Archive of ‘Wellness’ category

Running…it’s Kind of like Therapy

but not really.

Back in October of last year my friends and I agreed to do a fitness challenge. The intent was for something new and challenging for all of us. We thought it would be a good way to connect, stay in shape and see what each of us was capable of. After some discussion, we decided on a running challenge: who could run the most miles in October. Two of us, myself included, would not consider ourselves skilled runners. From the beginning, I was nervous and started to worry about my capabilities as soon as we began talking about the possibility that the challenge would be running based. I had very little experience as a runner and I knew that if I was going to be successful I would have to commit to changing a few things and accept that it was going to be difficult and take commitment. It is safe to say that I had a reasonable amount of fear. Fast forward to about a week into October, my friend “the runner” had not changed much since beginning the challenge. He decided to rely on his past skills as a runner and within 7-10 days into the month he was injured and not able to finish the challenge. This was surprising for all of us involved. We had all thought “of course the one of us who was a runner would win the challenge with no problem“. Never was it a thought that we could actually win the challenge. At around 10 days that the challenge became incredibly difficult for me. I began asking myself almost every time I went for a run, “why am I doing this?” All I could come up with were reasons why I didn’t want to finish:

  • It was hard
  • It pushed me to do things I normally would not have done
  • My friend just got injured; I should quit too before I get hurt
  • I had other more important things to do
  • I was sore all the time

It occurred to me during a run that the feelings and questions of doubt were familiar. The question shrouded in doubt “Why am I doing this?” was a question I heard all too often from clients in my therapy practice. 

If you have ever been in therapy then you know it can be really challenging (especially at first). If therapy is hard then why do it? I asked myself the same question about the running challenge, “if this is going to be so hard, why do it?” There are several reasons that therapy can be hard. It’s not like we think to ourselves “Hmm, I don’t want to change anything about myself, I think I will go to therapy.” This is one of the reasons therapy is so challenging. We are not everything that we could be, we have a laundry list of things we don’t like about ourselves or relationships we wish to be different. These are often difficult truths for many of us to face. For example, I was faced with my dream of being a competitive runner not coming to fruition because I am not very good at running. The self-awareness developed in therapy is only the beginning. Developing a sense of self-awareness can show you how big of a mess you have to clean up. Self-awareness is similar to a map. It is not going to solve your problems for you but it can point you in the direction of success. You would expect that after 10 days of running it would get easier for me, right? At least that was my expectation. All that came from the first 10 days of October was a self-awareness that I did not know how to run properly and if I did not change something about how I was doing things, the rest of the month would be demanding. Knowing who you are and where you are in life is a really good place to start…especially if you want things about yourself to be different. But you can’t grow if you don’t know where you are starting from. Self-awareness seems to be a good place to start. I am not sure which is harder, self-awareness or running? Just as learning how to run can be uncomfortable, so is learning about yourself. So why do it? 

I do not have your average runners build and I have never enjoyed running. Running has always been the last thing on my mind when I consider exercising. My excuses ranged from “running isn’t for me” to “you need the right type of body to enjoy running.” While there might be some truth in those ideas, with some truth about where I was starting out as a runner I learned I was not everything that I could be. This is the type of recognition that I witness with my clients in therapy. Your self-awareness can highlight all of the things you wish to improve. It lays out a path forward, a map. This sounds good in theory. If it was as easy as developing self-awareness why wouldn’t more people achieve their goals? Who knew that shining a light on your faults would be such a painful process. It’s not always easy to confront the things about yourself that you wish were better. So why do it? Because You deserve it. Therapy can be the space where you feel understood, safe and accepted while you learn difficult truths about yourself. 

