Gun Violence in America: How to Cope With The Insanity. - Stepping Stone Community Services.

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Author: Lynda Benigno

 

America; we have a problem, a sickening, emotionally exhausting, gun problem. When I try to contemplate the loss of life, physical injuries, trauma, and grief, my head spins. Seeing hundreds of " thoughts and prayers" posts on social media makes me nauseous. I imagine many others feel the same as I do. We as a country are perfectly comfortable with a level of violence that seriously injures or snuffs out lives in one foul swoop. Where has our humanity gone?

 

The memory of coming home from school on April 20, 1999; seeing kids my age, terrified and crying outside their school, is still fresh in my mind. At the time, it did not occur to me that this event would become commonplace. More than ten years later, gun violence touched my family, as did the realization that no one is immune to becoming a statistic. This year marked the 20th anniversary of Columbine, and I have developed a mental list of places I associate with mass death. Grocery stores/shopping malls, bars, clubs, concerts, movie theaters, churches, and office buildings. Perhaps it's my way of coping with the endless stream of human slaughter and suffering that lays itself bare on the television screen and in my news feed. How long before there are memorials on every street corner in our country? Why are we cowering in the face of the disintegration of basic human decency?

 

Statistics on gun violence in America are grim.

 

·    The U.S has had 249 mass shootings in 2019.

·    The U.S has six times the gun homicide rate as Canada, and the gun homicide rate in the U.S. is 25 times that of other high-income countries.

·    Firearms are the second leading cause of death in American children and teens and the first leading cause of death for African American children.

·    4.5 million American women have been threatened with a firearm by an intimate partner.

·    52 American women are shot and killed by an intimate partner each month in the U.S.

·    Gun homicide rates are higher in racially segregated neighborhoods with high poverty rates.

·    58% of American adults or someone they care for has experienced gun violence.

·    Three million American children witness gun violence a year.

We can debate the broadly defined term, mass shooting, until we are all blue in the face. I have no interest. I have no interest in talking about good guys with guns, second amendment rights, or extra security measures in buildings or at outdoor events. I will say this. I believe having a president who incites violence with racist and sexist rhetoric is not helping. Easy access to firearms is a problem. The unwillingness of Congress to ban the sale of assault weapons, the most favored weapon of mass shooters, is a problem. Entitled, misogynistic, racist white males are a problem ( and the one common thread in all mass shootings). Access to mental health services is a problem. However, it should be noted that statistically, those with mental illness are more likely to be a target of gun violence than a perpetrator. Calling shooters crazy when the reality is they are methodical is a problem. Poverty, substance abuse, and domestic violence are a problem as they are contributing factors. The fact that shootings are inevitable, and the loss of life is acceptable is a problem.

 

Do I have any easy answers for stopping the current insanity? No. Do I hope you will talk about it, call your congressional leaders, and organize discussions in your community? Yes.

 

Whether you are a victim of gun violence, a witness, or just emotionally drained from the imagery and talking heads on the news, I have a few suggestions to help you cope.

 

1.   Practice Self Care- Eat healthily, sleep, exercise, and do your best to maintain a routine. It may seem selfish to think about yourself; however, you can not pour from an empty cup.

2.   Recognize when you or those around you need support- There is no shame in getting help. If you notice changes in eating habits, sleep patterns, mood swings, or low energy levels, seek advice from a therapist. If you see these changes in someone you love, do your best to be supportive and suggest therapy. After a traumatic event, having someone to talk to who is understanding will make all the difference.

3.   Limit Media Exposure- The medias portrayal of mass shootings have been shown to cause acute stress and trigger PTSD. While it is essential to stay informed, the constant barrage mass death is not good for anyone. Turn off the tv and your phone whenever possible.

4.   Check-in with your kids- For children directly impacted by gun violence, increased anxiety, fear, depression, and difficulty expressing their emotions may occur. Witnessing news reports on mass shootings will challenge your children's sense of safety. Have a conversation with them by letting them openly express their fears, concerns, and questions without injecting your own two sense. Stay calm and validate their feelings by telling them what they are feeling is normal and rational. Limit their exposure to the 24-hour news cycle as much as possible.

 

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your health care provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, or Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6646.

A Right to a Healthy Relationship Starts with Healthy Choices - Stepping Stone Community Services

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Author: Lynda Benigno

In our life, no area seems more complicated than our relationship with others. Relationships of all kinds require effort. We try to adapt to others faults, moods, and preferences, and hopefully, others do the same. Healthy relationships comprise of mutual respect, empathy, compassion, and a general interest in the well being, growth and happiness of the other person. No matter your relationship to another person; parent to child, spouse to spouse or friendship, you should feel safe, loved, and accepted for who you are. In healthy relationships, disagreements and minor power struggles occur, with both parties willing and able to resolve them with open communication and compromise.

Toxic relationships are harmful to our well being, contributing to stress, anxiety, depression, and medical problems such as heart disease. A relationship that has inequality, selfishness, dominance, control, and destructive behavior patterns make you feel emotionally and mentally drained. You begin to avoid the other person or keep your time with them short. A toxic relationship may also consist of physical violence or substance abuse, and in this case, intervention is required, get help immediately.

It can be challenging to tell if a relationship is toxic because no relationship is perfect all of the time. Answering these questions can help you figure out if a relationship is toxic.

1. Does the other person insist on having things their way with little consideration of your feelings or needs?

2. When you spend time with the other person, do you feel drained instead of energized?

3. Do you trust the other person?

4. Is the other person always angry or hostile?

5. Does the other person always have unfolding drama or problems that they want you to engage in or help fix?

6. Does the other person always judge or criticize you?

7. Does the other person support your emotional and physical well being?

8. Do you change your opinions or needs based on what the other person wants to keep the peace?

9. Do you feel uncomfortable around the other person?

10. Are you unable to grow and learn in the presence of the other person?

11. Does being around the other person bring out the worst in you?

12. Do you find yourself going along with ideas or actions that are contrary to your ethical code of conduct?

13. Does the other person use guilt as a weapon such as appearing to support a decision and then remind you of how the decision inconvenienced them?

14. Does the other person have a short fuse and you avoid doing or saying anything that might set them off?

15. Does the other person insult you and then smile and say its a joke?

We humans have a fundamental need to connect and be close to each other. Having positive relationships is vital for our well being. If you recognize these traits in any of your relationships, you owe it to yourself to address them with the other person. If you are both looking for a way to improve your relationship, therapy can be an excellent first step. If the other party is not interested in discussing and changing the relationship dynamics, then separation from this person may be your only option. Continuing to expose yourself to an unhealthy relationship will cost you your mental and physical health and potentially breed ongoing conflict.

