Beacon Mental Health Counseling Services, PLLC

Helping You to Live the Life You Deserve Through Individual, Couples, Family, and Group Counseling

Author: Annette Lee, LMHC

Anxiety and Sex – What’s the Link?

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If you’ve looked over my site or read any of my blog posts, you may be wondering how my two specialties – anxiety and sexual health fit together.   Well the truth is that anxiety and sex have a lot to do with each other.  Someone suffering from an anxiety disorder may end up experiencing worries which are related to their sex life – such as:

Does my partner like this?

Am I weird for having this desire/fantasy?

My body/body part isn’t attractive enough.

Why am I attracted to the same sex?

Everyone might experience worries from time to time, but for someone with an anxiety disorder the worries can take over and end up impacting their sexual health.  They may end up not enjoying sex or avoiding it all together because of their worries.

Anxiety can also cause comparisons to others.  We might feel like our sex life is inadequate because we think others are having it more often or are experiencing more satisfying sexual encounters.   Anxiety which isn’t even related to sex can also end up causing issues with your sex life.  If you are spending a lot of time consumed with fears and worries about any topic, you probably aren’t able to spend much time being interested in sex.  Lack of focus and irritability are other common symptoms of an anxiety disorder.  Focus is vital for a health sex life!  Good sex isn’t automatic.  It requires a person to be able to learn about themselves and their partner and to be able to be in the moment.  This certainly is impacted by anxiety.  And irritability…well I think it goes without saying that if you’re grumpy you and your partner probably aren’t going to be interested in sex.

The sex/anxiety relationship can also go the other way.  Someone who has never experienced difficulty with anxiety can find themselves experiencing it for the first time secondary to issues with their sex life.  For example, sexual orientation and gender issues can cause fear and confusion, especially when they emerge later in life (which by the way, is not unusual).  Anxiety might also grow out of normal sexual exploration and discovering things that are enjoyable but that the individual fears are “weird.”

Regardless of where the anxiety comes from, it can be a problem for several reasons.  Most obvious is the emotional impact that anxiety has.  Anxiety and depression are closely linked and these feelings can cause a person to detach emotional when having sex or not engage in sex at all.  The cognitive component of anxiety can also cause more distress as the worries that people experience are often irrational and can spiral into even more fears, worries, and negative thoughts.  Anxiety can also make sexual difficulties worse physiologically because of the chemicals involved with anxiety.  When someone is feeling anxious or panicked, adrenaline can be released into the blood stream.  This is not good from a sexual standpoint because adrenaline actually cause a man to lose his erection or make it difficult for a woman to experience orgasm.

To make matters even worse, some of the common medications prescribed for anxiety disorders- antidepressants and benzodiazepines can cause sexual side effects including impotence and lack of desire.

The good news is that even though this all may seem overwhelming there is hope.  When you engage in therapy with a therapist who is comfortable with treating not only anxiety but sexual health issues, you can start to explore and treat your symptoms, including your worries and fears, which will ultimately allow you to start living the life you deserve – including a healthy and fulfilling sex life!  For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 585-299-1010 today!

Six Ways to Cope When you Wake up with Anxiety

Morning Anxiety

Needless to say, experiencing anxiety as soon as you wake up is a horrible feeling.   It can be something as minor as a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, a racing heart, feelings of fear and dread, or it can be a full blown panic attack.  Sometimes we have reasons for waking up with anxiety – maybe you have a job interview or have to face something unpleasant; however, more often there is no explanation for the sense of dread and discomfort you feel as soon as your eyes open.  So what can you do when you wake up feeling anxiety and panic?

