Creativity in Life

The word “creativity” may make you think of artsy types, ready to craft a mask, whip up a painting, play an instrument, or pen a novel. And it is, in part, but it’s also about coming up with something new. In this case, let’s consider creative new ways to communicate, to stay connected, to motivate employees to stay engaged and do their best work even while working from home, and also, to entertain ourselves and find some joy in even the most trying of times. And, for those of you who would like to stretch yourself in the traditionally creative sense, keep reading, I have a few ideas for you too.

“Necessity is the mother of invention”-English proverb. We have found this to be true during trying times in our history which turned up products that changed lives. Take a look at the list of things we may never have had without tough times that caused someone to think outside the box.

  • Toll House Cookies: Ruth Graves Wakefield accidentally created the recipe while baking for her guests as the owner of the Toll House Inn. During the great depression, running out of baker’s chocolate, Wakefield settled for cutting a chocolate bar into pieces assuming the chocolate would melt. Instead, it hardened into tiny chips and became the first chocolate chip cookie. Families in the area of the Inn sent the cookies to their soldiers overseas who then shared them amongst the troops and began writing home begging for more–they became a global phenomenon. She eventually gave the recipe to Nestle, who compensated her with the only thing better than money: a lifetime supply of free chocolate.
  • Basketball: The game was invented in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith, a sports coach, but for the first three years, it was actually played with a soccer ball. Then in the midst of a recession, Naismith encouraged A.G. Spalding to create a ball specifically designed for the new game. With few changes, this is the same Spalding ball you see on the courts today.
  • M&M’s: “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.” During the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, Forrest Mars, Sr. (of the Mars Company) saw British soldiers eating pellets of chocolate coated in a hard candy shell. The shell kept the chocolate from melting in the soldiers’ hands. Mars patented the product and started producing M&M’s, exclusively selling to the military in World War II.
  • Pilates: Physical trainer Joseph Pilates conceived the idea of the workout known for core strengthening, flexibility, and balance while a prisoner of war in an internment camp during WWI. He honed his method of “contrology” on fellow inmates, aiding in the rehab of injured veterans. After the war, Joseph Pilates immigrated to the US and collaborated with dance and exercise experts to nail down the system we know simply as “Pilates.”
  • Meetup: New Yorker Scott Heiferman was in his apartment on September 11, 2001, when two planes crashed into the World Trade Center. In the aftermath, he found himself surrounded by neighbors he’d never even met. Following the tragedy, Heiferman observed the desire for community and that led to the creation of social networking site Meetup, where users can meet like-minded individuals in their area and make plans for face to face meetups.

And today there are already examples of crafty new products, businesses pivoting to meet new demand, and new uses of existing products. I’ve seen several ads for keychains that look similar to bottle openers but have been designed to open doors, press elevator buttons, and other tasks acting as a stand-in for fingers on high touch surfaces. In other countries there have been 3D printed handles attached to refrigeration doors in grocery stores that can be opened using a forearm rather than a hand. And businesses, even locally, that were previously in the space of building cabinetry that have now taken up crafting acrylic barriers for public spaces in an effort to meet the new demands of safety for businesses. School shop classes and computer labs have in some areas started implementing use of their equipment to create face shields. Shortly after the virus struck and stay-at-home orders were issued, restaurants were finding ways to create online bodega offerings by continuing to buy from their suppliers in bulk and then make household sized quantities of products available in a market that was difficult to find many products. And this next story I hear about our teens… While it may not be one of productivity, these kids are inspiring to me because this ingenuity is exactly what we need in our future generations. There was an article written about a year ago titled, “The Hottest Chat App for Teens Is… Google Docs” which describes that our teens are creating google docs, sharing them with friends—often as they sit in class—and due to the nature of Google Docs ability to see live updates by any of the document holders, are chatting with their friends much the way our older generations used to with passed folded notes.

Stories like these are inspiring to me, I love to watch the way people come together in support during times like these that are so difficult in so many ways. And to see that some businesses are able to find new ways to bring in revenue at a time many financial forecasts have flattened, it’s inspiring and has me hoping that others are looking for ways to do so themselves. I’ve also read that groups of co-workers who are now forced to work from home but are single, and thus, feeling very alone, have begun creating Zoom calls every morning with their colleagues so they can virtually sit side by side and do their jobs—and not feel so isolated. I’ve also read that there are nurses, who are understandably fatigued and stressed and overworked, that are finding ways to lighten spirits during their shifts. One story that stuck with me was a nurse who had two patients on a non-Covid floor who had to frequently get up to urinate, requiring help each time. The patients were apologetic, feeling they were pulling the nurse from more important duties. She reassured them, and realized they had senses of humor that would appreciate this boost—she created an “award” for them at the end of her shift for “most frequent use of the facilities”. The initial embarrassment was turned into a laugh for the patients and the nurse and lightened the mood all around.

And, now for the creatives and the creative hopefuls among us—let’s inspire you to keep going with your talent or your desire to learn a skill. Want to learn the guitar, or learn new songs? Fender has online classes found here in bite-sized pieces. How about the piano? Want to learn with Harry Connick, Jr showing you the ropes? Check this out. If writing is more your style, there’s playwriting, guidance for getting that novel written you’ve had rattling around in your brain, or a cool article from none other than Judy Blume, of tween girl fiction fame, with some tips on writing a children’s book. And if you’re looking for some visual art inspiration, I was impressed with this page Berkeley put together. There are also some great online art classes being offered by artist collectives like this—there is some free content to get you started and the classes utilize a number of different medias, from painting and sketching, to mixed media. And for the parents among us looking for outlets for the kids, take a look at Camp Creativity for some fun free content.

