Utilizing The Transtheoretical Model or ‘Stages of Change’ to Better Understand Your Addiction

By Concentric Counselor Charles Weiss, LCPC

If the dopaminergic receptors in my brain didn’t make me feel so good when stimulated and weren’t so intertwined as well as interwoven with my serotonin levels and that my GABA receptors didn’t inhibit my nerve transmission leading to my brain activity level to be depressed, I would have never used in the first place.  Do people who suffer from addictions really think like this?  Do they really understand the intricacies on how drugs affect the brain and other physiological aspects of their bodies?  If they had that insight or answers, would they still want to get high, continue rationalizing the reasons in which they use or actually seek out help?

For the change process of the individual to be effective and impactful, it is helpful to better understand how certain drugs affect the brain.  Different drugs when taken affect different aspects of our brain functioning.  For example, alcohol is a depressant, which slows down or depresses our Central Nervous System, which helps reduce anxiety and inhibit relaxation in our body.  It slows down brain activity through binding with GABA receptors to help with minimizing racing thoughts, rapid breathing and quick pulse.  Substances like opioids and stimulants, that target the pleasure center in our brain, which involves the Dopamine neurotransmitter, provide us with that “feel good response” that makes it more difficult for people who are addicted to want to quit.  Let’s not forget the cannabinoid receptors that are naturally occurring neurotransmitters that our brain produces, which Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol latches onto.  When this occurs, we often experience a more euphoric feeling and our sensory perceptions are often enhanced, which also increases the level of dopamine that is being produced in our brain.  This list is just to name a few of the more widely used substances individuals can become addicted too. 

Substances have the propensity to be both psychologically and physiologically addicting, meaning either the body and/or our mind needs the drug to avoid potential withdrawal.  Not everyone who tries a substance for the first time will become instantly addicted, however, it can increase their risk of them wanting to try it again because of how it made them feel. 

It is not just the neurochemistry in the brain that makes a person struggling with addiction want to use, but the stages of the change they are in can have an impact and effect into the chronicity of their use.  Prochaska and DiClemente postulated a Transtheoretical Model or what many might know as the “Stages of Changes” that people can experience when it comes to their understanding their addiction and their willingness to cease it. 

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This model has 5 stages that an addict can experience, with a sixth called Relapse, which I will discuss later, that indicate the individual’s willingness of wanting to continue or cease the use of the substance(s). This model can also apply to a wide range of other behavioral challenges that individuals are having an arduous time in overcoming, not such substance use, abuse, or dependence. 

Stage 1- Precontemplation

Pre-contemplation is when an individual doesn’t think they have a problem with the drug and/or substance they are using and aren’t willing to change their behavior.  Oftentimes these individuals are in denial that their addiction is a problem, they have not connected the experience of the negative consequences of their addiction or understand the severity of their addiction at this time.  They are currently enjoying and appreciating the positive and pleasurable effected of their addiction, the “high” and positive aspects of the substance they are using due to neurotransmitters that substance targets to cause this affect.  It often isn’t until the individual begins to experience more of the negative aspects of the substance (i.e.: withdrawals, negative consequences from their addiction), will the individual begin to consider they might have a problem and move from pre-contemplation to the contemplation stage.

Stage 2 - Contemplation   

Contemplation stage typically occurs when individuals have the self-talk about the challenges and struggles in wanting to make a behavior change, yet are unable to pull the trigger at this stage and follow through with their thoughts of wanting to change or cut down their use.  Individuals are typically open to listening to advice on how they can change their behavior, to gain a bit more insight into their addiction, understanding the consequences of their addiction, but have not established and/or developed a specific plan on how they would like to change their behavior.  Utilizing a non-judgmental attitude and motivational approaches to encourage change, such as beginning to teach individuals a harm reduction approach, can help propel the individual towards the preparation stage of change.

