Depression

Understanding Ambivalence: How Recognizing the Push-and-Pull of Your Desires Can Set You Free

title_understanding_ambivalence_how_recognizing_the_push_and_pull_of_your_desires_can_set_you_free_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor_michigan_christian.png

Think of the last difficult decision you had to make.  Maybe it was as simple as where you’d like to go out to eat or as significant as a change in career path.  What makes the decision difficult is the tension between the options: you might desire some more than others, or fear the downside if you make the wrong decision.  Eventually, the choice is made when one benefit outweighs the other and you feel confident enough moving forward.

But what happens when you get stuck between two desires?  Or worse yet, when you feel two opposing emotions about something at the same time?  Have you experienced loving someone and hating them in the same instant?  What about wanting closeness and intimacy, but pushing others away by your actions or words?

In these examples, what you’re experiencing is a phenomenon called ambivalence. 

What is ambivalence?

Ambivalence is often thought of as apathy or indifference, meaning you don’t care much about something or that it doesn’t matter to you.  On the contrary, ambivalence involves strong desires or emotions in opposition to one another.  You may feel pulled in two different directions at the same time, or you might flip-flop back and forth between two feelings.  This can take place in both simple decisions (where should we go for dinner?) as well as major desires (is this the person I want to marry?).

As time passes and you struggle to resolve these opposing emotions, you might find that you do experience a form of apathy.  The indifference is a numbing response to exhaustion from the tension of trying to balance both sides at once.

What in my story might cause ambivalence?

Ambivalence is common for survivors of sexual abuse or assault as they deal with the aftermath of their abuse.  In many cases, the abuser is someone with whom the survivor has a close relationship.  Positive memories and experiences with that person get mixed up with the abuse, and the confusion of feeling drastically different emotions toward the abuser can be overwhelming. The survivor may also struggle with aspects of sexual abuse that felt good when they confront the damage it has done in their lives.

Similarly, many partners of sex addicts experience the addict’s behaviors as a sexual violation against the partner.  Confusion around staying in the relationship to work things out or leaving is common as they try to reconcile the person they love with the addiction that has destroyed their relationship.

For addicts, shame is a major factor in ambivalence.  Addicts live a double life, attempting to balance the addictive thoughts and behaviors with the normal, everyday self.  Breaking off into these two versions of the self helps to ignore or deny the tension of ambivalence around the double life.

Ambivalence can appear in depression and anxiety as well.  If you’re anxious, you may hate being alone but feel terrified of breaking into a group or connecting with others.  In depression, ambivalence can appear when you lack the motivation and energy for self-care and yet know that the way to feel better is through exercising, spending time with loved ones, or other activities to take care of yourself.

How can I recognize my ambivalence?

One common characteristic of ambivalence is all-or-nothing or black-and-white thinking patterns.  The rigidity of thought patterns requiring a choice between two extremes is what makes the tension between them feel so difficult.  Sitting in the gray area of wanting two things equally and being unsure of what the right next step is can be stressful.  Often, that leads to a desire to escape.

That desire to escape is where apathy and numbness come in.  When alternating back and forth between the two desires or emotions becomes too much, you feel defeated by the struggle.  Rather than staying with the tension, you might just throw in the towel and numb out with addiction or distraction. 

How can I deal with my ambivalence? 

Acknowledge that there are gray areas.  Instead of the rigidity of black-and-white or all-or-nothing thinking, allow yourself to recognize that you can (and are!) feeling or desiring two seemingly opposite things at the same time. 

Press into that knowledge and explore your ambivalence with God and others.  Talk about it with a therapist or trusted friend and explore what might be coming up with each of the desires.   

As a Christian, ambivalence leads to greater intimacy with God.  So many Psalms contain ambivalence: lament, pain, and crying out to God; followed by reminders of the goodness of God and his character.  Often the Christian life involves suffering while also seeking to place hope in God.

