Freaked-Out? Sad? Angry?

human_mindNot happy about current circumstances and want to navigate well? You don’t have to just wallow in your misery, you can do something productive. First, clearly identify what you are feeling (anger, sadness, fear…) and the thoughts that are dictating the emotions. Emotions don’t just show up all on their own. They are linked to cognitive thought: you have a thought and an emotion will follow. We sometimes notice the emotion and not the dictating thought so it’s super important to get back to, “Where did this feeling come from?” The reason? If the thought isn’t based in reality, it’s not worth entertaining and neither is the accompanying the emotion. We often feel these not-based-in-reality emotions anyway and develop incredibly unhealthy neural pathways that become ingrained in our brain and feel like a reflex when in fact they are an unhealthy learned behavior that we keep feeding.

For instance: “With this new President-elect, our country is going down the tubes, freedom will be lost, this is horrible!” What is true at this moment that you know for sure beyond a shadow of a doubt? We have a new President-elect. That’s it. We don’t actually know what he will do. We know what he said he will do, but nothing has actually been done yet. Breathe. Remind yourself of what you know for sure. Let go of all the places your mind is going with the “what ifs”. They are crazy-making and completely unhelpful. You can mourn the loss of your candidate if you did not vote for Trump. You can celebrate that your candidate won if you voted for Trump. That’s it. Nothing more. Don’t get too puffed up about all that is going to happen or too depressed about all that is going to happen because–none of it has happened yet. Stay with the here and now and breathe deeply and slowly.

Next, after feeling the emotions based in reality, take a deep breath, splash some water on your face and ask yourself, “Where do I have control? Is there anything I can do about the situation that is healthy, legal and wise?” At the very least, we always have the ability to choose how we are going to react, what kind of attitude we are going to have, if we want to smile and find the joy in our life. Always! Viktor Frankl learned this in a Nazi-run concentration camp during World War II. If he learned this concept in the very worst of circumstances then we can surely do this in our circumstances. I know, if you are reading this, you already have way more freedom and more to find joy in than a concentration camp prisoner.

Now, move on. Surely you have something you need to be doing or could be doing that is productive. Maybe it’s time for a good dose of self-care (something you can do that fills you up in a good way–healthy, legal and wise!). Go for a walk, pet your dog/cat, talk to a friend, listen to music, feel the sun/fresh air, read a book, knit, play piano, write…the list could go on and on. Be good to your body and your mind. Fill up and restore so you can reset. You will deal with whatever happens when it happens and until then, you can take care of yourself, anchor to the present and bring joy into this world in your own unique way 🙂

Categories: Acceptance, Depression, Emotional Healing, Growth, Healing, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Help | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

When Life Takes a Turn for the Worse

Life isn’t filled with good all the time. I know, not a shocking statement and yet, when we face adversity or challenges many of us can easily slip into a downward spiral. If we know life isn’t always going to happen the way we would like, then why are we so surprised when life doesn’t go well? If you’re in a “life isn’t so good” place, keep your eyes focused on just this moment. We will often go to the “this is never going to get better” place. First of all, you have no idea what’s going to happen until it does. It is possible that your life won’t get better but you won’t know that until you take your last breath and realize it never got better…though you might not know you are taking your last breath and be spared that realization. Live each moment as its own. Avoid lumping moments that you don’t know anything about into this one that you actually know something about because it’s real and happening…now.

When life is going well, celebrate it and enjoy it. When life takes a turn for the worse, grieve and mourn as necessary and remind yourself to focus only on the moment not a created future-tripping story. Sometimes that moment is just a wave. Sometimes it’s longer. Just be where you are, be vigilant about healthy, wise and legal self care and be sure to have safe, healthy, wise support along the way.

Categories: Acceptance, Depression, Emotional Healing, Growth, Healing, Recovery, Relationships, Self-Help | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Predicting The Unpredictable

I don’t really mean we can predict what’s going to happen but we can predict there will be winding, unexpected occurrences in our lives. I’m certain you know what I mean because if you are breathing you have experienced some moments or seasons you did not think were going to happen. Sometimes they can be good things…sometimes they don’t seem good at all. The best job you can imagine…a baby…a broken bone…a new house…a free cup of coffee…an accident…a call from a friend…a broken water pipe…cancer…a puppy… I could go on but I think you get the point. We have no idea what is going to happen in the next second, really. We can guess and sometimes our guesses are spot on but we don’t really know. Anything can happen. And you know what? That is life.

