Create a Meditation Practice

Meditation is a wonderful way to relax, relieve stress, and connect with your body and mind.

If you are new to meditation, you may not know what meditation is or how to do it effectively. You may even be tempted to give up as soon as you’ve started because it’s not just right for you.

While you may be tempted to quit, hang in there a bit longer. There are many health benefits to having a meditation practice and it’s a lot simpler than people think.

Change of thought

Unrealistic expectations are a big hindrance for those trying to implement a meditation practice. In western society, we focus a lot on outcome goals which are goals that are focused on having a specific, final product or outcome. When we approach meditation with the end in mind, we miss the whole of what meditation is.

Instead, think of thinking of meditation as a destination, think of it as a process. As you do meditation more frequently, you will learn and grow from each individual session. You will gain new insights, find beauty in the nuances, and have different experiences every time you meditate.

When you approach meditation in this way you are opening yourself up to learn from the process.

What is meditation?

Dr. Richard J Davidson told the New York Times,

“In Buddhist tradition, the word ‘meditation’ is equivalent to a word like ‘sports’ in the U.S. It’s a family of activities, not a single thing,”

In general, those who are not familiar with meditation do not realize that there are so many different types of meditation. As with sports, they all fall under the same umbrella but have unique areas of focus and different processes.

Here are some examples of different meditation types or techniques.

Concentration Meditation

To engage in concentration meditation, you start by placing your focus on one of the five senses: breath, touch, taste, sound, or sight.

Focusing on the different senses could mean staring at a candle flame, listen to repetitive music, speak a specific mantra that you repeat aloud over and over again, etc.

The key is to hyper-focus on the sense.

As you concentrate on your sense of choice, your mind will wander, especially if you are a beginner. THIS IS OKAY! It is part of the process. Gently refocus your attention.

Mindfulness meditation

In mindfulness meditation, you practice being in the present moment. It is hearing the sounds around you, noticing how the chair feels against your skin, or being aware of the thoughts as they come and go.

The goal in meditation is to keep the mind clear. For mindfulness, you may not be able to sit with a clear mind at first. As the stray thoughts come into your mind, acknowledge them, and let them go. The goal is to not engage in or continue with the thoughts.

The American Psychological Association wrote an article called What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness. They describe mindfulness as,

” Rather than dwelling on the past or dreading the future, mindfulness encourages awareness of a person’s existing surroundings. Crucial to this is a lack of judgment. So, rather than reflecting on the annoyance of a long wait, a practitioner will simply note the wait without judgment.

Mindfulness meditation is something people can do almost anywhere. While waiting in line at the grocery store, for example, a person might calmly notice their surroundings, including the sights, sounds, and smells they experience.”

They also went on to report research evidence that showed mindfulness helps:

  • reduce fixation on negative emotions
  • improve focus
  • improve memory
  • lessen impulsive, emotional reactions
  • improve relationship satisfaction
Loving-kindness meditation

The goal of the loving-kindness meditation is to foster a sense of love and kindness towards oneself, people in the practitioners’ lives, and a general feeling of love for life in general.

The loving-kindness meditation is done by the practitioner focusing on the feelings of love and kindness. They send love and kindness to themselves internally and send it outward to others.

The more you are able to feel these emotions in meditation, the more you will be able to feel them throughout the rest of the day. This meditation has been linked to the reduction of PTSD symptoms, anxiety, and depression as well as being a general mood booster overall.

Body scan or progressive relaxation

This meditation is known by both names, the body scan meditation or the progressive relaxation. To practice this meditation, you do a progressive scan of the body releasing tension as you go.

There are different variations of progressive relaxation. For one variation, you begin at one extremity of the body, moving through the body inch by inch, finding any tension and then releasing it. You focus on one body part at a time until you have worked through the whole body.

Another way to do progressive relaxation is to work through the body in a similar fashion to the one above. The difference is that instead of just releasing the tension in each body part, you purposefully tense up all of the muscles of each section and then release that tension. Repeat through each section of the body.

A third variation to help release the tension in the body is to imagine yourself floating on a cloud, drifting in the ocean, being weightless, or any other similar variation. The idea of floating weightlessly helps the body relax.

MOVEMENT MEDITATION:

Movement meditation combines rhythmic movement with meditation. The rhythm of the movement helps focus and center the mind. This type of meditation may be easier for some people as they don’t have to sit still.

The movement most associated with this meditation is yoga, but other types of movement can be movement meditations as well. Tai chi, swimming, or walking are examples of other movements that could be used for a movement meditation.

Meditation is a much simpler practice than it may seem at first glance. It is very individual and based on the practitioner’s intentions for each practice. Try one today and reap the many rewards meditation can bring!

Technology’s Affect on Mental Health

In this day and age, our lives are hugely supplemented by technology. Without our phones, laptops, tv’s, wireless routers, and Bluetooth devices our world would crash.

But is there a price to be paid for convenience and speed?

These devices, that most of us spend ten-plus hours on daily, emit something called blue light. This blue light can be detrimental to our health.

Technology’s interference with our circadian rhythm

The National Institute for General Sciences describes circadian rhythm as

“physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle. They respond primarily to light and darkness in an organism’s environment. Sleeping at night and being awake during the day is an example of a light-related circadian rhythm.

Natural factors within the body produce circadian rhythms. However, signals from the environment also affect them. The main cue influencing circadian rhythms is daylight. Changing the light-dark cycles can speed up, slow down, or reset biological clocks as well as circadian rhythms.”

The body produces a hormone called melatonin which is known as the sleep hormone. This hormone regulates sleep-wake cycles. Melatonin production is affected by the light and dark cycle of our environment.

Darkness signals to our brain to begin producing more melatonin and when there is more light in the environment the brain is signaled to stop melatonin production.

Technology is used around the globe twenty-four hours a day. When technology is used at night, the blue light that is emitted from our devices interferes with our regular melatonin production and therefore our circadian rhythm.

Without melatonin, it is hard for our bodies to fall asleep and/or have the quality of sleep that is needed for recovery. A 2017 article found in Translational Psychiatry stated that “sleep disturbance is an important factor contributing to the onset and maintenance of mood disorders,” among other health problems.

American Psychological Association released a study that showed that the rates of mood disorders and suicides have dramatically increased in the last ten years. While it may still be somewhat controversial, studies are beginning to show the correlation between technology use, sleep disturbance, and the rise in mental illness.

What you can do

Harvard Health wrote an article about blue light stating,

“Researchers at the University of Toronto compared the melatonin levels of people exposed to bright indoor light who were wearing blue-light–blocking goggles to people exposed to regular dim light without wearing goggles. The fact that the levels of the hormone were about the same in the two groups strengthens the hypothesis that blue light is a potent suppressor of melatonin. It also suggests that shift workers and night owls could perhaps protect themselves if they wore eyewear that blocks blue light. Inexpensive sunglasses with orange-tinted lenses block blue light, but they also block other colors, so they’re not suitable for use indoors at night. Glasses that block out only blue light can cost up to $80.”

The Harvard article went on to describe how other colored light may have some effect on melatonin production, but that blue light was by far the biggest culprit in decreasing melatonin production. By decreasing your blue light exposure at night you may save yourself from experiencing health problems down the road.

Along with blue-blocking glasses, there are apps and filters that you can put on your phone and computer to block the blue light at night.

For further study check out these additional articles: https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/should-you-be-worried-about-blue-light

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4734149/

PTSD Awareness Month

What is PTSD?

PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and is caused by experiencing or witnessing some traumatic event such as accidents (car, boat, falling from great heights, etc), abuse of any kind, assault of any kind, any life-threatening experience, unexpected and severe injury or death of a loved one, and war.

Signs and Symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of PTSD are agitation, irritability, hypervigilance, social isolation, mentally reliving the traumatic experience, flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, severe anxiety, fear mistrust, guilt, shame, and avoidance of things that are reminders of the trauma.

For those who have PTSD, it can be a scary and lonely road. They often feel fear, anxiety, have panic attacks, nightmares, or have trouble sleeping.

