Overcoming Obstacles

‘Life is not always going to be easy’ were words that my grandmother would often murmur to me during challenging times that I faced as a young girl.  Whether it was learning how to tie my shoe, scraping my knee or starting at a new school, my sweet grandmother would be there with her words of encouragement and perseverance.  It is as I write this article that her words are ringing true; life is full of ups and downs, it won’t always be easy and there are plenty of life lessons to learn along the way.   

However, what is it that makes some people face challenges head on while others get too anxious or overwhelmed if such obstacles are even contemplated.  Furthermore, what are some key things that people can use to help conquer issues with courage and strength?  Below is a list of ideas that I have gained throughout the years from various experiences and lessons in my life.  Some of the information provided is stuff that I have picked up from personal events while others were seen as helpful within the therapy context.  

      Be OK with imperfections - You are going to make mistakes and wrong decisions, it is just a fact of life.  Instead on focusing on your weak areas, try to focus on the positive ones and ways in which you can make them stronger.  I personally believe that when we focus on the negative we might wander onto a slippery slope that may lead us down the wrong path...fast.  However, if you do want to pay attention to a weak area of yours (i.e. poor time management, poor organization, laziness), I recommend doing so from a kind and curious position; never self-criticize and remember to not be too hard on yourself.  

      Have an encouraging support group - Going through stressful times to overcome a challenge can bring out the worst in some.  People react to stress and feelings of being overwhelmed in various ways, but one thing's for certain...having support from loved ones is a big help.  Whether you need someone to vent to or a group of friends to brainstorm with, support groups can be a useful strategy to give you the strength you need to master a challenge.

      Realize when it might be time to change the game plan - Sometimes it is completely OK to say that you need to charge at your obstacle from a different perspective.  Starting from scratch and re formatting your strategy might even open your eyes to areas that you were blind to before, which can be helpful for making your defense more powerful.  

      Positive out / Positive in - Some believe that putting positive and good energy into this world can open you to receive such energy back from the universe.  Sometimes we need to really let go of our frustrations (as hard as that may sound) and face our challenges from a more enthusiastic and encouraging standpoint.  Who knows, maybe having such a stance can also help you to feel less overwhelmed and more optimistic too.    

      Baby steps - As the old saying goes, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’.  The same is true for a lot of good things that are worth working hard for, therefore it might be helpful to  tackle your obstacle with baby steps.  Instead of focusing on the big picture, try to break down what you need to do to succeed into smaller increments.  This can help you to recognize and celebrate each small success while also providing a feeling of productiveness and accomplishment.  

      Don’t be intimidated by hard work - The fact of the matter is that you just might need to roll up your sleeves and work through the mess to get to the top.  Just think of how good success is going to feel after you pushed your way through and worked hard to get where you are at.  

      Believe in yourself and your capabilities - Even though this might be a hard one, especially when the chips are down, remember that you can get through almost anything you set your mind to.  

      Today is a new day -  Much like the quote that I use to end every article, every day a new possibility and a fresh start begins.  Do not fret on the things you did or did not do the day before, instead focus on the here and now and what you can do to make progress on a big obstacle.  



Until next time -- take care of yourself, take care of your mind. 

Amanda Burk, MA, LPC-Intern, LMFT-Associate

Supervised By: Tammy Fisher, MA, LPC-S, LMFT-S

“Each morning we are born again.  What we do today is what matters most.” – Buddha


Reconnecting With Your Partner

In today’s time it can be easy to take our significant other for granted, especially when our own stress and daily activities weigh down on our emotional well being.  I know that I can sometimes be guilty of neglecting my partner or even taking out my stress from work on him, even though I know that he had nothing to do with my specific bad or off putting day.  Unfortunately, if these types of negative interactions occur between a couple on a routine basis it is detrimental to the relationship.  What tends to occur in such circumstances is that one or both partners begin to disconnect from the each other and the relationship as a whole; in other words, their sense of friendship and intimacy is damaged.  

The idea of really loving and connecting within a relationship has been on my mind a lot lately.  I recently completed an intensive training on a specific type of couples therapy, the Gottman Theory of how relationships are supposed to achieve a healthy state of being and maintain its existence.  According to Dr. John and Julie Gottman, there are several layers of a relationship which must be focused on while a couple is seeking therapy, one of those layers is re-establishing the bond and sense of friendship between the partnership.  There are several techniques which a Gottman trained therapist can integrate into the session to help the couple refocus on their level of connection, however I thought it would be helpful to provide you with some tools to utilize in your daily activities.  

In an article published by Harrar & DeMaria (The Seven Stages of Marriage, Reader’s Digest Association, 2007), the duo outlines 8 helpful ideas to help to reconnect with your partner and reestablish the friendship between the two of you. Below are the suggestions which Harra and DeMaria recommend for couples who might be stuck in their routines; please feel free to expand on these ideas and really make them your own.  The more creative the better.


1) Ask ‘is this good for us’?: When faced with a major obstacle, it is best to ask which path is best for the couple as a whole.  Communication is key here, make sure to discuss the issue in as helpful and positive of a way possible to really understand that you can see your partner’s point of view on the situation.  Compromise is usually key in such circumstances.  


