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Depression & Anxiety are Liars … Sometimes

Depression & Anxiety are Liars … Sometimes

Sometimes I share with clients that depression and anxiety function like con artists. They take some data, usually recent memories or expectations, and weave a story that fits their picture best. They get us to buy in, to give them power and sway, often against our better judgment. To make matters worse, they often work together. A depressive thought like “you’re such a failure” naturally leads to more anxious thoughts like “and now you’re going to fail again, and it’s going to be terrible” and then back to a depressive thought like “and things always will be terrible.” In fact, about 70% of people diagnosed with either depression or anxiety meet diagnostic criteria for the other. Depression and anxiety might be, in many respects, two sides of the same coin. For our purposes, we can consider them two illusion-creators who work in tandem to strengthen their illusions. (more…)

Take a Hike

Take a Hike

Growing up I absolutely detested hiking. It felt like a really nice way for me to feel foolish and gave ample opportunity to compare myself to my friends and family that accompanied me on the hike. Was I going too slow? Are they not going to want to hang out with me anymore because I’m not very “good” at hiking? Could they hear me breathing hard? Was my face getting red? Could they see the sweat through my shirt? Did they think I was “out of shape”? As you can probably tell, these thoughts are riddled with insecurities and laced with diet culture and body shaming ideology. (more…)

Belonging to Myself

Belonging to Myself

Last week I said goodbye to a long-term client as she moved away. In parting, she gave me a card with a quote on the front that said, “I’m a grown ass-lady and I do what I want.” She then explained in the letter that she sees me as someone who is good at unapologetically owning who I am and she finds that power and freedom inspiring to her.

I didn’t expect that card to crack me open in the ways it did. I found myself tearing up on the commute home as I sat with her beautiful compliment. To understand this impact, I need to take a journey back in time.

In high school, I struggled socially. I had a really hard time connecting with and befriending girls in my school. I “passed” enough but never felt like I fit in. I felt I was missing some sort of memo that all the other girls received but wasn’t delivered to me. I felt “off” and that I didn’t know the unspoken female rules everyone else seemed to be playing by.

Maybe only having brothers to socialize me, led to a higher learning curve on how to be a socially acceptable female. Or maybe it was something else about me that I still don’t have insight around.

Regardless, high school was an acute experience of “otherness” and where I began to work in earnest to find belonging and acceptance. One of the first things I remember learning, is that girls don’t accept compliments. There was a social rule to excessively and profusely compliment each other on outfits, hair, and make-up, but you could never accept the compliment. Instead you had to respond with self-deprecating exclamations and denial. “Oh no, I look so horrible!”

I remember learning that confident girls were targets for destruction. This was done through gossip and clever subterfuge that only high school girls can create. It all starts with, “Who does she think she is?” and continues with mean girl hacks to socially ostracize the confident girl, thus destroying her self-esteem and neutralize the threat that a confident female possesses.

Girls socialized each other to connect around insecurity. You could do well at things, as long as you didn’t perform too well, and as long as you never admitted your successes. You were to downplay your strengths and amplify your weaknesses. I learned that belonging required shrinking and minimizing, and also turning on anyone that didn’t follow the same rules.

(Note: I know not all women have this same experience in high school. Some have harder experiences and some have easier experiences).

I never found the belonging I yearned for. To this day I still don’t know why I repeatedly experienced soft and subtle and also overt and painful social rejection. I’ve also decided not to spend any more of my energy trying to figure it out…because I never will. But a residue from that history was an ongoing sense that finding belonging with women is hard for me. I tried for years to abide by the social rules that would optimize my chances of finding friends.

Don’t be too much. Don’t be too confident. Don’t, “have it all together.” Don’t be too successful, smart, or ambitious. I could go on. But in short, I learned that confidence fostered intimidation, disconnection and competition. Whereas insecurity fostered connection.

These beliefs changed in important ways over the next decade and took on much healthier and adaptive flavors. As I healed from an eating disorder, gained confidence in my abilities and who I am, I started to break free from these unhealthy rules. For example, I remember making an overt decision that when I got compliments, I would say, “Thank you” instead of rejecting them through self-deprecation. Over time, I learned to cast off the idea of playing small and got in touch with my true yearnings and big dreams. I blazed a difficult path to grad school and succeeded in getting my PhD.

But I kept some beliefs about making sure I didn’t take up “too much space.” I remember that I continued to find connection, mentorship, and friendship around vulnerability. This vulnerability felt healthier and more adaptive than the “gamey vulnerability” in high school. It was authentic. It felt more in-line with the vulnerability that Brene Brown advocates for. For example, I had beautiful experiences connecting around distress, and discomfort with my fellow grad students as we started seeing clients for the first time. We had no idea what we were doing and there was camaraderie in this messiness.

Today, I still find connection with close and trusted friends around vulnerability. And I have also grown and feel more confident as the years go by.

Of course I still have insecurities and there are parts of me and my life that I keep working on. But I’ve stopped shrinking and I’ve stepped more completely into my strengths and confidence. I really love living this way. I love that as I turn away from my insecurities, I live more presently, outward.

And, as I witnessed myself growing into this space over the last years, I worried that this would come at a social cost.

Glennon Doyle shared a similar experience in Untamed, “I was speaking at an event recently, and a woman stood up in the audience, looked at me onstage, and said into the microphone, ‘Glennon, I used to love your writing so much. When you talked about your pain and how hard life, I felt so comforted. But lately, with your new life, you seem different. I have to be honest; I am finding you harder and harder to relate to.’ ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I understand. I’m happier now. I’m not doubting myself as much, and that is making me confident and stronger, so I’m suffering less. I have noticed that is seems easier for the world to love a suffering woman than it is for the world to love a joyful, confident woman.’ It’s hard for me too.”…”Strong, happy, confident girls and women are breaking our culture’s implicit rule that girls should be self-doubting, reserved, timid, and apologetic. Girls who are bold enough to break those rules irk us. Their brazen defiance and refusal to follow directions make us want to put them back into their cage.” (Cue my high school experience all over again)

So when my client gave me this card that spoke directly to my confidence, I had two reactions. First was, “Oh no, did I show up as TOO much? I didn’t play this right!” And then I stopped myself and internalized her message which told me that I inspired her. My confidence inspired her! I literally felt my mind “blown” around this experience.

I hope we, as women, re-work our socialization around what is acceptable for us to be and do and how to connect with one another. To quote Glennon Doyle again, “I’m also going to quit requiring modesty from other women. I don’t want to find comfort in the weakness and pain of other women. I want to find inspiration in the joy and success of other women. Because that makes me happier, and because if we keep disliking and tearing down strong women instead of loving them, supporting them, and voting for them, we won’t have any strong women left.”

I feel deep gratitude to my client for her unexpected parting gift to me. This is the first time I can remember that someone overtly THANKED me for taking up space and embodying myself and my life the way I do. I want to convey a BIG THANK YOU back to my client. This makes me feel so hopeful for us as women. Hopeful that it can be acceptable, and even valued, to be a strong woman. Hopeful for me, that I can find more belonging from a place of strength. Hopeful for the daughters I am trying to raise as strong, resilient, women.

I want us ALL to step into our strengths as women and celebrate with each other in these strengths. I want us to learn how to connect from this place. We are stronger when we stop apologizing and playing small, and we are stronger together.

 

Cultivating Resilience: Mental Flexibility

Cultivating Resilience: Mental Flexibility

This month, I’m continuing our exploration of how we can cultivate resilience in our lives! We’ve been taking a deep dive into specific skills we can master in order to approach difficulty with more resilience, and this month, we will be looking at the 5th of 6 skills- practicing mental flexibility. (more…)

Wishing Away Time

Wishing Away Time

I don’t know about you, but when I am looking forward to something down the road it’s mighty easy for me to wish away the time in between. Have you ever done that? Were you so looking forward to the weekend that you missed Tuesday through Thursday? Have you ever planned a trip a few weeks out and felt the weeks leading up to it were basically a blur? Have you so been wanting to be recovered that you miss out on learning at each session?

