The Process of Therapy · Uncategorized

Hello Spring, I’ve been waiting for you!

RENEW

Spring is one of my favorite times of year. I love the way the snow melts away and reveals tiny buds, slowly and determinedly pushing their heads through the earth, to bloom in the warm rays of sun. April represents a month of growth, of rebirth, and renewal. So why just leave January for the month to review goals and get back on track? Let’s make April our new January. Take a moment and Review-Recharge-Renew-Restart!

Review: Remember that goal you set earlier this year? How have things been going? Have you been getting off track on any of your goals? Or maybe you haven’t checked in on your progress lately. If you have been getting off track, what is the smallest step you can take today to get back on track?

Recharge: Give those goals an energy boost! One of the best ways to make your goals a reality is to write them down. What is it exactly that you want to achieve? How will you go about achieving it? In what time frame? And how will you notice your progress towards it? Re-writing your goal based on what you have learned since the time you set the goal can help recharge your motivation for working towards it. Click her to learn more about setting SMART goals.

Renew: Sometimes when we review our goals, we realize that we stopped working on them because they no longer matched our needs, values, or situation. If you reviewed your goal and realized it no longer was a complete fit for you, take a moment to re-write it to be a better fit. Or, scrape it completely and start out fresh.

Restart: You’ve got your goal, you’ve got the steps written out of what you need to do to achieve that goal. You’ve got a timeframe – now just start. Right in this moment, commit to start.

Check these out additional tips to stay on track (and feel free to add more of your ideas in the comments).

  • Find a cheerleader (a positive friend of family member that can cheer you on when you start to lose momentum). Ask them to check in with you every now and then, to be your accountability partner of sorts.
  • If you use a paper agenda, flip ahead and set reminders to check-in on your progress
  • Set reminders in your on-line calendar to go off periodically to remind you to check in on your progress.
  • Put sticky notes in your home, in places you will look to remind you to stay on track

If you started to get off-track on any goals you set for yourself earlier this year, let April be the month that you review them or rewrite them so that you get back on track with being your courageous, unstoppable self.

Affect Regulation · The Process of Therapy · Uncategorized

Self-Talk for Self-Love

The way we speak to ourselves (also called self-talk) can build us up or leave us deflated. The words, the tone, and the overall message in our words can either motivate or tear down, lighten or depress. We may not always feel optimistic in this life, and in those moments our self talk needs to help us persist – enabling us to come out the other side with as little wounding as possible.

How would your mood shift, your perceived stress dissipate, or your day change if you spoke to yourself the way you would speak to a close friend? How would your mood shift if you spoke to yourself as kindly as you would to a young child?self-talk for self-loveWhatever your life experience, whatever has caused you to feel down on yourself, in this moment, try choosing kindness with your inner words. Not sure how or even what to say? Take 5 seconds and try these simple steps that I refer to as Catch – Anchor – Encourage:

  1. Catch yourself when your inner words are negative. Notice with kindness “Whoops, there I go again…”
  2. Take a deep breath, allowing yourself to get present in the moment.
  3. Insert something positive, such as “Ok, I can try again.”

“Don’t beat yourself up for beating yourself up. We just need to learn to make friends with our inner critic.” (Dr. Kristin Neff)

If you have a tendency to use negative self-talk, be patient with yourself as you learn to turn it around. Here is a ‘cheat sheet’ of positive statements you use when substituting out the negative – think of this as a starting point as you learn to substitute your own.

  • I am not alone in my struggles
  • I am strong
  • Every breath I take anchors me in this present moment
  • I can do this
  • I can get help if I need to
  • I am doing the best that I can
  • I can’t blame myself for everything
  • I will learn from this mistake
  • Emotions are just visitors and I can let them leave
  • I can connect with calm again
  • I am going to be okay
  • I am able to calm my mind and my body
  • This too shall pass
  • I am able to persist
  • This is just one bad day
  • I believe that everything will work itself out somehow

Okay – now it’s your turn. Practice Catch-Anchor-Encourage as you go about your day today. Feel free to leave a comment and let me know how it goes!

Reference:

Neff, K. (2015) Self-compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Affect Regulation · The Process of Therapy · Uncategorized

Journaling 101

journalingTo write in a journal or not to write in a journal, that is the question. Do you dread writing down your deepest thoughts for fear someone might find your journal and read it? If so, you are exactly like most people! I’d like to share a strategy that will respect your privacy while also facilitating the hugely therapeutic process of journaling. I recognize that writing isn’t for everyone, and that it’s important to find what works for you.

