Admitting there’s a problem is the first step

Many of my clients have come to see their stressful way of life as normal, inevitable, unavoidable. They may carry tension in their neck or back, or grapple with stomach issues or chronic headaches. When starting our work together, they say things like,

+ “I don’t have time to relax,” or

+ “I’m not good with all the feelings stuff,” or

+ “I am disconnected from myself; I have no idea what I want.”

There are so many ways to bury frustration, ignore tension, cover up resentment and boredom and rage. And the thing is, if your numbing strategy of choice (maybe it’s overeating, maybe Facebook, maybe drinking or relying on prescription medication) has become automatic enough, you won’t even recognize that you’re using it to get away from something. It will just feel normal.

Meanwhile, the things you do to relieve uncomfortable feelings actually put additional burdens on your body and mind, which makes you need the escape hatch MORE. It’s a vicious cycle. Our body floods with stress hormones, our thoughts and emotions become agitated, we reach for the Xanax (or the smartphone, or the chips) again.

I’ve been reading FULL CATASTROPHE LIVING, a 600+ page book by mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn. I was taking some notes recently on the section on stress reactivity and this really stood out to me:

“It’s very hard to release tension if you won’t even admit that it’s there.”

YES! Without acknowledgement, without a belief that there is another way, you will keep going and going and going until you fall apart. And at some point, your body or your mind — or both — will fall apart. Sorry to go all Doomsday on you, but it just WILL.

So if you’re on the fence, if you’ve been resisting the invitation to get a handle on your stress, if you’ve been so busy saying “I’m fine” that you’ve forgotten what fine actually feels like…consider this a sign that NOW is the time to get some support.

Because:

+ Burnout is reversible

+ You can change your relationship to your stress, even if there are elements of it that are beyond your control

+ You deserve to feel calmer and more satisfied with the life you have

Take Step 1 and sign up to get my e-newsletter here: http://www.subscribepage.com/newsletterlist

Quick ideas for taking care of yourself – today!

Pick a card, any card…

You don’t need a special reason or occasion to be kind to yourself. If you’re in need of a mini reboot, try something from the list below.

 Leave your phone to charge in another room and pick up a book you’ve been meaning to read

 Watch a show

 Go for a short walk (it’s still summertime, apparently!)

 Write down everything that’s worrying you and put it someplace safe to deal with tomorrow

 Meditate for 5 or 10 minutes (listen to a guided meditation if that’s easiest)

 Take a bath or shower

 Draw a picture with your kids

 Find a Yin yoga video on YouTube and do some gentle, restorative stretching

 Listen to music you haven’t put on for awhile

 Plan the rest of your week and schedule some down time each day

 Do something you’ve been avoiding or putting off so you can stop thinking about it

 Give someone in your family an unexpected compliment

 Write down 10 things that you’re grateful for today, in this moment

 Notice self-criticism, and ask, “Would I talk to a friend this way?”

Stress relief is a complex process, and it’s important not to underestimate the small things we can do to show compassion for ourselves. Start a running list of the things you can do to shift your mood and lower your stress level when you need a short-term fix of calmness and rejuvenation.

We all fear judgment

Are you judging me-.pngThere’s a reason most therapists want to emphasize a nonjudgmental stance with clients: it’s because fear of being judged/criticized/rejected is a POWERFUL deterrent to connection, transparency, growth and action. Being judgmental can damage relationships; fear of judgment keeps us small and contained. So as therapists, we want to generate as little of this dynamic as possible.

Yet I hear it sometimes: clients voicing worry about what I’m thinking or how I’m perceiving them. They say things like “I probably sound crazy to you” or “You must think I’m nuts” or “You’re probably thinking, ‘this girl has lost it’” or “I feel bad dumping all this on you.” It’s natural to get caught up in how others might see us.

But I’m here to reassure you that I have a lot of practice parking my opinions at the door. First of all, I truly believe that what’s right for one person (i.e. me) may not be what’s right for someone else (i.e. you), and that’s OK. That’s to be expected. When I’m working with you, I keep close in mind your values and priorities — not mine. I can set mine aside for an hour at a time.

I also approach my work with the idea that, by and large, we are all doing the very best we can. That’s not to say that people can’t improve or change, or expand their capacity for love or thoughtfulness or vulnerability — it’s just to say that in any given moment, we work with what we’ve got. I’m not here to impose my idea of happiness or peace or fulfillment on my clients. I’m not here to label you. And since I see therapy is a collaborative process, my primary job is to listen, reflect, and help you clarify what you want and the best way FOR YOU to get where you want to go.

I’m also of the mindset that any judgment has more to do with the person judging than with the person who is being judged. As humans, we often project our insecurities, fears, uncomfortable feelings onto others. As a human myself, of course I’m susceptible to this. So if a judgmental thought crosses my mind and persists, I ask what this might say about my own stuff — it’s a sign that I have some work to do.

Fear of judgment is huge. It prevents people from pursuing their dreams, taking risks in relationships, asking for what they want, and sometimes, seeking their own therapy.

You may not be able to control exactly what others think of you, but you can work on turning the volume down on the fear. It’s possible to care a bit less about what others think so that you get more of what you need and want. And therapy should be a safe place for you to practice letting go of that fear — to be who you are, imperfections and all 💜

Relaxing into the week

Yesterday I lucked into some weekend free time and decided to use it to go to the gym. I was immediately faced with a choice: strenuous exercise or something less taxing? 

Part of me felt like I should use my precious workout time to burn a bunch of calories. But right at the time when I was able to make it over to the gym, there happened to be a yoga class scheduled called “Yoga + Mindfulness.” I’ve attended plenty of yoga classes that have knocked me into next week (anyone ever tried Bikram yoga? Holy…), but the description of this one led me to believe I’d leave feeling refreshed and reconnected. I really wanted that on a Sunday afternoon. So I decided to save the swimming or running for another day.

This class was so good. It started with about 10-15 minutes of guided meditation. The teacher encouraged us to sit comfortably on our mats and breathe, not in any particular rhythm, just paying attention to the breath and settling into ourselves. I was reminded of how much I like listening to someone talk me through meditation sometimes. It’s more comforting, and easier, than sitting in complete silence (though I like that, too, for different reasons). The teacher incorporated some light movement after a few minutes – rotating head and neck, gentle twists. The middle 25 minutes involved a series of stretches. And the last 20 minutes included some progressive muscle relaxation, tapering down to Shavasana, or corpse pose.

It was a reminder of the power of devoting quiet time to meditation and reflection — and it was so cool to move simultaneously. Combining light movement with mindful awareness helped me reconnect to my physical self. There was no agenda, no pressure to do anything perfectly or even “right.” I was able to keep my eyes closed for most of the class, because it wasn’t complicated — I didn’t have to keep looking at the teacher to figure out what to do. It did prompt me to notice some aches and pains I was experiencing, and I felt myself releasing stress and anxiety. 

I often write and talk about the mind-body connection, and this was a powerful, experiential reminder of how integrated mind and body really are. The more we can nurture this connection and take care of ourselves emotionally and physically, the less prone we are to stress and burnout. Sometimes taking care of ourselves physically involves running or cycling or Stairmaster-ing — pushing ourselves, maybe getting into the flow with some music. But other times it’s about moving at a slower pace… inhabiting, noticing, pausing, stretching, being. 

You DEFINITELY don’t need a gym membership to get the benefits of gentle movement and meditation. Search YouTube for restorative yoga, yoga and meditation, or Yin yoga, and click around until you find something you like.

What are you most in need of today? Strenuous release or gentle restoration? Or both?