Winter Blahs

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Many of my clients are experiencing what I would call the winter blahs. The time of year where just being a lump of flesh under warm blankets with fuzzy slippers and doing little else seems the preferable way of living.

While some only have a slight case, others have what would be considered something more. It is a short few steps from winter blahs to depression. And it is an easy road to travel this time of year especially. Making it worse than winters past is the ongoing specter of COVID and everything that comes with it.

The winter months always come with shorter days, which means less sunlight, when there is sunlight. And that leads the next thing, there is less sunlight with more overcast and cloudy days that can include lots of rain or lots of snow. Inclement weather makes it more difficult and less enjoyable to be outside in many cases, especially if the temperatures are very cold. All of this seems to translate into an innate instinct to hibernate much as many animals do this time of year.

Unfortunately, with COVID many of use have already been basically hibernating for several months already. This leads to a feeling of “never ending” hibernation. That we are somehow trapped inside and going out may never come again. Add to that some extra pounds for many of us due to the sheer boredom of being inside so long and running out of things to inspire us or motivate us.

Inspiration and motivation continue to shrink as our waistline expands. And we feel more and more like the lump of flesh our minds believe us to be. A vicious circle of winter blahs that have actually been going on for far longer.

Winter is not over though it is moving at a rapid pace it seems as it is now February. Yet, it continues, and how do we find motivation and inspiration when much of what surrounds us remains the same.

Just as with any habit, we do it in small bits, repeated until habits form, and then we add small bits to it and repeat the process. Pick one thing you want to incorporate into your life right now, that can be done in a very small way and repeated for at least 20 to 30 days, which is how long most people take to form something into a habit. When that habit is formed and you do it without having to think about it or make yourself do it, add another small something or a bigger part of the first habit to increase it and repeat again for 20 to 30 days.

And look it will be April and spring will be near.

What will your small one thing be starting today?

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Fear Of Change

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When clients come to see me for the first time, they always say that they want to change their lives and change who they are in their lives. However, when we start working on that change and they start to think about what that change is going to look like, their fear can sometimes keep them from making forward progress.

When we have trauma, we have developed responses to that trauma since the trauma started. With every subsequent trauma, we have more responses added. All of these responses shape how we think, how we react, and how we live.

Over years of time, regardless of how miserable we are or how bad our lives have become, we become comfortable in the knowing that this is the way things are and we know this person we have become very well. Much like an old blanket or comfortable slippers, they don’t exactly keep us warm anymore but we know them, we are comfortable in them, and we are not inclined to change them for something new.

When the little thoughts of change or the actual changes start to occur when we start to address our trauma and responses, fear becomes a constant companion. Fear of who we will be without these worn in parts of ourselves. Fear of what we will lose and who we will lose if we opt for the new person we can become. Fear of the unknown instead of the old and comfortable.

This fear can be overcome, but it is not going to be comfortable. No serious work on trauma ever is. It is not going to be easy. It is not going to be quick. It may well be the hardest work you will ever do and the scariest.

So what can help us overcome this fear of change? Accepting that we will be different. Accepting that our lives will be different. Accepting that not everyone will make this journey with us. Accepting that we can live happier, healthier lives and that we deserve to do so.

The first step is always the hardest. Admitting that change needs to happen.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Moving Towards Margin

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Margin. The possession of space in your mind, body, and spirit to take on life’s challenges and choices. For many people, especially the past year, margin has been in short supply.

Many times, we find ourselves pushed to the edge and beyond it emotionally and mentally, and yes physically. Pushed by those who expect us to help them or in some cases enable them to solve or avoid their own problems. Children who come with presenting issues that they make seem like life or death and they expect us to solve them immediately. Bosses who bring their own stress to our desks and expect us to somehow make it better immediately. Significant others who expect us to make their lives easier immediately.

If we have no margin, we respond out of our own overload. Sometimes, our responses include a turmoil of emotions and even words that can be regretted later. Sometimes, we do it quietly and with complicity, holding in our own turmoil. The silently seething. Sometimes, we respond and respond and respond for others leaving nothing for ourselves but exhaustion and bitterness.

