Managing Holiday Stress

Do you get excited or overwhelmed around the holidays? Does the idea of shopping, sending Christmas cards, parties, and presents send you running away? It can feel like a lot of pressure to attend every gathering, buy the perfect gifts, bake delicious cookies, keep up family traditions, and try to make everyone happy. All while trying to maintain your normal routine and daily responsibilities. 

The holidays can certainly be stressful, busy, and difficult to manage. Not to mention the difficult emotions added if you’ve lost a loved one, experienced divorce or separation, or are dealing with an illness. 

Here are some tips that can help you stay calm admidst the stress holidays can often bring.

1. Breathe and be mindful. Add in a 5-10 minute break each day and spend some time taking deep breaths and looking for ways to be more present in the moment. If you have loved ones, take time to just be with them instead of running around checking things off your list. Look at adding a mindfulness exercise or meditation app on your phone that you can access daily. Check out HeadSpace, Calm, or Happy not Perfect apps and see the difference a little self-care can make in your daily routine. 

2. Prioritize. So much to do and so little time? Maybe you do have to attend one work party, but trying to attend every holiday gathering may not be feasible.  It’s easy to also overcommit to others during the holidays. Take a moment and decide what you want to spend your time on this season and fully enjoy those moments! 

3. Set limits on eating, drinking, and time. Overeating and over drinking are common complaints after the holidays. Create and follow through on limits for yourself and ask someone to hold you accountable. If you experience depression or anxiety, often over consuming food/alcohol can increase symptoms so be mindful of what you choose. Buying presents? Avoid crowds by shopping online. Entertaining the family for a celebration? Ask everyone to contribute to a potluck meal instead of making it all yourself. 

4.  Realistic Expectations. Whether you’re on a budget and feel pressured to buy expensive gifts or feel stressed at the idea of needing everything to go perfect, remember it’s okay for things to be smaller, low key, and even messy. Life won’t always go the way you plan and it’s okay to have less and do less if that means saving you some stress. 

5.   Experiences over gifts. Let’s face it, kids and even some adults won’t understand your financial situation. Consider doing a fun activity, starting a new tradition, or something interactive instead of tons of gifts. Try a Secret Santa gift exchange, viewing Christmas lights around town, attending a play at a local theatre, volunteering for those in need, or donating to a charity in someone’s name. Having experiences together is always more memorable than the gifts under the tree. 

 

Remember to slow down and take time for self-care, quality time with those you love, and find the joy that can come with the season. Look for ways to give back and notice others in the giving spirit. Feeling lonely this holiday? Don’t forget to reach out to friends and family, or participate in community events. If you are struggling during the holidays, speak up and find support. If there is no one close by, consider reaching out to a therapist who may be able to help you better understand and cope during this time. 

 

Here’s to a less stressed holiday! 

How to Handle Criticism

Criticism. No one likes it or wants to hear it but it is inevitable that you will receive it at some point.


Does it remind you of past mistakes? Make you feel insecure, inferior, or inadequate? Is disapproval from someone a sign that you aren’t liked or respected? Do you feel angry, sad, ashamed?


How can you effectively respond to criticism?


First, take a step back and give yourself time to process the information. Remember that it’s a natural instinct to want to defend yourself, run away, fight back, or try to avoid a conversation altogether. Take a deep breath and ask for clarification (are you saying...?) or give yourself more time before responding.


Is the criticism constructive or destructive? Is the critic tearing you down by belittling and calling names? Or are they pointing out an opportunity to improve on something? It can be difficult to tell the difference emotionally, but with a degree of separation you can begin to distinguish how it made you feel versus what was said.


Remind yourself that you don’t have to prove yourself. If the critic was a loved one, close friend or someone you care about, remember that it isn’t about right and wrong. It usually has a deeper meaning. Loved ones, like a spouse, may criticize you for being late or being forgetful and your instinct may be to point out their flaws in defense. Look for the underlying statement. Maybe your loved one is hurt by your actions or trying to ask for something (time, attention, care). Acknowledge your role and ask for specifics about what the other person wants or needs. Thank them for their feedback to show appreciation that they were willing to communicate this with you, even if you disagree.


If the critic is someone you barely know, a bully, or a competitor, take it with a grain of salt. The more power you give the words, the less control you will feel over your reaction. If that person doesn’t know you well, then remind yourself of this fact. Misperceptions and miscommunications happen, so you can respond with what your genuine intention, motivation, or responsibility was in the situation.


If you find that you are receiving similar feedback from multiple sources, take some time for self-reflection and see if there is anything you may need to work on.

Self-improvement isn’t a bad thing and you can choose to see this as an opportunity for growth rather than a fatal flaw.

Seek advice from those you trust to get a sense of what their perspective is on the issue. Feedback can be difficult to receive but pays off in the long run.


Sometimes we are our greatest critic and it can be challenging to dismiss those tiny missteps that become obstacles to our own motivation and confidence. Self-care and compassion are also important to the process of deconstructing criticism. It’s hard to admit when we fall short of our own or other’s expectations, but that means we are just as human as the next person.

How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex

It seems pressing now more than ever to begin the conversation over to what we tell kids, teens, and young adults about sex. Whether it’s in regards to sexual assault, consent, pornography, or expectations it’s worth noting that we as adults could do a better job of openly talking about it.

Let’s be clear: talking about bodies and sex will not sexualize your child, you are not corrupting them. Kids don’t know what’s appropriate or inappropriate until they are informed. So, where do you begin? 


Name It. Start with anatomically correct names for all body parts. From the beginning of your child’s life you can properly identify body parts to help with awareness as well as prevention from awkward things later. We don’t call our hand the grabby thing, do we?  Go ahead and get familiar with saying penis, vagina, breasts, and butt. Remember that your kids at a young age have no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed of these names, we are the ones who tend to feel uncomfortable.

What’s Okay? Talk about okay touch and not okay touch, and what to do when we don’t like something or when someone else tells us/shows us they are uncomfortable.  Begin with your young children talking about what is okay, like a high five, and what is not ok “someone asking to see your _____.” Also, talk about it not being okay for others to show them their body parts hidden by underwear, or to put anything in their mouth, butt, vagina. Ask questions like “Where is it okay to touch someone” or “If someone tries hugs you, do you think you have to?” Make sure to empower your kids and say “If you don’t want to or feel like you have to, it’s ok to say no and tell an adult.”... “I will be here if you ever need to tell me and you will not be in trouble for telling me. It is never okay to keep secrets with other adults or kids about your body or their body.”

Consent. Consent is important on many levels because not only do we want our kids to be confident in their bodies and empower them to be safe, they also need to be aware of others. Say your child has a peer at school who doesn’t like hugs. Talk to your child about this and ask them what they would do. Discuss respecting boundaries and alternative ways to show friends that they care, like maybe a high five or just saying “I like that you’re my friend.” There are many was for kids to interact without crossing personal boundaries. With young children, talk about “bubble space.” Everyone has a bubble and if you get too close, that bubble will pop. Make sure you give enough room between you and another person when talking or playing, especially if anyone is uncomfortable. Now, not every child is comfortable with verbal communication. Body language is  a large part of our communication. What does it look like when someone is uncomfortable or hurt? Praise and affirm when your child is responding with feedback that aligns with respecting others right to say no or stop. Also, make sure your child knows that these same terms go for them, they should feel confident that they can say no, even to you or other family members.

Birds & Bees 101. You can begin talking about the basics of reproduction and anatomy from an early age. You might feel uncomfortable with this one, but I promise it can be straight to the point. Children normally begin to wonder about babies at elementary school age. An easy way to explain is to find a book that helps establish a conversation (thank you Amazon!) You can even begin to talk about internal bodily functions like ovaries, sperm, etc. Body familiarity helps to prevent confusion about upcoming events like puberty and can potentially prevent unnecessary body shame. It’s pretty cool to know all of the things are bodies are capable of, isn’t it?

 Pornography isn’t something anyone wants to talk about, especially with kids or teens. But it is so necessary to have open conversations whether or not you want to. The average age of exposure is 8 years old so please don’t miss an opportunity to begin talking about it. Discuss what they should do if they see it, how it might make them feel in their body. If you have a preteen or teenager, discuss how most pornography is a performance and not realistic at all. And also, those are real people on the screen. It’s okay to be curious but also what might be fun can also be harmful if you begin to replace real relationships with online ones. Remind them of consent, comfort, safety, etc. The goal is not to shame your teen for being curious or having sexual feelings, which will undoubtedly follow them into adulthood. The goal is to assist in improving body awareness, increasing communication, decreasing body shame, and understanding consent. Allow for consistent open conversations with them about sexuality so they don’t feel surprised, confused, or upset at how things could have been had they known.

 

Sexual assault/abuse. Discuss what to do if you see it, if it happens to you, or if someone tells you about their experience. Look up mandated reporting, talk about safety, and trauma. Remember, this isn’t “stranger danger” as the majority of abuse or assault occurs by someone the victim knows. If your child or teen discloses assault or abuse, the trauma will not just disappear and can often lead to depression, anxiety, suicide, or other mental health issues. There are many forms of therapy that specialize in trauma recovery, and it is highly encouraged to seek out a professional therapist if needed. 


Don’t shy away from this very important topic with your kids. It’s okay to be nervous and unsure of how to go about starting a conversation. If you are interested in getting more information about how to talk with your kids and when, check out my contact page!

     

Practical Ways to Deal With Stress

Are you feeling stuck in a loop that doesn’t seem to end? Have you been trying to talk yourself into feeling motivated or to be more positive? Are you having a hard time controlling your anxiety, stress, or emotions? If you are feeling at a loss and just need some practical tips to start helping you get through today, here are a few options.

 

1. Diaphragmatic Breathing: this is just a fancy word for deep breathing. It is important to use your diaphragm when taking breaths because it will help you calm down and reduces stress. If you are an athlete or yoga enthusiast, you are most likely familiar with deep breathing. How do you know if you’re taking deep breaths? Place one hand on your chest and one on your stomach. When you take a deep breath (in through the nose) your stomach should expand out, and the hand on your chest should NOT move. Then breathe out through your mouth and feel your stomach pull back in. That’s it. Keep practicing and if it helps, imagine your stomach is a balloon. Filling up when you take a breath in and flattening when you breathe out. See how much air you can take in and how slowly it is released back out. 

2. Mindfulness: a practice of being aware and present in the moment, without needing to judge or react to what’s going on around you. Imagine you are staring up at the clouds, noticing the shapes they make as they slowly move across the sky; not categorizing whether the clouds are good or bad, just acknowledging that they are clouds. This is an example of mindfulness. Being aware of your environment, allowing yourself to be fully in it, aware of your body and surroundings, breathing and gently redirecting your mind when it inevitably begins to wander. Most importantly, mindfulness is being aware of what you think and feel, but not getting caught in the emotional reactions. You make room to separate your experience from your reactions. Incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine can have some benefits, such as decreased emotional reactivity, decreased stress, improved focus, and improved self-insight.


3. Meditation: training your brain to sit with yourself and be in the moment. There are many forms of meditation, like guided, concentration, mindful, and walking meditation. Consistent practice is key to getting good at meditation. Potential benefits include lowered blood pressure, less anxiety, relaxation, and increased feelings of well-being. There are many resources out there on how to get started with meditation, including podcasts and smart phone apps that you can start using today. Check out the Calm or Headspace apps in your App Store.


4. Reframing: in a bad mood? A funk? Complaining, feeling down or negative, or just seeing all that’s going wrong? Our brains are wired to pay attention and remember the “bad” and we have to work extra hard to remember the “good.” Start your day with framing your state of mind like “today I’m going to look for 2 good things.” At the end of the day, recall these observations and see how it affected the rest of your day. Choose to write down something learned or received from a difficult situation. Reframing is not forgetting the bad or trying to ignore it. Instead, reframing gives us another perspective to consider.  This might be just what you need for the day, keeping your stress from increasing and preventing feelings of helplessness.


5. Realm of Control: when life seems out of balance, events out of your control are happening, a friend or loved one is driving you insane, work is unbearable, or life in general seems hard.  Look at your hand and imagine that everything you can control is in your hand. Your thoughts, feelings, responses, actions; all of these are in your realm of control. Now imagine everything else is the space outside of your hand. Everything else really is out of your control. Other people’s behavior, choices, and events you experience are not in your control. It’s easy to believe that if you just say or do the right thing, then you will gain control. Unfortunately, this likely leads you to feeling more stressed, anxious, or depressed when you think you are responsible for things outside your realm of control. Reminding yourself of what you can do, such as what you choose to believe is true or how you choose to react can lead you to thinking more logically and less emotionally.


6. Exercise: it doesn’t take much effort to look up the potential benefits of exercise, right? You most likely know that exercise also improves mood. Why? Getting active provides a release of feel-good endorphins that can help with focus, decreased stress, improved sleep, and increased energy. So, get out there for a walk, turn on YouTube and find a fun workout, do some Yoga, or join a friend at the gym.  It’s worth the effort when you begin to feel the benefits after about a month of regular (3-5 times a week) activity.


7. Talk It Out: that’s what friends and loved ones are for! Keeping thoughts and feelings hidden can make things worse, because there is no one there to keep us in check and remind us of the things that are true and not so true. You think you are the worst person ever? How could you have made such a huge mistake? That’s when you need someone to remind you of the positive parts of yourself or your situation, or maybe even just be willing to listen and validate your feelings. If you don’t have anyone you can talk to, a therapist might be for you. Think you can’t afford therapy? You may be surprised to learn that there is affordable therapy in your area. Check out www.openpathcollective.org for more information.


8. Acceptance: we so often get caught up in this idea that we aren’t ever allowed to be anything except happy. Sometimes sitting with our feelings and letting them out can be the best method of coping. Acceptance won’t feel natural because no one wants to be uncomfortable or reminded of insecurities or negative thoughts/memories. All of the effort we put into trying to avoid the potential pain or suffering is exhausting and often leads away from relief, not towards it. It is certainly no easy task to face our demons, but the payoff is worth it. No need to keep finding ways to stop thinking those thoughts, distract yourself, or replace your feelings with something that might make you feel better for a second. Acceptance is one step in a process of letting go of the need to be happy all the time. It allows you to learn to separate from all of your other emotions. Need help figuring out how to implement this practice? I suggest finding a therapist who practices Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT). Also check out Get Out of Your Mind & Into Your Life by Steven C. Hayes


You may find that you already use some of these methods, and that is awesome. The longer you actively and intentionally practice, the more likely you are to default to these actions instead of finding yourself feeling at a loss of what to do. If you find it difficult to maintain these coping strategies or your keep feeling stuck, please don’t hesitate to contact a therapist. You don’t have to be in crisis in order to be in therapy. After all, it’s never too early to start working on being the best version of you!

You Don’t Need to be Happy

You don’t need to be happy.

Not all the time, every minute of every day or your life is somehow pointless.

Social media, commercials, movies, societal and cultural influences may want you to buy into this idea that happiness is an attainable, tangible object, but it isn’t.

Happiness is a feeling and feelings aren’t meant to be held. It’s as good as trying to catch the wind or to stop aging. 

Today you may feel like dirt, scum, worthless, mistaken for thinking you should have ever gotten out of bed. Why try when you can’t be happy?

It’s pointless isn’t it? Yes it is.

But not because life is pointless...but because maybe your focus is on the wrong goal.

You want to live a life void of pain, suffering, sadness, anxiety, or fear?

As a wise person once said “ Then you have dead people’s goals.”

Yep, if any of those are your life goals, you’re not really living. 

Pain and suffering aren’t necessary or wanted but it is to be expected if we live on this earth. 

Still feeling down for some reason? The point is not for your goal to be dead of course but to begin implementing ways to live in the here and now.

How often do we spend our days caught up in the past, worried about the future, planning or avoiding, obsessing or consuming? But how much do we look at the present and say “hello?”

Do we acknowledge our own reflection, stare out a window in wonder of nature and maybe even venture out into it, just look at our loved ones in the eyes and bask in the depth of their eyes? How often do we savor each bite of food, breathe deeply in our lungs that keep us alive, recognize our own bodies and try to be in them fully?

These appear to be simple tasks, seemingly unimportant ones but they do add up. Being more fully present means retraining our brains to stop thinking about the “why did that happen...how could I have said...what if” thoughts. It brings us a place where we focus on what’s happening now not to avoid but to accept that this is now and that’s where we are.

We have memories and assumptions, fears and worries, hopes and dreams. But we can’t live there because we won’t ever be content with the present if so. 

You have nothing to do? Great, enjoy it because you aren’t required to do anything right now. 

You have too much to do? It’s ok, breathe and do one thing at a time, you’ll get there!

We often create pressure on ourselves to achieve tasks that we think will make us happy but they never do and the list never ends. 

So, forget about happiness for now. Let’s work on moving towards acceptance and contentment.

Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to begin to connect your mind and body.

Gently guide your awareness to different parts of your body, tensing and releasing, relaxing each part, leading yourself to notice how tight or relaxed your body feels. Acknowledge your body and sit with yourself, taking deep breaths and be there for a minute. 

You are on your way. Take a few minutes each day to be fully aware of yourself and what’s around you. Do you enjoy nature? Do you find fulfilment in the small interactions and connections with others throughout your day? Acknowledge and embrace those moments where you slowed down and you’ll find it happens with greater ease in the future. 

It doesn’t mean you will be happy but you can be content in the present. With a bit of practice and support, you will be on your way to a more satisfied life and happiness might just appear along the way. 

Interested in more contentment for your life and unsure how to do it? Contact Megan for more information. 

 

An Exercise in Self-Love

You want others to notice you, to believe in you, to desire you, to trust you. You want others to like you....even to love you. Not just the version of you that you present to the world, but the real you. There is a whole internal world that exists separate from the external you. You often hide those parts, afraid to show them out of fear that they will be rejected, dismissed, ridiculed, or ignored.


What does it look like to see the real version of you on the inside?

To hold this person out in front of you and have a real conversation. A healing conversation of acceptance and love.

Imagine looking into your own eyes and seeing yourself.

Hold yourself there and really pay attention to what you see.

Think about all of the times you’ve berated and belittled, attacked and shamed your own sense of self.

Think about all of the times you’ve thought “If I just had ___, I’d finally feel whole.” What is that blank to be filled? What is that something that you feel you are missing.

Why do we long for relationships and acceptance and belonging?

What need will be met when we find someone who is wiling to see us and love us despite our flaws and disappointments?

Will it ever really be enough?


All of these hopes, fears, worries, expectations; they all exist around this idea that you need someone else outside of yourself to make you feel that you exist.

You need someone to validate that you are worthy and lovable and valuable and important.

You need reinforcement to feel seen when so often you feel invisible, to feel heard when you’ve been ignored, and to be sought after when you often feel rejected.

As if magically, one day it will finally be enough. You’ll finally be desirable enough, inspiring enough, worthy enough...because other people get to decide that for you?


What if you can look at yourself, any version of yourself you need to; a small child version, that angsty emotional teenage version, or an exact replica of who you are now and choose to say “ I believe you are enough just as you are.”

You don’t need other people to always validate you to make you feel seen.

You don’t need other people to decide you’re lovable and worthy because you deserve that no matter what people think or say.

Despite the judgment, cultural or societal influences, you are the only you that has and will ever exist. You do exist and that is GOOD.

YOU ARE GOOD!

You deserve to be loved and respected and you are worthy.

This doesn’t make you selfish, egocentric, or narcissistic. It just is a plain and simple truth that you should tell yourself every day.

You don’t have to let others decide your value or worthiness; you can look at yourself and see that you inherently have value.

If others choose to affirm that, gladly accept it as a byproduct of your own sense of worthiness, but don’t leave it up to others to decide who you are and what you get to be.

There is hope in knowing that you are worthy of love, a valuable employee, a loving partner, caring friend, and giving parent.

Imagine the freedom that comes from no longer placing all the responsibility of your value and importance on others, only to be repeatedly disappointed when they become frustrated or upset with you. 

You no longer have to try to please others so that they will accept you and love you. They may choose to accept and love who your are, flaws and all. If you can love yourself, your happiness isn’t reliant on others’ determining your fate and feelings of worth.  It is a happy consequence that follows self-acceptance, awareness and love.

Keep holding onto yourself, holding your face in your hands, looking yourself in the eye and saying “I love you.” You are worthy, you are lovable, you are valuable. You deserve this life and the good that comes with it. You are strong enough to get through the hard times and face the discomfort and pain and sorrow. You don’t have to do it alone and you can choose to be with those who will also look at you in all your sense of self and gladly love you. You will be able to fully extend a love to them that overflows from a true understanding of what it means to love others as you love yourself.

Breaking the Shame Cycle

Shame.

Everyone has felt this at some point in their life.  

Do we need to feel shame? What is it’s purpose?

Let’s first clarify the difference between guilt and shame. 

Guilt serves a healthy, functional purpose that helps us correct a mistake.

Shame isolates, humiliates, and leads us towards a belief that WE are the mistake. That we aren’t worthy of love, acceptance, or connection to others. 

Guilt and shame are both feelings. However, guilt typically revolves around choices or behavior that are witnessed by others. Often, we learn through experience and guilt helps us correct behavior that could get in the way of connection and acceptance. 

Shame tends to stick around and make itself at home in your thoughts, begging you to keep quiet and telling you how terrible you are. How could you think that or say that or DO that?!

Maybe you’ve had fleeting thoughts that worried you or made you question yourself. Maybe you’ve said things that you didn’t mean or experienced something you don’t fully understand or feel capable of explaining to others. 

Shame takes these thoughts, feelings, and experiences and creates an internalized belief that something must be “wrong” with you.  It begins to create a barrier from authentic living and deep connection with others. 

So, how do we stop leading ourselves to a place of distorted thinking and to a place of healing?

The first step is to call it out by name. Naming your shame keeps it from staying a secret, creating isolation, and believing that no one else can understand you. 

Finding a safe person to speak out your shame allows the healing process to begin.  

A safe person is someone who can sit with you and listen without judging, dismissing, and accepts you, shame and all. 

Finding a safe person creates a sense of connection and validation. There are many people who may have been where you’ve been, felt what you’ve felt, and can help you see that you’re not alone.

The very act of being heard and seen amid such vulnerability can be liberating and empowering.  

It can be difficult to find someone who is able to stay with you in a moment of vulnerability. Society often disregards vulnerability in favor of perfectionism. Slowly, the tides may be changing and you can be a part of that change. 

If you don’t find anyone in your direct support system whom you feel safe disclosing your feelings of shame, it’s okay.

Therapy provides an opportunity to discover the parts of yourself you feel unable to disclose to those around you. A therapist provides a safe place where you can be seen and heard and be accepted as you are, shame and all.  

A therapist can also help you explore ways to become more vulnerable and authentic with those closest to you.  

At very least, know that you are not alone. You do not have to deal with difficult emotions or life experiences without someone to walk alongside you.

May you find the courage to begin the process of breaking your shame cycle. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Demoralized State

If you have turned on the TV or been on social media lately, you're likely to have run into commentary about the current state of our morals, our country, and even the world. 

Read, listen, or watch enough and you'll begin to feel like there is nothing you can do to make a difference.

With our access to news and information 24/7, it's easy to feel discouraged and confused about morality, values, and an alleged lack thereof. 

This is a form of demoralization. 

When you get to a place where you don't think you can do anything about what is happening around you and the burden of helplessness is too heavy, don't despair. 

There are solutions.

Coping with difficult situations and distress is certainly not easy and does take a lot of practice, but fear doesn't have to continue to plague your thoughts, and these ideas are worth a try. 

  1. Call it out: Be aware of your thought process. A continual stream of negativity is likely to lead anyone to believe that the world is all bad and little to no good exists anymore. Recognize when you catastrophize (make things seem worse than they are) and overgeneralize ("I'm unhappy therefore everyone else is unhappy, too.") When you hear yourself using demoralizing language, ask yourself "is this really true?", "how do I know it's true?"
  2. Speak to yourself out loud: Yes, this may seem weird and uncomfortable at first, but many people find that speaking thoughts out loud helps you redirect negative thinking. Say something positive when you recognize fear has taken over, like "I am doing the best I can; I will look for the silver lining."
  3. Do Something: Intentionally seek out positive information to fight against the negative. Change the channel, disconnect from social media for awhile, and tune in to uplifting and positive messages. People do good things every day, and so do you. Take extra care in being kind both to yourself and others. Remember, balance is key. 
  4. Call to Action: Whether it's something you want to stop or something you are inspired by, find a way to get involved. Do volunteer work, get involved in an organization that stands for something you care about, offer a kind statement, or a small gesture of gratitude to a coworker, teacher, friend, or even a stranger. You never know how your actions will affect others, so why not opt for paying it forward?

Remember, none of these things are going to immediately make you feel better, but start you on a path towards seeing more good in yourself and in the world.

It is from a place of hope that things can be better that leads to meaning and purpose, which often leads to a deeper sense of satisfaction and contentment in life. 

** A special note: demoralization is not the same as depression and each have distinct differences. Feeling a sense of dread and that the external world is "bad" is much different than feeling you are hopeless, helpless, and "bad."  See my blog post on depression for more information. 

 

~Megan

A Satisfying Relationship

When you think of a successful relationship, what comes to your mind?

Is it happiness? 

Attraction?

Connection?

Comfort?

What is missing that keeps you from feeling satisfied and content with the one you've chosen?

A consistent theme I find in the couples and families I work with is the ability to be vulnerable.

The idea of vulnerability may bring up various feelings in you or your partner.

Being vulnerable doesn't mean saying whatever you want without thought of how it will impact the other. Nor is it a sign of weakness or dependency.

Rather, vulnerability is the capacity to be fully yourself with the other. To admit when you feel angry, sad, or lonely. To be able to hear and see the complexities in each other, and admitting they exist. 

So, practically, what does this look like?

When your partner says something or does something that hurts you and you find it difficult to move past, speak up. Be willing to let your partner know how you feel and what triggered those feelings. 

it is also important to listen to your partner's responses as well and be able to hear their thoughts and feelings. 

We often try to avoid conflict for the sake of the relationship, when in fact confronting in a positive way says "I value you enough to show you my true self, including the parts that I fear you might not like or understand." 

Staying in a difficult conversation where you may disagree with each other can often lead to more satisfaction because it is an opportunity to be fully seen and heard.

When you communicate vulnerable parts of yourself and can hear and accept each other, you are validating safety and trust, which are the foundation of a successful relationship. 

When we move towards instead of away from each other, we can find acceptance in the midst of fear or confusion.

Often we can move quickly past misinterpretations or assumptions we make about one another when we move towards openness and emotional exposure. 

Vulnerability is only one component, and it isn't the only solution to a problematic relationship.

However, it is a step towards moving past what you want to see and finding an authentic kind of love. 

 

 

 

 

How to Achieve Your New Year's Resolution

It's January, the busiest time of the month for gyms, nutritionists, dating websites, and yes even for therapists. 

People all over the country are looking for a fresh start. They want to look better, feel better, and receive an opportunity to change something they felt was lacking in the past year.

Let's be honest....how many times have you made a resolution and actually followed through?

Why do people make the same resolution every year and by the time spring comes around they've lost the motivation to keep going?

What's the secret behind sticking to a resolution?

The answer isn't difficult or complex, but it does require one thing.

A change in perception.

Most people, getting caught up in the excitement of a fresh start, make grandiose and unrealistic resolutions that are bound to fail. 

There's nothing wrong with wanting to lose weight, eat better, have more successful relationships, or be more adventurous.

The problem lies in our own expectations.

Sometimes, setting a goal can become an obstacle because it's too big. Or we think it will easy if we just do it "right" this time.

Can you lose weight? Of course! But it's going to take determination and time.

Can you eat healthier? Yes, but it might not be as satisfying as the fast food you're used to.. Saying no to that sweet tooth can be difficult.

Can you find the perfect mate? Well....no but not because of you, but because all relationships take a lot of work to become and stay successful.

When you decide to make a goal for your life, try to keep it small and simple to start. Don't expect it to be smooth and without challenge.

One of the great things about a challenge is that you usually learn something from the experience. 

Life isn't meant to be easy and if it was, would we experience the same sense of pride and accomplishment when we see how far we've come?

At times you may find that there is a mental block or an emotional tie to something you are trying to change. A little self-exploration and thought challenging can go a long way in helping you to overcome those obstacles. 

Positive self-talk, redirecting to small realistic steps, taking it slowly day by day, and accountability are all good ways to keep yourself motivated.

If you find you are still having trouble making long-term changes for the betterment of your health and well-being, don't be afraid to ask for help!

Here's to 2018 being the year you see your goals being achieved!

 

~Megan

 

 

 

Is Anxiety Ever Healthy?

You are probably familiar with the phrase "Don't worry, be happy." But, don't we all have a tendency to worry? That's normal, right? 

Is anxiety ever a good thing?

Does worrying serve a purpose?

Let's briefly talk about where anxiety comes from. Most emotional responses are from stress and we react in what is known as the "fight or flight" response. If we are in a crisis, being threatened by someone/something, this anxiety kicks in. We may become more aware of our situation and it provides us with extra caution.

Let's say you are in a car accident where you had to suddenly push on the brakes due to the car in front of you stopping without warning. The next time you get in a car, your senses may be heightened, you may be more aware of the cars around you and feel anxiety related to driving in the car. This short-term response may help you prevent another accident. 

Ideally, this response lessens over time as you prove to your body and brain that danger is not imminent. 

This is an example of a healthy response. 

Anxiety can be a good reminder that you need to consider potential outcomes of a life-changing event, such as buying a house, getting married, changing jobs, etc. 

In short, anxiety does serve a purpose. It is a normal emotion that everyone experiences. 

However, there is a fine line between healthy and unhealthy anxiety.

Anxiety serves a purpose when it propels you into awareness of your surroundings and of any imminent danger. As a parent, anxiety might help you stay aware of your newborn baby to help keep them safe and healthy. 

When that anxiety stops serving as a help and becomes a hindrance in your life, then it has crossed over into unhealthy territory. 

So, how do you know if you are in the healthy range of anxiety?

Can you turn it off? Can you tell yourself to slow down, take a few deep breaths, and move through the anxiety? 

Are you aware of triggers to your anxiety and how to cope with it? 

If you said yes, then know that the anxiety is just a feeling and it will pass.

If you feel that your anxiety controls you or you have a difficult time moving away from worrying, find some ways to cope. Deep breathing, relaxation, positive self-talk, and meditation are all positive ways to deal with anxiety. 

 

 

 

 

 

A Matter of Mindfulness

My blog today comes from both my perspective as a therapist in support of the techniques I use with clients, as well as from my heart. Mindfulness, daily meditation, and positive self-talk can work together to propel you towards more self-satisfaction and contentment. For those who struggle with anxiety, depression, and self-esteem I hope that this post speaks to you. 

 

You are important in this world, you are significantly unique. The world shouldn't just happen to you, you are an active participant in it. 

Feelings and experiences don't have to define who you are. The greatness of humanity is that we are aware. Aware of our ability to influence others and the world. Our capacity for good and for apathy and even for destruction.  

We must feel, yes, to fully be in the present and have acceptance of all that you are. 

Be here, just sit still for a moment. Think of what your senses hear, feel, smell, see, and taste. Be open to the now and you may realize how freeing that can be. 

Don't be afraid to feel sad or any other negatively labeled emotion. Be in it, allow it to wash over and through you. 

Pushing it down, avoiding it, or distracting yourself are only temporary band-aids. Those feelings all come back later, and usually with such great force that immobilizes you. It enrages you. It makes you think you are nothing or incapable of self-control. 

But you are something. You matter. The past doesn't define you and the future doesn't have to be so terrifying. 

When you realize that you aren't just allowing the world to happen around you, and you choose to try something different; that's the moment. You are finding out who you truly are.

You can slowly transform into what you realize could be altered or improved. You stand for your values, hold on to authentic living, and wade through distraction or persuasion from yourself or others. 

There is only one you. 

Be that.

Find your passion and purpose. Be patient with yourself. This takes time and much inner conflict. Doubt. Confusion. Anger. Apathy. Forgiveness. Motivation.

Stay aware that you are participating in the present. Create time and space for meditation and allow yourself to be caught in the moment that is now. 

If you find your feelings so intense or overwhelming, don't forget to reach out. Find support and encouragement through others whom you trust and can rely on. We are not meant to do life alone. We are social creatures meant for each other, and who need one another in order to create change in the world.  

If you are still reading and you haven't found support, I am here for you. Welcoming you with open arms and an open mind, to help you along the way of self-discovery. 

 

~ Megan 

 

For more information on the neuroscience of meditation practices, please visit:

 

http://www.chopra.com/articles/the-neuroscience-of-mindfulness-meditation#sm.000000cas6mqbuctqsudxbexrvmml

https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/02/09/7-ways-meditation-can-actually-change-the-brain/#50a684641465

 

 

The Voice of Depression

If you have ever experienced depression symptoms, you know that you aren’t just stuck in a rut. You can’t just get over it and move on, or easily change how overwhelmed you feel.

If you have never experienced depression, it is important to be aware of those around you who may be experiencing it.

Depression symptoms affect one’s ability to function at work, home, school, or with others. Despite the cause, depression is a real and complex issue that society tends to shy away from openly discussing, despite who you are or where you come from in the world.

Depression can affect anyone, and this includes children and teenagers. Although, depression may look different in children/teens because they may appear easily agitated, angry, or aggressive instead of“sad.”

The one thing that depression should not be is…. a secret.

There may be immediate symptoms, or it may be a slow, gradual onset. There is no order in which the feelings and behaviors begin, and sometimes no awareness of the depression at all. 

One thing that I find consistent with depression is a creeping small voice that begins to speak quietly, saying “Shhh…don’t tell anyone.”

This voice is what I like to identify as the “shaming” voice. This shaming voice begins to dictate how awful you should feel for not wanting to do anything, for not answering the phone, for not sleeping or sleeping too much, for running late and always forgetting something, for turning down offers to go out with friends, for eating that cake or not eating the whole day.

This shaming voice tells you to stay quiet, and isolated, and alone, and that is what will keep you safe. Why? Because what if you tell and the person makes you feel even worse? What if they shame you, reject you, or downplay your feelings? No, in that moment you are just trying to hold on and other people just don’t understand, do they?

Sneaky little voice, isn’t it? Then the voice might get a little braver and a little louder. Remember when your friend said this to you? How could they? Remember when this happened? How could you let that happen? Why didn’t you say or do something? What is wrong with you? You don’t deserve…

Little voice, then shame, then isolation, and repeat. The cycle may continue for days, weeks, months, and sometimes longer. Someone may notice and ask you if you are alright. You will say “yes, fine” fearing that they will ask more questions if you say “no.” There might be an internal replay of situations (past or current) that become overwhelming and difficult to process, but continue to replay over and over. That voice inside may also tell you that you don’t matter, wouldn’t the world be better off without you in it? Maybe life isn’t worth all this worry and this nothingness you feel. Maybe you should just end the suffering and no one will even notice or care.

Depression is something that the person may or may not be aware of.  They may or may not respond to others asking if they are okay or if something is wrong.

