Friday, December 31, 2010

Celebrate 2010!

Today I was a guest blogger for Fit Blog (! I'll copy it here, but here is the link to the original article:

2010. What a year!
On December 31, 2009 I sat on the floor of my room feeling completely overwhelmed looking at the year ahead.
I felt that there were a number of incredibly painful situations I’d have to deal with, and yet sitting there, I had no idea what those would be! I also knew I’d experience great joy as I was scheduled to get my Master’s Degree!
This year has been filled with a lot of changes, pain, grieving, joys, and laughter, and sitting here, I’m fairly amazed I made it through. Not only did I survive the year, but I thrived and flourished through it.
This was a year where I made a commitment to be an active participant in my personal health and wellness. I was no longer going to be a victim of the actions of those around me, nor was I going to try to control the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of others.
I have countless reasons to celebrate and be thankful!
A friend of mine was brutally murdered, my grandpa died, and my dog died within the span of 4 months.
I was able to take what I had learned from previous losses and dealt with each of these situations in an emotionally healthy way. It certainly wasn’t easy, and I’m not saying that the pain and tears didn’t exist, but I was able to grow through these experiences.
I was the first person in my master’s program to implement and complete a thesis! I developed a wellness group and implemented it with college-aged students. Not only did I find an area of counselling that I am passionate about, but I was able to apply these ideas of wellness to myself as well. I had the opportunity to grow and become an even healthier individual through doing my thesis!
This year, I graduated with my master’s in Clinical Mental Health and Addictions Counselling this year. I learned a lot in my master’s program; not just about counselling itself, but about myself and the world around me as well. The lessons I learned through this will always be a critical part of who I am.
After graduation, I landed one of my dream jobs! Each day getting to go to a university and counsel college students! I absolutely love it, and there is a rare day where I feel that I “have to go to work” and don’t enjoy it. I so enjoy getting to sit with people amidst their pain and walk with them through their journey for a short time. I love getting to watch people make changes and make strides towards health in their life!
I started working out again! Because of some joint issues I have, it’s much easier and less painful for me to sit on the couch than to get moving. But I figured, I could go on brisk walks with friends and get an excellent work out! I was up to walking 7.5 miles in a given day before winter.
Funny thing is-as I started moving more, my eating started to naturally become a bit healthier as well!
Although I first started learning about boundaries back in 2005, this was a year to really solidify how they look and play out in my life. It’s amazing to me how much less stressful and more joyful life is without trying to control the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of those around me.
These are just a few of the big events of this year for me; there is more pain and much more joy and laughter than I would list here. But as I look back over the year, it’s been a very good one full of lots of life lessons.
We are each in a process of growing and becoming-becoming more the people we were created to be, and becoming healthier individuals.
And yes, I am a much healthier person this December then I was at the end of December last year.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A healthy and happy Christmas

Well, Christmas has come and gone now. I must admit, I was fairly apprehensive about the day leading up to it. My family is incredibly into traditions, so we've done Christmas pretty much the exact same way for the last 2 decades. However, due to a set of very unfortunate circumstances, we were not able to celebrate Christmas the way we normally do. As a counselor, I understand that mentally the way to deal with this is to initiate some positive thinking, and challenge the cognitive distortions that I so quickly say to myself (This will be a miserable Christmas, there's no way we can have fun, it's terrible, etc...). We each easily distort reality, which makes things far worse and miserable for ourselves. So, I started telling myself I would have a good Christmas. It was unfortunate that we couldn't celebrate the way we normally do, but it can still be fun. And guess what?
I HAD A WONDERFUL CHRISTMAS! It was an absolutely wonderful day. We stayed in our pjs until dinner, opened gifts really slowly, enjoying the time we had as a family. The Christmas lights, snow outside, and the fire roaring in the fireplace created a beautiful ambiance, and the day was filled with laughter and joking. Had I not challenged those cognitive distortions, the day would not have been nearly as fun. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the day. I still wish that the set of circumstances had not occurred, but I'm thankful for the wonderful day with family that I had. And I have to say, because I was so aware of my thoughts, I think this was the most healthy Christmas I've ever had!

 I hope that each of you, my readers, had a wonderful day with your family and friends. Remember to fight those cognitive distortions that can so easily take over and put us in a grouchy mood:) Merry Christmas.
 I love Christmas lights at night-SO beautiful

Santa always "drops a present from his sleigh" leaving our house:) The youngest child is required to go get it:)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Laughter IS the best medicine...