Stage 3 – Preparation

During this stage of change, individuals are starting to become more committed into wanting to change their behavior and develop plans on how they can begin minimizing the frequency and occurrence in which they are using substances.  Individuals start to gain more insight into the impact and effects the substances have on their level of functioning and the dysregulation of neurochemistry in their brain through collecting and gathering resources either provided to them or investigating these resources for themselves.  They become more cognizant of their triggers and begin learning more effective strategies to minimize the occurrence of them as well as seeking out and developing healthier support systems to aide in their recovery.  Individuals begin to gain more insight into the consequences their addiction is having on their level of functioning.

Stage 4 – Action

As the insight and introspection into their addiction becomes more “front and center”, individuals are able to begin developing plans to implement to aide in their recovery.  Now all the preparation that was exerted and exhibited in the previous stage can be put into motion.  As stressful as this stage can be, it is the best time when interventions such as seeking out a Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor (CADC), licensed therapist or going to a substance abuse or detox center can be most impactful and continue to move as well as guide the individual towards their recovery.  With a trained and licensed professional, appropriate and realistic goals can be established to be addressed gradually as well as developing more adaptive over maladaptive coping skills that are taught to help move the individual towards the maintenance stage.

Stage 5 & 6 – Maintenance/Relapse

After the strenuous time it takes into in acknowledging, accepting and putting into motion plans that become action, maintenance follows.  This is time in which the individual is able to maintain sobriety for at least 6 months of implementing everything they have learned in treatment and progress on the goals they have developed for themselves.  During this time, individuals might begin to feel complacent or feel like there is some plateau they have reached with their progress, that defaulting into their maladaptive habits might be inevitable.  However, with the continual commitment and support to their recovery, maintenance can be an obtainable long-term goal. 

Part of any recovery can be relapse, although not everyone experiences relapse(s).  When an individual relapses, they don’t necessary default back to Stage 1 - Precontemplation.  If the individual is committed and with ongoing positive support they have created for themselves, they might only fall back a stage to Action and/or potentially Preparation Stage.  It unfortunately might take an individual several relapses before they are fully committed to the change process.  The goal is never to give up and continuing reinforcing yourself of your commitment of wanting to make the behavior change in being able to abstain from one’s substance of choice, such as alcohol or illicit substances.

If you or a loved one is struggling with any addiction, please seek out professional help. There are countless resources available that can help and aide you in your recovery.  Change doesn’t happen overnight, but understanding as well as acknowledging that you might have a problem is the first step in your journey to change and living a healthier and more fulfilling lifestyle.  This Transtheoretical Model or Stages of Change by Prochaska and DiClemente might not be applicable to everyone, but it can be applied broadly to anyone who is willing and wanting make the necessary change to improve their overall lifestyle and to be a better you. 

The Value of Vulnerability

By Concentric Counselor Christian Younginer, LPC, NCC

Life XXXV by Emily Dickinson

I CAN wade grief,

Whole pools of it,—

I ’m used to that.

But the least push of joy

Breaks up my feet,         5

And I tip—drunken.

Let no pebble smile,

’T was the new liquor,—

That was all!  

Power is only pain,         10

Stranded, through discipline,

Till weights will hang.

Give balm to giants,

And they ’ll wilt, like men.

Give Himmaleh,—         15

They ’ll carry him!

Emily Dickinson’s word choice in the first line sticks with me- she can “wade” grief. She can trudge through the thick, tarry mire of sadness, pain, loss, and sorrow. It really feels like that, doesn’t it? This viscous bog of grief, she’s “used to that”. It’s familiar for her. But joy is foreign. 

Although she can bear the pain of life, let life surprise her with joy and she will stumble, drunkenly. This voices a common human experience: Let something test our resolve, and we will meet that challenge. But let us be vulnerable, and we will dissolve.

It is easier to harden, than to soften. Give comfort and love to giants, and they will “wilt” into ordinary men, but ask them to carry mountains (‘Himmaleh’ is the archaic form of ‘the Himalayas’), and they will offer up themselves.