*Important Note: If you are in a relationship where there is physical violence and or substance abuse, only confront the other person if and when it is safe to do so. Seek out professional help from someone who has experience with domestic violence and or substance abuse. Confronting the other person alone may put your safety at risk. National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-787-3224.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any physical or mental condition. If you are suffering, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

Netflix and Chill, because it's self care too. -Stepping Stone Community Services

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Author: Lynda Benigno

The WHO defines self-care as " what people do for themselves to establish and maintain health and prevent and deal with illness". Self-care is finding a balance between daily life demands and your own needs to maintain overall well being. Self - care involves taking into account your psychological; physical, emotional, spiritual, and professional needs. Most days, you wake up with a full battery, as you complete tasks and fulfill obligations throughout the day, your battery slowly drains. By the end of the day, your battery is on empty. Practicing self- care is like plugging yourself into a charger. Engaging in self-care allows you to forge a healthy relationship with yourself as well as others. When you are in tune with your own needs and can meet those needs, you open up space within yourself to serve others without draining your battery.

Often an individual will reach a breaking point before engaging in self-care practices. What self - care looks like varies, each person has their individual needs and what works for one person may not work for another. Self-care can be challenging for individuals who suffer from depression or have experienced trauma; in this case, a therapist can help. Making self-care a part of your daily routine will reduce stress and anxiety levels, increase your self-esteem, and produce positive feelings.

Below you will find the five different categories of self - care and a few examples to help you get started. You can incorporate one or two activities into your daily routine and see what works for you.

Psychological Self-Care:

* Engage in self-reflection.

*Say "no" to activities that do not bring you joy.

*Acknowledge your feelings throughout the day.

*Find a therapist to help you work through painful emotions or trauma and improve coping and communication skills.

Physical Self-Care

*Eat healthy foods.

*Get regular exercise.

*Wear comfortable clothes.

*Get regular check-ups and take all medications as prescribed.

*Get plenty of sleep.

*Get a massage or have a spa day.

Emotional Self-Care

*Recognize and feel your emotions as they are without judgment.

*Compliment yourself once a day.

*Write in a journal.

*Set appropriate boundaries with others especially those who are not supportive or leave you feeling drained or depressed.

*Spend time with people you love.

*Forgive yourself for your mistakes.

*Forgive others for their mistakes ( you will feel much lighter ).

*Watch a funny movie or comedy special on Netflix/ Binge-watch your favorite show.

*Establish a no-contact hour each day. Each day for one hour your phone is turned off, you unplug from social media and the never-ending stream of emails. Use this time for reflection or doing something you love.

Spiritual Self-Care

No matter what religion or spiritual practice you observe, you able to get to know your soul/higher self.

*Meditation alone, with a partner or meditation circle.

*Attend church.

*Spend time with nature, this can be in your backyard with a cup of coffee or at a park.

Professional Self- Care

*Balance workload with breaks.

*Communicate with coworkers in a clear manner.

*Establish healthy boundaries by leaving work at work.

*If something about your workplace is bothering you, bring the subject up with a supervisor. Be specific about the problem and open to solutions.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) -Stepping Stone Community Services

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Author: Lynda Benigno

According to the American Psychological Association, one in eleven will suffer from PTSD in their lifetime. During the Civil War and again during World War 1 the term " shell shock" was used to describe PTSD. In 1980 PTSD was officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. Post traumatic Stress Disorder is caused by a life-threatening traumatic event with the most common example being war. Other traumatic incidents such as sexual assault, car accidents, shootings, natural disasters, and domestic violence have the potential to cause PTSD.

Three brain regions play a role in PTSD. The amygdala evaluates stress. Smells, sights, and sounds of memories are stored in this region, and when a similar situation arises, the amygdala sends a signal to engage in fight or flight. The hippo campus is responsible for storing and retrieving memories. The prefrontal cortex, located behind the forehead, is responsible for rational thought, making decisions, and emotional response.

When a life-threatening trauma occurs, your brain can get stuck in danger mode. The hippo campus works hard to calm the amygdala, if the hippo campus is unsuccessful, it results in damage. The amygdala becomes overactive and lessens the brains' ability to produce calming thoughts. The prefrontal cortex becomes under active, interrupting rational thought, and proper emotional response. The nerve circuits that connect these three areas of the brain cease to operate correctly, creating a perfect storm.

Not everyone experiences symptoms of PTSD immediately following a life-threatening trauma. Sometimes symptoms don't appear for months or years. PTSD causes the person to re-experience the trauma over and over again. This may present as nightmares, flashbacks, or reoccurring thoughts about the trauma as well as agitation, fear, severe anxiety, guilt, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, social isolation,and insomnia. Chronic pain that is not the result of physical injury during the trauma is caused by the body being under a constant state of stress and hyper vigilance. Hyper vigilance causes a person to continually scan his or her environment for potential threats and remain on high alert at all times. Conversations that have anything to do with the trauma may be refused. People, places, or things that are associated with the trauma may also be avoided.

Psychotherapy is the most effective treatment for PTSD. There are many avenues of psychotherapy that can be used to lessen symptoms and eventually heal from the trauma that was experienced. Cognitive restructuring can help a PTSD sufferer get a realistic perspective on the traumatic event leading to a reduction in shame or guilt. Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on facing the traumatic event head-on by identifying, understanding, and changing patterns of behaviors, feelings, and thoughts to improve functioning. CBT is done in a controlled and safe manner so that the patient can confront rather than avoid the trauma. Stress management, as well as healthy coping mechanisms, are taught, so the patient has a plan in place for potential crisis and triggers. CBT can help the sufferer gain a full understanding of their trauma and add a sense of control. SSRI'S can be prescribed to relieve depressive symptoms and lift mood but should be used in conjunction with psychotherapy. Support groups can help reduce the feelings of loneliness, offer emotional support, and can be a great place to get practical advice from others who are also moving forward with their healing.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any physical or mental condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

Recognize The Moments That Trigger Impatience. -Stepping Stone Community Services

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Author: Lynda Benigno

We have all heard the saying "Patience is a virtue". We live in a world of instant everything, and so we have come to expect immediate gratification. When we find ourselves in a situation that isn't going according to plan or what we want is not provided right away, we tend to feel a flood of emotions. Impatience increases adrenaline, cortisol, and blood pressure that eventually leads to heart disease. You are also more likely to make rash decisions or damage relationships. On the flip side, fostering patience can lead to improved relations, communication, decision making and less stress that affects the mind and body. Patience is a skill that we can learn and with practice becomes a way of being.

Recognize The Moments That Trigger Impatience

Certain situations may arise throughout your day that trigger impatience. Perhaps you are waiting in a long line at the grocery store while on your lunch break or with your kids. You begin to feel angry or irritated. You want to tell the cashier to hurry up, you are on a time crunch, or the kids are having a meltdown. You can't understand why it's taking so long to check out. Making a list of these moments allows you to become conscious of the scenarios in which impatience occurs, so you are better prepared to use healthy coping strategies.

Understand The Feelings That Occur When Impatience Arises

We want to feel comfortable at all times. When impatience appears, it can feel like intolerable emotional pain. When we understand that uncomfortable is different from intolerable, we can better manage our response. Recognizing the feelings that occur is a response to our lack of control over the situation and is not as big as we make it in our heads helps to lessen the impact of the inconvenience you are experiencing.

