Articles for the Month of July 2014

Surviving the Death of Your Spouse — 8 Tips to Help

beauty girl cryby Cathy Neville, LPC, and Aisha Simmons on July 21, 2014 in Grief and Loss

You’re a survivor.

I know it doesn’t feel like it right now.

The road ahead seems muddled with memories and unfamiliar turns.

You want a hand to hold, but the hand you’re used to holding just isn’t there.

It’s true; the solitary quiet of a new life without your spouse doesn’t feel like life as you know it.

But try hard to keep going. Life still holds so much for you.

Survival begins with a decision to live.

It means taking a deliberate breath, as painful as it may be.

It means courageously deciding to see what the next moment holds.

You can make it.

Here’s how to begin:

  1. Go slow. Avoid major decisions. Problem solving is often difficult during periods of extreme loss. Don’t relocate, sell assets, or exercise major financial options until you grow more accustomed to life on your own. It’s okay to give yourself time to adjust. Ask for help from a trusted friend or loved one with decisions that must be made quickly.
  2. Don’t Detach. Be with people. Consider a pet. Resist isolation.
  3. Mourn your own way. Honor your unique grieving process. Go “there”: feel the pain, cry the tears, don’t hide it. Don’t let other’s perceptions or discomfort guide your grief. Your intimate relationship with your spouse demands that you grieve your way, in your own time.
  4. Ensure emotional help. Things are different now. Your emotional equilibrium has shifted. Perhaps your emotional energy has been poured into months of caregiving and you’re now feeling listless and empty. Maybe you’ve spent so much time managing the shock of your spouse’s sudden loss that you’re now struggling to find peace. Your emotional wellbeing is critical to your ability to move forward. Seek out a therapist or support group who will walk alongside you and help see you through.
  5. Procure practical help. The life you shared was a combination of shared tasks, cooperative chores, and little favors you did for each other. You may start to feel the impact of your loss in new ways as you begin to manage your everyday life alone. Reach out for help. Running errands, household repairs, and meal preparation don’t have to be a burden. You’re not as alone as you may feel. You’ll see that people are looking for ways to be there for you.
  6. Manage memorabilia. The memories of your married life will never be forgotten, but you may find it cathartic to let go of your spouse’s personal possessions in the effort to ease your grief. Think special photos rather than a closet full of clothes. Consider keeping a bottle of your spouse’s favorite scent instead of maintaining his or her bathroom drawer of toiletries. Gifting or donating items can be an incredibly helpful way to reduce the number of grief triggers you’ll have to encounter every day.
  7. Pursue a passion. Allow yourself an enjoyable, gratifying mental break. Throw yourself into your hobbies or long-desired interests. You needn’t feel selfish or anxious about reengaging in these activities. It’s okay to permit yourself some time to enjoy life again and acknowledge your new identity.
  8. Reinvest your heart. You can go on, you can survive this. If you allow new relationships to form and old relationships to flourish, you can also be happy again. Remember, it is possible to honor your previous life while moving forward. You don’t have to sacrifice your future happiness to honor the past.

Be encouraged to live the full life your spouse would have wanted for you.

Grieve well. Reach out.  Breathe in each day deliberately until life is good again.

What Causes Panic Attacks


by Cathy Neville, LPC, and Aisha Simmons, on June 10, 2014

Determining Why Fear is Blindsiding You

Here it comes…

The breath in your chest becomes thin and shallow.

The thoughts in your mind start to stutter.

You’re ready to fight. You’re ready to run.

You hate feeling so out of control.

But, moments later, there it goes.

The knock of your heart returns to normal.

The swirling panic fades away.

All that’s left is the nagging worry that fear will strike again.

Why You?

What is happening to you?

What is behind the fear that comes out of nowhere and paralyzes you?

Many scientists and therapists believe that panic attacks are probably the result of surplus amounts of the “fight or flight” hormone, adrenaline, in the body. That excess adrenaline can inspire extreme fear, unrelated to your current circumstances.

The frequency and intensity of your experience will likely depend on whether you are predisposed to anxiety or are managing a variety of the following stressors, situations, or conditions that could be contributing to your fear:

Are Your Alarm Bells Biological?

  • Panic Due to Genetic Tendency or Brain Chemistry

Heredity. You may be genetically predisposed to panic attacks. Research shows that panic attacks and panic disorders often run in families, passed from parents to children.
Brain Function. There is some evidence that panic attacks are the result of neurological oversensitivity to fear, triggering an extreme response. Researchers also note that some attack sufferers have a reduced supply of the neurotransmitters that serve to calm the brain.

Is Your Fear Physical?

  • Panic as a Symptom of Medical Matters

Panic attacks often accompany the following medical conditions:
– Mitral valve prolapse (a minor problem affecting closure one of the heart’s valves)
– Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland)
– Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)

Could Your Unease be Environmental?

