Category: Stress reduction

Revisiting Habits, asking “How’s This Working For Me?”

A month ago I went cold turkey.

No online, paper, or radio news.

No social media.

No falling down the internet rabbit hole.

It wasn’t a particularly well-thought-out, planned-for decision. (Which defies everything we think we know about habit change – right? Conventional wisdom is that habits are easiest to change if we have a plan, have prepared, told significant others, have figured out alternatives, etc.)

But I had no plan. It was an impulsive decision, and I had prepared no one, including myself. I just knew that I felt attached at the hip to the news cycle, and wasn’t sure if it was serving me even though it’s easy to believe that we “should” be paying moment-to-moment attention. Life felt loud, like a bunch of clanging bells always ringing, shaking me out of my own thoughts and efforts. I felt attached at the hip to social media because of FOMO, but didn’t find myself happier or more connected as a result. (The research supports that anxiety and depression and isolation can actually increase because of internet usage!) I’m not morally opposed to the internet, and am grateful for the amazing things that happen on it and because of it. I hold no judgments of other people’s internet habits, but was finding that my own habits weren’t feeling particularly skillful. In other words: was it really worth the time and attention I was giving it?

Now, it’s been almost a month and I find that the impulse to open news and social media websites has mostly faded. Sometimes I find myself staring at my email, wanting there to be something entertaining and new there that somehow I missed, but then I realize – oh, I’m tired – or, oh, I’m not doing anything – and close the computer. Somehow, taking a sabbatical from most of my online world has reduced my stress and quieted the clanging.

I don’t miss the news. I hear from friends or family about what’s happening politically, and am concerned but also don’t miss the roller coaster ride. I’m finding other ways to be involved and engaged – reading more books (like The New Jim Crow and Mindful of Race), getting together more with colleagues, and listening to a series of Tara Brach’s lectures on Mindfulness and Psychotherapy. Somehow it seems like I’m experiencing more spaciousness as well – perhaps because I’m bombarding myself less with stimuli. I certainly don’t feel worse. If anything, I feel a bit healthier – a bit more here, in the present moment, with therapy clients and when I’m with family or alone.

My experience has reminded me that taking a step back to assess a part of our life – even a minute, mostly inconsequential part – can sometimes be useful. In the words of America’s favorite non-therapist therapist, Dr. Phil, “How’s that working for you?” He’s cheesy as hell, but it’s a great question.

 

Instead of Resolutions, Try Reflections: 12 Questions to Reorient for the Coming Year

Instead of Resolutions, Try Reflections: 12 Questions to Reorient for the Coming Year

I managed to carve out two hours last week to reflect on the year that’s almost past. It can be hard for me to think about goals or even intentions for the future without such reflection. And the truth is we learn best when we can think about what’s happened and what we might do differently next time. When I sat down and thought and wrote about these questions, I was able to clarify to myself how I got in my own way during 2017 (mostly by overcommitting) and imagine what I want more in the future. I’m sharing my reflection questions in case they may be useful prompts for you as well.

-What in my life would I happily get rid of if I could? 

-What in my life would I be happy to have more of?

-What external factors are holding me back?

-What internal factors are holding me back?

-Where do I feel most insecure professionally and personally?

-Where do I feel most confident professionally and personally?

-What were the big areas of learning and growth for me this year in terms of my personal life and work? 

-When I was fatigued, why?

-When I was energized, why?

-What goals were easiest and hardest to meet this past year – and why? 

-If I gave myself permission to dream big, what would I want for this next year or in general?

-What big areas of learning and growth do I want in the coming year, both personally and professionally? 

 

 

 

Teens and the Anxiety Epidemic

Teens and the Anxiety Epidemic

The New York Times Magazine cover story this past week was about teens and anxiety. Yay!

And it’s not that I’m a sicko who takes pleasure from other people’s suffering.

Rather, it’s nice to see attention focused on what’s been obvious in my office: that many teens — delightful, smart, precocious, thoughtful teens — are really struggling in profound ways. Self-harm is one way that this struggle shows up. A struggle to get to school is another big way this shows up. And it puts parents in a huge bind over what to do.

Here’s what I want you to know. Anxiety is terrible, and the impulse is to avoid anxiety by avoiding what makes us anxious. But as this article mentions, avoidance generally makes things worse. What helps? Looking at and re-writing thoughts, coping skills for calming the body and mind, and practice showing up for things that feel scary — like school.

 

Beyond Upset? 8 Small Things To Do Right Now

  1. First Things FirstFirst: Don’t make major life decisions in the middle of a crisis. If you’re feeling an impulse to make a big change right now, notice that impulse and then do yo
    ur best to sit on it for a few weeks.
  2. Undercommit. During times of challenge, you’re allowed to be a little flaky. I recommend sentences like “I’m a tentative yes for this” or “I’d like to, but I need to think about whether I can do this.”
  3. Limit your exposure to information you may find upsetting. Set a timer to remind you to stop compulsively reading whatever is making you panic. There will be plenty of time to read and learn later on. It’s not selfish to choose to opt out for a while.
  4. Get outside. Once there, move your body. Slowly is fine. Less slowly is also fine.
  5. Eat. At regular intervals. The best you can.
  6. Sleep. At regular intervals. The best you can.
  7. Find comfort. Take comfort. Give comfort. Cookies, TV, books, friends, and food are all good starts.
  8. Figure out a small way to use the power you have in a tangible way. That may mean doing something kind for someone else. That may mean volunteering. That may mean writing a letter to the editor. Be careful not to overextend yourself! Refer back to #2.
Are Technology and Peace At Odds?

Are Technology and Peace At Odds?

My meditation teacher sent me this article I Used To Be A Human Being and I’m passing it along to you today. It’s all about how to live in an age of constant distraction and, fittingly, it took me three days and three sittings to actually finish it because of the distractions that bombard me.

I’m sharing this article because its author, Andrew Sullivan, speaks to the wrestling that so many of us do figuring out how to live with technology in a way that serves us. It speaks to the ways that technology often keeps us hooked into distraction and compulsive online searching rather than the more important (and often more difficult and painful) internal searching to find and explore the core of ourselves and our purpose.

I hope this article is thought-provoking in all the right ways for you today.

Reconsidering The Cult of Productivity

imgresI work with a lot of therapy clients struggling to find their place in a culture that values productivity above almost everything else. These clients feel guilty when they aren’t maximizing their time. Lounging can be seen as sinful. There is a constant push for more and more and more efficiency. And while the constant pushing can lead to isolation and loneliness, they are not alone: in mainstream Western culture, we value doing more than being, action more than reflection, and self-improvement over self-acceptance.

There are lots of reasons for our culture’s focus on productivity. But in my office, there are two main reasons people stay so busy and driven:

  1. We fear slowing down. What happens when we spend time being quiet? It often means confronting parts of reality we’d rather push away. Many of us live with an inner critic, and that critic can be hard to tolerate at first when we spend time intentionally practicing reflection and self-acceptance.
  1. Our self-worth has become deeply linked to our productivity. If we only feel okay when we judge ourselves on our productivity, of course we don’t want to slow down. (When our self-worth is linked to productivity like this, it leaves us vulnerable to internal crises if we get sick or have a change in life roles at home or work.)

In counseling, I work with clients to help them recognize other options for self-worth that go beyond productivity. We build bridges to reconcile self-improvement and self-acceptance. We rediscover the pleasure of leisure time well spent – without the guilt.

 

 

 

 

Turning Off and Tuning In to Another Mass Shooting

black ribbonI found out the horrific mass shooting yesterday in Florida this morning, not because of the TV or the radio or the internet but because someone I happened to be with mentioned it.

Word of mouth is how I’ve learned almost all of my news for the past two months. It’s been part of an experiment that has involved purposely turning off and tuning out the barrage of news and infotainment that I had eagerly welcomed for so long.

Before these last two months, my radio was on constantly. I was constantly reloading the New York Times website. I could sound informed and knew a little bit about a lot.

But I was also getting numb to it all. Information overload can increase stress and make it hard to absorb anything at all. And so while it’s important to me to be engaged in the world beyond my nose and take action where I can, it’s also been important to see what happens when I turn everything off for awhile. If I’m not distracting myself with the news or really entertaining podcasts, where does my mind go? If I’m not hearing about everything that’s truly terrible in the world, what does that do for my ability to feel and act calm?

We need to notice the impact that news has on our spirits and sense of well-being. We need to try to be mindful as we figure out the right ways and times to be present with the world around us. That’s what I’m working on.

Please join me in adding your name to the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence’s petition for stronger gun control.

 

 

 

 

Reversing the Stress Response — New Relevant Research on Relaxation

CureThe research continues to come out that mindfulness meditation can be useful to calm us down and, over time, rewire the brain for more relaxation and less of a hair trigger toward anger and stress. I loved listening to this interview on the NPR show Fresh Air with science writer Jo Marchant. Marchant’s just published a book called “Cure” and the interview gets into the mind-body connection and connects it to meditation, placebos, virtual reality, and other fascinating topics.

So often we think that living with anxiety is “just the way I am” — but neuroscience is showing that the brain is capable of change throughout our lifetime. If you can get better at driving, cooking, or riding a bicycle, then you can get better at recognizing stress, combating it, and reversing anxiety and depression. My belief in mindfulness meditation – guided by personal experience and the research – is why I continue to offer it to clients as a crucial part of talk therapy.

Five Ways to Feel Better Right Now

I often tell new clients that I wish I could offer a magic pill that would completely take away anxiety, depression and suffering, even if that means I’d be out of a job I love. While there’s no quick cure-all for the challenges and messiness that come with being human, there are quick right-here-right-now ways to increase your sense of inner calm and stability no matter whThere ain't no magic pillat’s going on around you.

  1. Take a walk, ideally outside. More and more research is showing the benefits of physical activity for reducing stress – especially when you’re outside, not on a treadmill. This doesn’t need to be a long walk in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, or a fast walk in midtown, or the sort of walk you’d consider “exercise” and therefore never want to do again. Just a walk. Outside.
  1. Turn off the news. Studies show that lots of exposure to news – especially negative news – makes us feel more negative about ourselves and the world around us.
  1. Call someone who cares about you and have a real conversation. One big antidote to the isolation that comes with depression and anxiety is connection.
  1. Do something interesting that will get your mind off of, well, your mind. In other words, do something that’s not about you. This can be as simple as working on a crossword puzzle or listening to an interesting podcast (I recommend RadioLab, StartUp, and Intelligence Squared among others).
  1. Practice guided breathing for ten minutes. There’s massive amounts of research about how intentional breathing can reduce our reactivity and increase our sense of well-being.

Got a great tip? Feel free to email me about what relaxation techniques work best for you to feel happy and peaceful.