Work On The Narrative In Your Head

The thoughts you have and the way you talk to yourself has a significant impact on your response to any given situation. If you are standing in a long line, you might think " I can't stand waiting, I have so much to do" or " Why is this line so slow". Perhaps you begin to think about other times you were in a long line and how you felt at that moment. You start to compare that moment with the present moment and feel your emotions heighten. When this thought process begins to occur, slow yourself down. Take a deep breath and acknowledge the thoughts you just had. Remind yourself that you are disappointed in the situation, and it is making you uncomfortable, but that uncomfortable is tolerable. The situation is temporary and in the grand scheme of things is not that big of a deal.

Practice Active Listening

Active listening requires patience. When we actively listen to another person, they feel heard, and our responses are better thought out. When someone is speaking, we tend to prepare our response while they are still talking instead of soaking in everything being said. You can practice active listening by quieting your thoughts and solely concentrating on what you are hearing. When the other person is finished talking, take a moment to think out your response. The conversation slows down, communication improves, and both people feel understood and heard.

Look At The Big Picture

Problem-solving becomes easier and less stressful if you look at it from different angles. Impatience causes us to make quick and sometimes irrational decisions. When you take the time to slow down, explore all of your options and the different outcomes associated with each, you are more likely to make an educated and rational choice. Even if a decision needs to be made quickly, taking a moment to think of the consequences as opposed to jumping to the first thought in your mind is always a better choice.

Desired Outcome and Looking from Another Perspective

We all have the ability to help or hurt in any given situation. When you become impatient, you may lash out. You may shout at the cashier to hurry up, become pushy, demanding and display outward signs of the anger and irritation you feel inside. Doing so will surely make the situation worse and have no benefit to anyone, not even yourself. If you are stuck in traffic on your way to work; yelling at the person in the car in front of you will not speed up your arrival, and furthermore, you have taken your frustration out on someone who also has very little control over the situation. At that moment you have to decide what the desired outcome is. Do you want to arrive at work quickly or do you want to arrive safely? Would an impatient response make the situation better or worse?

Breathe And Be Gentle With Yourself

When you are patient with yourself, you make room for patience with others. When you feel impatience beginning to arise, take a deep breath in and count to ten, then breathe out slowly counting to ten. Allow yourself the room to breathe between tasks throughout the day and remember that everything does not have to be done right now or in quick succession. In a world of now, slowing down may be just what you need.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any physical or mental condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

How The Addiction to Dopamine Hijacks the Brain. (Part 3) -Stepping Stone Community Services

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Author: Lynda Benigno

The goals of treatment for addiction should comprise of stopping the use of the substance, helping the addict remain substance-free and become productive in all areas in life including family, work and society. No single treatment will work for everyone, and as with other diseases, some trial and error to see what is effective for the patient is needed. One of the most effective methods of treatment is counseling and behavioral therapy. Treatment should also include addressing traumas and any existing psychological disorders. Patients should have a complete physical exam that includes testing for STD'S, infectious diseases and other health problems that the substance use may have caused. Detoxing while under a medical professionals care is preferred and a good first step. Long term follow up care that also includes support from family, friends or a sponsor will help prevent relapse. Restructuring the family unit through family therapy can create a loving and supportive environment that increases the chance of sobriety and aid in the healing process for all who are involved.

Detoxing and the role of medication

As previously mentioned, detoxing under a medical professionals care is preferred. An addict with severe dependence may experience dangerous withdrawal symptoms that can last from days to weeks. While not all withdrawal symptoms are life-threatening, they can be alarming to the addict and those around them. These acute symptoms may include, hyperactivity, sweating, nausea, increased blood pressure or heart rate, body pains or headaches, disorientation, insomnia, night sweats, fatigue, fever or chills, and hallucinations. A medical professional can prescribe medications that can ease withdrawal symptoms and aid in sobriety. These include:

*Naltrexone: Reduces relapse for narcotic and alcohol dependence by blocking opioid receptors that are involved with the pre-frontal cortex of the brain where reward is triggered.

*Suboxone, Probuphine, Sublocade: Reduces cravings and withdraw symptoms for those with opioid dependence

Behavioral and Cognitive Therapy

The goal with behavioral and cognitive therapies is to modify the patient's attitude and behavior related to substance abuse as well as create healthy lifestyle goals that will promote sobriety. This process works to keep the patient engaged in the treatment process and provides incentives to stay sober. Patients learn how to cope with everyday stressors as well as the thoughts and emotions that lead to substance use. They also learn how to how to remove themselves from situations that trigger substance use. By rewarding healthy behavior and consciously seeing thoughts in a realistic way, the patient will learn not to attach a negative emotion or response to their experience. Behavioral and cognitive therapies can be tailored to meet the patients individual needs making treatment effective.

Family Therapy

Family therapy has been shown to be more effective than standard support counseling. Family therapy is used to resolve family conflict, repair relationships and improve the function of the unit as a whole in a way that promotes sobriety. Family therapy will address the impact of addiction, mental health concerns and any trauma that is the result of addiction. Family therapy also helps to validate the experiences of each family member while developing new communication skills and healthy behavioral dynamics. Family therapy provides healing and sobriety for all parties involved.

12 Step Program

12 step facilitation therapy helps promote long term sobriety through engagement with peers. The three basic tenants behind this approach are acceptance, surrender and active involvement. Although the 12 step program was initially developed for alcoholics, the program is useful for various addictions including narcotics and debtors. The program is based heavily on religion, but those with non-religious beliefs have found the program helpful. The focus does not have to be on any particular religion or deity but rather something bigger than yourself such as the universe. The 12 steps are as followed:

*Admit that you are powerless over your addiction and your life has become unmanageable.

*Believe a power higher than yourself can restore you to sanity

* Decide to turn over your will and life to God; however, you understand God to be.

*Take moral inventory of yourself in a fearless manner

*Admit to God, yourself and others the true nature of your wrongs

*Be entirely ready to have God remove all of your defects of character

*Humbly ask God to remove your shortcomings

*Make a list of all persons you have wronged and be willing to make amends

*Make amends to those on your list except when doing so will cause more harm to the other person

*Continue to take a moral inventory of yourself and when you are wrong promptly admit so

*Through prayer and meditation, seek to improve contact with God, pray for knowledge of his will for you and the strength to carry it out

*Having experienced a spiritual awakening, try to carry this message to other addicts and continue to practice these principals in all of your affairs.

Role of a Sponsor in Recovery

Having a sponsor as well as regular meetings offers social support that is a critical component of AA. A sponsor provides one on one support and has usually had experience in the program for an extended period. Majority of sponsors make themselves available 24/7 so that there is someone available whenever the need arises. Since your sponsor is also in recovery, they can detect the early warning signs that you may relapse and provide the extra support needed to help you stay sober. Your sponsor is also responsible for giving honest feedback on behavior and thought patterns as well as helping you through your 12 steps.

