Pause, Breathe, Be

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In this fast-paced world, with all the expectations, deadlines, and responsibilities, how can we possibly find a spare second to stop and take a breath?  Between cramming for mid-terms, preparing our taxes for that dreaded date of April 15th, and making sure that all of our daily duties are complete - it can be rough trying to actually thrive, rather than merely survive.  How many of our daily interactions are missed because we become so focused on our to-do lists and “what if’s”? Ask yourself, when was the last time that you actually stopped to notice that little gecko scurrying across the sidewalk or that peach tree flowering it’s first bloom of the season?  I know someone out there is thinking, “give me 10 more hours in my day, then I could potentially think about paying attention to those little things.” In reality, though, would those 10 extra hours really give you the time to take in these things, or would you just find other tasks, worries, and duties to fill you time with?

Believe me, I get it!  Life is demanding and there are always things that need to get done – but at what sacrifice?  We run and run and run, hoping that all of our hard work pays off in the end yet we continue to struggle in even seeing a glimpse of that so-called “pay off.”  In turn, we develop resentment – resentment against ourselves, others, our jobs, our pets, our kids, our bills, and anything else that we can point a finger to.  All the while, we’re allowing ourselves to fall deeper and deeper into our own pit of yuck. I don’t know about you, but this is definitely a cycle that I don’t enjoy.

Even though we can’t always change our responsibilities or tasks, we can certainly alter they way in which we respond to them.  One question that I’ve found to be helpful is, “will the world stop spinning if I don’t get this done right now?” Unless the task at hand is cutting the wire on the nuclear explosive device, the answer is usually no.  There is always time for us to stop and take a breath. Breathe, re-center, and refocus our energies onto the here and now. Those 10 seconds could mean the difference between a good decision and a bad one, a healthy response and a malicious one, or a smile and a frown.    

Allowing yourself to pull away from the ‘yuck’ of yesterday and the angst of tomorrow will afford you the opportunity to see and experience that which is right in front of you.  Challenge yourself to stop and breathe; take in the beauty that is surrounding you right here and right now. In not taking advantage of the present, the gifts that are right in front of us will soon become the disappointment of yesterday.  Just breathe...


Meet Natalia!

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Hi there, welcome!!

I want to take this opportunity to talk to YOU directly and share a bit more of who I am. People often have mixed ideas about who comes to mind when they think of a therapist. In all honesty, growing up I did not think of a young, female in this profession. That’s not what was portrayed in movies or who I learned about in school, and also why I was nervous about delving into this career. AND yet... here I am, several licenses and years of counseling experience later. I am beyond grateful I showed up to be able to get to this point. I absolutely love this work and believe that I was meant for it!

One of the quotes that forever rings in my ears, is Georgia O’Keefe saying, “I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life - and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”

This holds true to being a client in therapy as well. I’ve been lucky enough to be in both positions, and I totally get it. It takes a huge amount of courage to sit with a complete stranger and begin to share. I’m inspired when I see clients continue to show up and put in the work with me. Especially witnessing clients show up in other areas of their lives, maybe in a way that they had not, prior to therapy. I believe on some level, that everyone who ends up in my office was meant to be there as well.


To rewind a bit, I’m the epitome of unexpected blends. I’m a born and raised Texan, who also flies to Poland to visit my family, as often as I can get away with. I’m the only first-generation American in my family, and that comes with it a whole unique identity. I’m also a proud Aggie living in a city of burnt orange pride and I wouldn’t have it any other way! Part of the fun of living in this weird, diverse city is opportunity to connect with people of a variety of backgrounds and upbringings. As someone who self-identifies as quirky, I enjoy how Austin owns being weird.

My career journey has led me to work with teens in a residential juvenile detention facility, university crisis hotlines, hospitals, and in various outpatient settings. This is also where my passion for working with teens and families truly took shape. Although I value the range of clients that I get the honor of working with. Mental health requires a strong support system and to be one piece of that support, regardless of setting, is extremely rewarding.

Outside of work, I may be out on hiking adventures with my pup, traveling or trying out a new coffee shop. I also devote a significant portion of my free time to serving the community through volunteer work. I’ve been involved with Junior League of Austin for the past two years, as well as a volunteer therapist with Camp Phoenix.