I think it is incredibly important to have activities, events, trips, nice evenings, etc. to look forward to, but I also think it is equally important to not wish the time in between away. The view at the top of the mountain is breath taking, and even more beautiful, and appreciated, after a long trek up!

Here are some ideas of how to embrace the “in between” time and be able to enjoy each day we get live!

1. The Glad Game

Growing up I loved watching the movie “Pollyanna.” I, and my mom, basically had the whole thing memorized. One of the things that I admired about Pollyanna was how she could always find the good in a situation, or in this case, “something glad.” Her father made up the “glad game” and even after he passed away Pollyanna continued playing. The goal of the game is to “find something about everything to be glad about.” As I have gotten older this has simply turned into thinking of things that I am grateful for each day. Let me tell you, some days are easier, and some days are harder. Maybe the only “glad” thing you can think of is that you didn’t trip going down the stairs, but hey, that’s something! It gets easier with practice and has become something that I love doing. We can find something “glad” in each day instead of constantly hoping the next time I wake up I am on the beach in Cancun.

2. Plan an Everyday “Treat”

Now, this can be a literal or metaphorical treat, and it’s best if you can mix it up often. For example, I love having a piece of chocolate in the afternoon and I find that to be a little treat of the day. I like going rollerblading out in the sun after work. I also love curling up with a blanket and book on my couch at night. Do you get my drift? Plan a little “treat” for yourself each day. And, I really do mean PLAN it. Write it in your planner or set a reminder on your phone, however you plan, make sure to include your treat of the day. This helps me embrace each day rather than want to zoom right over the more “mundane” days.

3. Check something off

I feel like my day really counts when I can knock off a few tasks on my list. Now, this does not need to be 1) write a book 2) solve world hunger and 3) wash, dry, fold, AND put away all laundry in the same day; this can be one or a few tasks that are not monumental, but little things that add to a bigger picture. Maybe you empty the overflowing dishwasher, reply to emails, write a thank you note, or meal prep, or a mix of a few. Whatever would be most helpful to you that day. Once I am able to check a few things off I feel productive and appreciate the day a little bit more.

I am by no means saying that you should not be excited for something in the future, I am saying that it is great to be excited about something while also enjoying the day to day. Find your glad moments of the day, enjoy a treat, and check off a thing or two!

Figuring Out What Matters

Figuring Out What Matters

On separate panels in our group room we have the words Pursue What Matters mounted to the wall. These words express the core aim for many therapists–to help clients live harmoniously with their values, to do what matters. It seems self-evident that it’s better to do what matters than to do what doesn’t matter. And yet many of us find ourselves spinning out, living days that feel dry of vitality and purpose. One of the first tasks I have as a therapist is to get clear on what matters to the client, which often consists of helping the client get clear on what matters to her or him. Even with a therapist’s guidance, clients struggle to identify what matters to them. This is for several reasons, not least of which is that what matters is a moving target. (more…)

Transformation Challenge

Transformation Challenge

Like I’ve mentioned before, I’m a fitness coach at Orange Theory Fitness and we just finished an 8-week long transformation challenge as a company.

If you know me, you know that my turmoil was pretty high when I heard we’d be doing it and that I was encouraged to 1) participate and 2) recommend it to members.

I’ve been working here at Balance Health & Healing since 2016. And since that time, my ideals have changed dramatically. I don’t weigh myself anymore, I don’t count calories, I try to eat and exercise intuitively. I really have found a peace with body acceptance and seeing it as an instrument to do all the things I love. So, the idea of a “transformation” challenge didn’t sit well.

First of all, I didn’t love the word transformation. That word feels like your body is something you need to transform. I didn’t want to stand behind something I didn’t believe in, but I also recognized it was my job. Kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. So, I spent a lot of time pondering. What is something positive that could come out of this? What can I portray as positive “transformation?”