The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.  ~e.e. cummings

Laughter is an instant vacation.  ~Milton Berle
Perhaps I know best why it is man alone who laughs; he alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter.  ~Friedrich Nietzsche

I grew up laughing. I probably remember laughing more then I actually did as a young child, but in my memory I remember spending a lot of time laughing and joking about things. As I grew up with my brothers, and went to college, my laughter became more and more of a staple in life, and I intentionally tried to incorporate it into daily living. I must confess, sometimes my laughter is not all that appropriate, and i don't always have control of when it comes out (I often use it as a defense mechanism of sorts). However, I'm so very glad that we, as humans, can have a sense of humor.

So, as you might imagine, when I found out that "sense of humor" was one of the 17 components of wellness in Myers, Sweeney, & Witmer's Wheel of Wellness Model, I was quite pleased. They describe a sense of humor as: "Ability to laugh appropriately at oneself, ability to laugh appropriately at others, having the capacity to see contradictions and predicaments of life in an objective manner such that one can gain new perspectives, ability to use humor to cope with one’s own difficulties, enjoying inconsistencies and idiosyncrasies of life" (from Counseling for Wellness). 
I think sometimes we can take our situations in life too seriously, and we feel that it is inappropriate to joke about it. Of course things need to be done in an appropriate matter, but we should be laughing more then we do in life. Notice that they say laughing APPROPRIATELY at others (not inappropriately making fun of them!!). 

When I was in grad school, I got stressed very easily, especially during my first semester counseling. In order to help with this, I decided to create a "Laughter" folder on my computer to bookmark websites that I knew would make me laugh. At the end of a day, I could spend 10 minutes looking at sites that I knew would make me laugh, and this decreased my stress tremendously. Below I've included a few things that are guaranteed to make me laugh in life:

6. Any of your favorite comic strips
7. TV Shows: Friends, The Office, 30 Rock
8. Conversations with my brothers or friends

So, i try to bring as much laughter into my day as I possibly can, because I believe that laughter is good for the soul, and can greatly improve our mental health. 
What do you do to increase your sense of humor? Tweet me or leave a comment if you have any other great sites to check out:) Happy laughing! 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

An introduction to the concept of wellness

Over the last two years I've become increasingly interested in the ideas of health & wellness, and how these  sorts of issues play out both in the counseling session, as well as the general lives of the clients that I see. Over the last two years, I've tried as best as possible to implement elements of wellness into my life, not only to help me to be the healthiest person that I can be, but also so I can in turn help my clients implement components of wellness into their lives as well. Wellness is something that I am completely passionate about, and believe deeply in the importance of incorporating it into daily life.

Historically, wellness was predominantly viewed as the absence of identified pathology.  Thus, the absence of an anxiety disorder, depression, or eating disorder was equated with health (Hattie, Myers, & Sweeney, 2004). However, neutrality does not equal health (Keyes, 2007). Instead, the enlarging concept of “health” suggests that it is the presence of positive components in life that leads to wellness and mental health (Roscoe, 2009). These positive components are not necessarily an automatic feature of daily life, and therefore must be intentionally incorporated.  Many of these components require continual attention and focus (e.g. nutrition, physical exercise, or friendship relationships), as wellness levels change throughout the lifespan, depending on specific circumstances and environment. Furthermore, both active and passive wellness choices in early stages of development (such as among undergraduate students), may affect overall wellness later in life such as at age sixty and seventy (Myers, Sweeney, & Witmer, 2000).

It's important to remember that wellness isn't JUST physical health or emotional health, but it is a number of characteristics or components combining together that creates wellness. And each of these components need to be attended to on a regular basis to ensure that health and wellness exist. I hope to incorporate health & wellness concepts throughout this blog, and I figured that now is a good time to begin writing, as people usually start to develop new years resolutions. Examine the various areas of your life, and see what areas of strength are, and what are the areas of improvement in the different components of wellness in your life! 