We can feel driven that our function our need is to always do for others. To make sure that other people are happy and that we do not rock any boats along the way. We keep the peace. We serve others completely.

We can feel that to be valued we must be seen to be involved in everything. We take on extra work responsibilities. We are in the PTA and every other school activity with our kids. We never say no to anything or anyone.

When asked for a response or to “fix” things for someone else, we do not hesitate no matter how tired and emotionally drained we feel. We continue to draw from a well with no reserves.

How do we move towards margin? We have to pause before responding. We have to breathe and examine why we are responding or why we feel we must respond. We have to know who our response is serving. We have to recognize our well is dry.

If the request that is being made of us or that we are creating for ourselves is not life or death, it does not require an immediate response. We can pause, breathe, ponder, choose and THEN do.

All of this has to be communicated to those requesting that we respond. If your child comes to you and exclaims that they need answer right now, request time to gather your thoughts, examine your response choices, breathe, and that you will respond to them after this is done.

You will receive push back from others and from yourself feeling that you must immediately respond. It is not necessary.

You must also find time for yourself. For your own self-care. For your own mental, spiritual, and physical health. Margin requires constant tending to remain accessible and to keep you from exhaustion and for not making sure you are serving yourself.

Are you moving towards margin?

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Let Go

Learning to let go can be one of the most difficult things humans attempt. We hold on to feelings and events and let them take over our minds. We give them a place to live and keep them alive. We continue to let them affect us long after the things that caused them are gone. The inability to let go causes us most of our daily anxiety, depression, anger, and suffering and we do it all to ourselves.

When I work with clients, I use the visual of clouds as a metaphor for letting go. Almost everyone has watched clouds moving in the sky. They never remain still. They are constantly coming and going and so it should be with the thoughts that come into our minds that we need to let go. See these thoughts as clouds, see the words of them on the clouds, see them come into your mind, and see them go out. When they go out, let them go, do not think on them further – they are gone. Let go of them. Replace them with clouds that say something positive instead, something uplifting, something freeing.

Another way to practice this is through meditation. Using meditation along with the visualization of the clouds reinforces letting go, reinforces concentrating your thoughts in a more positive, focused way. I use the meditation app Headspace with my clients. It is a free app that offers guided meditation that is easy to use and can help you retrain your mind to let go of things that negatively impact your daily life. Meditation allows you to also allow thoughts to come and go and practice improving that skill with daily mental exercise.

Most of the issues we face are caused by our inability to let go. Holding on to negative emotions and experiences builds up emotional and mental toxins in the body that come out as anxiety, depression, anger, and sometimes even physical illness. Bringing these things back day after day only reinforces these negative feelings. Learning to let go can free us of the weight of all we continue to carry that weighs us down on a daily basis. It’s like unpacking a suitcase we refuse to stop carrying. Imagine how much lighter you will feel if you let go of the weight.

Letting go of the past year may prove very hard to do as we still continue to battle many of the same issues going into the new year.  However, we can let go of the year itself.  A new year is upon us and with it so is change.  Nothing, no situation, no pandemic, no crisis, nothing lasts forever.  All these change or end and something else takes its place.  

Hope for better things ahead.  Belief that all things change and nothing lasts forever.  Focus on what is good in our lives right now.  Moving ever forward.  Do not let the thoughts and feelings of the last year keep you stuck in 2020.  That time has passed.  

Let go.

Until next time,
Deborah

What’s On Your Christmas List?

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One thing that most of us do during the Christmas shopping season is make lists. Lists of gifts we need to buy, food we need to shop for, gatherings we need to attend, everything has a list this time of year. One thing we usually do not do or do enough of is make a list for ourselves.

Christmas is the season of giving. The old adage is often repeated, it is better to give than to receive. However Christmas can also be a very stressful time of year. This year offers even more stressors than normal with the ongoing virus. It is quite possible that we need to think about giving to ourselves as well.

