LifeTip: Light of a Clear Blue Morning

Photograph courtesy of Chris Spicks of 396 Studios in Houston, Texas

Photograph courtesy of Chris Spicks of 396 Studios in Houston, Texas

Last month I wrote a post about the Dear Evan Hansen song “You Will Be Found.” I promised a follow up post and here it is. There’s a verse in the song that says, “So let the sun come streaming in cause you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again. Lift your head and look around. You will be found.” Pretty good words, right? They give me chills.

I think I’ve mentioned it once or twice that I’m in a choir. Well, in our next concert we are also singing a rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Light of a Clear Blue Morning.” These two songs were made for each other. Both are songs about hope, recovery, healing and moving forward. I’d love everyone to stop what they are doing and listen to this right now.

So what do we do when it feels dark, when we are alone, when we feel down? We look to the light, we find the light, we ignite the light. Even behind the clouds, the sun is still there. This calls on a little bit of faith - trusting that the darkness isn’t a trap, a black hole or a void. This calls on a little bit work. Sure, we can wait for the clouds to move because they always do (this is a great metaphor on mindfulness…). BUT, have you ever seen that beautiful moment in the sky when the sun is so bright and powerful that it beams THROUGH the clouds? Yes! That’s what I’m talking about - look to the light, find the light, IGNITE the light.

This post seems like it’s quickly going to something on the topic of self-compassion, so let’s just go there. You know what doesn’t work for me when I’m in a dark space - hating myself, hating anything really. But gosh, hate can be so easy sometimes. Maybe hate isn’t your operative word. Maybe it’s worry, criticism, depression… I’m a fan of feelings, all of them, I really am, but I’m not a “just think positively” kinda gal. I am, however, a firm believer in all things self-compassion. People, it is not selfish to love yourself! You are not hurting anyone by giving yourself empathy, understanding, love and concern. Light is ignited by giving ourselves self-compassion. It’s a remedy for stress, anger, worry, hate, judgement, sadness...oh, so much. Light is found by finding the worth inside yourself. Light is seen by looking at all the other times the clouds parted and there was that beautiful, bright and clear blue morning. It’s there every time. Let it in.

LifeTip: Words Hurt

Sad pup.jpg

“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.


LifeTip: The Continuum of Stress & Trauma


Image © Natalia Amari

Sometimes the idea that a particular life event is a trauma can feel scary and overwhelming. The experience of labeling a specific event as traumatic or not is, in essence, subjective.

For many individuals, it can be powerful and relieving to name an event or series of events as traumatic. Others may consider a similar event a stressor, and it may be equally beneficial to refer to it as such. Even benign experiences, like taking a walk or eating candy, can be experienced as traumatic due to a history of trauma. Of course, it is also important to note that some events may not cause any stress at all.

Given how subjective these experiences can be, how on earth do we identify a trauma or a stressor?

After we experience an event we perceive it through many different filters, such as:

  • Human Physiological Response (heart beats fast, palms sweat, muscles tense…)
  • Life Circumstance (living alone, partnered, un/under/employed, in school…)
  • Temperament (personality, general outlook/approach to life…)
  • Cultural Norms (attitudes, expectations, traditions, rituals…)
  • Societal Response (news media, social media, local community, school, work…)
  • Resiliency & Vulnerability Factors (the presence or absence of diverse skills to handle adversity, such as social capital, self-efficacy, socioeconomic status…)
  • Prior Life Experiences (history of privilege, oppression, traumas…)

There may be many more filters than this, but these are a few notable ones.

After we perceive the event through these filters, we interpret the information on the continuum of stress and trauma as:

  • Eustress (the good stress that motivates you to work on that paper to turn it in on time!)
  • Distress (you know, when stuff breaks down and throws your day off course)
  • Acute Traumatic Response (an immediate reaction to the experience)
  • Chronic Traumatic Response (an ongoing sense of feeling traumatized by the experience)
  • Delayed Traumatic Response (when the impact remains dormant until something later in life that draws up the prior experience)

Viewing stress and trauma on a shared continuum creates a more open dialogue. One where the individual labels the experience on a continuum based on their own beliefs, values, feelings, and experiences. This continuum then helps to foster more freedom, choice and empowerment. And with this, comes more avenues for healing.


Congratulations Graduates!

