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For me, it often happens in the evening (though not always). It feels like a sudden Visitor at your door who comes in unannounced and spreads an uncomfortable, heavy, warm, wet blanket over you, gradually but quickly covering your whole body, and I feel it mainly in my chest. As soon as I feel myself covered, I’m very aware of the sense of unexplained dread that’s overcome me. Often my vision narrows and it’s difficult to concentrate on what people are saying. I can feel my heart pounding. My breathing is shallow. And it’s hard not to just sit there, paralyzed, and feel intense fear for something that I don’t know how to define. 

Sometimes it takes a long while for the feeling to gradually dissipate. Other times, it just sort of leaves quickly, like it wanted to slip quietly out the back door without anyone noticing. It’s exhausting. And the most frustrating part, every time, is the nonsensical, illogical way the Visitor just comes and goes, without any sort of reason, at least none that I can think of. 

Anxiety attacks are a beast, and I’ve experienced them for years. Every time I’ve had to deal with anxiety, my wife, Kristin, has been there right beside me, walking the road. She can tell when the Visitor is at the door because she can hear me trying to catch my breath. 

Feeling anxious? 

She’ll gently ask me this, and I never find it threatening nor snarky. This is in large part due to the fact that we’ve had some very open and real discussions about what I experience. What I appreciate the most is her understanding, even though she hasn’t felt what I feel when I have these attacks. 

If you are married to someone who struggles with anxiety, you may feel powerless to help them. Kristin and I want to offer you some tools and concepts to help you be a support for the one you love most when anxiety comes bursting through the door. 

What Is Anxiety Exactly?

It helps to have a basic understanding of anxiety itself. Anxiety is actually a natural, normal process the brain goes through to help a person cope with stress. It causes an apprehension or fear of something to come, and this typically serves to protect a person from harm and danger. 

However, this process is only made to come and go as needed. It’s not meant to pop up without warning and interfere with everyday life. 

This unhealthy anxiety is ambiguous; it can feel differently depending on the person feeling it, and it reveals itself in a variety of ways. Many (like myself) feel panic attacks with no apparent reason. Others may experience a phobia of certain objects or activities. Some have an irrational fear of social situations or worry about their health. 

Researchers can’t pinpoint an exact cause of this kind of anxiety. A mix of genetics, environmental factors, and brain chemistry seems to be likely, but this doesn’t exactly narrow it down. Therefore, there are a variety of ways professionals treat anxiety, from coping exercises such as deep breathing and other lifestyle changes to therapy and medication. (The Gottman Institute offers a great article here about using mindfulness to deal with difficult emotions like anxiety.) 

This all can seem very complex to you, the spouse, who sees how anxiety is plaguing the one you love. And you might be wondering, what in the world could I ever do to help? 

What Spouses Can Do

In fact, you are not powerless to help your spouse who has anxiety. Anxiety isn’t exactly something you can “fix,” but it can be managed. And as someone dealing with anxiety, a supportive spouse is the most important person to have in your corner. 

Here are some thoughts on how to help your spouse deal with anxiety:

