Take Care of Your Thoughts when You're Alone and Take Care of Your Words when You're with People.
A Word on Wellness: The power of a mantra.
Most of us have internal thoughts that can, at times, be negative (if you can't relate to this, who are you??). These thoughts can be our own worst enemy, they can tell us that we aren't good enough, that we'll never achieve our goals, that no one will like us, etc. They are not helpful and can get in the way of happiness. But how do we control them? We have much more control over our thoughts than we may think. Today I will quickly explain ONE tool that I use, and have clients use, to help redirect negative thoughts toward thoughts that are more helpful. That tool is using a mantra.
A mantra is traditionally a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation, originating with Hinduism and Buddhism. While I'm suggesting a non-traditional use of a mantra, the purpose is still to aid in concentration (on positive intentions) and to distract from negative thoughts.
So here's how it works...
Step One: Get real acquainted with your most recurring negative thoughts. What is the general theme here? Start to be aware of when these thoughts come up and what they are telling you. For example, these thoughts might say, "You're not good enough."
Step Two: Now that you know the recurring thought, find an encouraging word or phrase that you can repeat in your mind whenever the negative thought comes up. For our example the mantra might be "I am worthy of love" or "I am enough." Can you think of others?
Step Three: Whenever the negative thoughts creep in, immediately cut them off and repeat the mantra to yourself for as long as you need to, until the negative thought passes or until you start to finally believe what you're saying to yourself.
Give it a try!
Something to Read:
A friend sent me this comic strip the other week. It illustrates a lot of the stress that my clients come into therapy trying to manage. Many women feel the effects of this, sometimes invisible, workload. They may not be able to name what it is, or understand why they can't quite feel on top of things. Instead they internalize it. Most often this internalizing looks like guilt over not being able to juggle work and home life sufficiently - a feeling of failure on all fronts. Thankfully more and more men are stepping up to make this comic strip less of a reality, we need a lot more of that!
Mend is an app meant to serve as a personal trainer for heartbreak. Users receive daily "trainings" which are about 3 minutes long and curated to help them heal from a break-up. Mend has a team of content creators, including yours truly, working to ensure that the trainings will provide the most benefit. The training of the day might teach the user something, ask them to reflect, or instruct them to take concrete actions. The feedback from users - or Menders, as we call them - is overwhelmingly positive! Stick this resource in your back pocket if you or someone you know is recently going through a break up.
This month I would like to let real folks share some real things that they do to stay healthy and happy. These are self-care tips from real people (NOT my clients) because it's interesting to learn what others are doing, and because May was cray-zay busy and I needed to outsource some content :)
Enjoy these wise words:
"Life with a toddler is a mixed bag. Every day is awe inspiring with newly mastered words, dance moves, sheer joy over new sights, sloppy kisses and tight hugs. But it's also hard! So so hard to keep your cool when they are flopping on the ground in a tantrum over the "wrong" snack or testing you by hitting the dog. Parenthood also brings new struggles within your marriage and all previous relationships. It's hard to find the balance. Something that has made such a HUGE difference in my day to day life is a 10 minute daily meditation. I used to worry that meditation wasn't for me. How would I be able to quiet my mind? Would I actually stick with it? Could I get real results? I started using the headspace app and those 10 minutes each day have brought so much mindfulness to my daily life. I find myself pausing more before I react and being more present in the things I'm doing and experiencing. I recommend taking 10 minutes to anyone like me who struggles with anxiety, stress, patience, a quick temper, acceptance, or being in the moment. You deserve those 10 minutes! And everyone around you will benefit from it as well!" - KG
"I take a look at my calendar at the beginning of each week and set a minimum number of workouts that fit in my schedule. This way I don't have to struggle each day to figure out when to workout. Committing to the schedule at the start of the week puts my mind at ease because, when I work out, I know I'm giving back to myself." - LG
"I keep photos of special loved ones (people like nieces and nephews, my bf) or special places I visited that were magical (vacation! or just a hike) in a special folder on my phone. When I feel like the day (think a crowded muni! or work project) is stressing me out or sending me over the edge, I open this folder to be taken back to these people and places. They are the important things that build me up and make me happy, the rest is only momentarily 'a thing.' It keeps me grounded and my perspective in check." - EC
"Self-care is a huge part of my weekly routine. Without it I would not be able to be the best version of myself. As a co-founder of a small biz it's incredibly important to me to live a balanced life and find the time to work on myself or do things that benefit my overall well-being. For me, having a routine is the only way to guarantee I'll make the time. For the past three years I've been doing Pilates on Wednesday nights, and for the past year and half I've been seeing a therapist every Thursday afternoon. These two weekly appointments are very beneficial for both my mind and body - I am more aligned mentally and physically. I incorporate lots of other small acts of self-care as best I can throughout the week such as: journaling, long walks in nature in Golden Gate park, phone dates with friends or family, massages, and of course a glass of wine with a girlfriend never fails to make me feel better. One other tip that I have learned to live by is setting boundaries. Saying no to social plans if I already have plans 2 or 3 days that week is a must for me. I've learned that I HAVE to leave a couple weeknights open for downtime. Setting these boundaries was tough for me to learn at first, but now saying no feels good and empowering - I own my schedule and have the power to spend my time any way I want!" - JF
"Exercising is my #1 self care habit. However, this one can be more challenging when life circumstances make me change your routine or alter your favorite workout. Being injured, being pregnant, being extra busy, shorter days, or just being a little bummed out can all hinder my ability to get the heart beating sessions I need. However, there are good self care lessons in being flexible too.. Sure, 15 mins of "prenatal Zumba" in my living room is not 7 mile run on the beach, but sometimes it's got to do." - KB
This coffee table, artsy magazine is filled with mental health content aimed at breaking the stigma! The first issue just came out last month, and it's all about Anger.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month - here are my two cents:
1) The importance of Mental Health Services (and Mental Health providers) is not valued the way it should be. There is still a stigma to mental health struggles, even though we have all either suffered personally, or have someone close to us who has. I have amazing colleagues who are still doing this work without being fairly compensated for it. People who are severely in need of mental health support often aren't able to gain access due to insurance stipulations or lack of funds. In the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Month, please take any opportunity to advocate for the increased funding of mental health services, the increased pay of the providers (who are underpaid, and often employed by non-profits) and please continue to advocate for your own care when necessary. We all have to fight for this progress together. As always, please message me if you need referrals, or help getting linked to services. Here are two organizations to be familiar with:
2) There seems to be a misconception that one has to overhaul their whole life and rethink their career to feel like they are making a difference. That is simply not true! Let's say you have a well paying job, that affords you the ability to take good care of yourself and your family, but you're feeling a little guilty about not contributing to society in a different way. You don't have to travel around the world volunteering on a shoe string budget to make an impact. Start in your own community. Start a little bit at a time, with a commitment you know you can honor. There are many worthy causes to get involved in. Aside from staying informed politically (don't even get me started) and using your voice to impact policy, here are some organizations to peruse if you're interested in getting involved:
If you know of other organizations please message me and I will continue to add to this list on my blog.
A Word on Wellness: Yoga as a Tool for Improved Mental Health
Ok remember last month when I explained why yoga has mental health benefits? As promised, I will explain further by using the example of anxious teenage girls and the yoga group I started for them in February. [You can basically insert [you] instead of teenage girl, and [whatever issue you're struggling with] instead of the examples I'll use - that's how universal I believe the benefits of yoga to be.]
In my practice I see many teenage young women. All of them struggle with anxiety. They may be aware that the root of the anxiety is their never ending homework load, immense pressure to get into a good college, feeling lonely and isolated at school or trying to navigate their family life. Whatever the specifics are, anxiety is the general mental health issue that brings them through my doors. The symptoms of anxiety can often be mental - circular thinking, catastrophic thinking, and/or ruminating on the same worries (or as I like to call it "spinning"), and/or physical symptoms- tight chest with difficulty breathing, stomach issues and panic attacks. Now, there are many interventions therapists can use to treat these symptoms in therapy, and they can be incredibly effective. However, in my opinion the most effective interventions are ones that allow the client to experience relief right there in the room... yoga is one tool that, if used in a therapeutic way - and even if used IN therapy sessions - can create relief and client buy-in quite quickly.
Each week the young women in my group share their anxiety symptoms and we discuss the triggers, what makes it worse, better, how to have firmer boundaries etc. We use the thinking parts of our brains to explore the issue and possible ways to navigate it. This helps them feel less isolated and gives them more insight - which is great! Then we use our bodies and breath to directly reduce the feeling (whether that be a busy brain or tight chest) of anxiety. And rather than me telling them what they might try to reduce the anxiety, I SHOW them by leading them through breathing exercises and a yoga practice. They are actually able to feel the difference and the effectiveness right then. I don't have to convince them of some abstract concept, they experience the relief themselves, and they are on board.
