LifeTip: Connection

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Since the bombings that have occurred in Austin, I have really started to think about human connection. True connection. I happen to live in a neighborhood where two of the bombings happened and it was terrifying for obvious reasons. Fear was the biggest emotion to consume me, however, as I sat with this fear and explored it I began to think about the others who may be sharing this feeling with me, my neighbors. As I thought about the people literally closest to me, I had a realization: I don't know who is living next door to me, across the street, down the street or anywhere in my vicinity that could be sitting with this as well. Yes, I know their faces, their cars, their general schedules but that's it. As I sat with this a little longer, I began to wonder what it would have been like to know them before, during, and after these events. Could I have or would I have walked next door and checked in on them? Would they have checked in on me and my family? Would we be sharing our feelings together? I know I am not alone in this because others have shared a very similar story.

So what does it mean to know that I am not the only one who does not know who they live next to? To me, this is a very large sign that we need to CONNECT with each other--our neighbors, our community. We live in such an isolated society, even though we are more "connected" than ever because of social media. How does this even make sense?!? 

Many of us are using social media platforms to share tiny bits of information about our lives with others in order to "connect," but in reality, we are distancing ourselves from REAL LIFE-- from TRUE CONNECTION. Could you imagine knowing your neighbors' names instead of knowing what that person you met once at a networking event is eating for dinner? Or knowing what your neighbor does for a living instead of knowing where that person from high school went on vacation with their "perfect" family of four (you also know each family member's name) that you never really liked anyway? Maybe you do know what it's like to know your neighbors, so you may have insight on this, but if you don't, what do you imagine this could look like? What do you imagine this could look like when there is danger nearby? Just the idea of knowing the people that surround my house causes a shift in my body to feel a little calmer, feel a little safer.

I recently finished the book, Lost Connections, by Johann Hari, and there is an excerpt I want to share with you because it has really resonated with me in the wake of the Austin bombings. In this excerpt, Hari is writing about John Cacioppo's research on the effects of the outside world on the brain in regards to loneliness:

Protracted loneliness causes you to shut down socially, and to be more suspicious of any social contact, he found. You become hypervigilant. You start to be more likely to take offense where none was intended and to be afraid of strangers. You start to be afraid of the very thing you need most. John calls this a “snowball” effect, as disconnection spirals into more disconnection. Lonely people are scanning for threats because they unconsciously know that nobody is looking out for them, so no one will help them if they are hurt. 

YES. So much YES. As I read on in the book, I learned that this can change. With a little bit of effort, this snowball effect of loneliness can be reversed through face-to-face connections. By having conversations with your neighbors, your friends, and your family, you can decrease loneliness and feel safer. The great thing about neighbors. specifically, is that you have many opportunities to connect with them since they live in such close proximity to you. So, why not begin the connection with them through conversation? To give you a chance to feel a little safer and a little more connected. 

For those with social anxiety, I see you. You can do this. I can help you or you can find someone that can help you. For those who do not have social anxiety, please be aware that human connection may be scary for some, but you can be there to help them when they are ready. We are wired for connection,  y'all.*

Much metta.

*It has taken every ounce of me not to quote Mr. Rogers, so feel free to do so now. 

LifeTip: You Are Not Alone

 Photo by  Jared Rice  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

You are not alone.

It’s easy to say, but when you’re standing in a crowded room with no one beside you, with no one to talk to, then the phrase just doesn’t feel real.

You are not alone.

How can this possibly be true even when you stand in a room of your “closest” friends and not one of them knows about that secret turmoil you keep hidden so well?

You are not alone.

Why do people even say this?

That’s some opener there, isn’t it? If you’re feeling a little heavy right now, that’s okay, just keep reading.

Have you heard about Dear Evan Hansen? It’s a musical about a high school boy with social anxiety. In one of the most beautifully written and composed songs in musical theatre, “You Will Be Found” brings the phrase “you are not alone” into a living, breathing promise. A promise. I heard that from my choir director as we were rehearsing this song at our last practice (yeah, I’m a choir nerd and a therapist!). “Sing this like a promise,” she said. That spoke to me and also weighed on me a little.