Just as I myself have a lived narrative, I also bear witness to my clients’ stories. Some soft, loud, bold, beautiful, painful and each unique. I get to hold space for these stories and sit with brave story tellers. If you are living a plotline you are not content with, please reach out for counseling support. You deserve to live a life that you are genuinely excited about.

Glow, Grow, Glow: Befriending Your Inner Critic

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We are our own toughest critics” - This phrase is so widely used and understood, because we tend to be more judgmental of our own performance than others are of us. Whether or not this fact is true or the self-critique is accurate, it can feel true and accurate at times. The implications of self-criticism are unique to each individual... Perhaps self-criticism is a form of motivation or a preventative measure from becoming “lazy.” Perhaps self-criticism has become so much a part of our inner dialogue that it is automatically accepted as fact and prevents us from putting ourselves in seemingly anxiety-provoking situations. Maybe self-criticism falls somewhere in between (or outside) those areas. Whatever role your self-critic plays in your life, I invite you to draw attention to this part of your story and identify how it serves you.

Criticism is defined as the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes. The word criticism inherently has a negative connotation, noting that “disapproval, faults, and mistakes” often define this word. Rather than criticizing ourselves, I encourage you to experiment with using the term “feedback.” Feedback, rather, is defined as information about reactions to a product, a person's performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement. Feedback is inherently more neutral/positive and implies that there is opportunity for growth. By simply changing the word we choose to apply when reflecting on our own performances, we may be mentally and emotionally opening ourselves to the opportunity for growth and change.

When offering feedback to ourselves or others, I often encourage the “glow, grow, glow” method that I learned in my yoga teacher training. A glow is something we feel proud of and are able to acknowledge that we did well. A grow is an area we are able to identify that can benefit from improvement. The “glow, grow, glow” sandwich encourages us to begin our feedback with a positive self-affirmation and end with a positive self-affirmation. This supports a reworking of our inner critic to appreciate our strengths rather than focusing on our perceived shortcomings.

For example, I may judge myself on my performance in a social setting as awkward, shy, or unapproachable on the basis of my perceived lack of connection with others in that setting. True or not, my inner critic may be screaming self-judgments in my head. If I am to apply feedback through a “glow, grow, glow” sandwich, I might tell myself - “I am a good listener” (glow), “I can practice engaging more in the conversation, particularly on topics I can relate to” (grow), “I care about my relationship with others” (glow). The example above cultivates drawing attention to our strengths while offering areas for change.

Here are some helpful tips when giving yourself feedback using a “glow, grow, glow” sandwich:

  • Start small, practice often, and apply feedback to multiple diverse areas in your life

  • Practice mindfulness of disqualifying the positive when acknowledging a “glow” (it’s only a true glow when you maintain the idea that this is something you feel proud of)

  • Practice mindfulness of the emotional weight you place into your “grow” (your grow might feel more significant than your glows and that is OK - manage the amount of energy you focus on your grow and take your attempts for change one step at a time)

  • Be kind to yourself and practice self-care. Your inner critic might pop back up from time to time, perhaps you can give your inner critic a feedback glow, grow, glow sandwich

Let's Talk About Teen Mental Health

Photo by  Raw Pixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by Raw Pixel on Unsplash

Recently, I had the honor and privilege of being interviewed by a local high school student for their Sociology class. Though I field many questions regarding specific client cases, I found this particular experience to be very eye-opening; I felt that if this teenager (who isn’t a client) had these questions, I’m sure that others are wondering the same things. With this individual’s (and her parent’s) permission, I am pleased to share our interview in hopes that it may help build connection and reach teens who may be looking for help and are not sure where to start.


Student Interviewer:  In what ways are therapists trying to solve the problem of teen’s mental health issues? 

Danielle: I love that you asked this question. It is my belief that we currently live in a “fix-it” culture where we expect to take a pill or see a therapist and then after 4-6 weeks, the problem very quickly just disappears and is considered “solved” or “cured.” While this would be convenient, it’s a very common misconception.

While I can’t speak for all therapists, I can speak on my own professional experience working with teens and their families. At least right now, I wouldn’t say I’m working to “solve” the problem as much as I am trying to honor, connect with, and normalize the adolescent experience.

Adolescence is unfortunately an unavoidable, yet necessary process of growth and development that is filled with self-discovery, self-comparison, and sometimes, even self-criticism. It’s the transitional period between childhood and adulthood, and the discomfort and awkwardness of it all is VERY REAL. The nice thing about that, however, is that everyone who lives to adulthood goes through it, and I mean everyone! So, at least you are in good company!

There are a number of transitional periods in your life when you will ask yourself, “Who am I?” Adolescence is perhaps the most memorable growth moments to happen across your lifespan, because it is the first time that your brain has developed enough for you to be aware of yourself and others in a social context, and then really remember it. It’s much like watching a baby walk for the first time. Those brain muscles and thought processes are new and a bit weak, so you’re going to fall or mess up. A LOT. The important thing is to get back up and keep trying. This leads you to get stronger and stronger, until eventually it somehow becomes second nature.

Sometimes, this transition can be a shock to our system and when you factor in family of origin and past experiences, it’s not uncommon to see anxiety, depression, etc. appear.  In my work, I use some Evidence Based Therapy approaches (those that have been researched thoroughly and have been shown to be effective in certain groups of people) such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Essentially, CBT is one way to help people see how their thinking can be a little faulty, and help them learn how to shift their thinking. I also incorporate what is called Interpersonal Neurobiology - which is just a fancy way to say that I’m looking at how our brain develops and changes in response to our life experiences - as well ways to connect to ourselves and to others. Connection to others is KEY to healthy development! Additionally, I utilize a lot of creativity through art, writing, and nature. Sometimes it can be difficult to put into words what you are experiencing, and it may feel safer to use a less verbal outlet.

The important thing to know about all of this is that it takes time, and likely more time than you think. The amount of time it takes depends on the client’s current abilities to process, face and incorporate change. As a therapist, I cannot “solve” these problems for my clients, but I can help support them and teach them ways in which they can help themselves. It is very important to remember that in adolescence, autonomy (aka self-regulating) is vital, and that the client (with support of parents, therapist, peers, and sometimes medications) has to do the work. It’s hard, but with support it is very much worth the effort ☺

SI:  Are there specific ways you try and reach out to teens? If so, what are they? 

D: In terms of outreach, I personally could be so much better - particularly in terms of social media. That’s the way to connect to your generation, yes?! Lol. Professionally, I have been fortunate to become a part of a group practice that has a positive and well-established reputation and social media presence. This has allowed me to accumulate clients, and then ultimately, it is word of mouth.

In a general sense, however, I reach out to teens by noticing them and making an honest effort to better understand one’s experience within a generation and culture. I ask questions. For example, I didn’t know what “stan” meant for the longest time, and I finally just asked (typing this out even just feels like that tiny, yet noticeable amount of embarrassing! Haha).  Do I use it in sentences now? No. Do I totally understand what it means to “stan” a musician? YES - 1000% yes (I love you, Fleetwood Mac!)

I also allow myself to be vulnerable with teens and show them that I’m a real person who has gone through real life stuff. I acknowledge when I mess up within the therapeutic relationship (it happens! People are people!), and I model what repair looks like in a social and relational context.

This is something that I am constantly working on!

SI:  How can a regular person help someone out who struggles with their mental health? 

D:   I think one of the best things you can do to not only help yourself but to also help others is to listen with compassion and without judgment. If you or someone else says that they need help or that they are questioning harming themselves or others, take it seriously and reach out for help, ASAP.  It’s then equally important to be familiar with available resources to get help. This includes trusted members of your community that you could talk to – parents, teachers, friends, church leaders, mentors, therapists etc. Additionally, there are a number of confidential and free resources available to teens such as:

For those in immediate/emergency crisis

  • 24/7 Austin Mental Health Crisis Hotline at 512-472-HELP (4357)

  • The Crisis Textline: Text CONNECT to 741741

  • Calling your closest hospital or 911

Non-Emergency

Free Apps: My favorites geared towards teens are Wysa, What’s Up? and  #Selfcare

 I like these because they guide you through ways to think differently about your situation as well as track your mood, behaviors, and give you ways to take care of yourself.

**Please note that these are NOT a substitute for professional treatment.

SI: Thank you so much! I hope to be able to reach out if I have any more questions, and I’m really excited to share these answers!

