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 gambrellwellness@gmail.com. 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Hope helps. Hope heals.

Have you ever noticed how unhelpful, well-intentioned people can be? Rather than just providing supportive listening, reflection of your thoughts, and validation of your feelings, these people immediately try to problem solve. Sometimes I have to remind myself that most people are not trained counselors. Like I said, they probably mean well. But for the life of me, I cant recall a single time when I was carrying deep hurt in my soul that someones advice did anything to help matters. Especially not when its been a persistent issue thats resolution has been delayed.

It reminds me of a time in college when I was seeking a very specific supernatural encounter with God. It seemed as though everyone else was going to the next level (as I perceived it) and I wanted to draw closer too. Well, I did and I was growing in Him. But for whatever reason, this specific spiritual sign was not manifesting. At first, people were very encouraging and they prayed for me. Then as time marched on with no spiritual sign those same people (again, the well-meaning ones) implied that it wasnt happening because I was afraid, I didnt want to lose control, and I must not fully trust God. You can imagine my devastation when I was at a young adult conference and God came in the room and I wasnt there. Im serious. I stepped away to the restroom and when I came back it was like the Holy Spirit visited the meeting to baptize everyone in His presence and I missed it. I returned to my seat heartbroken and weeping because I felt like He passed me by.

I recognize now there was no truth in that belief. It certainly felt true at the time. Honestly, whenever anything delays, as the really big-ticket items of life often do, then its easy to struggle with those thoughts. Does God just not want to give me this gift? Whats wrong with me that my healing hasnt come? Is it my fault I cant conceive? Am I just unlovable and thats why Im single? Its an ugly shame spiral that only gets more momentum when people jump in with the tips, strategies, and formulas that helped them. Whats even more shameful is when those same advice-givers, perhaps in their inability to explain and their need for a clear reason, blame the person whos waiting. Well, if you just did X and not Y, you wouldve had Z by now. Ouch. In what world would that message ever give help or healing to the one who hurts?

Ill tell you what is helpful though. Hope. Deferred hope makes a sick heart. But a storehouse of hope can empower you to face anything in life, even delays. The next time you hear someone struggling with a desire or dream thats been delayed ask yourself this: If I choose to respond at all, is my response giving hope and life to their situation, or criticism and judgment? We always have a choice in what we speak. Speak life.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Body positive fitness for your new year goals

I have a little secret for you. This is the time of year when gyms, health clubs, and personal trainers make the most bank. Perhaps that part isnt really a secret. But the secret is the fact that they do so by playing on what you hate about yourself. I know it sounds awful but its true. Sure, fitness programs might be initially packaged as health and self-care. But eventually trainers show their hand when they reference flat abs, burning fat, and building your booty. It works for marketing, but is it good for mental health? Couldnt there be a better way to get active and learn to love yourself?

Why yes. Im so glad you asked. Its called body positive fitness. The basic premise of body positive fitness is to practice a non-judgmental, self-compassionate stance towards your body. Its about celebrating how it moves and performs, not merely what it looks like. Its about challenging the checking, shaming, and comparing that can happen during workouts. Its about learning the functional reasons for strengthening your body that have zero to do with flat abs, juicy butts, or tone arms. 

For instance, did you know a strong core is essential for balance and stability? What about strong glutes and legs? Did you know the lower body is the power house of your body and helps you walk, run, and propel forward? And we cant forget the upper body. Its essential for tasks of daily living such as reaching, pushing, pulling, and lifting. So, there are dozens of reasons to grow in strength that have nothing to do with changing who you are or what you look like.

If you are looking for an affirmative exercise experience, one that truly inspires your fitness journey for the long haul, try body positive fitness. How revolutionary would it be if you moved for the joy of movement instead of the need to change or be different? It seems to me that a body positive approach to wellness would have more staying power than just a trend, fad, or desire to change. Dont you think?

If you are interested in body positive personal training and movement for mental health, contact me at gambrellwellness@gmail.com. Id love to help you reach your health, fitness, and wellness goals.