Hattie, J.A., Myers, J.E., & Sweeney, T.J. (2004). A factor structure of wellness: Theory, assessment, analysis and practice. Journal of Counseling and Development, 82, 354-364.
Keyes, C.L.M. (2007). Promoting and protecting mental health as flourishing: A complementary strategy for improving national mental health. American Psychologist, 62, 95-108.
Myers, J.E., Sweeney, T.J., & Witmer, M. (2000). The wheel of wellness counseling for wellness: A holistic model for treatment planning. Journal of Counseling & Development, 78, 251-266.
Roscoe, L.J. (2009). Wellness: A review of theory and measurement for counselors. Journal of Counseling & Development, 87, 216-226. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tips for Surviving the Holidays with Family

I'm now at my parent's house for Christmas. I've been having a lot of fun, doing pilates, going on walks, and staying up late with my brothers watching TV with the fire burning and Christmas lights on above us. It's really wonderful. However, holidays can also bring a lot of stress with them. Because I work with college students, I get to hear both the joy and the fear or saddness that comes with spending time with family. I feel bad for those that walk into difficult family situations filled with yelling, verbal cut downs, or abuse. That's not what any of us need on our breaks from work or school. However, we sometimes can feel that we can't avoid our families over breaks. The best thing we can do is develop a number of strategies to keep ourselves safe and healthy.
Following are a few suggestions to keep yourself sane and healthy around your family:

1. Develop & maintain healthy boundaries: (See previous posts for information on boundaries) Remember that you can only control your own thoughts, feelings, & behaviors. And you are not responsible for those of others. So make sure to not take on the guilt that family members can try to make you feel.
2. Spend some time laughing each day: Laughter is a wonderful medicine for our souls! Find websites, comics, jokes, or tell funny stories around the table.
3. It's OK to take a breather: Sometimes family tensions can run high, and fights can escalate very quickly. When tensions are running high, it's ok to leave the run and do some deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or yoga to bring your stress and blood pressure down. You'll have a better time if you do that instead of engaging in stupid fights.
4. Have an Out: There's nothing that REQUIRES you to stay in the house with your family 24/7. Find a local bookstore, coffee shop, or a friend's house and take some time alone!
5. Keep a Thankfulness Journal: Sometimes it can seem like everything is going poorly/is stressful/parents nagging/can't ever make anyone happy. Focus on what's good and what's positive in your life, and your mood will increase!
6. Exercise! Exercise helps to decrease stress and increase your mood. Even if it's chilly out, go outside and take a brisk walk while looking at Christmas lights! If it's too cold, check out and do their 2 walking videos! That will give you 2 miles in about 25 minutes!
7. Remember that it won't last forever You can survive anything for a short amount of time, right?
8. Find common areas of interest, or something you know will keep conversation light: It might be fun to debate religion or politics with family members, but if it leaves people slamming doors or not talking the rest of the night, it may be better to keep conversation light to decrease overall stress in the house.
9. Remember that you can always say NO. You are not required to do everything that everyone else wants to do. You have the right to take care of yourself too. Just remember to work on compromises:)
10. Limit your alcohol. It might make you feel better in the moment, but if you drink too much, you won't be pleasant or enjoy the next morning! Plus, when drinking, it's easy to say or do things that are hurtful to others. Use in moderation.

Of course, these are only a few suggestions, but they have helped me enjoy my days with my family, both immediate and extended, throughout many holidays. Have more ideas? Leave them as a comment or tweet them to me!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Laws of Boundaries Part 2

 “Anger is only a feeling inside the other person. It cannot jump across the room and hurt you. It cannot ‘get inside’ you unless you allow it” (p. 242).

In my last post, I summarized the first 5 laws of Boundaries. (Remember-You are responsible for your own THOUGHTS, FEELINGS, & ACTIONS. No one else's. And no one else can control yours). Following is a summary of the last 5 laws of Boundaries (Taken from Cloud & Townsend's book Boundaries)
6.     The Law of Evaluation: “You need to evaluate the effect of setting boundaries and be responsible to the other person, but that does not mean you should avoid setting boundaries because someone responds with hurt or ager. To have boundaries is to live a purposeful life” (Cloud & Townsend, p. 94).  
7.    The Law of Proactivity: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. When people have been complying and not keeping healthy boundaries, their pent-up anger or frustration can quickly explode. Reaction phase is necessary (not sufficient) for boundary establishment. Reaction allows a person to find their own boundaries, but one cannot stay in reaction phase forever. Reaction leads to proactive boundaries. “Proactive people show you what they love, what they want, what they purpose, and what they stand for” (Cloud & Townsend, p. 96). Proactive people can love others as they love themselves, without feeling resentful or stressed. There is a mutual respect in these relationships.
8.     The Law of Envy: Envy keeps us dissatisfied, and makes it easier to tear others down. We cannot truly love others while being envious of them. Envy focuses us outside of our boundaries instead of our own responsibilities.
9.    The Law of Activity: We are supposed to be active, not passive, and should possess initiative. Boundary problems occur when a person is passive, when they fail to try.
10.     The Law of Exposure: This law “says that your boundaries need to be made visible to others and communicated to them in relationship” (Cloud & Townsend, p. 100).  We try to secretly hold boundaries instead of giving a firm “yes” or “no” in situations because we fear exposing the boundary and losing love from another. 

