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Keep on Keeping On

We live in a quick fix society. You are hungry and you want food now? No problem, there are a billion fast food places that will serve you up a full "meal" in under 2 minutes! You need info and you need it now? Just pull out your smart phone connected to the World Wide Web and you'll have any info you need at the touch of a button, in seconds! You need something to wear and hate your current wardrobe? No problem, ...


Being thankful for what we have is so important to a healthy perspective on life. When we spend our time focusing on what we do not have, we can become bitter and negative. I see it in many of the teenage girls that I counsel as well as in many adults I work with in counseling. They are angry and sad because they do not have some particular thing or things in their lives. But they neglect to realize what they do have! When we focus our energy and thoughts on what we do have in our lives, we feel more grateful, hopeful and energized. This has all sorts of positive impact on our mental health. We tend to feel stress less, have less anxiety and less depression also. When we let negative thoughts rule our minds, we have more negative feelings in our lives. This often can stunt our healthy relationships and slow our progress towards achieving goals. Try making a list each day of at least 3 things you are thankful for; try this every day for one week and see what kind of impact it has on you! If you find it hard to begin listing things for which you are thankful, and find yourself more focused on the negative in your life, consider counseling. It can be such a beneficial step towards helping you feel less stress, anxiety and depression!

Looking Back: Finding Triumph over Failure

I work with many clients in counseling who have been through some very difficult situations. They often have a lot of shame and regret when they look back on the situations and experiences they have encountered. I encourage them to look back and find the triumphs; not everything was a failure. And depending on how we look at things, we can choose to see things in a different light. There are times in our lives that we were doing the best we could at the time; we can choose to give ourselves grace during those difficult seasons and see small triumphs rather than only seeing failures. This can reframe how we see our situations and ourselves and give us momentum to move forward. Seeing only failure often leaves us paralyzed and unable to grow, change or move forward. Sure, there are things in our lives we would have done differently and there's nothing wrong with thinking about ways we might handle things differently in the future and from learning from our pasts. But holding our actions against ourselves and shaming ourselves because of them doesn't do much good for us. Are there small triumphs you can see in your past rather than only focusing on the failures? Wouldn't it be helpful to learn from the things you could have done differently and give yourself grace rather than continuing to spin in the cycle of shame and regret? If you have trouble doing this, reaching out for counseling can be a rewarding experience! 

Self Care

Carving out time for yourself is an important piece of good mental health. Having something that rejuvenates you is important. It's different for everyone; some people need more time than others. Some people need this self care time to be alone; others may be able to do it with people around them, perhaps even doing the activity with them. But having something that pours back into you is important to living a healthy lifestyle. Perhaps it's exercise, reading, journaling, a hobby or playing music. Whatever it is, prioritize some time each week, or a little each day to help you stay energized and refreshed. When our day to day life is consumed with giving, whether to work or family or other things, we are easily drained. This can lead to elevated levels of stress, anxiety or depression. Spending some time in self care can help bring these levels back to a healthier place. Other ways to keep yourself in a healthy place are referenced in other blog posts here, here, here, here, here, here and here. So if self care isn't already a regular practice for you, try something today; start small and see how it impacts you! If you find that self care and other elements of a healthy lifestyle are not helping to decrease your stress, anxiety or depression, consider counseling!

Don't Wait!

I see so many clients who have waited so long to start dealing with their heart wounds or relational conflicts. By the time they come to counseling patterns are deeply ingrained, relationships are on the verge of tearing apart, and hearts are badly broken. We wait to get help for so many reasons. Perhaps it's because we are ashamed to need help or scared of reaching out. Maybe we wait because we don't know if therapy will help or if it'll make things worse. Whatever the case, I encourage you to go ahead and reach out now. Waiting will most likely not make things any better. There is no shame in reaching out for help. When we are sick, we see a doctor. When our heart or relationship is broken, we see a therapist. Read about therapy, do some research; you'll find it's not as daunting as you might think! Call or email around to various therapists; find one that seems to fit your personality or values. Set up a few initial meetings after you've narrowed down your selection of counselors. Choose wisely! Counseling is a great thing. Don't wait!

