woman in red t shirt looking at her laptop
DBT, Inspiration, Journaling, mental health

STUCK.

What do you do when you are stuck?

  • Stuck in a meeting
  • Stuck in traffic
  • Stuck in line at the store
  • Stuck at home
  • Stuck at the airport
  • Stuck in quarantine
  • Stuck in the parent pick-up line

The reasons for stuck-ness are many…mandated attendance, weather, the person in front of you can’t move; however the feeling is typically the same.  Anger.  It may start off as slight irritation, moving into annoyance and frustration before moving into full blown anger; however typically, being stuck makes us mad!

So how are we going to get through this UNENDURABLE situation?  To start, stop exaggerating! It’s not unendurable.  It’s not typically as bad as we make it out to be in our head.  Let me give you an example:  I like Starbucks (fact), but the line at the drive through is absolutely ridiculous (opinion).  My problem solving skills lead me to park and go inside every time I go there.  I was very content with this decision.  One day, while inside, I was so excited to see that there is a screen for the baristas that tells them how long people have been in the drive-thru.  I expected to see 10 minutes….15 minutes…FOREVER, because let’s face it…waiting in that line is AWFUL! To my amazement, the longest wait time was 2 minutes 45 seconds.  Really??….the line was LONG when I walked in…like wrapping around the building and almost to the main road! Then it hit me: I’ve been inside for about 3 minutes too! Why is it that being trapped in my car causes me to perceive time moving so much slower?  I felt stuck!

How to guide to get unstuck:

  1. Realize that the trick isn’t actually to get unstuck, it’s to change how you feel about being (what you perceive as) stuck.
  2. Stop judging. Words like should, always, terrible, OMG, worst, never…are typically attached to a judgment.  Instead, be descriptive.  Explain how you feel and why. Ex: Repleace “this is the longest line EVER, I ALWAYS get stuck in long lines” with “I am sitting in line at Starbucks, this has happened before”
  3. Observe your posture. Ex: Take your fingernails out of the steering wheel, let your shoulders fall from your ears back to their relaxed state, remove the scowl from your face…
  4. Consider other possible alternatives to catastrophizing Ex: I finally have time to respond to those text messages (safely while not driving), I can plan the next few hours of my day, I can sit here and remember a positive memory to improve my mood, consider things you are grateful for.
  5. Stop fighting reality. In conjunction with #4, the reality is that you are in a situation that you can’t immediately get out of; catastrophizing is an example of the situation worse.  Accept that you are where you are (this will reduce suffering).

I am wondering if you are willing to give it a try?   It’s amazing what changing your interpretation of a situation will do for your mood!

green typewriter on brown wooden table
DBT, Inspiration, Journaling, mental health

Self-Assessment for the End of Year Pondering

As the year comes to an end, I believe it is a great practice for us all to slow down and assess where we are achieving and where we are struggling.

I have created this “worksheet” of sorts to to help people identify where they might have room for growth.  We all have areas for growth, we all have areas of strength. Consider these questions to guide you in your journey (with a therapist or without)! This is also a great exercise to do as a couple and as a family to set some goals, with intentionality, for the new year!

In what areas are you (or we) making emotionally based choices?

Consider the following areas. Do you (or we) tend to give into short term impulses in any specific areas?

  • Food/eating ____________________________________________________________________
  • Time management (working/playing) __________________________________________­
  • Anger impulses _________________________________________________________________
  • Social Anxiety ___________________________________________________________________
  • Fears ____________________________________________________________________________
  • Sleep schedule__________________________________________________________________
  • Self-harming behaviors__________________________________________________________
  • Substance abuse ________________________________________________________________
  • Emotional urges _________________________________________________________________
  • Trying to “fit in” __________________________________________________________________

Questions to journal on:

What changes would you like to see in those areas?

What are you doing to self-sabatoge?

What are you doing to set yourself up for success?

Are you able to identify any areas that you do well in exercising restraint against urges and making more mindful choices?

What changes are you willing to make in the next month, to work on moving in an effective direction for yourself?

If you want more help with managing short-term urges in order to achieve long-term goals, consider checking out my book Adulting Well (available in the Wellness Shop tab above)!

DBT, Inspiration, mental health

The OTHER Antidote for Depression

If you’ve experienced depression I am sure you’ve heard (once or twice) that you should exercise to improve your mood.  That advice isn’t wrong; and yet, it isn’t easy.  I am here to let you know that there is another very powerful antidote for depression and it takes the form of the DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) skill of BUILDing MASTERY.