Those who have experienced a traumatic event and have PTSD may be distrusting of others or have a fear of social situations that make them feel vulnerable and unsafe. They may be easily triggered by events, people, certain topics, noises, etc.

treatment options

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT):
    • Medical News Today defines CBT as, “A short-term therapy technique that can help people find new ways to behave by changing their thought patterns. Engaging with CBT can help people reduce stress, cope with complicated relationships, deal with grief, and face many other common life challenges.”
  2. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR):
    • EMDR is a nontraditional method of treating PTSD and trauma. Instead of talk therapy, it helps alleviate the distress that is associated with traumatic memories and form more positive associations with those memories.
    • The therapist will have the client begin by focusing on an external stimulus. The most common is to move their fingers from left to right in front of the client’s face and have the client follow along with their eyes. Other alternatives are toe-tapping, finger-tapping, or audio tones. The therapist will prompt the client to think of the stressful event while continuing the eye movement.
    • Gradually the therapist will prompt the client to shift their thoughts to more pleasant ones. This helps diminish the intense negative feelings associated with the event.
  3. Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PET):
    • Psychology Today says, ” The goal of PET is to gradually help you reengage with life, especially with things you have been avoiding. By doing so, you will strengthen your ability to distinguish safety from danger and decrease your PTSD symptoms. ”
  4. Medications:

how to help a loved one with ptsd

Living with someone with PTSD can be tricky especially if the trauma was recent. They may be distant, less affectionate, be skittish, fearful, or just act differently from how they used to act.

Some ways you can help your loved one is:

1- Be patient. Your loved one is processing a lot of emotions that are hard for them to handle. They might be experiencing intense stress, fear, and anxiety. Your patience and understanding can be a rock for them through their hard times.

2- Manage your own stress: Make sure that you are taking care of yourself and managing your own stress first. If you are not taking care of your own needs you will not be fully prepared to help your loved on in their time of need.

3- Accept and expect mixed emotions/ feelings. As your loved one is going through the healing process and hopefully getting help, it is inevitable that they will be up and down a lot. They might be triggered easily and have a panic attack. Their mood may change abruptly. Be prepared for this so that when it happens you will not take it personally and better handle the situation.

4- Don’t pressure your loved one into talking. We all have our own timeline and needs when it comes to processing emotions and healing. Let your loved one know you are there for them but do not pressure them into talking about the traumatic event. Give them time and space.

Additional resources

PTSD can be a scary for those who suffer with it. If you have PTSD, know you do not have to do it on your own. Find professional help and a support group if that would help you. aid Psychology Today is a great resource for finding a therapist in your area.

If you know someone who has PTSD, become more educated on PTSD and learn how to be an advocate for your loved ones and aid them in the healing process.

Here are some additional resources.

https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Posttraumatic-Stress-Disorder/Support

http://www.ptsdalliance.org/resources/

https://www.everydayhealth.com/ptsd/guide/resources/

Reducing Stigma in Mental Health

What is a stigma?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines stigma as:

” 1 a: a mark of shame or discredit: STAIN

b: plural usually stigmata: an identifying mark or characteristic specificallya specific diagnostic sign of a disease”

Stigmas are a defining mark or characteristic that sets someone apart from the group. They are a negative attitude or belief toward a certain group of people that we perceive to be different from ourselves. This stigma can cause us to be afraid or wary and can lead to discrimination.

Stigma in mental health

Those in a stigmatized population can experience isolation, discrimination, fewer opportunities in the workplace, verbal abuse, bullying, negative and misleading labels, and fear or mistrust from others.

If you have the fortune of never having to struggle with a mental illness, then you may not be able to understand or empathize with those who do.

Stigma shames those with mental illness, but mental illness is a condition just like any other medical condition. Would you ever shame someone for having diabetes? No. In like manner, we shouldn’t shame those who struggle with mental illness.

Stigma in mental illness is very common and can vary depending on the mental illness. These stigmas may be deliberate attitudes/beliefs that others choose to make or can be the by-product of ignorance.