  • Understand that your spouse doesn’t know why they struggle with anxiety. Even if they know what triggers it, such as work deadlines or having to engage with a particular person, the feeling itself just seems irrational. Even more elusive is how to get rid of that feeling. It’d be easy to put the blame of the anxiety on the person feeling it or to say, just stop feeling that way, but this is no help. As a person who experiences this, I can tell you that if I knew what it was I was doing that caused a panic attack, I’d immediately change course. And I appreciate my wife understanding this. 
  • Be present. One of the worst feelings—over and above the anxiety itself—is watching a person leave the room because they don’t know how to help. My wife’s presence is comforting and reassuring, even if neither one of us knows how to “stop the feeling.” Sometimes Kristin, if she is doubting what she should do, will say, I’m going to stay here with you until you tell me you want to be alone. And I can honestly say I have never asked to be alone during a panic attack. 
  • Gently direct toward some healthy coping strategies (and away from unhealthy ones). Again, my wife is good at this (she’s had lots of practice). When I feel an attack coming on, she will gently and respectfully steer me in another direction, maybe to watch a TV show with her or to take a walk. She understands the need to redirect my focus. Other good coping strategies include self-care, meditation, deep breathing exercises, physical exercise, eating a healthy diet, aromatherapy (such as using candles, oil, or incense), and spending time outdoors in nature. 
  • Talking it out helps. When I feel the pressure of anxiety coming on, Kristin will often ask me if I know where it might be stemming from. Sometimes, as we talk, we can identify some possible triggers, such as an impending work deadline or an inevitable difficult conversation I need to have with another person. My wife is really good at helping me think out what’s the worst that can come out of this situation? When I verbalize with her that the worst-case scenario isn’t all that bad, it helps to alleviate the anxiety. At other times, Kristin is also very good at reading when talking may not be very productive. This is usually when I’m in full-on panic mode and I can’t think straight enough to make conversation. In this case, she helps me with other coping strategies. 
  • Encourage rest. Exhaustion and fatigue are bullies to anxiety management. Getting to bed early or taking a short power nap in the afternoon helps me (I avoid long naps because it interferes with my sleep at night). I appreciate it when Kristin guides me to make rest a priority. 
  • If anxiety persists despite using coping strategies, it might be good to encourage your spouse to seek professional help through their physician or a counselor. 

There are times when I have felt very inadequate because I didn’t know how to fix what I was experiencing. It’s easy to feel that something is “wrong” with you. And even more so, I’ve wondered just when my wife was finally going to be over me and this “problem.” 

Kristin is very quick to put me in my place (in a good way). She assures me that nothing is “wrong” with me, that she doesn’t judge or think negatively of me because of my anxiety, and that she’ll be there no matter what to help me however she can. Without that, no coping exercise, medication, or therapy session would be nearly as effective.

You are in the prime position to be the main support for your spouse struggling with anxiety. You don’t have to “do” anything about it. Simply walk the road with them. Be in their corner. Encourage them. Be understanding. And be assured that your support means the world.  

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship click here.***

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Marriage can be difficult under the best circumstances. Two people doing life together will always have some differing perspectives, needs, priorities, habits, and let’s say—idiosyncrasies—that make them unique. This means continual, ongoing work on communication skills, learning how to handle disagreements and conflict, and doing the intentional stuff that keeps you connected and your relationship healthy. Then you throw in a Global Pandemic and being in quarantine with your partner 24/7, and marriage gets really interesting. Sprinkle in anxiety, stress, anger, and sadness, along with uncertainty about the future and finances. As a result, marriage can go from difficult to disastrous. Real quick. Everything gets magnified and intensified. This is a hard time, especially if you can’t stop fighting.

Many people are looking across the living room at their spouse and saying, “Who is this person?

Under normal conditions, when my wife gets on my nerves, (totally a rare occurrence, right?) I’m in the habit of asking myself, “Is this a tension to be managed or a problem to be solved?” Then I try to proceed accordingly. Being in quarantine for about a month has definitely moved some things from the “Tension” category over to the “Problem To Be Solved” category. So now we have more (and some new) problems to be solved and neither of us is really the best version of ourselves at the moment. You know the deal.

Tensions, disagreements, arguments, and even some fighting should be expected under these circumstances. They should be expected in marriage, period, but they can be framed in a way that drives you toward each other—not apart. 

Stop Fights Before They Start

If the best fight is the one that actually draws you together and strengthens your relationship, then the second-best fight is the one that never happens.

Understand Your Current Situation.

You or your spouse may be experiencing high levels of fear, anxiety, and stress. This produces what marriage expert, Dr. John Gottman, refers to as “Flooding” which is when the brain is flooded with stress hormones and chemicals that make it nearly impossible for our prefrontal cortex, the part of our brains responsible for complex problem solving, to function. When you or your spouse are in “Fight, Flight, or Freeze” mode, you can’t physiologically function as you normally would. You can’t communicate as you normally should. This isn’t a fault in you or your spouse—this is your body’s nervous system. Hopefully, just knowing this promotes grace, empathy, and patience.