Choices & Self-Esteem

Oftentimes we realize or others point out to us, that we are not making healthy choices for ourselves. Perhaps it's in nutrition, exercise, daily routine, job, or relationships that we are making poor choices. But at some point we realize we are not doing good things for ourselves. I work with many clients in counseling to identify what those choices are and the underlying factors driving them towards those unhealthy choices...

Patience & Persistence

I meet with a lot of clients going through various life transitions: new jobs or relationships, ending relationships, changing lifestages, etc. It's difficult to be in a place of transition and change. We don't typically do well with that in-between place as a society. We want things now and we want them easily. When that doesn't happen, we often get frustrated with ourselves and/or our circumstances. That can lead to stress, anxiety or depression. What we need more of is patience and persistence. We need patience with ourselves as we learn to adapt to new changes and transitions in our lives. We need the persistence to keep learning, keep adapting, allowing ourselves to stay in the process as things unfold. Our technology-driven culture has produced within us such a fast-paced sense of demand and the bulk of life's changes don't respond well to that. Real, big change happens slowly and is an ever-unfolding process. If our spouse has just left us, we don't just pick up the next day and move on. If we've just had a new baby and are now back at work, we may not adjust to the new changes as quick as we are expecting ourselves. But if we give ourselves grace and patience, we'll find that we'll adjust much better. We will adapt and can do that with success. And if we can add to those the persistence to keep moving forward even when things aren't happening as fast as we'd like, I think we'd see positive change and healthy adjustment unfold. If there's a change or transition going on in your life that you are having difficulty managing and maneuvering, consider counseling as a way to help you process and walk the journey. 

Being Active Together (even in Winter)

When I'm working with clients in counseling for stress, anxiety or depression, we discuss how good nutrition, sleep and exercise are healthy coping skills towards managing their symptoms. I've blogged about that here, here, here and here. Staying active is important! And if you can incorporate activity in relationships, then that's even better! Doing something good for yourself with a member of your support system is a double dose of healthy coping skills! There are great ways to be active even in Winter in Raleigh! Raleigh Winterfest is going on Downtown right now and ice skating is a fun and active way to spend some time with a friend or loved one; I talked about that more in detail last week here! When it's not too cold outside, there are great places in Raleigh to walk or hike or run together. Even if it is cold, bundle up - the hat, gloves, scarf and all - and head outside. The Capital Area Greenway Trail System has trails all over the city. Umstead State Park is another great place to walk, run or hike. Lake Johnson is one of my favorites; it has some good hills to get that heart rate up! Plan some time this week to get outside and get active with a member of your support system; I bet it'll have a positive impact on your mood or stress level, or both!

Darkness & Depression

This time of year can be hard for people for varying reasons. The holidays can be a difficult time in and of themselves. Some find themselves feeling more lonely during this time of year; others are grieving lost loved ones who won't be with them for the holidays. The time change can also be a real damper on mood due to how early it gets dark in the evenings. Some people notice that they experience more of a depressed mood this time of year simply due to the increased darkness in the evenings. It's important to soak in some sunshine when you can and to take advantage of the light hours earlier in the day to exercise or be outdoors! Continuing healthy daily routines and healthy sleep schedules are an important part of managing mood. Incorporating social activity and time with people who pour into you is another healthy part of battling depression. Being involved in something bigger than yourself is another great way to manage depression; volunteer somewhere that supports a cause you believe is worthy. Invest in yourself; take a class about something you want to learn more about or pick up a hobby you haven't touched in a while. Challenge the urge to withdraw from others and from healthy routines. Push yourself a bit and you'll find there are great benefits. Set small daily goals to accomplish. If you notice this time of year is particularly difficult for you, maybe stepping into some counseling would be a good idea. Here's an article with some more basic tips for managing depression this time of year.