We're coming up to a time where we often get together with Family & loved ones. Although this can be a wonderful time, it can also be painful, filled with many strained family relationships. Remember, you are in charge of what you do, so be an active participant in it! Remind yourself over and over what you have control of, and set healthy boundaries with those you love.
Happy Boundary Setting!! 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Laws of Boundaries

“You only have the power to change yourself. You can’t change another person”
Ok-going back to boundaries (previous posts on boundaries: basics, active process, burnout-1, and burnout-2). So each of us are responsible for our own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Not those of others. There are 10 Laws of Boundaries that I'll talk about-split into 2 posts. (this is from Cloud & Townsend's book called Boundaries)

1.     The Law of Sowing & Reaping: When we try to take responsibility from others, we try to cover up their mistakes or save them from pain. Someone else besides the “doer” is experiencing the consequences. Someone who continually rescues another is a codependent. The codependent “co-signs the note of life for the irresponsible person.” Healthy boundaries “force the person who is doing the sowing to also do the reaping” (p. 85).

2.     The Law of Responsibility: We are to LOVE one another, not BE one another. We can’t grow or change for another person-they must do the work themselves. This is truly loving to another person. When we take responsibility from them, we don’t give them a chance to learn to stand on their own two feet, grow, or learn for themselves.

3.     The Law of Power: You may not have the power to break addictions or unhealthy patterns on your own, but you have the power to seek out others who can help us, we have the power to accept advice, and we have the power to practice implementing new patterns. You may not have the power to change others, but you do have the power to influence others & exhibit healthy behaviors.

4.     The Law of Respect: In setting boundaries, one fear is that others won’t respect our boundaries, or that people will walk away from the relationship. However, even if we don’t understand or agree with the boundaries of others, we need to respect others (do unto others what you would have them do to you= If I wish for my boundaries to be respected then I need to respect the boundaries of others).  If we can learn to accept other’s choices, we can let go of a lot of fear, guilt, or anxiety.

5.     The Law of Motivation: There are false motives for helping others (or taking responsibility for their loads): Fear of loss of love or abandonment, fear of others’ anger, fear of loneliness, fear of losing the “good me” inside, guilt, payback (feel burden to pay for all that you’ve been given), approval, & over identification with the other’s loss. “We were called into freedom, and this freedom results in gratitude, an overflowing heart, and love for others” (Cloud & Townsend, p. 92).  This law operates under the freedom first, service second. What’s service when it’s done out of fear or obligation?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Nature Deficit Disorder & The Beauty of Outdoors

The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is
     to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone
     with the heavens, nature and God.

Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and
     that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple
     beauty of nature.  I firmly believe that nature brings solace
     in all troubles. 
                                                                                 - Anne Frank 

It is agreed upon that contact with nature increases mental health and psychological benefits. Nature is SO healthy to be in, yet in our culture today, we often spend very little time in it. We get up, get ready and go to work or school, participate in other activities, clean, do homework, pay bills, go to bed, and do it again. There are days I get so busy that I can forget to even look at the scenery as I drive past it. This isn't healthy. When I was growing up I was expected to spend most of my summers outside playing, making up games, and being creative. Not only is nature psychologically health and can lead to a decrease in stress, but it allows children to engage in imaginary play, and helps them to develop creativity. Now days, children are lacking this.

The psychological community is now beginning to recognize the extreme importance of spending time outside. here's a link to a youtube clip we watched in class the other day. It sheds some good insight onto this issue:
Here's another link to an article. Go educate yourself:)

Please, go outside sometime during the next week. Breathe in the cool winter air, enjoy the wind in the trees, the forest, beaches, lakes...wherever you live. Go out and enjoy it! Look at the Christmas lights:) And enjoy the physical and psychological benefits of it.

