A Mind Full Of Calm

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

These are uncertain times and our minds can be full of worry and fear. Uncertainty breeds fear. The unknown can be a very scary thing.

Even in times like these, we can find ways to have a mind full of calm. With all of our social-distancing and quarantine, many of us find ourselves with time we need to fill. We can fill it with worry and fear or we can fill it with calm.

Many people still view meditation as some foreign concept that they believe they cannot do. They see it as getting rid of all thoughts, which they feel is an impossible task. It is something very much different than that, however.

Meditation is about the recognition of thought, the acknowledgement of thought, and the releasing of thought. In much the same way as imagining thoughts on clouds and those clouds being allowed to go on their way.

Meditation is about knowing the thoughts we have, confronting them, but not allowing them to take root and take over our minds.

Meditation offers a place of calm in a sea of turmoil.

Many of my younger clients, who are accustomed to constant input and digital interaction, think meditation is boring. It can be difficult to get started, but like any other habit, it can be done just a little at a time and increased slowly becoming a habit over time.

There are several apps that we can use for meditation and these seem to really work well for our digitally oriented minds. Perhaps if you give one of these a genuine try, you might find a mind full of calm for yourself.

I am not in any way affiliated with any of these apps. All of these apps are free to download and use and offer other in app purchases to expand their use.

1 — Headspace. Possibly one of the most well known of the meditation apps offering guided meditations of varying time to get you started on your journey. Meditations of as little as 1 minute can get you started on your way to a mind full of calm.

2 — Calm. Another well-known meditation app. It also offers guided meditations as well as seven and 21-day programs for beginners.

3 — Insight Timer. This app offers both guided and unguided meditations. You can set a timer and sit without guidance or choose guided meditations with mindfulness teachers.

4 — Aura. This app features daily meditations, mood tracking, and nature sounds. You can also set timers to take breaks and do breathing throughout the day.

5 — Smiling Mind. This app offers simple, 10-minute meditations that are broken down by age group. It covers age seven to adults with these meditations. So this app is a great starter for younger kids and teens.

Starting with just a single minute a day, you can find ways to manage your fears and worries and calm your mind.

Navigating the uncertainty and managing social-distancing and quarantine can be made easier if you have a mind full of calm.

It’s all about finding the calm in the chaos. ~ Donna Karan

Until next time be well,

Deborah

The Cost Of Trauma

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Trauma comes in many forms. It affects every person differently. Trauma can be any experience that causes us to have a negative reaction mentally, emotionally, and/or physically.

The misconception that trauma has to be something really big and awful leads to some people’s trauma being minimized. Sometimes people compare traumas. Physical abuse can be perceived to be much bigger than say divorce of parents in childhood or the death of someone close to us.

Trauma is personal. The effects of that trauma are personal.

Each person’s trauma affects them personally and only they know how great that effect is and how it impacts their life.

Many books have been written about trauma and how it presents in the body. One of the most well known and one that I use consistently in my therapy practice is The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel Van der Kolk, MD. This book describes the intricate connection between trauma, the brain, and the body that results in mental, behavioral, and physical costs.

Several studies have also been done on the trauma costs to the body including Negative body experience in women with early childhood trauma: associations with trauma severity and dissociation in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology and The long-term costs of traumatic stress: intertwined physical and psychological consequences in the World Psychiatry journal. These studies detail the connection between trauma, the brain, and body with the mental, behavioral, and physical costs.

The mental cost of trauma can result in the diagnosis of several developing psychiatric illnesses such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, and others. Some of these diagnoses can be life-altering in their severity. Another mental cost is the development of negative beliefs about oneself and our perceived responsibility for the things that have happened to us.

The brain is a powerful instrument.

The beliefs or thoughts we have about ourselves can manifest in our behaviors and as physical symptoms in our bodies that can include physical illnesses.

The physical cost of trauma can result in somatic body issues along with the development of physical illnesses. Chronic pain, migraines, digestive issues, reproductive issues, and more can develop out of the connection of trauma, the brain, and the body as described in the above studies.

In my practice, I see mainly girls and women, and their physical symptoms can be almost identical in some cases for those with trauma. Chronic neck and shoulder pain, migraines, digestive and reproductive issues are all common among them. It is too commonly replicated to be coincidental.

The behavioral cost of trauma can be just as costly as the physical and sometimes even be the cause of the physical. Trauma numbing can include substance abuse, self-harm, issues with food, relationship issues, and more. These behaviors can lead to physical illnesses and more trauma reinforcing the trauma narrative.

