by DrTony


March 24, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

As I mentioned last week, I am writing about issues that college students deal with when going off to school.  I discussed stress last week.  Another important issue for students is safety and security.  Moving to an unfamiliar city and possibly a much larger community can be overwhelming.  In addition to the surroundings being different, often the people are complete strangers.  The safety and security of our adult children is extremely important and worth discussing before our student embarks on college life.  We can share our experience and wisdom so that they can leave not with fear or anxiety, but with appropriate caution and awareness.

One of the most important tips we can share is the importance of being alert, observant, and aware of one’s surroundings.  For example, texting while walking through the streets of an unfamiliar area is probably not a good idea.  Keeping your keys in your hand when walking from your dorm or apartment to your car is. Letting someone know where you are going and when you’ll be back when leaving your residence is helpful as well as planning the trip/route in advance.  Whether you are walking, running, biking, or even driving, travel areas that are well-lit and not secluded.  Of course keep all doors and windows locked and use the peep hole before opening the door.  Avoid traveling alone, especially at night and create a buddy system where you look out for each other.  Taking a self-defense class can be another way to protect yourself and a gain a greater sense of security.  Another critical point is to trust your intuition.  Our gut feeling can often provide us with valuable information so be sure to listen.

Lastly, your safety and security can be greatly compromised when you overindulge in alcohol or drugs.  Your judgment and decision-making is impaired which increases your risk and vulnerability to danger.  If you choose to drink, moderation is the key.  Make sure you are out with at least one friend who will watch out for you and visa versa.  Be sure to never leave your drink (even if it is non-alcoholic) unattended and drink from tamper-proof bottles, not from punch bowls.  Our safety and security is largely dependent on our awareness and trust of our environment and the people in it.  Stay safe, stay smart, and stay focused.

by DrTony


March 17, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

About two years ago my oldest daughter was about to embark on her college life experience and I wanted to find a way to prepare her.  I asked her if she would be willing for me to talk to her for 15 minutes each about six topics before she left.  She agreed.  We had these discussions the summer before she left for school and I believe she benefitted some from the experience;  I know I did.  By the way, I did stick to the fifteen minute time limit.  I thought maybe others would benefit from these talks so I will be blogging about all six topics over the next six weeks.  However, I will be combining one topic (alcohol and drugs) and adding the topic of  stress.

Today I’ll start with stress, since many college students experience stress, depression, homesickness, and anxiety their freshman year and some beyond their first year.  Going away to college is a huge adjustment and challenging for almost everyone since there is greater responsibility, time management issues, academic challenges, and possibly financial strain.  Although being independent can be exciting, you may also be forced out of your comfort zone.  A study cited by Washington University in St. Louis found that 70 percent of students gained significant weight in college possibly due to stress.  The first step to stress reduction is knowing which aspect of college life will likely cause the most stress.  Will it be studying, emotional transitioning, managing time, managing your health including sleep, or partying too much?

Next, identify ways to manage stress and the resources available to help.  Ways to reduce stress include any form of exercise, finding a support group, positive friendships, taking good care of yourself, and maintaining balance in your schedule.  Joining a club sports team can serve both the physical and social areas.  Getting a good night sleep can also be a big help.  A study in the Journal of American College Health found that only 11 percent of college students in a sample of 191 undergrads had good quality sleep.  There are multiple services and resources available to college students, such as resident assistants in the dorms, college pastors, outreach programs, and the university’s counseling center.

Lastly, we as parents need to stay connected to our children via phone calls, texting, emails, and/or Skype.  It also helps to send occasional care packages, encouraging notes/cards, and occasional visits when possible.  Everyone deals with change and stress differently, but knowing that you’re not alone helps.

by DrTony


March 10, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

Where do we look and how will we know when we have found ourselves?  Achieving great success, fulfilling aspirations, and living a comfortable life may not be enough. Feeling safe and secure may not provide the sense of self we want. We all seek purpose and meaning in life, but we may be looking in the wrong places.  It’s an inside job.  We need to accept who we are and stop comparing ourselves to others if we want to find ourselves.  Accepting our idiosyncrasies, flaws, and personality traits is part of the process of finding self.  Recognizing our value and talents even in our differences helps us to explore further our true being.

