Assert Yourself; Skills for More Effective Communication

October 10, 2018


This website and blog are devoted to helping people develop the skills necessary to meet their needs and realize their true potential.  An important part of meeting one's needs sometimes includes effectively expressing those needs to others. Humans are a social animal, and good communication is important for healthy relationships as well as realizing one's own personal potential.  

The focus of this article will be on skills that promote assertive communication.  Assertiveness sometimes gets a bad rap, as people often confuse assertiveness with other, more undesirable forms of communication.  It's important to remember that effective assertiveness should not come off as hostile or aggressive. It is also important, however, not to appear too passive and to ensure that your points are coming across in a strong and effective manner.  There’s a delicate balance involved in communicating successfully, and the skills discussed in this article will help to develop more effective communication.

Styles of Communication

Before discussing specific assertiveness skills, it’s important to first discuss the different styles of communicating.

1. Aggressive:  Demanding, hostile, bossy, threatening.  Aggressive communication rarely ends in someone’s needs being heard or met by others.  

2. Timid:  Passive, submissive, quiet.  This style is also ineffective in helping someone express and meet their needs properly.

3. Assertive:  Calm, rational, firm, collaborative.  Ability to express needs and make points without escalating into aggression or withdrawing into timid communication. Most effective style of communication.  

The balance between aggressiveness and timidness can be found in assertive communication skills.  

How to be assertive

Asserting yourself means expressing your needs to others in a way that is straight forward but also understanding of the other person’s needs and desires.  The following tips can help improve assertive communication.

1. Don’t expect others to respond well to you at first.

There is no 100% guaranteed way of assuring that other people will always respond well to what you have to say.  Some people are naturally defensive and aggressive in their communication style, and they will automatically view your attempts to assert your own needs as a threat despite what may be the best intentions on your part.  What’s important to remember in these situations is not to take the bait. Staying calm and continuing to focus on assertiveness skills is the best approach to overcome barriers in communication.

2. Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements.

Pay attention to your language.  Sentences that start with the word “you” tend to sound more demanding and aggressive (i.e. “you need to help me with this”), where sentences that start with “I” express your feelings and ask for help (i.e. “I could really use your help with this”).  

3. Ask questions rather than make demands.

Making demands sounds threatening and hostile, which doesn’t help anyone stay in a productive conversation.  A way to fix this problem is to use questions to ask for what you want rather than make statements which come off as demands or orders.  Questions prompt a person to give a specific answer, rather than come back with an argument.

Example: “Clean your dishes after you’re done eating,” becomes, “Do you think you could clean your dishes when you’re done eating?”

4. Broken Record technique.

When you find yourself dealing with someone who just doesn’t want to listen, or who wants to goad you into an argument, there is always the broken record technique.  This means that you stick to your point despite any attempts from the other person to steer the conversation in another direction. This tends to work best when someone is asking you to do something that you are not comfortable with, but they keep insisting or trying to guilt you.  

5. Silence is golden.

Never underestimate the power of silence.  Silence can be an uncomfortable tool to try to use in a conversation, but also a surprisingly effective one at times.  Sometimes, if your attempts to be assertive are not being received well and you see the conversation going off the rails, the best thing to say can be nothing at all.  It’s probably one of the assertiveness tools you’ll revert to the least, but it’s a good one to have in your back pocket when you see that a conversation isn’t going in a good direction.

The best time to use silence is when the person you are talking to is trying to escalate the conversation into an argument.  If things are becoming heated, and the other person starts shouting or name calling, simply stop responding. One of two things will happen, they’ll either calm down, at which point you can continue the discussion, or they’ll walk away.  Either way, you’ve stopped the conversation from escalating. What you’re doing with silence in this situation is conveying the message, “look, I’m not going to walk away from this conversation because it’s important to me, but I’m also not going to respond to you if you keep attacking me.”

6. See their point, and then add to it.

People are more likely to listen to you if they perceive you as being on their side.  Find something in the conversation that you both agree on, and add something to it that focuses on your needs and the point you are trying to get across.  

Basic structure is, “I agree that (state the common ground), and I’d add that (state the point you want to make).”

Avoid “yeah, but.”  This will only cause arguments to get worse, because they discount what the person was saying rather than validate it.

7. Go in prepared.

If you plan to assert yourself about a particular need to someone, write down the points you want to make and how you’d like to make them.  This makes it easier for you to know what you want to say and also helps you stay on track and avoid veering off into unproductive communication.

8. Don’t over prepare.

Though preparation is good, avoid the temptation to over-prepare.  Don’t sit down and write a script of how you’d like the conversation to go and then expect to stick to that script.  You can’t always predict how someone will react to you, even if you are communicating in the best way possible. What you can do is try to go with the flow and ensure that you are using the best communication skills that you have at your disposal to help everyone, especially you, get their needs met.


Scott Fantucchio, LMHC



Deep Breathing for Mental and Physical Self-Improvement (Part 3)

September 18, 2018



If you’ve been following these articles and practicing the skills discussed in parts 1 and 2, you should be fairly comfortable with basic deep breathing and may feel ready to move on to some new techniques. If you haven’t read part 1 and part 2 of this series, I’d suggest you do so before continuing by following the links below:

Deep Breathing for Mental and Physical Self-Improvement (Part 1)

Deep Breathing for Mental and Physical Self-Improvement (Part 2)

In this final entry of my Deep Breathing series, I’m going to go into detail on 2 more skills to incorporate into your deep breathing practice, and at the end I will recommend some more advanced techniques to study further for those that are interested.  As always, take your time in learning and mastering these new strategies, and make sure your feel comfortable with your basic skills before taking on more challenging techniques.


Mantra Breathing

Once you've mastered deep breathing through the techniques outlined above, you can add what are called mantras to your breathing exercises to advance the mental and physical health benefits of deep breathing.  Mantras are short phrases usually targeted at eliciting a certain feeling or result, such as calmness, relaxation, or even increased motivation.  You can use this technique during breathing exercises to either help enhance the relaxation of the exercise or train your mind to achieve a certain goal.  The effects of this practice can be similar to self-hypnosis.  Remember, breathing can be a bridge between the conscious and unconscious mind.  Deep breathing exercises can actually help put you into a mild hypnotic state (that is, a state of heightened suggestibility), and repeating mantras during this state could help to imprint their intention onto your subconscious.  My favorite way of incorporating mantras into deep breathing involves developing 2 phrases and either mentally or verbally repeating one on the inhale and one on the exhale.  Here are a few examples of how this works:

Start with a few minutes of deep breathing using one of the counting exercises from part 2 of this series to help you get into a relaxed state.  Repeat the following phrases as you breathe, "I am here; I am calm."  "I am here" should be said (again, either mentally or verbally depending on your preference) during the inhale, and "I am calm" during the exhale.  Repeat every time you breathe in and out.  This is a very popular breathing mantra for increasing relaxation and promoting a better here-and-now focus.

This next exercise is an example of how to use deep breathing mantras to help increase motivation.  The structure is exactly the same as the previous exercise, but you replace the mantra with "I am strong; I will succeed."  This type of mantra could be useful immediately before an important event, such as a competition or exam.  Excessive anxiety and nervousness can impede both mental and physical performance, so using such a mantra can help not only alleviate stress in the moment, but increase confidence and motivation to accomplish your goals.

You can also use mantra breathing to help change behaviors over longer periods of time.  Doing this means developing your own mantras which target specific personal changes you'd like to make, and applying them to your breathing exercises as outlined above.  Let's say you want to quit smoking, practice using a mantra such as "I don't want to smoke; I don't need to smoke."  It's simple, but it targets the 2 important aspects of giving up such a habit, both the desire to quit and the belief that you can quit.


You can use visualization during breathing exercises as another way to improve health, stress and motivation.  Visualization involves mentally picturing a desired state or outcome during your breathing exercises.  For example, picturing yourself graduating from college to help reduce the anxiety about a big test you have coming up, or visualizing what it would be like to achieve your life goals to improve your motivation to continue working hard.  I'm going to share one specific exercise related to visualization, as it's fairly easy to perform and can help to enhance the mental and physical health benefits of deep breathing.

Start with the deep breathing exercise of your choice to get you into a relaxed state.  Make sure your eyes are closed as you proceed with your visualization.  As you inhale, imagine you are breathing in pure health, vitality, and tranquility in the form of a bright healing light.  Envision it feeling warm and comforting as it enters your lungs, and try to feel it radiating throughout your body.  As you exhale, imagine yourself blowing out a cold black smoke that represents all of your stress, negativity, and physical ailments.  Try to feel a little lighter each time you exhale all of the negative things you are trying to purge yourself of.  This technique takes practice, but it is very powerful once you learn to use it effectively.  You can even use it to target specific ailments; for example, if you have pain in a certain area of your body, imagine inhaling the healing light and directing it to soothe your pain, and as you exhale the black smoke imagine it as being the pain and/or sickness leaving your body. 

Advanced Techniques

There are other techniques that I wanted to mention related to deep breathing that would be too involved to outline in this series of articles.  If you enjoy deep breathing exercises and want to learn more, I'd encourage you to look into some of the following practices.  7 cups has excellent resources on many of these skills for it’s members.  All of these advanced strategies require you to have a firm understanding of deep breathing and breath control, so make sure you practice and master some of the skills I’ve reviewed before moving on.

- Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR): Practice of systematically tensing and releasing muscles to enhance relaxation and stress reduction.

- Guided imagery: Using visualization scripts or recordings to envision relaxing or motivational scenarios (a way to take the visualization skills from this article to the next level).

- Mindfulness Meditation: Style of mediation that focuses on awareness and acceptance of what is happening in the moment.  Often incorporates deep breathing skills into the practice and utilizes breathing as an, “anchor.”


Scott Fantucchio, LMHC




How to Overcome Injuries and Cope with the Related Stress It Can Have on Your Life

July 31, 2018


In a study of participants who suffered a severe injury, 54 percent stated having higher than average scores of depression, anxiety, and stress. Principally, if the damage affects a person’s job or favorite hobbies, they can experience overwhelming feelings of sadness, anger, sleep disruption, isolation, and even emotional changes in appetite. As all of these issues can affect not only your life but also the lives of your loved ones, it is crucial to address the stress you may be experiencing after an injury.

Your Stress Is Valid Regardless of Your Injury

An injury that affects your life can come in an infinite variety of forms. While some may think an injury must be brutal to induce stress, this idea is flawed. Massive wounds such as severe burns, amputations, and accidents will change a person’s lifestyle. However, even smaller injuries can cause stress if they compromise your job or were inflicted in disturbing ways. Something as minor as a broken finger could result in post-traumatic stress disorder if it damaged on-purpose, such as in domestic violence.

Anxiety Is a Form of Stress

Anxiety can increase substantially after an injury. Naturally, experiencing the pain and the after-effects of the event will often result in the trauma being replayed over and over in a person’s mind. Fear of something similar happening again can also spike anxiety levels. Moreover, the results of chronic anxiety are harmful to the body. Not only can it be isolating and increase cortisol levels, but a study by Harvard Health found that people with highest ranks of phobic anxiety were 59 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack than those without high tension.

Tips for Easing the Stress After a Traumatic Event

While every person’s path to healing and coping with stress will be different, there exist numerous ways you can minimize stress. In the first weeks after the event, avoid exposing yourself to things related to the trauma until you can slowly expose yourself to the trigger with a trained therapist. Avoid looking at disturbing images or videos in general. It can be tempting to drink but avoid excessive alcohol use as it is a depressant and can invoke anger in several individuals. Don’t hide out, but instead, seek help from a counselor as soon as possible.  

Trade Watching News for Physical Activity

If you watch the news, it might be a good idea to take a break from it. News too often focuses on negative stories and upsetting world events, and your mind needs to focus on hope and healing. If exercise was approved by your doctor, get some physical activity. Exercise releases endorphins and chemicals that ease stress and anxiety. If your legs are injured, try upper-body-only workouts, or vice versa.

Finding a counselor is not only a smart move, but the shame some people feel about it is a stigma from the past. Taking care of your mental health and stress levels is now known to be vital more than ever before. Search for someone to talk to in your area and stop living with unneeded anxiety, anger, and isolation.


Written By: Lucy Wyndham


Deep Breathing for Mental and Physical Self-Improvement (Part 2)

July 20, 2018

In part one of this series, I discussed the basics of deep breathing and reviewed abdominal breathing, the foundation of all other deep breathing exercises.  If you haven’t read Deep Breathing for Mental and Physical Self-Improvement (Part 1), I’d suggest you do so before continuing.

Once you've got a firm grasp on abdominal breathing, you can move on to other techniques to enhance the health benefits of deep breathing.  

Counting Breaths

Many breathing techniques revolve around some type of counting system to get you started.  When your goal is relaxation, stress reduction, and better overall health, you generally want to focus on slowing down the pace of your breathing to start.  

Here's a really simple exercise to start with.  Get into position and start doing your abdominal breathing.  Once you get into a good rhythm, start counting how many seconds it takes to inhale and then exhale.  See if you can figure out an average for your normal breathing pace, let's say for example its 4 seconds to inhale and 4 seconds to exhale.  All you do now is focus on increasing the number of seconds it takes to breathe in and then out. Don't rush yourself, start by aiming for 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out.  Once you're able to maintain this pace for 5-10 minutes at a time, try 6 seconds in and six seconds out. Spread out the increases as much as you feel comfortable with. You can choose to increase by 1 second every day, every week, or even every month depending on your physical ability and comfort level.  You might progress quickly or slowly, everyone is different.

Another simple counting exercise is to count the number of breaths you take in a minute.  For this, you'll probably need some type of alarm or timer to make sure you are accurately counting in 1 minute increments.  Just like the last exercise, you want to start by establishing your baseline. Start your abdominal breathing, and then set your timer to go off in 1 minute.  Simply sit and count the number of breaths you take in a minute (1 breath = 1 inhale and 1 exhale). Let's say you start with 10 breaths per minute, you want to then focus on decreasing the number of breaths you take to 9 per minute.  Just like with the last exercise, take your time. Decrease the number of breaths you take per minute at a pace you are comfortable with.

The final basic counting method I'll discuss is what's called tactical breathing.  Tactical breathing is a breathing technique primarily used by people in high stress careers such as law enforcement, the military, and emergency services.  They use this technique because it helps reduce stress in moments of extremely high tension. Though an adrenaline response is a good thing for a policeman, soldier, or firefighter to have in a moment of crisis, it also has to be controlled in order for them to make the right decisions and act accordingly.  Tactical breathing can also be an effective exercise for anyone looking to have a technique to use in moments of extreme stress or panic in their own lives. The main difference between tactical breathing and the other breathing exercises I have reviewed is it includes holding your breath. Deep breathing typically involves a steady flow between inhales and exhales, but tactical breathing includes breath holds between every inhale and every exhale.  Here's how it goes: Take a deep breath in for a count of 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, exhale for a count of 4 seconds, hold your breath for another 4 seconds, and then repeat. I'd recommend starting with some of the other breathing exercises I mentioned in order to improve your lung capacity before trying this. If you can't do counts of 4, start where you are comfortable and work your way up. Though the official method uses 4 second counts, there is nothing saying you can't try to increase the counts over time, just be careful that when doing the breath holds you don't start to feel dizzy, light headed, or panicked.  If done right and mastered over time, this practice can help slow your heart rate and decrease anxiety in moments of high stress.

In part 3, the final part of this series, I’ll be discussing 2 more advanced breathing techniques to add to your arsenal.  Until then, keep practicing your abdominal breathing and work on adding counting techniques to strengthen your breathing skills.  


Scott Fantucchio, LMHC



Deep Breathing for Mental and Physical Self-Improvement (Part 1)

June 15, 2018



Breathing.  It's one of the most important bodily function we have, as our very life depends on it happening practically every minute of every day.  Our bodies can't function or survive for very long without a steady flow of air. If we learn how to harness the power of breathing, however, it becomes a tool for more than just basic survival.  What makes breathing unique from other essential bodily functions is that breathing happens both consciously and unconsciously, making it a potential gateway between our conscious and unconscious minds.  It can have extremely powerful effects on our consciousness, even mimicking the effects of strong psychoactive drugs (Google "Holotropic Breathing"). Though our breathing often happens outside of our awareness, taking control of breathing can lead to substantial benefits for both the body and the mind.

Before discussing specific breathing methods, you have to first understand how deep breathing works.  The way we tend to naturally breathe is different from optimal breathing. Take a minute to focus on your breathing.  Just breathe normally and see what you notice. Are you breathing through your nose or your mouth? When you inhale and exhale, do you feel it primarily in your chest or your stomach?  Where exactly do you feel it in these areas? Try counting how many breaths you take in a minute, or maybe how many seconds it takes you to both inhale and exhale. See what you come up with before continuing on with the article.  

Most people who have never done breathing exercises will notice the following: they breathe through either their nose or mouth exclusively, they tend to feel their breath in their chest, and they take frequent breaths, usually with inhales and exhales only lasting 1-2 seconds each (or about 20-30 breaths per minute).  These are all features of shallow breathing. If this describes your breathing patterns, it doesn't mean there is anything wrong with you, it just means that you're not taking advantage of the full benefits of breathing.

Shallow breathing means you are only utilizing part of your lung capacity during each breath.  We don't need our full lung capacity all of the time, and we are perfectly capable of surviving with shallow breaths.  However, deep breathing, which uses as much lung capacity as possible, not only helps us survive but also helps us control our minds and bodies more effectively.

Before continuing, as with any other physical activity you should check with your doctor before attempting deep breathing practices.  They're not dangerous in and of themselves, but you definitely want to ensure that you are in good enough health and don't have any underlying physical problems that could result in injury or discomfort during these practices.

The Basics of Deep Breathing

The best way to start practicing deep breathing is to work on physically lowing your breath into your abdomen.  Again, you may have noticed when you focused on your breath that you felt it mostly in your chest. This is normal, but chest breathing prevents you from being able to use your full lung capacity.  Try sitting in a chair with your feet on the ground at about shoulder width, back straight, head facing forward, and hands on your knees. Focus again on your breathing, but this time make sure you are breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth (this is a basic feature of almost all breathing exercises).  As you inhale, try to focus on "pushing" your breath down into your stomach. Ideally, you want to focus on the area about 2-3 inches below your belly button (about at your belt line), but start with just moving your breath down as far as you can push it. A good visualization to help with this practice is to imagine you have a balloon in your stomach, and you are inflating it with every inhale, and deflating it with every exhale.  Focus on your shoulders and make sure they are staying level (if you notice your shoulders rising and falling, you are still breathing primarily into your chest). When you are able to see and feel your abdomen actually inflating and deflating with each breath, you've achieved the first skill you need to practice deep breathing.

It takes some time to learn this technique effectively, so make sure you practice this skill for a while before moving on to other breathing exercises.  In the next few parts of this series of articles, I’ll be discussing and teaching more advanced strategies to help you get the most out of deep breathing.

Written By 7 Cups Therapist: Scott Fantucchio, LMHC