Name your desires, even if it hurts to put words to them.  The naming of desires is painful because it involves grief, in understanding that your desires aren’t met yet and you may never see those desires realized.  But recognizing and working through that grief leads to life rather than numbing or escapism.  Addicts in particular struggle to know their true desires, as addiction has offered immediate relief or numbing from desires in the past.  In owning and acknowledging desires, addicts receive freedom to seek out other ways to meet that need instead of through addictive behaviors. 

Learn to practice acceptance. Acceptance isn’t settling for the status quo or pretending that things are okay when they really aren’t.  Instead, acceptance involves recognizing the reality of where you are right now in this present moment, and reminding yourself that you’re okay.  If you aren’t satisfied with what you’re experiencing in the present, acceptance invites you to explore what you might like to change in the future.  Accepting your ambivalence helps you to begin to be curious about it and seek out the story behind your ambivalence.  Understanding your story opens you up to change.

pinterest_understanding_ambivalence_how_recognizing_the_push_and_pull_of_your_desires_can_set_you_free_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor_michigan_christian.png

Do you struggle with ambivalence often in your life?  Have you gotten to the point of numbing and indifference after a long struggle with ambivalence?  Or do you notice rigid and inflexible thinking patterns that make it difficult to make decisions or practice kindness toward yourself?  At Restored Hope, I offer counseling services to help you understand your personal story of ambivalence and how you can move forward into greater acceptance and awareness of your desires.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule your first appointment.

Eight Hygge Ideas for Your Mental Health

title_eight_hygge_ideas_for_your_mental_health_anxiety_depression_sex_and_love_addiction_restored_hope_counseling_ann_arbor_novi_michigan_therapy_christian.png

Imagine sitting in cabin lit only by a roaring fire in the fireplace and a few candles scattered throughout the room.  You’re wrapped in a blanket, holding your favorite book in one hand and a mug of hot tea in the other.  You’re full and satisfied from a delicious meal of soup and bread finished an hour or so earlier.  You take a look around the room to see your loved ones gathered around you, enjoying their quiet, cozy time.  You peek outside to see a blizzard blowing through, coating the trees and ground with a thick layer of snow.  You smile, grateful to be warm and wrapped up indoors and safe from the cold.

I don’t know about you, but this is my personal picture of happiness.  And, incidentally enough, the Danes would agree with me.

Hygge (pronounced HOO-ga) is a Danish word recently popularized through the book The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living* by Meik Wiking.  Danish happiness researcher Wiking wrote from his research on what makes the Danes consistently rate among the happiest people in the world.  His theory centers around practicing what he called “the Danish art of cozy.”

As you consider the major elements of hygge, it’s easy to see why this concept can provide so many benefits to physical and mental health.

Health Benefits of Hygge

Hyggeligt activities include such behaviors as practicing presence, or mindfulness, to the present moment.  Mindfulness can lead to clarity of thinking, a sense of calm, reduction of negative thoughts, and reduced stress.  The sensory nature of hygge can also contribute to being in the present moment, in noticing the warmth from the fire or a hot drink, the smell of a burning candle, or the feel of a soft blanket.

In particular for trauma survivors, relaxation strategies like these are essential in calming the fight-or-flight response of the nervous system.  Hygge is about safety and self-care, which can significantly affect the feelings of lack of safety that propel anxiety.

Social support is another key element of hygge that has major health benefits.  Spending time with loved ones allows you to cope better with stress, improve your motivation, and reduce feelings of depression and negative self-talk.  Spending time with people you love also ups your level of oxytocin, which increases empathy and can be a healthy alternative to destructive, addictive behaviors.

Hygge is about being kind to yourself.
— Meik Wiking

Practicing gratitude for these relationships and the connections you have with others similarly reduces stress and decreases depression.

Embrace Your Hygge

Give yourself a break.

You can use this physical practice as a way of changing your mindset from one of perfectionism and busy-ness to one of slowing down, appreciating the moment, and allowing space.  When you approach your life with this mindset, you’re likely to be more kind in your self-talk, compassionate toward yourself and others, and experience more pockets of joy throughout your day.