Here's some of the beauty I've seen as I've tried to intentionally focus on what's around me:
 Outside the building I work at

 View from my balcony each morning

 Sunset on my drive home from work

Not quite outside. But it was a Christmas Tree, so it sort of counts! 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Boundaries & Burnout Pt 2

So this is part two of my discussion on boundaries & burnout. To summarize. Having healthy boundaries means that we are responsible for our own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Others aren't responsible for us, and we aren't responsible for those of others around us. When we don't have healthy boundaries, that can lead to stress or burnout (see yesterday's post on signs & symptoms of burnout).

Increasing your health & wellness, refining your self-care techniques, and creating coping skills for stress or anger are crucial for protecting yourself against burnout (along with strengthening your personal boundaries).
So here are some suggestions for prevention:
1. Do a Wellness Analysis on Yourself: Evaluate each area of wellness in your life. What are your strengths for that area? What are areas of improvement? What is something you can do to increase wellness in that area?
2. Develop Mindfulness About What Your Body Is Telling You: When we get so busy or anxious, it's easy to not pay attention to our bodies. Take time to evaluate how you're really feeling. Are you constantly tired? Frustrated? Angry? Take time to figure out what's causing this, and then deal with that!
3. Learn to Set Healthy Boundaries: Remember what is You (thoughts, feelings, and actions), and what is others-basically, know what things fall under your responsibility, and what falls under the responsibility of others. Learn to say NO so you don't overextend yourself!
4. Develop Your Coping Skills: Whether it's deep breathing (see post on Nov 8, 2010 for details!), yoga, Pilates, another form of exercise, positive self-talk, or another coping skill, develop and USE them on a daily basis to keep yourself healthy!
5. Strengthen Your Social Support Network: Make sure you aren't just pouring into others. You need to have two way relationships where people can also pour into you! Spend time and be open with your friends:)
6. Create a Mission Statement For Your Life: Your mission statement can remind you of your goals and dreams. When things seem overwhelming or out of control, go back to this. What about starting each morning by reading your mission statement?
7. Educate Yourself! Know the signs & symptoms of burnout, and check yourself often!

Of course I could list more, but I think this is a good start:) Remember-health is an ACTIVE choice! It doesn't happen naturally. I know that sometimes the effort doesn't seem like it in the moment, but long-term it makes life SO much easier!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Boundaries & Burnout

Ok. Boundaries (see previous posts here and here). We're each in charge of our own thoughts, our own feelings, and our own actions. Having healthy and appropriate boundaries can help us keep balance in our lives, and can help prevent us from getting burned out in our life, our relationship, or our careers.
As counselors (or other people who fall into the helping professions), burnout is a very real threat. However, this can hit each of us. Unless we watch out for it, it can creep up on us without us realizing what's happening. That's why education & awareness is so crucial!
We hear the word "burnout" often, but we often struggle to gain a firm idea of what is actually is, and how this changes us.

Burnout is a “psychological syndrome” characterized by “emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced feelings of personal accomplishment, typically attributed to work environment or job choice” (Bakker, Van Der Zee, Lewig, & Dollard, 2006; Venart, 2008). Basically, you're worn out and exhausted. 
Below is a list of causes (
Work-related causes of burnout
Feeling like you have little or no control over your work.  
Lack of recognition or rewards for good work.
Unclear or overly demanding job expectations.
Doing work that’s monotonous or unchallenging.
Working in a chaotic or high-pressure environment
Lifestyle causes of burnout
Working too much, without enough time for relaxing and socializing
Being expected to be too many things to too many people.
Taking on too many responsibilities, without enough help from others
Not getting enough sleep
Lack of close, supportive relationships
Personality traits can contribute to burnout
Perfectionistic tendencies; nothing is ever good enough
Pessimistic view of yourself and the world
The need to be in control; reluctance to delegate to others
High-achieving, Type A personality

And here are some Signs & Symptoms:

Physical signs and symptoms of burnout
·      Feeling tired & drained most of the time
·      Lowered immunity, feeling sick a lot
·      Frequent headaches, back pain, muscle aches
·      Change in appetite or sleep habits
Emotional signs and symptoms of burnout
·      Sense of failure & self-doubt
·      Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated
·      Detachment, feeling alone in the world
·      Loss of motivation
·      Increasingly cynically and negative outlook
·      Decreased satisfaction & sense of accomplishment
Behavioral signs and symptoms of burnout
·      Withdrawing from responsibilities
·      Isolating yourself from others
·      Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done
·      Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope
·      Taking out your frustrations on others
·      Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early

See how having boundaries will help prevent burnout? Boundaries help to guard us from the outside world, help us say yes to the good, and no to the bad. It tells us what falls under our responsibility, and what isn't our responsibility. 