But, how should someone respond to a depressed person?  There are many responses that could persuade them to become more isolated and feel justified in continuing to keep quiet. The best thing that you can say is “I’m here; I’m listening.”

Don’t try to fix it, don’t judge it, don’t dismiss it, and don’t ever say “It’s not a big deal, just get over it.”

Acknowledgment of depression is an important step in feeling understood, allowing room to talk about their thoughts/emotions is a step in the right direction.

Depression is complex, and it is REAL.

 Mental health issues are often misrepresented in media and continue to be stigmatized, which only helps with the small voice telling you to stay quiet and isolated.

If you are depressed, you are not crazy.

You are not alone.

You are not insignificant or inferior to anyone else.

Depression wants you to stay in it and dig a hole so deep that you don’t think you can get out.

You may not be able to stop the cycle at first without someone else’s help.

And, that is okay.

Talk to someone. You can ask for help.

A counselor/therapist is a non-bias professional who can provide you with identifying triggers, offer coping skills, and help you process difficult situations and emotions without getting emotional with you.

If you know someone who is struggling with depression, it is okay to simply listen or offer to help them find someone they can talk to. If this person makes statements that concern you about their safety, please don’t hesitate to get them help immediately. Emergency rooms, behavioral health hospitals, and 9-1-1 are all good options.

A person with depression may resist receiving help at first because they feel hopeless and it may feel like the depression symptoms will never end.

But there is hope and depression can be effectively treated.

Developing awareness, early detection of depression symptoms, effective coping skills, and a healthy support system are all ways to manage depression.

 

For more information on depression, here are some helpful links to articles:

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/index.shtml

https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Depression

https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/depression

 

 

 

5 Steps to Better Parenting

No parent comes home with an instruction manual for their child. If only that were possible! Nevertheless, all parents struggle with finding how to best care for the unique needs of each child. Here are a few tips I hope will help along the way. 

1.       Self-Care

One of the best things you can do as a parent is take a break. Constantly needing to supervise and care for a family is exhausting, overwhelming, and overstimulating at times.  Taking a break from the responsibilities of parenting allows you to focus on your own needs, which then allows you to enjoy your child more fully when you are more rested and relaxed.

2.       Be Present

 We all want to get the most out of our time and focusing on one task can be almost impossible! Even thinking about the long to-do list can keep you from enjoying the moment. Instead, turn off all electronic devices, get down to your child’s eye level, and give good eye contact. Five to ten minutes of uninterrupted time can make a big difference in how connected you and your family feel to one another.

3.       Play: Board Games, Legos, Barbies, hide- and- seek. Have fun and laugh with your child. Play isn’t just a fun thing to do but is also a method of learning important developmental skills in childhood like social skills, motor coordination, and how to express feelings.

4.       Set Clear Boundaries: Saying no really is okay! Setting limits and boundaries for your child helps them understand safety and feel securely attached to you. This is a long-term benefit for your child to learn boundaries in relationships as an adult.

5.       Model Self-Control: Being a parent of any child is exhausting, frustrating, and it’s easy to lose your cool. If you find yourself in the middle of an adult tantrum, take a few deep breaths and don’t be afraid to take a step back and give yourself a few minutes to calm down. Modeling this self-control for your child teaches them to do the same, which hopefully leads to fewer tantrums all around.

 

Last but not least, give yourself some praise! You care and love your child and you are doing your best. Don’ let your own self-doubts and comparisons to other parents keep you from seeing that you are already a good parent!

What is a Therapist, Really?

Have you ever wondered about the role of a therapist? What is their job, honestly?

Here are a few descriptions I provide when people ask me about therapy: 

- A therapist is a professional who has completed years of education and training, passed state and national exams, and fulfilled state requirements before beginning their practice. A qualified therapist should have credentials displayed in their office.  

- You might feel awkard or nervous about coming to counseling. That is okay! This is expected and there is no pressure for you to immediately start disclosing the deepest, darkest parts of yourself. A good therapist can help ease this discomfort by giving you time and space to become comfortable with them. 

- A therapist asks "how can I help you?" not "how can I fix you?"  It takes courage to ask for help and a therapist should aim to work alongside you while you explore your motivations, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. 

- A therapist wants to develop a safe, trusting relationship with you to enhance and improve your life. If there is not a solid connection with your therapist, it is okay to keep looking for the right fit.

- Therapy is not a place for advice. A therapist's role is to be non-bias and non-judgemental. The focus in therapy is solely on you and not what someone else thinks is best or right. 

- At times, a therapist will offer tools/skills to help assist in changing behaviors. A therapist may also provide an alternative way of perceiving a situation. This is a part of finding methods to promote change that you see as successful. 

- Therapy is not just for crisis situations or common mental health issues. Counseling can also be a method of prevention. Just as you go in for regular check-ups with your doctor, seeking therapy can help you better manage things like stress or relationship satisfaction.

- Therapy is a process of self-discovery, promoting healthy behaviors, and developing healthy methods of coping. 

For more information about what therapy is or myths on therapy, visit the links below:

http://www.goodtherapy.org/what-is-therapy.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/09/20/10-common-therapy-myths_n_1900370.html