Therapeutic Communities

Rehabilitation at a therapeutic community provides a highly structured program where patients reside. The time frame is dependent on the severity of the addiction and can range anywhere from 6-12 months. Staff members, as well as peers, play a role in influencing change. It is a group based approach that also includes medically trained professionals and other specialists such as a psychiatrist. The focus is placed on the overall health and well being of the patient. These include making lifestyle changes such as developing a routine as well as learning life skills that promote sobriety. The patients attend group therapy, individual or family therapy, education classes as well as participating in work-related responsibilities. The running of the community is based on everyone's participation and is highly structured. This tactic promotes healthy socialization skills and helps each person participate constructively in society.

Access to Care

Insurance does not always cover addiction treatment and when it does it may not include treatment for as long as the patient requires. When looking for a treatment center, many are surprised to find that immediate access is not possible. Restrictions placed on clinicians that include how many patients can be treated at a time limits the number of beds available at rehab centers. Without immediate access, an addict may discard the notion of treatment and continue using.

Addressing our response to addiction is critical. Accepting that addiction is a disease also means accepting it should be treated as a disease. Although penalties should be imposed for criminal offenses, addressing the underlying condition with the primary focus on rehabilitation would be much more effective.

If you or someone you know has a substance abuse problem, please contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-4357

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any physical or mental condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

How The Addiction to Dopamine Hijacks the Brain. (Part 2) -Stepping Stone Community Services

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Author: Lynda Benigno

In part one of this series, we covered what addiction is and the physical and psychological consequences. Aside from changes in the brain and decline in physical and mental health, an addict faces a range of consequences that are far-reaching and often extends beyond themselves.

Impact on Family

Addicts relationships become unstable, and separation from family members is prevalent. Addicts often become isolated and may come home late or not at all. Other family members or neighbors may step in and provide care and support for the addict's spouse and children. A spouse, deciding they have had enough, may file for divorce and seek custody of minor children. Financial resources become depleted in order to support the addict's addiction, and unpaid bills that lead to the loss of housing, transportation or use of utilities affects the entire household. Fear, anxiety, depression, guilt, anger, stress, denial, and embarrassment are common for those who live with an addicted family member. Children of an addict may act as a surrogate spouse taking on adult responsibilities such as caring for younger siblings before they are mature enough to do so. The lack of positive role modeling, concepts of normal behavior and trust has a lasting impact on children. Finding it challenging to sustain a meaningful relationship with their addicted parent, a child may lash out in a variety of ways such as temper tantrums or disruptive behavior. Children of addicts are at risk of developing trust issues, impaired learning capabilities, difficulty adjusting to change, increased rates of divorce, control issues, depression, low self-esteem, violence, anxiety and are at a higher risk of becoming addicts themselves. A child born to an addicted mother is at risk for low birth rate, STD'S, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or being born addicted to opioids leading to withdraw after birth. The spouse of an addict who does not use may attempt to compensate for the using parent's shortcomings by taking on the provider role. The non- using spouse, seeking to protect their children and provide emotional and financial security is often overwhelmed and experiences high levels of stress and anxiety. Asking for help becomes difficult because the spouse may feel a great deal of embarrassment and shame and fears judgment from others.

Legal Consequences

It is not uncommon for an addict to experience legal troubles. Impaired thinking leads to poor decision making and an increase in aggressive behaviors. Theft, driving under the influence, possession of a controlled substance and violent crimes are the most common criminal charges an addict can face. Domestic violence has been linked to addiction with upwards of 50% of violent crimes being committed by men who have a substance abuse problem. As many as 80% of child abuse cases are linked to drug or alcohol abuse. As an addicts tolerance builds an addict may resort to theft, stealing from family, friends or committing burglary at retail stores or residential homes. Depending on the offense, an addict may lose driving privileges, lose custody of minor children, serve time in jail or residential rehabilitation program.

Financial Consequences

Due to addiction, an addict may miss work more than those who don't use. Work performance may decline, and professional licenses may be revoked leading to job loss. If an addict faced criminal charges, an employer might refuse to hire them. Failing health, accidents or violence can lead to higher medical bills. Growing drug tolerance leads the addict to spend more of their financial resources on supporting their addiction. Irresponsible spending may lead to foreclosure, repossession of vehicles, loss of utilities and an inability to put food on the table. Legal fees due to criminal charges or divorce and custody battles; including the cost of an attorney, court fees, fines, and time lost at work to attend court appearances add up quickly.

If you or someone you know has a substance abuse problem, please contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-4357.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any physical or mental condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

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How The Addiction to Dopamine Hijacks the Brain (Part 1)

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Author: Lynda Benigno

Scientific research tells us addiction hijacks the brain. The brain undergoes adverse changes that last long after the effects of the drug have worn off. Wiring in the brain is modified, and neurons die. The prefrontal cortex works with the anterior cingulate cortex in evaluating reward and punishment, controlling motivation, memory, attention, decision making, and regulating mood and emotions. Dopamine, a chemical released from neurons in the prefrontal cortex is released during pleasurable experiences. Eating, sex, exercise, meditation, or listening to music can trigger dopamine release. While a dose of dopamine from healthy activities is not problematic, the release of dopamine from stimulants increases the risk of addiction.

After ingesting a stimulant; dopamine is activated causing intense pleasure. In order to bring stimulation down to a manageable level the brain needs to adapt, so it offsets by reducing the number of dopamine receptor cells or increases the number of dopamine transporters. These changes cause drug tolerance leading to a higher amount of the drug being needed to achieve the same effects that were previously experienced.

For an addict, the prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex no longer function properly. The ability to evaluate risk or make decisions becomes impaired. The addict experiences changes in their ability to learn as well as memory. In severe cases, other physical conditions can develop such as damage to organs, skin changes such as lesions or acne and dental problems. Studies show those who abuse drugs are twice as likely to develop a mood disorder and substance abuse has an effect on any pre-existing mental disorders. Mood swings, erratic behavior, psychosis ( losing touch with reality), depression, suicide, and death are possible outcomes. Drug use increases risky behavior and leads the addict to behave out of character, which can have serious consequences. When under the influence an addict is more likely to have an accident, overdose, engage in risky sexual activity, commit violent acts or commit suicide.

The effects of addiction go beyond the physical and mental body. Broken relationships along with legal and financial problems are often consequences an addict faces. We will explore this topic in Part 2.

If you or a loved one has a substance abuse problem, please contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-4357.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any physical or mental condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

How To Deal With A Toxic Work Environment When You Really Need The Job. -Stepping Stone Community Services

Author: Lynda Benigno

Approximately one-third of human life is spent working, one-fifth of American workers report working in a hostile or threatening environment. Workplace incivility is defined as the accumulation of thoughtless actions that leave employees feeling disrespected, intentionally ignored, undermined by colleagues or belittled by insensitive managers. A study in 2018 looked at the correlation between incivility in the workplace and symptoms of insomnia; findings suggested workplace incivility led to negative workplace rumination that takes a toll of sleep quality. Poor sleep affects your body's physical and psychological well being. Those that struggle with sleep problems and high-stress levels are also at higher risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, difficulty managing anger, and a shortened life span. There is this idea that a bad job is better than no job; however, studies show those who went from unemployment to a poor quality job had higher biological indicators of stress than those who remained unemployed.