Evaluate yourself and see if you are, or are becoming, a burned out person. Tomorrow we'll discuss prevention:)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Boundaries & Health as an Active Process

Did anyone have time to process the info from yesterday on boundaries? It's not something that usually happens automatically. It takes work & effort, especially because we often don't have a great model of boundaries in our life. Remember: We are each in charge of our OWN thoughts, feelings, & behaviors. That is all. We create problems, frustrations, guilt, anger, & stress when we violate this.

This takes work to ACTIVELY practice. Which brings me to a bigger point, and one lesson that I feel like I've had to learn and witness throughout the last two years. HEALTH & WELLNESS is a very active process. To sit by passively and expect it to happen naturally will lead to a lack of health & wellness. In college I thought that working out would "just happen." Let's just say, I suddenly realized a year later that I hadn't stepped foot inside the gym.  It takes active work. Just like setting healthy boundaries does.

We often like to make our thoughts, feelings, or actions (and thus-our overall health, wellness, or happiness) controllable by external situations-we like others to take responsibility for them. But the point is, they are OUR responsibility, and we cannot be healthy until we actively set good boundaries and choose to become an active participant in our life.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Boundaries Basics

Ok, so I'm thinking that this will be a series of posts, as I believe this topic is crucial to living a truly healthy life. A little history:
As a young child, even leading up through high school, I sort of believed it was my responsibility to make the family run in a "healthy" way. I jumped into the middle of my parents fights to help smooth things out (or shut the fight down), and I tried to take responsibility for things my siblings did to divert attention from them to me. I figured, if I could take the punishment or pain, that would help everyone else feel better, and let the family run smoothly. Not only did this frustrate my parents, but it lead to me getting into a lot of arguments, & I felt angry & frustrated a lot of the time. The answer to my problems? BOUNDARIES.

What's a boundary?  
“Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership” (Cloud & Townsend, p. 29).
Boundaries are like invisible property lines (or invisible fences) that help us to distinguish what is our property (and what we’re responsible for), and what others are responsible for.  

So, that makes sense, right? Ok, let's take it one step further:
*We are responsible for our own feelings, attitudes & beliefs, & behaviors! We cannot take responsibility for others in these areas, and we cannot push these off on to other people. We are responsible for our own, and no one else’s.

*We also run into problems when we try to disown the choices we’ve made in life.  No matter how we feel, we must understand that we control our choices. We may not get to choose what happens to us, but we can always choose our reactions.

So I would like you all to process that-how do you try to get others to take responsibility for our thoughts, feelings, or behaviors? How do you try to take control of others' responsibilities? 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day

I've always loved the Christmas season, and look forward anxiously to its arrival. And, although i know this bothers many people, I start listening to Christmas Music on November 1st, because 1 month is simply not long enough to enjoy all the music I love. One of my new favorite Christmas songs is I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. Although I grew up singing this song, I never really liked it and felt no connection to the song until I learned the story behind the song (isn't is true that things aren't nearly as meaningful until we understand the story behind what we can see?).

The words to the song were penned by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a well known American poet from the 1800's. In the early 1860s, Longfellow's wife's dress caught on fire, and she went up in flames. Longfellow tried to put the fire out with a small rug, but the fire was too large. He then proceeded to put the fire out using his own body. His wife died the next morning, and he was so badly burned that he couldn't attend her funeral. The beard that is typical in pictures of Longfellow is there because he could no longer shave because his face was so disfigured. This was also the time of the Civil War, and Longfellow's son had been badly wounded in battle. After these challenging few years, Longfellow was in a devastated state ("inwardly bleeding to death"), and felt that there was no peace or joy left, and all he could do was hang his head in despair. But then he walked outside on Christmas morning, I heard the bells ringing... and wrote this song (see link below to listen).