Build Mastery is a very small skill in the DBT manual (which makes me sad) but it packs a powerful punch.  To build mastery is to spend time developing a skill/talent/hobby/activity.  It is important that you understand the following table:

Too EasyNo effect, could backfire and make you feel infantilized
ChallengingBuilds self-worth/self-esteem
Too HardLikely leads to you feeling incompetent

The task that you choose to work on (let’s take running a 5k as an example) needs to fall in the middle row: challenging.  If you decide, with no prior training to run a full marathon (too hard), you will injure yourself, fail and probably feel worse about yourself.  If you choose to walk to 10 paces forward (too easy), you won’t feel any sense of accomplishment because that’s too easy! You won’t continue to work toward your goal of running and therefore will feel like the exercise was pointless. The sweet spot involves breaking your goal of running a 5k into reasonable and tangible steps (such as researching and purchasing running shoes, finding local trails/parks, downloading Couch 2 5k or joining a running club, sharing your plan with others, beginning to work up to short jogs and slowly lengthening the distance.

Lets say, you hate running and now you’re angry that I suggested that. Fair enough…you can build mastery in almost any area!

  • Gardening
  • Cleaning
  • Sewing
  • Painting
  • Learning a language
  • Computer coding
  • Playing chess
  • Cooking
  • Any sport
  • Reading (longer books, more complex books)
  • Home repairs
  • Budgeting
  • Crafting

I think build mastery is an attainable skill over this quarantine! I have been brushing up on my watercolor skills as a way to reduce stress and practice a challenging activity.  Take some time to think about what you could work on!20200318_1633398414760588646284697.jpg

top view photo of rocky shore
Inspiration, mental health

Too Much or Too Little?

I’m getting SO MUCH DONE! or We’ve done NOTHING…just laying round binge-watching Netflix all day.  I am hearing two extremes from people when they get overwhelmed, which side do you generally fall on?

Do you try to “keep up with the Jones’s, Pinterest Moms, Type-A friends in your social media feed? Are you stressing out about accomplishing everything that’s been on your to-do list? Are you trying to take advantage of all the Facebook Live free classes that people keep discussing? Be careful…you WILL hit a wall (and it’s a brick wall).

Do you find that being quarantined in 2020 was an excuse to stay in your pajamas, eat all the snacks and watch endless hours of streamed TV? Did you skip showers and avoid anything that resembled a routine? Be careful, if that is your fall back, you can fall into the pit (and it’s a muddy, mucky pit).

One day, if I am famous for saying anything…it will be for saying “there is no right answer; there is a more effective answer for you to reach your goals”.  This is a situation in which I’d give the same advice…there isn’t a RIGHT way to struggle…I’ve had doses of both scenarios describe. When you are having a difficult time, I think the trick is to ask yourself every few hours (or perhaps each morning or evening), what it is that you’d like to accomplish? What would you like to be able to say you did for the previous 8 hours or the next 8 hours.  If you have been working hard, it’s PERFECTLY acceptable to choose to take the day off and do nothing for a while. If you’ve just come to the surface after binge-watching 3 seasons of something, it’s a good idea to switch gears and organize your sock drawer and alphabetize your DVD collection!  A problem seems to occur after several days in one mode or the other without any sign of coming back to baseline.

It’s crucial that you’re kind to yourself and develop the ability to self-validate and self-encourage. Some examples of that include saying to yourself:

  • I am tired from _________ and that makes sense, today I’ll take it easy
  • I have enjoyed a few days of relaxation and now I am ready to tackle one thing off of my list
  • I am worthy of a break
  • My ideas are worth working toward

Take some time right now, close your eyes, and evaluate which side of the spectrum you’ve been on the last few days…and what is a step you can take toward the other side?  I propose an ultimate goal of learning to live in the balance (not balanced…as that doesn’t exist…but living in the middle range of the teeter totter, more so than at the extremes.)

Inspiration, mental health

What if?

I’m sure you’ve heard of affirmations and positive self-talk by now. I am sure you know that on some level, they are useful tools to build your self-worth and self-esteem; however, I am also sure that there are times in which the statements are too much of a stretch for you. If the gap between your current mentality and the positive affirmation is too wide, you are likely to give up and avoid practicing. So, what’s the answer???

The answer is “what if”.

What if you believed them. What if you added “what if” to the beginning of the affirmation as a bridge to cross the wide gap? Take a look at the affirmations below and I’ll show you below how to implement the “what if” strategy!

You may struggle to believe “I have the power to control my thoughts”, especially if you struggle with anxiety and rumination. If it feels like Susie Sunshine is harassing you in reading that first affirmation, try reading git like this:

“What if I have the power to control my thoughts?” …does that feel any more realistic? I feel like it can make a huge difference in the choices you make because if there is a chance that you DO have power and control over your thoughts, you might be less likely to give into your next impulsive urge!

Let’s look at the last one on the pink page for a second example: “I am worthy of good things”. If you are struggling with that idea, try stating internally “what if I am worthy of good things?” and let your day unfold from there!

What do you think…are you more likely to use affirmations if you could add “what if” as the bridge?

anonymous young lady paddling boat in lake during trip in mountains
DBT, Inspiration, mental health

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

I cannot express enough, the power and efficacy of progressive muscle relaxation. By and large, it is one of the best treatments for stress and anxiety.  For my clients struggling with chronic anxiety, difficulty falling asleep, and the stress of a chaotic lifestyle, I routinely recommend this type of meditation.  I encourage you to utilize this video as a way to sink into a calm mental place and enjoy the peace it brings.

If you tend to be an anxious person, progressive muscle relaxation is a simple and easy tool that can take your baseline from an 8/10 to a 5/10 which will improve focus, improve sleep, decrease racing thoughts, release muscle tension…all for free!

Modern technology is quite a blessing in this regard. Gone are the days when you would have to purchase relaxation CD’s…using YouTube, it’s quite simple to find a guided meditation that works for you and your style.  Consider searching terms such as “progressive muscle relaxation”, “paced breathing”, loving kindness, and/or relaxation meditation. 

accomplishment action adult adventure
Inspiration, mental health

Do the hard work!

I have found that most of us do not want to do the hard work.  We are impatient and want instant gratification.  We want the quick fix and as soon as our symptoms of distress are alleviated, we regress right back to what we were previously doing…despite evidence to the contrary, despite knowing what got us in over our head in the first place. 

Take some examples:

How many of you take your antibiotic prescription AS PRESCRIBED for the entirety of the recommended prescription? A lot of people quit taking it about 75% of the way through the recommended course.  A large percentage of these people also get mad when their symptoms return (with vengeance) and they need another doctor appointment and stronger medications the second time around. Furthermore, not taking antibiotics as prescribed is one of the top 5 causes of the antibiotic resistance we are seeing in the medical field. 

How many of you like commercial breaks? I remember when commercials would come on network TV during childhood (before DVR!!!) and it was NO.BIG.DEAL.  Yet now…how infuriating are the 30 second ads on Youtube or Hulu! We can’t handle having to wait. Fun fact: a study by Nielson found that 45% of DVR recorded commercials are still watched. 

How many of you would say you were a good driver when you started out? Always vowing to fill the car with gas when it hit ¼ of a tank, always wearing your seatbelt, never texting when driving, always abiding by the speed limit? And on how many of those things have you slid back from? According to the Center for Disease Control, the number of deaths from distracted driving has been steadily increasing, up to over 3400 in 2015.

How many of us have a “bedtime”, a “diet plan”, a “workout routine” …and how many of us keep them? The amount American’s spend on dieting each year continues to rise, up to $65 Billion in 2010 and 90-95% of dieters regain all of their weight. We reach for and pay for a marketed quick fix and (shocker) it doesn’t actually work, we never change our core habits related to our physical health and thus end up on a viscous cycle. If you actually want physical health, you have to live a physically healthy lifestyle every day.

As a culture, we have grown pretty lazy and entitled! We want all the results without the hard work!  We want what we want, when we want it!  Part of real therapy (the kind where you truly get better) is a willingness to do the hard work and a willingness to hear the hard stuff from your therapist without heading for the door.  I am asking your, begging you rather, to do some self-exploration on this topic.  Are you willing to delay gratification and learn to tolerate being uncomfortable for the betterment of your future?

GOALS THAT ARE WORTH REACHING TAKE WORK. HARD WORK. 

photo of white and purple painting
Inspiration, mental health

A short list of ways to increase happiness at anytime

1. If the task can be completed or mess can be cleaned up quickly, do it

2. Drink more water

3. Text someone (or 5 someones) “hey, I was just thinking of you! How are you today?”

4. Hug someone, if no one is available: hug a tree

5. Get 8-9 hours of sleep

6. Don’t watch TV

7. Go outside for 5 minutes and just observe nature, in whatever form you can (sky, birds, blades of grass, tree branches)

8. Eat a balanced and healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner

9. Wake up 20 minutes before you “have to”

10. Exercise. Even 10 squats before climbing into bed.

11. Look at funny memes/comics

12. Read something

13. Reflect on one happy memory

14. Fantasize about travel

15. Eat a piece of candy or chocolate

16. Unsubscribe to/unfollow something that annoys you

17. Subscribe to/follow something that inspires you

18. Write down 3 things that don’t suck today

19. Call a relative

20. Dance

21. Choose a few items you can donate

22. Tell yourself, seriously, that you are doing a great job

23. Open your mail instead of throwing it into a pile

24. Meditate (consider trying an app or guided meditation on Youtube if you’re new to it!)

25. Play a board game

26. Sing along to your jams from a simpler time

Inspiration, mental health, parenting

Nature is My Happy Place

I personally love to hike. I hike alone (with no head phones) …just me and nature. I also try to instill a love of hiking to my girls; taking short and fun hikes with them a few times a month! Hiking has always provided me with a sense of peace and for some reason a greater ability to solve problems. It’s a pastime that my mom encouraged from a very young age. I don’t remember a vacation that didn’t contain walking explorations, be it mountains, caves or beach. I always joke that when I am stressed out, I need to get out into the woods and according to recent research, I was onto something!