This brings us to the question of this post: How does a person allow themselves to be vulnerable, without wilting? How do they remain resilient when life gets hard, without hardening themselves?


What is vulnerability?

The insightful Brené Brown defines vulnerability as both “the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity”, but also as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure” (Daring Greatly). So, our options are: recoil at the latter and tell ourselves we don’t need the former OR accept the latter because we accept that we need the former.

There were times in my life where I clung to the idea that ‘ I don’t need others’- to avoid feeling exposed. That idea eventually spoiled, and I was faced with the reality that I DO need others. While I was aware of the fact, I had not yet accepted it. It was not until I accepted that I need others that my journey towards understanding vulnerability began.

Being vulnerable feels like the difference between writing in the 3rd person and 1st person. It is keeping others at a distance, to avoid the pain of feeling exposed- of not being accepted. If you notice, I switched from using “they” and “them” to “I” and “we”. As I wrote, I noticed feeling exposed, but I also noticed feeling satisfied with my self-awareness and honesty. That is, I felt joy in sharing this part of myself so that it might be of help to someone. It is this ‘trade-off’ that I believe Brené Brown is describing. If we can be ok with feeling a little exposed, we can receive wonderful gifts of acceptance, approval, validation, and love.

The Alternative.

In my pursuit of understanding vulnerability, I came to a choice. Would I rather feel uncomfortable or alone? My choice to embrace vulnerability and accept the possible “emotional exposure”, speaks to not only my desire for connection with others, but to the horror of the alternative: feeling alone. Jumping from a burning building does not mean that jumping is not scary, rather the alternative is too horrifying to consider.


What I am suggesting almost seems oxymoronic: Become vulnerable to become stronger. Invulnerability is not a superpower. Unless Superman exists and no one told me. Rather, accepting that we need others is the true superpower. One powerful result of letting ourselves connect is resilience. That is, if we temper ourselves in the furnace of vulnerability, we become stronger than we were. This is possible due to what Brené Brown references as the gifts of vulnerability: love, belonging, joy, courage, and empathy. Having these in our arsenal make us stronger humans, less prone to burnout and emotional distress.

Let us learn to enjoy the intoxicating effects of joy and not let it cause us to stumble. Carry the mountain if asked, because you are strong enough to shoulder it. But also do not wilt at receiving comfort or help. If we accept that we not only need others for support, but also that they have gifts to offer us, we become stronger. More resilient to carry the mountains when we need to and more courageous to be vulnerable when we just can’t carry anything else. It is the courage and strength to say: “ I’m not ok right now. But I will be.”

Better Understanding Grief & Loss

By Concentric Counselor Jennifer Larson, LCPC, NCC

During the Spring of this year, I popped onto the Dear Abel and Sofi advice column for the first time and came across a story about a Firefighter’s struggle with grief & loss after he needed to leave the workforce due to injuries he sustained on the job. He was in the rebuilding stage and had recently turned his passion for woodworking into a small business that had been met with tireless effort and financial struggles. While this former firefighter shared his story and posed questions on the advice column, I could not help but see his intrinsic desire to connect with other people as he grieved and was rebuilding his life. Seeking connection, feedback, validation, and ideas from others was a part of this man’s grieving and recovery process.

Reading this story jogged my memory about a blog post I started in August 2018 (and didn’t finish) about grief & loss. At that time, I became re-enlightened about the additional types of grief & loss that exist, namely the loss of thoughtfully designed objects and structures in our country, and the unfortunate outcome this can have on social and human connectivity. I’ll touch upon that later in this blog post.

For many, grief & loss cannot exist without experiencing some form of connection with oneself or others, and rebuilding in the wake of grief & loss cannot exist without human connection. The firefighter's story made me think about my own grief & loss experiences felt during the earlier part of the year.  The flood of feelings and experiences that emerged from within me were great, and subsequently, I decided to really reach out to others.      