D: Absolutely, I’m so glad this was helpful!



I hope that this Q&A was as helpful to you readers as it was for my interviewer and I, and if you ever find yourself wondering more about how mental health affects teens, please be empowered to reach out to your trusted support system as well as the resources listed above. They are a part of your community and you are a part of theirs! You’re curiosity and questions matter, and as cheesy as it sounds, knowledge truly is power. Like, for real. Much gratitude to you all!

Money Matters: Blake & Tracy Talk Finances in Partnership with Work Muse

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We’ve partnered with Work Muse in a series about our “accidental job share team” and how our partnership has formed the foundation of GT Therapy Group as well as leading us into an offshoot venture, Relationship Coaching for Business Partners (check out the first collaboration here). We are passionate about the work we do, and this partnership is the glue that holds it all together (including holding us together when one or both of us is getting a little too much life stuff at once).

This week we’re diving into real talk about money, and what we’ve learned about how our relationship with money influences our relationship with each other as well as the health of our business. Pretty much everything we’ve learned can also be applied to how we relate to money in our personal relationships as well, since being in business together is a lot like being in a marriage!

As relationship therapists, it really all comes back to relationships. What we’ve learned about how to relate to money from our earliest experiences in our families, the beliefs & values we have about money, the fears & worries we have about money, what is ok and not ok to talk about when it comes to finances…it’s all part of what has helped us grow, meet our individual and collective needs, and nurture our partnership and our business

Job sharing our therapy practice was the best decision we ever made, one that’s given us an appreciation for job share teams in every sector. Our goal is to support your job share partnership’s health and well being through our personal experience job sharing and counseling partners in life and business. That way, even in the hard areas, like bacon and biscuits, you reap the enormous benefits of job sharing. Read on…

Work Muse  supports job-sharing as a means of achieving work-life balance while having a thriving career; something near and dear to our hearts. Follow all the awesomeness here !

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It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

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Life can be hard, stressful, painful, and just downright unfair sometimes.  We all have so many pressures and expectations placed upon us as well as our own hopes and desires to be happy.  As we’ve all experienced, our day to day routines don’t always end in happiness and sometimes we just hurt.  Somehow, though, we’ve learned that we can’t show these signs of sadness and pain for fear of being seen as weak or dramatic.  So we add to our armor and spruce up our mask – getting our battle shields ready to protect us from further hurt while continuing to bury down our ‘yuck’ feelings. Why? Well because this is what we’ve learned, and this is what has been taught to us. I’d like to tell you all a different story and one that you may think odd coming from a therapist - sometimes it’s okay not to be okay.

Why do we work so darn hard to make sure that no one else knows that we’re hurting? What is it that we’re so afraid of? Vulnerability – the one magical word that can strike fear into the strongest of people.  When we take down our veil, we open our hearts to potential disapproval, dismissal, and invalidation. For some, it only takes one experience of this for them to tell themselves that vulnerability is unsafe and therefore, guards must always be up to protect them from the pain and ‘yuck.’  Others learn from society – men who show emotion are weak and women who cry are hysterical (not the funny kind). So the shields go up and the masks become fixed to our faces. We brace ourselves for the day and begin our inner monologue: “no one’s going to see how I’m feeling today so I’m safe.”  All the while, our hidden feelings and emotions pile up inside, eating away at our happiness and sense of self-appreciation. The days become weeks which turn into months which turn into years, all the while we sing the same song to ourselves - “Put On a Happy Face.” Of course the gray skies are gonna clear up, but they don’t stay clear forever.  

Boy that’s a downer, isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, my purpose in writing this isn’t to put you all in a funk and pour salt into your wounds. I’m trying to highlight something that we all do and the cycle that we all get ourselves into. We wake up, start our day, put on our mask, and hope that nothing bad happens. When that something bad does happen we either react to it or we bury it down deep, adding it to the already immense pile of ‘yuck.’ Rarely, though, do we allow ourselves to embrace those icky feelings and authentically share with others that we’re not okay. What would it be like for you if you were to share those feelings and tell someone, “hey, that really hurt my feelings”? Pretty terrifying, huh? Do you think that this might change your cycle? Perhaps that one act of vulnerability could decrease the amount of armor that you put on and release some of that ‘yuck’ that is stored up inside.