Let this be a time of creativity. The change in perspective by introducing a new idea lightens the spirit, helps move through darkness to hope, and may prove the path to a whole new business or product. If you are a supervisor to others, take some time to consider new ways to motivate your team—the morale boost can help not only their mental health but the fiscal health of your business. If you are a health care worker, are there ways to inject some levity in your day in even small ways? Quality patient care and provider burnout are uniquely tied together, so look for ways to help ease your daily stress, even if you simply create an “award” to bring a laugh. Are you working from home and lonely? Consider starting Zoom calls with colleagues so you can still have some office chatter while sitting in your home office. And, if you’re a parent facing burnout, look for Facebook groups for your area or for parents with children of similar age, or take a look at Meetup to find some peer support. Often, having those groups can make you feel less alone in your frustration and you find humor in commiseration. All or any of these ideas can help prevent or alleviate the depression and boredom I’m seeing so often around me.  Take a chance – take a leap – and try creatively something new in meeting a need you or others around you have.  

Wishing you creativity and hope this coming week,

Dr. Beth

Sources for past inventions and products:

https://www.interestingthings.com/gallery/20th-century-inventions-in-times-of-crisis/

Covid-19: Coping with the Changes 3 Months Later

This week has been again more stressful for many than past weeks as we see the number of Covid-19 numbers going up, hospitals filling, and requirements for masks in Maricopa County and many locations throughout the state.  In addition, this isn’t the first time around – this is into month 4 of dealing with this (although just into it) and I’m hearing tempers flaring, patience waning, and what I’ll term “Covid Fatigue” hitting.  What’s a person to do when this is happening?  And it’s now impacting our relationships, we know people with Covid-19, we’ve lost friends or family to it or they have had a serious case of it, and we haven’t been able to socialize or attend church and/or work in the same ways for quite some time.  And even the possibility of in-school education or dorm life is in flux right now for the fall.  And, to top it off, it’s been at or near 109F. (Good news, though, it may be down to 98F for part of this coming week.)  What a June!
 
Well, we are a resilient people, truly, although the level and speed of it varies by person.  Resiliency is the ability to overcome obstacles and move forward.  Resiliency leads to hope – and so we are to hang in there when things seem desperate.  There is an article I wrote a number of years ago about this and it’s on the website.   So, feel free to go there for more information.  But the essence is that to build hope, we must have people around us, spiritual practices, and be aware of possibility.  I’ve always liked Elizabeth Edwards quote:  “She stood in the storm and when the wind did not knock her down, she adjusted her sails”.   It’s time to adjust our sails a bit.  Here are a few ideas that have come to me lately, some of which I’ve shared here in the past or with clients, some are newer:
 
Realize you are just not accomplishing what you want to do – from something small to large?  Download Apalon’s Productive-Habit Tracker to your phone or tablet and choose just one or two things you want to be sure you do daily or weekly.  Build some success before you add more.  And give yourself a break – it is happening to most people as they live and work at home.
 
Concerned your spiritual life is not where you want it to be?  Commit to one thing a day – maybe a meditative walk; perhaps doing a finger labyrinth; spending some time to do a guided relaxation; say a prayer you relate to – a rosary, a personal talk with God, a psalm, or a pray with others through a compline online, keep a gratitude list, or listen to music that is meaningful to your heart or spirit (you choose!).
 
Fearful about the fall and what it will mean for you?  Teaching at school or via Internet?  Needing to teach your children again or sending them to school?  Sending your young adult to live in a dorm or live at home?  Focus on bringing yourself back to the present.  None of us know what August or September will look like.  So, we must stay in today.  Perhaps using a short affirmation for this will help: “I have only this moment”, “Relax in today”, “I find stillness when I live in the present”, or write your own. 
 
Feeling lonely or alone?  First, find a being in your home with whom you can share a hug, pet them, cuddle, or otherwise connect physically for a bit.  No one there and no pet?  Dr. Peter Levine urges us to hold ourselves.  How?  See Dr. Levine’s methods described and directions for several self-hug and holding exercises.  My favorite is to simply put your left arm across your tummy and with your right reach up and pat your left shoulder.  It will repeat what your mama did to you when she held you – and it is extremely calming.  Then reach out to a friend or family member by Facetime, Zoom, WhatsApp, or another method.  It amazed me again how much closer I felt to a friend last Saturday when we spent time talking by WhatsApp rather than only by phone.  Invite one or two friends over and socially distance in the evening while catching up.  Or do a Zoom breakfast or game night.
 
Uncertain or afraid of vacationing and feeling housebound?  Get your family together to brainstorm.  Two people have told me that they are doing camping trips and/or using RV’s to get time away with family.  Brainstorm a stay-home vacation – and here are a few ideas to get you going – https://www.realsimple.com/work-life/life-strategies/staycation?  The larger hotel chains have information out there on what they are doing, National Parks and Recreation has information on traveling to the parks and AAA has some information.   
 
