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.

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.