Practice Self-Care.

Just because you are quarantined with each other doesn’t mean you have to spend all your time together. You each still need your space and need to take care of yourselves and find healthy ways to manage and process the stress you are feeling. Stay connected to your friends and the people that encourage you. It’s okay for you to sit in another room and watch television alone. It’s okay for your spouse to go for a walk without you. If you are both working on being the best versions of yourselves, you’ll both be in a better place when you are together.

Set Up Schedules and Routines.

This will make expectations clear and give your day predictability and give you stability. Are one or both of you working from home? When and where in your house or apartment will work be done? Do you have children? Designate when you will take turns watching them so the other can work or get some alone time. Who is doing what chores around the house?

Choose A Specific Time Each Day To “Check-In” With Each Other.

This isn’t fight time. This is when you ask each other how you are feeling physically and emotionally. This is a time to share needs and ask how you can be helping each other. Take turns speaking and listening. It doesn’t have to be a long or formal time, just consistent.

Fight Nice

It may sound strange, but when you aren’t fighting, take some time to discuss and establish some “ground rules” for how you will handle tensions, disagreements, and problems. No bringing up the past. No interrupting. And no raising your voices. How will you call a “time-out?” What is the time limit? How will you signal that the “fight” is over? Use this blog to guide you.

Schedule Your “Fights.”

Set a time once or twice a week (max) when each of you gets to air out one (and only one) criticism while the other is only allowed to listen. Avoid words like, “always” or “never” and try to frame it as an “I” statement. “I get frustrated when it feels like you are being distant,” or “I need more help with putting the kids to bed,” or “I would appreciate it if you didn’t raise your voice at me.”

Respond, Don’t React.

You are both going to hear some hard things, especially if you can’t stop fighting. It is important not to escalate the conversation with the volume or tone of your voice, your body language, or your words themselves. Don’t react by letting emotions take control. As you actively listen, respond calmly, compassionately, and empathetically.

Kiss and Make Up

It’s not all about not fighting. Make sure you are doing things that help you connect, have fun together, deepen intimacy, create some romance, and deepen your relationship.

Plan Some Fun!

Be intentional and schedule some fun things you can do together. Have a formal in-home, in quarantine date night. Dress up and make a special dinner. Build a blanket fort and watch a movie. Go for a walk together. Have a game night. Don’t try to do any heavy relationship work during this time, just enjoy each other’s company. Generally, men bond shoulder to shoulder, doing things together, and women bond face to face, through conversation. So, make sure you are doing a little of both. Don’t forget why you married your spouse in the first place.

Figure Out What Says, “I Love You” To Your Spouse.

Not everyone communicates “I love you” the same way and not everyone hears “I love you” the same way. Some people need quality time together. Some people need words that affirm them. Dr. Gary Chapman dives into this in his book titled, The Five Love Languages: The Secret To Love That Lasts, but you can also go to his website and take a free quiz and find resources that will help you communicate love more effectively to each other. 

What About Sex?

What about it?! You are quarantined together, and this is one of the most powerful ways to stay connected! Understand the dynamics of sex—generally, women need to feel connected to have sex and men need to have sex to feel connected. Not a problem! This is the perfect example of how two people have to work to make the marriage work.

When you are fighting all the time, it is easy to begin to see your spouse as an adversary and your relationship becomes a contest of winning and losing. Ultimately, we need to remember that our spouse isn’t the enemy, the problem or the disagreement is. Then we can fight for our spouse and for our marriage.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR SPOUSE SHOULD BE FULFILLING, NOT FRUSTRATING.

With the right tools, you and your spouse can have the best communication ever!

