Healthy Self-Talk: Be Your Own Cheerleader

“I just can’t do ANYTHING right,” my client sighed as she settled further into the couch. ‘I should just accept that I am fat, depressed and a failure at relationships. Nothing will help me.”

And as long as she chooses to continue talking to, and about, herself that way, she WILL be overweight, depressed and alone, and most importantly, unable to change, regardless of her therapist’s skills. For the fact is that every cell in our body responds to what we think and say about ourselves.

Although most of us are familiar with the “love our neighbors as ourselves” directive, we miss the meaning of the last part. Most of us wouldn’t dream of calling our neighbor names or criticizing them point-blank to their faces, yet we look in the mirror and do it to ourselves every day. We feel compassion for our friend’s struggles with food, relationships or other issues, yet we are merciless and impatient with our own. Self love is a vital key to health, and self condemnation the thing that most often keeps us from our goals. For instance, if you are having trouble ending an unhealthy relationship, AND you “beat yourself up” for your “weakness,” we now have THREE issues to overcome—the relationship, the self loathing, AND the damage done to your self image by the insult! Self love, forgiveness for our mistakes, and patience with our failures leads to the strength and discipline necessary to move forward into a healthy, balanced life.

To become your own encourager and best friend requires a deep examination of who taught you to be self-critical in the first place. Where did the “I’m not OK” message come from? It is most often from one of two sources—either what was said about you by your parent, or what a parent said about themselves in front of you. If you heard negativity modeled in your growing up years, the pattern was set for you to live that way as well. Children really do learn what they live. But like any learned behavior, this thinking pattern can be changed; sometimes by yourself, and sometimes with the help of a counselor if the pattern is persistent or severe.

To remain vital and healthy in your thinking throughout your lifetime, practice catching yourself when you are saying or thinking self-critical things. Immediately visualize a big red STOP sign to interrupt the pattern. Replace the self-criticism with a positive, encouraging thought, such as “I’m proud of myself for trying to change.”

 If you focus on what you DON”T like about yourself, you will get more of it, but focusing on the successes in your life will lead to more success. Congratulate yourself on victories, whether it’s a ten minute walk when you really just wanted to watch television, or keeping your temper in traffic.

All of us respond to love and encouragement, including when we give it to ourselves. Give yourself the gift of acceptance!

How to Handle Divorce: Ten Quick Tips

1. Protect the children. Children have a deep psychological need to think well of BOTH parents. Avoid letting them hear you put down or say bad things about the other parent, regardless of how justified you feel in saying these things.

2. Depend on the experts. Well- meaning friends and family will give you legal and psychological advice; that’s not a good source. Thank them for their concern and move on.

3. Avoid other drastic life changes. Make your life as stable as possible right now. Try to keep sleeping and eating on a schedule. See your doctor and/or counselor immediately if these are disrupted for more than a week or so-depression and anxiety may take hold if basic needs are ignored.                                    

4. Take a Divorce Parenting class as soon as possible. When I taught this class, the comment I heard most often was, “why didn’t someone tell me to take this sooner?” You will find help and support there. Ask your attorney for more information.                   

5.  Maintain professionalism at work. It is natural for your focus to be disrupted, but strictly limit the amount of time you spend on email or conversation about your divorce.

6. Lay it down sometimes. Take a break and play with your kids. Go see a funny movie. Let your mind rest. If the worries persist, promise yourself you will go back to worrying about the issues later that day, then return to the fun.

7.  Limit contact with your ex-spouse. You are not obligated to endure any conversations that your attorney does not require of you. Make your contact brief and limited only to necessary details of custody issues.

8. Observe your breathing. Under stress, our breathing often becomes shallow. This leads our muscles to tense up and puts the whole body on constant alert. Put a sticker or an object around your workplace and use it as a reminder to breathe deeply.

9.  Stand up for yourself.  It’s time to say “I need, I feel” or “no, I can’t do that.” Maybe this is new behavior for you.  A counselor who has been specifically trained in divorce (not marital) counseling can teach you how to detach and communicate in a civil manner that protects the dignity and rights of both parties.

10. Finally, remember: this WILL pass. You are currently experiencing one of the hardest life experiences there is. Keep your focus firmly on the hope of a peaceful outcome and take care of yourself in the meantime.

Counseling for Children

Child counseling can be extremely successful if you support your child throughout the counseling process. Family counseling also works wonders if everyone bands together and supports each other through the changes that are being made. Follow these tips to support your child and family in therapy:

1. Be there to listen and offer caring support, without judgment, to your child during the time in child therapy

2. Meet with the child’s counselor to make sure personalities are a match for you and your child.

3. Be open and talk frequently with your child. Make sure discussions are age appropriate; early school aged children need brief, simple discussions or explanations, upper elementary age children may ask more detailed questions and may need help figuring out reality from fiction.