Employers set the tone for the work environment, deciding what is valued and tolerated in terms of a code of conduct. There are some red flags to look for when trying to determine whether your workplace is toxic.

* You are overworked leading to burnout and feelings of anger toward your employer.

* You experience workplace dread: Feelings of dread and stress that are present despite being home or engaging in personal time.

* You have a toxic manager: Displays anger or resorts to issuing threats, humiliating employees, intimidation, verbal abuse, or undermining an employees ability to accomplish his or her work.

*Poor communication: There is no communication at all, poor communication between employees and supervisors, withholding information or giving misleading information.

*Policies and Procedures are inconsistent: Company rules are implemented for one group while everyone else does what they please. This includes management not being held to the same ethical and behavioral standard as inferiors or playing favorites.

You may not have much control over your work environment, but you do have control over how you cope. If speaking with management gets you nowhere, practicing psychological detachment will reduce the effects of working in a toxic environment. Psychological detachment involves avoidance of work-related thoughts, actions, and emotions during non-working hours. When coupled with relaxation this practice results in better sleep, less mental exhaustion and better overall health. You are making a conscious choice to shift your focus from work to something that brings you joy, leaving no room for negative work-place rumination.

Along with avoidance of work-related thoughts during non-work hours, you can try the following:

* Exercise

*Plan future events such as vacations

*Meditation

*Listen to music

*Engage in hobbies or volunteer work

- I highly recommend volunteer work, in a toxic work environment you may feel what you are doing is meaningless; helping others can give you a

sense of purpose and feel good boost.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any physical or mental condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

#ssravenna #workstress #ssfravenna #mentalhealth #payday

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, or maybe just slightly depressed? -Stepping Stone Community Services

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Author: Lynda Benigno

Imagine you are, by all outward appearances, put together and active. You go to work every day, attend social events with family and friends, and engage in hobbies. People who know you would say you have got everything in your life under control, you are a high achiever, and everything appears fine all of the time. However, underneath something festers. You push through your thoughts and feel little to no joy during your day. When you get home, you are exhausted. Sadness, anger, guilt or self-doubt slowly returns. You went through the motions of another day, decide to watch some tv and go to bed. You may be getting through each day, but that doesn't mean you don't need help.

The term" high functioning depression" is not an official diagnosis. It is a buzzword coined mainly on social media and blogs as a description for what it feels like to have PDD, Persistent Depressive Disorder or Dysthymia. Many people have said the buzzword used to describe PDD has helped them talk about their condition more openly or got them back into therapy to work on their coping skills. PDD is a less severe but more chronic form of major depressive disorder. There are nine different forms of depression currently recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Your level of functioning is used for diagnostic purposes. The low end is crippling depression. Basic hygiene, getting out of bed, difficulty maintaining relationships or holding down a job are characteristic of crippling depression. Goals set in talk therapy for crippling depression are more clearly defined because the impact on daily life and functionality is more apparent, taking a shower or going to the grocery store would be actionable goals. With PDD, identifying actionable goals during treatment can be more difficult because the patient is performing daily functions and the patients desired outcome is often vague, he or she just wants to be happy. Symptoms of PDD mirror that of other depressive disorders and may vary from person to person.

Symptoms of PDD can include :

*Lost interest in daily activities

*Hopelessness

*Low self-esteem

*Feelings of inadequacy

*Sadness, emptiness

*Trouble concentrating or making decisions

*Irritability or excessive anger

*Feeling of guilt or excessive worry

*Poor appetite or overeating

*Excessive sleeping or insomnia

*Patients with PDD are often high achievers who seek perfection and may have trouble slowing down or resting.

Recognizing symptoms and seeking help is an important step to take to start feeling better. Identifying myths is just as crucial because they can keep you from seeking treatment.

These include:

*Depression always involves episodes of crying or irritability

*Depression always contains thoughts of suicide

*There must be an identifiable reason for your feelings ( often there is no explanation other than " I just feel this way")

*Functionality is always tied to your emotional well being

*Everyone who has depression has the same symptoms and experience

Medication, when used in conjunction with talk therapy has been proven to be the most effective for patients with PDD. Your treatment can vary depending on a number of factors, including, willingness to get better, your ability to tolerate medication, and severity of symptoms. Acceptance of your condition, giving yourself permission to slow down and lifestyle changes are also beneficial.

No one gets better overnight, be gentle with yourself. Seek support from friends and family who are capable of being equally gentle. It takes strength to seek treatment so take a moment to recognize that strength within yourself. Sometimes it takes some trial and error to figure out how to get to equal footing. Staying on a long term treatment program will help prevent relapse of symptoms. Genetics, trauma, and stress are contributing factors and can be addressed in psychotherapy. Depression, no matter which type you suffer from, is a lifelong companion, but it does not need to be so loud.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the Nation Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

Combating Chronic Fears. -Stepping Stone Community Services

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Author: Lynda Benigno

When we are born, we have two fears, the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. Some fears are primal and keep us safe; the rest is a result of the culture we grow up in and the conditioning we experience as children. Primal fear served an evolutionary purpose, keeping humans alert from predators and animals that posed a threat. In today's world, primal fear takes the form of making enough money to live comfortably and keeping our homes safe from potential intruders. In small doses, fear can motivate us to meet deadlines, personal goals or prevent us from doing something dangerous such as driving after drinking. Too much fear can rob you of joy and become debilitating.

If you have chronic fear, the world can look like a scary place, and your memories will confirm your fearful experience. Fearful messages are everywhere. Watch the news; every other story contains a message of fear. Chronic fear can interrupt brain functions that regulate emotion, non-verbal cues, and the ability to reflect before acting and behave ethically. The long term stress you experience with chronic fear kills the brain cells in your hippocampus leading to deterioration of memory and short circuits the response paths creating constant feelings of anxiety. You will experience fatigue, depression, accelerated aging and you are at risk for premature death.

Decisions made based on fear are rarely good ones. In a fearful state, the choice is being made based on emotions, when our feelings take over we discard logic and facts. Instead of making a confident decision that will lead to growth we experience regrets or a lot of what if's. Low confidence in your decision leads to more fear, and it becomes a vicious cycle.

Instead of getting caught up in your fears and emotions, make decisions based on what you want instead of what makes you feel fearful. Ask yourself if the choice you are about to make will bring you happiness. Gather all of the facts and information, so you are making an informed decision. Trust your past personal experiences, perhaps the last time you made the right decision you experienced an excited flutter in your stomach, and you just knew it was the right thing to do. A bad decision may have led to a stomach ache or knot in your throat. Your body often gives you clues as to what is right for you, take the time to listen. If you have difficulty making decisions or letting go of your fears, especially if it interferes with your daily life, talking to a therapist may be right for you.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

Reaching High For The Prestige

Reaching High For The Prestige. SSRavenna.com

Author: Lynda Benigno

We are all operating under a system. It's a game we were born into, and we are expected to play the game whether we want to or not. Our conditioning demands it. The most asked question a child will hear is "what do you want to be when you grow up?". At that point, they are already players in the game. They are reaching for a destination, one that seemingly has an endpoint but in reality, will follow them the rest of their lives.