Hygge is about giving your responsible, stressed-out achiever adult a break.  Relax.  Just for a little while.  It is about experiencing happiness in simple pleasures and knowing that everything is going to be okay.
— Meik Wiking

Create a hyggekrog.

A hyggekrog is a space set aside in your home where you can experience hygge, like a reading nook or corner that feels particularly cozy.  Set aside some space in your home with the intention to use it for your hygge time.  Include an assortment of hyggelig items in the space, like your favorite books, a cozy blanket, a candle, and a houseplant. 

Turn off your screens.

While you can practice hygge while watching a favorite movie or TV show, reducing screen usage allows you to stay more present in the moment, and it also helps to promote physical activity and improvements to sleep.  Choose to turn off your phone for an hour up to an entire day, or keep it elsewhere so that it doesn’t distract you.

Read a book.

Recent research has found that reading for even a short amount of time daily can drastically reduce stress.  Choose a book that is a personal favorite or a new interest you’d like to explore and set aside some time to read it.  You can read on your own or invite friends to join you for a day of reading your own books together (talk about an introvert’s dream!) 

Host a hygge get-together.

Invite a small group of friends over (Weiking writes that the best number for hygge is 4) for a warm meal, good conversation, and some hot drinks.  You could schedule this time around the premiere of a favorite TV show or the release of a movie you’ve been anticipating on Netflix.  Or choose a theme for the evening and create food and activities that support that theme.  Plan a craft night where friends can bring knitting, crocheting, needlework, or any other crafty hobby they have.

Bake or purchase sweets.

It seems the Danish love sweet pastries (see: cheese or fruit Danish).  Weiking talks about the production of dopamine, a feel-good neurochemical, that is released when you eat sweet foods.  Take some time to make a favorite dessert or treat yourself to a pastry from the bakery.

Create a hygge playlist.

What type of music helps you to feel the most cozy and calm?  Are there certain songs or genres of music that remind you of home?  Put together a playlist you can use when you’re practicing hygge by yourself or when you’re having a get-together, or use a pre-made playlist.  Sometimes the music itself can provide a cue to relax and slow down. 

Play!

Nothing puts you more squarely in the present moment than play.  Whether you’re playing a board game, enjoying a sport, or simply doing something you loved when you were a child, you’ll find the joy of stopping your work for a short time to enjoy an activity that is frivolous and light-hearted.  Invite friends into this playful attitude and experience the happiness that a break for fun can bring.

pinterest_eight_hygge_ideas_for_your_mental_health_anxiety_depression_sex_and_love_addiction_restored_hope_counseling_ann_arbor_novi_michigan_therapy_christian.png

Are you feeling overstressed and overworked?  Tired from all of the busy that seems to push you through your days?  Are you dealing with feelings of depression or hopelessness?  Anxiety?  Wrestling with the after-effects of trauma?  At Restored Hope, I offer space for you to heal from past trauma and present symptoms of anxiety and depression.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule an appointment and start seeing freedom from your stress and negative thoughts today.

*These are Amazon affiliate links.  Click here to read more about Restored Hope’s Amazon local associates policy.

12 Tools for Dealing with Anxiety and Depression

title_12_tools_for_dealing_with_anxiety_and_depression_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_novi_ann_arbor_michigan_christian.png

When you get hit with an episode of depression or anxiety, it can feel sudden or unexpected.  You may be at a loss of what to do with the feelings of lethargy or restlessness. 

Anxiety and depression can be like two sides of the same coin.  One can cause the other, and you may feel like you’re switching back and forth between the two as your body adjusts from worry to sadness.  Both are often driven by negative thoughts.  They tend to cycle into each other and feed off of each other, as when anxiety leads to isolation or withdrawal from relationships, which contributes to depression. 

The next time that you face one of these unexpected experiences, try one of the 12 tips below to help you manage your negative mood and feel better

  1. Get outside and take a walk.

Exercise is an easy way to let off excess energy or steam, to become motivated to face the day, or simply to enjoy a rush of endorphins.  To get a double whammy, go outside for a walk or a run.  Nature can ward off feelings of anxiety or stress.  Yoga is another great exercise to release negative emotion, especially if you’ve experienced trauma.  Watch a free yoga video specific to anxiety or depression and notice those negative emotions melting away. 