The point came in October when I knew that I needed to pay attention to my lack of running skills or I would get injured. In other words develop a plan. (Yes, I thought of a running plan a quarter of the way through the challenge). If I continued ignoring my faults I was going to get hurt. I was lucky enough to have an example of “what not to do.” The friend who got injured had chosen to ignore self-awareness and not look at the difficult things he would need to change to avoid injury. I got together with the other guy crazy enough to agree to this challenge. We decided to come up with a plan for success. That meeting looked very similar to a therapy session (remember this is 10-12 days into running every day). Lots of tears. Lots of ruminating on how hard life was at the moment. Lots of feeling hopeless. And we felt and of course a little guilt from not paying attention and planning earlier. The talk ended with compassionate understanding (crying) from both of us that October was going to be very difficult but we had a plan mapped out and each other’s support. We are not everything that we could be and if we think about it hard enough we know it. Knowing your truth is tough but not unbearable. We are worth the courage that it takes to face our faults and therapy can provide a relationship for wrestling with those parts of you that you know could be better and deserve to be better. 

I want to get back to the friend that got injured 10 days into the challenge. He had always been a runner, yes this was true. However, it had been a year or two since he had run on any regular schedule. He also had not been exercising in any way up to October. Before we started the challenge I brought up an observation that he was potentially ignoring something that he should maybe pay attention to. No need for any of that, he was confident and sure that he would win the challenge no problem. He had every reason to believe that. He had been a runner his entire life without ever having a problem. But we all know how the challenge ended for him. The things we avoid do not just go away because we don’t want them to be around.

Part of growth is cleaning up the messes we have made. Often times it’s extremely difficult to sit down with yourself and outline a list of ways you could improve. As difficult as it is, paying attention to things we are avoiding is the only way to move past those things. Therapy can be a lot like that. A healthy therapeutic relationship should feel safe and secure enough for you to turn the mirror towards yourself and confront the parts of you that you are hiding from. Often times I will invite my clients to allow me to be courageous and powerful for them until they learn that they are capable of the same for themselves. When we approach a task like this it is helpful to come from a place of acceptance. We are all deserving of love and compassion. The secrets we hold can make learning to love ourselves very challenging. Let’s get back to my runner friend. After a little firm love from the group, “the injured friend” recognized that he had rested on his previous achievements and was actively ignoring the fact that he needed to change a few things. He admitted this was because it was too scary and felt too big of a task to conquer on his own so he justified his not preparing for the challenge.  

 It was easy at first to just agree to a “who could run the most miles in October” challenge. The courageous part came when I wanted to quit in the middle of the month. When I told myself all of the reasons why the challenge didn’t matter and all the reasons why it wasn’t a big deal to quit. At first, my intention was to suffer in silence. My friends hadn’t “complained” yet so there was going to be no way I was the first. It wasn’t until I was truly ready to throw in the towel that I texted our group thread disclosing how much I was struggling and was not sure if I could finish. It was received with similar cries of struggles and hardship. The entire group was grappling and ready to quit. Everyone needed support…which is no surprise; we were attempting to do something that was a huge achievement for all of us. I immediately felt better after talking through the difficulties we were all experiencing. They understood what I was going through, they understood me, and I got a renewed sense of courage from feeling understood by the group. Confiding in and trusting the group helped us all endure the month. We need relationships and connections. Especially through difficult times. A therapist can be a place where we learn to be courageous. We don’t have to do it alone. Whatever tragedy there is at the moment in our lives, we can endure. How else do we expect to make it through the trials of life? Connection and relationship with a therapist (or a running group full of friends) can be a safe place to learn that we are capable, worthy and valuable. 

Who knew that I would have been able to find so many connections between running and therapy? To bring an end to our not so glamorous running challenge…I am sorry to say that I did not win. I was able to run 150 miles in October and the winner ran 160 miles. Out of the three of us that committed to the challenge, two completed it and the third learned a valuable lesson; avoiding things does not make them go away. Life is difficult and there will be new obstacles to face regularly…some that you are prepared for and others that you are not. When you don’t feel prepared, lean into relationships. Pay attention to the things that you are ignoring. Learn to trust and care for yourself because you deserve it. From that trust, you can develop courage. Before October I was not a runner. I faced my fear of running and struggled to the point where I was ready to quit. When I was ready to quit I leaned on my friends and found a little bit of courage. I endured the month and learned what I was capable of. What was my biggest lesson learned? Even after 150 miles in October, I am still not a runner. 

