Blog : anger

Microbes, Your Gut, and Your Brain | How new research is changing the face of anxiety

Microbes, Your Gut, and Your Brain | How new research is changing the face of anxiety

That phrase, “I just felt it in my gut,” might be true after all.

Researchers are now finding that what we eat actually has a profound biological effect on our mood. It’s because we’re feeding a bunch of microbe in our body. They react to what we eat. In fact, they out number our cells 10:1. In fact, they may be more in control of us that we ever thought possible!

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Kids should play more video games…or should they?

Kids should play more video games…or should they?

Watch Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk above to know how this fits into video games.

Hospice Workers Report Top 5 Regrets on Deathbeds

Here’s the link to the article

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

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Joe’s new parenting book

Joe’s new parenting book

Joe’s New Book

Mental Wellness Parenting | A remarkably simple approach to making parenting easier


From Mental Wellness Parenting | A remarkably simple approach to making parenting easier:

Control vs. Voice

So how do we use this new information about guiding our kids to help them change their behavior? Ultimately, you have no control over your child. They make decisions every day. They are their own persons.

Webster’s defines “control” as: “To exercise restraining or directing influence over. To have power over. Reduce the incidence or severity of especially to innocuous levels <control an insect population> <control a disease>”

The part of this definition that I like is the “directing influence over”. I would argue that this comes less from control and more from having a voice in your child’s life.

One of Webster’s definitions of “voice” is, “wish, choice, or opinion openly or formally expressed.” So to have a “voice” in your child’s life is for your wishes, choices, and opinions to somehow take root in them.

Think about who has a voice in your life. Who can say to you, “Here is my opinion” and you consider it?

Is it your mom?


Best friend?

Wife or husband or significant other?

How did they gain that voice in your life? Did they do something? Did they act a certain way? Is it because you have seen how they live their life and you respect that? Do you aspire to be like them or certain parts of them? What is it that allows them to have that voice, not control, in your life?

I believe that it is trust. They somehow built trust in you. Building a voice comes from trust. For kids, that trust comes from three specific things. To build trust as parents we must demonstrate:

  1. Consistency and love
  2. Set an example
  3. Spur something in our children that brings life

Consistency and Love

In future chapters I will discuss more in-depth what this looks like and ways that you can increase consistency and demonstrate your love. One definition of “consistency” is “agreement or harmony of parts or features to one another or a whole.”

To be a consistent parent, you have to have harmony in what you do. What does this mean? It means that it is better to say nothing at all, rather than a false promise. By false promise I mean not following through on things you say. If you give a warning to a child regarding their behavior, then follow through.

When you start thinking this way, two things will happen inside of you. First, you will slow down the frequency of threats that you make because you know that you need to follow through. Also, you will evaluate the intensity of threats.

One thing about threats: they don’t work.


Threats don’t work

Why don’t threats work? Think about it this way. Your boss keeps coming in your office for two weeks reminding you of a date that a report is due. She says, “If it’s not on my desk on November 12th, then I’m writing you up.” November 12 comes and goes, you had some crazy things happen in your family and you just couldn’t get it done.

Then in January she does the same thing for the report due January 29th. Again you miss the mark and it comes and goes, yet no write up. Imagine this happened over 18 years in the company. Sometimes she does write you up sometimes she doesn’t.

Now imagine a different scenario. At a staff meeting she announces that reports need to be timely. To try and help the staff keep it in their mind, if the November 12th report is in on time you will get an overnight at the hotel of your choice and if not, then you will be written up.

No more reminders.

Then she does what she says.

Often parents believe that they have a voice in their child’s life and that is enough, but really a voice is earned through consistency. Your action of giving positive or negative consequences will speak more than anything you could say ahead of time or threaten.

Even when threats do seem to work, it is usually not based on building a long-term voice in your child’s life.

The second part of this is building love. I trust that you love your child deeply; otherwise you would not be reading this book. So it is not how to build your love for your child that is the issue, it is how do children receive love?
Consistency in parenting helps kids feel safe. If you are about to manage a child in a grocery store and help her choose good choices there, then you can definitely take on any monster, bad dream, bully, and tornado. Kids fear all sorts of things.

A psychologist named Maslow created what he called the “Hierarchy of Needs”. His belief was that if basic needs are not met is it is harder or impossible to work toward higher needs. Thus, if safety needs of security aren’t met, it is harder to build feelings of love and belonging.

I had a client recently who had her apartment broken into. She was staying up all night because she was scared someone would break in, then she was sleeping during the day, but her classes were slipping. Her feelings of lack of safety made it harder for her to do more complex thinking like that which is required in school.

The same is true for kids, as they see that you can handle a variety of situations, they will trust that you can protect them…

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Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a licensed counselor and owner of Mental Wellness Counseling. He is also the author of the books Mental Wellness Parenting | A remarkably simple approach to making parenting easier
and Practice of the Practice | A Start-up Guide to Launching a Counseling Private Practice

14 Ways to Show Your Kids Love on Valentine’s Day

14 Ways to Show Your Kids Love on Valentine’s Day

Traverse City counseling counselor kids
Even parents need reminders. Sometimes it’s easy to just get in the routine of parenting. Although Valentine’s Day is often for lovers, we love our kids! It is a special day to share with them just how much they mean to you. Here are a few tips and ideas.
  1. Take them out for breakfast.
  2. Give them 14 extra hugs.
  3. Make a list of everything that they are doing right, read it to them at breakfast.
  4. Treat their mother or father well, even if they are a jerk.
  5. Have one-on-one time with them.
  6. Play a family game.
  7. Make their favorite meal for dinner.
  8. Plan a family outing, go for a hike, or explore something new.
  9. Do a craft together and then give it to someone special in their life, let them pick the person.
  10. Read an extra book at bedtime, even if you are really tired.
  11. Be home when they are home.
  12. Make a list of what they have taught you and read it to them.
  13. Do something playful that uses energy like playing in the snow.
  14. Redirect your own frustrations and anger and respond as graceful as possible to situations.

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Parenting Soup

Parenting Soup

Being a good parent is like making soup. For those of you who have never made soup, except out of a can I’m sorry. You are truly missing out.

When making a good soup you can of course follow a recipe. But, some of the greatest surprises are when you create a soup from what you have and then it is amazing. As you sip that steamy amazing broth and dip bread to absorb the flavor, you understand that you may never taste this exact soup again. You savor it. When it is gone, you attempt to replicate it, but only if you are lucky will you create the exact same flavor again.

When I make soup, I look in the fridge and review what we have and need to get rid of. If we’re lacking, I move toward the freezer. I may start with sautéing meat or onions, then I’ll add additional vegetables to create a depth of flavor. I may add some flour to the oil or butter to make a roux.

When I was volunteering in New Orleans at a shelter for people in the final stages of AIDS, I asked a number of the nurses, “Can I have your gumbo recipe?” They almost always replied, “Son, you just use whatcha got in da fridge, or you use Zataran’s.”

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The Teen Brain

The Teen Brain

“All teenagers are risk-takers, moody, and get embarrassed by their parents.”

“They are angry and hate adults.”

“They only listen to their friends.”

Are these statements really true?

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore discusses why teenagers seem more impulsive and less self-aware than grown-ups. She compares the prefrontal cortex in adolescents to adults. Often typically “teenage” behavior is caused by the expanding development of the brain. Within the context of my counseling practice, parents often view their children through an adult lens.

As I watched this video at my Traverse City office, I liked the idea of synapse pruning. This is where the adolescent brain is working to fine tune brain tissue that is important and that which is not needed. Functional MRIs help to discover aspects that are more or less important and to view what assists teenagers through this process.

Further, the limbic system is more sensitive to the emotional rewards and feelings of risky behavior. It is heightened during adolescence so that risky behavior feels more exciting and fulfilling. However, the pre-frontal cortex  is the section that stops risky behavior and helps to connect behavior and consequences. That section is not as developed. So there is a deeper sense of excitement without the stop-gap measures.


So what can parents do to help their teenagers?

  • Understand the teenage brain and learn more to develop a working knowledge of what natural barriers they may experience.
  • Realize that frustrating behavior is often part of teens learning how to appropriately be independent.
  • Environment can play a substantial role in which synapse connect. Work to create an environment that helps your teen to have a realistic understanding of the world.
  • Don’t fear giving positive and negative consequences. Seek to have them relate to the inappropriate behavior. You don’t need to assist in funding behavior that you do not agree with, but do it with love and understanding.
  • Work to allow family discussion so that your teen feels heard.
  • Get counseling or therapy as a family if you feel that you have hit a roadblock.

counselor Traverse City counseling family


Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is the owner and a counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He does therapy with families, teens, and couples to grow through all of the phases of life. He is interested in the neuro-development of people over a lifetime.





Counseling Traverse City therapist

Helicopter Parents Gone Wild

Helicopter Parents Gone Wild

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A “helicopter parent” is a parent who hovers over their child, waiting to catch them before they skin their knee. “Helicopter Parents” schedule, plan, and create a world for their children. They are usually highly involved and deep down want the best for their kids. They are often high achievers or wish they had been high achievers. “Helicopter Parents” also are usually highly involved in their kid’s education, after-school activities, and social lives. Overall, they have great intentions. I may even end up being one, in some area intentionally and in others unintentionally.

The hardest transitions for “helicopter parents” are to stop when they are tired and to allow age-appropriate freedoms. Are you one of these parents?

When you’re sick of flying

When these parents are frustrated with their kids, it is often because they don’t want them to fail. They have a difficult time with skinned knees and broken hearts. They have created a dynamic where they are the safety nets for their children, rather than teaching them how to create their own nets.

This typically creates a dynamic where the parent is blamed for the child’s mistakes. Both the parent and child think that it is mom or dad’s responsibility to get homework done, wake up on time, and not be “bored.” Yet, ultimately, we each are responsible for changing our lives toward what we want.

So how do you land the helicopter?

Daddy needs a drink

When was the last time you took a bath without interruption? What about sitting outside and enjoying the evening? Time with friends without looking at your phone for texts from your kids?

Sometimes, a parent needs to just step back and let the kids experience natural consequences. Whether it is a teen waking up late for work or kids sorting out who gets to play the game system, stepping back will often show you what you kids are capable of. Usually, the worst case scenario is not that bad and the best case is that they will increase their abilities to be responsible.

But they’re not old enough

Every single generation does it. They think they are so dang special. In counseling sessions or even with friends, I’ll ask, “What did you do when you were (insert age here)?” Almost universally friends and client respond, “I did some inapropriate behavior but…

“…it was different in the 60s, 70s, or 80s.”

“…things were safer.”

“…we didn’t have the internet.”

But parents weren’t thinking that then. They were thinking the same thing that parents are thinking now. When we’re a kid, we are oblivious to the dangers, consequences, and ways of the world. How did we learn? Was it when mom said, “No” or was it when we tried it out and formed our own conculsions?

Now I’m not saying take a step back and let “Lord of the Flies” occur in your household. Otherwise, you may come see me in counseling for something else. The main goal is to transition toward the empty nest not to have it be a sudden change.


counselor Traverse City counseling familyJoseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a licensed therapist and counseling in Traverse City, MI where he owns Mental Wellness Counseling. He once flew in a helicopter in Nepal, it was a lot of fun.





Photo from Creative Commons, thank you JD Hancock

Mental Wellness: More than beauty rest

Mental Wellness: More than beauty rest

sleep counseling Traverse City counselor family

Originally appeared in the Record Eagle, April 21, 2012 available at:

My grandma had a sleep mask. You know the kind that blocks out light? Hers was pink. I always thought it looked stupid. Then my wife gave me one last December, except mine is brown and black. When I got it, I thought, “Am I ever going to use this except on an airplane?”

Every morning when the light smacks me in the face at five something, I now put it on and have a glorious last hour of sleep. I love it.

We all know how important sleep is for kids. If they don’t get their naps they are cranky and everyone in earshot knows. We underestimate the importance of solid sleep for adults. Here are some things you should know:

Sleep is tied to mental wellness

Did you know that poor quality sleep is tied to anxiety, depression, attention, mood swings, panic attacks and self esteem? If you are fighting with your kids, spouse, or friends, feeling frustrated, or just anxious, maybe it isn’t medications that you need. Maybe you need more sleep.

Sleep is tied to memory

During the day our brains store most information in a short-term part of our brain. At night, the brain sorts through what is important and what is not. Everything from the color of your boss’s shirt to that marketing report gets sorted to keep or delete. If not given enough time to sort, the brain hits the delete button. Things you understood yesterday will be harder to recall.

Sleep can improve with a few simple changes

Going to bed and waking up at similar times can improve your body’s ability to get deeper and better quality sleep. As well, increasing exercise, time outside, and eating more fruits and vegetables will help. Eliminating caffeine in the evening and drinking more water can help unclog the sleep center of your brain.

Sometimes we make our lives more complicated than they need to be. What if all you need is a little more sleep? It could be the key to improving the relationships in your life, even if all it takes is a pink sleep mask.

counselor Traverse City counseling family





Joseph R. Sanok is a licensed counselor and owner at Mental Wellness Counseling. He helps angry kids, frustrated parents, distant couples “¦ and just about everyone else. Check out his “Happiness Resources” at






Photo used with Creative Commons license, care of

Bus Monitor Bullied

Bus Monitor Bullied

Bus Monitor Bullied

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About a week ago, my wife was changing my daughter’s diaper. She was parked outside a pharmacy in Traverse City and she was changing the diaper on the front seat of our car. I wasn’t there.

Some teens pulled up and were seated with their windows down. They started making comments about “the crying baby” and “shut that baby up.” Of course, the audacity of the teens caught my wife off guard and in the moment she didn’t think of what to say or do, she just wanted to leave.

The recent viral video about a bus monitor being bullied has touched a nerve. In the video, a bus monitor is called a litany of names and she ends up crying. The video is just plain terrible.

People are asking:

What has happened to our society?

How are kids this terrible?

Where is the respect?

What is going on?

In some ways, kids are just as cruel as in past generations; however, they have more tools for learning and spreading this cruelty. The point for me is not how we got here, but how do we get out?

When I work with families in counseling, at my Traverse City practice, we discuss a number of factors. Here are a few steps that can help with this discussion.

Schools have been limited

In past generations, teachers and principals spanked, paddled, and hit kids. It is essential to strong learning and emotional development for kids to feel safe. Those days are done and I am not advocating for them to return. However, due to the culture of lawsuits and continued restraints on teachers to give detentions, in-school suspensions, and other negative consequences, it has created an environment where youth will dictate their own culture.

Parents are less involved

As parents evaluate their interactions and involvements in their kid’s lives, they need to continue to seek consistency and a culture of both positive and negative consequences. Our society continues to function based on us all seeking that most of our actions have clear consequences. As parents build this social skill in kids, they will collectively gain traction.

Society as a parent

Even though we are more connected, most cultural tools have been de-centralized. As a result, specific parenting and expectations have become less clear. As  a result, we don’t want to “step on toes”. Often people don’t speak up when their “gut” is telling them to speak up.

The answers to these behaviors are not clear cut like many talking heads are saying, but, as we evaluate empowering schools, parents, and individuals, we may see bullying decrease.


private practice

Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a licensed counselor and owner at Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He has worked with bullied, at-risk, angry, and hurt kids since 1998. He also loves sailing.

Mental Wellness: Build time to slow down

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Originally published at by Joseph R. Sanok

I can’t slow down. I need this article more than anyone. I have a baby, house, job, private practice ” the list goes on and on. I bet your list is similar. There is always a reason why I can’t slow down.

I went to the U.P. this past weekend. I sat and drank coffee, looked out at the morning water, and read a magazine. Why is it that when we get away from town, we let ourselves relax? These are three things that are starting to work for me (I’m not there yet).

Put it in the schedule

Did you know that 15 minutes is 1 percent of your day? I think we actually have time to relax for 15 minutes, we just don’t make the time. If something is written down, we’re more likely to follow through. Plan to relax.

Get out

When we are in our homes, we see the laundry, cleaning and opportunities to not relax. Planning time out of our house clears our mind and gives us permission to forget about the struggles for a space of time. Get away from your house.

Drag it out

When I do errands, I fight for the closest parking spot, hurry in, hurry out and run back home. There have been times when we have gone to the farmers market and parked a few blocks away. We strolled, looked at the river, and we didn’t hurry home. Drag out the time that you are out and about.

But why should we slow down? Shouldn’t we be more efficient and productive? Yes, this is true. There are times during the week that productivity and efficiency are of value. Yet, if we make it a lifestyle, we increase our stress, which can lead to a lower quality of sleep, which increases anxiety and depression, while lowering our quality of life.

When you step back, why are you in such a hurry and what is it doing to you? Try it for a day and see if makes you feel better.


Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a counselor, therapist, psychologist, and overall helper of people in Traverse City, MI. He has professional experience working with Community Mental Health, residential facilities, foster care, and private practice. As well, he is the author of the book “Practice of the Practice: Basics for Launching Your Private Practice” due to be released in June 2012. He is a frequent speaker and writer locally in Traverse City, Michigan, and nationally.

Friends and Crisis: Dos and Don’ts

You never really appreciate a life of normality until crisis hits. Our family has been through a number of things lately: a death, a major medical issue, and close friends having their own crisis. It is amazing how it seems that high profile events bring out people’s true social skills.

I learned through experience what not to say when someone is in crisis. It was several years ago. I heard that a friend of mine’s parents had got divorced. I was close to my friend, but not to his parents. During a large festival in our town, I ran into the mom and said, “I’m so sorry to hear about you and _______.” It seemed to be the right thing to say. She broke down crying in the middle of the festival.

I felt terrible, I didn’t know how to leave, and I regretted saying anything. After that I was fairly gun-shy. When I heard that people had a miscarriage, death, or sickness, I didn’t know what to say. So I just watched from a distance. Now that I am going through my own experiences, I feel that I have an understanding of what has worked and not worked for me.



Make or bring food. It allows the family to focus on one another, rather than shopping, cooking, and cleaning.

Try and make something they can freeze or bring it frozen. If others are bringing food they can pull it out when the time works for them.

If you can, use things you don’t need back like Tupperware, something disposable, or a pan you don’t care about. Tell them, “Don’t worry about getting the pan back to me.”


Don’t expect to hang out with the family long.

Don’t just show up, call and ask if there is a convenient time.



Empathize with the family. Our friends that have said, “That must be hell” “I can’t imagine going through that” and “When will the universe stop shi**ing on the Sanok’s?” have been some of the most helpful comments. It makes us feel less crazy, like our feelings are normal.

Let the family or person do the talking. Saying, “If you don’t feel like talking about it, that’s ok, but how are you doing?” This is helpful because it is nice to be given permission to blow someone off and stay quiet, yet invited to talk.


Don’t offer suggestions unless you are asked. If people are dealing with medical issues, they probably are consulting with the doctors. If they are going through a death, their closest friends will probably know what/when to suggest therapy. In general, suggestions make people feel like you want to solve their problems and make them move through their grief, rather than be with them.



Expect that your relationship will be different for a while. They may see you more or less. They may want to sit at home and drink beer. Who knows how they will react? They may not want to talk. Realize that people handle crisis very differently and the way they react can differ too. The best thing for you to do is to carry the relationship for the both of you during this time.


Don’t get offended when they focus on something other than your relationship. If you do get offended, don’t show it. Months later if it is still bothering you, you can talk with that person. People don’t need to think about the dynamics of your relationship as well as their crisis.

Don’t worry about spending too much or too little time with them. Ask them if it would be helpful to come over. Most people will tell you what works if you ask in a direct way.

Don’t say, “Call us if you need anything.” Say something more specific like, “Would it be helpful if we had you over for dinner? We’d love to have you, but you can totally say ‘no’.” Sometimes what people need is awkward to ask for like a gas card. Rather than ask, “What do you need?” say something like, “Here’s a gas card/meal/hug if it would help.” By giving the person an out and being specific, it helps to give them the power and control, when life seems out of control.

Depending on which side of the crisis you are (going through it or supporting through it) everyone should realize that you are lucky to have one another. As someone going through life issues, I am so thankful for people saying and doing something, even if they fumble through it. Despite the missteps some have taken, we have realized that it is all done out of love and care for us, which is absolutely wonderful to have in our life.

I would much rather have someone awkwardly try and console me, than to remain quiet out of fear…and then go through a crisis alone. Even if you don’t do all the “dos” or you accidentally do some of the “don’ts” it is ok. Just do your best.

Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a counselor, therapist, psychologist, and overall helper of people in Traverse City, MI. He has professional experience working with Community Mental Health, residential facilities, foster care, and private practice. As well, he is the author of the book “Practice of the Practice: Basics for Launching Your Private Practice” due to be released in June 2012. He is a frequent speaker and writer locally in Traverse City, Michigan, and nationally.