2. Take a few deep breaths as you imagine a place that feels safe and calm to you.

When I work with clients who are dealing with anxiety, I often find that safety feels out of reach.  For those with depression, feelings of happiness or contentment are difficult to come by.  Take a few moments to imagine a place where you feel happy, content, and at peace.  It may be imaginary or real.  As you bring it to your mind, focus on the sensations and sounds, emotions, and images you see.  You may practice this exercise while lying down on the ground and resting your hands on your stomach so that you can feel the rise and fall of your breath.

3. Reach out to a friend or family member.

Depression and anxiety are inherently isolating.  Anxiety can lead to fear about social interactions, which causes withdrawal.  Depression can come with lack of motivation to connect with the people you love.  But often you’ll find that having a conversation with someone you care will be just what you need as they talk you down from the experience of a hard day. 

4. Dream about your future.

One common aspect of depression is losing hope for the future, while anxiety leads you to worry about the worst possible outcome.  You might feel discouraged that you aren’t living out the dreams you had when you were younger.  Take a step back and identify activities that bring you joy, moments when you’ve felt truly alive, or the purpose you feel for your life.  Identify one small step you can take toward that purpose that can help you gain a sense of ownership and control over your life.

5. Clear your space, mentally and physically.

I have a hard time when my space feels cluttered and overwhelmed.  If my desk is covered in papers, my home is messy, or my bed is unmade, my mind feels cluttered as well.  My physical space tends to represent my mental space.  I take the mess as a reminder to spend 10-15 minutes tidying my physical space or writing down tasks to clear my mental space.  I’m always surprised how much more productive this simple act of clearing can make my day. 

6. Read.

Reading a book is a quiet, focused practice that allows you to slow down and focus on one task at a time.  Find a book that focuses on a topic that interests you, a fictional story that you can get wrapped up in, or a memoir with an inspiring message of overcoming.  If you find yourself having difficulty focusing or you’re not a big reader, find an audiobook to listen to instead.  To keep the spirit of the quiet, focused practice with an audiobook, choose to focus just on listening rather than multitasking. 

7. Listen to a good podcast.

I’ll admit – I’m a bit of a podcast obsessee.  Just like a good book, there are so many options of what you can absorb and enjoy in the podcast world.  Do you like true crime?  There’s a podcast for you.  Productivity? Humor? History? Travel? There’s whole categories devoted to these topics.  Choose an interest from your dreams you listed earlier and dig deep into some of the top podcasts for each.  You can also find great podcasts specifically devoted to depression and anxiety

8. Say no to pressure.

A big component of anxiety is worry about the things we think we “should” be doing.  When those “shoulds” become overwhelming, depression sets in as we realize we cannot be perfect.  You have permission to set down that list of “shoulds” and allow yourself the space to breathe and take care of yourself.  If you’re constantly under the weight of an endless to-do list, you will be less productive than you could be otherwise.  Allow yourself space for self-care and return to your day with a clear mind.

9. Reframe your thinking.

Depression is characterized by negative thoughts about yourself, while worries tied to anxiety lead to catastrophic thinking.   When you notice these negative thoughts entering your mind, pause and ask yourself if there’s another way of looking at the situation.  See if you’re dealing with any cognitive distortions which run rampant in the anxious or depressed mind.  If you’re fearing the worst possible outcome for a future event, avoid this pitfall by looking for the most realistic outcome.

10. Give yourself credit.

One of the common cognitive distortions involves ignoring the positive things that you do in favor of focusing on the negative.  You might be angry at yourself for procrastinating on a project for work or forgetting an important form for your child.   What you aren’t noticing are the positive accomplishments you’ve made that day.  Particularly for those with depression and anxiety, even simple acts like getting out of bed or making a meal for yourself can be major accomplishments.  Make a list of all the accomplishments you’ve made in a single day.  Write down everything you can think of, even if it seems trivial.