These behaviors can start at a very early age if the trauma occurred in early childhood and can go on for years before it is recognized and processed. This can lead to a very long road of change and recovery.

How can we stop paying the cost of our trauma? The first step is to acknowledge honestly where our trauma started and begin to process these experiences. A trained trauma-informed therapist can help us understand and be able to talk openly about what has happened to us.

It can be a long process and difficult. We did not get to this place overnight and we will not find a path out overnight. Confronting trauma can also be very emotionally charged. The fact that it is uncomfortable and scary prevents many from seeking help.

The fear of change also keeps many from confronting their traumas. Who will we become if we are not what we have been for years? What will we lose as a result? It can be very scary.

But the cost of not confronting our trauma can be astronomical. It can cost us our mental health, our physical health, and sometimes much more. We can begin to stop paying the price one step at a time.

If you or someone you know is struggling with unprocessed trauma, I urge you to seek out a trauma-informed therapist to begin the journey of recovery. The high cost of trauma doesn’t have to be a lifelong debt.

Trauma may have changed your life, but you do not have to continue to pay the cost every day of your life afterward.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Two Words To Change Anything You Think

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Anyone can change how they think.

It only requires two words. That’s right, only two words applied to every thought and anyone can change how they think.

Those two words are — repetition and reinforcement.

Every single thing we learn as humans is done through repetition and reinforcement. When we learn that crying out brings someone to our crib, we repeat and reinforce this behavior to get our needs met.

When we learn to crawl, we repeat the necessary movements and reinforce in our brains that this is how we move. The same is done when we walk, talk, learn to feed or dress ourselves. Learn to read or write. It is all repetition and reinforcement.

Everything we think about ourselves is given to us by others. We are not born thinking anything particularly about ourselves outside of we need to eat, be cleaned, and have interaction with others. Everything else someone else teaches us.

If we have positive teachers, they teach us that we are beautiful, valued, strong, kind, loving, etc. If we have negative teachers, they teach us that we are ugly, not worthy, weak, mean, unloving, etc. These teachers start with our first caregivers, parents or whomever assumes our initial care and move on to extended family/caregivers, school teachers, friends, romantic relationships, and on it goes.

Each of these interactions teaches us what to think about ourselves and the world around us. From birth to age 7 we form the beliefs about ourselves that will rule the rest of our lives and our thoughts.

The things they teach us are through repetition and reinforcement. We hear them, see them, feel them over and over. We take them personally knowing no better at the time, and then we tell ourselves we are these things.

Repeatedly and reinforced.

The brain will only believe what you tell it to believe. It is not an artificial intelligence thinking things up on its own. It believes what you tell it is true and only that. If we tell it these negative things are true, it will make them true and we will live them as true.

These reinforced and repeated thoughts can go on for years and years of our lives without challenge or questions. It can then take a very long time to rid ourselves of these thoughts, but it can be done.

One thought at a time.

To change anything you think, you must replace it. Repeatedly and reinforced. Every single time. Each time you think it, it must be replaced with a positive thought or affirmation — repetition and reinforcement.

By doing this, the brain then builds a new neural pathway that will eventually replace the negative one. It is how the brain builds every single neural pathway that lets us function in our lives. Repeat and reinforce and it will believe whatever you tell it.

We must be relentless in this. Just as relentless as we were to learn to walk or write. If we had given up on those things because a thought we believed told us we could not do it, what would have happened? We would not be walking or writing.

Many of us have a very large catalog of negative thoughts that others have taught us to believe about ourselves. It can be overwhelming to think of replacing all of them at once. That is why we use the one step at a time method.

One thought at a time.

I am a worst first kind of person. Tackle the worst thing and everything else seems smaller. What is the worst negative thought you have been trained to think about yourself? Start there. Find a positive replacement immediately.

Then reinforce and repeat, reinforce and repeat, again and again and again every time the negative thought presents itself. Build your new neural pathway of what you believe, what you think, what you feel.

Anyone can change how they think with just these two words — repetition and reinforcement.

Change your mind, change your life — starting right now.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

The Road Not Traveled

Photo by MacKenzi Martin on Unsplash

Have you ever believed you wanted something so much that you could not see your way past it? You believed that it was the only way you would be happy or successful. I have.

And I was utterly wrong.

I went back to college after going to work at a local high school to become a counselor. My course of study would allow me to be a school counselor or a clinical counselor or both. I was utterly convinced I wanted to be a school counselor.