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During my grief & loss earlier this year, I allowed myself to feel and accept my grief by intentionally creating space and capacity to feel a myriad of feelings.  I also reached deep within to try to understand the messages, gifts, and lessons in my losses. Reaching out to family, friends, my therapist, and colleagues granted me the opportunity to take care of myself and to feel their heartfelt and unwavering support. The swell of feeling cared for, respected and supported by others was truly one of the best gifts I ever experienced.  Eventually, I felt myself naturally propelling forward by carrying my values with me and, yet, creating a semi-new reality ahead. My grieving process, particularly connecting with others, reminded me of the firefighter’s desire to connect with others through the advice column as he grieved and re-built his life.  

For some, grief & loss can be experienced as a harrowing crisis and this crisis can truly be fodder for future opportunities and growth. And, through my own experiences as well as listening to others’ experiences, I have come to truly appreciate that grief & loss comes in many forms and shapes.

Long gone are the days when we thought of grief & loss solely as one facing their own mortality due to a terminal illness or losing a loved one to death. These are most certainly some of the most difficult types of grief & loss people can face in a lifetime as it can bring about great pain and suffering. The loss of a loved one can stir up a deep emotional response, physical and behavioral changes. Other forms of losses can bring about up deep emotional, physical, and behavioral responses and changes as well.

Experiencing a significant life transition (such as entering into college or parenthood), a childhood robbed of important attachment figures or childhood experiences, the demise of an intimate relationship through betrayal & infidelity, and the loss of being connected with one’s feelings or reality by route of escaping into addiction, perpetual distraction or fantasy -- all of these examples fall under the umbrella of grief & loss. 

People who experience grief & loss can go through a number of stages, sometimes in sequential order, other times bouncing back-and-forth among the stages, and for some, remaining stuck in a stage or bypassing certain stages all together. There are a number of identifiable stages of grief listed, one of the more common models is Dr. Kubler-Ross’ modified 7 Stages of Grief & Loss. For brevity, here are those 7 Stages:

  1. Shock (Initial paralysis hearing the news)

  2. Denial (Trying to avoid the inevitable)

  3. Anger (Frustrated outpouring of bottled-up emotion)

  4. Bargaining (seeking in vain to find a way out)

  5. Depression (Final realizations of the inevitable)

  6. Testing (seeking realistic solutions)

  7. Acceptance (Finally finding the way forward)

Having the understanding and knowledge of The 7 Stages of Grief & Loss can be instrumental in cultivating understanding which can eventually contribute towards facilitating growth and change. As I highlighted earlier, I believe interpersonal relationships -- connecting with others -- is also important to incorporate during the grief & loss process and survival.  Whether it’s with a trusted family member or friend, therapist, or your community can be healing as your experience and move through your grieving process and recovery. 

Being there for people by exercising empathy, attunement, and being fully present is critical as one heals.  Also, giving yourself permission to be vulnerable to express yourself with people you feel safe with creates a holding space for you and your experiences. Emotional and relational connection like these brings about a deeper understanding of one’s experiences which can then help promote compassion, transformation, healing, and recovery. The emotional-felt experience within a relational context is vital for healing and survival during grief & loss.

I am going to revisit something I referenced earlier in the blog, and I know it may seem like I am veering off (which I am) and going on a tangent, but this is an area I want to weave into the area on grief & loss.   

Around last summer, my mother-in-law remarked how the United States tends to tear down old buildings to make space for newer buildings to be built.  She conveyed her concern about our country undermining the inherent value, respect of others, its history and imprint, and ultimately the loss of felt social and human connection by tearing down old buildings. The decimation of older structures and the lack of integrating new and old buildings together equates with grief & loss for the people of this country.  This was the message I heard, and it struck me.   