I have heard people say, and have said so myself, “Oh, you’ll find your crowd later in life. It’s just hard now.” What this can provide is a little hope but what this doesn’t satisfy is the pain and loneliness that too many feel right now, here and now, today. The lyrics to “You Will Be Found” remind me, though, that our connection doesn’t just exist in the physical. It’s beyond that. We are not alone. We ALL have one very core commonality and that is We All Feel. Our feelings may not stem from the same experiences, but my loneliness and your loneliness still have something in common.

You are not alone.

When you’re in a crowded room, see beyond the chit-chat and look into the eyes, posture, and hearts of people. What story might they have that tells a tale like yours?

You are not alone.

When you’re in a group of your friends, tell them how you feel. Embrace the vulnerability and brave the silence after you speak. Let them meet you where you are and maybe you’ll find that they understand more than you thought they would.

You are not alone. You will be found.

We say it because it’s true. Promise.

Here’s a gorgeous and moving rendition of the song that I think you need to listen to today.

Stay tuned for my next blog post titled “Light of the Clear Blue Morning!”

LifeTip: Where Is My Happiness?

 Photo by  Evan Kirby  on  Unsplash

Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

Isn’t the ultimate goal for us to be happy?  It’s something that each and every one of us truly wants but we can easily get caught out in the weeds during our search for it.  Whether we’ve fallen off the path or in a new search of it, happiness is something that each of us deserves to experience. So why is this so hard for some of us to find when we all want it so badly?  Perhaps a good place to start would be in taking a look at what happiness really is.

Many clinically-based definitions focus on the consistent state of experiencing positive emotions along with the strong ability to mitigate the damaging effects of negative emotions.  What?? For the rest of us, I like to think of happiness as that emotion that brings about feelings of: pride, excitement, enjoyment, “warm fuzzies”, contentment, and joy. As that first definition suggests, being happy doesn’t mean that you’re immune to sadness, disappointment, frustration, or the “blahs”.  Contrary to popular belief or desire, it’s okay for different emotions to cohabitate (remember the ending of “Inside Out” when the memory balls were multicolored?). An authentically happy person is able to consistently experience that true joy and zest for life and, in turn, successfully work through those “yucky” times with greater ease than unhappy people.

I can almost hear some of you saying, “yea, but what is it?  What will make me happy?” Not that I necessarily want to play that ‘counselor card’, but you already have that answer inside of you.  No one can tell you what makes you happy; only you can identify things that make you happy. So, think on it for a minute. What things truly light up that fire inside of you and leave you feeling like you’re wrapped in a soft, cozy blanket?  For some, happiness is just that – wrapped up tightly in a fleece blanket, snuggled up on the couch watching a movie. For others, it’s out hiking in the greenbelt on a warm sunny day. Others experience happiness in being surrounded by close friends or family members.  The point is, happiness looks different for each and every one of us and it’s our job to figure out what those things are that bring us happiness; we can’t rely on someone else to do that for us.

Still having a hard time pinning down things that make you happy?  Here are a few things that you can do to help:

Practice gratitude:  be thankful for the things that you have and for the people that are around you.  By counting your blessings and reframing your thoughts to ones of giving thanks, you’ll find that you experience more optimism and gratefulness throughout the day.

Cultivate relationships:  we all have an inherent need for human contact and it’s through this contact, that we’re able to create a foundation of security and peace.  Whether it be an intimate relationship or a social relationship, it’s important that we all have a network of people that we can share our happiness with and who can support us when the happiness fades a bit.

Get off your rear:  stop creating a permanent divot in your couch and get out and enjoy the outdoors.  Many studies have shown that sunlight and nature have a tremendous benefit on our mental health and our happiness.  Go explore a new biking trail, join a Meet-Up group, take in some live music, or enjoy a nice café latte at your favorite coffee house.  Regardless of what you chose, get up and do it!