My spouse is driving me nuts!  How do I cope?  We’ve heard about this on TV, in the news, and from our friends, right?  So how do we cope when we are living and working together full-time?  First, communication is essential.  And that is very hard when we’re stressed and misinterpreting the intention of others as well as struggling to find a little alone space.  Or perhaps just tired of the way they work as it’s different than ours or conflicts with our methods. CNN had a few ideas worth looking at. I’m most impressed with the couple who, in a 576 square foot apartment found ways to compromise and parent children.  What bothered you 3 months ago will now be driving you around the corner.  So, take a deep breathe, do something to relax yourself, get away from your spouse or partner, and talk to a friend before you try to talk to your partner. 
 
Feeling bored at home?  Listen to a new podcast (or two), review some of the art galleries we put on our website under Covid-19 resources awhile ago, go swimming, or put some music on and dance.  I’m very much enjoying the “Poetry Unbound” podcast each morning (under 10 minutes usually) and playing in the water with the puppy.  Both are new for me – and take me in different places that open my brain and heart. 
 
Ok, there are a few ideas.  Next Sunday I’m hoping to finish the article on growing in times of adversity.  But for now – I’m hoping these ideas help you just get through the tough moments in life.  I commit to acting on the alone and spirituality ideas above – so what is your choice?  I hope you do it even for 5 minutes. 
 
Take care and be well,
 
Dr. Beth
Beth Sikora, PhD, LPC, NCC

Calming an Anxious Mind

Sometimes it can seem as though our minds never turns off. During these times most recently, we may find that we have ruminating thoughts about the state of our world, our nation, our state, our county, and lastly but certainly not least–our households. Trying to maintain a positive attitude at home or with others may be difficult, let alone being fully present with others.

These are concerns facing many today, and part of a larger theme of anxiety I’m hearing about routinely in my practice. Across our nation, we are seeing re-openings of businesses, and with that comes new decisions of what is truly safe to do. I’ve provided resources in past blogs (found here, here, and here) of reliable sources to look for information as well as tools to get you through this time on my website found here.

Today though, let’s talk about the anxiety itself and how to cope with it. There is a graphic circulating online which shows varying stages of acceptance, take a look below:

This is a great illustration of the process of learning to open oneself up again. In some ways, this re-opening feels a bit like the immediate post-911 world to me. There was fear of going out and resuming “normal” life directly after the attacks because we just weren’t sure it was over. Our nation faced significant losses during that time, and we will never be who we were before that event; but, as time marched on we learned to process the experience and with that, we moved forward. We will do the same with Coronavirus/Covid-19. Take a look at the graphic, see where you think you may fall in the bands radiating off of the circle of Covid–do you see that you’ve made some progress? Or are you still practicing some of the behaviors in the darkest zone, the fear zone? Do you see that some of how you are feeling or acting are examples spread across more than one zone? That is a completely reasonable reaction. Likely where most of us are.

The above graphic also reminds me of the stages of grief, in more than one way. Many of us are familiar with this model of grieving developed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and I find the stages apply to more than the loss of a loved one. She defined them as, 1. Denial and isolation, 2. Anger, 3. Bargaining, 4. Depression, 5. Acceptance. Some of those examples look familiar to the handling of this Covid era too, don’t they? The initial denial that this could be happening to the people of our world, our nation; the anger at others who may not be taking the news the same way we have chosen to respond; the bargaining–if only we’d done X, then…; and the isolation which can also bring on depression.

My point to all this? We’ve handled grief likely on a personal basis, but also as a nation before. We’ve been fearful of unknown forces. We have come through it, and maybe we don’t look the same as we did before the catastrophe–on a world or national scale or on an interpersonal, familial one such as after the loss of a loved one–but we humans are resilient and even after a time that feels like it could have been the end of the world, we can again find beauty in things. So, let’s talk about how to move forward.

Mindfulness. Merriam Webster defines mindfulness as: 1: the quality or state of being mindful. 2: the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis also; a state of awareness. It’s a topic I’ve covered on a recent blog found here because I feel strongly mindfulness is one of our most useful tools in healing.

  • I came across some wonderful “attitudes for anxiety” in a blog post on Positive Psychology–to read the full post, click here. The 10 attitudes to practice for anxiety are towards the bottom but there are a number of other tools to practice she highlights–it’s worth the read. The one I find most essential is to: 1. Notice what is going on in your body. What are you feeling? Where? Is it the discomfort of reflux? The heart-pounding of panic? The headache or migraine of muscle tension? 2. Just stay with that feeling and feel it for a moment. Really let yourself become aware of what is going on internally. 3. Recognize what your thoughts are that either preceded the physical issue or are still present with the physical sensation. 4. Take a slow deep soothing breath into that part of your body that is in pain, taught, or uncomfortable. Hold it. Then blow it out as fast and hard as you can. Imagine that breath out as the difficult thoughts and feelings – blow them all out of your body. Do this several times and then attend to the area of the body with some self-care, i.e.: massage the muscles, notice the heart pounding may have slowed down with the breaths, or the reflux released just a little and if not take the medication you have for it.
  • Learn to meditate. There are countless videos and apps for meditation, some found on our website here, others a mere google search away. But here’s a good one I learned from a nun at an anxiety workshop many years ago. Spend 5 minutes looking into the flame of a candle. A well done video with an introduction to this meditation and a recorded candle’s flame for this process can be found here.
  • Deal with only one day at a time – Jon Kabat-Zinn has discussed this on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, the clip may be found here. He proposes checking in on yourself. How do you feel this morning? Are you still upset about a fight last night, or worried about an upcoming meeting? What do you want to achieve today? Understanding how you feel before you embark on your day can help you go through your day more mindfully. “Drop in on yourself and rest for a stretch of time,” Kabat-Zinn says. “And then as you go about your daily life, check in. Once an hour, once a minute. Once a day. You decide”.
  • Another technique a trusted colleague recently reminded me of when dealing with anxiety about the future and what is okay to do now or in a week about Covid-19 is to look at your watch. What time is it? What day? This is all you can make decisions about and deal with in this situation – use your watch as your reminder. See this blog for more information.