The Reason to Write: Emotional Coping

The bubbling up of strong emotions tends to leave people feeling out of control, over-whelmed, and flooded. During these moments, one’s immediate reaction may be to shut down the emotions causing them to feel that way. We do this in all kinds of ways – some healthy and some super unhealthy. Coping well, and healing from trauma, is about being with the emotions and the message those emotions are providing in a more conscious and titrated way. Writing those heavy thoughts down is one way to get them out of your head, see them more objectively, and process some of the emotion connected to them.

Always use Two Journals

Journal 1 – The Dumping Journal
Your dumping journal can be any notepad or piece of paper. What you write on isn’t important, because once you dump the thoughts, you will be destroying the page. A dumping journal can be used to work through strong emotions, such as anxiety, anger, and grief. When you feel the pull of strong emotions, write about it. Literally dump it from your head onto the page – write it, draw it, scribble it, paint it. Write about the situation and about what’s stirring up for you.

Tip: If you sit down to journal and no words are coming – keep writing. Put your pen to paper and just write anything that comes to you. Within a few minutes the flow of thought will start to pour out onto the page.

This journal is called a dumping journal because we dump out the nagging emotions and thoughts onto page. Once complete, feel free to review what you have written, and then destroy the page. Shred it, burn it (safely) – ensure there is no record. The therapy isn’t in keeping what you write down, it’s about getting it out of your head and onto paper so you can work through it. The dumping journal isn’t to be kept because it’s not a reflection of who you truly are – it’s the angry, sad, traumatized, frightened, disorganized, annoyed, and vulnerable parts of you that are simply finding a voice. Each page gets destroyed after it’s been created in order to maintain the privacy of your healing process.

Journal 2 – The Healing Journal
The healing journal is the one that you will keep, so take some time to find a beautiful book to use. On any given day you may want to look back through this journal for strength, motivation, and a reminder of what sustains you. The healing journal is the one that you will to use to document all the good stuff. Some examples include:

  • a technique you learned that helps you cope,
  • something about life you learned that impacted you,
  • an “aha” moment,
  • things you are grateful for,
  • positive memories and photos,
  • the best fortune cookie message you ever received,
  • anything that reminds you of your strength, perseverance, and worth.

Here is how it works:

Whenever you have finished writing in your dumping journal, turn to the healing journal and write something positive. Turn towards gratitude, acknowledge your worth, connect with your peaceful place. Perhaps what you want to do differently tomorrow, or something that sustains you, or motivates you, or all the examples from your past that have demonstrated your ability to persist.

If you have written or processed something pretty heavy in the dumping journal, you may want to do something symbolic that represents a clear division between processing hurts and daily life. Taking a shower or washing your hands can be symbolic of washing it away, have a cup of tea do 10 burpees – whatever works to better enable your brain to recognize the dumping is complete and you are now letting go and returning to the present moment.

Tip: If you journal at bedtime, and then have difficulty settling the thoughts as you try to fall asleep, gently remind yourself that you have already “done the work” for the day and that it’s now your ‘time off’. Pull your peaceful place image back in as often as needed, or use a bedtime story app such as Calm.com to settle in for sleep.

Additional Resources to Inspire Journaling

Rhonda Brynes talks about writing 10 things for which you feel grateful for each day, in her book titled “The Magic”

Kristen Neff talks about journalling to build self-compassion 

Mindfulness · The Process of Therapy · Trauma Therapy · Uncategorized

Living Life: Even on the Tough Days

On the darkest of nights, when there seem to be no options – no solutions to the despair you feel, how will you find your way? When it seems like there is no hope left, will you hold out hope for your own fire?

I’d like to write about suicide, and the option that takes just the tiniest spark of hope: living.

Ask 10 people for their thoughts on suicide, and chances are you will receive 10 completely different responses. Suicide is a word packed with 100 times more emotion than syllables. And even in sitting down to write about it today, I had to wait for the whirl of emotions to slow before I could hear the one constant resounding  thought: I value life. 

I value life.

I didn’t always though. I was once an impulsive and shy kid with few friends, the target of ridicule by classmates – once or twice even by teachers. I knew rejection. I knew loneliness. I even knew the pain of grief when cancer claimed my mother . I knew feeling directionless. Feeling unsure of myself. Of having no one to turn to who would truly have my back.

One day, during my Masters degree training, I took a class on suicide risk and intervention. After learning crisis intervention and theory, we were required to demonstrate our suicide intervention abilities by role playing client and clinician. When it was my turn to play the role of the ‘client’, I  harnessed those many years past from my youth, when living another day felt unbearable. And while I could still acknowledge the pain of those days, I could barely get the words out in order to “act” suicidal in the moment. And that was when it dawned on me: I value life. I could not even pretend for one moment that I didn’t want to be alive.