How to Improve your Sleep

I work with many clients who experience sleep difficulties due to their current stress levels, anxiety or depression. We discuss in counseling the importance of good sleep hygiene. Some people report difficulty falling asleep; others tell me about waking up in the middle of the night and being unable to fall back to sleep. Other clients just report feeling tired even after sleeping at night. I think it's always important to talk to your doctor about your sleep difficulties in case there is something medical going on. But outside of those issues, there are some things you can do to help yourself sleep better. I've discussed in previous blog posts about taking time to rest, getting proper exercise and nutrition, the importance of sleep, and how slowing your pace of life can help lead to better mental health. Sleep is such an important piece of managing stress, anxiety and depression; without sleep it is very difficult to do those things well! Today I found a great article on ways to start sleeping better and wanted to share! It gives several (12 actually) practical steps you can take to improve your sleep hygiene. I highly recommend trying some, or all, of these! I have already picked out a couple I'm going to add to my sleep hygiene! I just tried tip #6 and got out of the office for a sun break - though there were more clouds than sun, I enjoyed my time outside and do feel a bit rejuvenated! Try some of these tips for improving your quality of sleep. 

What's the goal?

I work with many clients who are going through some really difficult trials as they walk through the counseling process: grief, loss, anxiety & panic, depression, relational struggles. When I'm working with a client who is a believer in Christ we often discuss their desired end goal. We all want the trials to go away, the pain to end, the struggle to cease. But often that is not the Lord's primary goal for us. He wants us to know Him more, to showcase His glory more, to make Him known more. And sometimes that is done best by allowing the struggle or the pain to be present. Not that He wants us to hurt or takes pleasure in that; He doesn't, He grieves with us. But I'm not sure His primary goal for us is a pain-free life. I think He desires intimacy with us more than a trial-free life. And often we can experience deep, deep intimacy with Him walking through a trial, not at the end of it. It's often in the midst of the trial or grief or struggle that we can meet the Lord so closely and experience Him in a way we haven't before. Are we willing to go through the struggle, through our trials, through the grief with a different goal? What would happen if we set the goal of knowing the Lord more, experiencing deeper intimacy with Him rather than the pain going away, the sadness ending or the struggle ceasing? What would daily life look like then?

Thoughts & Feelings

In working with clients who experience anxiety and depression, I spend a lot of the counseling time discussing the thought and feeling connection. There's a myth out there that we can't control our feelings...that's wrong! We can, to a great degree, control our feelings. It starts with being aware of our thoughts and then taking steps to retrain and redirect our thoughts. We can easily get ourselves into bad thought habits such as negative thinking, catastrophizing, ignoring the positive, etc. Once we allow ourselves to think that way for quite some time, our brain begins to automatically go there. It takes time and deliberate effort to retrain our minds. But it is very possible! I watch clients achieve this successfully quite often through counseling. It takes them a little bit of time to learn the skill but when they do, they find they experience less stress, anxiety and depression. They start by increasing their awareness of all their thoughts. This can be done by keeping a thought log: each day at least 3 times per day, sit down and write what you are thinking (no filter, just write or type) for about 15 minutes. Do this every day for about a week and you'll start to notice some patterns of thinking as you look back over your thought log. The next step is to begin challenging those unhealthy or irrational thoughts with healthy. rational alternatives. To do this take time every day to write down some of your unhealthy, negative or irrational thoughts. Then take some deep breaths or a short break if you need to. When you come back to the page, draw a line and then write some positive, rational alternatives. Practice saying those more healthy thoughts to yourself multiple times per day. Eventually your brain will learn to bring up the positive, rational thoughts more often than the negative, irrational ones! If you find this difficult, seeing a therapist can be helpful to guide you through this process. Changing your thoughts will impact your feelings. Thoughts impact feelings so learning to change your thoughts will help to change your feelings!

Sleep is Important!