11. Practice gratitude.

When you’re so focused on negative circumstances you’re facing on a daily basis, it can be difficult to remember the positive.  Take some time to write down a list of 10 items for which you’re grateful.  Gratitude has the effect of reducing depression and increasing a sense of optimism.  It breaks the cycle of negative thinking about the past and future and refocuses you on the present moment. 

12. Know that it’s okay to feel what you’re feeling.

As you are plagued by the “shoulds” mentioned earlier, you might notice yourself continuing to spiral downward as you are hard on yourself for not feeling better.  Anxiety and depression come in waves, and they can’t be controlled by simply forcing yourself to feel better.  You might find that you try all the items on this list and realize that none of them has eliminated your anxiety and depression.  This can further perpetuate the shame-based beliefs that there’s something wrong with you because you aren’t immediately feeling better.  To stop this cycle, remind yourself that it is okay to feel what you’re feeling.  Know that you can ride these feelings out and that you’ll eventually feel better. 

How will you use these ideas to combat your anxiety and depression? 

pinterest_12_tools_for_dealing_with_anxiety_and_depression_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_novi_ann_arbor_michigan_christian.png

Are you struggling with feelings of hopelessness or crippled by negative beliefs about yourself?  Do you feel frozen in your anxiety, unable to enjoy the same activities you did before?  Are you feeling isolated and alone?  At Restored Hope, my goal is to help you understand your depression and anxiety more fully and experience freedom from the symptoms that have been dragging you down.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule your first appointment at my Novi or Ann Arbor therapy offices.

The Unexpected Power of a Thank You

title_the_unexpected_power_of_a_thank_you_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_novi_ann_arbor_michigan_couples_marriage_sex_and_love_addiction_christian.png

When was the last time you said thank you?  Was it to the cashier at the grocery store out of politeness?  Was it to your spouse for helping you carry in the groceries?  Was it to a friend who was there for you when you had a hard day?

What about the last time you received a “thank you” from someone else?  Or when did you receive praise?  For most of us, this is the more difficult question: whether due to disqualifying the positive events of our lives or genuinely not receiving praise, it can be difficult to identify positive words that have been spoken about you.

How about this: when was the last time you asked for praise or affirmation?  When did you express what you needed to someone close to you?  If you can think of an example, what did that feel like for you?  If not, what holds you back from asking?  Would you feel needy?  Like the praise was forced?

Listen to this short, three-minute TED talk from Dr. Laura Trice about the importance of genuine, authentic praise. 

How can you up your praise quotient in your own life?

Offer specific and genuine praise to those around you.

Saying a simple “thank you” is better than offering no praise at all.  But to take it a step further, think of one or two specific affirmations that you can offer another person or specific actions for which that you are thankful.  This type of praise helps others to know that you see them and their efforts, which, in turn, feels more genuine and authentic.

Offer praise rather than assuming the other person knows you’re grateful.

Dr. Trice shares a powerful example from her work with addicts.  She indicates that the core wound of many addicts comes from their parents neglecting to tell their child how proud they were of him or her.  Often parents talk about this pride with others, but did not directly express that pride to their child.

We can’t assume that our loved ones know how we feel about them if we don’t express it in words.  Take time to thank your spouse for something that you usually take for granted, or offer an “I love you” just because.  As Dr. Trice suggests, thank your children for completing their chores, even if it’s what’s expected of them.

Ask yourself: what praise do I need to hear?

If you’re feeling down or having a hard time feeling appreciated, think through what you need to hear that would help you feel more secure.  Do you want to be recognized for the contributions you offer to your workplace?  What about the parenting “wins” you’ve had lately?  Or how you put effort into finding the perfect gift for your spouse? Make a list of these areas, and then identify: where can you offer that praise to yourself?  Where would it be helpful to hear that praise from others?

Acknowledge the vulnerability it takes to ask for what you need.

