About Dr Ackard

Diann M. Ackard, PhD is passionate about helping us be the best that we can be. She is a licensed psychologist in private practice, and is active in clinical, community and research services. She regularly publishes articles in peer-reviewed journals and frequently contributes at meetings and conferences.

Facing fears to create change.

The issue of change obviously comes up frequently in psychotherapy.  Therapy is designed to help people make the changes necessary to improve their lives.  However, taking a different path may not be easy.  In fact, change may be accompanied by a healthy dose of trepidation, and a wheelbarrow full of “what if” questions.  What if I make a change and life feels worse afterwards?  What if it doesn’t work?  What if it does work and I am more miserable than before?  Although psychologists don’t have the crystal balls and magic wands to see the future and make angst disappear, it is still essential to take leaps of faith in life instead of remaining paralyzed by fear.  You may struggle with the same misery in life if you don’t face your fears and live life differently.

What fears prevent you from making changes in your life?  How can you overcome these fears, using tools to calm anxiety?  What dreams do you seek to attain, and how can you use those dreams as encouragement to make small changes?

The impossible exists only because one was afraid to chase after their dreams.  – – Sarah Ruth

An Emotional Check-Up.

Many of us are fairly good at check-ups and basic maintenance.  For example, we have the oil changed in our cars when it’s due and our teeth cleaned every 6 months.  Perhaps we even change the air filter in the furnace and replace the batteries in the smoke detectors once a year.  All of these tasks keep things running smoothly and prevent problems.  What regular practices might improve our emotional health?  We’re not born with “warning lights” that tell us when some part of us is overheated or broken, nor calendars that tell us when our next vacation is (over)due.  Instead, we need to develop an intentional “emotional check-up from the neck up” – – a practice of checking in with ourselves to evaluate how we are doing and feeling.

Sample Questions for an Emotional Check-Up

  • How regularly are you sleeping?  How many hours each night?  Do you sleep soundly or not?
  • Are you eating enough, or eating too little?  Open your cupboards and refrigerator – do the contents look like you want them to in variety and freshness?
  • Are you making time for exercise, reflection, meditation in your life?
  • Are your finances and chores up to date, or are some tasks slipping behind you?
  • Do you engage enough in activities that make you feel good, such as whimsy, hobbies, volunteering, spiritual activities, visiting with special persons?

Conduct an emotional check-up with these questions and some of your own to evaluate how you are doing.  If you find that you are off on a number of the answers, it’s time to slow down and evaluate your priorities.  Can someone help you get realigned?  What responsibilities can you delegate to someone else or eliminate altogether?  What priorities need to shift in rank?

Monitoring our behaviors, thoughts and feelings on a regular basis helps us identify problem areas so we can get a tune-up.  Try an “emotional check-up from the neck up” on a weekly basis and see what you find out about yourself!

A Short Story on the Value of Taking Risks

Risking by Patty Hansen

Two seeds lay side by side in the fertile spring soil.

The first seed said, “I want to grow!  I want to send my roots deep into the soil beneath me, and thrust my sprouts through the earth’s crust above me . . . I want to unfurl my tender buds like banners to announce the arrival of spring . . . I want to feel the warmth of the sun on my face and the blessing of the morning dew on my petals!”

And so she grew.

The second seed said, “I am afraid.  If I send my roots into the ground below, I don’t know what I will encounter in the dark.  If I push my way through the hard soil above me I may damage my delicate sprouts . . . what if I let my buds open and a snail tries to eat them?  And if I were to open my blossoms, a small child may pull me from the ground.  No, it is much better for me to wait until it is safe.”

And so she waited.

A yard hen scratching around in the early spring ground for food found the waiting seed and promptly ate it.

MORAL:  Those of us who refuse to risk and grow get swallowed up by life.

Play Therapy for Adults

Think for a moment about children at play.  They are often creative, happy, laughing, less inhibited, more daring.  Play can be good therapy for children as well as adults.  Do we grow out of being playful as we age?  Do we learn to become so overly cautious and self-conscious that we forget how to free ourselves from our adult responsibilities just to have fun?  Wouldn’t it perhaps lift our spirits to go run in a park, plop down on a swing and soar into the sky, propel on a scooter, or play a lawn game?  Whether you are around kids or not, challenge yourself to join in the fun, letting your body feel free, your mind be unburdened by responsibilities just for a few moments, and your chronological clock to run backwards a few years.  Enjoy the moments, and seize the day.

SMART goals

Goals are excellent for us to have.  Goals can guide us toward our future, toward changes we want to make, and toward accomplishments we wish to achieve.  Creating a SMART goal has five essential parts.

what is a smart goal?

S = Specific

M = Measurable

A = Achievable

R = Reasonable or Realistic

T = Time-limited or Time-specific

For example, someone might have a goal to get a new job.  Without a reasonable plan, it might seem daunting and frustrating on a daily basis to think and dream about that new job, but not know where to start or have any progress toward it.

A “smart” goal sounds like this: “I will submit 1 job application each week, and accept all interviews offered even if only for the experience.”  Notice that the goal isn’t focused on the outcome of getting the job, but on the steps that are under your control.  The goal is specific in terms of the action, measurable (1 application per week), achievable based upon the time and energy available to do a job search, reasonable, and has a timeframe.

