Archive of ‘Self Help’ category

An Attitude of Gratitude

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” – Proverb

One of my first jobs was as a waitress at a local seafood grill. There I learned the nuances of customer service and to not take things personally. Our motto was “the customer is always right”; however, sometimes the customer was quite grumpy, carrying in the weight of their day into the restaurant and our interaction. In those interactions, I could choose to internalize the customer’s frustrations or to offer kindness. I call this “choose your ‘tude.” I continue to use this as I strive to choose an attitude of gratitude by cherishing the good and seeing challenges as learning opportunities in my personal and professional life. Research shows that one key element to happiness is appreciating the good that we might be taking for granted, and there is science to support how gratitude supports happiness.

Gratitude; more than being thankful.

Gratitude is a multifaceted source of happiness and well-being. It goes beyond just listing things you are grateful for. The leading researchers on this topic created a definition of gratitude that is twofold; appreciating and attending to the good things in your life and recognizing that these things come from an external source (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). Gratitude is described as an “empathetic emotion” whose practice can positively impact our social, physical, and emotional well-being. 

Gratitude is powerful.

Gratitude helps fire neurons in your brain that contribute towards positive thinking and feelings of happiness. When we express gratitude, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, which are responsible for the “feel good” emotions and support a lift in mood (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). A study that incorporated fMRI scans found that the participants who wrote gratitude letters showed greater activation in the area of the brain associated with learning and decision making (Brown & Wong, 2016). This suggests that this activation of the brain has lasting effects and can alter the way the participants see the world. The benefits you get from activating gratitude include (but are not limited to!) reduction in stress, increase in empathy, better sleep, enhanced resilience, increase in motivation, and improved relationships.

Gratitude opens up more room for positivity.

The intent is to help steer the focus on what you have instead of what you feel you lack. When you are thinking about the things, people, and experiences you are grateful for, it becomes harder to ponder the negative (Harvard Health Publishing, 2011). While the idea of practicing gratitude sounds simple, it can be challenged by competing priorities, a flux of emotions, and feeling drained. Some days we just don’t feel that grateful. The cool thing about practicing gratitude is this practice can help shift your mindset, helping you feel more positive emotions, which has a ripple effect and supports resiliency. 

“It is impossible to feel depressed and grateful at the same moment” – Naomi Williams

Gratitude can be unique.

There are various ways to express appreciation and incorporate this practice into your own life. 

  • Take a moment to reflect on fond memories
  • Start a daily gratitude journal
  • Thank someone for their kindness; verbally, through a thank you note, call, or text
  • Incorporate saying what you are thankful for at mealtime or bedtime
  • Meditate; focus on what you can hear, smell, see, and touch
  • Pay it forward to someone else (coffee is on me!)
  • Take time to appreciate small moments
  • Make a vision board
  • Create a gratitude jar, fill it when you feel inspired
  • Volunteer or donate to an organization in need
  • Use a gratitude app like Happyfeed
  • Listen to a Podcast focused on Happiness and Gratitude

I am grateful for the start of a new year and the opportunity to connect with our community. Now it’s your turn; what are you grateful for?

Resources:

Brown, J. J., & Wong, J. J. (2016, June 6). How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain. Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain

Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of personality and social psychology, 84(2), 377. 

Harvard Health Publishing (2011, November). Giving thanks can make you happier. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier

Written by Janet Mize, LMFT-Associate Supervised by Kirby Sandlin Schroeder, LPC-S, LMFT-S

What Being a Mom Taught me about Self-Care

I think I was in grad school when I first heard the term “self-care.” I remember professors stressing how important it was and then assigning 200 pages of reading and a paper. I would roll my eyes (internally, I think) and then power through the assignments and ignore the self-care. I saw it as a luxury, something that people who weren’t worried about working or going to school did. Now and then I’d paint, journal, or go for walks, but usually only when I didn’t have much going on and it happened naturally. When I was busy, I laughed it off and said I’d do that when I had free time. I could power through the busy times and then relax during the breaks. This worked more or less when I was childless, but when I became a mom I realized that naturally-occurring self-care time was never going to happen, and there was only so long that I could power through before my stress began to show.

It’s not a luxury!

When you have a tiny human depending on you for comfort and soothing, you start to realize how important your own stress level is. As my son became a toddler, this became even more clear—when I felt calm and regulated I could respond to normal (and challenging) toddler behavior with kindness, firmness, and patience, whereas when I was feeling higher levels of stress I was more likely to snap at my son or give into whatever he wanted. Neither of these were effective strategies and left me feeling guilty and ineffective.

I realized that there was no way for me to be the mom I wanted to be without prioritizing my own self-care. I still have days, weeks, and months where I forget to prioritize my self-care. Sometimes the thought of adding it to my agenda feels overwhelming. However, I now know that I have to come back to it, because if I don’t then my whole family will suffer.