When she gets down to the “why” of the difficulty related to asking for praise or thanks, Dr. Trice reveals that it is a vulnerable ask.  By requesting specific affirmations, we are indicating our weakness or a need.  It is difficult to admit this need, as we fear it could be used against us or withheld from us in the future.  Asking to be praised involves risk and trust.

You could neglect me, you could abuse it, or you could actually meet my need.
— Dr. Laura Trice

For some of us, having our needs met might be the most vulnerable experience we could have.  Perhaps we aren’t used to others meeting our needs, or we’re used to having to fight for ourselves.  It can be both healing and redemptive to ask for what you need and to receive it. 

Practice asking for the praise and affirmation you need to hear.

After you’ve listed out your needs, seek out the people you trust to ask for them to offer praise or appreciation for you.  Choose someone who is safe first and who you trust to be able to offer genuine praise.  Get creative with your ask and offer praise for them as well.  Create this as a regular practice in your life. 

I’m giving you critical data about me, I’m telling you where I’m insecure, I’m telling you where I need your help.
— Dr. Laura Trice
pinterest_the_unexpected_power_of_a_thank_you_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_novi_ann_arbor_michigan_couples_marriage_sex_and_love_addiction_christian.png

Do you struggle to feel appreciated?  Are you feeling taken advantage of, used, or disappointed by the lack of praise in your relationships?  Are you struggling with negative thoughts about yourself?  At Restored Hope, I offer individual and couples counseling at my Ann Arbor and Novi offices in Michigan to help you understand your needs more fully and learn how to communicate with others about the praise you need.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to hear more about how I can help you.

Surrendering Survival Mode: Letting Go of Coping From the Past to Thrive in the Present

title_surrendering_survival_mode_letting_go_of_coping_from_the_past_to_thrive_in_the_present_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor_novi_michigan_christian_sex_addiction_love_addiction.png

A few summers ago, my family held a garage sale, which is often quite the production.  Between my parents, my sisters and I, we have 4 separate households from which to sort through overstuffed closets and forgotten storage cabinets, hoping to find hidden treasures to add to the sale pile.  I’m often surprised by just how much stuff we’re able to produce from those parts of our home we barely think about.

One of my contributions to the sale was a Keurig coffeemaker. I loved it when I first received it.  But over the years, it had gone through some wear and tear.  Coffee brewed from it didn’t taste as good, I could only use filtered water in the tank, and I had to reset the clock settings often due to a frequently tripped fuse in my home.  I also noticed I had started drinking coffee less often, replacing it with a newfound love for tea.

Once, that Keurig was my lifeline.  Working long days and early mornings created a serious need for coffee. But as I entered into a new career, I used it less and less until it just became another piece of stuff to sell in a garage sale. That coffeemaker sat on my counter for over a year with me barely using it before I realized it was time to give it up. 

I got to thinking about how we cling not just to material items, but also to relational patterns, distorted thoughts about ourselves and our world, and defense mechanisms we learned in childhood that help us cope.  Oftentimes, we start these behaviors or thought patterns because they work – they ease our pain or anxiety.  They serve us in some way or another, meeting a need or a desire that we have difficulty fulfilling in a healthy way.

Before we know it, these habits become ingrained in our minds or in our daily practice and can develop into codependent relationships, depression, anxiety, addictions, or any number of difficulties in our lives.  We can often look at these patterns and know they cause problems, but they can feel familiar and safe after being used for years.

In a different season of life, we needed these thoughts or behaviors to cope.

Think of a child who is physically abused by her parents when she speaks up to protect her brother from similar harm.  We might expect that child to learn to stay silent and spend time alone in her room, avoiding interaction with her family.  As she gets older, she may make herself feel better by turning to food, sex, perfectionism, or alcohol.  These behaviors might have provided temporary relief for her then, but if they continued to be her only source of coping into adulthood, they could easily become addictive or problematic behaviors.

Maybe you’ve experienced a similar story. As a child, you may have learned to do what you needed to do to find ways to deal with the pain.

