Am I Enough?

Am I Enough?

This question… this question haunts us all in so many ways.  This question creeps into crevices in our lives and strikes out at us, making us feel uncertain and unworthy.  In our achievement and success oriented society, we are beat over the head with this question, Am I Enough, every. single. day.

I’ve had this conversation several times this week, and more than I can count over the years.  Whether we are comparing ourselves to someone else, to a standard society set, or to a former or expected version of ourselves, we all do it and it is always painful.

So let’s dig in.

I want this post to be more of an experience.  I want you to settle into wherever you are, take a deep, grounding breath, and tune into yourself for a minute.  In what ways do you feel “not enough”, where does that phrase sneak into your life?  Take a moment.

This is soul grating, button pushing work.

Where does this question live in your world?

Here are a list of common areas that “Not Good Enough” tends to thrive:

  • Body Image
  • Parenting
  • Relationships
  • Career
  • Social Life
  • Intelligence
  • Skill Sets (sports, gaming, etc)

As it turns out, Not Good Enough’s best friend is shame. They go hand in hand.  When we don’t feel up to par, we feel bad about ourselves (our bodies, our brains, etc…) and that brings on shame, which only serves to perpetuate the cycle.  As a society we have perfected shame, shaming ourselves and one another for any perceived shortcoming.  We’ve disguised shame as motivation… if I don’t shame myself, how will I ever improve??? But recent research shows that shame isn’t motivating at all. In fact, it’s quite discouraging. Shocking, I know.

So let me tell you something right now.

You are Enough

In this moment, right here, right now, you’re enough.

Listen, we all have room to improve and to grow.  Hopefully our lives are one big exercise in growth. But right here in this moment, this is all we have, and it is enough for right now.  If you’d like to make some changes, grow, learn, get healthy, by all means do those things.  But for goodness sakes don’t shame yourself.  What is right here and right now is all we have so why hate it, why beat yourself up for it, why let shame cast it’s heavy hand on you?  Why?

Do me a favor and settle yourself again, take a deep breath, think of those areas where you aren’t feeling good enough. Find a place in your heart where compassion lives. It might be easier to find compassion for someone or something else first, but once you’ve found that place I want you to direct that compassion towards yourself. Tell yourself “I accept _____________ (my body, where I am in my career, etc…)”. Sit with that for a while, repeat it, feel the feelings that come with it without needing to change or ignore them.  When the acceptance has settled in a bit create some affirmations for yourself, here are some examples:

  • My body made two people, it’s pretty amazing.
  • It’s ok that I’m introverted, I am a good friend to those I have.
  • My career is only one aspect of my life.
  • I deserve to be happy despite my shortcomings.

And the best of all

  • I AM ENOUGH!

Please remember, you don’t have to be everything.  Furthermore, you can’t be everything. You may see people doing more, having more (I could write a whole different post on this one), being in better shape, etc….  You can’t do it all, and more so, you probably don’t want to.   I was discussing this with a few other therapists this week… the pressure to do speaking engagements or write a book when all I really want is to be in my office doing the work with clients.  This pressure of being considered “good enough” is pushing me towards things I am not even interested in! So when you find yourself in this place, comparing yourselves with others, here are a few tips:

  • Stop and check in with yourself. Is this even something you would want in your life?  Is it actually important to you or is it message you’re getting from outside of yourself?
  • Go to a place of gratitude. Make a list of three things you are grateful for (they don’t have to be literal things, experiences, characteristics, feelings all count too).
  • Do a loving kindness meditation- send yourself some love.
  • Use the affirmations you developed above.
  • Create a plan to move towards goals that are important to you.

But most of all please remind yourself that you are uniquely you, you are on your own path going your own way. Life is not a race or a competition so take your time to learn, grow, feel, change, and develop in your own way.  Life is painful enough on it’s own, you don’t need to help it by hurting yourself.  Be kind, be understanding, be your own biggest fan.  Repeat with me:

I am enough.

I am enough.

I am enough.

 

For more information on shame check out Brene Brown’s work:

Shame, Vulnerability, and Empathy

For information on self compassion, check out Kristin Neff’s work:

Self Compassion Info and Resources

 

Parenting the Child You Have, Not the Child You Want (my own story)

This may be an unpopular post, it may be hard to read, it will most likely be hard to write… but it is an important post because I see this issue all over my practice, and even in my personal life.  As it turns out, therapists are people too (hmm….I think I might have written about this before somewhere) and so are our children. My daughter has always been an incredibly independent, and (that wonderful world we all use to kindly day difficult) “spirited” child.  This has inspired some looks, some comments, and some discussions with friends and family.  And it has caused me to take a step back and look at my own parenting, and what I want from my child and for my child.