Be kind:  doing nice things for others makes us feel good about ourselves.  More importantly though, being kind to yourself. Treat yourself with the same amount of love, appreciation, and forgiveness that you want others to give you.  To me, loving yourself is the key to true happiness.

This list could go on and on for happiness is found through a multitude of ways.  The bottom line, though, is that you need to take action and hunt down your own happiness.  You will soon find that your true happiness is often right in front of you. Pick it up and embrace it!  Every single one of us deserves to feel that highly sought after joy, excitement, and peace.

ParentTip: Mindfulness in Parenting

 Photo by  Jon Flobrant  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash

"Mindfulness isn't about having perfect attention, it's about noticing when your mind has wandered and bringing it back to whatever you're doing...Any activity you do with your kid can be a mindfulness practice if you choose to make it so." -Carla Naumburg, clinical social worker

This short video explains some of the science behind mindfulness and how daily practice has been shown to lower anxiety, improve quality of sleep, and increase one’s ability to concentrate and be present. Mindfulness is also very beneficial for kids! And you don’t have to be a guru to incorporate it into your parenting style either.

Simple ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine with your children are centered around the idea of slowing down and inviting a sense of calm into your home. This can be as simple as taking deep breaths together, having a mindful afternoon snack where you and your child focus your senses to really experience what you’re eating, or even taking a leisurely walk around the neighborhood to be curious together about the sights and sounds.

Source: Mindful Parenting

ParentTip: Cyberbullying

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In the age of social media, cyberbullying has become a problem that can no longer be ignored. In a TED Talk she did last year, Monica Lewinsky spoke out against the societal ramifications of cyberbullying… And she should know considering she was quite possibly the first victim of public shaming on a worldwide level. In her talk, she describes the concept of “being embarrassed to death” through her own experience of coming very close to considering suicide in the aftermath of the scandal. She also shares the story of an 18-year-old student who took his own life after his privacy was posted online. Unfortunately, his story is only one of many.

Social media has created a culture where we are “seen by many, but known by few” and this is the breeding ground for cyberbullying. When youth can communicate messages of hate and humiliation without truly seeing the consequences of their actions we begin to create a society of apathy and isolation.

Thankfully, the cruelty of cyberbullying is now in the spotlight and organizations are speaking out against it. In her talk, Lewinsky claims that “shame cannot survive empathy.” We love that statement and want to share with you a few ways you can show your support to victims of cyberbullying so that they know they are not alone.

The I Am a Witness campaign has created anti-bullying emojis that can be used across most social media apps. Now youth have a fast, but effective way to reach out to their peers and be a voice of support rather than humiliation.

The Stomp Out Bullying campaign’s website has several great resources for youth, parents, and educators including tips on how to take an active role against bullying. Check it out!

ProTip: "Should I Work With a Male Therapist?"

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I want to let you in on a little not-so-secret reality: in the therapy world, male therapists are a bit of a minority.  As a member of this smaller group, I’m often asked if it would be appropriate or effective for a female to work with a male therapist or even why someone, male or female, would choose to work with a man.  Although we are trained to be able to work with all individuals regardless of gender and sex identification, I’ve come to understand that some individuals have trepidation in working with a male therapist, and wonder how I could possibly understand/help/connect with a female client or if I will be as “nurturing” as a female therapist.  There are some preconceived notions about working with a man that can be helpful to unpack and I thought this would be a good opportunity to get some of these concerns and feelings out in the open and talk about them, which is just what therapy is all about after all:

  • “As a woman, I would be more comfortable talking to another woman about my issues.”  While I appreciate and respect the desire and perspective that speaking with a counselor of the same sex provides comfort and safety, I’ve found that many female clients find great solace working with a male therapist.  Some women haven’t been afforded the opportunity to engage in and experience a healthy relationship with a man, or have had negative experiences with men in their lives. Through the positive experience of working with a male therapist, some women are able to experience a totally new way of relating to men and having the healing power of a therapeutic alliance with a man.
  • “I think I’d rather my teenage daughter work with a woman.”  Some parents feel worried about their daughters engaging in a therapeutic relationship with a man, either because they are fearful that she won’t relate to a man or that it will limit what she is able to talk about with me.  My experience, though, has been that many teenage girls find safety and comfort in working with a male therapist.  In seeing a male therapist who is healthy, establishes appropriate boundaries, in tune with his feelings, compassionate, and attentive, adolescent girls often report feelings of empowerment and a great appreciation in being able to challenge their perceptions of men and to get to experience a male role model who they can really be themselves with and feel safe.
  • “Although I’m a guy, I really think I want to work with a woman.  Other guys don’t really know how to talk about this stuff.”  I get it.  Society has taught us that men aren’t supposed to talk about their feelings nor be able to express empathy and understanding to others. Through the effective modeling and authenticity of a strong relationship with a male therapist, men are able to experience a healthy and mature way of interacting with other men. This often plays in stark contrast to the Hollywood depiction of how guys interact with each other which often provides men with a new appreciation and bolstered comfort in engaging with other men outside the therapy room.

Making the decision to reach out to someone for therapy can be scary and makes us feel extremely vulnerable.  With this, it is absolutely understandable that we all want to feel as safe and secure as we possibly can throughout this process, and part of my job is working with all my clients in creating this felt sense of safety and connection. So if you’re wondering what it would be like to work with a male therapist, reach out to me and let’s explore how I can support you in your journey.

Justin works with all ages and genders and currently facilitates a teen Identity and Relationship group for all genders as well as GirlTalk Therapy groups for teen girls. Learn more about Justin here!

ParentTip: Is Playing Important to Survival?

  Photo by  Robert Collins  on  Unsplash

As a therapist who works with children, as well as a preschool teacher, I am fascinated by the way children interact with their environment. I love the way children can spend an hour watching a bug walk across a leaf, and in the next moment pretend they are dinosaurs riding on a magic carpet. Watching children play in groups adds another layer, with social rules and norms that are often unspoken but somehow always understood among the children interacting together.

In a recent Ted Talk that I watched, a researcher and expert on play in all forms named Dr. Stuart Brown talks about why play is so vitally important to human development, and even to survival. Lack of opportunity to play has been shown to have far-reaching consequences, even later in life, his research has shown.

Dr. Brown examines play in nature– he shows animals at play that look like they are fighting and how innate it is in all of us.  He argues that children should be allowed to roughhouse– “dive, hit, whistle, scream, be chaotic”– to find their own limits, and learn the boundaries of how far their wildness can go. Dr. Brown says that kids learn social cues, emotion regulation and that they develop cognitively and physically through these experiences.  

Another idea mentioned in the talk is the connection between play and joyfulness later in life. Think back to the experiences in your childhood that were fun, and really resonated with you: did you love playing teacher? Did you love animals and pretend to play zoo? Did you build things again and again? Did you love to dance?  It’s so important to think about how those experiences connect with us today, because it can provide you with a new way of envisioning your life- as not just living day to day in a job that you may have just fallen into, but perhaps finding your way back to a career or a hobby that you really connect with! Additionally, if you are a parent, helping your child remain connected to the things they loved to be around as a child can be a great way to help them hone in on their passions and dreams later in life.

Dr. Brown is a proponent of allowing children to play without interjections, without guidance, or redirection. He says they know what to do and how to do it. Those that don’t know innately, simply haven’t been given the opportunity to do what they are meant to do. It is vitally important that we allow kids to play, unencumbered by us.  And, maybe if we offer ourselves the same playful opportunities, we can see how positively affects the rest of our lives.

LifeTip: Sleep Hygiene

What is sleep hygiene you ask? Well simply put, it’s a series of practices you can use to ensure quality nighttime sleep. We often forget that our quality of sleep is based on several factors that are within our control. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation states that the most important factor to a good night’s sleep is maintaining a regular wake and sleep pattern. This way you’re training your body to know when to wind down for the day.

Many sleep hygiene practices involve both avoiding common obstacles to sleep and creating an atmosphere that invites sleepiness.