It has been a BIG year for Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders. The Austin American-Statesman wrote an article yesterday highlighting the achievements of one graduating senior, Ana Gonzalez. Ana is one of 52 girls of the first graduating class from Ann Richards School. Even more amazing is the fact that all 52 girls have been accepted into college. Their success has not come easily, and many students struggled with the rigorous coursework, with a little more than half the girls in Ana's class completing the program. 

The young women who will walk the stage to graduation had several contributing factors to their success. We had the opportunity to speak with these inspiring students at their morning assembly last fall, and again at Career Day, and these are the themes we shared with the students:

Resilience. Community. Self Compassion

Ana and her peers battled the rollercoaster of school. Their resilience was their ability to cope with stress and adversity. Resilience does not take away stress, but it does give one the tools to deal with it effectively. Some are born with resilience and others must learn it. 

When one's own strength and resilience is not enough, community is there to take up the slack. Ana and her peers were supported by each other. They went through all the projects, assignments, tests, reading and college applications together. They were also supported by the teachers and adminstrators. Together they created a family for one another.

Through it all, these young women developed the traits of self-compassion. They learned that no one is without imperfections. We fall and we get up. We treat ourselves with respect and kindness. And, we are mindful that all emotions are temporary and fleeting. While one day may seem hopeless, the next day may bring something new.

We congratulate these graduates and all the other graduates in Austin, Texas! You have all done something amazing!

The beauty of friendship

With all the talk about relational aggression and so-called "mean girls" in the media, we feel it's vital to reflect on the aspects of female friendship that are loving, special and strong. A recent article in Darling Magazine captured this beautifully:

We can laugh, cry, connect, converse and empathize. We can teach and mentor one another. We can be moved to action, or we can just rest among one another. 

In our girls' groups, we're blessed to witness this beauty of female friendship. Girls are in a unique position to understand what other girls are going through, because they've been there too! Girls get how tough it can be to fit in, to make new friends, to balance school, family and social lives. When we share laughter and tears with other girls, we feel connected, understood and supported. When we reach out to offer a shoulder to cry on to another girl who's struggling, we create deep bonds and feel happier and stronger as a result. We can learn so much about who we are when we connect with other girls.

While our friendships may not always be easy, female friendships are so very rewarding. Find ways to nurture your girlfriends, and you will find that you are building resilience and growing stronger. How can you be a good friend today?

recovering from natural disaster

Recently we've talked about the effects of national events on tweens, and how parents can help by strengthening their adolescent's sense of community. With the tornadoes surrounding Central Texas and the devastation to our neighbors in Oklahoma, where many Texans have loved ones, it may be important to revisit some of the tools on how to talk with your kids about tragedy.

Natural disasters such as floods, tornadoes, forest fires, hurricanes and earthquakes can often occur suddenly and with little warning or preparation time. Here in Central Texas we regularly experience many of these events, and having regular conversations with your tween about safety and recovery can be critical. 

The National Association of School Psychologists has a great list of resources for parents and teachers on how to help children (and tweens) cope with natural disaster. The Red Cross has issued a statement on the tornado in Moore, OK and is accepting $10 donations by texting REDCROSS to 90999 to help fund disaster relief. 

Help your tween spot the warning signs of overwhelm, such as irritability, difficulty sleeping, changing appetite and a dip in school performance. Remember that signs of stress are normal following a natural disaster, and limit media exposure to prevent secondary trauma, which can occur following indirect exposure to traumatic events

When talking with your tween about this and other natural disasters, remember the keys to resilience: Self-care, Connection, Recovery and Spirit. Help them learn ways to cope with natural disasters near and far by taking good care of themselves, reaching out to those in need, building community, taking time to recharge, and becoming empowered through action. 

Building community

Recently, GirlTalk Therapy posted a GirlTip about the importance of developing a sense of community for our tweens and teens. Since the recent National tragedies in Boston and West, Texas, we’ve been thinking more about this topic and feel it’s time to re-visit it in a new light.

Our youth are powerful motivators for positive change and action. If there is any time for them to be involved in their community, it is now! The devastation of last week’s events have also brought up memories of past struggles our local, national, and global community have faced in its history. We believe we have the opportunity to help each other through this time and heal from the past by participating in outreach and volunteering activities that support community and build relationships.

We mentioned in our last post that community can often be separated by the many tools and devices that run our lives - facebook, twitter, texting, and more. However,  these methods of communication can also be the spark that ignites community gathering. If you take some time to look at recent internet activity, you will see ways that our community has united itself to help others and spread the word of positivity. It’s time to get yourself and your teen involved in our current events. Explore some of the ideas below with your adolescent to help them build a caring community: