stress

Wellness in the New Year

by Mary Martha Abernathy, LPC

With a new year comes New Year’s resolutions.  People use the New Year to take stock of how the past year went and what changes or goals they hope to make for the upcoming year. What does wellness look like for you in 2017?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) “defines wellness not as the absence of disease, illness, or stress but the presence of purpose in life, active involvement in satisfying work and play, joyful relationships, a healthy body and living environment, and happiness”  (Source: www.samhsa.gov).

I like that to pursue wellness does not mean that my life is perfect or easy.

To pursue wellness means I am pursuing a purpose and seeking joy. Wellness means that I am seeking healthy relationships, a healthy body, and a healthy environment.   SAMHSA has created eight dimensions of wellness: Emotional, Environmental, Financial, Intellectual, Occupational, Physical, Social, and Spiritual.  One of the great things about this Wellness model is that many of the categories overlap with each other.

Even if my work life adds a lot of stress to my day to day functioning I can still pursue my own wellness. That may look like exercising to increase some of the needed endorphins in my body.  It may mean I pursue some environmental changes and wellness. I can’t quit my job, but I can create space in my home in which I find peace and rest. It may also mean that I create an environment at my desk where I am reminded of positive relationships and purpose. Wellness may also look like me pursuing relationships with co-workers in an intentional way to make my environment more comfortable.

Some of our life stressors may not change too much over the coming year.  We can lose some weight, cut back on the alcohol, go to counseling, or try a new hobby; but will these things balance out the negative experiences?  Wellness allows us to hold in tension the stressful and negative parts of life, recognizing we can still find good.

Where can you find the joy and play in your life this year?  How can you pursue wholeness and wellness in life?

Stress During the Holidays

Stress During the Holidays

by Mary Martha Abernathy, LPC

This is a time of year full of stress. We are quickly approaching Christmas, Hanukkah, and the New Year.  This is a season when we spend a lot of time celebrating both with friends and family.  It can also be a time where we experience increased stress and pressure.  Knowing you are soon going to be spending long hours with your family, how do you prepare?

Below are some tips or ideas to help make the holiday celebrations more manageable and enjoyable.

Exercise: Research shows that exercise can help to increase your positive mood and fight against feelings of anxiety and depression.  Exercise while with family can also provide that needed space for quiet or reflection, smaller group conversations, or stress relief, and it can create a personal “time out” from the stressors you are experiencing.

Change your Intake: Limit certain foods and beverages during the holidays.  “Eating your feelings” may help for a short time, but it won’t change once the sugar has worn off or the alcohol is no longer in your system. Also, change your physical and emotional intake.

  • Caffeine can mirror symptoms of anxiety in our bodies.  If you are already feeling anxious about the holidays cut back a little on your intake or switch to decaf.  Increasing alcohol may seem to help in the moment, but it can later impact your sleep and mood.
  • Change up the environment.  If you start to feel overwhelmed, take a short walk outside (even if it is only to the mailbox or to your car).  Listen to some relaxing music or watch a funny video. Create a break in the day to clear your head and check in with your own emotions. Changing the experience around you can help to recalibrate your mood.

Reality Check:  When you get stuck talking to Aunt Mildred, who is telling you how to live your life, graciously break away from the conversation and connect with someone with a more positive attitude. That connection can be via personal contact, a phone call or even a text.  Use your social network to your advantage! Do an internal check of the facts from your conversation or experience.

When our thoughts become misconstrued or faulty it can lead to more negative emotional experiences and more stress in our relationships.

Prayer/Mindfulness/Meditation: Take a few moments each day during your holiday season for reflection.  During this time, take time to notice and observe.  Use your five senses to experience the season by noticing the decorations, the lights, the sounds, the special foods, the activities, clothing.  Be fully present while wrapping gifts, paying attention to the feel and sounds of the paper.  Push all the thoughts from your mind but the present moment.  Take time to give thanks, rejoice and celebrate the kindness you have experienced.

Stress Management in the Mountains

Stress Management in the Mountains

by: Jonathan E. Hart, LPC

One of the hats that I wear in my life is that of a Scoutmaster. I love being with these young men and helping them learn leadership and character. I love hanging out with them and being a part of their world.

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We recently participated in a trek at Philmont Scout Reservation near Cimarron, NM,  a 10-day backpacking journey of 76 miles. Hiking in the mountains of New Mexico, among such sights as are simply not available in Missouri, one might think that stress would melt away and relaxation would be almost a foregone conclusion, especially for one who loves the outdoors.

I found this rest was harder to come by than I thought.  One thing I noted often was our tendency to focus on getting to the next Destination.   We hiked an average of 7 miles a day with 40 pound packs on.  Our stops provided opportunities to participate in program activities like mountain biking, railroading, cowboy action shooting, and tomahawk throwing (to name just a few).   