By: Josh Killam, LPC

Rethink Resolutions: Set a Theme for the New Year

As 2019 quickly comes to an end and a new year (and a new decade!) begins, people are quickly scrambling to think of New Year’s Resolutions to set for themselves to start a “New Year, New Me”.  The Cambridge Dictionary defines New Year’s Resolutions as “a promise you make to yourself to start doing something good or stop doing something bad on the first day of the year”. According to a quick Google search, the top 10 New Year’s Resolutions include:

  • Diet or eat healthier
  • Exercise more
  • Lose weight
  • Save more & spend less
  • Learn a new skills or hobby
  • Quit smoking
  • Read more
  • Find another job
  • Drink less alcohol
  • Spend more time with family & friends

While people who set up resolutions (either like the ones above or any other goal they set for themselves), it often sets them up to feel disappointed because if/when they don’t reach their goal, they feel like they’ve failed.  I am not anti-New Year’s Resolutions, by the way, I think they’re a good idea, in theory, but setting yourself up for failure, essentially, doesn’t seem like a good way to start anything.  So rather than setting a New Year’s Resolution for yourself, I want to encourage you to set a theme for the new year. 

What is a New Year Theme? 

The Oxford dictionary defines “theme” as:

  • The subject of a talk, a piece of writing, a person’s thoughts, or an exhibition; a topic.
  • An idea that recurs in or pervades a work of art or literature.
  • Give a particular setting or ambience. 

In simpler terms…a theme is the main idea or underlying meaning; when setting a theme for yourself for the new year, you are ultimately looking for the main idea (or ideas) in your life.  Life themes are generally made up of keywords that represent your highest values; each value gives you a starting point for defining the major themes of your life.  

How to Identify Your Theme

There is not one right or wrong way to do this.  To get an idea of where to start, though, you need to create a space where you can intentionally think about your values–what do you most value, seek out, and love to experience?  Need some help?  No worries!  Below is a list of universal values (also–please feel free to add your own!)  Take time to look over the list and find the words that resonate with you the most.  One you pick (however many you choose), try to narrow it down to the top 3-5.  Once you determine these 3-5 values, this will be the foundation for the theme you want to set for yourself.  Your theme can be just the word or you can create a sentence with it. 

For example:

  • Wisdom. (This is a perfectly good theme for the new year!)
  • I want to impart wisdom to people around me who are curious and would love to spend time with people who are wiser than me so I can learn from those I value and respect.  (Again…perfectly good theme for the new year!)

I can’t say this enough…but there is no right/wrong way to do this.  This is totally for you. 

Once you find the right words for your life theme, you will start to see a connection between the way you look at and move through the world.  Use these connections to guide you and the way you look at life, challenges, obstacles, and opportunities that come your way. 

Things to Keep in Mind

First and foremost, there isn’t one right way to do this.  I know I’ve said that multiple times…but it’s because it’s ABSOLUTELY true.  Keep that in mind while you keep these other pointers in mind:

  • We likely need several themes. 
    • It is unlikely that you’ll have JUST one theme in your life (although it’s totally okay if you do!) 
  • Life themes do NOT happen overnight.
    • This process takes time!  It’s not something that you should rush or force.  As life happenings occur, some stories in your life end while others begin–momentum unfolds with each page in the story of your life.  So be patient and kind to yourself as you are evaluating what makes most sense for you. 
  • Understanding our theme keeps us engaged and intentionally living. 
    • A theme in your life is not intended to live a certain life and dictate what you can or cannot do.  Rather, it is intended to help you determine how to handle celebrations & challenges and everything in between.

Above all, be true to you and set a theme (or themes) for your life that will allow you to live your best, most authentic self.  After all, that’s what the ultimate goal is…right? 