Some examples of stigma in mental illness are:

  • ADD/ADHD: Those who struggle with ADD or ADHD might be labeled as lazy, as having a short attention span, or too energetic. They might be labeled as stupid because they struggle to pay attention in school and therefore get bad grades.
  • SUBSTANCE ABUSE: Someone with a substance abuse disorder might be labeled as a low-life or unmotivated. Others may think they choose to partake of the substance that they abuse and don’t realize that to them, it is a need or compulsion.
  • TRAUMA: Those with trauma-related disorders might be thought of as dramatic, attention seeking, or exaggerators. People may tell them that they just need to “Get over it,” and move on.
  • DEPRESSION: Those with depression might be labeled as isolated, moody, or negative. Others may think of them as insensitive or not capable of being in a relationship or friendship. Others tell them to be more positive and grateful and their mood will turn around. This tells them that it’s all in their head.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) stated:

“Stigma causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control. Worst of all, stigma prevents people from seeking the help they need. For a group of people who already carry such a heavy burden, stigma is an unacceptable addition to their pain. And while stigma has reduced in recent years, the pace of progress has not been quick enough.”

How can we reduce it?

For those who don’t struggle with mental illness:

  • Educate yourself about mental illness. Mental illness isn’t just emotional, but also very biological in nature.
  • Be more aware of the harmful things you may ignorantly say to those who struggle with mental illness.
  • Be an advocate and a friend to those with mental illness.
  • Create a safe dialogue around the topic.

For those who struggle with mental illness:

  • Don’t define yourself by your mental illness. It is something you struggle with, not a definition of who you are.
  • Get help/treatment. Trained professionals will be able to help you with the struggles you are facing and you never have to go through it alone.
  • Join a support group.
  • Don’t be ashamed of your mental illness. Create dialogue in the community.

Education and Help

Here are some websites that have information concerning mental health, treatment options, and other tips on how to live with mental illness.

www.nami.org

www.MentalHealth.gov

www.ActiveMinds.org

www.MentalHealthAmerica.net

www.mentalhealth.org.uk

www.samhsa.gov

www.dbsalliance.org

www.bbrfoundation.org

www.rethink.org

Brain Awareness Month– Neurofeedback

In honor of Brain Awareness Month we will be spotlighting neurofeedback in this post. Never heard of neurofeedback? Curious how it can help you? You’re not alone. Every month thousands of people look up neurofeedback in search engines. Why? Because it’s a non-invasive, non-medication therapy that works wonders for the brain.

 

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The Brain

The brain has the ability to change itself due to its capability to undergo neurogenesis and neuroplasticity.  Neurogenesis is the ability to grow and develop new neurons in the brain while neuroplasticity is the ability to change and restructure the neurological pathways in the brain. Neurofeedback encourages the processes of neurogenesis and neuroplasticity.

In a typical neurofeedback therapy session, a neurofeedback technician places electrodes on a client’s head, and then a software program creates a reward system for the brain as the client watches a movie of their choosing.  The program trains the brain to self-regulate its brain waves which in turn helps the client learn to manage their emotions, thoughts, and performance.

 

 

Jessica Harper, the owner of Aspen Valley Counseling, used to get in her car and know she was going to miss the entrance of wherever she was going. Without fail, a chorus of groans sounded off in the back seat of her silver VW bug as her children cried, “Not again!” But after doing neurofeedback therapy she no longer misses her entrances. “It’s pretty amazing that neurofeedback—something so simple in practice—has helped me in such a day-to-day thing.”

There are countless others who have also experienced great results with neurofeedback. Many have had help with their anxiety, their depression, learned to have better focus, and much more!

Basics of Neurofeedback Therapy

Neurofeedback therapy helps with a myriad of mental health related issues that deal with the brain. It can help:

 

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  • ADD/ADHD
  • Trauma
  • PTSD
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Addiction
  • Brain Injury
  • Autism
  • Stress
  • Insomnia
  • Phobias
  • Performance (such as for sports or testing for school)
  • Energy Levels
  • Meditation

It’s non-invasive and doesn’t involve any medication. So if you’re looking for an alternative to medication, neurofeedback therapy could be something you might want to try.

It may seem too good to be true, but it works wonders for people! For effective treatment, a patient should attend at least 20 sessions (and at least two sessions per week) for long-term results. A patient can finish them faster by doing two sessions per day, five times per week.