  1. Give yourself five minutes to lie in bed and use a relaxation type coping skill such as mindfulness of the breath or safe place visualization. Both skills are easy and can be done quickly – anytime, anywhere, which makes them ideal go-to skills for when you wake up with anxiety.
    • Mindfulness of the breath is done by simply focusing your attention on your breath.  There is no need to count or control your breathing in any way.  Just notice your breath and how your body feels when you inhale and exhale.  If your mind wanders during this exercise, that is ok, just continue to focus your attention back to your breath.  For more info on this skill, click here:  http://healthypsych.com/5-minute-mindful-breathing-exercise
    • Safe place visualization is one of my favorite coping skills.  The most important thing to remember when using this skill is to use all of your senses.  So, the first thing to do is choose a safe place – maybe it is a favorite place you’ve been or someplace you’ve simply imagined.  My safe place is a beach on Cape Cod.  Once you’ve identified your safe place, close your eyes and imagine yourself there.  And remember – use all of your senses to do this!  What does your safe place look like?  What do you hear there?  Are there scents that are associated with your safe place?  Do you feel anything?  Don’t forget taste!  Using these questions, the way I visualize myself in my safe place is seeing the sand, the waves, the sunny, blue sky.  I can hear the waves crashing and the birds singing.  I can feel the sun on my face and I can feel the sand between my toes.  I feel the cold water when I walk up to the ocean and I can smell the sea.  I see the shells and the round rocks and I feel how smooth they feel when I bend over and pick them up.  I can even taste the salt from the water on my lips.  Really take a few minutes to immerse yourself in your safe place and experience being there.
  1. Get up! Don’t allow yourself to lie in bed any longer than five minutes and don’t allow that at all if you aren’t going to engage in one of the relaxation skills mentioned above.  As soon as you get up, make sure you do one of a few things – exercise, get in the shower, or brush your teeth.  These things are stimulating and will help force your senses away from the anxiety feelings.  While you are participating in exercise, showering or brushing your teeth do so in a mindful way.  What does that mean?  Well, it means being present and observing/describing to yourself what you are doing and experiencing.  What does the water feel like?  What is the temperature?  How does the soap smell?  What does the toothpaste smell like?  How does your body feel while you’re exercising?  Are you jogging outside?  If so, what do you see, hear, and smell?  Force yourself to focus on the details and the experience of whatever you are doing.
  2. Stay away from caffeine. It might seem like a good idea to have a cup of coffee to help wake you up, but caffeine can actually make your anxiety worse.
  3. So this one is something you will actually have to consider the day or night prior. Have a plan for your day.  This is particularly important for people who don’t have a lot of structure built into their lives for whatever reason, because anxiety often comes from a fear of the unknown or a lack of control.  So if you don’t work, work from home, go to school part time, or have some other reason for not having structure, you will need to create your own structure by having a plan.  Having a plan doesn’t mean you have to have every second of your day mapped out, but you should have a good idea of how you would like to spend your time.  What time you need to get up, what you will do as soon as you get up, what you’d like to accomplish during the day are some of the things you will need to consider.  If you have already answered these questions the day before, you will feel less likely to wake up anxious and in a panic.
  4. Another proactive thing to do to reduce worry and anxiety in the morning is to start a gratitude journal and write in it before you go to sleep each night. Gratitude journals don’t have to take a lot of time and are very simple and fulfilling to maintain.  Simply take a few moments each night to reflect on the things in life you are grateful for and try to come up with new things daily.  It doesn’t help much if you write the same things over and over.   Really push yourself to identify something that happened in each day that was positive and made you feel good.  Keeping a gratitude journal helps with morning anxiety in two ways – first it puts you in a positive mindset before you go to sleep and secondly, you then have something encouraging to review when you wake up with anxiety or at any time when you’re feeling worried or sad.
  5. Talk to a therapist. Often the anxiety we wake up with is caused by an underlying reason.  So, if waking up with anxiety becomes a regular thing for you, talking to a professional can help.  You will be able to learn how to identify your anxiety, where it might be coming from, and how to learn to live with it or even eliminate it!

For more information about anxiety or to schedule an appointment, call 585-299-1010 today!

What’s Your Blank?

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Unless you are one of the lucky people who have found a way to embrace your vulnerabilities, you have a blank.  Some of us have more than one blank.  Blanks are the things that stop us from living the lives we deserve because we are afraid to show our authentic selves to others.  They are the things that hold us back because we don’t want to be rejected.  We don’t want to feel disconnected from others, so we fight to change our blanks, numb ourselves from the blank, or live in denial by pretending the blank doesn’t exist. When we do these things we are living an inauthentic life.

How do you identify your blank?  It’s easy.  Just fill in the blank in this sentence with the first thing that comes to your mind:

“I’m not _____ enough.”

Is your blank rich, beautiful, skinny, smart, brave?  Is it something else?  Are there multiple things that fill the blank in that sentence for you?   What is it that you place in the blank?  Once you know what it is, you can work on embracing it.

Now you may be asking yourself why you would want to embrace something that you perceive as negative.  For example, if you feel you aren’t smart enough and it is holding you back from getting a job or promotion, why embrace it?  Why not change it?  Well, this goes back to what I mentioned above.  When we fight our blanks we end up with results like being in debt, obese, addicted, trapped in unhealthy relationships, medicated, or living in constant emotional pain.  We spend our time chasing the magic pill, fix, or solution to making the blank go away.  We end up exhausted, worn out, and unsuccessful.

But what if we embraced the blank and loved ourselves completely for who we are?  Well….imagine what that would feel like.  Imagine what it would be like to say to yourself “I am good enough, just how I am, just in this moment.”  When we can do that we can then allow ourselves to let go of our quest for perfection and start to truly find happiness that doesn’t come in a bottle, pill, fast food bag, or in the arms of someone else.  We can truly be happy with who we are and what we are in every single moment.  And only then can change start to happen.  You can then truly examine your blank and your feelings about it.  You can figure out where the blank came from.  You can ask yourself if the blank truly is a problem or if it is an unrealistic expectation.  You can determine how important the blank really is to you or if it is something you just think you should care about and change.  You can reasonably decide what it will take to change the blank because you won’t be acting and reacting solely out of emotion.

So, what’s your blank?  Not sure?  Let’s figure it out together.  Or if you already know, let’s work on change through acceptance not through struggle.

How to Have a Happy Valentine’s Day (Regardless of Relationship Status)

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Valentine’s Day is a holiday meant to celebrate love. But for many people, both single and in a relationship, Valentine’s Day can end up causing misery.  For singles, Valentine’s Day can be a glaring reminder of what is missing in your life.  You can’t go into any store without seeing the bright red and pink hearts, flowers, candy, and cards.  But even for those of us in relationships, the holiday can evoke a host of negative emotions from disappointment and jealousy to complete heartbreak.  Why is this?  A lot of it has to do with our thinking, unrealistic expectations, and unfair comparisons.  Fortunately, with a little awareness, you can end up enjoying the holiday regardless of your relationship status.

First, take some time to reflect on your past experiences, thoughts, and feelings about holiday. Were you the popular one in school whose mailbox was loaded with Valentine’s or did you only get one from the teacher?  Were you broken up with a week before the holiday?  Did you come from a broken home where the holiday was ignored because one or both of your parents felt bitter and jaded about love or did your parents celebrate the holiday lavishly?  Have you been showered with gifts by past partners but let down last year by your current partner?  Have you enviously watched co-workers receive bouquet after bouquet of gorgeous long stem roses and listened to friends gush over the romantic weekends spent in jacuzzi suites with bottles of champagne and chocolate dipped strawberries?  Whatever your experiences, they have no doubt shaped your expectations, thoughts, and feelings about the holidays.

Now that you understand where your feelings and thoughts about the holiday come from, you can work on managing these expectations, thoughts, and feelings so that you can survive February 14th without resenting your partner, hating your best friend for having the holiday you dreamt of, or being jealous of all your coupled up friends when you feel doomed to a life of single holidays.  An important part of this is working on being honest with yourself about your feelings.  And doing this in a nonjudgmental way.  If you are jealous, be jealous.  If you are disappointed by past holiday experiences, be disappointed.  If you are feeling lonely on your fifth straight single V-day, then feel lonely.  But don’t hold on to the feelings.  Identify them, acknowledge them, and move on.

Next, you need to challenge some of your unrealistic expectations and be honest with what you need to be happy. Not with what your friend or co-worker needs, but what you need.  Once you are able to be honest with yourself about what the holiday means to you, take some time to reality check your expectations.  Are you expecting champagne and caviar on a ramen budget?  Are you looking for travel when neither of you have time off?  And if you are single, are you expecting to find Mr. or Ms. Right on Valentine’s Eve?  Be able to balance your expectations with reality and come up with something that can really happen.  Now, you need to communicate your realistic expectations with your partner.  Don’t expect that he or she will know the best way to make the holiday special without your sharing your wants and needs.  No one is a mind reader and communication is an important part of managing relationship expectations.  If you’re single, make sure you repeatedly communicate the expectations with yourself and challenge yourself anytime you find your thought veering from what is realistic.

Finally, stop comparing yourself to those around you and look at others with a sense of gratitude and happiness. This can be tough in a world where we are trained to want more and better than those around us, but you can do it, I promise!  When the flower deliveries start at work, enjoy the beauty of your co-workers flowers and bask in their happiness.  When your best friend tells you every detail of her romantic getaway, ask questions and be genuine in your response – this is your best friend, right?  Be happy for her!  Remind yourself of the expectations you identified earlier and what Valentine’s Day means to you.  Keep that focus and don’t get sucked into jealousy.

My hope is that you are able to have the Valentine’s Day that is right for YOU. If you’d like some help navigating through your expectations, comparisons, thoughts, and feelings, call or email today.

The Benefits of Anxiety

When most people think of anxiety, they think of something negative or bad. And in many cases, that can be true.  When anxiety is excessive or out of control, people suffer.  But anxiety can also be a good thing.  Really!  When I look back upon some of the most anxiety provoking experiences in my life – graduate school or job interviews, meeting with a family member who I hadn’t seen in many years, planning my wedding in two short months, and facing the serious health issues of family and friends – I realize the anxiety, fear, and worry I felt in those moments actually inspired me.   In the case of the interviews, it motivated me to prepare by learning more about the program/company and making sure my interview clothes were clean and ready to go.  When I met the family member, it gave me the adrenaline rush I needed to be engaging and enjoy myself.  The anxiety of trying to pull off planning a wedding in two short months forced me to make better decisions and go with my gut instincts.  And during the health issues, it jolted me into shifting my focus on my loved ones and allowed me to be more compassionate. Trust me, in the moment, the anxiety didn’t feel good at all.  It made me want to do things like run, hide, or avoid.  But in the end, I was able to figure out how to use that anxiety to my advantage.   Learning to look at anxiety as a benefit is just one way I can help you during individual therapy.  There are many other tools I can teach you to help you to handle your out of control or excessive anxiety.  To learn more, call or email today.  I look forward to hearing from you!