Archive of ‘Holidays’ category

Instead of New Year’s Resolutions, Try Intentions.

We made it! The year is wrapping up and we are looking onward to the clean slate and potential of a brand new year! No matter what the past year held, many are ready for a fresh start. We are in a season of optimism, hope, and commitment to change.

With the new year comes the New Year’s resolutions. I’m not a fan of the New Year’s resolution and I’ll tell you why in a moment. But first, a small disclaimer: I believe we mean well when we set resolutions. Looking at life with a fresh lens and committing to making changes we want to make is healthy. When we set resolutions, we mean to commit to ourselves that this is the year that things will be different. This is the year that we will do the thing, take the leap, start new, and close the gap between who we are and who we want to be. Believing in our highest potential is a gift to ourselves.

But here is the problem with resolutions: They set us up to fail. They are outcome-dependent, often designed to be pass or fail, black or white, all or nothing. We either did the thing, or we didn’t. Sure, it is good in the beginning. The first three weeks of January go smoothly. These new habits are hard, but we are adapting. But what happens when life gets messy or we get busy? We start to slip. Regression is a natural and expected part of the change cycle, but it sure doesn’t feel that way when the commitment we made to ourselves was do or do not. There was no try.

For some, resolutions work. I have heard a few stories about people who stuck with their resolution for the full year, reached their potential, and didn’t look back. But by and large, the experience with resolutions is this:

  • At their best, resolutions become something we feel that we “should” do, a pesky little reminder that we are not living up to the dreams we had for ourselves.
  • At their worst, resolutions can make us feel downright horrible. What messages do you send yourself when you are letting yourself down? I doubt any of us are hoping to highlight or strengthen our feelings of inferiority in the new year. Who wants that?

How do we preserve the part of resolution setting that is helpful while ditching the part that can create anxiety, feelings of failure, and inadequacy? I propose we set intentions instead. Intentions are a mental state that provide a framework for the future. An intention is not what we want to accomplish, but rather how we want to accomplish it. Setting an intention is like setting a reminder to yourself of how you want to live your life.

Intentions are different from resolutions because they are disconnected from any specific outcome. When we focus on how we want to live and the traits we want to embody, the decisions we make will align with our intentions. We will grow to choose what is best for us because we are rooted in honoring our ideal selves. Naturally, we will progress toward our goals.

In three steps, here is how you can get started on setting your New Year’s Intentions:

  1. Brainstorm. The answers to these questions will help you generate ideas and clarity for your New Year’s Intentions:
  • What type of a person do I want to be?
  • What words do I wish people would use when they describe me?
  • How do I want to move through life, work, and my relationships?
  • What do I want more of in my life?
  1. Refine. Now that you have a few ideas percolating, try plugging your intention into this sentence: “When given the choice, I will ____________.

Examples of intentions may sound something like this:

  • When given the choice, I will choose peace.
  • When given the choice, I will choose kindness.
  • When given the choice, I will love myself.
  • When given the choice, I will honor my body.
  • When given the choice, I will celebrate my progress.
  • When given the choice, I will be gentle with myself and others.
  • When given the choice, I will be patient.
  • When given the choice, I will listen to my intuition.
  • When given the choice, I will trust the process.
  • When given the choice, I will move with grace.
  • When given the choice, I will follow through on my commitments.
  • When given the choice, I will be present.
  • When given the choice, I will balance ease and effort.

Here are a few tips that may help:

  • Play around with the language. The language I suggest may seem foreign, and that is okay. Modify it it something that fits you.
  • Seek clarity and specificity. There is power is precision.
  • You can have more than one intention, but there is also value in hitting the nail on the head. It will be easier to remember and honor over time if you have one sentence to go back to.
  1. Remind. How will you remember your intention? I suggest writing it down in multiple places. A few ideas could be a note in your phone, in your planner, on your bathroom mirror, a post it note on the refrigerator, taped to your computer monitor at work or under your keyboard if you would like privacy. Writing it down where you will naturally see it will position you to gently guide yourself back throughout the year.

How does your New Year’s Intention compare to the resolutions you have set in past? I would love to hear! Connect with me at [email protected] or on instagram @counselingandyoga.

About the author: Katy practices at Austin Family Counseling where she provides relationship and couples counseling, and counseling to individual adults and teens navigating life’s many challenges.
Katy Manganella, M.A., LPC-Intern is supervised by Susan Gonzales, LPC-S, LMFT-S.


LGBT and Family During the Holidays

LGBT and Family during the holidays
LGBT and Family During the Holidays

By: Natalie Love, LPC, and LMFT-Associate
Supervised by Sabrina Kindell, LPC-S, LMFT-S

This time of year is full of nostalgic sights, sounds, & smells. At every turn there are windows filled with decorations, holiday songs pumping through the speakers, even a myriad of holiday flavored coffees in red & green cups. We want to think of this season as magical & joyful, but for many LGBTQ+ individuals, there can be a lot of anxiety and anticipation around seeing family for the holidays. It is not uncommon for shame to be associated with family during the holidays.