Getting a good night's rest on a regular basis is so important to good mental health. Our bodies need that time to rejuvenate, heal and recover. Having a regular bed time and wake time is important to managing anxiety, stress and depression effectively. We are putting ourselves at a disadvantage when we get varying amounts of sleep each night. Getting on average 8 hours of sleep per night is important to a stable mood. In talking with clients I'm seeing for counseling, I encourage them to have a bed time around the same time every night (within an hour) and a regular wake time each morning too (again, within an hour). Some people require more or less amounts of sleep than others. I know clients who function well on 7 hours of sleep per night; I also have clients though that need 9 hours of sleep to be at their best each day. The important piece here is figuring out what your body needs and then making sure to provide that for yourself on a regular basis. If you are a night owl who functions well on 8 hours of sleep, you could set your bed time for midnight and your wake time for 8am. Don't sleep in much past 9am and don't go to sleep much past 1am. Otherwise, you are basically putting your body through jet lag! Having a daily routine like this of getting up and going to bed around the same time each day can greatly help to stabilize mood, as well as manage stress and anxiety. 

Good Mental Health Needs Exercise & Nutrition

Taking care of your physical body is such an important part of taking care of your mental health; I talk about this quite often with the clients I see for counseling. Our bodies, minds and souls are all connected; we are a whole human being. The different parts of ourselves all impact and influence the other parts. If I'm not taking care of myself emotionally, at some point that will manifest itself in some way in my physical body. However, if I'm taking care of my physical body, then my mind and emotions have a better potential for being healthy as well. Healthy nutrition and exercise are such important pieces of good mental health. Exercise releases chemicals in the brain that help us actually "feel" better; this is just one great benefit of regular exercise. A healthy, well-balanced diet is essential to great mental health as well. Eating junk and not getting enough vitamins and nutrients our bodies need causes things to run more sluggish inside our bodies and minds. There are great ways to be healthy, inside and out. I love going to the Farmer's Market (they are open 7 days per week) and stocking up on fresh, local fruits and vegetables for the week. I really enjoy supporting local farmers and eating what is in season and knowing I'm also giving my body some of the vitamins and nutrients it needs to function as it is designed! For those of us that work, live and play in Downtown Raleigh, there is a great farmer's market there too in City Plaza on Fayetteville Street on Wednesdays from April-October. Exercise can be fun as well and really helps boost mood and take care of our bodies. Grab a buddy (or just some headphones) and head to Lake Johnson; it's a gorgeous place to walk or run! Try incorporating some healthy eating and exercise into your weekly routine. It can be hard to implement new changes but they are so well worth the effort!

Great Teen Workbooks

I see a lot of teens and their families for individual and family counseling. The teenagers I see struggle with various issues; some face anxiety, depression, stress, family issues, self injury, self esteem issues, bullying, etc. Many of them are in some serious pain and are looking for an outlet for that pain but do not have healthy coping skills. Some of them have difficult family situations or struggle with being bullied at school. I have found some great resources that I use with many of my teen clients; several of them have had great success using these resources! These workbooks contain short exercises that are geared towards helping teens cope in healthy ways. Stopping the Pain is a workbook for teenagers who cut or self injure. Beyond the Blues is a workbook for teens who experience depression. The Anxiety Workbook for Teens helps teenagers cope with anxiety and worry. Don't Let Your Emotions Run Your Life for Teens teaches teens Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills that can help them manage mood swings, control emotional outbursts and get along with others better. The Stress Reduction Workbook for Teens teaches teenagers mindfulness skills that helps them decrease stress. The Bipolar Workbook for Teens helps teens learn Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills for mood swings they may experience. Think Confident, Be Confident for Teens teaches teenagers Cognitive Therapy skills to increase their self image and improve their self esteem. These workbooks may not be helpful for every teenager but I find many teens respond well to the short lessons they contain!