List of Values:

  • Life
  • Peace
  • Wisdom
  • Creation
  • Sacred
  • Love
  • Energy
  • Potential
  • Connection
  • Justice
  • Perspective
  • Growth & Change
  • Balance
  • Renewal
  • Truth
  • Nature
  • Consciousness
  • Evolving
  • Harmony
  • Play
  • Understanding
  • Order & Chaos
  • Unity
  • Freedom
  • Happiness
  • Soul
  • Rejuvenation

Need some extra guidance with setting your theme for the new year?  Check out this blog by Katy Manganella on setting intentions for the new year.  It’s a great place to start! 

By: Julie Burke, LPC
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5+ Tips to Tackle Anxiety for Adults AND Teens!

If you are reading this post, you can probably relate to the feeling of anxiety or know someone else who is currently facing excessive worry or unease. ANXIETY IS NORMAL! Literally every client that walks through my door is experiencing some degree of anxiety, and the reality is that we are biologically wired to have these emotions! In the olden days, humans were faced with many different challenges than we are today, and anxiety was a feeling that made us appropriately respond to these threats.  Even though we are not likely to still face the threat of a lion attack, famine or plague as our early ancestors did, we do face a great deal of new threats (social media bullying, gun violence, climate change!) to which our biological response remains the same. As normal as it is to have these feelings, knowing what to do with them is a developed skill that most people have not yet mastered or even practiced for that matter. 

Now that we’ve covered a little background on the origins of anxiety, let’s dive into how to these universal human feelings can be best addressed and managed. 

My most favorite and personally effective tip is EXERCISE! 

Moving your body can stimulate the metabolism of chemicals that are naturally produced by your brain in response to anxiety and also stimulate the production of endorphins, which increase one’s sense of well being. This does NOT by any means necessitate you hitting the gym every day at 5am. It simply means that you should take regular opportunities throughout your day to move about. Yes, regular and vigorous exercise has the biggest impact of reducing anxiety, but something is better than nothing; take a quick walk outside if you have a break from work or to start your day. Stretch when you get out of bed. Do a quick yoga or cardio video if you have 15 free minutes (try these quick workouts)!

Take note of how you felt before and after this movement.  It is helpful to scale your feelings, with 0 being a state of super calm and 10 being anxiety through the roof! That way you have a concrete baseline from which to gauge.  Find an exercise that works for you and gradually incorporate this into your daily routine. The more you do it, the more your body will crave it in the future.  

SLEEP HYGIENE

This is another major player in the battle against anxiety. Insomnia is the most common condition that can intensify anxiety. There are books for days about this topic, and it can be very complex with many possible origins. 

Just to keep it simple here, some of the most common culprits in sleeplessness are the following: not enough exercise, over stimulation in the evenings, irregular bedtimes or wake times, too much caffeine, excess stress, deficient sleep environment, and loud partners (or children!).

In order to set yourself up for the greatest chances of regular sleep, try and follow these general guidelines: exercise in the day, wind down in the last hour of your day (avoid too much screentime or mental activity); don’t eat a heavy meal at least two hours before bedtime, and develop a sleep ritual before bedtime (ex: a hot shower, listen to relaxing music). 

Please be aware that exercise and good sleep are just a couple forms of SELF CARE – taking time and making time for other areas of self care such as nutrition, relaxation, mindfulness (see my colleague Katy’s blog here!), time with friends, etc. will also positively affect your quality of life and level of anxiety. 

Next tip, pause to consider what can you CONTROL? 

Sure, there are often many things about our families, jobs or life situations that we would ideally love to be a little different. But we have to realize that we can only exert total control over ourselves and worrying about other people or situations outside our circle of influence will only result in unneeded and unproductive worry. If you are able to let go of things you cannot control, you can decrease your level of anxiety considerably.

Try making a list of things, situations or people you try to control. Next to each item, note whether you have no, some or complete control over that item. Envision what it would be like to try letting go of the things over which you have no control. 