Each day we are inundated with the message of needing more and reaching for the stars. We use words such as "grind" to describe the relentless pursuit of financial goals and acquisition of material goods. Through email, mailbox, social media, billboards and television, we are swamped in advertisements and little reminders that enough is never enough. Photos and videos on social media, especially those of celebrities carry the message that if you work hard enough, long enough and really want it, you too can be just like them. This is not to say goals, financial or otherwise are detrimental. Goals are a healthy practice, but when your goals consume your life to the point that you experience excess stress, sleep deprivation, little time for family, friends, and most importantly yourself, it becomes problematic.

Stress and anxiety are prevalent in our society. Anxiety affects 40 million adults each year and is the most prevalent mental illness in the United States. It's not just adults who are affected. Anxiety is common among children aged 6-13 and very common among 14-18-year-olds. Only 36% of adults get treated for their anxiety. Access to affordable healthcare as well as stigmatism contributes to such a low number. The expectation of success at any cost, the fallacy that doing always leads to positive results, fear of failure or disappointing others, keeping up with the Joneses and the idea that happiness is elusive but found in acquired goods or others definition of success undoubtedly affects our mental health. If we were honest, we would admit its exhausting.

As a society, we attach tremendous value on things and status. We look for the next big thing, rarely taking a moment to acknowledge the little victories we achieve each day. For some just getting out of bed is a victory. We stop thinking about what we truly want out of our lives and find ourselves living up to everyone elses expectations and standards. We cease being individuals; rarely taking the time to stop and look inward to see that the destination is where we are now. Sure, there are things you want to do and more achievements to be had, but right now you are allowed to be happy with where you are. A goal, when executed with balance, should be celebrated. I only wish more would remember it's the relationships we form, the time given to a friend, space where we allow ourselves to exist as we are, the souls we touch with kind words and encouragement, the love we have to give, that will weave the fabric of success. Know thyself and live for love, at the end of the day it's all we truly have. It is the ultimate destination.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

Enjoying the Moment. -Stepping Stone Community Services

enjoying the moment Stepping Stone Ravenna Oh

By: Bethany Latimer

Have you ever had a delicious meal arrive in front of you and moments later look down to see that it was almost gone and you hadn’t really fully enjoyed it? Maybe you were too busy thinking about something that happened in your recent past or were worrying about something coming up in the near future? Most of us have trouble living in the moment. Our minds continuously shuffling through thoughts about the past and future.

Mindfulness; the ability to be fully aware of what is happening with our minds and bodies in the present moment. The Eastern World has practiced mindfulness since the beginning of time. The Western World is becoming aware of why this practice is so important. It is not an easy practice and it takes practice! There are hundreds of techniques to help a person stay in the present moment. These can often be done with more focus and awareness if you have some training in monitoring your thoughts and “self-talk.”

 Mental health therapy is an excellent way to start becoming aware of the thoughts and self-talk that cycle through your head. It is hard to sort through by yourself. After all, our own minds often can not see the problems of our own minds! Getting feedback from a therapist that can recognize patterns in dysfunctional thinking can allow one to clear out some of that clutter that goes through our heads. We can examine reasons why we stay stuck in the past or overly focused on the future. We can learn to live in the moment and enjoy what is right in front of us. The ultimate way to find peace.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

The Power Of Music Therapy. -Stepping Stone Community Services

Music Therapy at Stepping Stone Foundation

Author: Lynda Benigno

Think about the last time you listened to your favorite song. You tapped your fingers or feet, sang along or maybe you danced to the beat. The song triggered a memory, made you feel happy or sad. Perhaps the lyrics expressed what you were feeling but haven't been able to articulate.

When listening to music, a synesthetic experience is triggered as the emotional, memory and language centers of the brain connect during processing. The pleasure centers of the brain are activated, and dopamine is released. Early dopamine rushes can occur in anticipation of your favorite parts of familiar music and peak emotions. Oxytocin, the bonding hormone is released and peaks when singing along. The oxytocin boost that music lovers experience can also make them more generous. Prosocial behaviors - those that are voluntary and intended to benefit others such as kindness, helpfulness and empathy increase, especially when music is appreciated in a group setting such as a concert. Listening to music also boosts the immune system, decreases the stress hormone cortisol, improves mood and establishes new neural connections.

Studies show using music as a form of communication with autistic children can increase emotional understanding. It has also been proven to be a low-risk treatment option for those with mood disorders and neurological conditions such as dementia, stroke, and Parkinson's with no adverse side effects. Music is beneficial in the workplace too. One interesting study showed that office workers who were allowed to listen to their favorite music completed tasks more quickly and were more creative while problem solving than those who had no musical choice at all. Diners at restaurants where music with positive messages is played leave bigger tips. Listening to sad music can create a cathartic experience promoting healing.

It's not just listening that provides benefits, playing an instrument changes brain structure. Learning to play an instrument increases gray matter in the brain. Musicians often have improved auditory processing, reasoning skills, and memory. Learning to play an instrument at a young age causes the most impactful changes and can protect the brain against dementia.

No matter what you choose to listen to music touches everyone in one way or another.Songs become our friends, the artists who write and perform them become our family. Sometimes they are there for us when no one else is, helping us to remember the things we almost forgot, bringing us joy, helping us to heal and be a little more gentle with others and ourselves. A song can speak for us when we lose our voice and help us feel connected with something outside of ourselves. Music is a bridge to all that we are, but we may have forgotten, a vibration.

We want to hear from you. What are some of your favorite songs to listen to and how do they make you feel? Leave your comment on our Facebook or Instagram page.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

How to get through the holidays after a trauma.

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Author: Lynda Benigno

Exhausted, scared, numb, lonely, angry. Emotionally and maybe physically tapped out. Whatever feeling it is inside of you is okay. The holiday season can be especially difficult for anyone who has gone through a trauma or experienced a loss. The expectation is everyone should be joyful no matter what is going on inside. We don't want to make others uncomfortable, so we stuff our emotions down and put on a smile. This expectation extends beyond the holiday season. There is a general push in society to be optimistic at all times. While I will be the first to admit I believe in the importance of optimism in everyday life, I also think it has its time and place. Ignoring our emotions, attempting to cover them up seemingly for our own sake or the sake of others is at best, damaging. Being present isn't just about the joys in our life, it means giving full attention to the unpleasant as well. Acknowledgment can be a catalyst for change when you are ready, but you don't have to be ready now.

Whatever negative emotions you have, they are yours to have. It is your experience for as long as you need it to be. The experience does not define you as weak. Honoring those feelings- by recognizing its presence and allowing yourself to feel it fully, makes you pretty darn strong. Feel no guilt for the existence of those feelings or taking the time to honor them. Notice when you accept those emotions that you are still breathing, you are still standing, and you are strong.