You don’t need lots of time or money

Self-care doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive, and it can be helpful to have a few options for the different amounts of time available. For example, if you have 30 seconds you can take 3 deep breaths to calm your nervous system or light a candle with a soothing smell. If you have 1 minute, get a drink of water or step outside. If you have 5 minutes, make a cup of tea, play a quick game on your phone, or do a few yoga stretches. In 10 minutes, you could take a walk around the block, have a snack, or check in with a friend. Of course, having longer stretches of time gives you more options, but as a parent you know that’s not always realistic. 

Self-compassion is key

I also learned that self-compassion is an important part of self-care. There will be times when you aren’t the parent you want to be, and that’s OK. Just like our kids have tough days, so do we. “Feeling compassion for ourselves in no way releases us from responsibility for our actions. Rather, it releases us from the self-hatred that prevents us from responding to our life with clarity and balance.” -Tara Brach 

We won’t always act our best, but if we can treat ourselves with kindness we can let go of some of the guilt, stop beating ourselves up, and instead focus our energy on showing up for our families. And, whenever you do mess up, there’s always the opportunity to repair and maybe even strengthen your relationship with your child. When you take responsibility for your mistakes and make a plan for doing better next time, you are teaching your child that yes, you make mistakes, but you care enough about your relationship to own up to it and try harder next time. 

Living through a pandemic is hard, and parents have so many demands on their time and energy! It may feel impossible to do it all and still take care of yourself, but I assure you that you deserve that care, now more than ever! 

Written by: Magdalen Marrone, LCSW


Tips from a Therapist: Ways to Adjust to Life in Quarantine

Quarantine Zoom Call

“We’re all just making this up as we go along”, a very dear friend told me recently regarding the quarantine. These resounding words have stuck with me not only in my personal life, but my professional life as well. All of my clients, regardless of their circumstances, are making this up as they go along. All of us collectively are leaning into a huge amount of vulnerability, not knowing what the rest of the year will look like.

In lieu of social distancing and the extension of the quarantine, staying at home way more than leaving has become a new norm. We have become accustomed to isolating ourselves with our living partners. We have also been deprived of the external stimulation we were experiencing the first two months of 2020 (especially in Austin where there is external stimulation galore!!).

Through months of hard experience as well as the beautiful stories of hope my clients give me, I have made a list of tips for us to do in order to better cope with the harsh reality of quarantine. As a society, we are perhaps more in need of healthy connections, self-reflection, and coping strategies now more than we ever have been. Below are five helpful ways to adapt to social distancing so that we are alone but not lonely. 

Take Time for Ourselves (TV, gaming, “you” time)

What does this look like for you? Taking time for myself means watching my favorite movie or bingeing a favorite TV show. My partner is a huge gamer and self-care for him looks like playing his favorite game. The point is to DISCONNECT. Disconnect from work emails, news sources, endless desk time that our bodies were not made for. Disconnecting from the “outside world” gives your mind and body a much-needed pause and recharge. 

Zoom or FaceTime a Friend or Family Member

What does your social support look like in these strange times? We have all become so isolated with social distance. But the thing to remember with social distancing is: Just because we are social distancing does not mean we should emotionally distance. Check on a friend you have not talked to in a while. Call a family member you are rekindling a relationship with. Facetime a former coworker you had a great relationship with! Our friends and family need to be checked in on just as much as we do.

Re-Evaluate Your Mental Health

Realistically, most of us have been struggling long before the pandemic. Whether it has been anxiety, depression, relationship issues, bipolar, ADHD, any kind of mental struggle has undoubtedly been exacerbated by staying quarantined. Being deprived of the things that have brought us joy our whole lives will bring some kind of sadness, grief, or anxiety. Our mental health matters more so now than it ever has. If you need a therapist, by all means reach out to Austin Family Counseling! We have virtual counseling to ensure the safety of all of our clients.

Re-Evaluation of Self-Care

What does self-care look like for you in quarantine? We have been forced to change our methods of taking care of ourselves. Things like going to the gym, going to concerts, going to your favorite museum (some self-care methods I used to engage in prior to the pandemic), are now changed, and we are having to be very creative. Things like going for a run, discovering new bands, and watching live concerts online all have become my new norm as they are the safest and most socially distant alternatives to my former ways of self-care.

Adopt an Animal

Studies show that having an animal improves our overall happiness and quality of life. In times like these, life quality improvement is an absolute must! There are so many animals in Austin that need homes. And if we are stuck at home most of the time, why not have a furry human to keep us company?! Austin Animal Center, Austin Pets Alive!, and Austin Humane Society are all places that are open during pandemic and are actively allowing pet parents to adopt and foster pets!

By: Ian Hammonds, LPC, LMFT

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