The following day after my mother-in-law shared her perspective, I had read "He Knows What You Really Need" article in Psychology Today which highlights Glenn Adamson's perspective on the value of knowing how objects or things are made or cultivated. The article revealed Adamson's book, "Fewer, Better Things"  which highlights the act of purchasing or collecting mass-produced items can water-down the value and connection between consumers (people) and goods. Glenn believes diving deeper into learning more about the maker and the making process promotes greater understanding and respect for the maker and object, and overall promotes social and emotional connectivity.  Mass produced items create a lack of human connection - loss, in other words. Experiencing an artisan’s creative piece awakens our senses and taps into an emotional and human connection with its maker.

And then the following night back in August 2018 (yes, I’m serious about these sequential events), I found myself seeing these same themes emerge in the then new show, "Making It" hosted by Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman. The show is about bringing master craftspeople and artisans together to compete in a friendly and fun environment.  During the crafters' introductions, one of the makers remarked that crafting in today's culture has dwindled down as people expend more time and energy on their phones. Crafting with others creates memories, she added.  Memories filled with emotional and social connections. 

The idea is that thoughtfully-designed, emotionally and physically labored crafts, objects, and buildings promote greater human connectivity. Eliminating them only promotes greater relational loss. I really started to sit with the idea of how the loss of certain physical objects or structures impact us psychologically, relationally, and culturally, and what this could mean for us and perhaps, for human evolution.

Of course, facing a terminal illness or experiencing the loss of a loved one pales in comparison to the loss of not knowing the maker of a vase on your dining room table. I am not making the comparison that both are similar in terms of its impact when it comes to grieving.  But, I do think it’s worth acknowledging that grief & loss comes in many different shapes and forms. It’s not black-and-white.

So, here are my hopes. My hope is we can continue to acknowledge, better understand and define the various forms of grief & loss that touch people in various ways both intimately and globally. That we can all take a leap by vulnerably reaching out to others for support during our own grieving journey. We can be truly available and present to those who are grieving. We can take a moment to think about preventing unnecessary losses. And, we can appreciate the preservation of human connection, particularly in the wake of grief & loss. Because human connection is truly a powerful thing, take it from me.      

Finding Balance Between Healthy and Unhealthy Anxiety

By Concentric Counselor Charles Weiss, LPC

There are 10 seconds left of the clock in the state championship game and your team is down by 2 points.  You have the ball and the fate of the team is in your hands on what will you do next, either pass or take the game winning shot.  Sweat is protruding down your face, your heart is beating a thousand miles a hour, your mind is racing with a million and one different case scenarios on what you should do and then your anxiety starts to take over.  However, you realized that your anxiety has allowed you to think quicker on your feet and make better decisions, because you don’t let it control and consume you.  3, 2, 1 and throw up a prayer of shot from about 35 feet away from the basket, knowing that being vulnerable to your anxiety, you can live with the consequences…  Swish!  Game over and you have just won the state championship for your team.

Anxiety… What is it and what does to mean to us when it begins to take control; do we let it control our consciousness or embrace it as an opportunity of growth and self-discovery?  According to dictionary.com, anxiety is defined as “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.”

When outcomes are uncertain to us in which we want to control, but can’t, anxiety can consume our every decision, thought and feeling.  It leads to panic, fear and vulnerability to the unknown, having us over-analyze every decision we make, postulating those “what if” scenarios.  Anxiety can so debilitating to someone when it’s severe and impacts our day-to-day activities.  Plain and simple, anxiety can suck!  Nobody wants to constantly live a life of panic, fear, worry and dread, wondering all the time, “What if?” When you let anxiety take control and inhibit your ability to just be “you”, it becomes unhealthy.