She has been challenging since birth, struggling with reflux, allergies, and terrible eczema she has been understandingly irritable and clingy.  She also inherited a bit of her mama’s flare.  I may or may not have struggled with my own temper as a child 🙂   My biggest fear from birth was that this is all people would see when they saw her.  They would miss her incredibly loving soul, her amazing sense of humor, her incredible intelligence.  All because she struggled to regulate her temper in the face of some non-kidfriendly (<– not a word, just made it up) challenges.

There was plenty of time when I just wanted her to be “normal”, whatever that is.  I used conventional parenting techniques, I got frustrated, my husband and I fought due to all the stress.  And then there was a moment that I realized I was trying to change my child into something she isn’t.

That changed everything, my whole perspective shifted in that moment.  Many of the qualities I had been perceiving as difficult and challenging became positive. My daughter was not born compliant or complacent, she is not a “yes” kid.  She has big feelings, she feels them fully, and she lets us all know. She knows what she wants.  She is strong willed.  These are all great things.  All the sudden I became elated with who my child was, but more importantly, I became empathetic instead of resentful.

It became my mission to empower all of these amazing parts of my girl.  To encourage her big feelings, to allow her to advocate for herself and her needs/wants, to foster her independence.  I realized I had been trying to mold a compliant child, a child who bent to my will rather than learning to exercise her own in a responsible and respectful manner.  I learned from my baby that I didn’t want a daughter who said “yes” to everything because that is what the world wanted from her, but learned how to say “no” in manner that people would listen to her instead of dismiss her.  This little girl taught me so much, I’m so grateful for her.

So, what does our life look like now?  It’s not all rainbows and sunshine.  Changing my perspective didn’t solve all of our problems.  But it did make parenting easier and much more fun.  I get to enjoy my child.

Here are a few things we do:

  • Instead of time outs, we do time ins. It was incredibly traumatic for her to be on time outs, and it never made a situation better or stopped the behavior from occurring again.   Myself or my husband will now take her (we do this with our son as well, it’s just much less frequent since he is a total rule follower!) out of the situation, hold her or sit with her (whichever works better for her) and discuss why we had to take a time in.  We talk about the situation, everyone’s feelings, and what we need to do next.  Then we return together.  She learns much more this way, and feels loved and supported at the same time.
  • We talk about feelings, A LOT! If she yells in response to me and I let her know
    • I don’t like being yelled at.
    • It is difficult to hear her and her needs when she yells at me.
    • I am on her team and want to help.

Just talking to her like this, in a calm voice, usually brings her volume down and allows us to have a decent conversation.  If I yelled back, or punished her for yelling, the learning would have been lost, and I am modeling behavior that I don’t want to see from her!

  • We take deep breaths. I am human, I get frustrated.  I model what I want to see.  So, I take a deep breath, I might even tell her I am getting frustrated, and I do what I need to do before addressing the situation.
  • We practice mindfulness, individually and together. I have my own mindfulness practice that I began after she was born.  My mindfulness practice gives me the invaluable choice to respond rather than react. Just this extra moment has deeply changed me and my relationship with my daughter.  We practice mindfulness together by using Stop, Breathe, and Think’s Kid’s App.  We also take mindful nature walks often.
  • I make a distinction between her behavior and her self. She is not her behavior.  I love her even when I don’t love her behavior, and I tell her this often.  And in turn she tells me often “Mama, I love you even when I’m mad”.  This is so healing for the both of us.
  • I look for the need. I can fully give credit to Jason and Cecilia from Happily Family for this one.  They discuss how our children’s behavior is most often a form of communicating an unmet need.  If we take the time to figure out what are children need we have a good start on working with the behaviors.
  • We connect often. This may not be a need for every child, but it is for mine.  We snuggle, I hold her, I give her loving touches, and I tell her how much I love her, how smart, brave, and strong she is often.  I truly believe this fills her tank and makes her outbursts shorter and less frequent.