Sometimes our emotions are not something that needs to be resolved quickly so we can go about our day. We can find compassion for ourselves by honoring our emotions as opposed to covering it up with positivity. People you are close to may be well-intentioned and want to help because they want you to feel well. Sometimes this has more to do with their discomfort; they see you are not happy, and they want to "fix" so that you feel happy, and so do they. If we recognize this tendency, we can respond with compassion. I recommend using a phrase such as: " Thank you for trying to help, I am processing right now and need some time.".

No one's life is free from discomfort, and our emotions can be challenging to get a handle on sometimes. I promise you are not alone. You may wake up one day and feel unhappy. You have no idea why, no clue as to what brought it on. That's okay! If you know why it's occurring that's okay too. There is zero need for you to justify it to anyone. Now that's not to say you can walk around and treat others terribly because of it and unfortunately that does occur. We have all heard the saying " Hurt people hurt others.", and if you are having difficulty processing your emotions or projecting your hurt onto others, I highly recommend you speak with a therapist.

I want you to know it's okay that you don't feel okay, take all the time you need.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

A few ways to stop overthinking everything. -Stepping Stone Community Services

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Author: Lynda Benigno

Overthinking creates a lot of misery. If you are an over thinker, you find yourself unable to silence the continuous stream of thoughts. You over analyze interactions and events with a narrative that is primarily negative and may include "what if?", " what would I do differently?" and "what I should have said was.". All the while the problem in your head becomes bigger and bigger.

Overthinking is different from introspection. Introspection is like having a meeting with yourself, a chance to check in and gauge where you stand emotionally and spiritually. You take inventory and gain an understanding of your true self, the things about yourself you would like to change and set goals that lead to personal growth. Introspection leads to productive action, overthinking leaves you paralyzed in the thought process.

Studies find overthinking takes a toll on your overall well being. People who overthink are more likely to experience headaches, muscle tension, difficulty sleeping, irritability, restlessness, sweating, anxiety, and a distorted view of problems. While stuck in rumination, problem-solving becomes more difficult because instead of looking for a solution, you dwell on mistakes. As you ruminate the risk of mental health problems increase, this leads to more overthinking. You become trapped in a vicious cycle.

Most overthinking comes from our fear of the unknown. We also focus on past and future events heavily. Overall these are things we have little to no control over. As a former control addict, I can say with some certainty relinquishing the grip on everything around us can be incredibly liberating. It frees up your time, head space and makes room for positivity and gratitude. We have no way of changing past events, and the future comes to you in the present moment.

Here are a few things you can try to reduce overthinking :

-Throughout your day take time to notice your thoughts. Realize what is true and what is a made up scenario in your head. If what you are thinking is true, acknowledge its presence. Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions arise and honor them. If it is something you can change make a plan and take action. It may be you must confront someone who hurt you or apologizing if you were in the wrong. If your thoughts are a made up scenario gently remind yourself that your thought pattern is not based on truth and is something you have no control over. Release it into the universe or to God. Journaling can be helpful in the release process; writing down thoughts and feelings helps to clear out the junk that is cluttered up in your head. You can also pinpoint negative thinking patterns and gain a better understanding of yourself.

-Try doing something you love. If you think about the last time you were engaged in an activity that brought you immense joy you may realize that you zoned in on the task and your concentration remained relatively unbroken. You zone in because at that moment you are fully invested in what you are doing. Occasionally an intrusive thought may occur, but you are quick to dismiss it as an annoyance because you are fully present in the moment.

- Find the humor in the ridiculous. If you think about it, so much of what we think about is quite absurd. A few days ago in the car, I observed countless people with leaf blowers and rakes, working tirelessly to make sure there wasn't a single leaf touching their grass. I questioned society's obsession with having a perfectly manicured lawn. Sure, there are practical reasons to cut your grass, but I wondered what was so offensive about leaves in the grass. Nature is full of disorder, why do we insist on trying to control it? I stepped back for a moment, and then I laughed at myself; I spent 15 minutes asking countless "whys?" about something I have no control over. Does someone raking leaves in their yard have a direct impact on my well being? Nope. Do I care? Nope. Is it life altering? Nope. If my spouse asked how my day was, I wouldn't tell him I spent 15 minutes talking to myself about leaves and lawn care because it sounds ridiculous. We humans are funny and fickle creatures. It's not necessary to take ourselves seriously all of the time.

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

Growing your Compassion with 4 Steps.

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Author: Lynda Benigno

 

What is true compassion? The definition of compassion is  "to suffer together". Although conceptually similar to empathy they are two different things all together. Empathy serves as a bridge to compassion, allowing you to feel what another person feels.  Compassion arises when you are confronted with another persons suffering and feel a need to relieve that suffering as if it were your own.

 

When we feel compassion, we secrete oxytocin the "bonding hormone". The supramarginal gyrus, part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for empathy, pleasure, and caregiving is triggered. Your heart rate slows and the need to relieve the other persons suffering becomes aroused.

 

I believe fostering compassion in ourselves and our children has the potential to change the world. I know, that sounds like an audacious statement, but I feel it with fierce intensity. If everyone in the world could look at other human beings as just that, another human being with more similarities than differences, how much different would our interactions with each other be? We all have the same innate needs, to avoid suffering and experience happiness. If we cared about others suffering and joy as much as our own, what would the impact be on society as a whole?  Will compassion alone will solve all of our problems? Probably not, but I do believe it plays an intricate part in relieving a good deal of heartache.

 

Here are a few steps that can be done to help grow your compassion capabilities. I have confidence in them because it offers a way of being;  if it becomes a part of your daily routine, there is the potential to alter the way you think about your interactions with others. When you change the way you think your behavior is more likely to follow.  

 

Start with Empathy as a Meditation Practice

 When interacting with another person put yourself in their shoes.  Sounds easy to do and for some people, it is an automatic response. For others, the first reaction is to go to self, in other words, how is this problem affecting me. Let's say a friend comes to you with complaints of marriage woes and the first thought in your mind is "Oh no, why is this my problem?".  Stuck in a self-mindset, you don't actively listen, and if you are not actively listening, you can not imagine yourself in their situation. The alternative is to choose to listen actively and imagine yourself in their position. Any thoughts you have about the problem should be mentally acknowledged briefly and then bring yourself back to hearing and feeling. It is the same practice during meditation while listening to your breath, you choose to bring your focus to what is in the present moment, a friend in pain. This mental exercise is useful in nearly any social interaction.

 

Kindness

At the heart of compassion is kindness, a simple means to alleviate someone's suffering. It does not always need to be a grand gesture. A kind word, encouragement, running an errand, giving a hug, or being a listening ear can have a significant impact on someone's pain.

 

Reflect

If you are in a situation in which someone is unkind to you, try to think of why that may be. That is not to say that you are looking for excuses to dismiss disrespectful or rude behavior or that such behavior should be tolerated. The goal is to respond in a way that doesn't return the same negative energy creating a vicious cycle. If you are talking to a person who has become combative or angry, before responding or reacting, think of the persons past. Have they experienced trauma? Were they not taught well as a child? Are they unusually stressed or tired? People who mistreat others are usually suffering. Their actions and words have less to do with you and more to do with what they are going through internally. Knowing this, you can respond with compassion and respect. If your spouse worked long hours, experienced many difficulties throughout the day and returned home in a foul mood, there are a few ways you could respond to his grumpiness. You can become passive-aggressive, avoid him altogether, match his energy and argue or you could say " I know you had a long and stressful day, and I would like to talk to you about it, but I will not do so until you have had a chance to calm down and speak to me with respect". While setting a boundary, you also acknowledge the pain the other person is experiencing, opening the door to compassion in action.

