Routine

One of my very favorite plays is OUR TOWN.  Such a simple but poignant story.  Its about how life is made up of little tiny moments.  The making of oatmeal in the AM, the feeding of our pets,  dressing children for school and all the daily chores that make up our busy lives.  Its also the story of love and human connection and longing.  And its the story of not realizing how good we have things until they are gone.  

My husband is so good at being grateful, enjoying the moment, counting his blessings rather than his aches and pains.  I marvel at his ability and have to actively practice being positive and reinforcing the happier side of my brain. 

Recently, I've been very challenged with food compulsions that I thought I had under control.  I'm not sure if its part of the aging process or some under lying emotional stressor that I've not been able to identify but I find myself compulsively thinking about food and giving into old eating patterns that are unhealthy.  I've put on weight and am finding that its extremely difficult to exercise. 

Along with these food compulsions I'm noticing that George, my brain, is sending out negative messages of fear and discouragement.  My husband just dealt with a bout of skin cancer, the world news is so very challenging and the demands of this holiday season can be so draining.  I'm noticing that I'm loosing touch with what makes my life enjoyable.  A routine that allows for self-care (healthy food & exercise), time in my schedule for friends and family, truly being present in each detail of my life (whether its sitting with clients, reading a book or holding my husband's hand) just being present and alive to each moment.  

The more I practice these things the more the food compulsions subside - the trick really is to change the daily routine.  Every thing I do today affects how I feel tomorrow.  SOOOOO easy to say and SOOOOO hard to do.  I'm going to keep practicing good deep breathes, commitment to gratitude thinking and for TODAY a routine  that is healthy. 

qx0tgsyn.qdp.jpg

  

When Heroes Fall

Today my heart is breaking.  One more of my heroes has just resigned due to allegations of sexual misconduct.  It has been shocking to watch the number of men who have  supported women publicly and who have secretly been abusing them.  

I don't fully know how to wrap my brain around it all.  What happens when our heroes fall? 

Like a lot of kids I believed my dad could do no wrong.  And for the majority of his life I believe he was an upstanding legal abiding person but I do remember the IRS fining him for some fraudulent tax activity.  I don't really know the details - but I do remember that sense of sadness and disappointment at learning that he wasn't perfect.  I remember him saying "well I'll never do that again"  -- a sense that he wasn't sorry about doing it but sorry that he got caught. 

Below is a piece written by Howard Moore that helped remind me of the reality of our heroes - hope you find it helpful.  

   Your heroes are going to disappoint you

By Howard Moore, December 1, 2017 at 12:05 am

"Two of my greatest sports heroes, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, golfed with 45 this weekend. I will try to forgive them. It will take a little time."
"F*ck them. Time for new heroes."

Bill Clinton. Donald Trump. Charlie Rose. Bill O'Reilly. Matt Lauer. Al Franken. Roy Moore. Garrison Kelllor. Kevin Spacey

Democrat or Republican. Conservative or liberal. It doesn't make a difference what side you're on. The people you admire...the people you respect...the people you hero worship tend to disappoint you.

Sure, they seemed to be great and above reproach. Seemed.

They've overcome great odds to reach the positions they're in. We want to believe in these people. We hold them to almost impossible standards. That's why we're so surprised, disappointed and broken when they show that they're not perfect. I don't know why we're so shocked when we find out our heroes don't live up to our expectations. They're human just like the rest of us. While they have have admirable accomplishments, they also have their flaws.

When I was a child, my heroes were John F. Kennedy and Mickey Mantle. Turns out my political hero was having affairs with the girlfriend of a gangster and also Marilyn Monroe. My sports hero was an alcoholic womanizer. Because we didn't have anything close to the media outlets that we have now, no one had any idea about this. It was a kinder, gentler time for heroes. I wonder what I would have thought about them if I knew then what I know now?

Recently someone told me how excited they were to meet Hockey legend Bobby Hull. I wondered if she could separate Hull the hockey player from Hull the Nazi sympathizer and wife batterer? I'm not sure I could.

And what about Patrick Kane? Do you think three time Stanley Cup champion or suspected sex abuser? How about Aroldis Chapman? Is he the gutsy relief pitcher who was a big factor in the Cubs winning the World Series or the guy who was accused of beating his girlfriend and then firing a gun in their garage?

Well guess what....everyone I've mentioned is multi-dimensional. You can love what they do on the screen or the ball field and hate the way behave in their personal life....at least I think you can. The rules for this are vague and they seem to be changing daily. There's no question it's complicated. Quite the conundrum.

The first paragraph was a Facebook conversation about the last weeks Presidential Golf outings. The comment about finding new heroes is close to right on. But how will we know our new heroes will be any better? Maybe we're just better off without heroes? Maybe that great philosopher Charles Barkley was right on when he said, "I'm not a role model... Just because I dunk a basketball doesn't mean I should raise your kids."

Think about that the next time one of your heroes breaks your heart. It should be any day now.

 

ea5c80be00e29b350e0624537948fe6a.jpg

Mistakes

Today I sat with a woman who cried and cried and kept calling herself an idiot because she said something that hurt a friend's feelings.  Even though she apologized to her friend she couldn't sleep through the night and her stomach was all tied up in knots.   It was an innocent comment and yet this woman's brain wouldn't let go of the idea that she shouldn't have said it.  This poor woman has lived for so very long with the idea that she has to be perfect -- there just hasn't been room for forgiveness and gentleness.  

A major step in stress reduction is in accepting that of course we are going to make mistakes in life, that its ok to be imperfect and that trying is more important than achieving.  These concepts are simplistic but hard to implement.  

Keep noticing the voices of perfection and thoughts that demand the impossible and as always be gentle with yourself.  Let go of ideas that are not helpful and continue to get up and try. 

Here are some words to help along our journey:   "As long as you feel pain, you're still alive. As long as you make mistakes, you're still human. And as long as you keep trying, there' still hope." - Susan Gale 

oops.jpg

Its T-Day !!!!!

Yeah, tomorrow is Thanksgiving - what a great holiday, food, food and more food.  Comedian Sarah Silverman says she wakes up every day being thankful that she no longer has to go to school - Sarah says its in appreciating the little things that we find joy.  So for today I'm going to be very grateful for food - its fun and delicious.  

For today I'm also very grateful that there are people who write great blogs and which I get to share with you -- check out the following blog by Marelisa Fabrega on the importance of graitude.  Happy Thanksgiving!  

HOW GRATITUDE CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE

by  Marelisa Fabrega:  

If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” – Meister Eckhart

Gratitude means thankfulness, counting your blessings, noticing simple pleasures, and acknowledging everything that you receive. It means learning to live your life as if everything were a miracle, and being aware on a continuous basis of how much you’ve been given. Gratitude shifts your focus from what your life lacks to the abundance that is already present. In addition, behavioral and psychological research has shown the surprising life improvements that can stem from the practice of gratitude. Giving thanks makes people happier and more resilient, it strengthens relationships, it improves health, and it reduces stress.

RESEARCH SHOWS GRATITUDE HEIGHTENS QUALITY OF LIFE

Two psychologists, Michael McCollough of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis, wrote an article about an experiment they conducted on gratitude and its impact on well-being. The study split several hundred people into three different groups and all of the participants were asked to keep daily diaries. The first group kept a diary of the events that occurred during the day without being told specifically to write about either good or bad things; the second group was told to record their unpleasant experiences; and the last group was instructed to make a daily list of things for which they were grateful. The results of the study indicated that daily gratitude exercises resulted in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism, and energy. In addition, those in the gratitude group experienced less depression and stress, were more likely to help others, exercised more regularly, and made greater progress toward achieving personal goals.

Dr. Emmons – who has been studying gratitude for almost ten years and is considered by many to be the world’s leading authority on gratitude - his book is "Thanks: How The New Science Of Gratitude Can Make You Happier".  The information in this book is based on research involving thousands of people conducted by a number of different researchers around the world. One of the things these studies show is that practicing gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25%. This is significant, among other things, because just as there’s a certain weight that feels natural to your body and which your body strives to maintain, your basic level of happiness is set at a predetermined point. If something bad happens to you during the day, your happiness can drop momentarily, but then it returns to its natural set-point. Likewise, if something positive happens to you, your level of happiness rises, and then it returns once again to your “happiness set-point”. A practice of gratitude raises your “happiness set-point” so you can remain at a higher level of happiness regardless of outside circumstances.

In addition, Dr. Emmons’ research shows that those who practice gratitude tend to be more creative, bounce back more quickly from adversity, have a stronger immune system, and have stronger social relationships than those who don’t practice gratitude. He further points out that “To say we feel grateful is not to say that everything in our lives is necessarily great. It just means we are aware of our blessings.”

NOTICE AND APPRECIATE EACH DAY’S GIFTS

People tend to take for granted the good that is already present in their lives. There’s a gratitude exercise that instructs that you should imagine losing some of the things that you take for granted, such as your home, your ability to see or hear, your ability to walk, or anything that currently gives you comfort. Then imagine getting each of these things back, one by one, and consider how grateful you would be for each and every one. In addition, you need to start finding joy in the small things instead of holding out for big achievements—such as getting the promotion, having a comfortable nest egg saved up, getting married, having the baby, and so on–before allowing yourself to feel gratitude and joy.

Another way to use giving thanks to appreciate life more fully is to use gratitude to help you put things in their proper perspective. When things don’t go your way, remember that every difficulty carries within it the seeds of an equal or greater benefit. In the face of adversity ask yourself: “What’s good about this?”, “What can I learn from this?”, and “How can I benefit from this?”

THERE ARE MANY WAYS TO PRACTICE GRATITUDE

A common method to develop the practice of gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal, a concept that was made famous by Sarah Ban Breathnach’s book  "Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude".  This exercise basically consists of writing down every day a list of three to ten things for which you are grateful; you can do this first thing in the morning or before going to bed at night. Another exercise you can try is to write a gratitude letter to a person who has exerted a positive influence in your life but whom you have not properly thanked. Some experts suggest that you set up a meeting with this person and read the letter to them face to face.

Last year millions of people took the challenge proposed by Will Bowen, a Kansas City minister, to go 21 days without complaining, criticizing, or gossiping. To help condition the participants to stop complaining, they each wore a purple No-Complaint wristband. Several authors in the self-improvement genre have suggested that people do something similar to help condition themselves to be constantly aware of the things in life that they’re grateful for.

A variation of the wristband concept is to create a gratitude charm bracelet, with either one meaningful charm or different charms representing the things you’re most grateful for. For example, you could have a charm shaped like a heart to symbolize your significant other, figurines to represent different family members, an apple to represent health, a dollar sign to symbolize abundance, a charm that represents your current profession or a future career, and maybe a charm that makes you laugh to represent humor and joy.

CONCLUSION

Once you become oriented toward looking for things to be grateful for, you will find that you begin to appreciate simple pleasures and things that you previously took for granted. Gratitude should not be just a reaction to getting what you want, but an all-the-time gratitude, the kind where you notice the little things and where you constantly look for the good even in unpleasant situations. Today, start bringing gratitude to your experiences, instead of waiting for a positive experience in order to feel grateful; in this way, you’ll be on your way toward becoming a master of gratitude.

 

MV5BMTM2NzI3NTU5Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODkxODAwNA@@._V1_UY317_CR10,0,214,317_AL_.jpg

A Birthday Gift

My husband gave me a book for my last birthday by Alan Alda called IF I UNDERSTOOD YOU, WOULD I HAVE THIS LOOK ON MY FACE?  I've only read a few chapters but am enjoying the book and am hopeful that I will be learning some new things about the art and science of communication. 

Sadly,  so many of us grew up in dysfunctional families and never learned the skill  of clear and effective communication.   Below is a list of dysfunctional styles of communication taken from the book HEALING FOR ADULT CHILDREN OF ALCOHOLICS by Sara Hines Martin.  I'm amazed (and a bit embarrassed)  at the number that I revert to when I'm stressed or feel under attack. 

1)  Talk at, Not to a Person - this style lacks in sharing of feelings & emotion. 

2)  Talk About, Not to People - "Person A talks to Person B about Person C: the classic triangle" p. 62.  Fueled by fear of conflict and fear that others will be angry. 

3)  Little Eye Contact -

4)  Send Messages Through A Third Person

5)  Secrecy Rather Than Openness

6)  Confusing Messages - Example:  smiling when angry

7)  No Answers to Questions or Inadequate Explanations

8)  Passive Communication - Examples:  Not talking, hinting, pouting,  denying that anything is wrong, glaring, sighing, tardiness

9)  Acting Out - Examples:  slamming doors, throwing things, denying affection  

Here are some simple guidelines for functional communication:

1)  Talk to the person.

2)  Use direct eye contact.  

3)  Be open. 

4)  Answer questions directly and give explanations. 

5) Say what you feel rather than acting it out. 

6)  Share your feelings rather than giving should messages.  

I invite you to examine your communication style and be curious about it.  Is it effective?  How does your style affect the relationships in your life?  Does your style work for you or against you?  

Thanks for letting me communicate with you!!!!!!  

Non-capisco-image.jpg

Everything Is Random

Comedian Patton Oswalt's wife died at age 45 leaving behind a grieving husband and 6 year old daughter.  After 15 months of doing grief work Patton bravely tackles sharing his process in his new Netflix special called ANNIHILATION.  Patton shares of his pain, his loss and ultimately where he is beginning to find some peace is in the philosophy that his wife often expressed:  "everything is random, be kind". 

The simplicity and beauty of the phrase is so peaceful.  Let it be, don't try to figure everything out, live kindly - let it all unfold.  To spend time trying to find meaning behind the pains and losses of life often leads to more dark and painful thoughts - to accept what is creates space for the grief tears which lead to healing.  Its all so much easier said than done because the brain is always trying to figure things out.  But with practice and gentleness its possible to start observing our thoughts rather than letting them rule our lives. 

I invite you to watch ANNIHILATION and see if you are interested in living by a philosophy that is less complicated and more gentle.  (Please note Patton's comedy does contain "adult" language and his politics do lean left - the section about his wife is in the last 30 minutes of the show).    

 

patton.jpg

Ned Flanders

Many years ago the Simpsons ran a New Year's Eve episode and at the stroke of mid-night while everyone was celebrating and hugging,  Ned Flanders was running to the post office shouting "oh no my taxes are late".  The bit cracked me up but I kid you not I found myself this morning "feeling" like I was behind on Christmas shopping -- ITS NOV 2nd!!!!!!!!!

There is plenty of time for all that needs to be done and yet I was having thoughts of "I'm behind",  "I'll never get it all done", "the gifts won't be good enough". George, my brain, was running a muck and because I hadn't paid enough attention to him - the thoughts had turned to physical sensations of anxiety in my body. 

I returned my attention and focus back to my deep breathing and started noticing the thoughts that were creating such havoc.  I pulled out a piece of paper and made a list of things that need to be done for Christmas.  Making lists is a great way to slow down the feeling of anxiety.  If its on paper I don't have to worry about carrying it all in my brain.

The holidays can be a very tough time of year for most of us.  So many ads of people in perfect outfits, eating perfect foods, opening perfect gifts and they all look like they are enjoying each other's company.   Those images create a sense of failure and pressure in most of us and trick us into believing we have to do things at 100%.   

I'm going to keep reminding myself of the 80% rule - all I have to do is 80% - nothing can be perfect and to try to give 100% energy is way too taxing and anxiety making.  As we go into the holiday season will you join me in reducing the stress of the season by:

  1. Remembering to breathe deep
  2. Noticing thoughts that are causing problems
  3. Living by the 80% rule
  4. Making lists
  5. Maintaining  regular routines of sleep, exercise and healthy eating, and as always 
  6. Lots and lots of gentleness !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

 

Ned-flanders.jpg

Don't Be Special

I began my own personal therapy when I was 25 years old.  My self-esteem was pretty low and for so many years my therapist worked with me on empowerment and helping me tap into my own unique self and all the reasons that I was a special human being.  And, although my self-esteem improved and the therapy was helpful I now understand that what I really needed was to be given permission to NOT feel special.  

The act of feeling special creates a tremendous amount of anxiety - fear of rejection, fear of what others will think, fear of failure - all of these things stop people from acting in their own lives and can lead to isolation and depression.  

Stay with me because I know its very counter intuitive. It feels as if people would be less depressed and less anxious if they had higher self-esteem.   We have entire education programs based on building self-esteem and for years parents have been told their children need to feel special in this world.  The opposite is true. 

By letting go of the idea of being special and  (or the opposite some sort of dismal failure) people are free to focus on more mundane identities:  student, a partner, a friend, a creator.   The narrower and rarer the identity you choose for yourself, the more everything will seem to threaten you.  For that reason, define yourself in the simplest and most ordinary ways possible.  (Paraphrased from Mark Manson's THE SUBTLE ART OF NOT GIVING A F**K, p. 140).  There is much freedom and less terror in just being another ordinary "shmuck" just doing what you can on a daily basis.  

special1.png

Disgust

Recently our home was visited by some mice and man my disgust showed up big time.  It has always been hard for me to look at mice and the thought of them in the house was almost unbearable.   Luckily our cats took care of the problem quite efficiently but I noticed that in order to do what I needed to do around the house I had to be aware of my disgust and shift it so that it became tolerable and that I didn't completely shut down.   

I have a lot to learn - I've been in this field for 20 years now and love that something new is always showing up.  The concept of disgust has been around forever but it's importance in the range of emotions has only surfaced in the last few years (don't laugh at me but I became acutely aware of disgust's importance when I read that the film makers of INSIDE OUT re shot the film to include disgust). 

The following article, Taking Control of Disgust, by Rachel Herz, Ph.D.  ran in  Psychology Today and is a nice beginning to understanding the importance of disgust and some ideas on how to take control of it.  

TAKING CONTROL OF DISCUST

We've all had the experience of a viscerally disgusting experience; a whiff of sour milk, your foot in something your neighbor's dog left behind, shaking hands with a sweaty palmed stranger. These triggers feel like they must be instinctively disgusting. In fact they're not and even the most basic cues to disgust have to be learned. This is because disgust is dependent on experience, socialization, personality,  and context, and it is a very complex and complicated emotion. The reason humans are the only animals who experience emotional disgust is because we are the only creatures with a sufficiently sophisticated and advanced brain to be able to figure it.

Fear is an automatic and instinctive emotion that helps us when we are in harm's way fast--the tiger is leaping at you, whereas disgust is about slow and uncertain peril. We have to deduce the connection between the fact that we touched the person with the oozy red sores who then died a week later, and now we are covered in oozy red sores and what that means. This is when feeling disgusted rather than attracted to a person covered in spots is very beneficial. But it isn't always the case that disgust helps us. Many times our feelings of disgust serve no purpose, prevent us from expanding our personal and social horizons, or at worst enable us to cause harm or disregard others. But because disgust is so involved with our thoughts, it is also in our control and we don't have to be disgusted if we don't want to be. For example, if you're disgusted by earthworms you may have eliminated the possibility of ever gardening, but if you undisgusted yourself you could put something new on your bucket list. The way to undisgust yourself in this type of scenario is unfortunately to expose yourself to the object of your aversion until you reach the point where you can tolerate it without flinching. You can start out small-maybe just looking at pictures of earthworms, but gradually you'll need to be able to confront these little critters in real life without repulsion. If you have the will and work at it, you'll be happy to discover that many new and enjoyable activities become available to you.

Besides benign creepy crawlies we are also often disgusted by other people and this can cause grave social consequences. When we are disgusted by the new immigrants who have moved in next door, not only are we engulfed by the negativity and social harm of prejudice, we may also miss out on the potential for important and enlightening new experiences. Surprisingly in these cases, if we instead become empathetic towards the source of aversion we can undue disgust. This is because by being empathic we have to expose and engage with the source of our aversion, but it is also because empathy and disgust are fundamentally linked. Both emotions are processed in the same part of the brain-the anterior insula-and both are very much about the self and about protecting the self from discomfort. When I empathize with you I feel your pain and I am motivated to make you feel better because I don't want to feel bad anymore. When we are disgusted we are actually empathizing with ourselves for the awful contact we have had with dog poop, or with the thought that we too could be deformed, ill, or alien. In the case of other people, if we empathize with the person who is disgusting us, we will not only do good for another, we will do good to ourselves and become undisgusted. For example, if your first reaction to seeing an amputee is repulsion and rejection, try to help that person instead. Not only will you feel virtuous you will also feel much less disgusted by the sight of someone maimed in the future. Or, if you feel disgusted by the smells of your new neighbor's cooking, offer to help them get settled in and bring over a pot of your favorite stew instead of shunning them. Not only may you benefit from new freiendship and the discovery of a novel cuisine, you will see these strangers now as more like you and have turned off your disgust towards immigrants. The bottom line is that we can control disgust, and use it or lose it.

Rachel Herz is an expert on the psychology of smell and emotion and author of the new book   That's Disgusting: Unraveling the Mysteries of Repulsion.

Io_Disgust_standard2.jpg

New Software & Technology

Yesterday I learned that a big change is coming to some software that I've been learning and using for a year.  My immediate reaction was NO!!!! NO!!!! NO!!!  George, my brain, started saying, "your never going to learn it", "your too old for all this new technology", "it'll be so much work ... give up now".  

Change truly is hard for everybody and the more we resist the harder it becomes.  Following is an article written by Costa Provis, LCPC, which helped me challenge my thinking and helped sooth my brain.   I hope you find it interesting and helpful.  

Someone once told me “only a wet baby likes change,” and as silly as that sounds I have found these words to be pretty spot on.  Why are we so resistant to change?  Is it really change that we resist?  I don’t believe we are actually afraid of learning and experiencing new things, because newness usually brings something positive.  Sometimes an adventure, a challenge, a little bit of fun, experiencing new things tends to enhance life.  It seems to me that what we actually fear is the idea of stepping outside of our comfort zone.

Do you sometimes find yourself feeling limited or bored?  What role does your desire to stay within your comfort zone play in this?  Leaving the familiarity and safety of your comfort zone can be difficult and scary, but by figuring out ways to challenge yourself and take steps beyond it, life becomes immediately more interesting and fun.  If you think about it, as safe as it can be your comfort zone mostly serves as a limitation.

It can be an anchor shackled around your ankle, weighing you down.  Limiting yourself like this typically ends with inactivity and stagnation.  It seems like a pretty huge sacrifice; that fear must be really intense.  Whether its fear of looking foolish in the eyes of other people, or feeling inferior because you are struggling to learn a new skill, or fear of being rejected by someone you’re attracted to, staying inside your comfort zone is limiting your life.

So what can you do to help get beyond your current comfort zone?  Let’s start by acknowledging that no one likes the discomfort of being outside their comfort zone!  This isn’t an exercise in convincing yourself you like that discomfort.  Instead I am asking you to challenge yourself in the reaction to the discomfort, because after all “life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”  How can you challenge yourself (and are you up for the challenge)?  Try these three steps:

1.  Have a goal(s) that you want to achieve.

Without a specific goal, it can be difficult to find the motivation to endure the discomfort of struggling through the early challenges.  Don’t forget, this is all about how you choose to react to discomfort and giving up is not your objective!  Besides, life is all about passion and without a goal that you really want to achieve where will you find that passion?!  Search your soul and try to identify that goal you really want to work towards.  Maybe you want to start working out, or get back into the dating scene?  Whatever the goal may be, it represents the finish line and is a necessary component to getting outside of your comfort zone.  It takes hard work but you can reach the finish line.

2. Create measurable actions/steps .

Anyone who has seen the movie What About Bob, is familiar with the concept of “baby steps” and that’s exactly what is needed to successfully achieve your goals.  That doesn’t mean that you lower the bar to avoid struggling, but rather that you focus only on the next small step while trying to reach the finish line.  Making these small steps measurable helps you to be accountable to yourself (or your therapist/life coach).  For example, if your goal is to lose weight then the measurable steps could be what days you go to the gym, what exercises you do, a meal plan, etc.  By having measurable small steps that you can focus on one at a time, before you know it you are well on your way to your goal.

3.  Challenge your thought process that keeps resisting change.

Quite often when we experience discomfort our narrative focusses on the fact that we are not comfortable.  Have you ever found yourself struggling with a new challenge and thought something like ‘I can’t do this’ and you instantly want to quit.  You tell yourself ‘I feel like an idiot, I’m never doing this again.’  You have already given up on your goal all because of your reaction to the discomfort you are feeling.

Instead, maybe you can shift your thoughts to something like ‘by struggling through this moment right now, I will be one step closer to my goal.’  Give yourself permission and patience to learn something new, and then give yourself a pat on the back when you complete each step along the way.  It doesn’t have to last very long but at least take a moment and let this achievement soak into your mind.  Your narrative is extremely important so try not to get down on yourself along the way as you try to reach your finish line.

In conclusion, I think it’s important that you think about your comfort zone, and ask yourself what am I so afraid of that I would need to limit my life?  Your comfort zone isn’t really as helpful as you probably thought it was, and in fact is probably slowing you down.  You don’t have to sprint away from it, but instead take some time to reflect on your goal(s), the steps you can take along the way, and your narrative while you’re struggling through the learning process.

Remember, it’s all about how you react to the discomfort while you are taking steps towards the finish line.  By: Costa Provis, LCPC 

Changes.jpg

What Can Be Said?

Las Vegas ... another city added to a growing list that is already way too long.  What can be said ... the sadness, the carnage, the absolute waste ... what can be said?  One lone gunman in less than 10 minutes shatters hundreds of lives.  WHAT CAN BE SAID?  

All week I've listened to client's reactions to the Las Vegas shooting - I've heard everything from "oh no now the liberals are going to come for my guns for sure" to "how can I possibly ever go to another concert?" to "I guess we just have to get used to that this is the world we live in".  A wide range of varying thoughts and yet the primary emotions were the same sadness, fear and helplessness.

I really struggled with trying to comfort people this week - I just couldn't find the words.  Obviously I can't promise that this won't happen to them or their families.  I can't promise them that "leadership" is going to make helpful changes and I can't even promise that there is meaning in any of it.  

There is always a lot of talk about the courage and resiliency one finds in these situations.  Truthfully I'm tired of the talk ... I don't want people to have to be brave and resilient ... I want them to go to concerts have fun and then go back home.  This can NOT be our new norm!!!!!

I'm out of words around massive gun shootings - so this week I found myself just listening, validating people in their fear and pain.  Maybe that is the best thing we can offer each other is hugs, acts of kindness, and the simple understanding that words are very limiting but continued actions are of utmost importance.  So for this week I'm going to: 

1) Write my congressman, 2) contribute to a worthwhile cause and 3) treat others with lots of gentleness ... will you join me?  

this-is-johnny-cash-holding-a-kitten-no-more-can-3915187 (1).png

Power Cords

I'm embarrassed to admit this but here goes.  For 3 years now I've been wanting to clean out the closets in our home.  You know a real spring cleaning, throw out old stuff, organize what we do want and make a real commitment to living an organized life.  For 3 years I have had this desire. 

On the surface it sounds so easy ... take a day and just tackle the project.  For 3 years I've lived with the frustration of opening a closet and having to dig for what I needed or the annoyance of having my husband run to the store to buy a new power cord only to find out later that we already had one.  

For 3 years cleaning the closets has been on my to-do list.  For 3 years I've lived with the stress of this, the guilt around not doing it and the anxiety of it buzzing around in my head.  Was I loosing sleep over it ... no, but for 3 years it did cause emotional strife in my inner world and occasionally led to arguments with hubby over why we owned so many power cords.  

The good news is I finally did it!  In 2 short days my husband and I cleaned out the closets and made a Good Will run.  While sorting through we used some of the time to reminisce over shared memories but mostly just treated the project as a fun way to spend some time together rather than the dreaded chore that it had become in my mind.   

Now that its done its hard to understand why it became such a large thing in my brain -- but it did.  Whenever I thought about cleaning the closets George, my brain, would start:  its such a big project its going to take forever, what if you need some of the stuff you throw out, you work hard all week why would you spend your day off working, on and on the arguments went ... the more I put it off the bigger the arguments got.  And the bigger the arguments got the bigger the dread of doing it grew.     

With gentleness and compassion sorting out the brain's messages is very important work.   Things usually seem BIGGER in our brains then they actually are.  The on-going work of stress reduction is latching on to the thoughts that are workable and letting the other thoughts just float on by.

Had I cleaned the closets 3 years ago I would have saved myself a lot of emotional stress and gosh knows we would own fewer power cords.  

cluttered-closet1.jpg

Hurry, Hurry, Hurry

As I start to write, George, my brain starts the work of pushing me along.  George starts yelling, "you have so many things to do, move quickly, hurry, go, go, go".  Its been like this my entire life and its quite exhausting.  Always feeling like I'm behind, like the thing I'm doing isn't important enough, like the next thing will be the right thing.  Do you recognize this feeling?  It can get overwhelming and it truly robs me of enjoying that which is right in front of me.  

This pushing from the brain creates anxiety because the body can only do what is right in front of it.  This anxiety not only causes problems in my life it gets in the way of relationships.  George's messages of "must move faster and get more done" don't take into account other people's needs, their desires or their pace.  The faster George is going the more I start to bulldoze over other people.

I know its history ... my poor mom is a fairly anxious woman.  She raised 10 children on very limited resources and she was always hurrying us along, trying to save some pennies today to have something for tomorrow, always trying to work as quickly as possible because there was so much to be done.  I fully understand she was doing the best that she could and am amazed at what she did accomplish.  But the toll has been heavy. 

I'm 58 years old and by 8 pm I'm exhausted - not because my life is physically demanding but because my inner world is usually pretty revved up.  Throughout the day George is in overdrive, thinking, planning, hurrying me along.  

A long time ago a friend gave me a book called "SLOWLY, SLOWLY, SLOWLY,"  SAID THE SLOTH  because he said I was always in a hurry.  I often reread this cute fun book as a reminder that life is way to precious to be hurried through and I rely on my mindfulness tools to help me slow things down:   

    1)  I notice what I notice - creating space to decide which thoughts are helpful and allow non-helpful thoughts to float on by. 

    2)  Good gentle deep breathes to bring me back to the present and to help still my brain.

    3)  I intentionally slow things down - the more George says hurry the more I notice his messages and then with compassion for myself I slow things down.  

What are your brain's messages to you that may be causing anxiety?  Are you willing to notice those messages without judgement or harshness - just notice and then take gentle action that is in your best interest?  These things sound simplistic and yet they are incredibly effective.

I leave you these words from Eric Carle:  Why are we always in a hurry?  Rush. Rush. Rush.  We scurry from here and there.  We play computer games and then-quick! click!-we watch TV.  We eat fast food.  Everyone tells us to make it snappy!  Hurry up! Time is flying! Step on it!  There's so little time just to be with friends, to watch a sunset or gaze at a star-filled sky.  Ah, what we could learn-even if just a little-from the gentle sloth who slowly, slowly, slowly crawls along a branch of a tree, eats a little, sleeps a lot, and lives in peace.     

sloth.jpg

There Is Nothing To See Here

I'm on vacation this week and writing this just as a reminder that it is very important to take a break now and then.  Changing up our daily routine, doing things that are fun and relaxing, spending time with love ones are all great ways to reduce stress.  

Look forward to writing next week and in the mean time ... move along nothing to see here.  

Creativity

 

Most of the clients that I work with are battling anxiety and depression.  I have a long personal history with anxiety and depression - they tend to go hand in hand.  More than not clients report that when anxious or depressed they find it very difficult to tap into their creativity.  Its hard to find the energy to invest in creativity.  And yet we know that creative tasks help people feel better and add to life's enjoyment.  

Whether its playing an instrument, painting, scrap booking, writing or playing sports - its very important to participate in activities that help release endorphins, make us laugh, add beauty to the world and stretch our comfort levels.  

One of the really hard things about anxiety and depression is that they take over our lives and start robbing us of doing things that would actual keep them at bay.  Our brains start saying I'll get back to my hobbies when I feel better and yet the best thing we can do is push through and do hobbies EVEN if we don't feel like doing them.  

Below is an article that I hope will be helpful in supporting you in pursuing creative tasks even if you are not feeling well.  

Written by Dean Bokhar

Increasing your creativity—or developing any sense of creativity in the first place—seems to be hardest when you need it most. Personally, I’d always thought “creativity” was sort of elusive. I thought creative people, like Pablo Picasso, for instance, were blessed with some sort of magical, innate talent that most of us just don’t have. And this is how I’d rationalize why people like Picasso were so much more creative than I was. But, as it turns out, I was dead wrong (kind of.)

You see, most people think Picasso just sat down in front of a canvas and effortlessly cranked out masterpiece after masterpiece all day long, but that’s not how things went down at all. The way Picasso actually painted was much more in-depth. He’d sit down and start at the corner of the canvas with one single stroke of the brush. Then, he’d expand from there, allowing the brush to let him transfer whatever he was envisioning onto the canvas.

Sometimes, he’d decide to let an idea take his painting elsewhere. Other times, he’d end up painting something totally different than what he initially envisioned. A few times, he’d start the whole damn thing over again. But, almost every single time, he’d end up with something beautiful. How did he create so many million-dollar masterpieces? Was he talented? Heck yeah. Was he “born with it”? Maybe, but people are born with all sorts of talents they neglect to nurture and refine.

And that’s the key: cultivation. Picasso cultavated his talent into mastery.  He was dedicated to his craft. In other words, he did it often enough to recognize that if he went off the beaten path halfway through a painting, he could take a different route and still end up with a piece of art.

Bottom line? Creativity is neither magical nor mysterious. Creativity is like a muscle ... 

The above was written by Dean Bokhar and the rest of this by me (Rosemary).  

And like any muscle it takes time, energy and practice to strenghten it.   There are lots of great books about creativity, take classes to enhance your creativity and most importantly don't be afraid to make mistakes and do NOT wait until you have the energy.  Be gentle with yourself and allow your creativity to be a "friend" that helps you lessen anxiety and depression.      

Creativity.jpg

Laugh

Its been another tough week and I'm feeling the reality of being older.  I don't have the energy to write and so I'm going to pass along some of Chuck Lorre's brilliance: 

"CHUCK LORRE PRODUCTIONS, #540

You can laugh at the human predicament. You can laugh at yourself. You can laugh because the alternative is crying. You can laugh because a truism has been exposed. You can laugh at the weakness, stupidity and failures of others. You can laugh because you identify. You can laugh to be polite. You can laugh from surprise. You can laugh from nervousness. You can laugh at the futility of it all. You can laugh at the antics of animals. You can laugh because it hurts. You can laugh because others are laughing. You can laugh at tragedy if enough time has passed. You can laugh at the statement, "This is no laughing matter."

I could go on, but clearly there are many reasons to laugh. As a fun homework assignment, I encourage you to look for others, write them down and don't send them to me."

The guy just makes me laugh and hopefully you enjoyed this and next time your having a tough week remember  that laughter really helps!  

 

 

The 4 Qualities of Mindful Acceptance

Ahhhhhhhhh (that's suppose to be a scream).  We just got back from LA and I'm exhausted.  Its a great city but I find it very tiring - the traffic, the crowds, the noise.  The trip was about visiting family members who are having a difficult time in their lives.  Children in the foster care system, can't hold on to steady work and from my perspective are in complete denial about their situation and about how to fix the problem.   

My sweet calm husband tells me the best we can do is accept that these people are adults, are doing the best that they can and all they need from us is love, non-judgement and words of support.  The hard part is that there are 5 children involved who have no say in their situation but are getting shuffled from house to house.  Every bone in my body wants to scream "WHAT ABOUT THE KIDS".  We tried having a supportive conversation about a plan to help these people and it didn't go very well (big big big sigh).  My mind keeps looping back to what I should have said and starts down the path of do I try again and what if I say this or that.   My sleep and dreams the last two nights have been very restless and I can feel the anxiety and tension growing around the situation.  So for today knowing that I really have no control of the situation I'm going to review the 4 qualities of mindful acceptance so that I can keep practicing and letting go of what I have no control over.  

1)   Paying Attention - Staying present to the here and now.  Deep breathing is good for this and is a way to keep bringing attention back to the body and to the space in which we live - the here and now.  Taking time to notice what we notice in our bodies and in the space around us.  Taking a minute to notice what you notice, the noises in the room, the temperature in the room, focus on your breath and just notice what you notice.   This exercise brings us to the present, the place where we can take action in our lives.    

2)  On Purpose - In order to pay attention we must choose to do it, and do it again and again, over and over throughout your day and your life.  So paying attention isn't something that we practice when we start to get anxious its a life commitment to be present.  

3)  In the Present Moment  - We all know the experience of not paying attention - driving and thinking about other things, watching a movie and suddenly realizing that you have no idea what is happening, etc.  We all know this because the mind is in a constant state of thinking and looping and pulling us out of the here and now.  So the trick is to over and over purposefully practicing staying present - to our breath, our bodies and to the moment that we are in - the only place that is real.

4)  Non-judgmentally - This one is really hard to do (especially for me).  George, my brain, is always shooting messages of judgement:  good-bad, right-wrong, sour-sweet, should-shouldn't, and so on.  George was really going to town when we were talking to my LA family members - labeling them as selfish and judging them for putting their needs in front of the kids.  And then later George started judging me saying "if you were smarter you would have said the right things so that they would take better actions in their lives".  When our brains are being  judgmental its very hard on us and creates a lot of confusion and anxiety.  Very important to keep noticing our thoughts and  practice sorting out which thoughts are helpful and letting non-helpful thoughts just drift on by.  

So I'm off to my day ... praticing forgiveness, compassion and a committment to purposely live a mindful life ... more in the physical here and now than in my brain.  Thanks George for all the times you help me plan and problem solve and respectfully I will choose to ignore you when your words are critical and judgemental.    

The above 4 qualities  were paraphrased from THE MINDFULNESS & ACCEPTANCE WORKBOOK FOR ANXIETY by John P. Forsyth, Ph.D  and Georg H. Eifert, Ph.D

p-a-r-k-4-qualities-of-mindfulness.png

Can't Say Enough About Avoidance

I realize I wrote about avoidance just a few weeks ago but the subject is so important I find myself coming back to it.  There is  new research that shows that  struggle and anguish is connected to avoidance.  Hope you find the following article as helpful as I did.

 How Avoiding Emotions Keeps Them at High Intensity

The normal wave pattern of emotions get interrupted and extended by three maladaptive coping strategies. The first is emotion avoidance.   It’s important  to realize how the attempt to control and avoid emotions paradoxically maintains, even intensifies, emotional distress. The effort to suppress painful emotional experiences can take multiple forms (situational, cognitive, somatic, protective, and substitution-based avoidance), but the outcome is always the same: increased suffering. The following describes the forms of emotional avoidance and some of its possible negative consequences.

Consequences of Emotion Avoidance

There are at least five types of emotion avoidance that researchers believe are at the root of many emotion problems.

Situational: people, places, things, and activities

Cognitive: thoughts, images, and memories

Somatic: internal sensations such as racing heart, palpitations, breathlessness, overheating, fatigue, or unwanted sexual arousal

Protective: avoiding uncertainty through checking, cleaning, perfectionism, procrastination, or reassurance seeking

Substitution: avoiding painful emotions with replacement emotions, numbing out, alcohol, drugs, bingeing, or gambling

Why not just keep on avoiding? Because the consequences of emotion avoidance are usually worse than the experience of what we try to avoid.

  • Since distress, discomfort, and anxiety are all a guaranteed part of life, emotion avoidance is often only a temporary and superficial “solution.”
  • Emotion avoidance reinforces the idea that discomfort/distress/anxiety is “bad” or “dangerous.” It reduces your ability to face and tolerate necessary pain.
  • Emotion avoidance often requires effort and energy. It’s exhausting and time-consuming.
  • Emotion avoidance limits your ability to fully experience the present.
  • Emotion avoidance can keep you from moving toward important, valued aspects of life.
  • Emotion avoidance often doesn’t work. When you tell yourself not to think about something, you have to think about not thinking about it. When you try to avoid an emotion, you often end up feeling it anyway.
  • Emotion avoidance often leads to suffering: addiction, helplessness, hopelessness, depression, damaged relationships, and lost opportunities.

By allowing yourself to experience fears—and difficult thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges—you can learn to decrease your suffering. To explore how emotion avoidance impacts your life, identify one or two strong emotions that show up frequently. Then examine which strategies you typically use to avoid the emotional experience:

  • Situational: avoiding people, places, or things
  • Cognitive: avoiding thoughts, images, or memories
  • Somatic: avoiding unpleasant physical sensations
  • Protective: avoiding uncertainty through frequent checking, procrastinating, or assurance seeking
  • Substitution: avoiding by numbing, suppressing, addictive behaviors, or replacement emotions (i.e., replacing shame with anger)

When you’ve identified and listed frequently used avoidance strategies for a particular emotion, examine consequences (see the Emotion Avoidance Consequences Worksheet in the book Emotion Efficacy Therapy). There are always advantages (pros) for avoidance. Be sure to acknowledge those--and even write them down. Usually the advantages are immediate (brief suppression of emotion) and short-lived, but they are real. It’s important to validate that there is often a short, positive effect from emotion avoidance.

Now examine the disadvantages (cons) of avoidance. What negative outcomes have you endured from your avoidance strategies? Have there been costs in the form of increased anxiety, depression, or shame? Have there been costs in the form of feeling stuck, damaged or lost relationships, or addictions? Finally, determine both advantages and disadvantages of experiencing this particular emotion. Document all the pros and cons.  

(From Praxis Website) 

 

The Feedback Loop

 This week I said good-bye to a client because she took a new job out of state.  When I first met this young woman (lets call her Sue) she was new to Sacramento, lonely, frightened, extremely depressed and very anxious.  Sue was convinced that at age 28 she was doomed to be alone forever and that she had made a disastrous  mistake in moving to CA.  She had moved here for a new job and for a blossoming romance.  Shortly after her arrival to CA the romance ended and she found herself alone and feeling very lonely.  The sadder she felt the more trapped Sue got in a  brain feedback loop which went something like this "if your feeling sad, its all your fault, you made the decision to move - clearly it was a bad decision"  the sadder she got the louder the loop in her brain got, telling her that she was a poor decision maker, that she could not trust herself and that if she was sad that that was evidence of what a bad decision she had made.  

Gently, Sue and I worked on separating feelings from thoughts and helping Sue to see that her thinking loop was adding struggle to the sadness.  Of course she was feeling lonely and sad, she was brand new to the city and needed time to meet people and readjust to her surroundings.  She also needed to grieve the break-up as well.   Things were all ready painful and tough and the feedback loop was making things so much worse.  The brain loop was creating the anxiety and depression and beating up on her, making it hard to go out and make friends.   

We've all been caught up in these loops.  Its an interesting part of the brain that can actually have thoughts about our thoughts so when Sue observed her sadness she started having thoughts that said it was not OK to feel sad.  We have a culture that is forever giving people messages of you always have to feel happy or else something is wrong and therefore you are somehow wrong and defective if you are having uncomfortable feelings.   So poor Sue got caught up in the if I'm sad I did something wrong loop and then felt bad about herself for feeling sad which started an entire cycle of beating up on herself which just made her feel worse.  

If your reading this your human and therefore I know you know the loop.  Its a hard one to break and the work is to become the watcher of the loop and of the thoughts.  Mark Manson writes about this in his book THE SUBTLE ART OF NOT GIVING A F**K (p. 5)   - I highly recommend this self-help book.  The more we step back from our thoughts and observe them with curiosity and without judgement the more clarity we have in our own lives.    

True mental health is allowing ourselves to feel everything - not just happiness or joy but the whole range of emotions.  

At our final session, Sue was filled with lots of gratitude for her new found ability to allow for tough emotions like sadness,  loneliness,  and anxiety.  She had learned to break the minds' feedback loop and to recognized that she had the tools to make decisions on her own behalf and that if the decisions didn't work she could make new ones.  Sue learned to be gentle with herself and to stop beating up on herself.  Sue said, "Rosemary, it was in treating myself with kindness and gentleness that I was finally able to break the feedback loop".    

Its sad to say good-bye to clients who I have grown to like and respect.  I learn so much from their courage and ability to change things.  I will miss seeing Sue and am very glad she came into my life.  Next time I get caught up in a feedback loop I will remind myself of Sue's words - its about kindness and gentleness!!!!!!        

 

Feedback_Loop.png