Maybe sharing your feelings with others seems too scary right now.  I can appreciate that. What would it be like if you shared your feelings with someone who is less scary? What about that person that stares back at you in the bathroom mirror? I’ve written in previous blogs about my love of journaling. Now when I talk about writing in a journal, I’m not referring to that fluffy pink journal with the gold lock in which we write about our latest crush or the hottest song that’s on the radio. I’m talking about an outlet in which you write down whatever is on your mind – your innermost thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sources of anxiety/depression. This is a place where you can ‘dump your yuck’.  A place to get those feelings down on the page and remove them from your body.

One of the beautiful things about therapy is that we have an opportunity to ‘dump’ all of this hard stuff in the therapy office so that we can feel lighter and release the heaviness of our yuck. Journaling provides the same opportunity. Although a journal isn’t able to provide verbal feedback or validation of your feelings, it is able to capture the weight of your thoughts and trap them within the pages of your journal. This type of journaling isn’t meant to serve as a historical record in which you go back after a few months and re-read what you’ve written to reminisce about the memories captured. It’s a place to release the heaviness in your head and your heart. Once inside, the thoughts, feelings, and experiences are to be closed in and barricaded by the covers of the journal. It’s not necessary to go back and re-read previous passages, because you might run the risk of re-injecting this yuck into your head and heart. Write and close the book.

We all experience those heavy and painful emotions, and we all know what it’s like to be weighed down by the ‘yuck.’ By embracing those feelings for what they truly are, we take the first step in lightening their heavy load. Acknowledging and accepting the ‘yuck’ doesn’t make us weak. Much to the contrary, it’s empowering and tremendously strong to speak of and/or write about that heaviness. Removing our masks, barriers, and armor allows us to truly hear ourselves say, “sometimes it’s okay not to be okay.”

How to Put the 5 Love Languages to Work in Your Relationship Pt. 2

Photo by  Raw Pixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by Raw Pixel on Unsplash

The Season of Love is upon us!! Welcome back for Part II of the five Love Languages! Hopefully by now you have determined which Love Language both you and partner “speak” - if not, refer to Part I of this series, and follow the link to take the Love Language Quiz.

Was your Love Language what you expected? How about your partner? Reflecting on your past attempts to show love and affection: Have you been offering love and showing appreciation in the language that your partner identified as their Love Language? Has your partner been responding in their own Love Language, instead of in yours, or vice versa? Today is a new opportunity to commit to making a conscious effort to present your feelings of love to your partner in their identified Love Language and allowing your actions to capture the full magnitude of your affection.

To start off, how do you put these Love Languages into action? One of the best parts of Dr. Chapman’s Five Love Languages, is how simple each language really is. While grandiose gestures can be flattering, most relationships thrive on the smaller, everyday moments that build an overall sense of “we”, togetherness, and full understanding of one another in your relationship. For a quick refresher, see the basic qualities of each Love Language, below, taking special note of your Love Language, and that of your partner.

Words of Affirmation- Compliments, loving language and notes, verbal (and written) appreciation for partner

Acts of Service- Completing jobs and tasks that reduce the workload and burden on partner

Quality Time- Undivided attention; spending time to fully “be with” partner

Gifts- Whether bought or created, giving items to partner (this includes free items, such as a flower picked from the yard)

Physical Touch- Physical affection, not to be confused with sexual intimacy (which is desired in most romantic relationships), in which hand holding with partner, hugs and kisses, and activities such as a back rub

The basic qualities listed above make it easy to determine what actions you may want to take in order to show your partner love and affection; but what about actions you should avoid, and the best to way to communicate with them in general?

For those who “speak love” through Words of Affirmation, having a partner not appreciate effort or having a partner who is overly critical, can be overwhelming and hurtful. On the other hand, a partner who communicates through encouragement and appreciation, and empathizes while actively listening can be extremely affirming, and create an environment of unconditional love.

For those who seek love in the form of Acts of Service, they may be turned off by actions involving a lack of follow-through or commitment to see the job to the end, as well as being prioritized after other people. Instead, partners who try verbalizing a desire to help “lighten the load,” and offering to assist with chores send a clear message of love and togetherness.  