All of the girls in my group have reported using the breathing exercises and certain yoga poses at home in between our meetings. They are more likely to try these interventions now because they know it works.
If you are someone who has tried to think your way out of anxiety, perhaps you'd be willing to try feeling your way out? If you're reading this and looking for relief (and maybe you're not ready for therapy) I'd say, give yoga a try. If you already have a very physical yoga practice, perhaps try to monitor the mental health benefits. Take a minute to see how you feel before, how busy is your mind, are you anxious? And then throughout the practice continue to direct your attention to your breath. Check in afterward to see if you feel any relief. It's also common for yoga to bring up many emotions (especially in certain moments of stillness), which is why I think a lot of people avoid the practice. If this is happening for you, perhaps you'd benefit from exploring this with a therapist. I do not believe that yoga is a replacement for the benefits of therapy, but in my opinion they go together nicely, and joining the two is something I plan to continue pursuing in my therapy practice.
Something to Read:
I just love her - Chrissy Teigen on Postpartum Depression.
826 Valencia is a writing center doing amazing work with under-resourced students to help close the achievement gap and inspire all students to write. There are amazing opportunities to work one-on-one with students!
A Word on Wellness: The Case for Yoga Part I
I am definitely guilty of trying to sway everyone I know to at least try yoga. And yes, I'm aware how annoying that might be, but it has completely changed my life. I believe it to be one of the best anxiety reducing/stress managing tools out there. I often hear people say, "I know I should get into doing yoga, but..." It seems that everyone is familiar with the idea that yoga is beneficial, both for physical and mental health, but perhaps they aren't exactly sure why.
Here are the main reasons why yoga has such a positive impact on mental health:
1. We know the breath to be a very effective way to engage the parasympathetic nervous system (rest & digest), when we're running around with our sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight/freeze) activated. The actual physical practice of yoga centers around the connection to the breath and the focus on the breath throughout the practice. If a person is not connected to a strong, steady breath throughout the practice, then they aren't doing yoga - regardless of what shape their body is in. So, yoga itself is a great way to tell our bodies that we are safe. We engage the breath to allow ourselves to come out of hyper-drive.
2. We know the breath can invigorate us when we are feeling depressed. Since the breath is an integral part of yoga (see #1) we can do certain types of yoga to deepen the breath, increase energy and help our natural endorphins kick in. Back bends, arm balances and sun salutations are specifically great for this.
3. Yoga poses require what we call "dynamic tension" meaning you have to reach-hold-press-flex certain parts of the body in opposite directions creating lines of energy with tension. (i.e even sitting up straight with your legs straight out in front of you causes this tension. Your head is reaching up toward the ceiling while your feet are flexed, heels pressing toward the wall - the core will even need to engage to keep a lengthened spine.) "Achieving" the pose is not reaching a static shape, the effort is in the continued action of these opposing lines of energy. Therefore, the poses require a level of focus that releases the mind into an almost meditative state, taking attention away from worries and circular thinking. The practice of yoga is a meditation.
4. Many sports and physical activities have a similar effect on the mind/body in terms of #3, which is why being active in general is so good for us. And if you have a physical activity that you already do consistently then bravo! What I love about yoga is the emphasis on meeting yourself where you're at. This basically means not comparing to your neighbor, or even to what you were able to do yesterday or this morning. If your hip was open on the right side, but your left hip feels stiff, no need to force it or judge it. Basically, yoga provides competitive people, or anyone who is typical very hard on themselves, with mini-lessons on self-acceptance and compassion. If you can learn to love your tight hamstrings on the mat, what else can you learn to love about yourself off of the mat?
5. Yoga has the illusion of being simply an amazing physical work-out. While the byproduct of a yoga practice will most certainly be flexibility and strength, the benefits for the mind and mental health are foremost. The Western emphasis on working out and being fit, gets people exposed to yoga who might not normally seek out therapy or other methods of self-care. Yoga is able to make an impact in a more subtle way. It has become highly accessible - which is great! There are so many ways to get started: donation based yoga, specific classes for beginners, or private classes.