Choosing Christ over Feelings

I work with a lot of clients in my counseling practice who are in very difficult situations. Some are grieving, some are broken and hurting, some are suffering. Some have lost loved ones, some are in difficult marriages, some are facing bullying or difficult relationships. Some struggle with self harm, anxiety, depression or anger. Weaved through all the Christian clients I see, as different as their circumstances may be, is a common theme we discuss and work towards: choosing Christ over our irrational feelings. Their feelings may be telling them to hurt their bodies, to leave their spouses, to engage in an extra-marital affair, to escalate to panic, to dwell in depression or to lash out in anger. I talk with my clients about whether they will allow those feelings to make their decisions and to influence their actions or whether they will engage their will, their spirit and the Lord in their actions, behaviors, thoughts and decisions. This is a difficult task for all of us but so important if we are going to live righteous, healthy lives. Our feelings are important; they are part of how we were created. Christ had feelings; He expressed grief, anguish, sadness, joy and happiness. Feelings are not bad! Feelings shouldn't be judged; they are what they are and that is OK. However, when we act solely based on our feelings without incorporating our will, intellect, spirit and rational thought is when we can get into trouble. We must consider Christ and dialogue with our feelings. It begins with acknowledging the feelings and then understanding their role. Accepting the feelings is an important piece; trying to push them away or deny them won't help! Why are the feelings there and what are they needing? Next you engage your will, your rational thinking and determine what those parts of you think (key word - think) about those feelings. Then the feelings and thoughts dialogue together to determine what is the healthiest next step. All the while, I encourage believers to be engaging Scripture and prayer in this entire process. We must slow down. Act, instead of react. Choose to engage Christ, rational thought and your will rather than simply letting emotions take charge and lead the way. Emotions are important and should be payed attention to. There should be other things we pay attention to also, not just our feelings. If this process seems difficult for you, seeking out Christian Counseling can be a great way to gain insight and coping skills that will help you to choose Christ, righteousness and health in your daily life! 

Care for You too, Ladies!

I work with many women in my counseling practice: single, married, divorced, kids, no kids, women who work inside the home and women work outside the home. A running theme with the women I counsel is a lack of self care. They are stressed out, burnt out, anxious, depressed or just flat out tired and they haven't been caring for themselves well. Self care is taking steps to be good to yourself, care for yourself, soothe yourself, nurture yourself, grow yourself, reflect on yourself. It's a time when you are only taking care of you. Self care isn't being at dinner with a friend and helping them through their problem; that's caring for them. Self care might look like a leisurely walk, reading a book, sitting and resting with a cup of tea, taking a class on something that interests you, getting a massage or pedicure, exercise, getting counseling for yourself individually. There's no right or wrong self care as long as it's caring for you and not others. Women tend to pour out more naturally than they tend to pour into themselves. Pouring out might look like work, career, child-rearing, taking care of the house, errands, time spent helping friends, etc. Anything we do to give of ourselves, our time, is us pouring out. Pouring out is not a bad thing at all; it's a healthy part of a balanced life. Most women love it, even thrive on it. It becomes destructive when we are not pouring back into ourselves or allowing others to pour back into us. When was the last time that an hour of your day was all about you, no one else? I know, I know..."I don't have that kind of free time." Truth is you must create it, carve it out of your day or else it won't happen. The day will slip away and you will have cared for everyone else except yourself. Some women find this kind of self care time to be selfish. It feels wrong to spend a few minutes a day on themselves. If this is you, it could be time to slip into counseling and explore this negative self talk or beliefs that prevent you from pouring into yourself so that in turn you have more to pour out into others! Take some time today, even 15 minutes and do something that pours into you, that requires nothing of you but instead gives back to you!

Giving Back at the Holidays

Christmas can be both an exciting time of year and a difficult one. All the decorations, music and festivities can be great when things are going well for you. But when relationships are difficult, when you've experienced loss or when you are depressed, holidays can be very hard. If you are experiencing a recent loss, consider reading this short article or reading some previous blogs that reference grief. If you find yourself feeling sad or depressed, here's a short article on depression and here are some blog posts about depression. Whether the holidays are an exciting time or a difficult time for you, giving back can be a powerful, wonderful thing! I encourage you to take a look at these Raleigh organizations and find a way you can use your time or your resources to give of yourself! Doing this can reduce stress, decrease anxiety, improve mood and give meaning to your grief and loss. There are so many in need and so many small but meaningful ways you can help someone else. The Salvation Army, the Raleigh Rescue Mission, the Women's Center of Wake County, InterAct of Wake County, SAFEchild, and the United Way are just a few local organizations that have a multitude of ways you can help someone this holiday season. Take some time this week and find a way to give back. Schedule time to follow through. See if it doesn't improve your mood and lighten your load! If you are having difficulty this holiday season with sadness, depression, anxiety, grief or loss, consider giving the gift of counseling to yourself! Allowing someone to walk through your difficult time with you can be such a gift. Happy Holidays!

Gratitude Improves Mood!

Thanksgiving is this week and is a good reminder to focus on being thankful for all we have! Gratitude helps improve our mood in so many ways. It takes the focus off where we aren't, what we don't have and puts it on where we are and what we do have! This greatly boosts mood and can decrease stress and anxiety too! When all we think about is what we are lacking or where we wish we were, we are dissatisfied with life and sad or angry. But when we shift our focus to the positive things about the place we are and the good things we do have, we have a more healthy perspective and our mood improves. In addition, stress and anxiety often decrease. Try making a list this week of all the things you are thankful for, all the things you do have and the things that are good about the place you are in right now. Be specific, think of small things too! For example, do you have a place to lay down at night that is safe and warm? Some people do not. Do you have clothes to wear and food to eat and a way to get from point A to point B? Many people don't. We tend to take things for granted and we need to remind ourselves that we have quite a bit! The fact that I can walk, talk, see and hear are great blessings that I often take for granted. It's good to get in the habit of being thankful for the things and abilities you do have as well as the opportunities available to you; this helps you get outside of your current situations or problems and remember that there is so much to be grateful for in your life! Happy Thanksgiving!


Teens & Stress

I see quite a bit of teenagers and their families for counseling. One of the biggest issues I see is stress - now it may also be accompanied with anxiety and/or depression, but stress is what a lot of teenagers are experiencing. What I don't often see are teens who know how to effectively handle that stress. So instead they act out, engage in sexual activity, get into drugs or alcohol, cut themselves or harm their bodies in other ways or yell and argue with their parents. What a lot of teens are saying through these actions is "help me, I'm overwhelmed and I don't know what to do!" Now this isn't the case for every teenager, but many that I see are feeling overwhelmed, under immense pressure from parents or at school, have difficulties in their friendships or romantic relationships. Perhaps they are being picked on or bullied at school and they struggle with low self-esteem. Sometimes what helps is to decrease the amount of activities teens are involved in so there's less stress. Other times they need to hear their parents say they love them and that A's are not the goal but rather trying their best is the aim. Open communication between parents and teens will often times decrease stress in a teens life when done in a healthy, supportive and positive manner. Stress is all around us; we have to know how to manage our stress or how to eliminate stress that can be eliminated. A lot of stress we bring on ourselves; maybe we are over-involved or haven't resolved conflicts with loved ones that need to be resolved. Maybe we aren't engaging in enough positive activities that we enjoy. Increasing positive activities in our life can help decrease stress for some people. We also often engage in irrational thinking patterns and negative self-talk that increase our stress. I work with clients in counseling (teens and adults) to identify their thinking patterns and the way they are talking to themselves. We often uncover unhealthy, irrational thought patterns that lead to increased stress, anxiety and depression. Also, we find a stream of negative self-talk running through clients' minds that is not helping them in any positive way! One way to decrease stress is to examine these things - thought patterns and self-talk - to determine if they are healthy and rational. If not, the next step is to identify a healthy, rational and positive alternative to the negative, irrational thought. It takes some time but the more we speak the rational, positive thought to ourselves, the less stress, anxiety and depression we experience. If your teen is experiencing stress, anxiety or depression, I encourage you to open a dialogue about that. If they are resistant to that, enlisting the help of a counselor can be a great next step!