 

Here are a few thinking patterns that I feel need to be challenged if we are going to love our kids for who they are:

  • Things should be easy. I find myself thinking this a million times a day.  “Why can’t this just be easy? Things don’t need to be this hard.  Why can’t they just listen?  Why do they have to question me all the time?” — Here’s the thing.  It isn’t easy, it’s never been easy. Parenting is hard.  Dispel the myth that it should be easy and you set yourself free.  Ok, that was dramatic, but still.  We are given these little humans with their own personalities, strengths, and challenges.  Figuring out who they are, what they need, and how to raise them to be good humans is our life’s work; there’s nothing easy about that.  It isn’t going to be hard, sweet, sad, heart exploding, devastating, exciting, and scary. Let it be all of those things.
  • “Bad” Behaviors need to be Punished. Nope. Keep your eyes on the prize here.  If our goal is to raise good, healthy, smart, functional kids then our goal shouldn’t be to punish these behaviors; the goal should be that our children LEARN from their behaviors.  We have the opportunity to show them how their behavior/choice impacted others, how we feel about it, how it impacts themselves. We have the ability to teach them so much… and we lose that chance when we shame and punish them.  If your child is locked in a timeout after being yelled at, do you think they are learning? We are teaching children that if they make mistakes they will be punished, shamed, and isolated. Listen, I’m not saying that kids should get to do whatever they want without consequence, but I am saying that we need to be incredibly thoughtful about that consequence.  And mostly what I am saying is that the idea that “bad” behaviors deserve punishment is dangerous and ultimately not skillful parenting strategy. Please check out current research on the negative impact of time outs for more discussion on this!

 If this post spoke to you, please take a few seconds today to really think about who your child is and what they need.  Be thoughtful about how you can help the child in front of you grow and learn.  Take a deep breath and let go of the child you wanted or the child you thought you’d have.  Refocus your efforts on being the parent your child needs today and in the future.

And know that I am sending you so much love and support.  This parenting stuff is hard.

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And if, in the future, my daughter decides to go back and read her Mom’s blog…

Baby girl, I thought I was here to teach you, turns out this goes both ways.  Thank you for being my greatest teacher, and thank you for showing me unconditional love as I learn. You are amazing just the way you are.  I love you boundlessly now and always.

Tune IN when you feel like tuning out

One of the first steps of working with most clients is exploring their coping skills.  If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard “I binge watch something on Netflix” or “I just scroll through (place social media site here)”, I’d have some serious vacation money saved up… helllooooo beaches of Costa Rica.  The truth is, there are all sort of coping skills and they all fall on a spectrum.  Some are good, some are just plain bad, some are context specific.  But here is what I want you to focus on…

Are you tuning in or tuning out?

There is an important distinction.  When we are feeling sad, stressed, or anxious, those feelings need to be dealt with, they don’t just go away.  When I work with children I use a “feeling jar” to demonstrate this.  I ask kids to write/draw a time when they felt _____ (mad, sad, frustrated… you get it), we crumple up the paper and shove it into the jar until there’s no room left and paper is bursting out of the top.  I then tell them that when we shove our feelings down they don’t go anywhere, and when the jar is full… queue crazy shaking motion and paper flying everywhere… our feelings explode.  This can come in the form of outbursts, anxiety, panic, and depressive episodes.  Our feelings need an outlet.

Binge watching Netflix is a nice distraction, but is it an outlet?  Are your feelings being processed, or just ignored?

I ask my clients to consider this all the time, even with skills we label as “healthy”, such as exercise.  If you use your workout time to think through things, process feelings, pound anger into the pavement, allow anxiety to be left in wind as you run, that is tuning in.  That is processing.  If you workout to ignore your issues as you sweat and then grab that dopamine high, we might need to add some things to your repertoire.

And here’s a hot button issue… weed. It has been widely publicized that weed is helpful for alleviating symptoms of anxiety, pain, and depression. I’m not going to take a stance on that here, and I’m definitely not judging, but I will ask those who are using weed for these purposes to ask themselves the above question.  Are you working through your issues, or ignoring them?  If symptoms keep arising, then I would encourage further exploration into methods to process the underlying emotions rather than just dealing with the symptoms.  That goes for all medications, natural or pharmaceutical.

Speaking of that, let’s talk processing.

