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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! 

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. 

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.

Being Thankful

Thanksgiving is a great reminder to take time out and count our blessings. There are many positive things in our lives we easily and often overlook. This holiday season is a good time to slow down and take the time to think of things in our lives for which we can be thankful. Often times when I'm working with clients who are experiencing depression or anxiety, I encourage them during the course of their counseling to keep a gratitude journal; keep a list daily or weekly of things which they are thankful. This helps us to realize that we do have positive things in our lives and takes the focus off the negativity or fear. The more positive things we are filling our minds with, the less negativity can rule our thought life. This practice can help improve your mood and decrease your anxiety. Take time out this week to consciously think of things in your life you can give thanks for; make a list and share some of them with the loved ones you are with for Thanksgiving. You could make that a family tradition: to share things you each are thankful for during the Thanksgiving meal! Happy Thanksgiving!

Grace during Grief

Often times when I'm counseling clients walking through grief the topic of grace comes up. Grief is a difficult season and we often forget to ease up on ourselves, our schedules and expectations. Grief takes emotional effort, mental energy, physical energy and spiritual focus; we can't function at the level we were functioning before we started grieving...

Happy vs. Holy

I work with many clients in individual, couples and family counseling who are experiencing various struggles: depression, anxiety, grief, difficult relationships. I hear their desire to just be happy, to escape the struggle. Our culture puts a lot of value and focus on being happy. Advertising caters to that idea as does technology; we should have what we want and be happy. What if, as believers in Christ, we followed His example and chose holiness rather than happiness? What if happiness wasn't our main goal of the day and we instead chose to heartily pursue His holiness in our hearts? What would life look like? Might we embrace our struggles and find how they make us more like Him? Might we experience increased and lasting joy rather than momentary, fleeting happiness? In various other veins I have addressed this topic before in an article here and in blog posts here, here, here and here. A client shared with me this article recently and it captures this point so well. Take a moment to read; it's not too long! 

Some Practical Tips for Anxiety

Many clients I see for counseling experience anxiety in their daily lives. In previous posts here,  and here, I've talked about ways to work with your thoughts and the impact that has on decreasing the feelings of anxiety. Another great way to manage anxiety and decrease the feelings is to visualize things going well (not perfectly, but well)...

A Tip for Managing Stress

Often I meet with clients who come to counseling because of the level of stress they are experiencing. They talk of feeling overworked, overwhelmed and exhausted. They talk about how stressed out they feel and want help managing that stress. One thing we discuss as a way to manage stress is to actually list out all the things that are running rampant in their mind leading to feelings of stress. Actually write all of them down: bullet point style, free write, whatever works best for you. Once they are written down, prioritize them. What things are actually of high importance and need to be dealt with sooner and what things aren't really as important and can wait a bit. For the things that are of higher importance, break them down into smaller pieces; this makes them seem more manageable and can help you be more productive also. Then list a realistic "due date" for each of the smaller pieces of that bigger important item. Choose to focus on just one thing at a time. Stay in the present with just that one item. When your mind starts to wander, acknowledge that it is straying and gently bring it back to the item you are focusing upon. No need to criticize your wandering mind; it's just doing what it's used to doing. After you've had some practice with redirecting your thoughts, it'll wander less. Think about what is "due" first? Put some energy into that one thing. Remind yourself that the other things are listed out and you will deal with them in time, but right now you are focusing on item A. Items B, C, D and E will be dealt with another day; today is just for item A. Choose to let the stress associated with those other items go; you have a plan for them and will deal with them at the proper time. Deep breathing can be really helpful here! Today is just for item A and you can get some thing done towards that item today; that will help bring down your stress level. We tend to feel overwhelmed and stressed because we feel as though we have to accomplish everything today (or yesterday). That's not true nor is it realistic. Break it down into smaller pieces and focus on one thing at a time. You'll find your stress level will decrease some. The more you practice this, the more your stress can decrease. If you have trouble with this or with managing your overall stress level, consider counseling as an option to get better tools for managing stress!

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?

Grief...a long process

Grief is a long process. It is not something to be dealt with in a few short months or solved in a mere 6 sessions of counseling. Even years after a significant loss, you may still find yourself at times moved with emotion or tears thinking about your lost loved one. I hear many clients in grief counseling ask questions like, "how long will I feel this sad?", "how long will I grieve?", or "should I still be feeling this upset?". Grief does not work on a time table. It looks different for every person and every loss. Loss and sadness will linger and perhaps for quite some time after a significant loss. Anger and confusion may linger as well. It is difficult to feel the emotions and the void for so long; we want the pain to go away, or at least to lessen. And over time it does, but we often want to rush that process and experience the lessening of pain now. Grief says not yet. The process of grieving and healing is important and it's also important to allow our grief to have it's own time frame. It is healthy to experience it each day as it is, validating the grieving emotions and going forward with the day. It's important to maintain a daily routine and not to wallow too long in the grieving emotions but it's also important to experience the pain and to express the grief. The less we rush ourselves through the process of grieving and the less we pressure ourselves to "get over" the loss, the more we will experience healing as we grieve. Settle in for the process. Know it will take time and fight the urge to define how long that time may take. Allow yourself to feel your grief each day, as many times a day as you need, and then shift back to what you were doing in your day. If you find that in your grief you feel stuck or unable to shift from grieving to your daily tasks, engaging in some grief counseling might be helpful for you. 

Slow Down & De-Stress!

We live in a busy, fast-paced society. Information is coming at us in so many different ways all the time: phone calls, emails, texts, and the many social media sites. And let's not forget face to face communication either! It's no wonder so many people experience a great deal of stress. In addition to receiving so much information at a fast pace, we also all wear many hats; some of us are not only individuals, but we're also spouses, friends, children, parents, siblings, coworkers, employees, bosses, etc. There's a great deal of responsibility on our plates in addition to all the information we're constantly fielding. There never seems to be enough vacation, weekends aren't nearly long enough and holidays don't seem to come often enough nor are they ever as relaxing as we'd like. In our counseling sessions, I encourage my stressed out and anxious clients to take a look at the amount of information they are receiving (and sending) as well as the pace of their schedules. We could all stand to slow down a little bit, to take more time for rest, vacation and relaxation (even if it's just an hour or a day). Perhaps there are things in your life that can stand to be put on hold for a while. Or maybe you don't have to check your email or phone so many times per day. Give your mind some time to relax, some time that information isn't screaming at it! Take time each day and some extended time each week to just relax. Maybe that looks like getting outside and enjoying the weather, maybe it looks like reading a fun book or wandering through a museum. Perhaps it's taking in a movie or sitting by the pool. Leave the phone somewhere else or turn it on silent (if you think you can refuses checking it every few minutes!!). Do something that calms you and rejuvenates you; doing these things helps to lower your stress levels. Maybe you'll find there are things in your daily or weekly schedule that can be cut out altogether so that you can have a healthier paced lifestyle. Maybe you'll find that your current schedule is just fine but by adding in some down time each day and each week, you'll de-stress better! Either way, take some time to slow down and reflect! If you are looking for some more ideas of quick ways to de-stress, read this brief article here from CNN Health. 

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!

Deep Breathing to Manage Anxiety & Panic

Anxiety and panic escalate when we are not in control of our breathing. Short chest breaths can speed up heart rate making many of the physical symptoms of anxiety and panic also increase. You can reverse this escalation through deep breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing is an important technique discussed when I'm counseling clients who are experiencing anxiety and panic. Typically this breathing technique does not come easily for those who experience frequent anxiety and panic. But this breathing technique can be learned! It just takes some practice and getting used to. Here and here are two links that describe diaphragmatic breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing also helps decrease feelings of stress too! Practice this breathing technique many times when you are not feeling anxiety or panic. I encourage clients to practice it at least once a day when there are little to no symptoms of anxiety or panic present. That will help you be able to use the skill when you areexperiencing the feelings of anxiety or panic. I encourage clients to write the steps down on an index card or on a note in their phone and keep the note with them. That way if feelings of anxiety or panic begin, they can pull out their note and begin the deep breathing to calm down the physical effects of anxiety. This helps you get to a place where you can then begin to challenge your anxious thoughts and manage the anxiety and panic better. If you'd like to know more about that part of managing anxiety and panic you can read a few of my blogs here and here; you can also read this article that has a neat parable linked within it too. Counseling is a great way to learn how to manage anxiety and panic; you don't have to suffer with anxiety and panic!

In the midst of fresh grief...

When you first find out about a loss, your world is turned upside down; you enter into some degree of shock. Things seem blurry and you may feel numb. The loss itself may seem surreal. These are all normal reactions to loss, especially unexpected loss. During this time it's important to take care of the everyday routine things in life: eating healthy meals at normal times, attempting to get your normal amount of sleep, etc. This will help your body and your heart begin to process the difficult loss. It's also important to surround yourself with people who love you and will take time to care for you, people who will take things off your plate and take care of them for you. You may need some time alone also and that is OK as well. It's healthy for you to ask directly for what you need - be it to be surrounded by loved ones or to have time alone. However, isolating yourself isn't healthy during this time. Take one hour at a time and one day at a time. If you already have an established relationship with a therapist, this can be an important time to step back into counseling so they can walk you through the initial grieving. This is a very difficult time but doing these important steps at the beginning of a difficult loss will put you on a path of healthy grieving.