One of the biggest dangers we can get caught in is believing we know what’s going to happen. We are making assumptions and you know what they say when we assume? It makes an ass out of u and me. What’s even worse is we set ourselves up for disappointment. We can slip into an emotional downward spiral because we assumed or predibutterfly on flowerscted and we were wrong. One of the best words of wisdom I’ve heard was from a man named Toby Shope. He was preparing me and others for a journey to Afghanistan. We learned how to dress and act to honor the Afghan culture.
Toby taught us to have a blank slate approach to our experience. Just let the canvas be filled in as I take each step of the journey. This concept has helped me so many times since the day I learned it in 2010.

My daughter Anna, whom I have mentioned in many previous posts, has Cystic Fibrosis and received a lung transplant in 2013. She’s experienced so many set back and challenges throughout her life. Just recently she learned she has rejection. At this point it’s treatable so we are hopeful. Learning of the rejection was a reminder that so much in our lives is out of our hands. The less I cling to what I think should happen the easier it is to accept what is happening…to let the blank parts on my canvas of life be filled in as I take the steps rather than having to waste a ton of energy erasing what I thought would happen and then trying to fit what is happening on top of the erased parts. It’s cleaner if I just let it happen…it’s going to happen anyway.

Categories: Acceptance, Depression, Growth, Recovery, Self-Help | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When It’s Not Manageable, Just Breathe

It snowed 25 inches in my town yesterday. March 23 2016 snowI live in Colorado. We get snow. It doesn’t surprise us. It was 70 degrees and sunny the day before. Even that isn’t a huge surprise. The surprise for me was I thought we were getting about five inches. Five inches of snow is easily manageable. We drive and go about our normal business when it snows five inches. So that’s what I did. I got up, met a friend for coffee at 8 and was preparing to head to my office to see clients. When I walked out to my car, I knew this was not a five inch kind of storm…by 10 am it was already close to a foot deep. Driving home was a challenge. Five inches can be navigated, 12 plus inches is tricky. I didn’t actually make it all the way home. I was four houses away when I got stuck. The snow was too deep to go any further. Sometimes that’s how it is for us in life…we just have to stop.

Sometimes it’s an illness or injury that stops us in our tracks. Sometimes it’s depression or fear. There are no easy ways out. We take a breath in and let that breath out and then we do it again. In and out…just breathing… Sometimes the sun comes out and melts the snow. Sometimes we have to pay someone to plow for us. Eventually the snow goes away and we go back to our usual tasks. Sometimes we heal but sometimes we don’t. When we don’t, we just go back to breathing…slowly in, then out… Not all situations in life are predictable or even manageable at times. We just do the best we can whether it’s five inches or 25. Whether it melts or not…

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The Dark Days of Winter

Technically, our darkest days of winter are behind us. Although we are now gaining about two minutes of daylight each day, January is still dark for many people. The energy of the holidays is behind us and we move into survival mode, surviving the mundane dead of winter. Here are a few things you can do to make this time more bearable:

Get outside as often as possible, especially if it’s sunny. We need exposure to the sun, so do what you can. Maybe you work during daylight hours. Can you take a 15 minute break at some point during your day to get outside? Bundle up if you need to, but get out there.

Exercise. You have to move your body, it’s just part of being human. If you don’t, you will suffer grave consequences…literally. You will most likely shorten your life significantly by not moving. Combining sun exposure with exercise is ideal. If you can get outside to walk, hike, run, snowshoe, cross country or downhill ski…whatever works for where you are, you will treat your body and mind very well. You don’t have to go outside to exercise. Go to a class, participate in an online exercise program, use a DVD. You can even groove to the music for a half hour. Pick fun tunes and dance like no one’s watching. Find something you like that gets your heart rate going and do it (as long as it’s healthy and legal!). Of course, as all disclaimers say, make sure your doctor gives you the ok and be safe about what you are doing and aware of your own limits.

Take time to watch the sunrise or sunset as often as possible. Notice the fauna around you. Be aware of your outside environment and see the beauty even in this dark, seemingly dead, season. Noticing nature in action can lift our spirits. Being in tune with what is happening in the world around you can sometimes help you endure it.

Use this time to tackle inside tasks like organizing your kitchen junk drawer or going through those growing piles of paper. When the days get milder and longer, you are not going to want to be inside so do what you can now to free up outside time for later. Tax season is looming. You can start gathering all your documents so you have a jump on those who wait until the last minute. Organize your closet. As you accomplish these tasks you will be energized to do more and you’ll forget the dark days of winter!

Start creating your own list of things you can do to help you not just get through the dark days and nights of winter, but enjoy them!


Categories: Depression, Growth, Healing, Recovery, Self-Help | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

What Can You Do About Holiday Sadness?

For some the holidays bring excitement, fun and activities with loved ones. For others this can be a painful time of year. The reasons range from no social connections to loss. This post is for all, even if you don’t feel sad, so keep reading to the end 🙂

If you are one who finds the holidays painful, it’s important to understand why. Maybe it’s because you don’t have the money you wish you had to lavish your loved ones with gifts. You could be in a state of transition and your usual holiday activities have been interrupted. Perhaps you are alone and wish you had others with whom to enjoy the holidays. Maybe you lost a loved one. With all the reminders around you, sometimes it just feels too painful. Maybe you have loved ones and enough money but you just don’t “feel” the holidays like Cindy Lou Who in the more recent version of The Grinch.

So you know why you are feeling sad about the holidays, what can you do? Let yourself feel the sadness. Notice what it feels like in your body. Put your hand on a part of you where the emotion is palpable and just breathe. Allow yourself time to feel. You choose how long. It can be one minute, 15 minutes, an hour… When your time is up, think about any control you have over your situation. What can you do that is both healthy for you and legal? If you don’t have anyone to be with, find others who are alone: a homeless shelter, a nursing home…even a visit just to hang out with the animals at an animal shelter. If you don’t have any money to purchase gifts, get creative with existing items or acts of service gift certificates (cleaning, game night, extra hour before bedtime, animal or child care, playing at the park, massage…). Often the best gifts are the ones that can’t be bought…it’s true! Not feeling it this year? Create the spirit by offering acts of kindness everywhere you go.

After thinking through areas where you have some control take another deep breath. As you exhale commit to taking action and get moving. Eventually, the feelings will likely come back. Just go through this same process each time they do. By acknowledging what you are feeling, giving it space, then finding where you have some control, you are creating a healthy habit of processing emotion. The more you do it, the more likely you are to experience a decrease in the intensity and frequency of the emotion for that situation.

Now, for those of you who love the holidays and have nothing negative going on: love on those who aren’t as fortunate as you. Pass it on. Invite someone you know who is lonely or sad to join you in some aspect of your celebration. Give to those who are in need. Offer a smile and sometimes just a shoulder to cry on. Be gentle, patient and understanding.

If you are experiencing sadness that is out of control and you are thinking you might take your life, please get yourself to an emergency room or call 911. If you need someone to talk to you can call the National Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255.

Categories: Depression, Emotional Healing, Growth, Healing, Processing Thoughts and Emotions, Recovery, Self-Help | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Cover to Cover

The world of seeking emotional health can be confusing. We are to have solid boundaries and also seek to understand others. We are to be aware of our emotions, feel them and not let them take us down emotional black holes. It’s important to feel authentically and seek contentment. Like the Bible, the healing world should be considered based on all the information available not just one isolated piece of information.

I was thinking about last week’s post on contentment. It is a challenge at times to both feel what you happen to be feeling and find contentment. I remember two years ago when my daughter, Anna and I were waiting in North Carolina for her lung transplant and last year when we walked through cancer and chemo. If someone had told me I just need to be content I might have smacked them! Not really, but I would have thought about it 🙂

Sometimes when we are hurting deeply, we aren’t going to move quickly to contentment. The shift from our misery to contentment is a slow one and no one can make us get there. The shift is part of our journey and it’s important to embrace the journey as much or sometimes even more than the destination.

Anytime I suggest a growth piece, please take everything I say into account. I try to cover all sides in a single post but sometimes that takes too many words! Remember that I encourage a whole picture approach. There are so many ‘ands’ in the emotional health world.

