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Sharing your life with someone means having open and honest conversations, even when those conversations are a bit difficult. But that's easier said than done.

During hard conversations, it's common for many people to become triggered by something their partner has said. Calm one moment, but the next, they're thrown into "fight or flight" mode, which is an automatic physiological reaction to an event that is perceived as stressful or frightening. Before they know it, the most primitive part of their brain is activated to help them survive, which in turn can shut down communication and connection and almost always breaks down trust.

If you are like most people, you may find it hard to stay calm when tensions run high between you and your partner. Luckily there are things you can do to regulate your emotional responses and keep yourself calm, open, and level-headed.

Pause and Breathe

As soon as you start to feel triggered, pause and take a few slow, deep breaths. While deep breathing may seem cliche, it is a powerful tool that helps us get out of "fight or flight" mode and into a more relaxed state. When you take a deep breath and exhale slowly, you signal to your brain that you are safe and secure. This can help to calm your nerves and bring you a sense of calm in an otherwise tense moment. With practice, this simple technique can become a powerful tool in your arsenal for managing stress and anxiety.

Use Your Senses

When having a difficult conversation with your partner, focus on your physical sensations to regain perspective and help regulate your emotions. Take deep breaths, relax your muscles, take a sip of water, and feel the sensation of drinking, or you could run your fingers along the seam of the sofa cushion and pay attention to any tension in your body. Doing so lets you stay calm, making it easier to listen and express your ideas effectively. Remember that emotional regulation is a skill that takes practice, so don't be too hard on yourself if it doesn't come naturally at first. With time and patience, you can learn to regulate your emotions and have more productive conversations with your partner.

Listen Fully

It is so common in a conversation to listen to form a response. But when we do this, it is far easier to misunderstand what the other person is really saying. Be sure to listen to understand, not to form a response. Avoid interrupting the speaker and refrain from making assumptions about their thoughts or feelings. Instead, adopt a curious and attentive mindset, ask questions for clarification, and summarize what you've heard to ensure comprehension. Remember, being curious while listening doesn't mean you have to agree with the other person's perspective, but rather that you're interested in understanding it.

Difficult conversations are inevitable in any relationship, so developing the practice of these self-regulating tips can help you to remain calm during conflicts and find it easier to be vulnerable and maintain a relationship based on integrity, openness, and trust.

If you and your partner have become aware of problematic communication patterns and want guidance in overcoming those challenges, please contact our Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), Karen C Lewis, to schedule your free consultation.


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Take Care Of Your Mental Health During Pride Month

June is Pride Month, and for many in the LGBTQ+ community, it can be a great joy and celebration. However, Pride Month isn't always a happy experience for everyone. It can even be challenging and stir up complicated emotions, especially for those struggling with mental or emotional health or those who have had difficulty coming out experiences. The complexity of this time has also increased with the recent wave of targeted violence and political discourse threatening to undermine bodily and personal autonomy. If you're finding the month of Pride to be challenging, here are four practical tips to help care for your mind and heart during the month (and the rest of the year):

1. Honor and Embrace All Your Emotions: Being LGBTQ+ is a unique experience for everyone, and Pride is not always a safe space for everyone. So, it's okay if you feel joyful and eager to get in on the fun, while it's equally okay if you feel sad or angry or apathetic or have mixed feelings that fluctuate daily. If you're also at a place where you've not fully accepted and embraced your identity, practice self-compassion and remind yourself that getting to the place of "out and proud" can take time, and where you are in your journey is where you need to be.

2. Celebrate in a Way That Feels Safe and Authentic: There are assumptions and expectations that Pride is a roaring good time for every LGBTQ+ person and that everyone wakes up on June 1st ready to hit the streets wearing the colors and waving the flags that represent them. That is not always the case; if you aren't out yet or still feel uneasy about sharing your sexuality or gender identity with everyone, that's completely fine! It is important to remember that you cannot rush this process and that doing so for other people or appearance's sake can often be more distressing in the end. You will be ready when you're ready. Honor where you are, and don't pressure yourself into anything that doesn't feel congruent with who you are.

Attending parades, protests, and parties can be fun, but it can also be exhausting! Especially if you're attending many events while trying to balance work, school, and other commitments. You may also find yourself triggered by being in large crowds or around a lot of noise. Pace yourself; take breaks or consider taking part in smaller (even online) Pride events. Also, if you're at a live event and feel overwhelmed, just take a few moments to step aside and breathe. You can always head home early (there's no shame in doing that) because your mental and physical health comes first. You deserve to be a part of Pride, and there's no 'right way' to get involved. Wherever you are on your journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance, be kind to yourself and find a way to celebrate safely and authentically!

3. Practice Self-Care: No matter how busy you are, it's essential to carve out a little time for self-care. During Pride, self-care might be making sure you're getting enough sleep; staying hydrated (especially if you're drinking alcohol or are out in the sun for long periods); eating well; doing some exercise when you get the chance, and making time to do things you find relaxing. It is also important that your self-care ritual include something that you enjoy and makes you feel good. Start small if you're having difficulty identifying what these things are or feeling unmotivated to care for yourself. Self-care can be as simple as lighting a candle while you're cooking, making hot tea, or taking a ten-minute walk. The most crucial point is not doing it perfectly but creating rituals that support your life situation and the amount of time you have in your day. These rituals are also great tangible reminders to yourself that you are worth caring for, even if you may not feel like that's the case at the moment. And remember, practicing something (even if it's difficult) will often help this become habitual. Getting in the habit of nurturing ourselves is one of the best, most Pride-worthy things we can do.

4. Ask for Help If You Need it: Check in with your loved ones if you feel like you're struggling. Talk to your friends or family members. If you think you may be experiencing depression, anxiety, or another mental health condition, reach out to a therapist to discuss treatment options. If you have concerns about finding an LGBTQ+ affirming therapist, there are some national directories you may want to begin your search with. Psychology Today is one of the most thorough national listings of mental health professionals and has filters to narrow your search by the therapist's identity, modality, and other classifications. The National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network lists LGBTQ+ POC therapists across the country. Organizations like GLMA (previously known as the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association), AGLP (The Association of LGBTQ+ Psychiatrists), and others have national listings of queer and queer-affirming mental health professionals, though they may not be fully up to date

If you feel like you may harm yourself or someone else or otherwise feel like you're in immediate danger, don't wait to find an LGBTQ+ or -affirming therapist; go to the emergency room, or call an LGBTQ+ crisis hotline, like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255), The Trevor Project (866-488-7386, for LGBTQ+ youth ages 13-24), The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender National Hotline (888-843-4564), or the Trans Lifeline (877-565-8860).

Pride, in its essence, originated to give the queer community a designated time and space to celebrate the beauty of the LGBTQ+ identities, find a sense of solidarity there, and continue to emphasize the necessity of activism. Going to a parade might be part of continuing this legacy, but I think the truest way of honoring Pride month is being authentic to yourself and embodying who you are, and finding sincere ways to connect with others as a result. This might be a quieter act of resistance, but it is resistance just the same and often one of the strongest forms.

Amy Echstenkamper, LCSW

Amy Echstenkamper, LCSW is s an LGBTQIA+ affirming therapist who supports individuals navigating issues of isolation, shame, and trauma to find a stable and a deeper home within themselves. Amy is based in Virginia Beach, serving Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Chesapeake, Hampton Roads, and the state of Virginia via online counseling.

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Updated: Apr 15, 2023

 Keys to Happiness in Daily Life

It doesn’t take a whole new routine to instill a dose of happiness into your day—but it does take a little self-awareness.

1. Be grateful.

Research shows grateful people are happy people. It’s also important to understand that happiness is not the absence of negative feelings. Gratitude focuses on the present and appreciation for what we have now, rather than wanting more. Embracing gratitude as a state of mind can positively affect all aspects of life, including our happiness and overall satisfaction.

Up your mood by taking a moment daily to think of your world with gratitude. Start a gratitude journal or take a walk in nature, paying attention to all the gifts around us. Think of a person who helps you daily or weekly – a spouse, parent, friend, pet, teacher, cleaner, or babysitter.

Quiz: How grateful are you? Take the Gratitude Quiz published by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.

2. Flex your creativity muscles.

Do you have a passion or hobby? It doesn’t have to be a formal activity, simply engaging in creative thinking can enhance well-being by enhancing cognitive flexibility and problem-solving abilities. A recent study out of New Zealand, published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, explains that creative activities can trigger an “upward spiral” of well-being.

“Practicing an art — no matter how well or badly — is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.” – Kurt Vonnegut.

Make some space in your day to create, even if it’s just for its sake. Try exploring unique textures or even natural and recycled materials to make something for your home or a friend and looking for some tips on how to add more creativity into your daily life? Read this list of 101 creative habits to explore.

3. Get connected, Stay connected.

Being a part of something larger than yourself can help bring perspective and a sense of belonging. Scientific evidence strongly suggests that feeling like you belong and are generally close to other people is a core psychological need, essential to feeling satisfied with your life. The pleasures of social life register in our brains much like physical pleasure does.

So take the time to nurture a friendship that is important to you. Make an extra effort to show you care, send a card, make a plan to have lunch, or give them a call and really listen to what they say. Smile and say hello to a stranger. Tell a story when someone asks how your day is going. Notice how you feel when you share something with someone new.

Struggling and need support? Join a support group and talk to others that can relate. Find your tribe: – a free online support community brought to you by TherapyTribe.

Tip: Check out the wellness tracker. It’s a simple but powerful tool designed to help you remember the promises you make to yourself. As you complete wellness activities your tree will blossom, and so will you!
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