If you’re on medication, you can still do neurofeedback therapy. With supervision by your doctor or provider, some people can even cut down or stop using medication after completing neurofeedback therapy.

Cost of Neurofeedback Therapy

Most insurance companies do not cover neurofeedback, since they see it as an unnecessary treatment. Western medicine is typically medication-based, so an insurance company is much more likely to cover costs of medication. But if you don’t want to take medication to improve your mental health, and you’re seeking out alternative medicine, you’re probably going to be paying out-of-pocket anyway.

Neurofeedback is a great option for someone looking to treat their mental health. Most neurofeedback sessions cost around $75 to $100 per session plus an extra cost for the first appointment. If you’re looking for a cheaper option and you happen to live in Utah, Aspen Valley Counseling in Orem, Utah (Utah County) charges clients $50 per session.

 

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Dealing With Depression: The Basics

Dealing with depression is simply no fun. But there are some basic things that you can do to help you feel a little better. They won’t solve your problems or make you magically feel motivated. But they’ll help you take care of your body and get those natural happy chemicals (endorphins) to fill your body.

Dealing With Depression: Symptoms

But first, how do you know if you’re dealing with depression? According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, you may have depression if you experience these symptoms:

  • Feeling sad or “empty”
  • Hopelessness, helplessness, and negativity
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Feeling tired and having sleep problems
  • Difficulty making decisions and concentrating
  • Low appetite or overeating
  • Irritability
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

If you’re feeling those symptoms, a therapist will be able to help you find more help and resources, but if you’re nervous about going to see a therapist, you still have options. You could set up a Skype or phone appointment with a therapist as well. So if dealing with depression is making it hard for you to get out of bed, you can talk to your therapist in the comfort of your own home. The National Network of Depression Centers also keeps a list of online resources that could be helpful.

Dealing With Depression: Tips

When you go to a therapist, they will help you work through the things that contribute to your depression. They might try to help you figure out what’s at the root of your depression. They may help you realize it’s genetic and that you should try taking medication. Or they may give you coping skills, such as things you can do when the depression arises.

But no matter what approach the therapist takes, they’ll probably suggest you take care of your health, which will help you feel just a bit better and more able to function.

Eat Better

When we are eating poorly, we won’t feel great. And when you’re dealing with depression, you’re already not feeling so great. So one thing you can do to help your mood is to eat good foods. Try to cut down on super sugary foods, things high in carbs, and do your best to eat balanced meals. Instead of snacking on chips, try some fruits and veggies. Eating healthy is just a small way you can improve how you feel.

Make Sure You’re Sleeping Enough

When you’re dealing with depression, you’re probably also dealing with sleep problems. Maybe you’re sleeping too much or too little. Maybe your sleep is restless. But sleeping the right amount will actually help you feel more emotionally stable and help manage your irritability. Start by creating a schedule for your sleep. Try to shoot for 8 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Make sure you don’t eat or drink caffeine a few hours before bed, and then try to go to sleep and wake up each morning around the same time. Doing this will take a while to get used to, but your body will adjust to the schedule.

Exercise

If you’re looking for a quicker fix, exercise might be the key to dealing with depression. Though it might be a chore to get out of bed, into exercise clothes, and leave the house, you’ll eventually be glad you did. When we exercise, our bodies release endorphins, which is a chemical that makes us “feel good.” That will give you a boost of energy and help you feel better.

To get more understanding about dealing with depression, watch this video called, “I had a blag dog, his name was depression” from the World Health Organization.

If you’re looking for more ways to help you deal with depression, the National Institute of Mental Health also gives great explanations about medication and other therapies that can be helpful for someone dealing with depression.

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Neurofeedback Therapy: Treatment for ADHD, Anxiety, Traumatic Brain Injury, and More

If you’re curious about neurofeedback therapy and how it can help you, you’re not the only one. Every month thousands of people look it up in search engines. Why? Because it’s a non-invasive, non-medication therapy that works wonders.