2) Boundaries 101: You might have heard me mention this concept in previous articles, but healthy boundaries are a must for any relationship that wants to succeed.  Harrar and DeMaria state that the relationship should have semi-permeable boundaries, both inside and outside the partnership.  Establishing healthy boundaries not only with your significant other but also friends and family will help you both maintain a sense of connection when stress and high expectations might arise (ex - family holidays and get togethers).  


3) Create Code Words for Love: Harrar and DeMaria suggest that a couple should be imaginative and create secret sayings of saying ‘I love you’ to one another.  This helps to create a feeling of just you and your partner and is also a handy tool to have when in an environment where such affection cannot be displayed (ex - your supervisor might be around).


4) The Relationship Should be a Priority: Making sufficient time for being alone with each other is a must.  Couples are simply not going to survive if everything else comes first and their time together is what is leftover from their days. I hear it sometimes in the therapy room, ‘we are too busy, we can’t make that kind of time for one another’.  My suggestion is if it is important enough to you then you will try to make it work, over scheduling time with work, friends, and hobbies is common for a lot on individuals but not an excuse none-the-less.  Research time management skills to have a better balance with ‘my stuff’ and ‘us stuff’.   


5) Leave Work at Work: I personally believe that this issue is on the rise for American couples and can potentially be an area of major dysfunction within the partnership.  With technology evolving so quickly and our increased need to ‘be connected’ at all times, it is no wonder that people are more often bringing work home.  This type of behavior takes away from personal time with your loved one.  Setting healthy boundaries and limits with your work can help to maintain a better connection between you and your loved one within the home environment.


6) Create Rituals: Create time for you to do something with each other on a consistent basis.  Examples include, weekly date nights, having dinner with one another (no TV, phones or smart devices), going for nightly strolls with the dog, or even having giving each other mini-massages before bed.  


7) Be Each Others #1 Fan: Encouraging your partner during their struggles is a helpful way to let your partner know that you are there for them no matter what and want them to succeed.  Cheering on each other is also helpful when the couple as a unit is going through a particularly trying time (i.e. tight finances, career struggles, major life transitions and family conflict).  


8) Check-in on a Daily Basis: Take time to really talk about each others day, both personally and professionally speaking.  How was their day at work? Did they do anything different or exciting they might want to talk about?  How are they feeling?  


Until next time -- take care of yourself, take care of your mind.


Amanda Burk, MA, LPC-Intern, LMFT-Associate

Supervised By: Tammy Fisher, MA, LPC-S, LMFT-S

“Each morning we are born again.  What we do today is what matters most.” – Buddha


Mental Well Being & Travel

Last week I was in the Texas Hill Country enjoying the scenery with my close friends and 'dog children'.  I would often go on summer vacations to the area, most frequently Garner State Park, and I must admit that the hill country will always hold a dear place in my heart.  While there, it was complete serenity and relaxation; breath taking views greeted my eyes while I would lie in a hammock with a glass of vino.  After enjoying laughs, memory making, and solitude with those who are close to me, it was tough to head back to the ATX.  Don't get me wrong, I love my home but it was nice to get a change of scenery for awhile.  

Thus, the wheels in my head were spinning while our pack was making the trek back to Austin.  What is it exactly about travel that draws people from all walks of life to take an adventure and explore this wonderful planet?  Does travel actually have any clinical and documented effect on overall happiness and general mental well-being?  Do people who travel more than others reap any additional benefits of happiness, less stress, and better cognitive functioning?  After doing some research and digging around on the topic of mental well being and travel, I was able to find some intriguing facts about the benefits of travel and worldly experiences for all ages.

In a study conducted by Chen & Petrick (Health and Wellness Benefits of Travel Experiences, Journal of Travel Research, November 2013, vol. 52 (5), p. 709-719), participants were examined to assess if any health and wellness benefits occurred as the result of travel.  Results concluded that those who travel receive many positive benefits from their experience such as decreased stress levels, improved sleep and relaxation, improved mood and energy, as well as less feelings of anxiousness.  Additionally, Chen and Petrick concluded that the positive side effects of vacation and travel gradually diminish once the research participants returned to their usual routines.  It might take some individuals longer than others but in general we tend to be unable to carry those positive benefits into a more permanent setting (such as our daily lives).

Additionally, researchers have discovered that travel and other worldly experiences help to give our mind a break from its usual routine as well as help to expand the mind itself and encourage growth.  In an article by Lauren Suval (Can Travel Boost Your Mental Health, PsychCentral.com), studies have demonstrated that experiencing other ways of living and being can assist the mind in seeing the world in new and different ways.  For example, my grandmother used to always say ‘there is more than one way to skin a cat’, meaning that there are several ways to tackle an obstacle, learn a new skill or trade, and even interact with the world.  Exploring new places that are unfamiliar to us can potentially provide the necessary ingredients to expand our mind and way of thinking and being.  Experiencing these types of situations can stimulate growth and expansion of our actual brain; neural networks which have yet to be used can be automatically stimulated and groomed to include new ways of thinking, interacting, and living.   

So next time life has you down, go on a vacation and really take a bite out of this wonderful planet.  See something different and learn something new all while relaxing and stimulating your mind.  

Until next time--take care of yourself, take care of your mind.

Amanda Burk, MA, LPC-Intern, LMFT-Associate

Supervised By: Tammy Fisher, MA, LPC-S, LMFT-S

“Each morning we are born again.  What we do today is what matters most.” – Buddha