Quality Time sometimes gets overlooked, as most couples assume that “they spend lots of time together.” But for people whose Love Language is Quality Time, the keys are in the name: Quality - the time should be uninterrupted and free from distractions like cell phones and work; Time - going too long without one-on-one face time can be detrimental to the connection. Planning time to be together, actively communicating or participating in a desirable task, together, and creating an environment where each partner can fully focus on one another, strengthens relationships in which one or both partners’ Love Language is QT.  

Physical Touch is often misunderstood to solely focus on sex, however, the intention of all of the Love Languages is to build your connection with your partner, and as a byproduct, increase intimacy and foster a healthy sexual relationship. When a couple identifies Physical Touch as their Love Language, they are actually referring to the non-sexual physical affection of others. Keep in mind that any trauma history may overtly and covertly impact your, or your partner's, sense of safety and pleasure with physical touch and that consensual, respectful and mutually pleasurable physical affection is what we're talking about here.

Gift Giving, as described by Chapman, is the most simple of the Love Languages. Those whose partner’s preferred Love Language is Gift Giving will want to be sure to set reminders for important dates and think creatively about gifts. While we all occasionally forget birthdays and anniversaries, to someone who “speaks love” through Gift Giving it feels very personal and can drive a wedge in the relationship. Keep in mind, the monetary value of the item is not what is important, but instead, that the individual took the time to consider the person they are giving the gift to, and made the effort to obtain the item (whether that be creating a card or picture, throwing a surprise part, or purchasing a needed tool or accessory).

Remember - One of the biggest complaints that marriage therapists hear from couples who try Love Languages, is that one of the partners is “more committed” to following the Love Languages, than the other. Keep in mind that love is a choice. After the initial infatuation that goes along with a new relationship has faded, you are actively waking up each day and choosing to love and show love to your partner. How you do that is up to you, but if you have chosen this individual as someone you want to spend at least the foreseeable future with then it only makes sense that you would want to do what is best by them. In this case, that is presenting them your love in the way that they understand and feel most deeply. In most cases, the less enthusiastic partner feels more motivated to attempt Love Languages, once they feel the effect.

Since posting the first blog about this topic in January, I have noticed Love Languages popping up everywhere (kind of like getting a new car and then noticing everyone on the road is driving some version of that make/model)! In fact, I have had a hard time NOT seeing Love Languages all around me- ABC even dedicated an entire episode of Fresh Off the Boat to the idea of Love Languages! Board game makers are now including this premise in their toys, geared for kids and families. For example, while playing "Table Talks" with friends, it was hard not to see the connections between each of the "would you rather" style questions, and Dr. Chapman's Love Languages built into each of the options.

All that to say that Love Languages can be integrated into several aspects of your life, not only your romantic relationships! Dr. Chapman has expanded this idea of ways we show and feel love and appreciation to include teens, friends, and as a part of goal setting and dream building. By having a more clear understanding of your own Love Language, and those around you, you are able to show and receive love in a way that is more consistent, more impactful and more meaningful than ever before!


It Is What It Is: Acceptance as Empowerment, NOT Resignation

Photo by  Philipp Sewing  on  Unsplash

Often times we are confronted with situations in our lives that we are forced to accept for one reason or another. For example, we do not have agency over who we are related to, the fact that we have to attend school, the age we are, or the way others behave and react… The list goes on and on. The idea of accepting these somewhat unpleasant realities is extremely challenging: we might even find ourselves resisting situations that we cannot change because they feel so intolerable. In reality, resisting the inevitable causes us more emotional pain and decreases our ability to be effective in the areas of our lives that we can implement change. So how do we accept these unpleasant, intolerable, and sometimes distressing circumstances?

Acceptance is a process rather than a single event. It is first important to acknowledge what it is that we find challenging to accept and furthermore identify our emotions toward our reality. Validate yourself for feeling the way you do about this situation. For example, “it makes sense that I feel disappointed that my family member is not supportive of my decision to switch schools, because I would like my family to feel proud of me.” Validation is a crucial part of accepting reality, as it allows us to feel and express our true emotions.

