Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Gems from Therapy: Feelings Edition

It’s a new year and I imagine a lot of you are considering therapy, perhaps for the first time ever. If so, good. I’ve been intentionally transparent about my own mental health experience and how, yes, even counselors need counselors too. I do that to normalize and demystify the process so you start to view it as any other form of self-care.

Not only is therapy great for giving you space to be and feel; it also teaches you a lot. In fact, every time I leave a counseling session I walk away with some valuable gems, a new way to look at things. That’s why throughout this new year I’ll offer periodic blog posts on gems I’ve learned from therapy. First up, is my counselor’s wise overview of feelings. For the sake of her privacy, I’ll call her Reba. Tell me if you’ve ever heard a more succinct way of understanding the complex world of human emotions.

Reba defines the primary emotions we experience in the following ways:

This is the emotional reaction when things aren’t as they should be.

This is the emotional reaction to feeling physically or emotionally unsafe.

This is the emotional reaction to loss.

This is the emotional reaction when things are as they should be.

According to Reba, each feeling has an action to resolve it. If we’re angry because things aren’t as they should be, we should fix it. We should find whatever is in our control to solve the problem. If we’re afraid because we feel unsafe, we should take steps to restore our sense of safety. (Note: It’s possible to feel afraid and still be safe). If we’re sad because of real (or perceived) loss, we should grieve it. Finally, if we’re happy because things are as they should be, we should embrace it and give thanks.

How does that overview help you? How does this perspective help you navigate your feelings? In light of what you feel right now, what will be your response? 

Stay tuned for future Gems from Therapy. I promise you’ll want to schedule with a therapist right away. ;)

Monday, December 17, 2018

I stress, eustress

As we get ready to wrap up 2018, I can’t help but think of all the changes there have been in my life in the last year. Most of them have been really great. Here are some of the big ones.

1.     I quit all my jobs and got a salaried position. This year when Christmas break arrives it will include paid time off for the first time in four years.
2.     I took a sabbatical from my wellness business. I needed to prioritize personal happiness over professional greatness. I had the entire summer to travel, attend special events, and truly enjoy my life rather than just stage it for social media.
3.     Probably the biggest change of all is that I fell in love this year. Swoon. If you know my story, you know what a huge flipping deal that is.

Basically, the last 11 months have been like a movie montage with Natasha Bedingfield in the background singing, “Feel the rain on your skin…” 2018 has been one of the happiest years I’ve had in a long time. Insert freak out right about here.

Freak out? Why, you might ask. Well, it’s all because of eustress. Eustress is stress that we subjectively experience as positive. It usually comes from exciting changes such as the ones mentioned above. But, you have to realize that eustress makes you stress too.

Have you been there before? Maybe it’s the anticipation of the holidays. It could the energy around your goals for the new year. It could be life transitions such as marriage, children, graduation, or relocation. These are generally seen as good things that we welcome into our lives. But they still mess up your homeostasis for a while. So, what do you do when you stress because of eustress?

1.     Understand that when things change it takes time to adapt. It doesn’t mean you’re not happy. It just means you need time to adjust to the new. Consider talking to a counselor to help you wrap your mind around all the amazing changes that are taking place.
2.     Create a new normal. Just as you developed various rituals and habits to cope with your previous life, you can do it again in your new circumstances. It also helps to carry over old grounding techniques to remind yourself that you’re still you in the new situation.
3.     A final tip to manage eustress is to intentionally practice gratitude. No, your old life is no more. Yes, you have to make room for the new. But doesn’t the blessing of the new outweigh the familiarity of the old? When you keep the blessings of the new season in mind then you can navigate them with a heart of thankfulness.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. Life is crazy and hard and scary. It’s also amazing and exciting and unpredictable in the best way. When the tide turns and you experience a season of the latter, embrace it. Hold on tight with both hands. Just give yourself tons of grace and compassion if it takes time to adjust to the new. It’s okay. I stress, you stress, we all stress because of eustress.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Thanks body. I’ll take it from here.

The body remembers what the mind forgets.
-Martha Manning

Have you felt kind of down or on edge for no known reason? Maybe you think to yourself, “I’ve been tripping for like a week. What is going on?” Then, when you see a calendar, it suddenly makes sense. It’s coming up on a painful anniversary. No wonder all this emotion is coming to the surface without an obvious trigger. That’s actually a very normal, very common experience. Our conscious mind might not be actively processing an event or an experience, but our bodies have a way of making sure we don’t forget.

This recently happened to me. I kept getting emotionally triggered in the same area. Even though there was no evidence to support my worry thoughts and reactions, things still felt very sensitive for me and I wasn’t sure why. It didn’t dawn on me why until I was sharing with a friend. Ohhhh. Thanksgiving. While it’s not been a difficult holiday for me recently, it certainly had been many years ago. My “not-myself-ness” was due, in part, to the season. You see, seven years ago I was happy and hopeful anticipating the holidays too. Then, BAM!! A loss I never saw coming.

Maybe you’ve experienced something similar. Try to go easy on yourself. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was. It doesn’t matter how extreme or benign you perceive it to be. If it changed you and holds any residual charge for you, then do yourself the honor of healing. Healing should include assuring your body and soul that it’s okay and you’re okay. If you don’t where to begin, join me in this prayer.

Thank you, body, for reminding me what happened.
Thank you for sounding the alarm when my conscious mind started to forget.
Thank you for wanting to keep me safe from pain.
Now that I am conscious, I’ll take over from here.
I am safe.
I am loved.
I am secure.
And even if things happen differently than I plan in life or in love, I am still safe, I am still loved, and I am still secure.

For resources on how grief, loss, and trauma affect the body check out the following:

Healing Through Movement: Getting Back Up After a Broken Heart, Crista Gambrell

Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, Peter Levine

The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Besser van der Kolk

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Anxious? Ask these questions.

Everyone gets worried and nervous at times. But it seems more and more people are battling anxiety, a persistent, generalized fear. That’s just not the place we’re meant to live. While there isn’t a formula or quick fix for anxiety, there are some questions to ask yourself to slow down your anxious mind.

Do I have all the information?
Anxious minds are good for freaking out prematurely. This is because they’re proficient in anticipating disaster before it arrives. Anxious minds react to imagined possibilities, but calm minds respond to what’s before them. Calm minds deal with facts and the reality of what is, not what might be. Therefore, it’s good practice to shift from an emotional mind state to a logical mind state by asking if you have enough information to reach certain feared conclusions.

Will anxiety change the outcome?
The next good question to ask yourself is whether or not your worry will change the outcome. If you’re waiting for test results, wondering where you stand in a relationship, or looking for a call or email about a job, will your worry and rumination do anything to change the outcome? No. Probably not. At that point, it’s out of your hands. It’s important, then, to learn to calm and soothe that anxiety because it won’t change your situation.

What can I do?
A final question to ask is whether or not there’s anything you can do. A big part of managing anxiety is about discerning your locus of control. The big, scary thing might be out of your control, but you can usually find one or two things within your control. Maybe it’s getting more information on what concerns you. Maybe it’s distracting yourself until things play out. Maybe it’s reaching out for support. Maybe it’s reflecting on what the real fear, the one underlying the obvious fear, is. If you realize you’re equipped to handle the underlying fear, then the surface level fear doesn’t pack as much punch.

I think most would agree the world can be scary and life can be unpredictable. That’s enough to make any of us fearful at least sometimes. Fear is normal and even adaptive depending on what’s happening. It can also get in the way when it emerges too often and impedes our ability to function. When it does you can regain control by asking these three questions, knowing you can handle whatever the answers might be.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

I do hard things

I don’t know who the first person to say this was, but I love this mantra. I do hard things. It’s simple. It’s strong. It echoes a hardiness that’s rare these days.

In thinking about resilience do you ever wonder what makes people mentally strong? What helps them rebound when they’re knocked down? While there aren’t definitive answers to these questions, there are some helpful perspectives that allow people to cope effectively when the going gets tough.

Stuff happens

Similar to, I do hard things, Stuff happens is another simple and helpful saying. Think of how easy it is to act surprised when challenges come. We act like we’re being personally attacked. We question the reasons for misfortune, which only heaps more suffering on us. Resilient people, however, accept that good and bad are part of life for everyone. They don’t believe God is picking on them or turning a blind eye to their hardship. They believe they’re just journeying through a not-so-fun part of the human experience right now. It might stink, but they know it won’t always be this way.

Change is inevitable

Knowing things won’t always be this way might be comforting or disturbing depending on your life at the moment. If you’re struggling, then the promise of change might be the only thing keeping you going. If you’re content with things, the notion of change could feel threatening. Unfortunately, there’s no cosmic remote that allows you to fast forward beyond hard stuff and pause on the good stuff. The story of our lives is constantly unfolding at its own pace and twists and turns are part of it. Nothing lasts forever on this side of eternity and learning to embrace change can help you navigate all seasons of life.


Lastly, you can endure the changes of life resiliently when you believe you can. You can even and you can deal. When you insist on things going a certain way and believe that you can’t handle it if they don’t, then you’re setting yourself up for a meltdown. The reality is you might not like what you’re facing. It might be extremely uncomfortable. But when you have the mindset that (enter in whatever your biggest fear is) happening would be the absolute worst thing in the world and you would never recover, then guess what? You’re less likely to recover. When you face that big scary thing if it happens, feel all the icky feelings associated with it, and decide for yourself that you can overcome, then guess what? You overcome. Hence, why they say whether you believe you can or you can’t, either way you’re right.

Life is a mixed bag and we all know it. It’s mundane, messy, and magical all in one. But we’re made for it. Think about it. Our lives are about growing and transforming into the best version of ourselves we can be. Sure, that growth might come from the magically delicious times when we’re walking on sunshine and everything’s going our way. More often than not, real character is forged during the God-I-wish-I-could-fast-forward-through-this times of pain. It hurts and it’s hard and when it is just remember, I can do hard things

Friday, August 31, 2018

Here's to eternal summers

But thy eternal summer shall not fade…
William Shakespeare

You see this? This was hands down one of my favorite moments of the summer- standing barefoot on a pier overlooking the Severn River on an historical estate. It was hot and humid that day, but the cloud cover made it bearable. I can recall how quiet it was. It was so quiet you felt as though you should whisper so as not to disturb the symphony of cicadas in the background. This is peace. Right?

Yes and no. In regards to slowing down, being still, and relishing the beauty of simplicity…then yes, this is the picture of contentment. We should all make room for this kind of stillness on a regular basis. However, if I need to create this exact ambience, this pier, this river, this white dress in order to feel calm, then no. If I can only access this feeling through fragrances and rituals, then I’m sorry, but it’s not true peace. True peace is maintaining an internal posture of rest regardless of the external situation.

It’s a tall order, I’m well aware. But that is why we build inner strength throughout our lives. We plant our internal roots deep so that we’re not violently thrown when the storms of life rage about. We’re affected by the issues of life, of course, but not greatly moved. We’re not greatly moved when we learn to live in peace.

I must admit, with Labor Day weekend here and summer wrapping up, I don’t even want to think about the storms that will inevitably come. Summer was really awesome for me and I kind of just want to linger in this happy place a bit longer. But that’s the thing. I can. No matter what happens in the future I can always come back to this moment in my mind and you can go back to your own. Select your mental picture of peace and you too can have an eternal summer no matter what happens around you.

Author note: Fall is actually this writer’s favorite season. With the fashion, the holidays, and her October birthday, fall reigns supreme. Summer imagery was simply used for illustrative purposes. ;)

Monday, July 2, 2018

This moment is good

Things are going really well right now. That opening sentence is terrifying to write, but it’s true. Have you ever felt that way? Crap. I’m happy. What’s about to go wrong? If so, you might understand what the last few months have been like for me.

You see, after a long season of stagnation there’s suddenly been a changing of the tides in my life. Things that I’ve been waiting on forever are finally starting to happen. After years of people offering me all the same platitudes, years of assurances like, “I say a little prayer for you,” “Don’t stop believing,” and other wisdom from miscellaneous song titles, voila. A wave of good fortune finally arrived on my shore. Do you think I’ve allowed myself to relish in the fulfillment of some of these long awaited desires? Let’s just say not exactly. In fact, happy actually kind of freaks me out.

Don’t get me wrong. I think we want happy. We fight for happy all our lives. It’s just that things end up a lot like the line in Goyte’s, “Somebody that I used to know” song: “You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness.” We figure if this is all there is and ever will be let me find a way to make do.  But not in a grounded, radical acceptance way. It’s more in a brokenhearted, resignation way. We form habits and patterns to cope with the reality that grieves us and we try to kill off the hope that we’ll ever see the fulfillment of our desires. After all, hope starts to hurt when it’s perpetually deferred. Then, by some sudden twist of fate, when we actually get what we want, it scares the hell out of us. Or maybe just me.

I was discussing all of this with my therapist (because transitional times call for tune-ups) and in her wisdom she prompted me to stay in the present. She attributes anxiety to what she calls time travel- either getting stuck in the past or imagining too far into the future. She urged me instead to see that this moment is good. In her estimate, most moments are. She says, “The next moment might not be, but this moment is good.”

So, I’ve taken that phrase and adopted it as my personal mantra. When I start to make up anxiety-provoking scenarios that haven’t even happened, I pause. This moment is good. When I look around at recent blessings in my life and feel nervous that they’ll be taken away, I give thanks. This moment is good. When I have an experience that feels so beautiful and perfect I immediately feel sad that it won’t last forever, I savor it. This moment is good.

Life is so unpredictable. It can be craptastic (as my friend Jen says) and it can suddenly turn around and be amazing. In between craptastic and amazing is just a bunch of ordinary moments: a great song that takes you back and warms your soul, a balmy summer night on the porch, sharing wine with a friend, or just floating in the pool with the sun on your face. Those are the moments to live for. The simple ones. The ones we might overlook if we don’t mindfully pay attention. We can’t change yesterday and we don’t know what tomorrow holds. But this moment is ours and this moment is good.