A research study from Stanford found a clear and measurable connection between hiking and reduced depression. One of the best parts of this study is that it found that walking in a nature setting vs an urban setting resulted in BRAIN changes that are in line with decreased depression, anxiety, rumination, and improved memory. They are finding that 50% of human population lives in urban settings (which is set to rise) along with that statistic, there has been a continued rise in anxiety and depressive disorders!


We also know that in the last 20 years, there has been an increased amount of people playing videogames. This includes kids as young as toddlers and the video games are getting more and more realistic, fast paced, and violent! Now add in the fact that most school districts are now forcing the students to do much of their work on laptops or tablets, as young as kindergarten. We have a generation of kids who spend ALL DAY looking at screens. In 2005, Richard Louv wrote a book called Last Child In The Woods in which he coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder. He proposes that children are spending less and less time in nature, causing more and more behavioral problems.


I agree, not only for kids though…adults too…


I think what we NEED to do is clear. Think about it.

Better yet…go outside and try it!

DBT, Inspiration, mental health

Breaking Down the Confusion Surrounding Mindfulness

Mindfulness is not only a hot topic in our culture today; it is a fantastic tool that anyone can utilize to gain immeasurable benefits.  Many people equate mindfulness to meditation.  This is accurate and inaccurate at the same time.  Mindfulness is a large umbrella concept, meditation does fall under the umbrella; however so do many other techniques.  Mindfulness is merely choosing to focus all of your attention on one thing, one task, or one thought.

Under the mindfulness umbrella, there are two main techniques:

  1. Focusing your attention ON something or some task.
  2. Clearing your mind

Frequent feedback that I get is that the first type of mindfulness is easier.  In our culture, focusing on something is much more acceptable than focusing on nothing.  There is a judgment that focusing on something is still accomplishing something, while clearing your mind is a “waste of time”.

Focusing on SOMETHIING can take almost any form:  purposeful conversations with eye contact and no cell phones, choosing to read a book with limited distractions, painting, doing a puzzle, breathing techniques, body scan, yoga, fully throwing yourself into a sport or exercise etc.  The goal is that you control your attention as opposed to blowing through the breeze at its mercy.  When being mindful, you may notice distracting thoughts or urges; however you choose to let them pass.

Clearing your mind may indeed be more difficult; however the benefits are life changing.  What I hear most often is that it’s weird or the people don’t “know how” to do it.  Clearing you mind can happen in many forms.  Zen mindfulness suggests sitting upright and comfortable in a meditation position.  The only goal is to sit upright and still.  Thoughts will rise and fall, we don’t judge or cling to them if possible.  Sitting periods can be anywhere from 60 seconds to hours at a time.  There are of course other ways to meditate: prayer, reciting mantras, contemplating an issue, chanting, listening to classical or calming music etc.

So why should you buy into this? Because it works!  I will admit I was a skeptic at first.  I thought people would make fun of me or judge me (and perhaps they do…). I didn’t think I could “make time”…I was too busy!  I began practicing as to not be a hypocrite.  The benefits I experienced are right in line with the numerous studies out there and include: boosted mood, mental clarity, improved ability to problem solve, increased feeling of connection, increased wisdom, improved productivity, optimism, and confidence to name a few.

I urge you to give it a try.  Start with stopping several times per day to intentionally focus your attention on the task at hand.  If you are walking, walk.  Feel the knee swing through, the weight transfer from foot to foot, and stop ruminating.  If you are working, work.  Stop multi-tasking, pay attention to the ink on the paper, to your fingers on the keyboard, to the voice on the phone.  If you are watching TV, watch TV.  Stop eating, stop folding laundry, put your phone down and just watch TV.

Once you feel confident in your ability to control your attention in those ways, begin several times per day to stop and breathe.  Just stop what you are doing and take 10 deep, slow breaths.  Center yourself, and then carry on with the task at hand.

Finally, intentionally choose to block out time in your day to practice a formal sitting meditation practice.  Whether 5 minutes or 50 minutes, just take time to sit and be still.  What have you got to lose?