Some common obstacles to quality nighttime sleep are:

  • Stimulants - it’s best to lay off the caffeine (including chocolate), nicotine, and alcohol close to bedtime.
  • Screens - set an electronic curfew! You should be avoiding any type of screen at least one hour before bedtime.
  • Late Meals - large meals right before bedtime, especially spicy foods, can be disruptive to sleep

Daytime practices that promote good sleep:

  • Exercise  - it’s best to keep more vigorous, aerobic activities limited to earlier in the day and save relaxing yoga stretches for before bedtime.
  • Get out in the sunshine - adequate exposure to natural light helps maintain a healthy sleep cycle and vitamin D is great for you!
  • Sleep Space - make sure your bed is cozy, your room is a comfortable temperature with good circulation, and try to avoid using your bed for work, studying, etc… so that your mind associates it with sleeping.

This is just a few examples of sleep hygiene, but you can find more information on how to create a good bedtime routine at any age here.

ParentTip: Close the Compassion Gap

What is the compassion gap you ask? Well, it describes the difference in the support we give ourselves versus the support we give others. Ever noticed how easy it is to reassure a friend or loved one when they’re facing a challenge? You may help them consider outside factors, remind them of their positive qualities and encourage them to keep trying. But then when you’re faced with the same challenge, you tell yourself you’re a failure, that it’s all your fault, and that you’ll never get another opportunity to succeed. Why is it we can show such empathy to others but be so cruel to ourselves?

Why don’t we all do ourselves a favor and close the compassion gap?!? You can start by reminding yourself to be your own best friend. Treat yourself like you would a dear friend or family member when you fall short. Don’t attribute failure solely to your personal qualities and shortcomings. And the great news is you can teach your children self-compassion too! GoZen has a great guide to helping your children close the compassion gap:

Be Your Own Best Friend

  1. Ask your child to tell you about a recent challenge they went through or are currently experiencing. Let’s say, for example, they say they’re really worried about a science test coming up–they think they might fail.
  2. Now, grab a stuffed animal to represent your child’s best friend. Tell your child their best friend is going through the exact same issue. For example, you might say, “Let’s pretend this toy is Julie, your best friend. Julie’s really worried because she thinks she’s going to do poorly on the next science test. Can you talk to her to make her feel better?”
  3. Next, explain to your child that the way they talk to Julie is the same way they need to talk to themselves when they face a challenge. Let them know a great way to do this is by standing in front of a mirror and have a conversation with themselves out loud.
  4. Have your child stand in front of a mirror and start giving themselves advice. Depending on your child’s age, guide them along and give them suggestions.

And remember parents, the best way to teach self-compassion to your children is to lead by example. You can’t expect them to love themselves if they see you constantly being hard on yourself. Thankfully, self-compassion can be learned at any age!

LifeTip: Words Hurt

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“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me”.  Is this right, though?  Do words truly never hurt us?  Well of course they do and they can cut deep.  Sometimes it would be easier to deal with a broken bone or a scraped knee than to try and mend the emotional wounds inflicted by words.

Invalidation is what prompts our feelings of hurt for we begin to feel that the other person’s thoughts/feelings/values are not in line with our own.  This invalidation quickly lands us in the seat of the emotional rollercoaster where we grab onto any and everything that we can to shield us from the pain.  These things that we grasp for are defense mechanisms – ways in which we can minimize or hide away from the yuck.  The most common defense mechanisms are:

  • Avoidance:  steering clear of anything that will cause any potential pain or discomfort
  • Denial:  trying to believe that nothing is wrong and that nothing has happened
  • Repression:  pushing those negative feelings deep down inside in hopes that they’ll never rear their head again
  • Displacement:  taking all of our hurt feelings and lashing out at or dumping them on someone else
  • Rationalization:  convincing yourself that the words behind that invalidation are actually true

We can reduce these yucky feelings and increase our ability to fight off the hurt by having the right tools at hand.  In developing a greater understanding of what is really going on with our authentic self when we encounter these harmful words, we can minimize the sadness/anxiety/and/or anger that is often prompted by invalidating words.

Check out my latest blog to read more about the power of words and how they impact us all.