4. Don’t pressure the child to talk to you about what happened in the child counseling session, your child may tell you in his/her own time in his/her own way.

5. Keep the lines of communication open with the child’s counselor and the child. Showing your child that you trust the child’s counselor helps build trust.

6. Try not to rush change. Remember trust is built over time; it’s not any different in child and family counseling. Allow time for your child to learn to trust his/her counselor. If you become intimidated by the child-counselor relationship, bring it up to the counselor (there’s nothing to be embarrassed about).

7. Patience is extremely important throughout the child and family counseling process. Children often don’t know how to express their emotions and fears like an adult would, therefore may have some temporary behavior changes throughout the process.

8. Be a good role model, show the child you are willing to take care of yourself and if you need counseling, seek it.

9. Make time to discuss your child’s worries, fears, and even accomplishments. Be sure to turn off any distractions (phones, TV, video games, etc.) so your child knows how important the time with your child is to you.

10. Most importantly, enjoy favorite activities with your child alone and with the entire family.

If you have any questions, throughout the process, speak up. Your child and family counselor is there to help!

An Attitude of Gratitude: Tips for Tough Times

“In the depth of winter, I finally realized that deep within me there lay an invincible summer.” A. Camus

Let’s face it, life throws us curves sometimes. We all experience the ups and downs that lead some of us to seek a counselor’s help: relationship issues, money problems, job struggles, grief and loss. Add any of those stressors to our current economy and it becomes even more challenging to stay positive and thankful! And yet, an optimistic focus is an essential quality for mental health and happiness. What do we do?

The Practice of Optimism

The alarming thing about tough times is that negativity feeds on itself. As we “talk fear” to others, we contribute to THEIR anxiety. They then spread that talk to more people, keeping us all in a state of uneasiness. Negativity is truly contagious, a “mental virus” spread by thoughtless conversation, news stories, and emails. Before you know it, a whole nation is panicking, which helps cause the very hard times we fear.

What we Focus On, Grows…

An ‘attitude of gratitude’ simply means that we make a conscious choice to put our attention on what we like about our lives. One easy exercise is to list the three best things that happened to us today, and then note why they happened. The “why” is usually because we chose to make an effort to improve our lives, whether it’s the good feelings we get from working out, or the pleasure of calling a friend. This helps us see that we are not victims and we are not powerless. There is always one small thing we can do to improve our present circumstance and ease our anxiety. Some ideas:

  • Lay the problem down. Take a break from trying to solve the situation. Put aside the divorce papers and take a walk. Leave the resume writing behind and watch a funny movie. Let your mind rest.
  • Limit the time spent dwelling on and talking about the problem. Just as not talking about it at all makes it worse by suppressing it into the body, so talking about your problem obsessively can keep you panicked. Your discussions should be brief and you should only confide in a positive, non-advising friend, family member, and your counselor.
  • Give yourself healthy treats. A nap, a novel, or signing up for a class can be a little lift to help you get through a hard time.
  • Examine the problem on paper. Write down how you feel for a few minutes to release the problem. Things look different on paper than in your head!
  • Let yourself grieve. Grief is a natural and necessary process when facing a loss, whether you have lost a job, a person, a lifestyle, or a marriage. Crying is important for release of cortisol, a damaging hormone that builds in the body during stress.
  • Avoid negative people. There will always be those who are determined to “spread the virus” of negativity. Some people get a sense of importance from repeating bad news and the media depends on bad news for ratings! Be wise about who gets your attention.

There is always something hopeful to say, something to be grateful for. Fix your attention on what you appreciate, and more good things will come along!

Signs of Depression in Adults

PLEASE NOTE: this list is NOT intended to diagnose or treat you. See a licensed mental health provider or medical professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Most people get “the blues” sometimes that last a day or two. However, Major Depressive Disorder is a SERIOUS and often FATAL illness that occurs in approximately 6.7 percent of US adults. Medications can be helpful, but come with side effects that many people cannot tolerate. Medications will NOT cure the mistaken belief system causing the depression.

Without talk therapy to both uncover the root cause of the depression and learn ways to manage it, depression can persist despite medication. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, can help you uncover the beliefs you carry about life without even knowing it. These beliefs often contribute to depression below your level of awareness. Once uncovered, I can help you face and refute the irrational thoughts and replace them with healthy, logical thoughts.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms on a frequent or daily basis, please contact me for a full professional evaluation:

  1. sadness
  2. pessimism
  3. feeling like a failure
  4. loss of pleasure
  5. guilty feelings
  6. punishment feelings
  7. self-dislike
  8. self-criticalness
  9. suicidal thoughts or a sense of, It would be better if I  weren’t here*
  10. crying, or unable to cry anymore
  11. feeling agitated
  12. no interest
  13. hard to decide things
  14. feeling worthless
  15. no energy
  16. sleep issues
  17. irritable
  18. appetite changes, up or down
  19. can’t concentrate
  20. fatigue
  21. no sexual interest

(Adapted from the Beck Depression Inventory)

Taking that step to call me for an appointment is hard, but can be the best decision you ever make.

*IF YOU ARE FEELING SUICIDAL, CALL THE SUICIDE HOTLINE AT 1-800-273-8255 OR 911 IMMEDIATELY!

Say What You Need to Say: Healthy Communication Tips

Even if your hands are shaking

And your faith is broken

Even if your eyes are closing

Say it with your heart wide open

Say what you need to say.

 (John Mayer)

“Finding your voice” is a wonderful benefit of therapy, as you learn here that you have both a RIGHT to ask for what you want and the WAY to state your needs respectfully.

Some basic tips when you are “saying what you need to say:”

  1. Use “I Need” instead of “you should.”

 It is not OK for you to tell other people how to live their lives. “Saying what you need to say” is NOT a license to judge, criticize or otherwise counsel others!

 It IS OK to require them to treat you with respect, but you must first ask respectfully. This means not yelling your message at them. Not using sarcasm or anger. It means speaking up firmly and courteously about what you will or will not tolerate.

  1. Speak honestly, clearly and directly—don’t hint, manipulate or guilt-trip others.

We get in trouble when we expect others to “just know” or read our minds. This is a common pitfall when dealing with the opposite sex. Women, most guys don’t get all the hints and signals that your girlfriends do. It’s not a sign of any lack of love. “Say what you need to say” without playing games.

3.  After you say what you need to say, take responsibility for what comes next.

You have choices here. Maybe you’ll get what you’ve asked for, maybe you won’t. The next step is to decide what is required in order for you to stay in the relationship or on the job. Do you need to require marital counseling? Do you need a different job where you are respected? Do you need a time apart? Do you need to hire help to get things accomplished which are being neglected?
 

Then, do what you need to do.

Say what you need to say.

And let me know if I can help in that process.

Simple Ways to De-Stress

It contributes to illness. It’s the major factor in back pain. In fact, it makes ANY pain worse. And it’s not always caused by bad things-it can be related to celebrations, new jobs, holidays, new babies, and many other things we would never wish away.

Yes, I’m talking about stress, or as defined by Webster’s, “a strain or pressure on the body or mind.” It’s almost always presented as a reason people finally get professional help for life issues, and I diagnose and treat it daily.

The body and mind perceive any change as potential danger, and they react with heightened awareness, muscle tension, and increased cortisol production (cortisol is that nasty hormone that can increase blood pressure and blood sugar, and suppress immune response). It is essential to our overall health to learn to reduce stress responses in our body and mind. The following are some ways to do so:

Breathing

Under constant stress, our breathing becomes shallow and strained. A simple exercise is to sit back in your chair for a minute or two, close your eyes, and just focus on your breath. Breathe in deeply through your nose to the count of four, using the ticking of a clock if you have one. Hold your breath for four counts, and then SLOWLY let the air out for six beats. This deliberate focus and attention will both calm and distract your mind temporarily.

Guided Imagery

This is an article all by itself, but basically guided imagery involves taking time to mentally “visit” your favorite relaxing memory-be it the beach, the woods, whatever brings a smile to your face- and mentally placing yourself there using all five senses. This also works with visualizing a beloved child’s face or your pet. A few minutes of visualization a day can actually increase immune response and is simple to do.

Tense/Relax (Progressive Muscle Relaxation)

Starting at the top of your head, tense and relax the muscles of your face, neck, hands, shoulders, etc, all the way to your toes. Hold the tension to a count of four, and then let it go, moving on to the next muscle group. This puts a focus on muscles that may have been tight without your awareness.

Journaling

The benefit of scribbling down thoughts and feelings is well researched. You don’t need to watch spelling, grammar or anything else, as no one will see it. You don’t even have to “keep” a journal-just the act of writing in itself is beneficial, even if you shred it immediately after! Try completing these sentences to start:

It really bugged me today when….

If I could wave a magic wand I would change…

Then just keep writing without thought or censure.