To put it simply, processing is working through an issue or emotion.  This can be done in a variety of ways both inside and out of the therapy room.  Things you can do at home include:

  • Journal– I get a lot of eye rolls with this one.  I get it. I’m not talking about “dear diary” stuff.  I also am not requiring daily journaling, although that would be great.  I’m talking about taking dedicated time to explore a particular issue in the written format, whether it be just once, or readdressed over the course of days, months, or years.  If you don’t know where to start, start right there.  I encourage clients to start with “I have no idea what to write…” and see what comes out next.  The benefit of journaling is that it provides a written record of the processing, and hopefully the journey of healing.  I know clients of mine have enjoyed looking back at their progress.
  • Letter writing– Oh boy do I love this one.  Sometimes we have stuff to say, and we can’t say it to the person who needs to hear it.  Maybe it’s because we are scared of losing an important relationship; maybe it’s because that person has passed; maybe it’s because that person is our boss and we don’t want to get fired.  Write it ALL in a letter you never intend to send.  Let it all out, whether its angry, sad, vulnerable, funny… put it all on the page and then do what you want with the letter.  Keep it, rip it up, toss it; it’s yours.  We all deserve to have our feelings heard, when that isn’t possible, this is such a great outlet!
  • Talking– Of course, talking your issues out is a wonderful coping skill, it’s the foundation of therapy. But make sure you’re actually diving in, don’t just complain or recount a situation.  Talk about your feelings, thoughts, experiences on a deeper level.  Think about what might have caused the feelings both externally, but also internally.  Choose someone who will not only listen, but will offer helpful reflection.  Tune into that reflection and see what you can learn and how you can grow.
  • Exercise– Do it mindfully. EMDR was actually discovered while walking through a park.  Exercise can be incredibly therapeutic if you use it that way.  Use the time to think through your issues, or use imagery to imagine letting go of unwanted stress or anxiety as your body moves.
  • Mindful Practices– RAIN is a process where you recognize, investigate, and learn to not-identify with the emotions you are experiencing. This is less about processing and more about not “becoming” the emotion.  However, it allows you to sit with the emotion and become familiar with what it’s presence feels like. A description of rain can be found on Mindful.org’s site.  A wonderful guided meditation for working with difficulties, including difficult emotions, can be found at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center’s free guided mediation page.

 

There’s so many more too, find what works for you! The bottom line is that your feelings are important, and they don’t always go away on their own.  Tune into them as a form of self care!

Game Time!

What do you remember from childhood?  I remember a literal closet full of games stacked on top of games, stacked on top of more games.  Before the days of devices and DVRs, my sister and I would pull out Clue or Life and entertain ourselves for hours.

Play is vital for the brain’s growth and development.  Why not engage our kids in game play so they can learn, grow, and have fun all at once.  Here are a few games I have found useful in my office.

Connect Four

Teaching kids to slow down, pay attention, and think through choices.  Reflect what your child is doing. Ex: I see you’re just blocking all my moves, I wonder what would happen if you work on your own plan while paying attention to my moves.

Chutes and Ladders

Working with kids who are sore losers.  This game can be SO frustrating, it provides many great opportunities to work with low frustration tolerance and sore losing.  During this game it is helpful to reflect your own frustrations or disappointments while also noting the positives of the game as well. Ex: Aw man, I got another chute, how frustrating.  I’m glad I got that ladder earlier.

Kerplunk

Wonderful for slowing down, making thoughtful decisions, being mindful in action.  In order to be successful at this game you need to make a purposeful choice, then move mindfully to pull your stick out.  I like to let my clients pull out a stick carelessly (as many of them will) and then prompt them on their next turn to slow down and look closely at the game as they do it.  The difference is remarkable.  This can lead to other conversations about the benefits of slowing down and making mindful choices.

Similar to Kerplunk are Yeti in My Spaghetti and Honeybee Tree.  I use the Honey Bee game in my office and it is a client favorite!


Topple

Another game that promotes mindful movement and choices.

Story Cubes

Wonderful for creativity and self expression.  This game can be difficult, so it also helps children persist despite the challenges and feel a sense of accomplishment.

There are so many more games out there, enjoy looking… and mostly, enjoy playing with your kids. I know they’ll enjoy playing with you!

New to the Practice!

Friends, I have some exciting news!

In the past several months I have felt like I am coming out of the dark! My daughter turned three and has blossomed in so many ways, including becoming more sure of herself and more independent from me.  This has allowed me a bit more free time and I have found myself reading more and more.  I think after 5 years focused on family and growing my practice, I was thirsty for growth myself!  In addition to reading, I began seeking out opportunities to train to increase my skills. After a lot of thought, I decided to pursue EMDR, and wow am I glad I did!

I spent this past weekend in an intensive EMDR training, the first of three, possibly more.  I couldn’t be more excited about the possibilities of this kind of therapy for my clients and my practice.  Let me explain

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, but don’t get caught up on the name just yet.  The very basic description of EMDR is this:

The human body has a beautiful and natural way to heal itself, and it moves towards this tendency on it’s own.  The mind is the same way, when there is an injury or trauma, the mind moves towards healing.  However, if we get a cut, and there is dirt or bacteria in there, the cut may not heal, it may become infected.  The healing is blocked.  The same can occur in the mind, the natural healing process can be blocked.

When we experience trauma (big or small) it is stored in our brains not just in verbal or visual memory, but is sounds, smells, bodily sensations, and more.  When the healing process is blocked our mind cannot fully heal from the trauma, we cannot fully process it and therefore, are vulnerable to be triggered by similar sites, sounds, bodily sensations etc… We are also more likely to symbolically recreate this trauma in our lives as our mind attempts to solve it and move past the block.  Many, many people live with fear, anxiety, depression, substance use, and more at the hands of blocked trauma.

It is important to say here that trauma isn’t just big things like war, rape, natural disasters, etc… It can be smaller (although they may not feel small) things such as experiencing rejection from parents or peers, being shamed by a teacher, going through a divorce or major life transition, and much more.  Many of my clients are resistant to the word “trauma”, I’m ok with that as long as they don’t minimize the impact of the incident on themselves and their life.  Whatever you choose to call it, your experience is important, honor it.

Ok, back to EMDR.  First on a whim, then through multiple published studies, Francine Shapiro realized that traumatic or emotionally upsetting memories could be neutralized (eliminated of their emotional charge) through bilateral stimulation.  Originally, Shapiro used two fingers, moved back and forth across the field of vision as bilateral stimulation. Currently, there are a variety of other means including hands tapping the client’s outer thigh, and machines that provide sensation in handheld “tappers”.

Many studies have shown that bilateral stimulation, combined with therapist prompts and guidance can rid even the most activating traumas of their emotional charge.  The incident remains in memory, but no longer stirs up negative feelings and sensations.  This effect has been replicated in numerous published studies.  Although the exact mechanism is not entirely clear, it appears that the bilateral stimulation unblocks the channels and allows the memory to process to completion.  The amazing part is that this process is much faster than regular talk therapy; Shapiro sites an average of 4.5 hours in single trauma incidents (Shapiro, F., Eye Movement Desensitization and Processing (EMDR) Therapy, Third Edition).

I know it sounds too good to be true, but in my training this weekend, I watched it happen, I even had it happen to me! As therapists in training, it is essential to practice our skills, and equally as important to know what it feels like to sit in the client seat. So, during trainings we are the therapist and then we are the client.  I addressed two issues from my past that still bring up negative emotions when I think of them.  I sat in my client role as my fellow classmates practiced their new skills on me, and was AMAZED as I watched memories and sensations flicker in front of my eyes and move on past.  Upon completion, these incidents no longer held an emotional charge for me.  Being a neuro nerd, this is absolutely fascinating!  Being a therapist, I am filled with hope for my clients to reach a place of peace and calm sooner than previously thought!

If you’d like to learn more about EMDR, check out EMDRIA’s website

www.EMDRIA.org

For information on the specific Attachment Focused EMDR model that I am training in please visit

www.parnellemdr.com

*It is important to note that no results can be guaranteed in therapy, even with mountains of research behind it!  And that I am considered “in training” until the completion of my third training weekend in the fall.

A Day withThe Yes Brain

Despite horrendous traffic and the occasional shifting of the earth, living in the Los Angeles area has it’s perks.  One of those is proximity to UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center.  This past Saturday I was lucky enough to spend the day taking a MARC workshop from my professional (and now personal) hero Dr. Daniel Siegel and is oft coauthor, the inspiring Dr. Tina Payne Bryson.  The workshop was entitled The Yes Brain, coincidently (not at all coincidently) the title of their new book.

Let me start by saying that I was nerding out in a big way about seeing Dr. Siegel in person.  I have read so many of his books (although he seems to write them faster than I can read them) and listened to even more of his talks online. I have used his “handy” model of the brain in more sessions than I can begin to count.  More than anyone else, this man has influenced the way I practice therapy.  And, if you recall, which of course you do because you are a faithful reader of my little blog here, I wrote my first blog post (which became my second when I decided to introduce myself first) about his book Parenting from the Inside Out.

Even with all of the build up of meeting my hero, this workshop did not disappoint.