While we can generally focus on one new change at a time, keep in mind there’s a whole book full of them and each should be taken into account, not isolated from the pack.

Categories: Acceptance, Boundaries, Depression, Emotional Healing, Growth, Healing, Recovery | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stumbling? Need Help?

I just listened to this song, thanks to a friend’s post. I had such a sweet time of worship. Life can be so challenging. We feel overwhelmed and incapable. At times we wonder if we can make it one more step. The answer today is: Yes!

Categories: Depression, Emotional Healing, Growth, Healing, Recovery | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

A Series on Guilt Part 1: What is Guilt?

For starters, guilt is not an emotion, it is a state of being.  For the average person it may seem that I am splitting hairs, but for the therapy world, it’s helpful to know the difference.  If you are sick, you don’t necessarily need to know that much about your body to describe it to your doctor; however, your doctor better know details about human anatomy and system functions in order to treat you.  Emotions generally fall into four categories: joy, anger, sadness and fear.  Notice guilt isn’t one of them, nor is shame, the paralyzing cousin of guilt.  The common denominator of emotions and most states of being is they are all centered in your brain.  Each is a result of thoughts.  The thoughts are generally a reaction to an outside stimulus, either in the moment or any amount of time later.

Guilt is a function of our brain when we have done something wrong or something we perceive is wrong.  This function helps shape us to move toward the common good rather than just benefitting ourselves.  Guilt is imperative for the health of a community.  A person with Antisocial Personality Disorder (Sociopath) sees himself as above the law in all respects. He does not feel guilt or remorse for his actions.  Without guilt, we have an ‘It’s all about me” attitude.  Every person has this attitude some of the time but those with Antisocial Personality Disorder have it in nearly all circumstances.  This can be taught or it can be a malfunction of the brain; some people with Antisocial Personality Disorder are a result of their environment, some are a result of DNA and some are a result of a combination of both.

Guilt is often misunderstood.  Some see it as bad, but it’s not.  No more than the emotions of anger, sadness or fear.  These functions of our brain help us live in community in a healthy way through being authentic and connecting with others.  When we eliminate any one of them, we damage ourselves and healthy interactions.  The movie, Inside Out portrayed this beautifully.

Your first action is to notice your guilt.  Ask yourself some questions about it.  What did I do that I am feeling guilty?  What is the standard by which I am measuring my actions?  Does this system make sense – is it in the best interest of both myself and the common good? What if someone else is telling you that you did something wrong, but you don’t see it that way?  Find out what that person’s reasoning is.  Is it for both the good of you and the common good or is it some arbitrary set of rules that don’t make any sense?

Next week I’ll continue this series with how to process your guilt in a healthy way that leads to restoration.

Categories: Depression, Emotional Healing, Forgiveness, Growth, Healing, Recovery, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are You Worth A Million?

My maternal great-grandfather, John Saxe Headley valued his children. So much so he wrote about them in an editorial for his newspaper, The Hutchinson Herald in Menno, SD back in the early 1900’s. He viewed each one of his nine children as a million dollars. He saw himself as a millionaire nine times over! His bank account didn’t reflect it, but his mind and heart did. I never knew my great-grandpa John but I have a feeling if I did I would have felt really good about myself after being with him.

Do you have people in your life who believe in you? People who see your value? When we don’t experience being valued simply because we exist it can really mess with us. Some follow unproductive paths, flailing from job to job never quite feeling enough. Some excel excessively trying to prove they are worth something but somehow never satisfying that emptiness inside. No amount of accolades or bank account balances seems to be enough. All are scattered around the continuum but few find themselves in the balanced spot in the middle.

One of the best methods I know that can help you heal in this area is a Process Group. It’s like group counseling but better. Through the careful facilitation of an effective coach/counselor/therapist, a Process Group gets deep at the heart of what’s holding you back and getting in the way of moving forward in your life. Wounds that feel like holes in your soul are filled and healed through the group members. Taking in the ingredients you didn’t get while growing up helps you live a healthier more satisfying life. You just might hear, “You’re worth a million!”

Categories: Acceptance, Depression, Emotional Healing, Growth, Healing, Parent-wounds, Recovery, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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