Health & Wellness Blog

Managing a Relationship Break-Up

Written by Jeremy Schumacher, MA, LMFT

What can I expect after a relationship break-up?

The first and probably most obvious reaction, you’re going to be sad, frustrated, or maybe angry. You might cycle through these emotions over different days, or have them all in quick succession. Following a break-up your emotions will be a little all over the place, and they will be more powerful than normal. Your brain takes the sudden end of a relationship (even if you knew it was coming) almost like a physical injury and it goes into protection mode. While your brain is in protection mode, your body has to deal with potential loss of appetite, extreme fatigue, or the inability to sleep. These reactions are all normal, but you need to be aware that eating and sleeping are very important. While you don't have your usual urge to seek these things out, you’ll have to make conscious healthy choices for your physical well-being.

Physical symptoms can last for two weeks up to a month. Symptoms lasting longer than that may require a conversation with your doctor or a professional counselor. Sometime during that initial month, your brain will start to feel better and come out of its shell to take stock of your life post-relationship. Typically, at this point, the intensity of your emotions will wane and you will start to sleep and eat in a more typical fashion. The emotional fallout can last anywhere from a month, for shorter relationships, to over a year for longer relationships.

What are some tips to manage the emotional fallout?

  1. Set a Schedule: A schedule will help you to better manage physical symptoms to get sleep and maintain healthy eating habits. A schedule makes it more likely that you will make healthy choices for your body, even if your brain isn’t sending those signals to eat and to sleep like it typically would. A schedule also will limit your downtime, which limits potential time spent ruminating on the past.
  2.  Take a Break From Social Media: If you can use your socials to seek out useful, constructive, and specific support from friends or family, that’s great! However, for most of us the temptation to track our ex or to process old memories through the lens of the current break-up is very strong, and those behaviors simply are not helpful. Your brain is going to be reminded of them constantly by hearing your old song, or seeing the same type of car they drive, or any other mundane daily scenario your brain ties to them. Many people find a temporary limit to their social media is helpful not only to not see their ex, but to have time and energy for new healthy habit formation.
  3.  Engage Deeply In a Hobby: This isn’t the cliche “go out and try something new!” This is more about being intentional with your time. You want your brain to be focused on something that isn’t your ex. For some people, this might need to be a new hobby, but for most of us our favorite hobby will suffice to capture our attention. If your favorite hobby is linked closely with your ex, try to find a friend or family member to join you, or look for local community groups centered around that specific hobby. Most of our hobbies we enjoy because of the activity itself, not just because of who we do that activity with. A good hobby will help you stay busy, and will help you to feel like your normal life continues even after the end of a relationship.
  4. Use Your Support System: Get together with friends, or go visit family for a weekend, or just for dinner. Obviously, this fits with the previous tips as it helps to fill your schedule, keeps you off social media, and can certainly include some favorite hobbies. Your friends and family will want to help you feel better. Even if they don't know what to say or how to say it, the reminder that people care for you and want you to do well is incredibly powerful, especially when you’re feeling down. Also, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional counselor or psychologist for more coping skills and a boost in your recovery time. They are trained in offering helpful support and strategies to assist you with the situation.

Whether you just called it off, or you’re a month out and still emotionally raw, know that break-ups are hard. Working through all the emotions in a healthy way is a worthwhile experience, and growth is always possible following a major life change.

Coping With the Covid Delta Variant

Written by Dr. Lee Hildebrand

Aren't We Over Covid Yet?

Following the Covid pandemic with lockdowns, virtual schooling, and social limitations; many people have started to feel like they were “somewhat back to normal life.” Students and adults that I have been assisting with the stresses of Covid seemed to be moving into a period of restored living and general well-being. They have resumed activities, visited with friends, reconnected with family members and begun participating in many events without masks or other limitations.

What about the Delta Variant?

However, the Delta Variant of the Covid 19 virus brought a pause to some of the exhalations of relief by many. Due to the reportedly more contagious Delta Variant, Covid 19 cases are rising again in certain regions, breakthrough infections are reported in a small number of vaccinated individuals, and some indoor mask mandates have been reinstated. People are finding the reprieve that they were experiencing from pandemic-induced anxiety coming to an end.

How Do I Emotionally Deal with the Delta Variant and Societal Reactions?

In dealing with these changes, it is important for each of us to go back to the toolbox and utilize the skills that we’ve already learned from the first round of the pandemic. I have discussed many of these strategies in my past blog article and YouTube video, "Coping with the Stress of COVID-19.” In facing the Delta Variant, courage involves taking steps forward even amidst some fear of the unknown. Fear solves nothing. It limits us and holds us back from being present in a given situation and deciding what to think and what to do next. Execution without fear is a state that we can aspire to in dealing with these challenges. Let’s look at a few tips in regard to coping with the latest developments.

  1. First, maintain your healthy life disciplines in order to keep your mind, your body, and your life as consistent as possible. Get appropriate sleep, exercise, spend intentional time with your family, continue to make progress on your “to do list.” Engage in spiritually and emotionally healthy activities, such as meditation, prayer, reading, and connection with others. Make your bed. Take out the trash. Do the little things that continue to keep things running in your household and your life.
  2.  Second, find soothing with the least side effects in coping with the current stresses of the situation. We all need some kind of soothing, or “feel goods,” in our lives. I recommend finding the most effective “feel goods” that you can with the fewest side effects. Sometimes we can be drawn to soothing activities which feel good in the moment but can become excessive, like drinking alcohol, eating, watching TV, engaging in social media, or watching the news. Take care not to become overly reliant on soothing activities which have side effects, as some can attest, for example, to a “Covid 19 weight gain” during the more restrictive segment of the pandemic. Some examples of “feel goods” with little side effects are exercise, walking, good conversation, reading, the arts, faith expressions, fun home projects, and music. I recommend being intentional about your coping and continuing to foster positive approaches to dealing with stress.
  3.  Third, make your best decisions and live with them as you’re navigating your choices in regard to a response to the Delta Variant. I would recommend that you don’t become overly reliant upon social media, the news media, or others’ opinions to decide what’s best for you and your family. Where you have a choice, consult with reputable sources when obtaining information and utilize them the best that you can. Then, consider the options thoughtfully and make your best choice. Be understanding of your neighbors and friends as they are doing the same to make their best choices. Avoid getting into debates with others who are making different decisions than you are as this can cause undue stress and harm your relationships with others.
  4. Lastly, try to foster positivity in your life as you’re moving forward. As you know, there will be many other challenges in addition to Covid that you will face as you live your life. Foster mental resilience and positivity as often as you can. Talk to positive people. Read positive and uplifting things. Listen to podcasts, videos, and other sources which can help you with your momentum. One of the most important freedoms that we each have is to choose how we think. Take responsibility for who you are and what you’re going to think about your current situation. The worst things in life are not what happens to us, it’s the negative things we think about what is happening to us that can be most damaging. Stay on a positive track as you navigate the new challenges of the Delta Variant.

Coping With Toxic People

Written by Dr. Lee Hildebrand

What are Toxic People?

Many of us have had experiences with people in our lives who dislike and antagonize us regardless of how much we try to please them.  When we take the high road, they seem to take the low road. They don’t want our best. They seek to tear us down. These are the toxic people in our lives. For most, this is a difficult situation to handle whether it be a spouse, boss, co-worker, or family member. In fact, some people go to any length to have ALL people in their midst like them. This can be an exhausting approach to relationships as not everyone is going to like us. To be clear, a toxic person is not going to like you know matter how much you try to win them over. Thus, we are faced with the question of how to cope with these types of people in our lives.

What about Narcissists?

The classic example of a toxic person is the narcissist. A simplified definition of a narcissist is someone in which conversation, activities, and attention need to be all about them. These are the people that will have difficulty celebrating your victories as they are preoccupied with having your attention upon theirs. These are the people that have internalized a belief that others in the world are exclusively there for their needs. These are the people that will expect you to like and comment on their social media posts but will routinely ignore yours. These are the people that will seek to be the center of attention in all circumstances.

How to Deal with Toxic People?

In dealing with toxic people, it is important to step back from the situation to evaluate if we’re contributing any negativity to the situation. If we’ve done something harmful in the situation, we need to take steps to make things right. If we find that we have not done anything to contribute to the situation and that the other person persists in negativity, then it is time to take some important steps.

  1. First, set boundaries with this person and limit your exposure as much as possible. If you have a toxic coworker or family member, you may have to set time limits related to your interactions. Spending an inordinate amount of time with toxic people can often leave you feeling drained. The ultimate boundary, which may be necessary in some situations, is to completely discontinue interactions with the toxic person.
  2. Second, stop blaming yourself or doubting yourself as to why the relationship does not work and is not positive. In some situations, you can expend as much effort as possible and the other person has already made the determination and decision that you are unacceptable, unlikable, distasteful, or other negative attributes. For example, with narcissists, you can invest countless hours in paying attention to their stories and issues with little return or interest on their part to invest in you.
  3. Third, intentionally choose healthy relationships when selecting whom to spend time with outside of your family, professional, and obligatory relationships. A wise neighbor once said, “Lee, I have learned in life that I get to choose to spend my free time only with the people that I truly want to.” It is important to understand that we have a choice in regard to the relationships that we invest in. There is no surefire way to avoid toxic people in our lives. However, we can take the steps above to mitigate toxic situations and focus more of our energies and time in relationships which are life-giving.

Want to learn more? Check out the latest video from Dr. Lee Hildebrand on his Tips for Coping With Toxic People.

Overcoming Anxiety

Written by Dr. Lee Hildebrand

What Is Anticipatory Anxiety?

Anticipatory anxiety is the habit of looking ahead to try to emotionally anticipate either negative events or the loss of positive things in life that we desire. This tendency to look ahead leads to distress in the mind and the body. This anticipatory anxiety can sometimes feel like waiting for the shoe to drop, for the next difficult thing to happen in our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic has greatly increased a sense of anxiety for many of us. People have been fearful to go to the grocery store, to visit relatives, to eat at restaurants, to go to work, and to do many of the things that seemed very ordinary in 2019. Thankfully, we have made progress and vaccinated thousands to pave the way for a possible return to the lives that we once knew. Even in less trying times, Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in the United States. 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, that is 18.1% of the population, are affected by anxiety every year. Anxiety can be managed, yet only 36.9% of those suffering from anxiety seek out assistance or treatment. Hence, many continue to live year-by-year with patterns of anxiety which produce distress and limit their optimal functioning.

What Contributes to Anticipatory Anxiety?

Anxiety can trigger your fight or flight stress response in the body and release a flood of chemicals and hormones, like adrenaline, into your system. In the short term, this increases your pulse and breathing rate, so your brain can get more oxygen. This can prepare you to respond appropriately to an intense situation. However, the overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system can become frequent and habitual for some who have experienced trauma. In addition, when we experience trauma there can be maladaptive beliefs which accompany our response and contribute to prolonged future anxiety and negative thinking patterns. Even for those without specific trauma, a pattern of wanting to control the future and fearing undesirable results can become habitual.

How Does Anticipatory Anxiety Disrupt Our Lives?

The stress in our bodies related to anxiety can pose problems for sleep, daily functioning, social effectiveness, concentration, and lead to hypertension and other physical conditions. Many of us are aware of a location in our body, like our chest or back, where we experience tightness and tension when experiencing anxiety and stress. Anxiety can also contribute to depression and a sense that things are not going our way. It interferes with what we are doing in the present and distracts us from taking the next right steps to accomplish what needs to be done in the present.

How Can We Live in the Present?

Living in the present is an appropriate and accurate way to live. If you think about time in terms of a doorway with the door shut, the present is standing several steps in front of this closed door. The closed door is the future which is simply unknowable. We often have a sense of the next step that we are taking toward the future in our minds. However, if we are honest, we really have no idea what lies behind that door. The pandemic of 2020 is a prime example of this reality as well as the real estate crash of 2007. This is why the poets and songwriters speak about this dynamic in describing the “eternal moment.” What is meant by this is that we all live continuously in the present. The past is behind us and the future beyond the door is unknowable. We are continuously residing in the present eternal moment within our lives. Accepting this reality and intentionally focusing on staying in the present is a powerful tool in dismantling anticipatory anxiety. The practice of staying in the present helps us to let go of expectations about what we may lose or what we may not gain in the future. It keeps us focused on the most influential moment that we have, the here and now. We can take action steps in the present that have some influence on the future. It makes sense to invest our energy on action steps in the present verses worry about tomorrow. Living in a manner that places our attention on the present moment is a crucial approach to managing anxiety.

What Are Some Practical Tools to Help With Anxiety?

There are many tools to assist us with the battle against anxiety.

  1. Beginning our day with motivational books, podcasts, and videos can assist us in getting into the right frame of mind. These resources can help eliminate outdated and irrational thinking about our life situations to assist with anxiety management. People who believe that their misfortune is “bad luck” or the fault of others, give themselves little recourse to take corrective actions.
  2. Focus on your narrative about situations. Narrative, or what we tell ourselves about situations in life, is important. What happens to us in life is often less harmful than the negative way we think about what happens to us in life.
  3. Find creative positive mental angles about situations and motivation in facing situations, as opposed to being jaded and despairing.
  4. When you are anxious about something take action steps to influence the situation. Simply getting started with the next step can turn down anxiety in many instances. People often tell me that the hardest part of any project is taking the first step and getting started.
  5. Deep breathing and meditation are also important tools that people use to manage anxiety and stay present in the moment. There are many resources online to assist with learning more about this tool.
  6. Practice faith and prayer. Many people find powerful relief in trusting God with the outcomes of their lives.
  7. Professional counseling and psychotherapy can be another valuable tool in assisting us to reduce anxiety, stop negative thinking, experience validation, and take corrective action when facing challenges in our lives. A mental health professional can also assist with making decisions about whether a medication would be appropriate for you when combating extreme forms of anxiety.

In summary, anticipatory anxiety does not have to be part of your daily routine. Practice these steps to assist in managing your anxiety. We all have the potential to experience relative peace in our lives if we are willing to stay in the present and give intentional care to our thinking and attitudes.

The Benefits of Marriage Counseling

Written by Dr. Lee Hildebrand

Marriage is Not Easy

Marriage is difficult. There is no certificate or degree given to ensure that we are a competent and loving partner. In many cases, we try our best in terms of what we've seen modeled by our parents. Sometimes this is not a helpful guideline. Like anything else, success in marriage takes work, commitment, and action steps. In many areas of life, we have no problem seeking experts for help when we need them. We call dentists, medical doctors, physical therapists, mechanics, plumbers, fitness instructors, business coaches, and tutors for our children. However, in the most important relationship in our lives which also has a crucial impact on our children, we often try to succeed in a vacuum without any external counsel, support, or input on the areas of most difficulty.

Read more: The Benefits of Marriage Counseling