It is easy when hiking in a group to get caught up in “getting there” in order to have the time to do the activity offered. The tendency is to put your head down and put one foot in front of the other in order to “get there”.  Consequently you will see little more than the rocks, the heels and backpack of the person in front of you.  

I had to remind myself (and the boys) often to slow down, get a little space between ourselves and the next guy, and LOOK AROUND.  “We’re in the MOUNTAINS!  Look at that valley!  Let the massive magnitude of this place sink in, let the sheer sense of scale take hold for just a moment.  Look at this little river snaking through this rich green valley! Listen to the water and the birds! Literally SMELL THE FLOWERS!”

stress managementWhen I did so, we would take a moment, stop or slow down and “ooh and aaah” appreciatively, snap a few photos, and then put our heads down and get back to the “business” of hiking.

When I returned to “civilization”, I noticed a profound similarity between this experience of hiking and to that of driving.  We can become focused on “getting there” rather than on the journey.  We fixate on getting past “this slow idiot” in order to be behind then next slow idiot. We race and race to “get there” rather than allowing ourselves to take our time and to enjoy the journey.  

I think the focus on Destination over Journey is a challenge that faces many of us when it comes to stress and our often futile attempts to manage it.  We need a regular reminder that most of our stress is often self-applied and actually unnecessary.  In the midst of our tasks, if we can slow down and look around, shift our focus from “getting there” or “getting it done” to finding delight in the doing and in the journey, we just might find our lives more livable and enjoyable.  –JEHstress management

Life Lessons My Newborn Has Been Teaching Me

Life Lessons My Newborn Has Been Teaching Me

by: Melinda Seley, PLPC

Sometimes life’s greatest teachers come in the smallest of packages. After recently returning from maternity leave, I have been reflecting on some life lessons my newborn has been teaching (or re-teaching) me over the past several months.  Below are the top five:  

Silence the “always” and “nevers” and work to be present here and now.  

Caring for our newborn is one of the most demanding “jobs” I have ever had – it’s physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting. In those first weeks with our boy, I found myself so afraid that this would be my new normal – being trapped in the house with a tiny little person who could only communicate via hangry crying and who needed something from me for what seemed like every minute.  I would never get to have friends again, enjoy a cup of hot coffee, attend church, or do anything beyond being at my boy’s beckon call.  This is always how it was going to be.  I found myself saying a lot of “always” and “never’s”.  And the only place they led me was to despair and fear. They made me miss the joy and uniqueness of that finite season and a season I had so longed to experience.  

Do you find yourself saying a lot of always and nevers about where you are in life?  If so, what would it look like to, instead, be present in this moment, right now? To be honest about and grieve the unique challenges, losses, and hardships you are experiencing, but to not forget to look for and savor the good. Right here and now.

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Some of the most significant growth in life comes through hardship or struggle. Don’t avoid it.

Pediatricians recommend that by 2 months of age, infants spend 30-60 minutes on their tummy.  Until he could successfully lift his head, my boy hated “tummy time” and was quite vocal about his dislike of it.  It would turn our happy, easy-going baby into a crying mess.  I wanted to avoid it; I didn’t want to subject my own son to struggle; and honestly, I didn’t want to subject myself to additional emotional exhaustion from needing to soothe him afterwards.  But the only way for him to grow and be able to hold his head steady was for me to allow him to struggle. To give him opportunity each day to face what he didn’t like with support so that he could grow.  Is there anything in your life that seems like it would be easier to avoid but really what you need most is to get down on the mat and spend time learning to lift your head – through the tears and grumbles?  What are you missing out on because it’s easier or more appealing to avoid the struggle?  

Value “being” rather than “doing”.  

I am a “doer”. I like lists and I especially like to check them off. Life with a newborn doesn’t allow for many lists other than feed, change diaper, soothe, repeat (with the occasional change clothes and spray with stain remover mixed in!). In the first days of being home all day alone with my son, I texted my husband, “I’ve showered and done a load of laundry…today is already a success!” And in doing so, I realized that my definition of success was based merely on how much of my “to do” list I could accomplish…instead of savoring just being with my new, precious child who relied on me for everything and who I had longed to have.  Do you struggle as I do to find your identity in what you do rather than just being?  What would it look like to keep the to do list, but give it a whole lot less weight in determining your worth?  You are not what you do. You are not the boxes you check off. You are you and that is enough.

The first time will be the hardest…the important thing is to lean into the fear and do it.  