After lots of thought and research, I came up with the following three things that I believe will improve quality of life. I encouraged all of the members participating to focus on:

Drink enough water.

One of the simplest, yet most important aspects of our health is hydration. (Which shouldn’t be incredibly surprising, seeing that the human body is made up of approximately 60% water).

  1. Being properly hydrated helps regulate body temperature. When our core body temperature rises above normal, unnecessary stress is placed on our bodies. Often, that interferes with the body’s energy system and negatively affects both performance and recovery.
  2. Water also helps regulate blood pressure. Effectively regulated blood pressure normalizes heart rate, which therefore keeps our bodies moving properly.
  3. Water also helps move and transport essential energy nutrients. All of our essential macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fats) that are used for energy are transported by fluid in the body. And as a bonus, water helps remove any metabolic waste that is produced during exercise.
  4. Not only does water keep our energy sources working, it improves brain function. Studies have shown that even just mild dehydration can impair your mood, energy levels and lead to major reductions in memory and brain performance.
  5. Water protects sensitive tissues, lubricates and cushions your joints and every cell, tissues and organ in your body needs water to work properly. I think I’ve made my point. Stay hydrated. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine have determined that adequate daily fluid intake is about 16 cups of water for men, and about 12 cups of water for women. I know that water intake is very individualized and will vary person to person, but my point was for myself and the members to stay hydrated.

Get enough sleep.

Ah. This is a hard one. Whenever a member would come talk to me about goals, one of the first things I always ask is, “Are you getting enough sleep?” Like water, sleep is vital for overall health and well-being. Although we know this, the reality is that very few of us actually make the seven-nine hours a night a priority. Our sleep needs vary over our lifespan, and everybody is different when it comes to how much sleep you personally need. However, the National Sleep Foundation recommends 18-64 year old’s anywhere from 7-9 hours of sleep per night. (You can get more information on how to find out how much sleep you need here)

I am someone who loves sleep. I do really well on 8 hours, but that is a hard commitment to hold! My husband loves to watch movies, and by the time we wrap up our jam-packed day, it’s late. Over the last 3 years, I’ve really tried to shift into more of a morning person (because studies show we are most productive in the morning). But if I am up at 6 am and need 8 hours of sleep, I need to be ASLEEP by 10! It’s a big commitment. However, in the 8-week challenge I did my best to average 8 hours a night, and boy, it makes such a difference!

Take the time to recover.

This goes hand-in-hand with sleep, but recovery is vital to a quality life. There are so many different definitions of recovery, but a few things I tried to focus on were:

  1. Take time to rest during your day. 20-minute cat naps do wonders!
  2. Foam roll. If you’ve ever done it before, you know foam rolling isn’t fun (read: OUCH), but it is a necessary evil to help prevent DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). It can also help prevent injuries, increase range of motion and improve performance.
  3. Stretching for 2-3 times a week
  4. Recover mentally & emotionally. When you get home from work, unplug. Play outside. Go on walks. Devote time to personal relationships and find other interests. I love to puzzle, but I can always find a million excuses as to why I shouldn’t start one. So these last few weeks, I’ve set one up and just worked on it a little bit at a time. It’s been so good for my creativity, my stress, and honestly my play. Recovering mentally and emotionally is usually on the bottom of our list, but it is just as important for a well-balanced life as all the other things I listed above.

Changing my mindset about the transformation challenge really did make it a cool experience for me. Focusing on small and simple, yet highly important aspects of health and wellness was a great reminder for myself to set goals. Sometimes I get a little lackadaisical about goal-setting, but it is an important piece of our life to improve and to grow. I have no idea if I lost or gained a single pound or body fat percentage or any muscle growth, because that wasn’t my focus. Drinking water, resting and recovering were my focus, and it was a really nice 8 weeks.

 

Resources:

How Hydration Affects Performance – link

How Much Water Should You Drink Every Day? – link

How Much Sleep Do We Really Need? Sleep Foundation – link

Leadership Survival Skills Workshop – link