This easy-to-use virtual 5-day course guides you and your spouse to have the best communication you’ve ever had! This course includes exclusive access to:

  • 5 downloadable relationship-enhancing PDFs
  • Videos full of easy-to-use communication tools
  • Questions to ask each other to spark a deeper connection
  • Fun activities to guide you through each of the concepts discussed

ADD TO CART

I’m looking out the window at a beautiful sunrise this morning and thinking. The scene is beautiful. However, over the horizon I know there are thousands of people hurting this morning as they survey the storm damage from the tornadoes that ripped through our community Easter Sunday night.

So many miraculous stories of survival. So many pictures of roofs yanked off of houses as if they were built with Legos. Portions of brick walls strewn across the ground like they weighed nothing. Trees down everywhere. Power outages that may go on for days.

This on top of social distancing in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Normally, those impacted by the storm would be able to easily get a hotel room, go sit in a restaurant and eat a meal or grab a cup of coffee while recharging their phone. They literally have nowhere to go right now. Everything is shut down.

My heart feels heavy and my brain hurts as the pictures of devastation flood my mind and linger there. I can’t stop thinking about so many struggling in the midst of all of this. All the while, we are being told, “Stay away, stay home.” I can’t even get to my own team members to bring them food and supplies. It feels like I’m on the verge of tears all the time. I mean, how much more can people take?

There is a part of me that feels helpless, which is not a feeling I like or a place I tend to live. I’m usually straight out of the gates figuring out ways to provide assistance.

In these moments after the storm, what can we do?

  • Prayer or meditation is powerful for sure.
  • Check in with your friends and family.
  • Offer to make phone calls to other family members or friends who will be concerned.
  • Purchase needed supplies and drop them off at a designated location.
  • Provide food for front line workers.
  • Take good care of yourself. That way, when we are able to be out and about, we will have the energy to be helpful.
  • Know that by staying away from the area, we are helping people get help from first responders faster.

I think I have some level of guilt that I’m sitting in my house with power, with a roof over my head and I can’t really do anything to show those that are hurting that I care. Although I can’t be physically present for them at this moment, that does not mean that I am not with them in spirit and looking for ways to help from afar.

We are Chattanooga strong and we will come out on the other side of this together.

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Can valuable relationships make you a better person? We’ve all heard someone’s “value” calculated as their Net Worth, but what about cultivating the value of your Network? I’m talking about your true friends, accountability partners, and mentors. People that know your goals and will help you achieve them.

Those valuable relationships don’t happen by accident. We have to be open to them. We have to be intentional. We have to invest. Often, when I need those kinds of people in my life the most, my instinct is to go into hiding. I run the opposite way.

I find ways to build taller fences, not longer tables.

  • This isn’t where I point out that according to recent research, Americans report being more lonely than ever- but they do.
  • This isn’t where I point out that social media Friends, Followers, Shares, Likes, and Upvotes aren’t the true measure of your Social Capital- but they aren’t.
  • I’m not even going to say that old fashioned, healthy, Rugged American Individualism has often changed us into unhealthy, Radical American Individualists- but it has.
  • I’m just going to quote something my father drilled into me: “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” He was onto something.

It’s easy to surround yourself with people that always agree with you or always take your side. I get it. I do it. That can feel good. It also feels good to have people in your life that you can have fun with and be yourself. But who in your life is helping you be the best version of yourself?

Who is truly helping you be the best spouse or partner, the best parent, the best person that you can be? Who in your life has permission and is willing to confront you and say the hard things? (You know, those things that sting a day or two, but you know they’re true.)

Community, true Social Capital is more important than ever:

  • I never once got a job solely based on an application. It always involved someone I knew and built a connection with before I even knew a new job was even a possibility.
  • My wife taught me the value of finding married couples deeper into the season of life we were in or heading toward and risking getting real with them.
  • The best thing we did as parents was to connect with other parents for coffee or dessert just to talk about parenting stuff- especially parents with kids heading out of the stages that our kids were heading into.
  • I’ve never regretted cultivating relationships- real friendships- with a couple of guys that I could be honest and transparent with, knowing that in return they would ask me the tough questions about the kind of husband, father, and man I am.