As we sit down to make all of our other lists, we should think about pulling out some paper to make a list of what we can do for ourselves during this holiday season to love ourselves and to lessen our stress levels.

There are many things we can for ourselves. Some take seconds and others require a little more planning, but all are worth it to love ourselves more this holiday season. Here are just a few that you might add to your list this year.

  1. Start the day as soon as you wake up with taking time for yourself. Whether that be deep breathing, breathe in counting 5 seconds and breathe out counting 7 seconds or doing a brief guided or unguided meditation. Perhaps a few short yoga movements or some nice stretching when you get out of bed. Just to feel centered and grounded.
  2. Taking a nice warm bubble bath or shower and using some of the wonderful products out this time of year. Holiday scented scrubs and body washes. Lighting some holiday scented candles. Picking up a holiday scented moisturizer.
  3. Scheduling a massage, facial, hair or nail appointment. Doing something just for yourself. Some just you time for pampering.
  4. Get out in the sunshine. Winter can be a difficult time with lots of cloudy and darker weather. When the sun is out finding time to just go out and stand in it or to take a brief walk in it can do wonders for your mood and body.
  5. Be mindful of your commitments. Many times during the holiday season we can over commit. Agreeing to any and everything others want us to do leaving no time for ourselves. Be mindful not to over schedule yourself.
  6. Try to stay as much in your routine as possible. The holidays can often lead to staying up late, eating too much, and skipping daily habits such as exercise and taking your vitamins. Sticking as close as possible to your usual routine will keep your bod and your mind happier.
  7. Make a spending budget. Many people stress over what they spend during the holidays. If you make a budget and stick to it you can avoid the after Christmas spending blues a little easier.
  8. Give yourself time outs. If you start feeling overwhelmed or overly tired, find ways to take a time out. Spend some time doing things that make you feel recharged and rejuventated.
  9. Manage you expectations and roll with the changes. Inevitably our holiday schedules can get jumbled up or rearranged. Let go of what you cannot control and focus on enjoying what unfolds.
  10. If you feel overwhelmed or that your stress is too much for you to manage, seek out help. Talk to someone about how you are feeling. Delegate tasks and do not try to do everything yourself. And if you are experiencing stronger feelings of grief or sadness, seek out professional help.

When you are making your holiday lists, make one for you and give the gift of self love to yourself.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Lack Of Margin

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Over the last couple of weeks, many of my clients have been stating the same thing. They say that they have no margin. This has been an ongoing issue throughout the pandemic, but with the addition of the holidays, it has increased exponentially.

What does having no margin mean? For most people, it is that there is no pause in the response time to any stressful situation or emotion. When people have margin, there is the ability to pause before reacting. The ability to engage in rational and logical thought processes. The ability to utilize tools for management of stress, anxiety, anger, and depression.

When people do not have margin (or feel already pushed to the edge of management), there is no pause before reacting. There is no ability to engage in rational and logical thought. The ability to use any helpful tools seem to vanish.

The result is immediate reaction. Going zero to 100 in microseconds, less than a blink of the eye. There is no pause, no thought, no tools. Only reaction. And generally the reaction is very big, sometimes very out of character, and hard to reign back in.

Someone cuts you off while driving. With margin, we can pause and be thankful there was no accident or use a stress reducing tool such as deep breathing or grounding. Without margin, we are yelling, cursing, sometimes confronting people, and generally letting it ruin the rest of our day or even our week.

Unable to spend holidays with family members due to Covid19. With margin, we can pause and be grateful for our health and healthy family members or use logic and rational thought to know that no situation lasts forever and the pandemic will end and we can see more family then. Without margin, we are sad, angry, and feeling overwhelming grief at the loss of normalcy. We can let it affect us for days, weeks or even months without margin.

Lack of margin has a way of building up and exploding. We may be able to manage the first few times someone cuts us off or the first couple of times we have to say no to family gatherings. But the more these things add up, the less margin we have and the less ability we have to control our response.

So what do we do? Firstly, we must acknowledge that we are short of margin. We must tell ourselves the truth about our capacity to pause and respond – the truth is that we usually are not going to be able to. We must give ourselves grace because our current state of mind and emotions is what it is.