As I’ve written about before, practice good self-care. Not only the physical in good hand washing practices or wearing masks; but also, the mental self-care. Remember to limit your media consumption, be gentle with yourself, and get outside daily. If you’re dealing with OCD, it can be a tough time to manage your symptoms. If your current techniques aren’t working or you’re becoming worse through this, here’s an article written first person by someone who is handling OCD related to our current pandemic. Take a look at her tips, and if they’re new to you consider implementing the ideas. Even if they were routine previously, it may be time to up your game on using them. There are also some basic self-care principles written about here.

The same basic ideas apply to how to best care for your children during this time, but I cannot underscore this point enough, talk to them. Ask questions about how they’re feeling in an age appropriate way. If they’re older, see if they have questions on the state of things related to the illness and the ability to go out in the world or what your emergency preparedness plans would be. Ask them how they’re really doing at this time, and if they’re isolated from their peers–and consider supporting them in some things you previously may not have been as open to such as gaming on a device. In limited doses, it may be a great way for your kids to stay connected to their friends–it’s often a group activity yet can be played from individual houses. Watch for behavior changes in them–and if you’re seeing signs that are worrisome get them help. At this time of tele-therapy, they may be more open to the idea of talking to someone from the comfort of their own space rather than having to go into an office for counseling. If your children are younger, don’t overlook playtime as moments that feelings surface. Role playing with dolls, or even putting names to favorite play cars and trucks may bring out “feelings” the toys may have–but could really be the feelings your child may be dealing with. Remember, just like it can be hard for us as adults to put a name on a feeling or be forthright when we are having a hard time, children feel that too. Play with your kids when you can make time. No moment is too small–from the bathtub to a walk around the neighborhood, remember to take moments to check in on your littler people. Here’s a quick read from Seattle Children’s hospital on helping children and teens cope with anxiety.

I hope this provides some tools to each of you to calm the anxiety you are facing. Remember that this, too, is just a season. It will pass, and even if we have some longer lasting changes to adapt to, as was said by the late great Maya Angelou, “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”

If you need some professional help, know I’m only a phone call away. Get ahold of Angie, my practice manager, and get yourself scheduled. I’m here for you, reach us by phone at 602.508.9190.

Wishing each of you an easy mind today, a restful night tonight, and a more peaceful tomorrow,

Dr. Beth

COVID-19, Control, & Compassion: Choosing Our Attitudes and Being Compassionate

We can’t control our world, our family’s lives, even our own life right now, can we?  We can’t know when or where the Coronavirus will hit.  We can’t know if we’ll get it, or our neighbor, or our best friend, or our coworker.  We can’t know if we’ll come through this time financially whole or if the financial condition of the country and world will collapse. And this is scaring many of those I see or those I read about in the news or that I hear from on Facebook or other social media accounts.  And I get it – there is much uncertainty.  This morning, though, I wondered to myself – but can we ever?  Can we truly ever have power and control over all that happens to us?  All that we experience, think, and feel?  All that we so often trudge through life trying to control.  Our boss?  Our job? Our health? Our financial condition?  Or is it possible, just possible, it’s an illusion of control?  And that the truth we are living right now – that we cannot control the spread of COVID-19 more than following the suggestions of medical professionals and mandates of our government is the reality we live each and every day? 

Dr. Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who was put in a prisoner camp in Germany during the time of Adolph Hitler.  A man of Jewish faith and lineage, he was in the group abhorrently victimized and often killed by those under Hitler.  And from him came some of the most profound writing in the area of existential psychology – or the psychology of meaning and experience of life.  He survived the camp, a feat beyond my imagination, and stated, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”.  Ah – here is the kernel of hope we do have, we can always change ourselves, our reactions. He went on to elaborate: “Everything can be taken from a man [person] but one thing:  the last human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way”.  And this is how he survived the experience in Auschwitz.  And helped many others to do so – to choose their attitude to keep trying, one step, one day at a time; and to assist others by noticing them, handing them a crust of their dried bread, or a sip of the tiny bit of water they were given. 

A choice – we, too have choices.  Are we going to share with others compassion and love and a safe place to share what isolation is like?  Or what living at home 24 hours with children and/or spouse is like?  Either can be very challenging.  Are we going to be supportive of the grocery store clerks and employees – or grumble that we didn’t find what we wanted?  It’s a choice, isn’t it?  I will say I can sometimes be tired and grumble when someone doesn’t acknowledge what I’m experiencing – but how would they?  We’re each unique and experiencing this time differently.  So, I need to back up and possibly share it and ask for understanding or at least respect for my experience and apologize for the grumble. 

Kristen Neff talks about self-compassion, and Viktor Frankl about compassion towards others.  But Neff makes an excellent point – if we don’t have it and show it to ourselves first, how will we ever share it with others?  So, as we are facing days that are long, with limited control but room for personal choice in attitude, perhaps a little self-compassion would be a good first step.  Especially through this next week when many who are Jewish cannot celebrate Passover as they are accustomed to and Christians cannot celebrate Easter as they are.  We will need to choose attitude and show compassion. 

Kristen Neff discusses this from a place of self-compassion, Brene Brown from a place of shame and working to change that and let go of that, and Viktor Frankl from a place of making a choice in our experiences about our attitude.  All three, interestingly, have similarities in what to do.

  1. Notice what you’re feeling.  Be with it in the moment.  Be present and mindful so that you are aware and do not act out, hopefully, towards another.  So, for example, when I am feeling lonely facing Easter without the family and traditions we usually share, I need to sit with that.  Feel the pain, the disappointment, the loneliness. 
  2. Being kind to yourself in language is also important.  Rather than the voice that might say, “Oh grow up, it’s one holiday.  You’re fine.  At least you’re not in the hospital and dying of Covid-19”; we need to instead say, “I’m having a hard time. This is something I haven’t experienced so it feels new and lonely.  And it’s a change – I struggle with change in family tradition.  So, I need to be even kinder in planning and deciding how and what I will do Easter Sunday”. 
  3. Name the feeling and share it with some safe person in my life.  It might be in prayer.  It might be in text to my best friend.  It might be a call to a family member to connect at least that way and share and listen to what they are experiencing as we face the next 7 days.  (This is unique to Brene Brown’s idea of coming out of the shame spiral by facing it and sharing it.)
  4. Decide how with what attitude to face the next 7 days and what choices are available.  For example, reaching out to others is something Viktor Frankl recommends as we reach out in love.  Not in guilt or caretaking or shame.  But as he says, “Love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which [we] can aspire”.  This means both the love in self-compassion above, but also the love in reaching out.  Perhaps something special to do with the children over the coming weekend.  Perhaps sending cards of love to family we cannot see. Maybe planning our own special day of ritual and celebration and sharing it in love for the other(s) we might be with – even if that is ourselves.  Nurturing the sense of self-compassion, and care. 

So how will you face your own attitudes this week?  How will you remain mindful of what you are experiencing?  What change can you commit to?  What are the steps you might take to show yourself and others compassion?  I would encourage you to write them down.  Post them, put them in front of you, and lovingly remind yourself of them each day. 

Warmly and with compassion,

Dr. Beth

PS:  Want to learn more about these 3 theorists and clinicians?  I suggest the following books:

Daring Greatly:  How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Self-Compassion:  The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristen Neff

“Silence the mind to hear the whisper.”

I was at a meeting recently with a guest speaker, the topic unknown to me prior to attending. On my way, music on in the car, I found myself turning it down so I could let my mind wander, mulling over a few of life’s stressors. Due to some scheduling changes, I was going to be walking into the meeting just before the speaker began, not having my typical time to say hello to everyone and chat before the meeting. I sat down just before she was introduced, and among the first couple of sentences about her, she was quoted, “Silence the mind to hear the whisper.” It felt like such a timely topic for me, a divine intervention of sorts, putting the reminder directly into my stream of consciousness that I had been subconsciously working towards on my drive. The use of such a simple yet powerful sentence by way of introduction –our speaker caught the attention of all of us in the room. The concept of quieting the mind has been around for a long time and while meditation is something I practice routinely, there is always room for learning, improving, changing the practice for oneself and so, I listened, and I learned.

Mindfulness is a topic I’ve been wanting to write to all of you about for some time. The word of the year for the practice is “deepening”, as I’ve shared before. We are working towards that with greater and different offerings from the practice based on the feedback from you, wanting to offer services that are relevant and meaningful to each of you. But also, deepening is creeping into my subconscious and my own life. I want to embrace this time of evaluation and growth and would like to share some reminders with you on how to be a better steward of your mental focus and energy.

Online you’ll find a wealth of meditation resources, several apps you can download with a click, a few of which I’ve even featured under the links tab of my website and in previous blogs. But. Did you know that taking a walk can serve as a meditative experience? Taking a bike ride, being outside, a scenic drive, gardening, laying in the sun or the shade of a tree, a round of golf, going to the batting cage, going to the practice green or driving range are all activities that can promote mindfulness and meditation. It doesn’t take sitting in a pretzel shaped position on a rubber mat to qualify as meditation. It can take place wherever you feel moved to practice as long as it’s in an environment in which you feel you can relax and unwind. The idea is not the act of stillness, it’s about quieting the noise of the demands of life and taking moments of quiet.

Beginning isn’t as hard as you may make it out to be. Set low expectations for yourself, planning to spend 3-5 minutes at your first attempt–you’ll increase your level of focus and lengthen the duration with routine practice. Begin in the space of your choosing, allowing any thoughts that enter your mind to simply move past your attention as if they were a billboard you pass on a highway. Notice the thought and allow it to move on. Practice breathing exercises. Deep inhales, lungs full, holding the breath and a slow, deliberate exhale. There are exercises that guide you to count your way through breathing and those can be helpful but generally, if you exhale for longer than you inhale you are lowering your blood pressure. These breathing exercises alone are a way to calm yourself and even can be used to drift off to sleep.

