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. 

Friday, June 1, 2018

It’s time to do one thing

If you follow me, you’ve probably seen a theme in recent posts. I keep sharing about the importance of rest. The reason is because that’s my personal focus these days- rest and recovery. I sense the deepest part of me saying, “It’s time to do one thing,” and to do so, I’m quitting everything. Yep. You heard it here first.

For the last four years, I’ve been building a wellness brand. The irony is that I’ve been holding down multiple jobs in order to do so and burning out in the process. It’s been nothing short of exhausting promoting wellness in others to the neglect of my own. I’ve pushed through and counseled clients despite seasons of personal pain. I’ve led others in their fitness journeys even when I was no longer consistent in my own. I’ve taught counseling students and helpers-in-training despite career fatigue making me wonder if my work even matters. And even the work of branding myself as a wellness expert in a flooded market has been a grind that's left me depleted. In a word, healing others has been wearing me out and I’ve known for a while that I needed a change.

Since I don’t believe in being a victim or a martyr I’m making that change. Before the end of the summer I will take an indefinite hiatus from teaching, personal training, and private practice. God has graciously opened a door to one job that I believe will offer the enjoyment and work/life balance I’ve been seeking. For years I’ve prayed, “One job. I just need one job, Jesus.” Alas, He has provided.

Why am I sharing all this, you might ask? I share because a big part of my wellness education has come from my own personal and professional experiences. While I don’t regret any choices I’ve made in my occupational journey so far, I do have enough discernment to know when it’s time to make a change. What has been no longer serves me and for the sake of my wellness, it’s time to make new choices. I hope this empowers you to evaluate your life and do the same.

What does this mean for Gambrell Wellness? Well, we’re just taking a little break, that’s all. I’m retiring from multiple hustles and taking a sabbatical through the summer. But hey, I’m still an educator my heart. I still plan to share relevant content on health and wellness. At some point in the future, I’ll return with programs, events, blog posts and the like just as I’ve always done. It’s just once I come back this work, this wellness work that I truly believe in, it will be done with a spirit of rest. That’s really the only way.

I challenge you to join me. I’m not saying quit your job(s) necessarily. I just want you to consider what areas have you felt perpetually drained? Can you take an extended break from them to recharge your soul? It’ll look different for everyone. I can’t tell you what you need. I do urge you to ask yourself though. What can you do in this next season for the sake of your wellness? For me, it starts my just doing one thing.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Anxiety tips from an anxious therapist: Ones you might not have heard

What’s better than anxiety tips from a therapist? Maybe anxiety tips from an anxious therapist. I don’t self-disclose often in practice. I try to stay focused on my clients’ emotions and experiences. But since it’s my blog, it’s Mental Health Awareness Month, and it’s important to breakdown stigma, I’m sharing that I am an otherwise healthy, reasonably well-adjusted professional woman who deals with anxiety. Because of this truth, I want to offer more than just the typical management strategies we’ve heard. I want to offer things I actually use when I’m struggling.

Breathe out

Most of us have heard of the importance of breathing to reduce anxiety. But often without realizing it, how we breathe adds to anxiety. When you’re stressed the first instinct is to hold your breath. So, if you’re already holding your breath and then you try to inhale more it actually contributes to an uncomfortable, constricted feeling in your chest and throat, making you feel like you’re choking. Therefore, when you feel anxious blow everything out first, pause a moment, and then inhale a long, slow breath.

Hold heart and center

After starting proper breathwork, another thing that helps me feel centered is to place one hand over my heart and the other over my belly. I don’t recall if I picked this up from a yoga class or if I just intuitively did this hand placement one day, but it helps. You can do it seated or standing. For me, it evokes a sense of being connected. When a wave of intense anxiety strikes, it feels like a force threatening to drown me. But when I touch my heart and center it’s my way of feeling secure and reminding myself that I’m here, I’m grounded, and I’m okay whether I feel that way or not.

Rock side to side

The third tip might sound strange, but go with it. You know how babies like to be rocked? Well, so do adults. When we’re afraid we are vulnerable like children. It only makes sense that when in that regressed state we soothe the way we used to be soothed as youngsters. Next time you feel anxious just rock your body from side to side. See if it doesn’t have a calming effect.

Eat light

All this breathing, holding, and rocking are ways to manage the physical symptoms of anxiety. Worry thoughts alone are relatively simple to handle in my opinion; you can just identify how irrational they are. But once you feel bodily sensations, it can seem like you’re actually ill, dying, or in danger. And since our emotional state is highly correlated with our gut function, stomach issues often accompany stress and anxiety. Therefore, to minimize gastrointestinal distress I eat smaller, lighter meals on high anxiety days so I don’t freak myself out more because of nausea, bloating, or stomach upset. Get the nutrients you need, of course. Just pick foods that are easier to digest.

Take your time

A final practice I use to deal with high anxiety times is to simply slow down. I’m conscientious by nature. I arrive places on time. I respond messages promptly. To me, it’s a sign of respect. The downside, however, is that I can make myself sick trying to reach arbitrary timelines. And in an era when social media, direct messages, and texts make everyone accessible 24/7, there’s often a sense of urgency to reply immediately when it’s really
not necessary. So, when I feel under the gun I’ve intentionally started taking my time. I physically move slower, drive slower, breathe slower. I’ll wait until the end of the day or even the next day to open emails or messages if I’m not prepared to respond right away. I’ll take time to have a snack or use the restroom or just sit for a moment, even if it means running few minutes late. It’s truly done wonders. I still respect time and try my best to stay on schedule. But if it’s between peace and punctuality, I choose peace.

Like I said in the beginning, I share all this because I get it. I really do. Anxiety is a formidable foe and one I’ve battled in some variation my entire life. Numbered tips and gimmicky formulas sell, but cannot guarantee 100% freedom from fear. Besides, what works for one person does not necessarily work for everyone. I simply submit the things that have helped me more often than not. I believe there will be a time when we won’t be afraid. Until that day, stay in the fight and find what helps you overcome.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Mindful tracking for depression

You ever find yourself in a funk? Like one of those truly insidious moods that sneak up on you. It allows you to function and even appear “normal” for months, maybe even years on end. Meanwhile, in the background there’s a persistent sadness, irritability, or anxiety that lingers like a low grade fever. This feeling is often what brings people into counseling. They don’t quite feel like themselves. They know they’re not as happy as they used to be, but aren’t sure why.

Truthfully, most of us have felt this before…when you’re overwhelmed by the blahs and beside yourself. Are you clinically depressed, you wonder? Burned out? Absorbing other people’s emotions? Why is this uncomfortable feeling like a familiar companion that has overstayed its welcome? Sometimes the unknown makes things worse. You feel like you’re going crazy because you can’t pinpoint why you’re hurting. This is where mindfulness comes in- mindful tracking to be exact.

Next time you notice a persistent feeling of unrest do a lifeline. This is an exercise where you track significant life events over a designated time period. It could be your entire life or just the last 5-10 years. You pick the duration. But on a lifeline, you draw an actual line on a piece of paper, like a ruler, and indicate major life transitions, losses, relationship changes, perhaps traumas. Basically, you indicate anything that you deem developmentally significant. In doing so, you will more than likely see a pattern or theme emerge. Perhaps you’ve had a lot of deaths or relational losses. Maybe you had back to back health issues or educational challenges. It could just be a lot of normal life transitions that you didn’t quite adapt to or cope with effectively. Whatever it is, a lifeline will afford you the opportunity of increased insight. It will help you make sense of your emotional experience and perhaps lend wisdom for how to handle your mood state.

No one likes to feel abnormal. No one wants to feel down and unwell all the time. Even if you are functioning, often you intuitively know things could be better. If you feel this way, I definitely encourage reaching out for counseling support. Additionally, take some time to explore the last season of your life. Maybe just seeing in line graph form how much you’ve been through can normalize the struggle. It can also help you have compassion on yourself as you heal. So, give it a try and let me know what you find. I’d love to hear what you discovered and learned about yourself with a little mindfulness. 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Girl! How are you really doing?

I caught up with a good friend at Starbucks today. She was sharing what a stressful few months it had been. She’s getting married in June and while it’s super exciting, it’s also meant wedding planning stress on top of work stress on top of family stress. All this has led to her skipping exercise, an outlet that has always been emotionally grounding for her.

In chatting with another stay-at-home mom friend who’s getting ready to graduate with her PhD, she discussed the long, arduous journey of dissertation. For her it’s been months of dissertation stress on top of mom to small children stress on top of general life stress. Her go-to way to deal has been emotional eating. Specifically, she’s a sucker for anything fruity and gummy. It’s delicious. Who can blame her?

Then, of course, there’s me. I almost always maintain a baseline of career stress. Then when you add health stress on top of relational stress on top of state-of-the-world stress, it’s easy for that glass of wine to turn into two or sometimes even three.

What do all of us have in common? When life gets real (as it always does) our self-care diminishes. We turn to quick fixes to soothe and numb rather than manage what troubles our soul in healthy ways. It’s not a personal judgment; simply an observation. The reality is that when stress increases self-care should increase. How often is that the case though? How often do we just turn to vices and go-to comforts rather than really dealing with the heart of the matter?

April is National Stress Awareness Month. How many of you can relate to these scenarios? If you can, what might you change to move toward true wellness and wholeness? It all begins by assessing where you are. It begins with a vitals check. 

If you could benefit from an honest personal inventory about where you are and how well youre really doing, order your copy of Vitals Check Workbook. E-books available for immediate download.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Wellness burnout

Do you ever find yourself overwhelmed by well living? It might sound strange, but I definitely know that feeling. There are so many moving parts and it’s hard to juggle them all.

Take the average person. You have work, chores, errands, and normal life responsibilities. But then if you value wellness and self-care, you also have meal prep and workouts to plan into your week. There’s also getting to bed at a decent hour, doing your daily meditation, oh, and aren’t wealthy people supposed to read at least one book a month? Then, if you want some semblance of a social life and still make time for yourself…where’s the time to do it all? There are only so many hours in a day.

Yeah, folks, I hate to say it, but the well life can actually add to overwhelm. Well, our expectations for a perfect wellness balance certainly can. Here’s the reality. It’s a constant juggling act. We can’t do it all. We must prioritize based on our needs and make choices congruent with those needs. But if you don’t give yourself permission to choose and instead, pressure yourself to do it all, you can burnout from trying to do wellness perfectly.

So listen, I give you permission today to make choices. Maybe you eat out this week because you’d rather go to church and visit family then take 4 hours to get groceries and meal prep. Provided you still make good nutritional choices it’s totally okay. Perhaps you take a week off from the gym if you have work deadlines and need to get more sleep. I promise your muscle tone will not diminish in a week. You get my point. It’s all important, but figure out what’s essential. You figure it out by asking yourself: What do I truly need? Whatever wisdom comes forth is the wellness plan you need for the moment. Whatever you do don't burn yourself out trying to do all the good things. Focus on the One who can help you discern your soul's needs and teach you how to live freely and lightly (Matthew 11:28-30, Message).

Friday, February 2, 2018

Why every woman needs a sister circle

Not long ago I was hanging out with a friend who’s a relatively new connection in my life. We’ve only been friends for a couple of years, compared to the fifteen years plus of my usual circle. She had remarked that she didn’t really like going out and meeting new people to which I replied, “I’m new.” She responded with, “But you don’t feel new.” I knew what she meant and it touched me. She was basically saying that our connection is genuine and there’s no pretense. Whereas you might have to test the waters with new acquaintances before revealing your true self, we didn’t really have to do that. We just vibed.

I think it might have been the same week of that conversation when I started hearing about different people’s struggles with friendship. A couple of my clients and one of my coworkers shared the difficulty of finding good friends. What fascinated me was that regardless of relationship status, women still craved connections with other women. I think it struck me so much because we are so conditioned to seek romantic love. Many figure once they get it then it’ll complete you. It doesn’t. It’s beautiful and it’s a gift to be cherished. It’s just one facet of love, however. The human soul needs a village to satisfy the depth of our emotional need. Women in particular seem to have a large emotional capacity to connect intimately and passionately with family, friends, and the world around them. Imagine the pain of having all that love to give and no safe places or trustworthy connections to share it with.

I definitely feel blessed to have abundant friendship love in my life now, but it wasn’t always like that. I’ve prayed countless times throughout my life, “God, I just need a friend.” I’ve gone without because I’d prefer to be alone than to force an inauthentic connection. I’ve also been very intentional about seeking connections with beautiful souls because I value relationship so much. Because of personal experience and periods of lack, I try to create the space for others to find that sense of connection as well. This is why I’m starting a monthly Sister Circle. It’s a discussion group for women where we'll come talk about life. I don’t think there are many spaces for women to show up, let their hair down, and truly be seen. It’s exhausting having to pretend all the time, or censor parts of yourself in order to be accepted. We all want permission to be ourselves and have others love us just the way we are.

Is that something you’re missing? Is that the kind of connection you crave? Then, come join us. I won’t necessarily promise you’ll find your soul mate sister friends there. After all, there’s still a certain magic and mystery that goes into any relationship. Chemistry can’t be forced. What I can promise is that you’ll get great practice being the kind of love you want and meeting others who are doing the same. From that, who knows…it could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

For more details on registering for Sister Circle, email