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Is there a way to gain back that control over anxiety before it begins to consume us, crippling our sense of self and being vulnerable to “What if…?”  Anxiety is your body’s indication that something isn’t right, like a built-in warning system indicating that your homeostasis might be out of balance.  When we listen to our body as it talks to us and yes, our body does speak to us, you can begin to prepare and embrace for its impact and figure out how to manage it. Certain symptoms to be mindful of that can alert us when something “isn’t right” and anxiety begins to manifest itself within us, are the following:

·        Racing thoughts

·        Irritability

·        Headaches

·        Nausea/upset stomach

·        Disturbed sleep

·        Muscle tension/tightness

·        Shortness of breath

·        Mind going blank

·        Difficulty concentrating/focusing

·        Fatigued

·        Palpitations

When we are able to listen to these symptoms we experience, then we can to things to keep these symptoms in check before they exacerbate. Taking the time to do a body scan, deep breathing exercises, mindfulness exercises, progressive muscle relaxation techniques can all help keep the heightened level of anxiety at bay.

Can anxiety be healthy?

Anxiety can also be a way to motivate yourself to reach your goals and achievements that you have established.  It can better help prepare yourself to face as well as overcome challenges. When we approach anxiety as a hindrance, it can become unhealthy. You can instead capitalize on it as more of a way to inspire your self-growth and to live a more authentic life.  According to Katharina Star, Ph.D., anxiety is another way people can be more empathetic towards other people’s issues and concerns, and help with how they interact with others. She also stated that individuals who struggle with anxiety are often more cautious thinkers, problem solvers and decision makers because they are often building-in “back-up plans” for when things go wrong. 

Bottom line, anxiety isn’t always bad and unhealthy when individuals experience it, it can be a way people thrive if they are able to recognize it, understand it, and know how to cope and properly channel the healthy aspects of it. People can still live fully authentic lives when experiencing anxiety, it’s when it takes control and we begin to panic, that derails aspects of our lives.

If you are experiencing at least 3 symptoms of anxiety, that have been affecting your ability to function on a day-to-day basis in a variety of settings (i.e.: school, work, home) and those symptoms have been occurring for at least 6 months in which you find it very difficult to control that worry and anxiety, please contact your local mental health provider and schedule an appointment with a professional who can help you learn how to regain control over your anxiety and transform it into a healthier form of anxiety for you. 

Asking for Help - Not Waving but Drowning

By Concentric Counselor Christian Younginer, LPC, NCC

Not Waving but Drowning


Nobody heard him, the dead man,   

But still he lay moaning:

I was much further out than you thought   

And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking

And now he’s dead

It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,   

They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always   

(Still the dead one lay moaning)   

I was much too far out all my life   

And not waving but drowning.

I believe this poem verbalizes well a common societal pressure. That is, the need to be happy externally, even if drowning internally. As we go through our day, met with multiple “How’s it going?”, we invariably are trained to answer “fine” or “great”, without the slightest thought. The question we’re left with is: how would anyone know I’m drowning, when I always give them a friendly wave?

Asking for help can be deceptively difficult. Frequently I hear from clients that asking for help shows weakness, or is shameful, or too vulnerable. So, we strengthen our resolve, buckle down, and soldier on at the expense of our wellness and happiness. We become run down, exhausted, and deflated. Imagine a balloon trying to remain the same size, while its air slowly leaks. We receive messages from our families of origin, our employers, and consumer culture that tell us to harden. But the harder we get, the more brittle we become. Rather than naming our need for help, we’re now drowning with work, emotions, schedules, and isolation. 


Ultimately, this issue of asking for help comes down to a person’s struggle with taking care of themselves. Wellness, self-care, asking for help, boundary setting, etc all live in the same neighborhood: taking care of the self. A former supervisor of mine offered this metaphor:

You board an airplane, take your seat, and the flight attendant begins the safety protocols speech. They get to the section on the oxygen mask. They say, ‘please secure your own mask before attempting to assist anyone else.”

Why is that? Well, you can’t help anyone if you’re dead. The same concept applies here, albeit with less grim consequences. How can we expect to function, let alone help others, when we run ourselves ragged?