Finding ourselves may also require us to clear out any excessive baggage from the past.  When we preserve and/or irritate old wounds they won’t heal and prevent us from living life fully.  Confronting our fears, letting go of our resentments, and taking responsibility for our pain can enable us to discover our sense of self.  Part of this process is being still, listening, and reflecting on who we are and where we’re going.  As a Christian, I believe my true identity is found in Christ, but, like all people, we still need to find our particular path.  We also have to get out of our heads and into our hearts since that is the source of our true self.  Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”  Sometimes being lost and trusting the process is necessary for change and growth.

We may have to let go of what we have in order to find out what we need.  When we figure out who we are, our decisions, actions, and feelings change and are not primarily based on others opinions.  We gain a sense of independence, freedom, and control over our destiny.  We can do or say embarrassing things without fearing judgment or ridicule.  How we spend our time whether it be in relationships or work seems right and comfortable more often than not.  Remember that we teach others how to love us by the way we love ourselves.



by DrTony


March 3, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

Many of my patients struggle with finding their identity, sense of self, and meaning for their lives.  How do you define who you are?  Most people identify themselves through their occupation, family, affiliations, religion, past experiences, and/or recognized abilities.  Typically, we seek our identity through our teen years and find our role, purpose, and direction during this time.  Psychologist Erik Erickson developed the stages of psychosocial development through the human lifespan and identified the fifth stage as conflict between identity and role confusion that typically occurs between the ages of 12 to 18.  Yet there are many adults who still struggle to find their sense of self.

In some cases people define themselves through their occupation alone.  They have decided that this represents their best contribution to their family, their community, and society.  Unfortunately they may only develop, nurture, and grow this aspect of life and isolate themselves from many other sources of joy and fulfillment.  They may also focus more on “what they do” rather than “who they are.”  Our sense of self is tied to a multitude of variables beyond occupation, including our relationships, character, morals/values, and life experiences.

Maybe you’ve been drifting along in life more as an observer than a participant.  Maybe you’ve looked to others to give you direction and focus without blazing your own path in life.  Or maybe you experienced limited support, guidance, and encouragement growing up which led to either confusion or insecurity that you’ve carried into adulthood.  Part of finding yourself may require you to identify your positive traits, skills, and talents.  Recognize that we all have something to contribute to our family/friends, community, and life.  We were created for a purpose and figuring that out can help you find your sense of self.  Next week I will offer suggestions for finding and nurturing your sense of self.



by DrTony


February 24, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

What are the best predictors of marriage success?  Researcher Terri Orbuch, Ph.D.,  in the Early Years of Marriage Project found that positive affirmations made a huge difference in couple’s overall happiness and were also predictive of couple’s staying together.  She found that men need these affirmations more than women, since women are more likely than men to get them from others.  John Gottman from the University of Washington found that a couples’ ability to handle conflict, and those kinder and with more consideration have more stable and positive relationships.  He found that 69% of marital conflict never gets resolved, but how couples handle it is the key to their successful relationship.  Communication is another important component, but the content of the conversation matters most.  According to Orbuch, the happiest couples share their hopes, dreams, and fears.  I often encourage couples to engage in intimate conversations, not just talk about logistics.

Shelly Gable, Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara found that it is important to support and celebrate with our spouse during positive events and milestones.  Our ability to share in our partner’s success will enable them to feel better about themselves and the relationship.  The study mentioned earlier by Orbuch also found that boredom can negatively impact a relationship.  Researchers suggest that couples include novelty, variety, and surprises in their relationships.  I encourage couples to create a fun list and randomly select an activity from their spouse’s list to initiate and pursue.  Lastly, recognize that love alone is insufficient to sustain a marriage; it also takes perseverance, commitment, and effort.  I believe that making marriage one of your highest priorities and taking responsibility for it’s success over the long haul will increase the probability of a positive outcome.

