Breathe

With your feet flat on the floor, back straight, and in a comfortable sitting position, take 10 deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose and slowly exhale through your mouth.  Relax your shoulders as you do this. Close your eyes if you’d like.  Notice what it feels like to take each breath, letting your lungs expand and release. Give yourself this precious time. Resist the urge to rush.

After ten deep breaths, how do you feel? Perhaps more calm?  Hopefully you feel more grounded as well. Occasionally I invite clients to bring attention to their breath in session when emotions are heavy. I also strongly encourage deep breathing outside of session.

In the past several years practicing as a counselor, I have noticed an increase of anxiety presenting as a major concern for new clients. I wonder how much of this is related to an ever-growing culture of instantaneity and exposure. Recently I came across an article entitled “Wait a Minute” by Jonathan Rach in The Atlantic.  He proposes that it has become normalized to respond instantly via social media, email, texts, etc.  If we see something we don’t like, we can quickly shoot out an angry email or bear our soul on twitter. It may feel good in the short-term to vent such feelings but result in negative consequences, only creating greater anxiety. In this digital age, most of us are connected 24/7 to more and more people and greater amounts of information. Others have constant access to us.  Many feel pressure to be “on-call” at all times.  How healthy is this really?

Rach also references psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, who in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, believes humans have two cognitive systems: System 1 and System 2.

“System 1 is intuitive, automatic, and impulsive. It makes snap judgments about dangers as predators or opportunities such as food, and it delivers them to our awareness without conscious thought. It can also be wrong. It is biased and emotional. It overreacts and under-reacts. System 2, by contrast, is slower and involves wearying cognitive labor. It gathers facts, consults evidence, weighs arguments, and makes reasoned judgments. It protects us from the errors and impulsivity of System 1.” (Rach).

We need System 1 and System 2 in order to process events.  If we attach truth only to the data collected by emotions, we can find ourselves controlled by feelings.  Anxiety flourishes in the midst of such chaos. Suddenly we find ourselves plummeting down the rabbit hole of catastrophizing, comparing, and blaming.  Self-doubt also creeps in.

Stress is normal day-to-day.  So is anger, fear, and hurt.  Honoring such emotions by processing them in a meaningful, reflective way is healing.  Taking time to breathe is an act of self-compassion. It is intentionally hitting the pause button on all the noise. Pausing and breathing also invites System 2 into the space.  The mind requires a break, and with busy lives we can forget to catch our breaths.  Establishing boundaries with your time, giving yourself breaks, and taking time to breathe are tools to creating balance and truly loving yourself better.

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Thank you for reading. Learn more about Lydia and her practice here.

Three Keys to Listening Well

Listening is loving. It is food for the soul and nourishment for relationships. Being heard and understood deeply has a powerful effect, enabling us to feel safe, cared for, loved, and empowered. However, listening well can be difficult.  This is becoming even more of a challenge in today’s society where a million distractions lay at our fingertips. Below are three keys to listening well and improving the way we connect with others.

  1. Presence

“When people have been with me in the moment of my pain, I have little remembered what they have said. It is their presence I recall. The gift of presence is not that it takes away the pain, but that it enables one to bear it.” – Stephen Howard, The Heart and Soul of the Therapist

To be present with another human means to offer my full attention. By setting aside other distractions, I can offer you the gift of thoughtful focus on you, your words and your emotions.  There is a remarkable difference between true presence and distracted listening. For instance, most of us have been guilty of trying to squeeze in a text while listening to a friend. Perhaps you’ve been on the opposite end of this as well and have felt the sting of rejection when you realize your words are falling on deaf ears.  Being human means we make mistakes.  A part of improving how we listen means to take note of what often distracts us and to set aside specific time to intentionally be present with loved ones.

2. Empathy

“If we share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” –Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

To listen well involves empathy, or the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings of another.  Practicing empathy via listening means that rather than offer solutions or try and “fix”, silence and patience is instead offered.  In the precious space of silence, my friend is allowed to give name to her pain, confusion, or sadness. She has a chance to be heard and to tell her story. Now, rather than burden of hidden shame or pain, she feels joined and a bit less alone in her experience.

3. Boundaries

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” -Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

Boundaries are critical towards listening well because they enable individuals to offer presence & empathy. Practicing presence and empathy demands emotional energy.  Being human means we have limits to our capacity to give these resources.  Setting boundaries means we are in tune with how much we have to give and say yes when we feel capable and no when we do not.  The same people who often thrive in the areas of listening and compassion struggle to set boundaries because they want to give too much.  As Brené Brown mentions above, it is important that we care for and love ourselves enough by resisting the urge to merely please others and instead give when we feel truly able.

Presence, Empathy, and Boundaries set the tone for meaningful interactions.  By practicing these tenants, our relationships are given depth and life.

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Thank you for reading. Learn more about Lydia and her practice here.

Making Space for Grief

There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.” – Washington Irving

Everyone will know seasons of loss and grief. Some of these endings we can see approaching months or years ahead of time. A person we love receives a frightening diagnosis. A beloved family member or friend ages into their late years. With time we try to brace ourselves for such a death, riding the roller coaster of emotions as we attempt to gradually accept. Yet, nothing can completely prepare us for the hole this person will leave.

Other times, death is a shock. Unexpected and devastating, we could never imagine having to say goodbye so soon to someone we hold dear. Desperately, we try to keep our heads above the waters as confusion, anger, and sadness take hold.

Grieving the loss of someone we love is a process with no clear map. Just as each relationship is unique, each loss is unique. Our hearts, minds, and bodies need space to grieve. Often, individuals fear getting close to these deep places in oneself. Many people come from families where tears were uncommon and emotions were rarely shared. Death is not a topic openly discussed in our current culture either. For instance, most work places offer a mere three bereavement days for employees. This is quite different from previous times in history when mourning traditions involved weeks of grieving as a community together in and around the deceased’s family’s home. In reality, grieving continues long past the time when the calls, texts, casseroles, and cards stop coming. It is therefore common to feel alone in your experience.

Honoring the multitude of feelings we may experience often means resisting the message to “pull myself together”. Making space for tears means listening to our hearts and bodies carefully and giving ourselves what we need. Needing coffee and a hug with a friend, tears in the shower, walks with your dog, time in nature, journaling, music, time alone, time with others, a funny movie, and even diving into work or something creative are all examples of needs you may have. You may also need to reach out for support from a grief group or therapist to process the pain. The needs change from day to day and moment to moment. Rather than compare your grief experience to that of others, it is important to be compassionate to yourself and hold respect for your own journey. It will not look exactly like anyone else’s.

As Irving says in the quote above, tears are sacred. Your grief is sacred as well. It is a reflection of the deep meaning this person had in your life and you in theirs. If you believe that counseling is a route you would like to consider in your own process, please feel free to contact any of the therapists here at Foundation Counseling. We wish those in the midst of such a loss, strength and courage along the way.

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Thank you for reading. Lydia dedicates this post to her dear father. Learn more about Lydia and her counseling practice here.

Gratitude: A Poem

camp graceWaking up from a dream, I discover myself laying beneath a tree.

It is lovely, tall, green.

It asks for nothing besides this plot of land: a place to grow and be.

The wind disturbs the branches, limbs dance above my head.

I ponder, wondering what sight I’d see here if thunder storms rolled in.

There is no where to hide, no way to run when skies change from blue to gray.

The tree does not think on these things. It exists today.

All things impermanent. Always changing. Nothing guaranteed.

No crystal balls or time machines. Simply you and me.

Grass between my toes, sun in my hair.  Tears forming in my eyes.

Struck by Gratitude for such a moment, humbled by the love I feel inside.

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Thank you for reading. To learn more about Lydia & her counseling practice feel free to visit here.

A Short Reflection on Money

Lately I have really enjoyed reading Hugh Prather’s Notes to Myself. His reflections are simple yet profound and refreshing. He talks on many subjects, relatable to young and old alike. Perhaps one of my favorite writings of his is on the topic of money. Below I share his thoughts…

ntms“The number of things just outside of the perimeter of my financial reach remains constant no matter how much my financial condition improves. With each increase in my income a new perimeter forms and I experience the same relative sense of lack. I believe that I know the specific amount needed that would allow me to have or do these few things I can’t quite afford, and if my income would increase by that much I would then be happy. Yet, when the increase comes, I find that I am still discontent because from my new financial position I can now see a whole new set of things I don’t have. The problem will be solved when I accept that happiness is a present attitude, not a future condition.” (Hugh Prather, Notes to Myself).

I read this several times wanting to let it sink in…perhaps it resonates with you as well. What stands out most to me here is the “sense of lack” Prather refers to.  In a country and society of plenty, we are bombarded with messages of the opposite…messages about the next, new thing we must have. I believe that Prather is on to something when he presents an alternative. To be open and grateful for what we have in the present provides a welcome relief from the unrelenting, anxiety-provoking game that is the “hustle for more”.

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Thank you for reading. To learn more about Lydia & her counseling practice feel free to visit here.

Courage: A Poem

Courage

imageStanding on the sidelines,

a spectator peering in.

Distant, safe, hidden and tame,

Yet inside an untapped flame.

An option lands before me.

Timid, I look down.

Sensing my heartbeat racing,

the question floats here now.

imageTo remain still, the pull is strong,

tempted to stay warm here in my hole.

Yet, Courage, you nudge me, winking,

whispering desires within my soul.

 

Two steps forward,  I am moving,

fear, uncertainty by my side.

 imageShaky legs and sweaty fingers,

nervous, in the scope of others’ sight.

Discovering purpose, I reach closer,

making room they let me in.

Blood pumping, I feel bolder.

Richly alive, I am seen.

Retreating – once an option,

imagenow seems further from my mind.

Curiosity and excitement leading,

pushing me past the shy divide.

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Thank you for reading. To learn more about Lydia & her counseling practice feel free to visit here.

On Feeling Stuck & How Therapy Helps

In my time meeting with new clients, I often hear some variation of this shared: “I don’t know…I just feel stuck.” This experience of feeling stuck leads many people to consider and potentially try therapy.  I have a hunch that at some point most people find themselves in such a place…

But what does it mean? This stuck-ness, what is it? And is it as vague as it sounds?

imageSometimes, yes it is. Unlike other times when a very clear obstacle or event causes pain, feeling stuck can mean finding oneself in a more general, emotionally undesired and familiar place. This place may involve a mixture of feelings – of frustration, anxiety, loneliness, envy, and sadness. Like wandering through a forest, hoping to find a clearing, yet winding back to the same ‘ole stump, it may feel like you have traveled in circles.
Perhaps you and the stump look a bit different now and the surrounding landscape has changed some too. However, the underlying ground and root issues remain, bringing forth similar tension each time.

If we dig a bit deeper and put names to these often-vague yet familiar places of being stuck, the following may serve as examples:

• Stunted…restrained by self-doubt, fear, and lack of confidence
• Lack of closeness and authenticity in relationships
• General boredom & apathy
• Unclear boundaries with others & people-pleasing behaviors
• Avoidance of emotions (i.e. “pushing down feelings”)
• Unsatisfied and frustrated by school, career, or overall life direction

…just to name a few.

How Therapy Helps:

In response to feeling stuck, I find that it is important to seek understanding. We need to understand what keeps us coming back to our familiar places in order to ultimately head in a new direction…

Therapy invites you to take intentional time for this. It involves a commitment to self – a decision to pause amidst the chaos and choose awareness. In doing so, we can begin to gain insight into the patterns and tendencies which continue to re-emerge. By taking this step we also learn more about how heartache, rejection, and how other painful parts of our individual stories have impacted us. Due to this, therapy includes a leaning-in to the discomfort of our vulnerable feelings to know what our emotions are telling us. It also entails asking important questions such aswho am I, what causes me pain, and what do I hope for?

Finally, therapy is a brave step in the journey of healing. In the presence of a caring and focused counselor, therapy offers us a chance to go – at our own pace – into the hurting places of our hearts with purposes of being understood, seeking clarity, and finding new possibility. Along the way…perhaps we discover why we tend to return to “the stump” and with greater knowledge and comfort, find that we can move forward in a new way.

As a helping professional, I feel grateful for the chance to walk with people as they set aside the time to invest in their wellbeing and explore the depth of themselves in the hopes of growth.