To return to the topic at hand, one way of taking care of the self is asking for help. Seeking therapy is a form of this. I often name the courage it takes for a client to find a therapist. As we know, it’s hard to find help for ourselves- especially for our mental health. As if the unfortunate stigma isn’t enough, busy schedules and work demands can get in the way. If therapy is two steps too far for you, there are smaller ways to open ourselves to the help of others.

We don’t have to instantly open up and adopt this idea. Rather we can take smaller steps that feel safer. For example, if we have created a default answer of “fine” when asked “how are you?” by random people, then that may have filtered into closer relationships. Those relationships where it may feel safer saying “Actually, I’m struggling.” So, what if we remove the automatic ‘fine’ from our vocabulary? Rather, when asked by a close friend or family member, “how are you?”, we take that question for what it is: an out-stretched hand to a drowning person.

 I think it is unfair to view this poem as an indictment of those who misread the author’s anguish. Rather, I believe it is a call to stop waving when we’re drowning. To let those looking out for our safety, save us. Only from this place of moaning, cold death does the author finally feel safe saying she was much too far out all of her life. If only we, the onlookers, knew this we could’ve helped.

 It is ok to feel you’re too far out. It is ok to feel like you’re drowning. There are those who want to help us, but only if we let them. When we don’t ask for help, we deny our friends and family the gift of being able to help someone they love.

The Role of Anxiety in Living an Authentic Life

By Concentric Counselor Christian Younginer, LPC, NCC

To be brief, anxiety can suck. The persistent worry of imagined scenarios can plague the mind and exhaust the body. It can manifest as brief periods of pronounced worry, a baseline worry for all things, and even panic attacks. But I would like to offer a perspective that may be overlooked in coping with anxiety. That is, can my anxiety teach me something?

Specifically, can my anxiety teach me how to live an authentic, meaningful life? This question shapes Existential Therapy. At its broadest, existential therapy is the endeavor of understanding one’s existence in a therapeutic setting. This is done via an honest exploration of one’s freedom, choice, responsibility, meaning, and inevitable death. Existential psychotherapist Irvin Yalom conceptualizes much of anxiety as death-anxiety (Existential Psychotherapy, p.189). That is, persistent anxiety can be explained as an underlying worry about a life without meaning in the face of approaching death. Death is what allows life to have meaning. If there were no end, then for what should we live? The finiteness of life can motivate, intimidate, and terrify. However, it is this anxiety that can be the canary in the mine of our life.

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As we work, study, sleep, parent, eat, play, drive, and journey through life, meaning and purpose can slip through the cracks. Anxiety can creep in, seeming to have no definable impetus. Often enough the death of a loved one, or a diagnostic medical scare can bring perspective -- wherein we confront our death. But one does not need to wait for such a moment to ask these questions, such as “Why am I here?”, “What does it mean to exist?”, and “What is my purpose?”.

Anxiety can be that canary that alerts us of an inauthentic life. It warns of the finiteness of life, and the importance of living a life with meaning. This often manifests as a vague sensation of “running out of time”. Without meaning, one can find life pointless or trite. The finiteness of life no longer motivates, it terrifies. But if we listen to what our anxiety is telling us, perhaps we can redirect our lives towards meaning.

How does one do this?

An example from philosophy may be of use. In Frederick Nietzsche’s The Gay Science, Nietzsche offers the reader an aphorism he titles ‘The Heaviest Burden’. He proceeds to ask the reader: if a demon were to order that you must live this life in eternal recurrence, every moment, detail, pain, and triumph- would you thank him or curse him? (The Gay Science, Aphorism #341). So, do I live my life in such a way that were I to re-live this life on repeat, I would praise the demon with gratitude for the opportunity? Or would this prospect bring about the abysmal dread of re-living a meaningless life? It is this precise idea where anxiety comes into play. Am I experiencing the anxiety and dread of a life not worth re-living?