Most things in life that have value and significance take work to attain and sustain.  A marriage is no different.  The benefits from a successful marriage are plentiful including a longer and healthier life along with a positive legacy for your children.  Make the effort, create the time, and reap the rewards.

by DrTony


February 17, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

What predicts the longevity of a marriage?  Anna Miller wrote an article for the American Psychological Association (April 2013) and reported that several factors contribute to the probability of a marriage lasting including ethnic background, education, and socioeconomic level.  In simplistic terms, Asian women and foreign-born Hispanic men have the highest rate of marital stability while African-American women have the lowest rate according to NCHS reports. Higher educated people fare better, and couples with greater financial assets generally have greater success in sustaining marriage.  But one very powerful predictor of marital longevity is stress.  A 2012 study by April Buck, Ph.D., and Lisa Neff, Ph.D., from the University of Texas at Austin,  found that stressful situations translated into negative interactions with their partners and took energy away from the relationship (Journal of Family Psychology, 2012).

Stress can be a huge contributor to marital conflicts and dissatisfaction, especially for low-income couples who have limited resources.  Military couples deal with significant stress, but have strong social support, health care, child care, and allowances for housing which helps to reduce their stress.  Often our coping mechanisms for dealing with stress determines the impact on our lives.  Some lash out and displace their negative emotions on to others, while others hold everything inside and internalize stress.  Working through stress constructively and letting go of the emotional conflicts can build greater connection.

Lastly, couples who report dissatisfaction early on in the marriage, even before they take their vows, are more likely to experience marital unhappiness over time and with the bad only getting worse.  Couples need to get help early on rather than allowing problems to fester and build over time.  Few couples seek premarital counseling unless serious issues exist, but this can “nip it in the bud” before it mushrooms into something insurmountable.  We can positively impact our relationships with increased awareness, minor changes, and perseverance.  Next week I will discuss the latest research on making marriage last.

by DrTony


February 10, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

As Valentine’s Day approaches many of us will be searching for the “perfect gift.”  How or where do you find this elusive present?  Maybe your loved one would rather your presence over presents. Being emotionally and physically attentive, connected, and expressive may be exactly what your partner desires.  The gift that keeps on giving is not in a box, but rather comes from thoughtfulness, affirming words, and considerate actions.  Love can’t be purchased at any store and has no price tag, but learning ways to show it can be difficult for some.  Sadly some fear sharing it freely while others don’t even know what it looks like.

We learn about love from our upbringing and often carry those experiences forward.  Life events and/or traumas can impact our ability to experience and express love.  We strive to be unconditionally loving, but often fall short.  Personally I believe humans can’t be 100% unconditional in our love, only God can achieve that level.  It doesn’t mean we can’t strive to increase our level of unconditional love, which requires forgiveness, compassion, and trust.  The perfect gift is knowing what your partner values and needs, what makes them happy and fulfilled, what makes them feel loved and respected and being able to give them exactly that.

Gifts come in all different sizes, shapes, and forms, but the best gift is one that comes from your heart and fills the other person’s heart.  This Valentine’s Day, consider a gift that expresses your love either through words, actions, activities, writing, and/or a present, but be sure that the value of the gift comes not from the price tag, but from the thoughtfulness.  Everyone wants to feel loved, valued, respected, and appreciated; figure out a way to communicate this message to your Valentine.  Share your love since keeping it inside only limits its ability to grow.

by DrTony


February 3, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

Last week I talked about loneliness and the detrimental effects of this state.  Many of us don’t realize the physical and emotional toll that loneliness can have on our lives.  The first step to any type of change requires awareness and understanding of the problem and loneliness is no different. Some people want to be connected but either don’t how or fear rejection, while others try too hard to be connected and accepted which may inadvertently create rejection and isolation.  Expect the best instead of anticipating rejection.