The workshop was a synopsis of the book and was for everyone, not just for professionals.  Dr. Siegel and Dr. Bryson had such a great rapport, which made the talk feel like a conversation.  Dr. Siegel is the consummate expert at explaining the neurobiology in an accessible way, and seeing him demonstrate the hand model of the brain in person was, for me, like seeing my favorite band play my favorite song.  Did I mention I am a huge nerd?  Dr. Bryson masterfully took all of the science and applied it to real life parenting. They used examples from their own lives, which made all of it feel so human.

Since it took them 3 plus hours to break down the book, I won’t even try here, but I can give you a little peek.  The difference between a Yes Brain and a No Brain is a great place to start.

NO BRAIN

Reactive

Shut Down

In Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Faint Phase

Perfectionistic

Rigid

Recoils from failure

Unwilling to try new things

 

YES BRAIN

Receptive

Open to learning and connecting

Resilient

Able to hold on to curiosity and creativity

Socially engaged

Willing to try new things

Flexible

 

How do we know if our kids (or ourselves*hint hint) are in a Yes Brain state.  The authors call this the Green Zone.. Physically speaking the Green Zone looks calm, regular breath rate, relaxed muscles, clear thinking, and the ability to respond by making rational choices.  A No Brain can be seen in two different zones, the Red Zone looks a lot like the fight and flight response; increased heart rate, breath and blood pressure, tense muscles, shaking, and reactive.  The Blue Zone looks like the faint or freeze states, limp muscles, markedly decreased heart rate, collapse, and playing possum.

So how do we keep ourselves and our kids in the Green Zone.  The authors use a cheesy acronym:

Balance

Resilience

Insight

Empathy

~Did you get the pun???  We’ve already established that I love a good pun!~

How do we establish the BRIE in our kids?  That is the heart of the book.  There is no way I can do it justice here, so I won’t even try.  But, I will speak to my hint above.  In order for our kids to have a Yes Brain, we have to have one too.  We can’t expect our children to learn something that isn’t modeled to them, it’s like saying “here, I expect you to know all about reptilian anatomy without ever reading a book or laying eyes on a reptile.”  It doesn’t sound super realistic when I put it that way does it?  So get ready to get your yes brain working, because you’ll need it to help your child develop one!  And enjoy the read, you may become a Siegel/Bryson fanatic like me!

 

New Year, New You???

This phrase is ubiquitous with the month of January. And like many colloquialisms, it seems harmless, it’s just part of the vernacular right?  I’m not going to get all sensationalist here.  This blog isn’t titled “The seemingly harmless phrase that could kill you!”.  I just want to take a closer look at it, maybe challenge it a little bit.

So many things we see in the media focus on changing us; making us skinnier, our hair thicker, our face prettier, etc… If that isn’t enough, every January we get smacked in the face with ads about resolutions, mostly about working out and eating better.  None of these things are terrible, in moderation.  It’s great to be in shape, some folks love the art of makeup, who doesn’t want picture perfect hair?

But what if we are good enough, just the way we are?  Seriously.

Somehow in our culture, we have developed the idea that shaming ourselves pushes us to be better. Turns out it doesn’t.  Brene Brown has done some amazing research on this. In a shocking turn of events, shaming ourselves is actually quite discouraging.  I know, shut the front door, right!?!

So back to the phrase, “New Year, New You”.  Please listen to me when I say this

YOU DON’T NEED A NEW YOU.  YOU ARE AWESOME.  YOU ARE ENOUGH.

I hear the “buts” coming already… “but, I need to lose a few pounds”, “but, I lose my temper sometimes”, “but, I need to kick my sweet tooth”.

Those things may be true, but those things aren’t you.  They are pounds of weight, they are feelings, they are habits.  They aren’t you.  YOU ARE ENOUGH.  So pick one thing to work on at a time.  Set some realistic goals.  Start small so you experience success, success is reinforcing.  For goodness sakes, when you reach your goals GIVE YOURSELF CREDIT!  If I even sense you discrediting yourself, if I hear something like “well, normal people don’t eat a pint of ice cream a night so I don’t deserve credit for not eating a pint of ice cream tonight” I will come to your house, grab you by your shoulders, and tell you that you did a good job until you can no longer stand the site of my face.  Too aggressive?  Sorry.  I’m passionate about this one.  Your struggles are your own, so when you make progress don’t compare, own it, give yourself credit, and keep moving forward.

So this new year please note: you don’t need a new you.  Please continue to be you, and continue to grow, improve, heal, learn, and challenge yourself.  But stay who you are, you are awesome.