Jessica Harper, the owner of Aspen Valley Counseling, used to get in her car and know she was going to miss the entrance of wherever she was going. Without fail, a chorus of groans sounded off in the back seat of her silver VW bug as her children cried, “Not again!” But after doing neurofeedback therapy, she hasn’t missed an entrance. “It’s pretty amazing that neurofeedback—something so simple in practice—has helped me in such a day-to-day thing.”

In a typical neurofeedback therapy session, a neurofeedback technician places electrodes on a client’s head, and then the computer program creates images on the screen that represent the client’s brain waves. The client will see their own brain activity and learn to change it, which helps them learn to manage their emotions, thoughts, and performance.

Basics of Neurofeedback Therapy

Neurofeedback therapy helps with a myriad of mental health–related issues that deal with the brain. It can help

  • ADD/ADHD
  • Trauma
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Addiction
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Phobias
  • Performance (such as for sports)
  • Autism
  • Energy Levels
  • PTSD
  • Brain Injury
  • Meditation

It’s non-invasive and doesn’t involve any medication. So if you’re looking for an alternative to medication, neurofeedback therapy could be something you might want to try.

It may seem too good to be true, but it works wonders for people! For effective treatment, a patient should attend at least 20 sessions (and at least two sessions per week) for long-term results. A patient can finish them faster by doing two sessions per day, five times per week.

If you’re on medication, you can still do neurofeedback therapy. With supervision on your doctor or provider, some people can even cut down or stop using medication after completing neurofeedback therapy.

Cost of Neurofeedback Therapy

Most insurance companies do not cover neurofeedback, since they see it as an unnecessary treatment. Western medicine is typically medication-based, so an insurance company is much more likely to cover costs of medication. But if you don’t want to take medication to improve your mental health, and you’re seeking out alternative medicine, you’re probably going to be paying out of pocket anyway.

Neurofeedback is a great option for someone looking to treat their mental health. Most neurofeedback sessions cost around $75 to $100 per session plus an extra cost for the first appointment. If you’re looking for a cheaper option and you happen to live in Utah, Aspen Valley Counseling in Orem, Utah (Utah County) charges clients $50 per session.

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What’s My Attachment Style?

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Do you have trouble with commitment? Trusting others? Opening up? Learning about your attachment style could help you overcome those things you’re so afraid of.

From a young age, we try to figure out how we fit into our social circles. Based on how our parents or caregivers treated us, we figured out how to interact with people and develop what is called an “attachment style.” Your personal attachment style will affect how much you trust and how well you interact with your family members, your romantic partners, and your kids.

Understanding what attachment style you have will help you understand your relationship difficulties and give you a springboard to change. The healthiest relationships are built when both individuals feel a secure attachment to one another.

Attachment styles

Secure attachment

If you have a secure attachment style, you’ll seek out stable relationships and feel safe opening up emotionally. You’ll also feel comfortable asking for what you need. Secure adults will be able to reach out to their romantic partner in times of need but also attend to the needs of their partner.

Anxious attachment

If you have an anxious attachment style, you’ll desire closeness but may not feel as though you are ever able to get close enough. You’ll end up questioning yourself a lot, wondering if your romantic partner really loves you, and you’ll regularly seek out validation. If you have an anxious attachment, you might end up seeming clingy and do things that push your partner away.

Dismissive attachment

If you have a dismissive attachment style, you tend to distance yourself from people. When confronted with conflict, you’ll emotionally shut down and choose not show your emotions. If you have a dismissive attachment, you may feel isolated from yourself and others.

Fearful-avoidant attachment

If you have a fearful-avoidant attachment, you may have grown up in a home where you detached from your feelings because of trauma. While you will desire connections with others, once the relationships become emotionally involved, your past trauma may affect how you see the relationship. If you have a fearful-avoidant attachment, you may have very rocky relationships and fear being abandoned – but also fear being close.

How do I develop a secure attachment style?

Now don’t get too discouraged if you’re not happy with your personal attachment style. Good news is that you can develop a secure attachment style.

  • Start taking note of when your behaviors are anxious, dismissive, or avoidant
  • Think about how you feel and what you need
  • Try to express your feelings and needs to someone close to you
  • Model your behavior off someone with a secure attachment style
  • Work with a therapist to help you change your attachment style