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Sugar Land Counseling Center Blog

An informational series by Sugar Land Counseling Center Staff

Getting through the Holidays with Grace

by Danielle Hale, Ph.D. 

Licensed Psychologist

November 21, 2017

Are you worried about getting through the holidays?  Feeling like everybody around you is happy, but you?  Then keep reading.  Sometimes it seems like everybody else has happy family plans and is excited about the hustle and bustle of shopping during the holidays – but for some of us, the whole holiday thing is overrated.  Maybe you’re stressed about how much it’s going to cost, or maybe you are missing somebody special that you would like to spend the holidays with, maybe the stress of getting everything right is just too much, or maybe you know you’re going to have to see family members that make you angry and upset or maybe it’s all of the above or something else entirely.  Let’s talk about what we can do to find some peace and maybe even a little bit of joy.


One thing you can try is to set some boundaries around how much time, energy, or money you’re going to spend doing this or that so you don’t burn yourself out.  We all have limited amounts of physical and emotional energy and if we use it all up cooking, we won’t have any left for visiting with family, or shopping or the rest.  So give it some thought ahead of time.  Limit the cooking to those dishes you really love and delegate the rest to someone else or to the neighborhood grocery store.  Limit how many hours you’re going to spend doing Black Friday shopping on Thursday or Friday or Saturday.  You might miss few sales, but enjoying a special moment with one of your favorite people will give you energy instead of subtracting from it.  We also may have to limit the amount of money we spend during this time.  It’s easy to get caught up in our materialistic culture and to feel guilty if we can’t buy our loved one those things we think they need or want.  Remind yourself that in the end what we all need most from each other is emotional support.  We need someone to listen and to care about us and maybe even help us out physically once in awhile.  Consider what it is you really want and you’ll probably discover that it’s not some expensive gift.  If that’s true for you, it’s probably true for others.  The only thing we have unlimited amounts of is love!  The thing we all want most and we have lots and lots of it to go around! How amazing is that!


If some of your family members get on your nerves, limit how much time you’re going to spend with them.  An hour or two having dinner with gratitude and kindness is better than 6 hours or 2 days of arguing and fighting.  Remember that people are who they are.  Aunt Jane and Uncle Sylvester are not likely to have changed in the months since you saw them last.  Aunt Jane is probably still way too cheerful and Uncle Sylvester is probably still negative and cutting with every remark he makes.  Ah well.  Give it up.  You can’t change them.  But you don’t have to let them get to you and ruin your mood either.  You have power to control how you think and feel.  They have no power over you.  Remember that sometimes when people are irritating, it may be because they remind us of ourselves!  Or it may be that they’re hurting and sad inside and all the prickles on the outside are just their way of protecting themselves.  If they are being mean to you, they are probably mean to everybody and think about how difficult that makes their life.  Practice compassion for them and for yourself. Be kind always.


If you’re missing someone who has died or moved away from your life or is not able to be with you, think of a way to remember them with kindness and love.  Send them love and kindness wherever they are by doing something that they would enjoy or have a special remembrance table or dish or picture or set a chair in the corner of the room and imagine them there with you.  What would they say? What would they do?  What joke would they make?  What music would they play or song would they sing?  Don’t fight against the memories, welcome them in.  Be grateful that person has been in your life.  Let yourself cry if you need to or laugh if you are able at some funny memory the two of you shared.  Love is a good and rare thing.


Most of all, take care of yourself.  Be kind and compassionate with all your stresses and irritations and limitations.  You are human too after all.  Take time for a walk with the youngest or the oldest.  Enjoy the good smells.  Feel the cool air.  Notice the clouds and the trees.  Take some deep breaths.  Be present in the moment.  Things will work themselves out.  They always do.  One way or another.  You’re ok right now.


Sugar Land Counseling Center Blog

An informational series by Sugar Land Counseling Center Staff

Why Sports Make Us Happier

by Nicole Dorsey, Ph.D. 

Licensed Psychologist

November 2, 2017

Wow! The Houston Astros win their very first World Series Championship in franchise history. After everything that Houstonians experienced in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, rooting for our favorite baseball team has been a welcome distraction for many of us. #HoustonStrong became the motto for all of us and we felt united as a community. Today, the day after this historic win, many of us can’t wipe that smile off our faces and others have cried tears of joy for their beloved Astros. But, why are we all so emotional over a game? Next year, there will be another winning team (although we hope the Astros can become back-to-back champions) and another city will experience this high. Well, believe it or not, there are actually scientific reasons why sports make us happier.


In an article published by the Huffington Post (12/10/14; updated 12/18/14), it was reported that the team at Happify has looked at these reasons. Happify is a website and app which aims at using science to create games and activities to help individuals develop better emotional health and wellbeing. They have found that being a sports participant can be beneficial, but also that being a sports fan is good for our well-being!


So, what is so great about playing a sport?


· Research shows that playing sports makes both women and men happier.

· Girls and boys who play on team sports are more satisfied with their lives than kids who don’t, according to a study of 7th- and 8th graders.

· Kids who play sports also have higher self-esteem and are less depressed.

· It is not just being active that makes kids happy. The social interaction of a team boosts spirits.

· Playing on a sports team can also provide the long-lasting benefits of improving how well we communicate and how good we are at cooperating.


OK, that is all well and good. But, what about for someone like me, who has never had the coordination or skill level that it takes to play a sport? Well, that’s OK, since being a sports fan can be emotionally satisfying as well!


· Studies consistently show that people who call themselves sports fans tend to have lower rates of depression, less stress, and higher self-esteem than non-sports fans.


· Fans of local teams are generally happier than fans of non-local teams.

o Why? Daniel Wann, Ph.D. says that it creates opportunities for social bonding. It can lead to close friendships and the feeling that you are part of a community. I have to admit, it has been fun to share the excitement of the Astros through social media. It feels good to celebrate together, even if it is on Facebook!


· Research from Oregon State University suggests that we enjoy watching sports more when we’re given the players’ backstories and we have someone to root for (or against). I’m from Illinois and I love the fact that J.J. Watt is also from the Midwest. I’ve been to Wisconsin more times than I can count. We totally have a special connection, don’t we?!


· Football fans love the game best when their team almost loses – the suspense makes it more thrilling, say researchers at Ohio State University. I’m sure this probably holds true for other sports as well. I mean, Game 5 of this past World Series, with a score of 13-12 in the 10th inning, was one of the most exciting wins ever!


· Psychologists say that for fans, watching sports games triggers the release of the feel-good brain chemical, dopamine.

o But, on the flip side, studies show that what’s happening on the field can affect our stress-hormone levels. For example, Los Angeles saw a jump in cardiac deaths after the Rams lost the Super Bowl to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1980. Four years later, when the LA Raiders took home the championship, cardiac deaths declined.

o Hardcore fans can go through withdrawal when the games end.


If you get too agitated during games when things aren’t going your way, Ken Yeager, professor of psychiatry at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, suggests that you:


o Drink a little less

o Don’t bet on games

o Turn the TV down

o Avoid other rabid fans


As much fun as it is to root for our favorite teams, it is important to for us to recognize when we are getting too caught up in winning the game or the score.


It has been a fun ride with the Astros this season. We also can’t forget our Houston Dynamo, as they continue in the Major League Soccer semifinals. It is still fairly early in the season for our Texans and Rockets, but we will hopefully continue to have plenty to cheer for in the coming months. At the very least, we will look back on 2017 as the year of Hurricane Harvey, but also as the year that we were #HoustonStrong and our Astros won it all!


A link to the original article (with references) can be found here: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/10/sports-and-happiness-happify_n_6290284.html



Resilience In Middle Age

by Danielle Hale, Ph.D. 

Licensed Psychologist

August 23, 2017

I recently read an article from the New York Times about building resilience in Midlife.  Read More.  I was excited to see this article because I did a lot of research on resilience when I was in graduate school. The idea of resilience is that some people are able to bounce back even when bad things happen.  Well, some people, sometimes!  We all have a breaking point and sometimes we reach it and it’s very very hard to bounce back.  But I think we can build a “habit” of resilience by doing a few things regularly. 

Tara Parker-Pope suggests:  1) Practice Optimism; 2) Rewrite Your Story; 3) Don’t Personalize It; 4) Remember Your Comebacks; 5) Support Others; 6) Take Stress Breaks; and 7) Go Out of Your Comfort Zone.


I think all of these are great advice, but the one that struck me the most was to go out of your comfort zone.  I hate this advice!  Because I like being comfortable! I like having my little routines and schedules, e.g. make breakfast on Saturday morning, start the laundry, clean the kitchen, straighten the house, etc.  I like my Saturdays to be very predictable.  But if I had not gone out of my comfort zone, I would not be doing some things that have been really helpful to my middle life!   About a year ago I went a yoga class for the first time ever.  I was scared to death.  I am not a physical person and I was always the last person chosen in PE in elementary school, so I really didn’t want to go!  But I went anyway.  And it was so helpful. I learned so many things about myself and about yoga and my very interesting yoga instructor taught me about meditation and provided a class that taught me how to really meditate instead of pretending to meditate!  Because we all know we should meditate, right!  And I also forced myself to go to a book club on meetup.com. I was also scared about that!  But it’s been such a lovely addition to my life and I have met many friends there.  Another thing I didn’t want to do was go to a small group at my place of worship.  A singles small group.  I was scared.  I thought it would be weird.  I thought I wouldn’t have anything in common with the other people.  I was so wrong!  It has been such a delight!  And again I’ve met some very cool people – not what I thought at all.  So.  Here’s what I’ve learned: If it’s really hard and you’re really scared, do it anyway!  Get out of your comfort zone!  After you get out of it once, then it’s not so uncomfortable anymore.  The experience may build your resilience so when life throws hard things at you, you’ll be emotionally and physically ready for them.  And, most important, you’ll meet interesting people and have more fun.

Danielle Hale, Ph.D.

Licensed Psychologist

Sugar Land Counseling Center Blog

An informational series by Sugar Land Counseling Center staff



What is Trauma?

by Nicole Dorsey, Ph.D. 

Licensed Psychologist

April 29, 2017

What is Trauma?

These days, we seem to hear quite a bit about violence in society and we hear a lot about individuals feeling "traumatized" by these events. Every night, the evening news has plenty of stories of violent crimes, car accidents, school violence, and sexual abuse. I hear many people say that they can't even watch the news anymore, because it is too overwhelming. But, you might be wondering exactly what trauma is and how it can affect you. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), trauma is an emotional response to a terrible, and often sudden, event. While it is normal to be significantly affected by tragedies that occur in our lives, some people find that their traumatic experience has made it difficult to move on with their lives. In such cases, it is often helpful to seek professional help in order to learn how to cope with this experience.


What are some examples of traumatic experiences?


There are a wide variety of situations that could lead to a traumatic experience, and often involve a situation in which an individual fears for his or her safety, or for the safety of others.


* Sexual Assault or sexual abuse

* Domestic violence or physical abuse

* Natural disasters (hurricanes, flooding, tornados)

* Severe illness or injury

* The death of a loved one

* Witnessing an act of violence

* Vehicle accident


In addition to life-threatening situations, there are other experiences that are so emotionally difficult, that individuals hope to never experience that again, such as a divorce, a major move, or an incident of sexual harassment. Some individuals have felt traumatized by these experiences and might experience many of the same symptoms as individuals who experienced life-threatening events.


Common reactions after trauma (The National Center for PTSD) https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/problems/common-reactions-after-trauma.asp


The National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) indicates that after going through a trauma, survivors often say that their first feeling is relief to be alive. This may be followed by stress, fear, and anger. Trauma survivors may also find they are unable to stop thinking about what happened. Many survivors often feel that they are constantly "on alert", which causes them to be very sensitive to sounds and sights around them.


Reactions to a trauma may include:

* Feeling hopeless about the future

* Feeling detached or unconcerned about others

* Having trouble concentrating or making

* Feeling jumpy and getting startled easily at sudden noises

* Feeling on guard and constantly alert

* Having disturbing dreams and memories or flashbacks

* Having work or school problems


You may also experience more physical reactions such as:

* Upset stomach or trouble eating

* Difficulty sleeping and feeling tired

* Pounding heart, rapid breathing, feeling edgy

* Sweating

* Severe headache if thinking of the event

* Excess smoking, alcohol, drugs, food

* Ongoing medical problems worsen


You might also have more emotional difficulties, such as:

* Feeling nervous, helpless, fearful, sad

* Feeling shocked, numb, and not able to feel love or joy

* Avoiding people, places, and things related to the event

* Being irritable or having outbursts of anger

* Becoming easily upset or agitated

* Blaming yourself or having negative views of oneself or the world

* Distrust of others, getting into conflicts, being over-controlling

* Being withdrawn, feeling rejected, or abandoned

* Loss of intimacy or feeling detached


Getting help


For some individuals, working through their trauma is simply a matter of time. But, for many people, time alone is not enough. If you find that your symptoms are interfering with daily life activities or they are lasting for longer than you think they should, it might be time to seek outside help. That might simply be allowing yourself to accept help from your friends and family, or to participate in a support group, or to finding someone who can provide individual psychological and/or psychiatric treatment for you. Seeking help does not mean that you are weak. It means that you have made a decision to take back control of your life and your emotions. It is also important to find something that works for you. Some people prefer to work through their problems with a group of people who have similar experiences, while others prefer to meet one on one with a therapist. Even different therapists will have different approaches and everyone responds to treatment differently. You will likely need to make several decisions along the way, such as whether or not medication is right for you. It is important to discuss these decisions with your treatment provider in order to develop the most effective treatment plan for you. It is also important to remember that a traumatic experience is always going to be a part of your life experience. You are not expected to simply forget about what happened to you. However, the goal is for you to be able to continue to live your life in a way that brings you joy and happiness.


Nicole Dorsey, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist