Friday, February 22, 2013

We Are What We Think

The importance of a holistic approach is becoming more and more evident by health care providers and consumers alike, as highlighted in a recent article Are You What You Eat? in Counseling Today. We are not only what we eat but the thoughts that we nourish ourselves with, as well.

It is the nature of the mind to think, to wander, and to worry- but this doesn't mean that we have to take all of our fears at face value. We can begin to notice when we've become derailed by negative or fear-based thinking and bring a little kindness to ourselves instead of remaining wrapped up in our stresses and struggles. By noticing when we are consumed in our worries and then responding gently and easily- perhaps by taking a calming deep breath- we can restore our peace of mind...

Counseling is a great place to explore our whole experience, including the workings of the mind. What we think, what we eat, and how we relate to ourselves and others is all connected. Luckily for us we have a say in how we choose to respond to our experience. Change is hard but it is possible. In fact, it's the only constant. Just as it is the nature of the mind to think, we can plant new seeds of thought, new avenues for our minds to wander, and explore they will... if we can allow it.

There are many great local wellness-oriented professionals we can visit, such as nutritionist Jennie Wolfe and naturopathic doctor Wyler Hecht, to enhance our counseling work. At The Banyan Tree Center, we cultivate good relationships with other health care providers in town so that we can share these connections with you. There are also a good many great books we can read. The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion by Christopher Germer tops my list because- for most of us, anyway- learning how to tame our inner critic is quite the process! But, it can transform our lives.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

That Which We Call a Rose...

By any other name would smell as sweet... This Valentine's morning, I am aware of the power that our words and thoughts have on our experience.

My namesake Granny Anna Belle always said, "thoughts are things." Our thoughts directly impact our experience. Mindfulness, or paying attention to the present moment with acceptance, gives us a skillful way to respond to our thoughts and feelings- and is of growing interest to counselors and clients alike.

One of my colleagues, Tim Sweatman, shared a brief mindfulness-based intervention that he invites his clients to experiment with. The idea is this: notice when we feel uncomfortable and gently and easily shift our experience in a new direction by asking, "What would it feel like not to feel this way, right now?" We can tailor the wording to fit our experience. We might ask: What would it feel like not to feel anxious, right now? What would it feel like not to fear public speaking, right now? What would it feel like not to be worried about my health, right now? Whatever works for you.

The idea is to practice responding to our experience with compassion and curiosity rather than worrying about or fighting our experience, which oftentimes only makes it worse.

There are many ways to practice self-compassion this Valentine's Day. What would it be like to be a living love letter to yourself? Perhaps it involves writing one? Or, re-naming the day? Or, taking a break from an old worry? The possibilities are endless...

Monday, February 4, 2013

Finding Balance: Our Challenge as Women

There is generally no shortage of material to talk about when first meeting with a client. The first session is a time for each of us to get to know each other, see if we are a good fit, and discuss how we might work together. In addition to talking about what brings the client in, we discuss her eating, sleeping, working, exercise, and relationships- as well as what she does for fun, what medications she is taking, how she nourishes herself, and where she turns for support. Whew! That's a lot! It's important to touch on these inter-related areas of a person's life so that together we can work holistically to address how each of these pieces combines to create a whole picture of our lives at a given moment.

My areas of focus as a counselor are women's issues and challenges and treating psychological trauma. Sadly, these areas still go hand-in-hand, as anyone who watches the news can understand. As women, we continue to ask so much of ourselves- to balance family, school, career, our physical health and appearance- and yet many of us are not feeling fulfilled. So, what gives? How do we find balance among seemingly impossible standards- not to mention a troubled economy (did I say still suffering from a double standard)? We must realize that our well being depends on our willingness to continually assess and re-assess the quality of our lives and take action when things get out of whack.

I'll give you some examples: when our health, relationships, or work suffer- or, heaven forbid, all of the above- we know that some re-adjustments are in order. This can begin with becoming aware of what it actually is that we desire. What kind of lives do we want to create for ourselves? I believe that we all want to be safe, happy, healthy, and loved. The details of this change from person to person.

For many of us, first steps towards creating the lives that we desire include learning how to really care for ourselves and trust in our own health and healing. This might mean carving out the time and energy to get more physical movement and pleasurable activity into our days and weeks. Or, it might mean finding the peace of mind to remember to take deep breathes when we're feeling stressed, reminding our bodies and minds that we can calm down- that "this" is not a threat to our survival, as our nervous systems can sometimes misinterpret. The number of ways that we can take care of ourselves is infinite. Each of us must find sustainable ways of taking care of ourselves- that is, ways that work for us.

Why aren't we doing this stuff already, taking better care of ourselves? Why does it seem so easy to forget that we deserve our own love and compassion? There seems to be an epidemic of distrust in our society- of ourselves and of others- which keeps us in a state of fear and frenzy. I recognize that living wages and even safety are in short supply for far too many of us. And, at the same time, I believe that there is no shortage of good will out there. There is enough compassion to go around. We have only to tap into it.

Talking with someone is a great way to begin your healing journey, whether with a counselor or trusted friend. Change is inevitable- and our health and happiness is on the line... So, let's reflect on our lives. Remember to breathe. Realize what it is that we desire. And, figure out first steps to get there...