 

Self Reflection

Knowing thyself is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves and others. The act of going within to analyze our actions, words, beliefs or just the events of the day benefits our understanding of who we are and makes way for personal growth. Our own growth impacts interactions with others. Take a few minutes at the end of your day to think about your interactions with others. Can you think of anything you could have handled differently? Are there ways you can do better? If you were unkind, did you apologize?  Make it a daily goal to do better, one interaction at a time. Remember that effort counts and be gentle with yourself as well. Its okay to not be perfect every moment of the day. If you are trying, you are learning and making progress.

 

 The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your health care provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Foundation at 330-577-6656.

Words that can build yet also destroy. -Stepping Stone Community Services

Words the Build and Words that Destroy

Words that can build yet also destroy.

Author: Lynda Benigno

 Words have potency, the potential to build a child up or tear them down, motivate or destroy. Your tone is just as important as the words you use. Infants understand facial expressions and tone before language develops. By the age of two, they are responding to verbal communication. As a child begins to get older, the language used by parents and caregivers have a stronger impact on social development, cognitive skills, and emotional development. Words are just words you might say, but science tells us differently.

 All humans have the desire to be understood, accepted, seen and heard. We seek unconditional love, the room to make mistakes without condemnation, and an environment where we can be expressive. Children are no exception. If you are a parent, think back and count how many times you have told your child to think before they speak. Now ask yourself if you are holding yourself to the same standard.

 Children who grow up in homes with degrading and accusatory language, hypercritical and shaming words, frequent comparisons to other children and veiled threats grow up feeling inadequate. The child, ever mindful they are watched from a critical lens can experience a drop in self-esteem, depression, guilt, anxiety, and an inability to manage negative emotions. They may feel self-hatred, become withdrawn or combative, engage in self-harm or turn to alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism. What we know from research is the brain of a child who grows up in a safe, responsive and supportive environment develops normally. In a hostile and unsupportive environment, grey matter of the brain undergoes literal structural changes affecting the hippo campus ( emotion regulation), the frontal cortex ( decision making) and the corpus callosum ( sensory, motor and cognitive superhighway between the brains two hemispheres).  It is indeed a form of abuse.

 As parents and caregivers, we have an obligation to self-reflect.  It is imperative we work through our past traumas and baggage, so we do not pass our wounds to future generations.

  What words will you choose for your children's tiny ears today? Choose wisely, for they will shape who they become.

 If you know a child who is being abused, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

 

 

 

 

The Law Of Attraction. -Stepping Stone Community Services

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Author: Lynda Benigno

Research into quantum mechanics shows the simple act of observation creates the observer's reality. If you are not aware of something; be it an object, situation, feeling, thought or person, it won't exist in your subjective reality. The placebo effect shows us negative and positive attitudes produce corresponding results. In other words, the way we think and feel creates our outer world experiences and often influences what action we decide to take.

Everything in the universe is in a constant state of vibration. The colors you see are all vibrations at a particular frequency as are the sounds you hear. Your brain is so powerful it can translate the waves you see and hear into something you can recognize. This translation becomes your reality. Like attracts like vibrations of similar frequency and they become drawn together. If we condition our minds, the outer world and our reality will reflect our new vibration. Just as the environment of a child can either enrich or impede development, your thoughts and subsequent actions can have a powerful impact on your reality and success.

When in a state of confidence, grace, and appreciation, synchronicities increase, patterns appear, and you attract people who are on the same wavelength. Vibrating on a level that matches your desired reality puts you in control of your destiny.

There are simple steps you can take today to help you manifest your heart's desire. The first step is holding a firm belief that you will have the desired outcome. Leave no room for doubt. Trust that the universe ( or God) wants the best for you and is conspiring to give you exactly what you need to attain your goals when you need it and in a time frame that will serve the highest good.

The second step is to behave as if its already yours. If your desired outcome is a new job, when you go to the interview allow your thought patterns to reflect your capabilities and strengths as if you are already doing the job. Like a mantra, you may choose to list these attributes starting with "I am " while getting dressed or in the car.

The third step is to take action to reach your outcome. Permit yourself to release anything that is not directly in your control. Take any necessary steps that are in your reach to attain your desire. If you wanted to start a business, you would apply for a loan, network with others who are successful in the same industry and research the particular requirements needed to get started. Your positive actions coupled with your specific thought patterns will help propel your aspirations into reality.

The last step is to practice gratitude. While there is nothing wrong with desire, appreciating the blessings and joy already present has been shown to increase happiness, deepen relationships and increase productivity. As a result, it helps you reach your goals.

Happy Manifesting!

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.

A Meditation Time out

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Author : Lynda Benigno

 

When you were a child, you probably experienced a timeout. The purpose of a timeout is to give time to reflect and compose one’s demeanor. Whether or not timeouts are useful depends on who you ask. A little over 30 years of scientific research has garnered mixed results. What science does tell us, is taking the time to breathe does have positive benefits for people of all ages.

 

Taking conscious breaths throughout your day can be like hitting a reset button on your brain. Mindful breathing can improve cognitive functioning as well as mental and physical well-being. Slow deep breaths with your exhale slightly longer than your inhale, are stimulating for your parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is the rest and digest system. It is responsible for conserving energy as it slows heart rate, decreases blood pressure, regulates intestinal activity and induces relaxation response within the body.  Byproducts of parasympathetic nervous system stimulation include increased intuition and sound decision making.

 Various breathing techniques exist for therapeutic purposes. Conscious breathing is useful because it shifts your awareness, allowing your mind and body to pause and reset. If you are focused on your breath, you are not focusing on the stressors, and you begin to relax.

 I find conscious breathing most effective at the start of the day or the end of the day. Aside from focusing on your breath, there are no rules. You can sit in a chair or lie down on your bed. If you are at work or in a social situation, there is no shame in excusing yourself and going to the bathroom. Rest your hands comfortably on your belly or at your sides. Close your eyes and inhale slowly and as deeply as you can, count to 4 in your head. Notice the feel of your hands moving upwards as your torso expands like a balloon.  As you exhale count to 6, notice the sound of your breath and the gentle breeze produced as air leaves your lungs. If you become distracted by thoughts or noise in the environment that is okay, continue to breathe until you feel calm and relaxed.  For some, visualization is more helpful than listening to and feeling their breath. If that is the case, think of something pleasant such as the beach while breathing.

 Find what works for you and don't be afraid to make your own rules. Happy Breathing!

The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical condition. If you are struggling, please contact your healthcare provider, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Stepping Stone Community Services at 330-577-6656.