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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!

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!

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!

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)...

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. 

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?

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!

Anxiety- What's running wild in your mind?

What thoughts do you let run wild in your mind? A tiny bit of fear, nervousness or worry can turn into full blown anxiety or panic if we do not monitor our thoughts. Some fear is normal. Even some nervousness is normal. But when anxiety is consuming our thoughts, feelings and days, it's not normal. Anxiety sends us whirling into the future wondering about all kinds of "what if's". It takes us from the here and now and we begin to spiral towards panic. To break this spiral we have to tell ourselves to "stop". Stop dwelling on the fear, stop focusing on the "what if's". Choose to focus your mind on the here and now. You have control over what you think. We can't control the automatic thoughts that pop into our minds but each thought after that we can choose! Deep breathing can help you to refocus and regain control over your thoughts. Distracting yourself is another way to help get your thoughts out of the negative spiral and focused on the here and now. Inserting positive, rational, present-focused thoughts then helps to decrease the fear and anxiety. Anxiety can reap havoc on your life and relationships. You do not have to let anxiety control you. Choose to refocus your thoughts and stay mindful of the present moments. Individual counseling can help you identify further ways to decrease anxiety and take control of your thinking. Counseling can also help you understand the fears that trigger your anxiety and help you to learn how to manage them. You can learn to change your thinking which will change your feelings!

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!

Southwest Raleigh / Raleigh's Creative District

I'm proud to live, work and play in Southwest Raleigh, also known as Raleigh's Creative District. My husband and I have been following this blog for a while; my husband followed one of the bloggers before in another blog about our neighborhood. Keeping up with this blog is a great way to learn about things going on in the area, find new restaurants to try and keep up with super-local news. I am honored to be featured on the blog today! Check it out then stay and peruse the blog to see why I love Raleigh's Creative District and have chosen to live, work and play in Southwest Raleigh! Being a part of a community is important. I often talk to clients I'm counseling about social support, community and friendships. It's important to have healthy people around you that you can be honest with and derive support. This helps keeps us healthy and stable; it acts as a buffer between us and stress, crisis and trauma. I hope you have a solid community around you and if not, look around and see what steps you can take to become an active part of a healthy community. 

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!