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If you’d like to read some of Brene Brown’s work on coping with shame and challenging your imperfections check out these two amazing books


I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough”


The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Be Present for the Holidays

See what I did there?  No? Ok that wasn’t the best pun. Moving on!

Do you ever feel like the holidays are over before you know it? Or you are so stressed you don’t get to enjoy the holiday season because you’re so busy? Or you dread the holidays because of family drama, loneliness, chaos?  You get the picture.  The holidays are “the most wonderful time of the year”, but it doesn’t always feel that way.  I can’t guarantee your mother in law won’t say something snarky, or your significant other will actually get to what you want this year, but I can help you stay more present and enjoy the special moments that make this season so “wonderful”!

Find Mindful Moments

Take time throughout the day, every day, to be present and mindful.  It doesn’t have to be much, but it can make a huge impact.  When I talk to my clients about this I nearly always hear a response akin to “I don’t have the time”.  The thing is, you do. Think about your day and notice when you can fit in a few seconds of mindful breath.

  • If you have a commute, at each red light, take a mindful breath and do a quick body scan, see if there I any tension you can breathe into or any stress you can let go of. The light turns green, move on.
  • Take a mindful shower. Focus on the feeling of the water on your head, face, hands, etc…  Feel the difference between the warm water and cooler air.  Notice the tingling of the shampoo in your hair, or the way the cool tile slowly warms under your feet or water.
  • Tune into 5 senses of the holidays. Smell the tree, feel the smoothness of the wrapping paper, taste the cinnamon, ginger, and peppermint, look at the beautiful lights, hear the bells ringing.  Those holiday signatures can be your meditation bell, your cue to tune into the present.

Make Mindful Moments

It’s so easy to miss the holiday magic.  It’s also easy to be overwhelmed by it.  If you’re a parent, you feel the pressure to make it big and special and memorable.  I get it.  Here’s what I’m saying, it can’t always be all of that. That is ok.  But you can be intentional about making certain moments special.  This year several factors made it difficult for us to get a tree, we usually like to get one the day after Thanksgiving, but that just wasn’t in the cards.  And when we finally got to it, it was squeezed in between work and a birthday party.  I could have been sad and regretful about this, believe me, I can really go there.  But, I chose to make the moment that we did have special.  I chose to be present, to tune in, to take time to smell the trees, to carry my daughter who is almost too big, to let her touch everything she wanted to, to let my son run between all the trees and yell in delight and excitement.

As we decorated the tree (several days later) I chose to not worry about the breakable ornaments and just be present with my children’s joy as they found the perfect spot for the perfect ornament.  I told them stories of some of the decorations and sang (poorly) along with the songs playing in the background.  It wasn’t perfect, the kids fought, ornaments broke, the tree is a little wonky, but it felt great. So, tune in when you can.  There is no way to make the whole season magical, but you have the power to choose some magical moments and be present for them.

Let Go

Lastly, let go of perfection.  There is such freedom in not holding yourself and the season to unattainable ideals. Do what you can and let go of the rest, this season and always.

 

Peace to you this holiday season and all the best in the new year!

~Abby

At Home Help for Your Child’s Anxiety

Therapists get a lot of questions from friends, family, and people we have just met at holiday parties, weddings, kids’ sporting events, etc… I’m going to be honest, I’ve considered making up a new profession just to avoid awkward conversations with new acquaintances.

You may be curious as to what issue gets asked about most often, if you aren’t curious, read this anyways… it’s good stuff.

The thing I hear most often is parents asking me how to handle their children’s worries.  To be fair, they usually aren’t talking about normal childhood worries, they are talking about big worries, worrying about everything, or irrational worries.

Now, I am as big of a proponent for therapy as you are going to find, but there are plenty of things that can be addressed at home prior to seeking help through a professional.  Sometimes, the issue with worry is that parents just need a bit of help talking their kids through it.  That’s where this resource comes in.

Check out What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety (What to Do Guides for Kids)

This is my go to for working with kids who have anxiety, here are the reasons why:

  • It’s playful and fun.  It lightens the mood of what can be a heavy topic by providing a cute metaphor (anxiety is like a tomato plant that can grow out of control the more we feed it) and giving kids opportunities to draw pictures and come up with funny phrases.
  • It gives us a common language to address the issue.  Us therapists formally use the term anxiety, some kids use worry, some use nervous, others have their own unique way to describe it. By doing the workbook together, we have a common language from the book that we develop together as we work through it.  We can use this language when the kiddos are struggling in session and at home.
  • It’s accessible.  It never goes above your head or gets overly clinical.  It can be used  by therapists, but it can easily be used by parents and family members as well.
  • It has great interventions that are easily explained.  The child will come out with a bunch of skills to use. And if mom and dad are paying attention, they may pick up a little something too!