That being said, we do have moments in this lack of margin where we can find quiet to pause and reflect and think rationally and logically. We can find moments for meditation and calming. During these times, we can also reflect on the times where we haven’t had margin and if there is anything we can do next time to try and avoid the explosion.

Communicating to other that we are short of margin and that we are trying to respond appropriately but we may not always do so. Communicating the first time members of our family or friends or others we have regular contact with do something that pushes over the margin line how it makes us feel and how we may need them to interact with us differently. Be proactive. Do not let it build up.

We are all short of margin at times during this ongoing pandemic that is now accompanied by the holidays. We are all trying to do the best we can. But sometimes our margin runs completely out. Recover in the the times that you can and let go of what anger, sadness, and grief that you can while building in self-care and resilience.

Nothing lasts forever and this too shall pass.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Creating A Universe Of Gratitude

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Zig Ziglar is credited with saying:

“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions.”

And he is so right. Of all the emotions we can experience pure gratitude is one that boosts our “feel good” chemicals, increases joy, makes us more mindful, and attracts or brings more good things to our lives. Gratitude costs nothing outside of our effort to be thankful.

Practicing gratitude is like all other things we practice and make habits in our lives. If done daily, even as little as once a day, it can become a habit in as little as 30 days. To do it more than once a day allows us to fully be aware of all the things that we have, things we are thankful for, things bringing good to our lives.

The brain is trained to focus on what we present to it as being the most important. Most of the time what we present is what we are worried about, angry about, sad about and that takes up all the brain’s focus. If we deliberately, purposefully, redirect our brain to the things we are grateful for, it will focus there. Being focused on these things instead of the things we don’t have, or the things we wish weren’t in our lives, or the things that don’t bring good things to our lives frees us to embrace happiness and joy.

There are many ways to practice gratitude. Mental gratitude — being thankful just in your mind, thinking about the things we are grateful for. Spoken gratitude — speaking out the things we are grateful for. Written gratitude — writing down the things we are thankful for. A combination of these gratitude exercises can increase the habit of being grateful daily.

I have been talking about writing as emotional transference quite a bit in sessions recently. Writing can also be very helpful in being grateful to reinforce your gratitude and the habit of being thankful. There are many, many options for gratitude journals online. You can also just as easily use any kind of paper for a journal. You can use a guided or prompting journal that gives you specific things to be grateful for on that date or you can just write about anything you want.

Many apps allow you to practice gratitude daily. I use the Gratitude Journal — Private diary & affirmations on my phone to keep a daily record of my gratitude. But I also incorporate mental and spoken forms of gratitude during the day and while practicing meditation.

It doesn’t matter what you are grateful for. It can be something big like your family, a home, a job, or health. It can also be something seemingly insignificant like coffee, a pen, pajamas, or dark chocolate. It is not what you are grateful for that matters it is that you practice BEING grateful every day to increase your happiness and joy. If you have more on the grateful side of things, you will find that more joy, more happiness, and more things to be grateful for come your way.

To create your universe of gratitude, you must put your thankfulness out into the universe. With each thankful moment you release, you are building a universe of gratitude that accepts your thanks and returns to you more things to be thankful for. If your brain is occupied with thankful thoughts more often than it is the thoughts that keep us trapped, we feel happier, freer, more at peace with ourselves and our universe.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Show Love Now

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Throughout the Covid19 pandemic, one theme has run through many of my conversations with clients – death. And more specifically, the fear of death and of losing people they love.

Most of my clients are not fearful of death for themselves, but for their loved ones. Specifically for older loved ones or loved ones who have pre-existing conditions that could make a Covid19 infection possibly worse for them. They worry about death and worry about loss.

When in counseling, I use a lot of what is going on right now to help people focus on the here and now and not the speculation of future catastrophes. I do a lot of cognitive behavioral therapy work, which involves replacing negative thinking with positive.

But you cannot say to someone, how about we change that to my loved one is not going to die.

There is not, that I am aware of, any way to prevent death in human beings. All of us will die at some point. Therefore, it is very difficult and most times impossible for my clients to say they can believe the statement that their loved one is not going to die, because people do die.

Like the Covid19 virus, there is no making it just go away or that it is just not here anymore. Just like there is no making the truth that people die go away. We have no control over these things. We can mitigate by making healthy choices and working on ways to possibly extend our life span, but we cannot escape death at some point.

Staying in the here and now still works even with Covid19. Is your loved one sick? Are they taking precautions and being careful? Have they been exposed to a close contact? How are they doing right now – this moment? These are still here and now grounding questions we can ask and answer.

But what else can we do? We can always be intentional in showing our love now, today, at every opportunity to people we love. We can be proactive in our relationships to cultivate them and grow them with the people we love. We can make choices to show our love so that whenever the day does come that they are no longer here, we can say we know that they knew without a doubt that we loved them.

Being intentional with love relationships is something to be practiced whether there is Covid19 or not. It is the way we stay connected in the here and now. It is the way we share every moment of the time that we do have with people in meaningful ways.

We will still have to navigate loss and grief, but we will do so knowing that our loved ones knew we loved them and that we have many memories to keep their spirit alive with us.

We do not have to spend hours and days worrying and wondering what might happen in the future, we can live in each day, each moment showing love intentionally instead. Choosing not to lose the time we do have by letting it slip away in worry and fear.

Show love now.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Do One Thing

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I have a sign in my office that states, do one thing every day that makes you happy.

In a world of grief, division, blame, election chaos, and Covid finding happiness can seem a herculean task. But finding one thing, no matter how small, might seem a little more doable.

Think right now the first thing that comes to your mind that makes you happy. What is it? It does not matter what it is. It does not have to be something big or enormously meaningful. It can be tiny and to others may seem insignificant or even trivial, but to you it makes you happy. It makes you smile.

The first thing that came to my mind is coffee. A really good cup of coffee. Every time I have my coffee in the morning, it makes me smile. it makes me happy. It makes me warm and fuzzy. And this is something made of just beans.

Do one thing every day that makes you happy.

And in the great tradition of building habits, if you can do one thing for a period of time, you can also add to that one thing with another thing. And possibly another thing.

What if you added enough of one happy things that it filled most of your day? Would you think you would feel happier overall? You would need to notice and acknowledge each one. Speak gratitude for each. Enjoy the smile, the happiness, the warmth for each one.

How many one things could you have in a day? Five, ten, twenty, a hundred? Just think of the dopamine and serotonin you would get from all those one things that make you happy every day.

This week I put up the Christmas decorations in my office because Christmas lights make me happy every single time I turn them on. Every time. One thing.

What will your one thing be today?

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Constancy of Change

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In all of life, there is one thing on which we can constantly expect and that is change. In the universe, change never ceases and in our lives it is our constant companion.

Because we are human, we resist change. At times, we resist it mightily doing all that we can to avoid it, to try and stop it. We are often times intensely afraid of it.

We become comfortable in our lives. Even if our lives contain trauma and pain, those things become normalized and we are afraid to move past them. We have relationship issues and attachment problems, but we fear letting go. We fear being alone.

So we push back at change to try and avoid it or prevent it. Much of the time we are running away from it or pretending it does not exist.

However, nothing that we do can stop change from happening. It is the very catalyst of the universe and of all life in it. An ever changing constancy that promotes growth. And it can be very painful.

Every moment of every day we are presented with the choices of change. And every time, we make a decision on whether we resist or accept. The changes will occur either way, the amount we suffer with them is up to each of us.

We resist out of fear. We resist because we are afraid. We resist because of our past trauma responses. We resist because we are not in control.

The suffering comes to us with the resistance. Much like sandpaper across wood used to change it from rough to smooth. It scratches us and can wound us, but the end result can be beautiful.

Change can be difficult and painful and yes scary, but it can also be beautiful and transforming and freeing.

Change is constant, it is always occurring, and for life it is necessary for everything, including ourselves.

Until next time be well,

Deborah