  • Panic caused by External Circumstances

Traumatic Events. The sudden loss of a relationship or involvement in an accident or tragic event can leave you scarred by the unexpectedness of the event and prone to irrational bouts of fear and disquiet. You may even become afraid of the fear itself, unintentionally increasing the likelihood of another attack.
History of Abuse. If you lived with the threat of physical or sexual abuse as child, survived the anguish of domestic violence, or even dealt with the pain of chronic bullying; the stress of being victimized or constantly worrying about your safety can trigger a panic response well after the source of the threat has gone.
Major Life Transitions. New job? Divorce? A baby on the way? Change is stressful. Venturing into the unknown is filled with potential complications that might keep your mind and body from completely relaxing or settling down. A panic attack may result from an unsustainable state of tension or nervousness.
Generalized Stress: Continually shouldering financial worries, family responsibilities, and work or school troubles may prove to be overwhelming stressors. Attempts to suppress or ignore them may eventually erupt in sudden, unanticipated panic.

Might your Fright be Pharmacological?

  • Panic Induced by Medication or Stimulants

Medicines: Carefully review your medications. Various asthma medicines, steroids, ADHD treatments, or antibiotics list panic attacks as a side effect.
Stimulant use: Amphetamines, caffeine, diet pills, or coffee could chemically induce a panic attack or exacerbate potential attacks in a person prone to anxiety.
Substance withdrawal: Prescribed or not, weaning yourself off medication, drugs, or alcohol may trigger panic attacks as the sedating effects of the substance diminishes.

No one likes to be blindsided.

Working with a therapist can help you determine where your panic attacks originate. Your therapist can work with you to find solutions that will help you conquer the fear.

We Never Talk — 7 Ways to Improve Communication in Your Marriage

by Cathy Neville, LPC and Aisha Simmons on July 21, 2014

Making Marital Conversation Meaningful Again

What was it that your spouse said this morning?

You remember, right after you glanced at each other over coffee?iStock_000009063136Small

Right before you left for the day… something about the mortgage payment?

What was it that you said?

Do you have more passionate conversations about what to watch on TV than you do about your relationship?

When was the last time you and your partner discussed anything worth remembering?

It seems that you just don’t talk anymore.

You can make your marital communication memorable and meaningful again. Consider the following 7 techniques for improving the way you and your partner communicate:

  1. Start with a touch. People tend to open up when someone they care about physically demonstrates that they care too. How much easier is it to say I love you when your spouse leans over to kiss your forehead or wrap you in a lingering hug? How much more sincere does your interaction seem when you touch his shoulder or hold his hand?
  2. Date like you mean it. Get reacquainted. Get away from the kids, emails, and the ever-growing collection of electronic screens. Seek out experiences you meant to share but never got around to. Start to see each other as whole, interesting people with remarkable adventures and perspectives to share.
  3. Intend to talk. Get your head in the communication game. Don’t assume your spouse knows what you’re thinking or how you feel. Think about what you want your spouse to know. Is there something you’re experiencing at work that occupies your thoughts? Are there relationships with friends or family that require a lot of your mental energy? Do you miss certain aspects of your early relationship? Gather your thoughts and prepare to share them openly and honestly.
  4. Get beyond good intentions. Once you know what you want to say, plan time to say it. Devote time to true, focused discussion. Engage fully, enthusiastically, and regularly. Don’t worry if your mind starts to wander, the conversation gets repetitive, or your partner’s voice starts to sound like the white noise machine you used to put the kids to sleep. Stick with it; don’t give up! Though it may feel forced or uncomfortable at first, the more you make communication a priority, the better you’ll become at meaningful connection.
  5. Expect to learn. Listen actively to your spouse. What have you missed amid the demands of your lives? As the conversation starts to flow, ask questions. Find out “why and how”, not just “who or what”. What’s the story behind the day that was “fine”? Discover how “the usual” day at work looks and feels for your spouse.
  6. What aren’t you saying? Are things too quiet between you because you are trying to avoid conflict or uncomfortable emotions? It’s okay to accept a few “irreconcilable differences”. Don’t allow differing opinions to shut down communication or a deeper connection to each other. You don’t always have to agree to communicate lovingly, effectively, and respectfully.
  7. Call in a coach early. If you need help prioritizing time for your relationship, identifying communication gaps, or breaking ineffective habits, a couple’s therapist can be a great help. If conflict or unresolved emotions are factors in communication, a counselor can suggest skills that will help you manage issues that are stifling your relationship. Don’t wait until there’s nothing but silence and indifference between you. Seek help early and often for the best possible results.  Remember, your spouse can be more than a bill buddy or parenting partner.

Shake off the conversational cobwebs.

Pay closer attention to each other.

Practice intentional, meaningful dialogue.

Rediscover your best friend.