These kinds of people and couples and parents that become valuable relationships can be difficult to find. Maybe the best way to find them is to first work at being that kind of person for other people.

I could not begin to tell you my Net Worth. It probably isn’t much. I’m positive it isn’t much. My Network though- priceless. Where are you investing?

Looking for more resources for healthy relationships? Click here!

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Perhaps you’ve seen the story on social media about a couple who fled their war-torn village in Sudan in 2012 trying to get to refugee camps in Africa. While fleeing, Dyan and Alik became separated, and evidence of their marriage was destroyed.

Alik was processed into the camp as a single mom. Dyan was processed as a single man, making him a very unlikely candidate for resettlement in the United States.

Alik arrived in Fort Worth, Texas with her two children and their third child on the way, not knowing if she would ever see her husband again.

Enter Molly and Mary Claire, two moms who were looking for a way for their families to serve others. These two families were paired with Alik and her children. As they developed a relationship with Alik, she shared with them about her husband being stuck in a refugee camp in Egypt.

When Alik spoke with her caseworker about what she could do to get her husband to the States, the caseworker gave her very little hope. Molly and Mary Claire spoke with immigration attorneys, members of Congress, and anybody else they thought might be able to help them in their relentless pursuit to reunite this family. They also were told time and again it would be a real miracle for Dyan to join them.

After four long years, and reams of paperwork, Dyan was reunited with his family. If you haven’t seen the video, it’s worth searching for and watching.

As you enter into this new year and new decade, perhaps you are dealing with a situation that seems hopeless – unemployment with no possibilities on the horizon, a persistent illness, marital strife or a family member dealing with addiction. Sometimes it’s hard not to give up hope. If you find yourself in this space, here are some suggestions to help you keep going.

  • Find a community to engage with. It is likely that while both Dyan and Alik kept hope in their heart, there were probably plenty of days when they thought their efforts were futile. Their friends helped them keep going.
  • Be aware of your own self-talk. Negative thoughts will almost certainly lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. As Carol Dweck in her book “Mindset” points out, self-talk is very powerful. Statements such as, “It hasn’t happened yet, I will eventually find a way,” “This is temporary,” and “Even in the midst of the storm, I am learning,” are very different than giving up hope.
  • Do something. Maybe you aren’t able to do what you planned, but you can do something else while you wait. Alik did not stop living her life while she was pursuing getting Dyan to the States. While she may have begun to doubt she would ever see her husband again, she made friends with Molly and Mary Claire, cared for her children and participated in activities.
  • Keep putting one foot in front of the other. As Dory says in Finding Nemo, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” So often people decide to throw in the towel just before things start to turn around.
  • Phone a friend. Sometimes it helps to talk with someone.
  • Volunteer. Using your skills to help others while you are in the midst of waiting will help you feel better about yourself and your situation. You never know who you might meet while volunteering, and you might be able to encourage someone else. Or, you might work alongside someone who can help you with your current circumstance. Either way, it’s a win.

Desmund Tutu once said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.” It’s a new year and a new decade. If you are still on this earth, you can still have hope.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 4, 2020.

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You don’t give in to peer pressure, right? That was so Middle School! Surprisingly, adult you is still rather impressionable. Your chances of divorce just went up!

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How do you typically deal with the surprises life hands you? How you handle these situations – whether it’s a sick family member, a traffic jam on the morning of your big meeting or a last-minute, expensive repair – can determine whether the problem is minor or becomes huge and affects the rest of your day, week, month and beyond.

When unexpected things collide with the best-laid plans, some people have a tendency to react to the emotions of the moment. Their anxiety goes through the roof, they begin to panic, thinking about being late and all of the things they are supposed to get done. This often leads to frustration and feelings of helplessness and in some cases, even feeling hopeless.