When you set goals for yourself, try using the acronym above to guide you toward setting goals that are SMART.  Good luck!

Adolescents and Health Concerns

Youth have many options for procuring health care information.  In addition to healthcare professionals, parents and friends, they also have the internet.  We surveyed a nationally-representative sample of 5th through 12th grade youth in the US.  Our goal was to understand where youth obtain health care information.  Over half said they turn to their parents and/or a doctor or other health professional for health care information.  However, 25-33% also gleaned health care information from potentially unreliable sources, such as magazines, television shows, newspapers and the internet.  Of further concern, 10% responded that they did not know where to get health care information.

The survey also asked if there were adolescent health topics that they wouldn’t discuss with their health care provider.  Over one-third of boys and girls said they would be too embarrassed, afraid or uncomfortable talking about physical or sexual abuse, menstruation, body changes and sexuality.

Opportunities for improvement

Adolescent health is too important not to discuss.  We can be better advocates for adolescent health care, asking youth appropriate questions and providing them private opportunities to discuss sensitive topics.  Health care professionals and others can work on establishment of a good rapport, taking time out to listen to teens, assuring and maintaining confidentiality, and helping them access appropriate information when needed.

Because you matter.

Building the belief that you matter starts early … like when you skin your knee and your mom kisses it “all better,” or when you color a picture that is hung on the front of the refrigerator, or you get to choose a special meal to be made for the family on your birthday.  Perhaps it’s a kind little handwritten note someone placed inside your lunchbox or a card that you receive in the mail for no reason at all other than “just because…..”  It happens when you are looked in the eyes with compassion and care when you speak, and when someone notices a pleasant change to your appearance, a milestone achieved in your life, or even that your mood has shifted.

Examples like these can help us feel as though we are important, that we are visible, that we are significant enough for someone to take notice of us or do something that makes us feel special.  And the feedback loop on how much value you believe that you have continues on through adolescence and adulthood, as if there is a lifelong score being kept with tallies for “I matter” on one side and “I feel like I don’t matter” on the other.

Who are the people in your life that make you feel visible or important or special, who help you believe that you matter?  Spend time with them, perhaps more than you do presently.  After all, you do matter.

Weight management.

With the new year comes resolutions for many people, and one of the most common is related to weight.  When we combine our knowledge bases for prevention of eating disorders (e.g., anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa) and prevention of obesity and overweight, we generally come up with the same list of strategies for long-term, methodical weight management.  Combining regular treatment strategies for individuals diagnosed with eating disorders with results from the National Weight Control Registry (a longitudinal study of over 4000 previously overweight adults who have successfully maintained a healthier weight for multiple years), successful weight management at a healthy weight incorporates the following strategies:

  • eating breakfast every day, and eating regularly (4-5 times) throughout the day
  • limiting the frequency of eating out at fast food establishments
  • eating a lower-fat, higher carbohydrate/fiber diet
  • watching less than 10 hours of television per week
  • exercising, on average, about 1 hour per day at a moderate level (e.g., walking, aerobics class, biking, swimming)
  • self-monitoring weight, portion sizes, and meal planning

These practices may be appropriate for individuals who are overweight by medical standards or who seek to maintain a current healthy weight.  Note that extreme measures, such as overexercising, skipping meals, or using harmful measures such as laxatives or diet pulls were not listed as successful strategies.  In fact, the use of extreme measures may affect basal metabolic rate in such a manner that weight is gained over time!  So, treat your body well with a daily, methodical, and moderate weight management plan.

Make it count.

In the movie Titanic, Jack directs Rose to “Make it count.”  Whether your life ahead of you is long or short, try to live each day to its fullest.  Extend your reach for the shiny brass ring on the carousel of life.  Carpe Diem.

Your life is your own.  Live it passionately.  Savor authentic relationships.  Relish in intellectual curiosity.  Celebrate the miracles of the moments.  Find joy and contentment.  Make each moment count.

Relaxation in three minutes.

Margaret Townsend is a certified breath work practitioner in Portland, Oregon who shares this three minute relaxation exercise for wellness [this exercise was originally printed in Real Simple magazine, August 2015].

Investing three minutes each day can help you feel more centered and energized.  Try it first thing in the morning when you are still in your pajamas.

Stand with your feet apart, a bit wider than hip-width, and imagine little springs in all of your joints: ankles, knees, hips, fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders and jaw.  Bounce a bit into these “springs,” then begin to shake your whole body in a comfortable but vigorous rhythm, allowing your shoulders to move up and down, your head to bob, your hands to flap, and your breath to be free.  Keep this going for a whole minute.  When you stop, just be still for a moment and feel the natural movement of your breath; notice how alive your body feels.

Now sit down on a comfortable surface.  With your jaw relaxed and your chest and belly soft, take an inhale, feeling the breath flow in, bathing your body and mind in refreshing, cleansing energy, then falling freely into an exhale.  Allow the next inhale to come like a gentle wave rising, so there’s a nice, soft, circular feel to the breath – no break between inhale and exhale.  Continue this connected flow for about two minutes.  Then sit for a moment, breathe naturally, and enjoy being awake and feeling whole.