Understanding the story behind the words, I'm deeply moved by this song. As a counselor, I don't like to see people in pain, and at the same time, I know that from a state of pain there can come great growth and resilience. So, in some ways, I like to see the pain, because I know that we can work from there.

Songs can deeply move us, motivate us, and touch us in ways that a conversation can't.
If that doesn't work, you can click here to listen to the song!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Warming up with a glass of tea

Now that December has arrived, the temperature has dropped, and the desire to cuddle under a warm blanket has increased. One way to stay warm-drink a cup of a warm liquid (water, tea, etc...). Beyond just making you feel warmer, however, researchers have discovered that the warmth of a drink can help increase a person's mood. Translation-you will generally feel happier and more peaceful after consuming a warm drink! Another benefit? People are more likely to complete a random act of kindness (even for strangers!) after drinking something that was warm.

I specifically love tea. Sometimes I can get incredibly sick of drinking water (yes-sometimes I just drink hot water), and like a little flavor. Furthermore, tea contains antioxidants, which are particularly healthy for us. Research is currently being done to determine what the tea-anticancer connection is (although there's already been some evidence that tea helps to decrease risk of cancer). The process of holding a warm drink, and soothing yourself, is deeply calming and stress relieving, which provides great health benefits as well. 

I'm by no means an expert in tea, but I became a big tea drinker once I started counseling. Most people are a bit fidgety, and as a counselor, I sit in a chair all day and listen to others talk, and occasionally speak myself. This is the perfect time for me to fidget. But who wants to go to a counselor who's chewing their nails or picking at their skin on their hands? So I hold a glass of tea or hot water. Not only do I feel more pleasant, and am hydrating myself, but it gives me something to keep my hands busy!

Above are a few pictures from my own little tea nook in my kitchen. 

Check out this link for more info on health & tea:

So, this winter, think about drinking tea as a benefit for your overall mood!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A reflection of a week of Family, Food, and Being Thankful...

Well, another Thanksgiving has come and gone, and we have now entered into the crazy Christmas season. This week was really wonderful. With family it's always a tricky balance in deciding when to stand up for yourself (and now allow yourself to be a doormat!) and removing yourself from situations which will quickly disintegrate. I definitely got to practice this balance this weekend, and feel like I did a pretty good job balancing and maintaining the boundaries I have set. The time that I spent with some of my family members was incredibly precious to me, as I know time with them is very short.
I've been reflecting a lot on how different my life is now compared to last Thanksgiving. This year certainly had twists and turns and pain that I couldn't even imagine as I stuffed my face with Turkey last year. However, this year had lots of joy, laughter, traveling, and accomplishment that I will always remember. So, I guess when it comes down to it, I'm overwhelming thankful that I could stand with family and friends and survive the year, through the ups and downs, and still be able to laugh and love. Humans are surprisingly resilient, and I'm very thankful for this.

So now, the transition into parties, snacking, stress, planning, and celebrations is upon us. Instead of waiting until January 1st to "Start Over" or set healthy goals, why not start right now? The month of December doesn't have to be a waste in regards to your health. So why not take a few moments to reflect on your life and set a few small goals for the month to help you maintain health. (see my previous post for setting healthy goals that you will be successful in meeting!) Some possible categories: Stress, Organization, Food, Working Out, or Relationships. Let me know how you're taking control of your health during the holidays!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How to Write Goals for Successful Behavior Change

SMART is an acronym used to describe how to write goals in a way to create the highest likelihood that you’ll be able to meet your desired goals.  Goals like “I’m going to work out” or “eat better” or “sleep more” are very difficult to achieve. What does better mean? How do you know when better or more is achieved?  That’s why we need  SMART goals!

Specific: This answers the question who, what, and why of the behavior change. What do you want to accomplish by

Measureable: How will you measure your change in behavior? Include criteria for measuring the progress that you’re making.

Attainable: It’s fine to challenge yourself, but if your goal is outrageous, then you won’t achieve it. The more you experience success, the more motivated you will stay. If you can’t achieve your goal, then you need to re-write it.

Realistic: Is your goal do-able? Again, stretch yourself and write goals that take some effort to achieve, but not so much effort that you give up and fail.

Time-Oriented: What’s the time frame for your goal? Commitment to a set time allows you to work toward something specific.  Will you complete your goal at each meal, by the end of the month, or by the end of the year?