Next month I will explain further by using the example of anxious teenage girls and the yoga group I just started for them in February. [You can basically insert [you] instead of teenage girl, and [whatever issue you're struggling with] instead of the examples I'll use - that's how universal I believe the benefits of yoga to be.]
Something to Listen to:
Study finds drop in suicide rate linked to same sex marriage legalization - Listen Here
This organization is near and dear to my heart. La Casa de Las Madres helps women, teens and children find refuge from domestic violence. I have worked with many teens whose families have benefited from this organization - they are responsible for saving lives. There are a few ways to get involved: donate your time, money or supplies needed for families as they restart their new lives.
Four things this therapist wants you to know:
1. I'm frustrated with the insurance process too.
I don't take insurance. It seems that many therapists are steering clear of it these days. I feel terrible when potential clients contact me and are having a difficult time finding affordable therapy. They want to use their insurance, but few therapists accept it. Many of us slide our scale to try and accommodate these clients, but it's often not affordable enough. Working with insurance companies can be a pain for therapists. We get paid far below market value for each session and are required to do much more paperwork. Another reason I have chosen not to work with insurance companies is that a diagnosis is required for them to reimburse. Many of my clients don't need a diagnosis and may not want that in a paper trail. I feel that working independently allows me to treat my clients optimally without letting bureaucracy influence/force a diagnosis and treatment. If you are searching for a therapist and trying to use your insurance (and hence, having a difficult time), consider reaching out to a couple of private pay therapists to see if they can work with you on pricing. If not, they likely know of other affordable resources - like sliding scale clinics - and can help lead you in the right direction.
2. I genuinely want people to find a therapist who is their best match.
I posted about this two years ago (2 years??- whoa time), but shopping for a therapist is normal. I have had a couple of potential clients who I've met with maybe twice, and then they inform me that they were shopping for a therapist and have decided to work with someone else. I can tell these conversations aren't easy for them and they feel guilty. But honestly, I am happy for them and glad that they took the time to find the right person. It benefits me as well when I get clients who truly feel a connection and want to work together. This is another reason I don't work with insurance companies - I believe that the fit is crucial to success, and private pay clients are free to choose whoever they feel most comfortable with rather than being constrained by "in network" lists.
3. I welcome direct communication about the relationship.
The therapeutic relationship works best if the client and therapist can be direct, and talk about their relationship and what is occurring in sessions. My belief is that my relationship with the client serves as a model for healthy communication and honesty - if they can practice these skills in session, then their relationships in the real world will benefit as well. I try to model this as best I can, but I love it when clients also feel comfortable enough to bring our relationship dynamics into the room. I know that might sound confusing, so let me give an example.
Ex 1: When a client cancels their session last minute and I enforce my policy and charge them. Perhaps I can tell that they are frustrated... if that's the case, then I would immediately address this in the next session. "Did anything come up for you when I enforced my late charge policy last week?"- this way we avoid lingering resentment and can talk it out. Even better, if the client comes in and feels comfortable enough to say "I was upset that you charged me last week."
Ex 2: If a client is sharing something difficult and they are brave enough to name "I'm nervous you're going to judge me when I tell you this"... I love it when clients put these concerns out there. I try to be as attuned as I can, but I'm obviously not a mind reader. So knowing that someone is anxious about what I'm thinking, is very important and helpful for the process.
4. My clients are incredible.
Sometimes friends will ask me questions such as, "are any of your clients like, really out there? Or unpleasant to work with?" OR "Do you ever think, yikes, you're beyond help?" ... My guess is that these friends are trying to assess what their therapist thinks of them, or where they fall on the spectrum of being a client with "normal issues." And while I obviously won't share information about my clients, I 'm elated that my response is always, a genuine, wholehearted - I love my clients! I want everyone to know that, at least for me, when I sit in a room with someone and I'm privy to the most vulnerable things about them, there's no way to not feel honored, and inspired and grateful. I am in awe at the experiences my clients have had, the difficulties they face, and that they walk among us everyday as if they aren't super heroes. I'm the luckiest.
*If you have any therapy/wellness related questions, concerns, or stories you'd like addressed in a future newsletter please message me.
Something to Read:
This was a powerful read leading up to the Women's Marches.
Wellness Tip of the Week:
Mindfulness while getting through airport security via The New York Times
“Long lines at airport security can induce anxiety, especially if they are slow-moving and you are cutting it close to boarding time,” says Melissa Eisler, a meditation teacher in San Diego and author of MindfulMinutes.com.