You might next look at this situation and identify what is “set-in-stone” and CANNOT be changed. From the example above, we cannot change how our family will react to our choices, nor can we change their opinions. Then, take a look at what is malleable and CAN be changed (even if in a very small way). Perhaps that means we can reframe our expectations, find another source of validation (from ourselves or other supports), and practice assertive communication strategies with family members. Rather than focusing our energy on what cannot be changed, challenge yourself to play around with the more flexible areas of your circumstance. This is the space that we can work with and experience change and growth.

It is important to note that acceptance does NOT mean that we are okay with our circumstance. We may go through the process of practicing acceptance and still experience distress around what cannot be changed. Implement strategies that help you to tolerate what emotions come up for you around this (i.e. self care, grounding techniques). Embrace the areas you can make change in to be most effective in your challenging circumstance and practice strategies that allow you to shift perspective, change, and grow.

I challenge you to experiment with the process of acceptance. Notice where you are resisting an unpleasant reality, and identify where you can can be effective in changing your circumstance. Remember, reality acceptance is not easy and takes practice. Be kind to yourself if it doesn’t work the first, second, or third time. Practice self care and come back to your intention with reality acceptance.

Accept what is, and embrace what can be!

The Mindful Teen - Less "Om" and More "Me"

Photo by  John Baker  on  Unsplash

Photo by John Baker on Unsplash

If you are a person with access to the internet, radio, television or books and magazines, it’s very likely that you’ve come across the word “mindfulness.”  Conduct a simple Google search on “New Year’s resolutions,” “how to deal with anxiety,” or any other self-betterment phrase, and you’re bound to find yourself sifting through pages of articles praising this seemingly miraculous technique. Even searching through our blog will bring up tons of tips and techniques for it!  If you’ve met with me in any kind of therapeutic capacity, you’ve definitely heard this word and have likely even practiced it in some way.

So, if mindfulness is so important and apparently the cure all to what ails you, what even is it and why is it so hard to actually do? Despite its intent and purpose, I’ve found that the word itself can seem a little daunting – not only for me but for many of my clients as well.

According to Dr. John Kabat-Zinn, a researcher/professor of medicine and founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, the definition of mindfulness is this: to pay attention in a particular way, on purpose, and non-judgmentally. Though it sounds simple enough, how realistic is it for teens to take on this practice when judgment and comparison of self and others is practically core to the adolescent experience?

As I explored this issue with some of my teen clients, I realized that there was quite a bit of push-back on incorporating mindfulness outside of session. The stories shared with me spoke to a sense of being bombarded with the idea that we should all be more mindful and if we aren’t, then something is wrong with us (cue judgment and comparison, am I right?!). The images of “mindfulness” we see on Instagram are typically of people sitting cross legged in a very zen-like space filled with lots of plants, string lights, and all the tapestries and floor pillows Urban Outfitters has to offer. While I do love a good tapestry and plants (and Urban Outfitters, if I’m totally honest), we have to get real about what the practice actually is and recognize that this likable image does nothing but couple the word “mindfulness” with a sense of dread, inadequacy and failure.

To help empower my clients to redefine the word on their terms, I’ve created my own definition: “simply being, simply noticing; being right here, right now as you are; no more, no less; noticing that you are here and that you’re okay.” I like to think that “being” and “mindfulness” are interchangeable, and really just a way to move out of auto-pilot. For instance, we may be sitting in class, or our fingers may be scrolling through Snapchat or Instagram. While we may appear to be focused, our minds are often elsewhere, ruminating (aka dwelling) on past mistakes and anticipating future failures instead of just being right here, right now, and being okay.

If we can recognize that our mind is on a runaway train to nowhere but self-judgment, we can stop ourselves and check in with our surroundings. One of my favorite techniques is the 5 senses check-in: What do you See? Hear? Smell? Taste? Feel? Additionally, try noticing the way the air feels cool going through your nose, and warm out your mouth. Notice how the trees move when the wind blows. Notice how your clothes feel on your body or the temperature of your beverage. There are many quick and easy ways to practice mindfulness without having to channel your inner Buddha atop an overpriced poof surrounded by wind chimes and incense. In fact, here are a few that you can do today just to get your feet wet...

Real Life Being and Noticing:

  • Holding a mug filled with a warm beverage, noticing the warmth, in your hands, watching the steam rise, and noticing the smell.

  • Brushing your teeth: notice the taste of the toothpaste, the way the bristles feel different on your teeth, gums, cheeks, tongue etc.