Other tips for setting and achieving your goals:

1.     Get others on board! Whether they are just supporting you or working towards the same goal, having others to keep you accountable and encourage you are crucial to success!
2.     Put your goals in a place you’ll see them every day (kitchen, bathroom mirror, etc…)
3.     Evaluate your goals and progress on a frequent basis!
4.     Come up with a way to reinforce your progress or goal attainment.
5.     Engage in positive self-talk!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Deep Breathing for a Healthy Life!

No matter what my clients are coming in for, I teach almost all of them the art of deep breathing. What...being taught how to breathe? I know, it sounds stupid. We've all been breathing longer then almost anything else we've done in life. However, very few of us breathe properly. I always say that this is one of the most healthy things you can do for yourself in the shortest amount of time. Throughout our daily lives we all experience stress. By using the deep breathing technique, we evoke a relaxation response within us, reducing tension, the level of stress hormones in our body, and increasing oxygen throughout our body.

So, here's how to do it.Find a quiet, non-stressful environment. Sit up straight, but relaxed. Close your eyes and place a hand on your stomach and a hand on your chest.
Normally when you breathe your shoulders move up and down. THIS IS INCORRECT. Your stomach should move in and out if you are breathing properly. As you breathe in slowly through your nose, your stomach should push out, as you exhale, your stomach should go back in (toward the direction of your backbone). Your hand should move out as you breathe in, and in as you breathe out. Breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth. Do each for a count of 8-10 seconds.
Remember in elementary school when you were learning basic addition, multiplication, etc... and you had to do those awful time tests? By doing them over and over again, it became so natural that most of us don't even need to think when adding 2+3 or 5+5 now. That's what practicing the art of deep breathing is. We need to practice it each day for it to become natural so we can use it in times of stress.
This is something you can do while sitting in class, in a meeting, at work, or when frustrated at your significant other, parents, or children.
Like I said, this is one of the most important things you could do for your health! And remember, in life we don't always get to choose what happens to us. We WILL encounter stress. But when we encounter those times, we get to choose how we respond, and deep breathing is a great way to choose a positive way to respond! 
Try setting a short among of time each day (5 minutes or so), or twice a day, to practice deep breathing. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Thankfulness Project

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.
-- Epictetus

If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.
-- Rabbi Harold Kushner 

November is now upon us, and Thanksgiving Day is rapidly coming. On Thanksgiving, everyone in my family writes down two things that we're thankful for from the past year. Then, after we finish dinner, we pass the pieces of paper around and grab two of them. We then read the two items and try to guess who wrote it. It's a fun game to play while we focus on the blessings that we've had this past year. However, I always get the feeling that thankfulness should be much bigger then just one day a year. 

Focusing on your blessings and being thankful in life has been proven to increase mood and decrease stress . In a blog by CNN, they summarize findings from thankfulness research the following way: "Doctors say giving thanks, taking the time to notice positive things in your life is not only good for your psyche but it's good for your body. University of California at Davis researchers found that practicing gratitude can lower your blood pressure and make you feel less hostile. Grateful people are less angry, less negative and usually look for the cup half full. Studies by Cornell University researchers have shown that those who are thankful appear to have lower risks of developing phobias, alcoholism, even depression. They even have stronger immune systems" ( Sounds pretty great, right? Something so "simple" and not time consuming at all can do wonders to help you shift to a positive outlook on life, which leads to numerous health benefits. 

So, that being said, we should ask the question "So now what?" That's why I love the idea of the Thankfulness Project. Basically, all you do is come up with 5 things you're thankful for every day and write them down. This can be done on facebook, twitter, or in your own personal journal. Not only does it force you to think of positive aspects of life in the moment, but when you're feeling down and negative, you can easily go back and read a list of positive things in life. The next time you're tempted to complain about something in life, why don't you try listing a few things you're thankful for first?

Here's an example from my life: Today I'm thankful for:
*An extra hour to sleep due to Daylight Savings Time :)
*A warm place to sleep when it's cold outside
*Being able to spend last night with a group of friends
*Apple Cider-I love fall foods!
*The fact that no matter what's going on, there will always be the sunrise the next day

So, will you join me in focusing on blessings and having a thankful heart? If you're on twitter, write #ThankfulnessProject next to your list:) Good luck, and enjoy focusing on your blessings!