_coachConnect through Shared Interests

One of the most effective ways to make like-minded friends is to pursue an interest or hobby that involves other people. Whether you’re into foosball tournaments, car shows, or martial arts, there’s sure to be a group or event near you. Or you could take a class to try out a new skill, like improv or beginning guitar. I learned the hard way that many people are put off or intimidated by direct invitations to become friends. But friendships develop naturally when you’re doing things together.

Ask Questions

When you find yourself in a social situation and aren’t sure what to say to someone, it always helps to get curious about them. Most people enjoy talking about themselves. Look for clues in their conversations about what they’re interested in, what they like to do, and what’s important to them so that you have an idea of where to start. If there are no clues offered, ask open-ended questions such as, “What do you do for work?” Then encourage them to provide more detail by asking a follow-up question like, “How’d you end up in that career?”

Build In Time to Meet People

We have a tendency to over-schedule ourselves these days, always rushing to the next meeting or errand. This makes it unlikely that we’ll have time for genuine interactions with anyone outside our usual sphere of work and home. You can change this by deliberately building in time around your activities so that you can meet and talk to people. Arrive early for appointments so that you have an opportunity to chat with someone in the waiting room. When you’re planning a trip to the gym or the grocery store, schedule some cushion time before and after so that you can start up a conversation if the chance arises.

Listen More, Talk Less

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In a one-on-one conversation, it’s ideal to be talking about 40% of the time. This is the perfect ratio because it means you’re mostly listening, but you’re also doing enough sharing of your own that the other person can get to know you. If you find yourself talking more than this in a conversation with a new acquaintance, you can shift the balance by asking them a question.

Keep It Positive

Do as little complaining, criticizing, or arguing as you can. It’s also a good idea to keep sarcasm or dark humor to a minimum until you really get to know someone. (This is a place I often over do it!) Even when you do know someone, it’s wise to keep it balanced. Most people want to spend time with someone who is pleasant and positive overall. If you make someone uncomfortable by going too negative, they may avoid hanging out with you in the future.

Share Things Slowly

It’s great to find friends we can be honest with about things that are difficult. On the other hand, it’s tempting to dive in way too soon. Do share your troubles, but wait until you’ve developed some trust. Plan to share at first in small doses, and try to give the other person the chance to do the same with you. It should feel like an even exchange, and the amount of detail or heavy emotion you share is generally going to be comparable to the length of time you’ve known someone.

Pay Your Own Way

This is a simple one, but it’s one that many people overlook, and it’s powerful. In short, always pay your fair share at restaurants, parties, and so on. People will remember if you don’t. Along the same lines, it may feel awkward to new acquaintances if you offer to pick up the check, since the social norm is to stay on equal footing with people you don’t know well. The safest tactic is to expect that everyone will split the bill.

Check Your Skills

If you’re not sure whether your behavior may be a little off, ask for feedback about your social skills from people you know and trust. Tell them you’re looking for constructive criticism so that you can improve anything that might be scaring off new friends.

Remember that It’s Hard for Everyone

Sometimes socializing is just going to feel awkward. Those awkward moments don’t mean you’re doing it wrong; they just mean you’re human. It happens to everyone, even folks who are good at it.

If you think you might need more in-depth assistance with social skills or other friendship issues, give me a call to learn whether counseling or coaching at one of my Denver offices would be able to help. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy learning (sometimes the hard way) how we make and keep friends, and I’d love to share what I’ve learned with you. Contact me to arrange a free consultation and find out how I can help.

5 Factors that Lead to Loneliness

Denver counselor and coach Gideon Killion shares some ideas about loneliness and what to do about it.

denver-counseling-lonely-manThese 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?

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

The 5 moves of relationship drama – VIDEO

This is a great video. Two experts in the field of relationships and human behavior, Drs. Sue Johnson and Ed Tronick, describe and demonstrate the five basic moves that occur in the dance of attachment and bonding. They show how these moves are present both in the relationship between parent and infant as well as between intimate partners. When I do marriage counseling or couple counseling with clients here in Denver, we identify where these moves occur in their conflicts and try to understand the underlying attachment needs they represent.
The dance begins when one person senses a lack of connection with the other. The first move is to (1) “Reach” for a response. If the person does not get the needed response from the other, he or she may (2) Protest/Push or (3) Turn Away. The other partner may also Protest/Push or Turn Away in response. If the disconnection continues, eventually one or both partners lose the ability to regulate emotion, and a sense of panic, or (4) Melt Down occurs. Finally, in a healthy relationship, the partners make an effort to (5) Reconnect and repair the relationship.
When you watch this video, think about your own relationships, either now or in the past, and see if you can find all five of these steps.

The hidden cost of change

Anyone who has tried to change something big in life — such as giving up a bad habit, or starting a good one — knows that it isn’t easy. There are a lot of reasons why this is the case, and a quick Google search will probably reveal plenty. But one thing that makes it harder is that we often do not see the whole picture. We do not see all the things that we get out of the status quo — things we would lose if change actually happened.

A while back, I was working with a couple in marriage counseling. The big problem in this couple’s relationship was the male partner’s alcohol addiction. His wife wanted him to quit drinking, and he said he wanted to quit, too. Yet over and over, she discovered that he had been drinking and lying about it. We met a number of times, talking about wounds from his past, poor self-esteem, and so on, but after a while, it became clear that under the surface, probably unconsciously, he did not want to change. Promising to change but not actually doing it was actually working well for him.

The costs of the status quo were obvious — pain, shame, fights, fear of losing the relationship. But the benefits of the status quo — and the costs of change — were not. Every time he wept and apologized, and promised to do better, his wife would flood him with forgiveness, affection, and affirmation. She would tell him how much she believed in him, and how much good she saw in him. Now, obviously there is absolutely nothing wrong with forgiveness, affection, and affirmation. But counter-intuitively, his pattern of alcohol addiction had become a very effective means of getting them. And on top of that, he got to keep drinking.

Now, I am certainly not saying that this was the reason for his addiction, or that the addiction ended when the whole picture came into focus. Overcoming substance addiction is usually a long and difficult road. But this man could not begin to walk down that road until both he and his wife saw what he was getting out of staying where he was.

Do we need marriage counseling?

One good reason you and your partner might need marriage counseling or couple counseling is that you have a issue you can’t agree on, or a problem you haven’t been able to solve. And no matter how many times you’ve gone around in circles with each other, having the same conversations or the same fights, it never gets much better. For many couples, these fights create emotional wounds that make it even more difficult to resolve the problem.

During therapy sessions with a marriage counselor or couple counselor, you and your partner will probably gain a deeper understanding of the pattern in which you are stuck. You will probably also learn more about the underlying, basic needs that you are both trying to meet through your relationship. And hopefully, in the process of learning these things, you and your partner will gain greater appreciation and empathy for each other.

Bottom line? If your marriage or relationship seems stuck, think about marriage counseling or couple counseling. Yes, it takes courage to admit you need some help, but isn’t your relationship worth it?