There were so many kids who needed help and I wanted to be there to help them. Or so I believed with my whole heart and mind.

I loved working at the school. I sponsored a poetry club and started a literary arts magazine that was published yearly through fundraising and donations. I volunteered to work dances and sporting events. I worked in whatever capacity I was needed while going to school full time, doing counseling internships, and working part-time at a residential treatment facility.

I made friends there and formed bonds that are still there with many of the students and some of the staff. I believed that being a school counselor was the only job I wanted. It was the only road I wished to travel.

And I was completely wrong.

I finished my degrees, two of them, and my internships and waited for a school counseling opening at the school. The joyous day arrived when there was not only one opening there were two. I believed that this was going to be the culmination of all my hard work and desire.

After all, I had given so much of myself in the last seven years to this school and the people in it. How could this not be my dream come true?

I completed the application process and the interview panel. I felt good about my future. I was encouraged by other staff that all would be well and I would finally get the job I so desperately believed I wanted.

And I was unbelievably wrong.

I did not get either job that was open. I was absolutely crushed. I fell apart completely. I went to my car and sat in the parking lot for two hours crying and then I went home and cried for several more days. My dream was gone.

I felt like a complete failure. How could this happen and why? What was I going to do now? I felt that nothing I had done for the school, for my education, for myself had any value.

And I was absolutely wrong.

I picked myself up after I stopped crying and decided not to be defeated. I left the school two weeks later having given my notice and went to work full time at the residential facility for girls with severe trauma and addiction where I had been working part-time for my clinical counselor licensing hours.

I loved working with those girls. Their lives were the kinds of stories you see sometimes and cannot believe that such evil can be perpetrated on a child. They hated me and they loved me. But in so many of their lives, I made a difference. A difference that for some of them completely changed everything for them.

A little over a year later, I went into private practice full time seeing some of those same girls and many others from local middle and high schools along with adult women all with complex trauma. I was happy, fulfilled, and successful. I recently expanded my practice adding another therapist to serve even more people in our city.

I still make use of my school counseling license and education, so in a way, I am still a school counselor just not in a school.

It took me almost a year after that devastating day to realize that if I had gotten the job in the school, I would have been miserable and unfulfilled. School counselors in high school don’t have a lot of time to counsel kids in crisis. They spend a lot of time in meetings, doing scheduling, proctoring testing, and being involved in interpersonal drama at the school where I worked to have much time to see kids who really need it.

I would have been heartbroken to see a kid I knew needed help and have to tell them that I had to go to a meeting. Being a school counselor would not have worked for me.

So often we can convince ourselves that something we believe will make us happy is the only road to travel. Many times we learn that it is the road we never thought to travel that is the way to being truly happy and successful.

And I am ecstatic that I was wrong.

Sometimes it is completely okay to be wrong.

Until next time be well,

Deborah

Excuse Me, Your Tranquility Is Slipping

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Counselors are human too.

It started off badly, my work day. My car wouldn’t start, again. It has some sort of electrical drain issue. No one was home except me and so I had to use my youngest son’s car, which I loathe.

Driving to my office I encountered, in the 5 minutes it takes me to get there, multiple drivers who were less than stellar. I get to the office and realize that I had forgotten to schedule a client that day. And multiple other no good, very bad events followed.

My first client comes in and I am quite stressed by this point. Not the ideal situation for doing therapy, but counselors are human too. The client notices my “aura” and asks how I am doing. So, I shared just a few of the day’s events and then I look at the wall beside the client’s head.

I have some different wall clings on the walls of my office with lovely sayings, cherry blossom limbs, and words. The word beside the client’s head is….tranquility. And it was hanging halfway off the wall. And to the end of the sentence about my day’s events, I added…

“and now my effing tranquility is slipping.”

The client looked at the barely clinging tranquility and started laughing, really laughing. I started laughing, really laughing. We laughed so loud and so hard and I was crying laughing and the client was too. It was amazing.

After we had stopped laughing, I was able to continue the session, feeling much less stressed. I later wondered, was my tranquility slipping a result of the stress I was putting into the universe and seeing it was a message from that same universe that even if your tranquility is slipping, it’s not as bad as you think.

You can let it overwhelm you or you can laugh until you cry about it. You can also just stick that crap back on the wall and carry on.

Counselors can be viewed as above the fray of things, objective, even distant at times. However, just like everyone else, even counselors have bad days, get stressed out, and watch their tranquility slipping.

Counselors are human too.