Stand up tall and bring equal weight onto both of your feet.
Tune in to your breath — inhale to fill your lungs, pause at the top, exhale fully and pause at the bottom.
When it is time to move, open your eyes for a moment, take your steps and continue where you left off.
At the front of the line, greet the T.S.A. agent with kindness and compassion.
Be calm and tranquil as you take off your shoes, place your items on the scanner and move through security.
Mindful awareness can alleviate stress not only while in the airport security line, but also as you head out on your flight.
A word on wellness:
I was speaking with a friend the other day about these commercials we had both seen recently. Perhaps you've seen them too? They are commercials aimed at illustrating how ill-equipped people are to talk about/react to/support those who are affected by drug addiction - either personally or by a family member's use. Basically, the person in the commercial is trying to open up to their friend about this issue and the friend's reaction is awkward as hell. The person sharing the information is pretty much shut down by the friend who drops eye contact and doesn't ask any questions. My friend and I were remarking on how unfortunate it is that certain topics (not just drug use/abuse) tend to illicit this reaction from people. Some of the most difficult things in life can be the most uncomfortable to talk about, and often people will avoid these conversations at all costs.
This year (more than ever), due to some heartbreaking challenges endured by close friends, I feel compelled to insist that we all toughen up, open up and be there for each other. 2016 was a particularly difficult year for many of us and while it may seem that we are "connected" more than ever, it is often a superficial connection via social media. Someone might post about a difficult situation on Facebook and it is now easier than ever to post a supportive reply, pat ourselves on the back and feel like that's sufficient. Someone's family member passes away? Send a text and consider that awkward conversation avoided. Phew! Many of us are guilty of handling these situations poorly (myself included) and it's not because we're bad people. It can be very tempting to tell ourselves "oh she's so busy, a text will suffice, she probably doesn't have time to talk anyway" OR "I just wouldn't know what to say... they probably don't want to talk about it anyway." It's easy to convince yourself that it's the other person you really have in mind.
As someone who has sat with people while they process the most difficult situations (drug use, death, mental illness, sexual assault, and losses of all kinds) I can sympathize with how tough it is and the desire to avoid it. BUT... I also know the power of choosing to connect with someone and to support them in these moments. The bottom line is, many people are suffering in silence because of the taboo or uncomfortable nature of their situation. Many people aren't getting the support they need because the topic is being avoided by either or both parties. The last thing you want a suffering friend to be worried about is protecting you - but they will often try. So let them know that they don't have to, you can handle it.
Now, you are all the experts on your relationships. So if a text truly does suffice then great! If you honestly feel that your friend doesn't want to talk about it, then okay. But please take a moment to ask yourself if the action (or inaction) you are choosing in these moments is because of fear and avoidance. If the honest answer is yes, then you need to do better. We all do.
The truth is, we will all be the person needing support at some point in our lives. (If that hasn't been you yet then thank your lucky stars!) Give the people in your life the best gift you can - your support, your eye contact, your hugs, your "I'm so sorry" - when they are going through something difficult. It will mean more than you know.
Tips for navigating tough conversations:
I usually like taking a moment each year to come up with a couple of concrete goals - and to set an intention. This year, I completely lagged and have zero resolutions for 2017... I'm actually completely fine with it. I tackled a lot in 2016 so maybe the 2017 resolution is to allow myself to just chill for a while? The goal of not having a goal, maybe?
Others are more on the ball and quite a few people in my life have mentioned either taking a break from alcohol for a period of time this year, or setting a resolution to take a closer look at their alcohol consumption and habits. Whenever someone mentions this to me I think of this website I stumbled onto a few years back. Basically, this guy out of Australia had started a movement of sorts: Hello Sunday Morning. It was basically a forum where people would pledge to take a break from alcohol for a certain period of time, and then post what they were doing on Sunday mornings when they would normally (the assumption is) be hung over. I revisited the website to find that it's been completely revamped now and that they have also developed an app. It could be interesting to check out. Maybe a supportive tool for anyone thinking about taking a closer look at their drinking.
"We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families -- recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.Because women's rights are human rights"
If you feel inspired and compelled to get involved with The Women's March on Washington there are a couple of ways to do so...
Expect quotes, observations, tips and reflections.