  • Noticing the way water feels on your body during a shower or bath.

  • Notice the feeling you get when you open a car window or step outside.

  • Notice the color of the sky, if there are clouds, if there are trees.

  • Sitting with a friend and watching the way they talk. Do they talk with their hands? Their face? Their eyes?

  • Notice any flowers. Notice the color, the smell, the softness of the petals or the texture of their stems.

  • Place your feet into a pool, tub, or local water source. How does the water feel on your feet? Between your toes? How did the water move? What do you feel under your feet? Did this cause any other changes in your body?

You and your fellow humans are wonderful and beautiful souls that are deserving of even just a few minutes of noticing, especially when you’re stressed (remember when we are stressed we don’t even think clearly!). Pay attention to your thoughts and if you catch yourself getting stuck in a doom and gloom spiral, slow it down. Stop, take a deep breath, and just notice what . Be right here, right now. As you are. No more, no less. Just Breathe.

5 Simple Ways to Practice Mindfulness Everyday

Photo by  Eli DeFaria  on  Unsplash

We’ve all read the articles and heard our friends talk about mindfulness. Sometimes, it seems like a trend that will just pass. Hopefully, this is one trend that is here to stay. The benefits of a mindfulness practice are numerous - better sleep, reduced stress, increased positive emotions, improved attention, the list goes on. Who doesn’t want those benefits in their life?

So, what exactly is “mindfulness?” Brené Brown’s definition states mindfulness is “taking a balanced approach to negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. Mindfulness requires that we not ‘over-identify’ with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negativity.”  Zen master Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Don’t those definitions sound lovely? Less attachment to negativity and less judgment… I’m in!

I often incorporate mindfulness practices with my clients to address anxiety and depression. However, I often hear clients reflect on how difficult it is to just sit and “be” in the present moment when they are feeling so low. Below are my recommendations for those of us who either struggle to sit still and empty our thoughts or those who have busy and/or hectic lives with constant distractions (anyone have a toddler at home??). Try incorporating one mindfulness practice each day. Even if it just takes 10 seconds, the consistency over time will have positive impacts, I promise!

  1. 5 Senses Pause: Take a moment and just name (silently in your mind) what each of your five senses is experiencing. This doesn’t take long and is a concrete way to check in with the moment. This is great for grounding when you are stressed or even solidifying a memory you wish to keep. I did this during my wedding ceremony (when my mind wanted to drift to the awkwardness of so many eyes on such an intimate moment), and to this day, I can remember how my husband’s hand felt in mine.

  2. Intentionally Brush Your Teeth:  The next time you brush your teeth, notice each sensation as you brush each tooth. Direct your thoughts only to the task at hand. If you mind drifts, be kind to yourself and simply bring your mind back to brushing. Notice the sensations you feel. Bonus benefit - a sparkling smile 😁

  3. Listen with Attention: Next time you step outside, pause and see if you can notice all the sounds around you, whether near or far. Try not to label the sounds but simply take in the sound.

  4. Box Breathing: This one is especially good when you feel your emotions rising to an unpleasant state. Take 5-10 box breaths. A box breath is simply inhaling for 4 seconds, holding that inhale for 4 seconds, exhaling slowly for 4 seconds and then holding the exhale for 4 seconds.

  5. Mindful transitions: On a busy day when you’re going from one task to another, take a couple of seconds to end one task and begin the next. Simply put, acknowledge to yourself where you’ve come from and where you’re going. An example might be to take mental note in between tasks, “Okay, email to my boss is sent;” take a pause and a deep breath to finalize the task, so to speak, and then give yourself permission to move on to the next task, leaving the last one behind, “…and now I will make dinner.” If you notice yourself ruminating on a task you’ve let go of, simply come back to the present moment with a gentle reminder: “I’ve finished that already, there is no more I can do; now I am ______.”

The most important thing to remember when beginning (or continuing) a mindfulness practice is to be kind to yourself. Even meditation teachers with decades of experience will tell you that their mind wanders. It is not an indication of your effort, your motivation, or your ability to have a wandering mind. That is simply your mind trying to take care of you and protect you from perceived danger. Though often unhelpful, the intention is good. We simply have to build the muscle of mindful attention to teach the mind we don’t need protection from danger most of the time.