I have bad days and sad days. I have lonely days and grumpy days. But I also have good days and joy-filled days. I have peacefully quiet days and blissfully calm days. I have days when I feel invisible but I have so many more days when I love and value myself. The thoughts and emotions that awaken thoughts of suicide are a signal that you are in pain. That you are hurting and feel powerless to create change yet that you desperately need to create that change in order to be ok. Sometimes it might feel as though that change is impossible. Sometimes it might feel as though the energy required to act on creating that change is just too much. So what can you do?

We need to get out of our own heads. The view one takes of the world when feeling depressed or anxiety-ridden can become a habit and can breed more thoughts that are characteristic of depression or anxiety. We need to really look at the people in our life and ask the tough questions. We need to turn towards the people who care and we need to let them care. We need to be kind – even to ourselves. We need to listen. We need to be present. And in doing so, we can ignite the tiniest spark of hope to keep going, to find your fire – because this life really can be good.

If you are feeling suicidal, please reach out for help. Call, text, email, talk. You have more worth than you know.

If there isn’t someone you can talk to, or a Crisis Line in your area, check out The LifeLine App in the App Store.

SG blog

 

The Process of Therapy · Uncategorized

Christmas isn’t a Glorious time of year for Everyone

Last week I was invited to speak on the topic of caring for those in your life who might be struggling over the Christmas holidays. A women’s group, who recognized how easy it can be to get swept up in the busy-ness of holiday cheer, wanted to ensure they were picking up on the signs of those who might be struggling in order to be present, attuned, and responsive to their needs.

Christmas background

The truth is, the holidays really aren’t glorious for everyone and may even create a worsening of symptoms connected to low mood, anxiety, and loss. While I can’t give you the webinar verbatim, here are a highlight of ideas to help you connect with the people you know who may find the winter holidays difficult.

1) Use your Intuition, and know the Signs

Not everyone is going to tell you how they are feeling, and the signs of depression and anxiety are not always obvious. Use your intuition and knowledge of the person. Here are some additional indicators to be aware of:

  • An increased negative outlook that is out of character
  • Increased challenges in getting in touch with someone when you know they are in town, not working, or generally available
  • They are frequently late when previously they were always on-time
  • They seem to no longer put effort into their appearance when previously did

Things Someone who is Struggling might say

When we are truly listening, we are not thinking about what to say next. Truly listening means we are attuned to the person speaking. When you listen, you may hear clues the person is using to tell you they are struggling.

It might sound a lot like:

  • “I’m having a hard time these days”
  • “I feel so stressed out”
  • “The holidays have never been a good time of year for me”
  • “I hope the holidays pass quickly”
  • “I’m not looking forward to it…”
  • “I feel depressed”
  • “The holidays are hard for me”

depression_sympt

2) General Guideline Ideas to Care for Someone who is Struggling

  • Don’t assume to know how another person is feeling
  • Don’t diagnose (Do know the symptoms and offer resources if you are worried, but try to stay away from Dr. Google!)
  • Do alter your expectations of what the holiday season means to people
  • Do spend less time talking about what you are giving or have received for Christmas
  • Don’t force large get-together’s on people who have declined your invitation (Do put effort into seeing them one-on-one)
  • Don’t take it personally if someone leaves a get-together early  (Do put effort into checking in on them the next day)
  • Don’t assume everyone is going to want help
  • Do know your community resources, helpful apps, and be ready to listen

3) The Tyranny of “Are you Okay?”

Ah yes – beware the “Are you okay?” question. Have you ever noticed that asking “Are you okay?” often assumes you are looking for the person to say they are not, and when their answer contradicts this expectation, you feel they are withholding information and therefore repeatedly ask “Are you okay?” until frustration ensues and yup – you guessed it, now they really aren’t okay!

Asking “Are you okay?” sets you up for an unfulfilled answer. Try not to ask it, and try these options instead. The answers they may elicit will yield far greater information and the recipient of the question may even feel more understood and validated.

Instead of asking “Are you Okay?”, try asking:

  • “It seems like you’re feeling down, how are you today?”
  • “How do you feel you are coping with the holidays this year?”
  • “How are the holidays going for you?”
  • “It seems like you are really struggling; how can I help?”
  • “I remember this time of year is hard for you; can I spend some time with you?”
  • “I know these get-togethers can be challenging; what do you need for it to work for you?”

4) Tune the Heart through Positive Shared Experience

Research has found that connecting with a practice of gratitude can actually impact one’s outlook. It must been deeper than the simple “I am grateful for the sunshine today” and must be expanded with: “I am grateful for the sunshine today because _____”

Now, if you enter into a conversation with someone who is emotionally struggling with an attitude of airy gratitude, you will risk rending yourself unrelatable and your helpful efforts may be brushed aside. However, there are some ways you can bring an attitude of gratitude into your connection with them. Here are some examples:

  • “It’s so good to see you, I really enjoy our coffee-talks”
  • “It’s so good to spend some time with you”
  • “I really appreciate that you can be honest with me, thank you for trusting me and letting me in to your world”
  • “Sometimes when people feel stressed they tend to isolate themselves, thank you for letting me be here for you. I really value you in my life and I am here for you.”

