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.)
I have two kids. Yes, two kids. They used to be babies. I think they were babies yesterday, but then time tells me it was years ago. I used to be told that life goes by very quickly and to pay attention as time passes. In some weird way, I thought maybe that time would go by fast for others, but that I would always have time. I remember being in college and dreaming about my bucket list dream to move to NYC and go to school there. It came and went and I remember having thought about that dream so long, I was so used to thinking about it and nothing else. I remember when I was at graduation and so excited to have crossed that item off my “to do” list. But, I also remember being uncomfortable because I had NO IDEA what I would think about now. And, I realized that I had lived my life so much for that moment, that I hadn’t actually noticed the process and though I had wonderful moments along the way, I was so focused on “One Day When I Graduate”, that when it happened, and it was truly only a moment, I had missed out on participating in so many moments along the way. And, I wasn’t ever going to get my NYC journey back or my college years back. It took a long time to practice new thoughts about my future, but even more practice paying attention to the present moment.
Many people I see in my office have plans for the future. And, there is nothing wrong with having plans for the future. Actually, it’s necessary and healthy to have goals to work on and plans to look forward to. We get very cautions when people aren’t “future-oriented”. Even so, I see many people who get stuck on their one goal and live their life ONLY for that goal and get stressed out when the one goal they are set on isn’t happening fast enough. Yes, it is stressful when you can’t live until your plan happens. And, if your plan is a few years out….well, then you’re kinda missing out on a lot.
It looks like this: “I will spend more time with my family when I’m making more money.” “I will feel happy when I finally get promoted.” “When I am making so much money, then I will be able to relax.” “When I finish school and have a job, then life will be okay.” “When I move out of my parents, I can finally get settled.” “When I get that new job, my stress will go down.” “When my kids are older, I will work on taking care of myself.”
The problem with “One Day When” is that we forget to live now and spend our lives consumed with a fantasized picture of what life should be rather than practicing acceptance of our current life, practicing helpful thoughts, and making the time good in the now. We won’t be happy one day when if we haven’t practiced being happy or thinking helpful thoughts now. That doesn’t just happen. Chances are pretty strong that if we’re practicing One Day When thoughts now, when we actually get that new job or more money or whatever, we will still be thinking about one day when. And, at some point, we will run out of life.
I really started to embrace this when I realized that my children would just keep growing and that if I focused on something down the road, they would be older and I would miss out experiencing each precious phase of childhood. But more than just our children, we may miss out on opportunities to see and fully experiences phases of our own existence. If you are a “One Day When” thinker, I challenge you to open your eyes to the moments of today. Notice what is in your life today that may be gone someday and sit with it, enjoy it, and be grateful for it.
Until next time,
I have absolutely felt honored these last few months as I have met some amazing people who have come to me as clients. When I was in graduate school, we often talked about “therapy gifts” or those moments where your client begins to be vulnerable and share something that perhaps they have never shared with anyone or allowed him/herself to be vulnerable with someone who is pretty much a complete stranger. I bow to those who come in my office and have the courage and strength to seek insight, to reflect, to glance in the mirror, and to embrace change. Daily, I feel greatly blessed to have heard your story and felt of your human-ness. Every day, you remind of the power of human connection. So much research has emphasized at the important of the relationship when someone comes to therapy. I do an internal “jump for joy” when I sense that we are going beyond the superficial and are building connection and I continue to be honored to have the chance to know people in this way. So, dear client, you may be seeking help for your relationship, you depression, your insomnia, or your negative self-dialogue, and while we will work to find answers for you, know that I feel of your strength and my belief that human connection is a powerful healer is reinforced as I, too, continue to be renewed by you.
Until next time,
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