Doing Nothing

A totally foreign concept to our goal oriented society, isn’t it? But sitting completely still in silence for a few minutes a day is a wonderful way to de-stress. As we let the mind daydream, rest and wander, we often find new solutions to our stressors. This concept is summarized by the beautiful quote: “Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself” (Zen saying).

If these simple measures don’t ease your stress symptoms, the next step is to seek help from a licensed therapist who can help you resolve underlying issues contributing to the problem. Best of all, these simple steps to de-stress can’t hurt!

Untreated depression is indeed dangerous

Depression wreaks havoc on the entire body by throwing the stress response system out of whack. The risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and cancer are all raised as normal immune function is disturbed by anxiety, stress and /or depression. Difficult relationships, parenting and work issues all contribute to this situation.

This post contains my  “prescription” for becoming (and staying) healthy. Basically, here’s what we should all be doing for a healthy, happy lifestyle:

  • Get a yearly physical exam.  Depression and anxiety can be related to thyroid and other issues
  • Exercise: it relieves stress, raises endorphin levels. It’s even better if you get outside in natural light to exercise!
  • Journaling: research shows it increases hopefulness,releases stress, and calms the brain.
  • Regular Sleep: essential to mood stability and a healthy immune system.
  • A good social or family support system increases longevity and raises immune system function
  • Professional Therapy: coming for a session BEFORE symptoms are out of hand with regular checkups

Now maybe you are thinking, well, if I could MAKE myself do all of these things, I’d be fine! What you may not realize is that a mental health provider is trained, licensed and qualified to be a resource to help you do these things. A therapist can be your encourager, your supporter, and your guide in prioritizing and planning your best, healthiest life.

Therapy helps uncover the roadblocks to your success that exist outside of your awareness. These roadblocks include childhood messages, both told to you and modeled by your parents, and negative experiences that impact your habits to this day. Together we can gently uncover and examine these self-defeating beliefs without shame or judgment. When “the truth sets you free,” you are then able to move forward and possibly see new levels of well being.

What Therapy Stage Are You In?

TherapyStage-BLOG.pngSURVIVAL:

Virtually all counseling clients start at this level. You are in crisis, at a low point, depressed or anxious. My focus here is an immediate and practical prescription for helping you regain hope and basic functioning. This most often includes health issues such as exercise and rest, as well as releasing pain out of the body by relaxation and journaling.

RECOVERY:

At this stage you move on to the relationships around you as a focus for change. You are ready to see how you help create the painful patterns in your own life, and you go out into the world as a scientist, observing your patterns with others. You begin to see how you contribute to your own problems by the thinking habits you’ve formed.

PROGRESS:

Too many clients leave therapy at this stage. The pain is eased—why go deeper? The problem with stopping here is that the fundamental issues and reactions have not been changed yet. It’s like stopping an antibiotic on the second day because you feel better—the basic “infection” has not been eradicated, and will resurface in time.

PLEASURE:

A client who “stays the course” to this stage begins to reap the deeply satisfying rewards of enjoyment and contentment in life. Persistent body aches, migraines, rashes and recurring illnesses often ease or disappear entirely as the client ceases to be at war within and therefore has the energy to heal.

AWARENESS:

Once the bothersome thinking patterns are uncovered and corrected, the client has found peace in their personal boundaries and dealings with others. The “coaching” side of my work now begins. I help the client explore what they want their legacy to be in life, how to live with integrity regardless of circumstance, and dream for the future by exploring goals.

Ten Signs You May Need Professional Therapy

We all go through challenging times in our lives, but some experiences are worse than others. There is NO problem that can’t be eased—a little or a lot—by seeking professional counseling.

Some problems are like a sore throat—we go to the doctor, get a short round of treatment, and feel better. But others, such as death of a loved one, relationship issues, parenting problems, moving to a new city, living with the after effects of abuse from childhood, dealing with an elderly parent, health or weight issues—are more like a cancer. The problem only grows without professional intervention.

So what are you experiencing?

1) I have low energy, “blahs”

2) Someone in my life puts me down or threatens me

3) I can’t relax

4) I have the same fights over and over

5) People keep disappointing me

6) My sleep is disturbed

7) I can’t keep a job and/or a relationship

8) My temper gets out of hand

9) I wouldn’t mind if I weren’t here anymore

10) I feel guilty all the time

I have extensively studied how to help these and many other issues common to all people. Let’s get started making your life better! We will gently examine the things that are troubling you and I will guide you toward new ways of thinking and dealing with people to lead you toward freedom. Homework is an essential part of this process, as you take the suggestions I give you and try them out between sessions. Are YOU ready to change?

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