How can you effectively prepare for these situations in a way that will help you remain calm, cool and collected? The key is to learn how to respond versus react, so the first item on the agenda is to have a plan and utilize the resources available to you.

The first key: Have a backup plan just in case something goes wrong. This is like having an emergency generator so your life can keep going regardless of the crisis at hand. Be intentional about creating a support network of people who are willing to assist you when you are in a bind. It doesn’t have to be family. It could be teachers, neighbors, the parents of your child’s friends, co-workers, etc.

The second key:  Step back and assess the situation before doing anything. People often move to action before actually assessing the situation to determine all their options. This includes getting the facts. We are much less likely to do something ridiculous when we think before we respond.

Once you have your plans in place, remember to follow your plan when the unexpected happens. Having steps to follow helps to make these situations more manageable.

  • Keep your emotions in check. Don’t let the situation control you.
  • Be prepared. Keep basic medication on hand, have a spare set of keys for your car, take a lesson on how to change a flat tire, give your neighbor keys to your house, etc.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. It is hard to be helpful when people don’t know there is a need.
  • Ask for a second opinion. Sometimes talking with an objective third party can be helpful.

All kinds of things will pop up in your life that have the potential to wreck your schedule, cause irritation or create stress, but how you handle it can be a game-changer. The next time you are dealt an unexpected surprise, be ready to respond by staying calm, assessing the situation and working your plan. You will probably be amazed at how quickly you can manage the crisis and get on with your day.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 16, 2019.

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If you’re in the midst of raising children or grandchildren, managing a career and caring for an aging parent or relative, you are not alone. In fact, a 2012 Pew Research report found that about half of all U.S. adults in their 40s or 50s have a parent age 65 or older and are raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child.

When our parents have strong desires to remain independent and we have strong desires to care for them, it can be a real challenge.

“I always like to focus on the things that are necessary for aging parents to stay as independent as possible,” says Amy Boulware, (LAP, MSW) Geriatric and Special Needs care manager for Chambliss Law. “The desire to remain independent is so strong, sometimes parents are willing to go to great lengths to keep up the appearance they are doing well on their own. I call this ‘malicious independence.’ They know they aren’t doing well, but they keep it from their family members. The sad thing is, often, they have already lost their independence because they are isolating themselves and not getting to do the things they enjoy doing.”

Getting older and more fragile is a hard thing to deal with, but things do happen as we age. Boulware believes the goal of providing good care to our parents is to avoid making decisions in the midst of a crisis.

“If we can help parents think about the things that are becoming more difficult for them such as going to the grocery store, cooking or keeping the house clean, then we can develop a plan to remove some of the burdens and help them stay as independent as possible,” Boulware says. 

“Most people do estate planning, but few think about doing elder care planning,” Boulware shares. “Inevitably, something happens and then you are thrown into making quick decisions.”

So, how do you have that hard conversation? Boulware suggests that you begin the process by asking questions like:

  • What are the things that are important to you as you age?
  • How can we work together to help you have quality care later in life? What does that look like for you? 
  • What can you afford?
  • What are the lifelong behaviors or details that make you tick that would be very important to know? For example, do you have a nightly routine, always have a certain snack, use something to help you sleep at night, etc.? There may be routines and rituals that you know nothing about that if discontinued, could cause agitation, fear or frustration for your parent. 
  • Who would you like to designate to make decisions should you become unable to do so? When do you think would be a good time to take care of that? 
  • If we see you struggling, how would you like us to handle that?

If you try to have the conversation and your parents won’t let you, seek help from a trustworthy third party.

This conversation in particular is often one we put off because it’s just plain uncomfortable and nobody wants to think about the end of life. Mapping out a plan ahead of time can pave the way for smoother transitions in the future. It can also strengthen your family relationships because the choices your parents make are truly theirs and it will be easier to honor them by following through with their wishes.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on May 5, 2019.