After 3 weeks with our little guy, I felt like maybe I finally had the hang of this whole parenting a newborn thing. But I still had not left the house with him alone. I was afraid – what if something happens when we’re out and I don’t have what I need or worse yet – I look like I have no idea what I’m doing as a mom?!  My fear kept me stuck in the house and unable to move forward.  And then I read somewhere an encouragement to do something I feared as a new mom each day.  And suddenly I felt a resolve within me that I would not let fear rule me. I had to name the fear and walk through it. After leaving the house for the first time and realizing that I could survive it (and more importantly, our little one could survive it!), it got easier. I had concrete experience to learn from.  What is fear keeping you from doing? What do you need in order to move through that fear and do something for the first time?

Stop comparing.

Being a first time parent is hard. There are so many unknowns, big adjustments, differing opinions on how you should care for your little one, exhaustion, and fear. Every parent is different and every child is different. I found myself looking around me at friends who are on their second, third, fourth child and thinking, “They are handling life so much better and they have more than one child! I can’t even manage {fill in the blank} and I only have one kiddo!” So much shame. And insufficiency. And failure. But my comparing isn’t fair. Those friends of mine have walked through the challenge of adding their first child to their family and they had to do and experience all these things for the first time, too.  And they questioned themselves, felt unsure, and were overwhelmed just as I have been.  And they learned along the way how to do it.  Comparing myself to others in different seasons or places in life discounts their journey to get where they are and the journey I have not yet walked.  And experience is one of life’s greatest teachers. When I stopped looking around to compare and gave myself grace to navigate this completely new role with my unique child and my unique strengths and weaknesses, I found so much more joy in the process. Do you find yourself making endless comparisons?  Are they fair? What would it look like to acknowledge that you have unique strengths and weaknesses and experience is a great teacher?  Would that make a difference in your joy?  

Do you need to learn (or apply) any of these life lessons along with me?  What are you learning where you are on this journey of life?  

 

The Pinterest Beast

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The Pinterest Beast

by: Courtney Hollingsworth, LPC, EMDR Trained Therapist

I love Pinterest. I used to bookmark tons of web pages, have draft emails full of links for easy access. Thanks to Pinterest, I can keep all that information handy in one place and organized! And I can search for resources of all kinds in one place. It’s an awesome tool.

However, this wonderful tool also comes with a sneaky and nasty beast. You may have noticed him or heard him while scrolling through pins. He may be so sneaky with you that you haven’t noticed him lurking between homemade play dough recipes and decorating ideas that cost a year’s salary. He has many names: Comparison, Envy, Self-Doubt, Esteem crusher, Mommy Guilt, and many more. He whispers in your ear in first person: “Why can’t I do that?”, “I’m so lazy,” “My house should look like that,” “If I were a better mom, I would _______,” “I need more,” “I need less,” “I’m not enough,” and variations of “If my kid doesn’t know all his colors, numbers, shapes, alphabet, and multiplication tables before entering preschool, he will grow up to be a high school drop-out and become homeless.”

The Pinterest Beast isn’t alone, it has a variety of friends on other websites and apps telling us about how our lives, ourselves, are not enough. Social media has given us a great way to stay connected in our fast-paced and transient lives. It has also given us a chance to edit what is seen as I talked about in a previous blog here. And when we see the edited 5% of the lives of others, we tend to use it to judge 100% of our lives.

What if we lived our lives according to our own view of it? What would that look like? What if Pinterest was just a place to keep and find good ideas, and reject the ones that just are realistic or even good for our lives. Six months of freezer meals may be great for someone else and the idea is good, but it just doesn’t fit well in my life. Floor to ceiling bookshelves built-in around a door looks awesome in the picture, but my skills and my budget make it totally unrealistic. There is no judgement call on who I am. Be the you you want to be in real life, not the one your screen lures you into thinking you “should” be.

Permission Slips for the New Mom

by: Kim Hammans, PLPC

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There are times in life that invoke extreme emotion and their impact tends to leave us forever changed as people. The birth of a child is certainly one of those times.

Having just come back from my own maternity leave, I find myself reflecting on how intense these past few weeks with a newborn have been. I have experienced all-consuming joy. Looking into my new little one’s eyes and cradling his little body brings thankfulness and awe into my heart. But there have also been painfully lonely feelings, too. Some moments I have been so tired I cannot think straight and so overwhelmed with emotions that I am not sure which one is accurate and which one to trust.

As women, we often feel we must get back on our feet, returning to “normal” as quickly as possible. Taking the time to heal— physically and emotionally— can feel like a luxury we cannot afford ourselves. So when the emotions hit us (and who can escape the hormonal roller coaster after giving birth?) we often feel a lot of pressure to get it under control and make it stop. I think we do ourselves a disservice when we treat ourselves this way.