Thank you for reading: it means you are aware that someone in your life might be struggling and you are exploring ways to be more present and responsive to their needs.

 

Resources:

Christmas image from: <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photo/christmas-background_3142066.htm”>Designed by Kjpargeter</a>

Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success & Performance at Work

Elisha Goldstein, Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion

The Process of Therapy · Uncategorized

Pursuing a Career with Abandon: Why I love being a Counsellor

When I first told my Nonna that I was going to be a Counsellor, I was 20 years old and had just switched out of an orientation to teaching stream in university to a Psychology major. With an appalled look on her face and an emphatic inhale, she stated in her thick Italian accent “Why you wanna sit and listen to peoples’ problems?” It wasn’t a question, but rather a statement laced with judgment and condescension. My response was something along the lines of “I can’t explain it”. I suppressed my headstrong must-fight-for-what-I-believe-in feisty inner warrior and simply hugged her.

But her statement sat with me. Not because I doubted my career choice, but rather because it gave me insight into how little my Nonna understood about asking for and receiving help. Raised in a farming family by parents who lived through the depression in southern Italy, then witnessing first-hand the impacts of the second world war, asking for emotional support had never become her go-to coping strategy. For every loss she experienced, (and there were many), she donned her symbolic black clothing and shut off the hurting part of herself. It wasn’t my place to fight with her. I could only love her fully, for she was coping in the only way she knew how.

IMG_5189.jpg

Yes, the job of a Counsellor is to listen – but it is also so much more. It is about motivating and inspiring people to be the best versions of themselves, to  learn how to invite in the change they are so desperately seeking. It is about helping people reconnect with hope after life experience has rattled it. It is about discovering the strength and courage they forgot they had. It is about cultivating resilience. It is about discovering how to be kind to one’s self, in a life where that was potentially never taught or even discouraged. The safety of the counselling office becomes a place to practice holding positive beliefs that just aren’t rooting due to the busy-ness of life. It’s a place to deconstruct shame, to grieve losses, to breathe deeply and fully, and to acknowledge ones’ worth. Every single counselling interaction is a chance to let someone know that they matter, that they are not struggling alone, and to foster hope.

That is why I choose this career, and that is why I love what I do.

The Process of Therapy · Uncategorized

What does Change mean to You?

If you are like most people, change can feel over-whelming. Change is about moving beyond the familiar, the predictable, the traversed terrain. And to be honest, that can evoke a little fear. And a whole lot of uncertainty. What do we most often do when we feel fearful and uncertain? We proceed with caution. In the face of change, that might look like vacillating between options with indecision; it might look like clinging to the past; or worse, seeing the past as all good through those delusory rose-colored glasses. Fear kicks our survival instincts into action, which might just leave us sticking with what we know, leaving us fleeing from change.

A sense of loss is another emotion that accompanies change. We often associate loss with emotional suffering. When we allow ourselves to fully experience and allow all of our emotions, we find that it’s less about ‘suffering’, and more about processing, letting go, and kindling hope. We need to feel our emotions, and allow ourselves to embrace the hard work of planning and implementing and revising that new life directions invite.

A Recent Big Change

After several years having an office at Arise Chiropractic, I found myself in for a change. I was in need of a new office location. And like so many of us, I experienced strong emotions as I encountered uncertainty, hesitance, and doubt. Eventually, uncertainty melted away as a new opportunity unfolded, and hope began to re-ignite. As the move became a reality I felt a bittersweet sadness: excitement for the new opportunity combined with loss as I said goodbye to the Team I’d spent the last 3 years being a part of. I took my time: having the important conversations with others but as well as with my own emotional processing. I do believe that change can make us stronger. We come face to face with our doubts. Moving out of our comfort zone challenges us to be braver, to be stronger, to be more self-aware, and maybe even a little more compassionate. I took the leap of faith and moved. I ordered new furniture, then cancelled the order and started over. I painted, then I re-painted. I moved in the furniture, only to move some out and re-arrange other pieces. I put art up. I took art down. I sat in the room and pondered the space. But in the end it all came together. And the creation is now a beautiful, comfortable, cozy, private space for the healing work of counselling to unfold.

When we embrace change, including all the emotions change evokes – anxiety, worry, frustration, and anger and sadness – we grow as people. Sometimes it’s about taking a leap of faith. And it is always about believing in yourself. Trusting that no matter how the cards fall, you won’t fall. Be open to change – you are capable of more than you know!

Check Live Happy Counselling out at my new location: The White House Wellness Centre. 

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