Multiple studies have shown that LGBTQ+ individuals have higher rates of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and substance abuse due to negative experiences around coming out, verbal & physical harassment, and isolation. During the holidays, emotional challenges can be magnified, especially when anticipating family gatherings. Even when family and friends are accepting, past emotional history, trauma, and the need to lessen or hide your true self can be persistent.

Having a self care plan can be a good way to prepare for the challenges that come with the holiday season.

1. Boundaries  

Try to set limits with yourself and others. Remember that you always have a choice. Sometimes it can feel like the holidays are full of obligations but you can always politely and firmly decline. If you choose to visit family, set clear boundaries. For instance, having your own place to stay can be a way to create comfort and safety for yourself.  This way if you feel uncomfortable or need a break you have a separate space to go.  You can always choose to stay with a friend, loved one, or in a hotel.  If tensions arise or you feel emotionally escalated, take a time out. Step outside, take a deep breath, go for a drive. Offer to walk the dog, run to the store for a forgotten item.  Whatever you need to get calm and take care of yourself.

2. Acceptance

Try to manage your expectations. You can bring acceptance to the table by remembering things are not perfect, nor do they have to be. You can only control your own behavior. Try to avoid heated arguments or debates, they rarely lead anywhere productive, instead attempt to let go and accept the situation as it is, even if it’s not ideal.

3. Compassion & Gratitude

Try to cultivate compassion by remembering that some of the family problems and attitudes you are now facing may have been going on for generations, and this may help you gain some perspective and diminish blame. This is the family you have been given, so try to find ways to understand and accept them while maintaining your own integrity. They may not be offering you the kind of acceptance you desire, but modeling acceptance can be a great step in showing them how to embrace differences.  Even if things don’t go according to plan, finding gratitude in even the smallest things, can serve your own well-being.  To keep things in perspective, try considering 1 or 2 moments you are thankful for at the end of each day.

Holiday events and celebrations often involve alcohol.  Remember that conversations and debates can get more emotionally charged when people are drinking.  Try to be responsible with consuming alcohol and keep in mind that others may say inappropriate things when drinking.  If you are able to stay clear headed it will be easier to take care of yourself and avoid getting pulled into an unproductive, possibly hurtful, alcohol driven debate.


Managing Grief and Loss During the Holidays

For those of us who have lost loved ones, the holidays can be a particularly difficult time. For most this is a time of celebration, to spend joyful time with family and friends, and to be thankful and grateful for those connections. However, for those who have experienced loss, this time of year often serves as a reminder that those we cared for are gone. It can be difficult to experience the joy of the holidays, and some of us may even feel guilty when we do experience that joy again. When grieving the loss of someone important to us, the process continues. No matter when the loss occurred, it’s important to know that grief can return at different points, and the holidays can be big triggers for this grief. The pain dissipates over time, but it never truly goes away, and anniversaries and events such as a holiday often reopen the wounds of loss. For those of you who will experience this over this holiday season, I’d like to offer some help with managing your grief so you can both honor the loss and also remain in the present where joy can be recognized and attained.

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC-Intern Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

  1. Talk about it with others who share in your loss.

It is a natural instinct to avoid pain and suffering, so discussing the loss may seem counter intuitive. But talking about the loss with those who understand can be incredibly healing. It is so important to be heard and understood, to have our experience validated, and this is most often achieved either with a professional counselor or with friends or family members who have had their own experience with loss. Be sure to choose someone who will be nonjudgmental and accepting of your experience. This person does not necessarily have to have experienced loss to be a healthy support for you, but frequently being able to speak with others who were also close to the lost loved one can be very cathartic and comforting for both parties. This allows you to share in your pain and see the universality of grief, to know that you are not alone in your suffering. It can also feel wonderful to be in a position to help others through their healing journey. This can also be a healing opportunity to honor the loved one’s memory.

  1. Take care of yourself.

Self-care is extremely important when grieving a loss, especially during the holidays when there is so much else going on that can add stress. There is no one “right’ way to grieve, so try to understand your own grieving pattern. There are frequently bouts of crying, isolation, intense feelings (such as sadness, anger, etc.), or numbness. These can be followed by periods of joviality and socialization. Again, there is no “normal” way to grieve and there is certainly no time period after which you should be “over it.” Get to know and have compassion for your grieving process and the ways in which your emotions may cycle. Compassion means acceptance and the absence of judgment. Your body knows what it needs – trust it! If you seem to be staying in sadness that only worsens over time, it may be helpful to seek professional help, and that is all okay too.

  1. Stay in tune with the present experience.

You can use simple grounding techniques to keep yourself in the present if you feel you are dwelling too much in the past or the future as it relates to your loss. Some techniques include:

  • Going through the events of the day, identifying what you have already done and what you have yet to accomplish.
  • Deep breathing techniques, such as taking a slow, deep breath in, holding it for 5 seconds, and slowly exhaling. Try to do it at least 5 times.
  • Identifying 5 things in your present environment that are red, blue or any other color.
  • Keeping a totem in your pocket or purse (like a button, some dice, or small stone) that you can hold in the palm or your hand and rub with your fingers to orient you to the present moment.

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