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Thank you for reading. To learn more about Lydia & her counseling practice at Foundation Counseling, feel free to visit here.

16 Films for the Heart & Soul

With the cold, rainy, gray days of winter, I find that there is ample time spent indoors. As a self-proclaimed movie-lover, I try to take advantage of this time by watching films – be it classics, the newest Oscar-nominated movie, a documentary found on Netflix, or a fun animated adventure. Below are 16 of my favorite movies. Each of these touch my heart with how they highlight important perspectives on the human experience. Perhaps enjoying a meaningful book or a heartfelt movie can inspire you with doses of compassion, courage, & love during these dark, wintry days.

  1. The King’s Speech : for empowerment and owning your voice
  2. king's speechBig Fish : for living a big life
  3. 42 : for courage & justice
  4. foxFantastic Mr. Fox : for embracing your true (quirky) self
  5. The Pursuit of Happyness : for perseverance & hope
  6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower : for self-acceptance & navigating pain
  7. Goodwill Hunting : for trust & healing
  8. How to Train Your Dragon : for discovering unlikely friends
  9. dragonThe Imitation Game : for believing in your genius
  10. The Martian : for resilience
  11. The Hobbit  (trilogy) : for risk-taking & bravery
  12. Seeking a Finding for the End of the World : for connection and comradeship
  13. truman showWhen Harry Met Sally : for vulnerability & love
  14. Burt’s Buzz (documentary) for beauty in simplicity
  15. Wreck it Ralph : for knowing your value
  16. The Truman Show: for finding your own way

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Thank you for reading. To learn more about Lydia & her counseling practice at Foundation Counseling, feel free to visit here.

“The Stories We Tell Ourselves”: Thoughts on Brené Brown’s ‘Rising Strong’

Today I share my thoughts on Brené Brown’s newest book Rising Strong. The book is a continuation of her first two, The Gifts of Imperfection & Daring Greatly (which I have reviewed here). In it she continues sharing her findings of years of research on the topics of living wholeheartedly – or from a place of worthiness -through embracing vulnerability. This time around she looks at what happens when we live honestly & wholeheartedly yet still fall and are confronted with “face-down” moments such as heartbreak, grief, and failure. Brene describes the progression of her three writings this way:

The Gifts of Imperfection: Be you.

Daring Greatly: Be all in.

Rising Strong: Fall. Get up. Try again.

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The Middle can represent the middle of our stories – the parts we must rumble with if we are to get a true & honest picture of reality.

I highly recommend people read Rising Strong in its entirety – it’s impossible to sufficiently cover all of its insight in single a blog post. What I can offer here is my favorite takeaway of Rising Strong: what Brené refers to as “Rumbling” – or getting honest with ourselves – about “the stories we tell ourselves.”

The Stories We Tell Ourselves:

“The goal of the rumble is to get honest about the stories we’re making up about our struggles, to revisit, challenge, and reality-check these narratives as we dig into topics such as boundaries, shame, blame, resentment, heartbreak, generosity, and forgiveness.” (77).

By referencing the work of psychologists and neuroscientists, Brené brings attention to the power of narrative in our individual minds and thus lives. Life is hard and complex, and our brains in an attempt to make sense of the world around and within us, gravitates towards narratives, or stories, to bring about clarity. Its largely an unconscious process we do every day and almost every hour.

“Our brains reward us with dopamine when we recognize and complete patterns. Stories are patterns. The brain recognizes the familiar beginning-middle-end structure of a story and rewards us for clearing up the ambiguity. Unfortunately, we don’t need to be accurate, just certain” (79).

What we see and what is described above is how our minds work, especially when we are confronted with feelings of hurt, disappointment, fear, and anger. The gaps – the not knowing – brings pain and discomfort. So we often fill them in. Further, Brené describes this internal storytelling we do as both powerful and historical. Powerful because it is historical.  In “clearing up ambiguity” or uncertainty, we often return to the old but familiar stories – stories ingrained in childhood, imprinted from a traumatic event, or begun in even subtle yet consistent ways, often when our emotions and minds are vulnerable. We do this, as she describes, out of “an immediate need to self-protect” (78).


imageConspiracies & Confabulations:

“The most dangerous stories we make up are the narratives that diminish our inherent worthiness. We must reclaim the truth about our lovability..” (82).

In challenging us to dig deep and be honest about the stories we tell ourselves, Brené asks us to consider the “conspiracies & confabulations” which infiltrate our stories the most. Examples of conspiracies held can include the “I’m not _____________ enough” beliefs. Not smart enough, attractive enough, important enough, and on and on. We can find ourselves doing this to others too. In facing rejection or conflict we may answer questions of hurt with “They are not _________ enough.” Blame, judgment, & shame are often the places we get stuck when we return to these beliefs to fill gaps in stories again and again.

Rumbling:

Throughout Rising Strong, Brené challenges us to “rumble” or question honestly the stories we tell ourselves. She asks us, though it can feel scary, to stay with the feeling in the moment of struggle rather than jump to a quick conclusion.

I believe what Brené offers us, by way of describing her own experiences of “rumbling with story” is a picture of what it can look like to live with boundaries, integrity, and compassion intentionally. She asks us to “lean in” to the difficult work of balancing emotion with reality-testing and leading a courageous life in the small interactions, choices, and reflections each day.

Learn more about Brené and her books, including Rising Strong, here.

Brown, Brené (2015). Rising Strong. Penguin Random House: New York, New York.

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Thanks for reading. Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.

Cultivating Presence & Love: What Dogs Teach Us About “Being”

imageEight months ago my husband & I got a dog (Winston, pictured left), and amidst the process of potty training and curbing his desire for chewing corners of furniture, we found ourselves with a new best friend.

Further, in my little journey of puppy parenting, there are these small moments – flashes of insight – in which I feel like I am learning from our small companion…

Presence

“The rest of the world is zooming by at full speed. Left alone with ourselves, without a project to occupy us, we can become self-critical about what we should be doing & feeling. This can be so uncomfortable that we look for any distraction rather than allowing ourselves the space to be as we are.” ~ Dawna Markova

I have grown to love walks with my dog. Winston loves to take his time, smelling trees and rolling in the grass. I admire him as I notice how he so naturally enjoys just existing, taking in the simple pleasures outdoors. He is great at being present. I cherish these moments; yet, there are other times when I sense an inward pull to something else. I can suddenly find myself tugging on his leash with the words “Come on, let’s go” spilling out as impatience begins to grip me. I notice how quickly and easily I can rob myself of these lovely opportunities for stillness. Suddenly in my mind the walk becomes a nuisance: a chore to get through and onto the next thing…

And onto what exactly? What feels so urgent? Typically nothing is so urgent or in need of immediate attention that I cannot relish a moment longer in this serenity. Quite possibly, I find that I’m merely rushing to the next thing because I am so used to “the next thing”: the next distraction. Much like Dawna refers to (in the quote above), there is a good possibility that as humans we have become uncomfortable with simply being, and this restlessness within ourselves pushes us to find something, anything to occupy the space.

Love:

Most dog-owners recognize how easy it is to spoil their pet. Ours is similarly well-loved. What has our dog done to receive all our love? Nothing. He just is. We love him because we get to experience life with him. He does not need to impress or perform and neither do we. There is love between us regardless. What a beautiful way of being. Yet, can we dare to be as accepting of ourselves as persons for being persons as we are of animals for just being animals? Perhaps loosing our hold on expectations for one another and ourselves allows for the simple, pure pleasures of love, play, and acceptance to flourish.

I wonder how these challenges –  to be present with oneself and to love oneself – are deeply linked? The distractions, the “somethings” we fill our spaces with – the new project, the new goal, more followers & likes on social media – how are these things too often merely a way of seeking love in the moment? How do they make us feel smarter, more well-liked, and successful for a brief time yet quickly fade, leaving us with that still deep desire for a deeper sense of love, acceptance, and worthiness?

To practice presence and love likely entails being aware of the small, daily, seemingly insignificant moments when we face the anxiety of existence and the pressures to be productive and prove our value. In these short seconds, can we resist the pull to “hustle”? Can we instead lean into the discomfort, recognizing the anxiety for what it is and choose to let ourselves breath and be?

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Thanks for reading. Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.