Well, it has been a minute hasn’t it?! Life is a funny thing that just keeps going and sometimes you are keeping pace, and sometimes you fall behind. I have decided it is once again time to keep up the pace and publish some of my thoughts pertaining to improving relationships and keeping up mental health.
Recently, I have encountered many people who have embraced the idea of giving 110% all the time. These people come in the form of college students, mothers, lovers, best friends, and work-a-holics. There is this idea that we always have to go a little farther, do a little more, give more of ourselves, set our expectations higher, achieve bigger, and many times, run harder than we actually can.
I remember attending an “awards ceremony” for therapists. I remember an old boss of mine sharing stories of a particular therapist going above and beyond, staying late all the time, taking on what others couldn’t handle, and always pushing her limits. While I believe firmly in kindness, giving to others, I equally believe in self-care and balance. I remember feeling so frustrated in this awards ceremony as I thought to myself about the self-care that was required in my position as a therapist to do good work and how as a group we were basically praising someone for not having balance and not doing adequate self-care.
I find that in our culture, not needing or not giving ourselves self-care is highly reinforced and needing self-care is greatly punished. Individuals send and receive emails throughout the night and early morning, salaried positions keep people working excessive overtime, and relationships and health suffers at the drive to always be working.
If you drive a car, you know you cannot drive your car at 120 mph all the time even though it is capable of going this speed. One, because it is the law and two, your car would burn out. You also cannot drive your car 10 mph and expect your car to run successfully or to be able to use your car to meet any goals of getting to and from your destinations. However, there is a sweet spot between about 40 mph and 70 mph that keeps your car running well and allowing you to reach most of your destinations in reasonable time.
Such it is with people. We cannot expect to give 110% all the time. We can’t. We will burn out. Reaching goals is beautiful and having downtime without goals is just as important. We need both to be balanced and both to achieve the other. I submit to you to consistently give about 50-70% and stop always reaching for this 110%.
Until next time,
I want to start telling some client stories to give you a feel of what is like to work with us. This lovely client came in with pretty chronic anxiety and often referred to her coping method as the “ostrich in the sand.” She worked very hard and practiced the anxiety-management skills as well as some relationship skills and as I sent her off, this is what she shared with me about her experience:
“I would highly recommend seeking help from The Good Life Institute if you are struggling with anxiety. My time here has made a tremendous difference in my ability to live with my own challenges with it. I was initially hesitant to make an appointment, but I am so glad that I did.
Kariah introduced me to exposure therapy, which is amazing. This allows you to explore the outcomes of what will happen if your fear actually does occur, and then identify that in spite of this occurrence, you will be okay. Addressing the “So What?” of my anxieties helped me come to terms with these fears and alleviated the stress that came along with trying to control them, even if I couldn’t. Reassuring myself that I would be okay in any situation has proven to be a useful tool for my development. I find that I am more confident and spend less time worrying about the “what-ifs” in life.
I have also learned how to set healthy boundaries with my family and friends. Setting these boundaries and consistently enforcing them has caused a huge drop in my anxiety and stress levels. As a result, my relationships are healthier. I have found that when clear boundaries are communicated and enforced, there is a lot less tension. This, in turn, has allowed me to communicate and express myself better with my family and friends.
Although working on both of these things were intimidating at times, it was well worth it. I feel as if my time at The Good Life Institute has helped to equip me with the tools to address my anxiety and make way for more happiness in my life. I will carry these tools along with me and have the ability to use them at any time. The emotional investment spent on self-reflection and development is well worth the result.”
Let me tell you about this photo for a minute. From the photo, it could be said that she is standing in a beautiful flower field, perhaps at the base of a mountain with the sun peaking in at the top right corner. Ahh….
Well, it’s not the case. She is actually in the weeds of a construction site. This happens to be one of the last spots where they have yet to pour concrete but everything all around her is marked for upcoming building. There are homes all around and the sun is reflecting off a home that I tried to avoid photographing by crouching just a bit lower.
With a little perspective, we can find beauty all around us and within ourselves. Sometimes we are so distracted by the negativity, that we fail to see the good, the beautiful, the peaceful, the wonderful, the precious, and don’t allow these to fill our mind, and therefore our lives. The next time you’re feeling negative about something, take a step back, look for the silver lining or the beautiful that may be hidden within you. You might find strength that overcomes a challenge, connection with others that only exists in sharing deep emotions, or blessings in disguise. I challenge you that there is always something good to be found. When that is your quest, your brain will begin to notice it little by little until it becomes a regular practice. I have driven past these flowers a million times and were irritated that such beautiful weeds existed in a construction site with a un-photogenic background. I decided to get my camera out and was determined to find something good. I think you can probably tell what I feel about the result of this little quest. 🙂
Until next time,
Like everyone, I have grouchy days, negative thought days, days where I just want to sleep all day long, and days where I don’t want to do anything. This is part of being human. Sometimes when I tell my clients that I experience all of these kinds of days I listed, they are shocked. I always laugh with them because they forget that therapists are humans and experience a range of emotions and experiences as well.
As a cognitive-behavioralist, I’m less concerned with how a mood begins but more importantly what keeps it going. I challenge my clients all the time to change course, redirect, and seek for what is helpful, not what is hurtful. It is SO important to recognize that you’re having one of those days and be determined to jump in the driver seat of your own emotional car and choose your next behavior or thought that won’t reinforce your mood.
And, as much as it is so important to know what to do when the going gets rough, it’s also important to know what to keep ourselves fueled to avoid getting ourselves into emotional holes that are so hard to climb out.
Well, I feel strongly that I cannot ask another human to do something I wouldn’t do and I feel like having personal experience is vital to connecting with other humans. I want to share with you a few of my personal “do’s and don’ts” to keep myself mentally okay.
1- Get up Early! And do something active.
We know from mountains of research that behavioral activation is key, key, key to managing depression. When I say active, I don’t necessarily mean I go for a run, but I might throw a load of clothes in the washer, start making a yummy breakfast, take a shower, get out of bed and go watch my kiddos sleep for a bit, or if I’m lucky, walk the dog. Being active for me as soon as I get up sets the pace for the day. I’m usually much more active about my day when I start from the first moment.
2- No yoga pants.
For me, nothing says “I’m not going to do anything today” like yoga pants. I don’t really get anything done unless I’m dressed to get something done. I either get in the shower and get dressed in “people might see me clothes” or I put on workout clothes complete with shoes. If I put on yoga pants, I might as well stay in bed. If I’m in bed, I’m probably going to think badly. If I think bad thoughts, I’m probably going to feel bad, and so on….
Now, this doesn’t mean if you are super productive in yoga pants, don’t put on yoga pants. This means recognize your own chain of events and make your chain a positive one. I have found that if I dress like I’m going to do something, I probably will.
3- Love your food.
Eat like everything you put in your mouth is going to nurture your body. Love your food. Enjoy your food. Spend time on your food. Think about wonderful yummy, healthy food. I feel strongly we become our food. If we don’t love the food we’re eating and feel good about the food we’re eating, we will not love ourselves. When we love and feel good about our food, we can easily enjoy having dessert, enjoying chocolate, ice cream on a hot day, and birthday cupcakes on our birthday. If we are eating poorly, we never get to enjoy these things and these only perpetuate our guilt.
4- Have some “have to’s” and some “get to’s”.
This is essential for me and I plan my day this way. I almost never have a day full of “have to’s” and if in the off chance I do, I plan a day of “get to’s”. My “get to’s” are as simple as sitting outside, browsing the internet, or going to Costco (that can sometimes be a have-to, so I always evaluate). I also like to get my “have to’s” done in the morning and leave my “get to’s” for the afternoon and evening. This doesn’t always work but checking in with myself and knowing that I need some fun or some productivity keeps a relatively good balance going.
5- Doing the dishes.
If you know me at all, I hate doing the dishes. But, I feel less stressed when they are done. I have decided that it is the ONLY chore I do everyday. Everything else can come in a balance with my “get to’s” and “have to’s” and sometimes my house is a disaster and my life can feel chaotic, but I have that one practiced behavior that can make me feel like I have done at least 1 thing that day. Sometimes it is only that one thing that can help motivate good thinking or other helpful behaviors.
My hope in reading this is that you won’t necessarily make these 5 your 5, but that you will evaluate your own chain of events and find one spot of intervention to redirect your course. I tell my clients all the time who are struggling with negative thoughts that when they produce a positive or helpful behavior, they will experience something different in their brain. Keeping these good behaviors going eventually leads to more good behaviors, and more good thoughts, and ultimate can help manage difficult moods. So think about your most vulnerable times, map out what your behavior is, and see what you can do to make a slight change that you can keep going and see what happens!
Until next time,
Don’t worry. This photo doesn’t really have to do with my topic. It’s more for looks or to grab your attention since my topic today may not yield a pretty photo.
My thoughts today are about panic attacks and panic symptoms. Many people suffer from recurring panic, waking up from sleep and feeling panicked, having symptoms when nothing bad is happening, and consistently worrying about when panic is going to strike again. Actually part of the criteria for having panic disorder is worrying about when the panic is going to strike again and adapting one’s behavior to avoid panic attacks. So often people come to therapy seeking ways to get rid of panic attacks and panic symptoms. They try meditation, relaxation, breathing, avoidance, distraction, and any number of ways around it. But the truth is that we are wired to be able to panic and can’t get rid of this, we can manage it. AND, what continues to drive panic disorder and panic attacks and what makes them worse in the moment, is FEAR of having a panic attack, FEAR of not having the control to stop it, and FEAR that it won’t stop.
Here is where the poop part comes in. Have you ever had to go really bad? I mean really, really bad? Like you might not make it? That kind of bad? I have sat around with friends and colleagues from time to time telling embarrassing moments and always there is one or two poop stories. Someone in the group always has a story about when they didn’t make it and had to deal with the worse-case scenario: the poop being released from the body not in a bathroom. Poop is a bodily function. We all know that and work with it. But, at times, you gotta go and at other times, you really gotta go and you have to tolerate feeling EXTREMELY uncomfortable until the body can release. Most adults have learned how to hold it, put on a straight face, tolerate the unpleasantness, and eventually find a bathroom, allowing the poop process of the body to do it’s thing. Sometimes it is painful. Sometimes it comes at the most inopportune times, but we “deal” with it and when I say “deal”, I mostly mean we tolerate it.
So, let me relate this to panic. Panic is a bodily function. We are build to have a fight or flight system to get us away from threatening situations and it HAS to be this way. Because of this, any one can experience a panic attack when our brain perceives threat. The problem is that sometimes our brain interprets threat when there is none. And, if we fear the panic response, this actual fear of panic causes more panic to occur. Once the body is in panic mode, it can’t just get out no matter how much breathing we do. There is a process that has to go from start to finish. Breathing can help to tolerate this, but I have clients that find themselves getting discouraged because their methods to stop panic don’t work. The key to any anxiety challenge is exposure. Other than feeling tremendously uncomfortable, what is REALLY so bad about a panic attack? If we can tolerate needing to poop and holding it, we can tolerate a panic attack. I don’t mean to make light of a serious subject, but fearing the uncomfortable actually causes more fear response to occur. And, the thing is, people can handle really unpleasant things, like really needing to poop. Letting the panic run the circuit and seeing a panic moment or panic symptoms as a bodily function, tolerating the extreme unpleasantness, and knowing that it will run its course and end can help to actually reduce the intensity and ultimately the frequency of panic over time. When people actually expose themselves to the fear, the brain learns that it can handle it. Exposure to panic, by actually allowing it if one shows up and not fighting the panic attack, is one of the best ways, IF NOT THE BEST WAY, to manage panic attacks.
Until next time,
(Author’s note: I, too, have had panic attacks from time to time and have found that by far, exposure work has helped me personally to manage my anxiety better than any other strategy.)
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