One last reason this book is great.  Going through it will not only help your child understand their worry, it will help you understand their worry.  Addressing the issue together can help your child feel understood and create the feeling that you are all in this together.  That is incredibly healing!

Mindfulness- Let’s Begin

Let me start by saying… I have SO much to say!

I can talk about mindfulness forever.  I can talk about therapy FOREVER.  So, you can only imagine how much I have to say about mindfulness AND therapy!  BUT, in an earlier post I made a commitment to you all that I wouldn’t go on and on.  So, just know that this is the beginning. There will be many more mindfulness posts, many. I’m going to start with the basics today.

I’ll admit that mindfulness is a bit of a buzzword right now.  This happens in therapy (and life), things become trendy and all of the sudden everyone is diagnosed with something, or training in something, or buying something for their office, you get the idea.  The irony of this is that mindful practice is almost as old as the mind itself.  But then again everything I wore in middle school is back in style; so I guess everything has its time and then comes around again.

So what is this new (old) thing we call mindfulness?

Well, UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) defines mindful awareness as “the moment-by-moment process of actively and openly observing one’s physical, mental and emotional experiences”.  Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (and a HUGE deal in the community) describes mindfulness as an “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally. It’s about knowing what is on your mind.” It’s about being connected in the present moment, and further, being connected to your body and mind in the present moment.

Here’s the trick. We may think we are connected to our mind and body.  You may read that and think “I know my head hurts right now” or “My body feels fat in these pants today”.  It’s a different kind of relationship. It is a relationship without judgement, in fact, this relationship asks for acceptance.  Can you feel these sensations in your mind and body without judging them?  Without even thinking about them?  That’s why we use the phrase “bring your awareness to…”  If you have a headache can you bring your awareness to it without thinking about it (I must be dehydrated) or attaching feeling to it (I’m worried this won’t go away).  Just be aware of it, allow it to be what it is, sit with it. (A little secret: you might find that it gets better or goes away, but that’s for a different post).

What can mindfulness do?

Well, research into mindfulness is still new, and some of the kinks are still being worked out.  I won’t bore you with research talk, however results are coming in!  In their book, Fully Present, Susan L. Smalley and Diana Winston write that research is beginning to show that repeated mindful practice can:

  • Reduce Stress
  • Reduce chronic physical pain
  • Boost the immune system
  • Assist in coping with painful life events
  • Assist in coping with negative emotions
  • Improve attention or concentration (also supported by a study from Smalley et. al)
  • Enhancing positive emotions
  • Enhancing performance
  • Changing brain structure in a positive way

That last one is my favorite! So many people think therapy and therapeutic techniques are “all in our heads”.  That it isn’t real.  But mindful practices can actually change the physical structure and connections in your brain!  I like telling clients that mindful practices are like weightlifting for your prefrontal cortex (I’m a nerd, don’t judge). It also shrinks the grey matter in your amygdala, the part of your brain that contains the fight or flight response, but I don’t want to get to “brainy” on you!

How can you start?

We can start right now.  Take a breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.  Now take another one but try to feel that breath in your nose, maybe even down through your windpipe and into your lungs, and then try to feel the breath as it leaves your mouth.

You just had a mindful moment.  Congrats!

Mindful meditation consists of doing what you just did for an extended period of time.  Find somewhere quiet (or if you are a parent like me, relatively quiet will do), breathe normally, and focus on the feeling of the breath, whether it’s in your nose, chest, belly, or mouth.  If thoughts enter your mind just gently and non-judgmentally direct your attention back to your breath. Start small and work your way up to longer meditation times.

Please remember that it’s called a practice for a reason.  You aren’t supposed to be good at it at first, there is always room for growth.  Don’t let it be a time where you beat yourself up.

We’ll talk about more ways to be mindful later, for now here are some awesome resources to help you get started:

Websites

Mindful Awareness Research Center Free Guided Mediations

Mindful

Apps- Available in Google Play and App Store

Stop, Breathe, and Think

Calm

Insight Timer

Books

Fully Present

How to Train a Wild Elephant, and Other Adventures in Mindfulness