It is this question that can help steer us towards meaning. Do I live in such a way that were I to re-live this life on repeat, would I be in joyful contentment or in abysmal dread? This is a tough question with which to be confronted. However, we can use this question as a beginning: the moment one begins to ask “does my life have meaning?”. Rather than be frozen by the possible dread this question instills, one can frame this as the moment in which a new life begins. As always, Confucius said it best, “ We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one.”

Determining WHAT is meaningful is a personal journey that can take time to uncover. But knowing thyself was important to Plato for a reason. It is this existential journey of a human confronted with death, through anxiety, uncovering that which gives their life meaning.

To conclude, yes, anxiety does suck. But as we work to cope with it, let us ask -- What is this anxiety trying to teach me?  Anxiety very well may lead us away from the existential dread of an unexamined life, and instead towards finding a meaningful life worthy of repeating.

Sexual Trauma, Triggers, & The 24-Hour News Cycle

By Concentric Counselor Katie Ho, LPC, NCC

You can hardly escape today’s current social and political climate - it’s on the news, in your social media, overheard at lunch, and even for therapists, themes in session. For those who have experienced trauma in their lifetime, past or ongoing, navigating topics like sexual assault can be overwhelming, scary, complicated and sometimes even powerful. How we take care of ourselves and the people around us who may be struggling with the complexity of their emotions has to be part of the larger conversation. It’s clear that avoiding or minimizing discussions on sexual violence and quieting the stories of survivors is not the path to atonement and reconciliation. But as we create space and lift up the voices of those who have suffered, we must also take inventory of what comes up in us and tend to those parts with kindness, care and nurturing.

The #MeToo movement, local and national advocacy groups and social justice organizations have been and continue to create a platform for those who have been victim to sexual harassment and assault. While the stories and accounts of these traumas seem to be daunting all of the sudden for those who have been unaware, statistics and experts have known for some time of these experiences. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) estimates that 1 in 5 women will be raped in the United States in their lifetime, and that 1 in 3 women will experience some form of sexual violence. The majority of these acts are committed by acquaintances, partners or people who are known by the victim, and according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the majority of these events occur at or near the victim’s home. These of course are statistics, data and research gathered through reports from multidisciplinary agencies. There is undeniable value in knowing these numbers. And just as much, there is value in hearing the experiences and seeing the faces of survivors who have chosen to come forward.

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As allegations and reports of sexual assault make the news, we are bombarded with information, opinions, commentary and even jokes on the matter. Survivors are subject to their own re-traumatization, which has an impact on psychological and physical health, triggered by both the details of these publicized allegations of assaults and non-believers who dismiss them.

In knowing that a trigger is a psychological stimulus that can be evoked through anything from sights, smells or sounds, it’s no wonder that the 24-hour news cycle is affecting so many people. Survivors are not alone in their strong reactions to the constant replaying and subsequent criticism, shaming or dismissing of survivor stories. Those who feel a connection or calling to the cause, whether it be through their empathic attunement or knowing a survivor, may also experience the distress and burnout that comes with the current climate.

So how do we take care? How do we balance the righteous anger and complexity of our other emotions, promote advocacy and change, all while healing and taking gentle care of ourselves? In doing this, one of the most important things to know is nothing can replace the support of others. So find someone, or a group of someones, who can help to support, validate and foster a safe environment for processing.

Find a tribe, or maybe even create one. Pay attention to your body, as our physical being can often tell us when stress is increasing and it’s time for tending and healing. Maybe that means physical exercise, movement, touch or a practice of progressive muscle relaxation (a quick YouTube search is all you need!). Set boundaries. Limit your intake of news and dialogue on the topic by knowing how much mental and emotional labor you’re able to give without overextending yourself. And if you find yourself overwhelmed, triggered or lost, use mindful grounding techniques to bring yourself back into your here and now. Feel your feet on the floor, describe and notice something around you, use your five senses to bring a consciousness into your physical environment and current moment in time and add in a quick reminder - “I am safe. I am in control. I am okay.”