If you feel very challenged by the idea of letting something go, imagine that you do and the worst case scenario plays out. In many cases, this would bring negative feelings such as disappointment, embarrassment or inadequacy but you may also realize that you are capable of handling this, and chances are, it’s actually very rare that the worst case scenario happens anyway. 

Tip #3: Engage in more positive SELF-TALK

Have you experienced a breakup in a relationship and then blamed the whole downfall on yourself?  Or bombed an interview and told yourself what a failure you are? People who feel higher levels of anxiety are more likely to engage in this negative self-talk. Self-talk is our subtle (or sometimes not-so subtle) and internal dialogue that we quickly and instinctively think to ourselves.  We often don’t notice it and we certainly don’t realize how much power it holds. 

Picture yourself beginning a long roadtrip, with two whining children in the backseat and backed up traffic ahead. One version of yourself may be thinking, “This is horrible, I don’t know how I’m going to make it to the destination” or “Why did I agree to drive here for Thanksgiving?!” Imagine a different version of yourself saying, “I know we’ll get there eventually, why don’t I take some deep breaths and use this time to listen to a podcast or try that new album that was just released, or relive a favorite old memory”.  Take a moment to think of a personal example of yourself in a similar situation and imagine how you would feel after the first round of statements versus the second. The power of perspective is real! 

Try to take note of the self talk you engage in over the next several days and even jot it down if you get a moment. Were these positive or negative messages and how could you edit them to boost yourself up rather than cut yourself down? Remember that it will take practice to make these changes and that you must rehearse more positive statements to yourself consistently and repeatedly for them to sink in and make a difference. 

Another one of my favorite tips to restrain anxiety is to SPEND TIME IN NATURE! 

The idea of going outside to improve your mental outlook has been mentioned in several recent blog posts by my colleagues but it is so important in this discussion that its value cannot be overstated!!  Please see my colleague Amber’s blog here

Even better if you can combine the tips on exercise above with the suggestion of going outside for the ultimate release of negative energy.  How about a jog on Lady Bird Lake trail or a lap swim at Deep Eddy anyone?! 

Last but not least…Tip #5: NURTURE (or awaken!) your CREATIVE SELF. 

The grind of everyday life has a way of sapping our creativity. Whether that is managing loads of homework or work projects into the wee hours of the evening or caregiving for others, the responsibilities of everyday life force us to give up what makes us feel good about ourselves sometimes. 

When you are feeling super anxious, the path of least resistance can be to let go of things that seem unnecessary but it may be these same things that could most keep you sane if you let them. This tip relates to self care as discussed above but differentiates in the sense that stimulating a creative self can add personal meaning to your life and thereby protect against anxiety on another level.

Think about times before you were stressed or overwhelmed with anxiety. What things did you do to have fun? What activities made you feel most alive or grateful? Not everyone will consider themselves creative, but a spark of creativity hides in all of us. What can do you to bring it out? 

Some examples may be to work in a garden, cook a new recipe, bring a sketchbook to a park, cultivate your spirituality or pick up a long lost instrument.  Click here to inspire more fun ideas… 

In the end, it doesn’t matter what you choose to do, but how you can cultivate your interests to add meaning to your life. For many people it can take an entire lifetime to feel fulfilled in your purpose; enjoying the journey is what is important and not how fast you get there. If you are feeling disconnected with your purpose, consider taking a personal values inventory online such as this one! https://www.lifevaluesinventory.org

I hope that reading this post generated some ideas about how you can take control of anxiety in your life. These tips just scratch the surface, as there are many different ways to cope with such a universal human emotion. The good news is, the power is within you!  But as a reminder, here are the tips & tricks recapped:

  • Exercise, sleep hygiene and other self care
  • Consider what you can control
  • Engage in positive self talk
  • Spend time in nature
  • Stimulate your creative being 
By: Brooklie Gonzales, LPC-Intern
supervised by Emily K. Slaughter, LPC-Supervisor

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