A drive that previously may have brought stress due to traffic I’m now looking forward to. The forced time alone in the car is a good time for me to quiet my mind. To listen for the whisper—of intuition and my higher power which is such a help to me in times of growth. “Be patient with yourself. Self-growth is tender; it’s holy ground. There’s no greater investment.” – Stephen Covey. As a part of mindfulness and deepening, let these ideas be a start for you. I’ll be sharing more on this topic in blog posts to come as well as in an upcoming workshop. Stay tuned!

PS: Looking for a great way to open relationship discussions and mindfully listen to loved ones? These would be a great way to start: https://www.shopsundaypaper.com/Sunday-Paper-Table-Topics-p/tabletopic.htm

Deepening: Thoughts to Consider

Deepening…the word for 2020 that we are using at The Wholeness Institute.  Angie and I spent a good deal of time on brainstorming and planning what we want to accomplish in 2020, and deepening resonated with our goals and, hopefully, with yours.  Deepening has many meanings…

            ~To become more profound

            ~To enhance

            ~To strengthen

            ~Powering up

            ~Living more deeply into something – a relationship, spirituality, one’s inner self

            ~Living with purpose

            ~Leaning into experience

            ~Result of transformation.

When I think of it in terms of my counseling practice, I think of it as being present to others as they grow, as they go within themselves more to the discover who they are. Witnessing each person transform parts of him or herself that may no longer fit or has caused pain.  It’s being privileged to be with a person as they are leaning into their gifts, owning them, allowing themselves to become better acquainted and experience life more deeply as well as broadly.  Broadly alone isn’t enough, though, if we want to feel connected with others, with those most special to us, to ourselves.  This isn’t so new, if you go back to the Quakers, the mindfulness writers, those who are Jungian in thought, there are many books and articles written.  We hope that at the end of 2020, the first year of our new decade, you feel that you have received direction or ideas from me that have resulted in deepening your life and experiences more completely. 

Toward that we are restarting, adjusting, and adding some offerings, and welcome you to ask questions, reach out as you are called to deepen in during this year, or share with me how we can help you in your process throughout the year.  We are still working with many of the same populations and with similar issues, but with a slightly revised focus as we walk into 2020.  Rather than just teaching, or counseling, I hope to experience a deepening of my practice, and Angie’s work here, so that you are able to find a deeper sense of who you are and perhaps how things have moved forward in your life. So, we will be working in the next month to begin adjusting things in the following ways:

~ We will offer two blogs a month – one about a change or addition to your knowledge or understanding of what the field of psychology and spirituality are understanding today.  So perhaps an update on how yoga is used; a new treatment method for brain injury or depression; or even just a new idea to try to keep life balanced. The second will offer deeper content such as journaling exercises, ways to make your growth more experiential, and allow you the opportunity to move a tiny or larger step forward.

~As some of you know I have a new puppy – Finley.  We are going to add Instagram back with a focus on Finley’s Corner, lessons he is learning, that we also can learn from.  As an example, a lesson he learned after Christmas family celebrations? We all need rest after a long day. Look for an Instagram link soon!

~More days of retreat and mornings of information.  There are two we are looking at now, in addition to two in conjunction with others we have been invited to or are co-offering.

March 7 – Unfolding to Yourself:  Understanding Self and Spirit

May 16 – Professionals with Brain Injury:  Couples Facing Change

~Watch for the addition of concierge counseling services soon both for brain injury and personal growth clients – with special information pages, some case management built-in for no additional charge, consults with other professionals on your behalf, priority scheduling to meet your schedule, and other tips or help.

~More teletherapy appointments available to you.

So, as you are beginning your new year, here’s a deepening question for you to consider and write about:  What do I need to do to lean into my own life more fully? Write for 10 minutes and stop. Step away from the writing for a few moments.  Reread it and write down one action step to take or new awareness you have.  It might be set a reminder to write tonight before retiring for 10 minutes.  It might be to spend 5 minutes of your walk in silence, not talking with anyone with you, but taking in what you are seeing.  It might be saying a prayer or writing a prayer to your Higher Power tonight at bedtime.  Then go – live your life as it is unfolds today (including football and friends).  Begin each day with this – and just watch your life transform and deepen this year.

With care and encouragement to dare to dive more deeply into who you are,

Dr. Beth

In my own deepening understanding of myself
find my capacity to serve others is deepened as well.
The 
better I am at selfcare
the more 
genuinely nurturing of others I am able to be.
– 
Mary Anne Radmacher

A Search for Gratitude

As I’ve been pondering this blog the last few days I’ve found myself wondering about how to approach it-spiritually, psychologically, mentally?  Speak about the family perspective of Thanksgiving? Or something more related to gratitude. I’ve always thought of both thankfulness and gratitude as the same thing. But GK Chesterton’s proposition was that “thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” That very much spoke to me, the balance of thought and feeling.

So often at Thanksgiving we are celebrating food, football, and family. In that combination we are actually often only engaged in the thought of being thankful, occasionally feeling some happiness; but, how often is that thankfulness actually imbued with wonder? Wonder generally comes from something beautiful, unexpected, or inexplicable.  This is the key to much of why we likely experience actual changes in our brain when we have a gratitude journal.  Our thoughts of what we are thankful for, combined with the emotion of gratitude, is what causes both sides of our brain to process the experiences. As we cross the corpus callosum of our brain, we are changed.  Try an experiment, think of the most recent experience of a beautiful sunset, a puppy playing, or a special message of love from your best friend.  As you recall this, do you feel joy, relaxed or peaceful, or warmth deep in your heart? Then, as you consider that view, do you begin to think about how lucky you are to have that pup or thankful to have found your anam cara (see an article on anam cara here) friend? There you have it, thought and feeling, building in intensity as you allow the feelings to bubble up and impact you.  The life-changing moment of gratitude.

This Thanksgiving, enjoy the festivities and folks around you, whether solo awareness of others who are in your life or at a larger get together. But in addition to enjoying the day, I challenge you to not simply go through the motions. Instead, take some time to really consider what you are grateful for in life. Use the barometer of feeling gratitude to the point of an emotional reaction of joy, wonder, or amazement. For me it will include true joy in my experience of my new puppy Finley; deep peace that comes from memories of moments with my best friend; and heartfelt love for my dear sisters with whom I am spending this holiday. I want to cherish these thoughts and feelings along with the memories that triggered them. I choose to do as Brene Brown suggests: “[not chasing] extraordinary moments to find happiness, but paying attention and practicing gratitude” in its’ deepest sense.

Take care, and may the wonder of this holiday be yours.

Dr Beth

The Grip of Anxiety: How to Find Relief

The room is too hot. I’m worried. I just need to go back to sleep. But I’m so anxious. Is that the sun peeking up already? I feel like I’m a ball of nerves. My pillow needs fluffing, my neck is sore. Should I just get up and try to be productive? But I’m so tired, and my mind won’t stop. Is the air working? It’s really quiet in here. Mind, why won’t you let me sleep? I’ll roll over and see if that helps…. Maybe I should paint my bedroom. But what color? Shhh brain, tomorrow. Let’s sleep tonight.

It can be a battle, can’t it? You enter your bedroom and catch sight of your bed and instead of seeing it as an inviting place you can’t wait to retire to, it looms large in your mind, knowing that with nightfall your worries invade the space that needs peace and rest. Something small can become large in the darkness of night; causing you worry and angst that in the light of day you realize is manageable and not something worth the cycle of sleeplessness.

“My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes, most of which have never happened.”

-Mark Twain

Sleep is one of the biggest areas affected by anxiety, but it can wreak havoc on your whole day, not only because of the exhaustion but other times it takes you by surprise, a simple text, email or phone call is enough to set you spinning. Other times that pit of fear and worry holds you by the hand all day each day. So how to get through it? Read on about a few ways to help regain control of our minds and the way we process perceived trouble or worries.

Breathing. It seems like such an automatic process, that we shouldn’t have to think about it. And we don’t for mere survival, but for optimal health this needs to be step one. But does it really work? Truly, it does, it’s proven. The studies are out there, and they are numerous, a quick google give you plenty of hits, among them is this one if you’d like to read more: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/stress-raising-your-blood-pressure-take-a-deep-breath-201602159168 The breathing exercise I most often recommend is by Dr. Andrew Weil called the Relaxing Breath or 4-7-8 breathing. The process is illustrated here, https://www.drweil.com/videos-features/videos/breathing-exercises-4-7-8-breath/. The idea behind this breathing, and others, is to slow down the heart rate, and reset the body. It also stops the panic and anxiety attacks. If you can’t breathe out as long as 7 or 8, start lower and work your way up. Whatever exercise you choose to follow, the idea is—if the exhale is longer than the inhale, the heart rate slows, and your blood pressure lowers. I encourage you to try this and let me know how it works for you.

Meditation. It’s regarded as a big word that packs plenty of punch. Often thought of as too ‘out there’, the practice is simply about quieting the mind. And, in an anxious state, quieting the mind is exactly what we are trying to do. The easiest way to start? An app. There are plenty to choose from for your phone or tablet that will walk you through the techniques. My favorite at the moment is called Insight Timer because it is free. There is a membership you can purchase but there are lots of tools that come with the free usage, including a specific ‘coping with anxiety’ section. This is only one of many, to find a few others too consider, take a look at my website under ‘links’ to see them listed.

These are just two ideas to get you going. Other ideas I strongly encourage as they support brain changes are coloring mandalas, walking a labyrinth, or doing a finger labyrinth. There is a simple app for this called Labyrinth Journey by Mount Mojo.  These allow spirituality to enter your processes as well to calm your anxiety. And for a few outside of the box ideas, these suggestions could be fun, and would be an experience you’re unlikely to forget. Cuddling a cow? Who would have guessed? See: Cow cuddling. Or: Cat cafes. Therapy dogs. Hug therapy. And don’t forget the outdoors and how great it is for the mind: Head out on a hike.

The moral of this story? If you’re feeling anxiety, there ARE ways to help yourself. Try one or more of the ideas above, talk to a friend, family member, or therapist.  If none of these ideas work, including therapy, then know that there are also excellent homeopathics and medications with minimal side effects that do help.

Wishing you a restful night’s sleep and anxiety-free days,

Take care,

Dr. Beth

On an aging mind.

I recently opened a drawer and was surprised to see an article of clothing I had no memory of buying. It is a swimsuit. A dreaded article of clothing for me to put on any given day to begin with, I remembered it but I could not remember where I’d gotten it. Was this a memory issue I should take note of? It got me thinking about a recurring theme I’ve had come up in my practice and in my personal life with friends, not only as we ourselves age, but as parents and siblings and other loved ones do too. What IS normal brain aging and what are the signs something more serious is happening and needs attention?

As we age, our brains shrink. Years of studies have shown this to be the case but it’s not always a bad thing. For the vast majority of us, aging only means some forgetfulness—a haziness of past events, not recalling names of old schoolmates (but cueing helps), the need for a grocery list, occasionally forgetting what we walked into a room to get, word finding difficulty at times. You may also find you have less ability to concentrate and pay attention. All of these are typical to the aging brain. Add stress to the mix and the above problems are exacerbated, as is the case when you are only half paying attention to someone because your mind is already on something else.

So when is it time to pay attention and get some cognitive testing done, even as a baseline? I read an article not long ago that had a great list—I’ve pulled from it a few guidelines to follow (for more of the article, see: https://www.verywellhealth.com/is-it-forgetfulness-or-alzheimers-98574). Take a look at the list below and if you see some areas of concern, don’t be frightened about getting testing, the earlier the condition is found, the better we can prepare and treat for it.

  • Recent memory poor, and cueing and context don’t help
  • Can’t remember the order of things and who said what
  • Repetitiveness becomes obvious; memory intrusions occur
  • Unaware that a memory problem exists
  • Day-to-day functioning declines along with memory
  • Frequently demonstrating poor judgment and decision-making
  • Not being able to handle paying bills regularly
  • Often being disoriented to time and place
  • Difficulty with familiar tasks, such as making coffee every day
  • Getting lost on your way home from your daily job

Whether your memory slips are typical and bothering you or something more and you need to do some testing and work with a neurologist, talk to me. I have some things I can recommend that may help. And if you have a brain injury, your process may be a bit different– see our website at: https://www.thewholenessinstitute.com/braininjurytherapy.html for additional information. As I routinely say, there IS hope and I’m happy to help you find your way back to it.

As for me? A couple of cues helped. I knew I must have ordered the swimsuit so I looked at my older emails and found the order—as soon as I saw it I realized I bought it at a time life was extremely chaotic and it was one of many things I was handling at once. I’d been doing too much at one time and as a result, my mind automatically filtered what I needed to retain and what wasn’t important. A relief to me, for certain!

Thanksgiving Thoughts 2018

Last weekend I had the privilege of attending a silent retreat in Tucson. The silence was a gift in and of itself, but the time also allowed me to regain perspective in areas including the gifts in my life for which I’m grateful. I’d been keeping a gratitude journal again for awhile, but that has been done in the midst of the busyness and clamor of life.

John O’Donohue wrote about the blessings in our lives for which to be grateful. The simple yet deep areas that were part of what came to me in the silence:

Blessed be the gifts you never notice,

your health, eyes to behold the world,

thoughts to countenance the unknown,

memory to harvest vanished days,

your heart to feel the world’s waves,

your breath to breathe the nourishment

of distance made intimate by earth.

As I recall last weekend, I realize that being in silence allowed me to be aware of things I would normally miss, which in turn  led to a fuller sense of  gratitude. I took the time to notice and watch the hot air balloons and appreciated their colors and the courage of those in them. I took the time and rather than assume only bees were flying around a planter, I looked closer and realized many of what I noticed were actually tiny yellow butterflies flitting about and how happy I felt in watching them. In listening to the retreat director I became so very grateful for my eyes and vision when I found out that she was going rapidly blind but was slowly learning to find gratitude for other things-friends who helped her, her husband’s arm, the ability to still see a sunset, the richness of her relationship with her son and his family, and audiobooks to continue her love of learning, prayer, and faith development through books.

butterfly-3810561_1280

When in silence I also found I very much appreciated no social media … a separate commitment I’d made to myself for the retreat and which I found I missed not at all. Was that the “nourishment of distance made intimate” for me as I instead focused on nature, reading, and writing? Perhaps, it certainly felt that way.

At Thanksgiving we are taught to be thankful for fun times with family, football, a large dinner, and friends. I wonder what would happen if we each took 30 minutes to be silent. Might we recognize gifts in our lives, large or small, that we otherwise wouldn’t notice? Would we notice our bodies and the health we have, despite what we do not have any longer? Maybe we would take the time in nature to notice yellow butterflies or appreciate clouds slowly moving through above us, and be amazed at the process of movement that happens when we think all is still around us. We might even take the time to read or write and learn more about what is below our own surface. Or recognize through a picture, odor, taste, or sound the memory of a day in the past full of hope and allow it to imbue our hearts with hope again. Just maybe our hearts would feel a movement and allow it to impact us and notice how a similar time also influenced us this year. And in all of this, it’s just possible we would breathe more deeply, fed by the nourishment of life within and around us rather than just by turkey and gravy.

So here’s my challenge to each of you this Thanksgiving. Take 30 minutes and be in silence. Perhaps before you rise in the morning, after your feast while you take a walk alone, or in the evening before bed. Turn off the TV, put down the iPad, silence your phone. And notice what is around you. In you. What you’re grateful for in your life or your children’s or your relationships. Maybe even just see what comes up as you close your eyes and relax for that time, or meditate. Treat yourself to the gifts of silence to see, hear, smell, or increase in awareness of some lost idea re-found. I would bet you will end your day even more grateful than you might otherwise be this Thanksgiving. Then pick up the phone or pad and tell someone for whom you recognize deeper gratefulness. And thank yourself for this gift of time for you. May you in doing so feel even more “blessed by the gifts you never notice”.

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