It helps to know yourself first including your interests, needs, strengths, values, and traits.  When we are secure with ourselves we’re often more successful in our connections.  Consider community service or volunteer work that you may find fulfilling and creates opportunities to meet people.  Find an activity like running, paddle boarding, kayaking, tennis or any other that has a club you can join to be connected to others with a similar interest.  Attending a house of worship and getting involved with groups and/or classes can be another way to develop new friendships.  Become a familiar face whether at the gym, local restaurant, and/or coffee shop and you’ll find more opportunities for connection.  Sharing more with existing friends and deepening relationships can also help with loneliness.

Since loneliness is a subjective experience, it also can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, so modify those negative thoughts and share positive ideas instead.  Get involved with your neighborhood association, join a book club, sign up for a class, join a local organization, or get involved with a support group.  Be cautious in pursuing social media connections, and use them to supplement real relationships, not replace them.  Remember the quantity of friends is not important; what matters is that you feel a part of something greater than yourself.  Take the risk to step out and seek connections, the benefits far  outweigh the costs.

by DrTony


January 27, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

Are you lonely? As it turns out, you’re not alone.  Loneliness has risen dramatically over recent years and it is estimated that as many as one in five Americans suffer from being lonely.  A meta-analysis of 148 studies done by Brigham Young University psychologists found that loneliness leads to significant health risks comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day and doubles the risk of obesity (PLOS Medicine, 2010).  People who are not connected to others were three times as likely to die, had decreased memory and learning, increased depression and suicide, higher stress levels, higher blood pressure, poorer immune function, and a faster progression of Alzheimer’s disease according psychologist John Cacioppo, Ph.D.,  lead author of Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection.

Loneliness is not about being alone, but it is about feeling terribly isolated even when you’re around others.  Psychologist Steve Cole, Ph.D., from the University of California studied the role of specific genes and concluded that loneliness triggers vague worry, a constant threat on safety, and wears on one’s immune system (PNAS, 2011).  In addition to genetics, there are other possible causes of loneliness including aging, death, depression, divorce, social media, physical isolation, low self-esteem, and even commuting.  Lonely people tend to get less exercise and consume more alcohol.

Combating loneliness has less to do with the quantity of social connections, but has everything to do with the quality of connections.  One study by Cacioppo even found that loneliness may actually be contagious.  However, there is hope for those struggling with these feelings and ways to overcome loneliness.  Recognizing the problem is often the first step to change.  Next week I will discuss ways to deepen connections, cultivate new relationships, and create opportunities for friendships.  I believe that healthy relationships are the greatest source of joy and fulfillment.



by DrTony


January 20, 2014 in Featured by DrTony

Last week I talked about the overwhelming changes our world is experiencing and difficulties in coping. As I mentioned, any type of change can cause stress (even positive changes), but when we are challenged and confronted with change all the time, the emotional and mental impact can tax people beyond their ability to cope. So how does one cope with change, stress, and life demands?

For starters, we need to focus on the things/people in our lives that are stable, unchanging, and secure. Leaning on our spouse, family, close friends, and our faith during stressful and difficult times can be comforting. This requires us to reach out, share our vulnerabilities, and ask for help. For some, this task is difficult since they prefer to be self-reliant and independent.   People need people.  Research supports that when individuals are connected to others they live longer and deal with stress better.  Personally,  faith and fitness help me to cope with life stressors and change.  I’m also a big fan of sharing our burdens with loved ones who can offer support, encouragement, and hope.  Some people gain comfort from journaling, listening to music, and/or reading.

Taking a break from technology (especially news) and spending time with nature can provide comfort.  Setting aside time to meditate, reflect, breathe, relax, and be still can reduce stress and give us perspective.  Turn off the computer, phone, TV, and consider playing a board game instead.  Accept the changes with a positive attitude instead of with resistance and agony.  Lastly, follow the serenity prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  Change is inevitable, but our response can determine the impact.