During my own recovery, I was reminded of Brene Brown’s technique of writing yourself permission slips when doing something that is scary. Brown is the author of several books, one entitled, The Gifts of Imperfection. She hosted an e-course based on this book, in which she invited her students to write their own permission slips as they face doing something new. I applied her wisdom to my postpartum recovery. Some of these “permissions” were easier for me to believe in the moment than others. But through time I have found all of them to be true.

If you are about to welcome a baby into your life, or support someone who is, I offer the following list of permissions to you:

1. It’s okay to cry.

For some, this is easy. Tears just come. But for others, tears can be a source of shame. Your feelings and your emotions during this time are real, and holding them in will not help you in the long run. After my first son was born, I remember a guest coming to my home to visit both of us. I burst into tears when she asked me how I was doing. She embraced me and simply said, “This is normal and this is real life. It is okay to cry.” I experienced such freedom from those words. This truth helped me to embrace my tears and I actually felt lighter after getting some of the tears out.

2. It’s okay to ask for help.

You need to focus your energy on recovery and on bonding with and enjoying your new baby. Lean in to the people around you. Let !them help you. Let them cook you meals, fold your laundry, play with your older kids, and worry about the dishes, bills, and other chores. When people ask you what you need, don’t be afraid to accept their help. Raising a baby takes a community, and this starts from the very beginning. If you don’t have people immediately able to help you, consider hiring help: a housecleaner, a babysitter, or a postpartum doula are good people to consider.

3. It’s okay to rest.

Taking time to sleep is essential for your healing. There is no shame in allowing your body to relax and doing nothing but caring for yourself and your new baby.

4. It’s okay to enjoy the newborn phase.

If you are a mom who loves babies, enjoy it. Soak up every yawn, every adorable face and amazing sound your baby makes. Snuggle and enjoy every aspect of your baby.

5. …And its okay if you don’t enjoy this time so much.

If on the other hand you are finding it hard to enjoy the baby, relax. It is okay. It does not mean you are a terrible mom. This phase is hard. The sleeplessness and the newness to everything can be exhausting and terrifying and completely overwhelming. There is nothing wrong with you if you do not enjoy this phase.

6. It’s okay to not know what you are doing.

Ah, competence. I don’t think I knew how much I relied upon feeling competent until I felt utterly incompetent in the presence of a new little life. It is normal to not know what you are doing. It is okay. Breathe.

7. It’s okay to focus on your needs.

New mom, you matter. Your healing matters. It is okay to take breaks, to find time for yourself, to take an extra long shower, and to do things to help yourself recover. Do not neglect yourself: eat meals. Sleep. Rest.

8. It’s okay for things to be imperfect, messy, and incomplete.

Speak kindly to yourself as you enter a whole new phase of life. It will not be perfect. Things will be messy and hard. Your relationship with your partner will probably be strained. You may not be able to care for your other kids in the way you typically do. It will be okay. This is only a season, and it is okay for it to look messy— both literally (there is stuff on my kitchen floor that has been there for weeks!) as well as relationally and emotionally.

9. It’s okay to seek professional help.

When the feelings become intense, when the fears consume, and when the pressure feels palpable, it is okay to reach out for help. Talk to your doctor. Find a therapist. Do not go at it alone.

What permissions would you add for yourself?

A Tool to Manage and Reduce Your Anxiety

by: Lianne Johnson, LPC

Today I want to share with you a tool I have found helpful to manage and reduce anxiety.

As a Licensed Professional Counselor and a human being who struggles with anxiety, I am continually looking for ways to help manage and reduce anxiety in my own life, as well as in the lives of my clients’.

Do you like to color?  Maybe that is a hard question for you to answer since you are likely to be an adult or teenager reading this and haven’t colored in many years.  Perhaps I should ask:  Are you willing to try coloring as a way to manage and reduce your anxiety?

Recently, I ordered a mindfulness coloring book which has been designed to be used as a tool to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and to literally slow you down from your busy life.  Pictured below is the specific book I ordered from Amazon and one of the pictures I have been working on.

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IMG_2126As you can see from the picture attention to detail is a must.  Concentrating your thoughts on the area you are coloring is a must.  Allowing time from when you begin coloring a picture until it is finished is a must.

Slowing down, concentrating your thoughts on what is specifically in front of you, and allowing yourself to be present in what you are doing brings peace into your current moments.

Do you ever experience…

-racing thoughts?

-panic attacks?

-pains in your chest due to current stressors in your life?

-negative thoughts?

-repetitive thoughts?

If you find yourself answering “yes” to the above questions then grabbing one of these coloring books for yourself may be helpful for you as you learn ways to cope with your stress and anxiety in life.  This is just one tool among many that you can try.

If you do decide to find a coloring book for yourself be sure to get colored pencils.  Crayons make it really hard to color within the lines!