But these thoughts and behaviors might be holding you back and creating problems in your present-day life.

As adults, we have the opportunity to choose a different path, letting go of the old behaviors and stepping into newer ways to cope.  Often, though, that process isn’t something that can happen overnight.

When I sold that hardly-used coffeemaker, it felt like I was cutting off an arm.  I could think of about 100 reasons why I needed to keep it, and I almost felt physical pain at letting it go.  But I needed to clear it out, to have more physical space and declutter my home.

If this is how I felt about a piece of junk I barely used anymore, how much more difficult is it to let go of the unhealthy ways we’ve dealt with pain in the past?

Sometimes, giving these up feels impossible.

Many times, these behaviors and thoughts are based on past experiences that are no longer threatening us now.  It is important to learn how to let go of those things that are causing more frustration, pain, or harm than they’re worth.

But we can’t let go of these life patterns without filling that space with something different.  We need to learn to adopt new behaviors and thoughts that fit in our current season of life.  We need to get rid of the things that take up that mental and emotional space in order to make room for healthy self-care, more accurate views of ourselves and our world, and restored relationships.

What thoughts and behaviors are you clinging onto that helped you at a different season of life, but need to be let go of now?  

Now I don’t think about my Keurig much.  I drink coffee less often, avoiding the caffeine because I know how it affects my anxiety.  I still find comfort in wrapping my two hands around a warm mug, but more often than not it’s filled with tea.  While this material example is minor compared to changing old coping patterns, it’s reminding me to let go, to create space in my mind and heart for the things that I need in the phase of life I’m in right now.

This article was originally posted under the title "The Curious Difficulty of Letting Go" on January 26, 2017.

pinterest_surrendering_survival_mode_letting_go_of_coping_from_the_past_to_thrive_in_the_present_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor_novi_michigan_christian_sex_addiction_love_addiction.png

Are you in a season where letting go of past coping thoughts and behaviors feels impossible?  Do you feel ready to let those patterns go, but you're unsure about how to get started?  Have you tried different positive coping behaviors in the past, but none of them have worked?  At Restored Hope, I want to help you on your journey of learning new ways of dealing with painful emotions so that you can lead a more vibrant and wholehearted life.  I offer therapy at my offices in Ann Arbor and Novi, where you can schedule your first appointment us at 734.656.8191 or via email.

Nine Warning Signs of Depression

title_repost_nine_warning_signs_of_depression_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_novi_ann_arbor_christian.png

What might be some reasons you could wonder if you have depression?  It could be that you’ve noticed you’re feeling unhappy or gloomy a lot lately, and it’s hard for you to tell if it’s just a bad mood, or if there’s something more serious going on.  Or maybe you’ve been feeling this way for a long time, but it’s so much a part of your personality and who you are that it just seems normal at this point.  Either way, it can be hard to discern whether what you’re experiencing is normal, or if it could be categorized as depression.

If you’re struggling to know if you're experiencing depression, here are some symptoms to look out for:

Sadness is a common mood for you.

On a day to day basis, you might find yourself feeling discouraged or hopeless.  Or maybe you feel numb, or like you don’t have any feelings at all.  But if someone were to stop you and ask about how you’re feeling, you might start to cry or be overcome by feelings of sadness.  Sometimes you might switch back and forth between sadness and irritability or frustration with others. 

The things you used to love to do don’t seem fun anymore.

Do you find yourself thinking, “I just don’t care anymore”?  Oftentimes, the things that used to make you happy or bring you a sense of peace or joy lose that power.  It can feel like there’s nothing you really want to do, or it takes too much energy to do things you used to love.  You might notice yourself spending less time with people and avoiding social situations.

You’ve noticed your weight fluctuating significantly.

It may be that you feel as though you’ve lost your appetite, and you have a hard time feeling any desire to eat, which causes you to lose weight.  Or, on the other side of the coin, you could be eating more and having more cravings for carbs or sweet foods, which may cause you to gain weight.

You’re sleeping a ton, you feel lethargic, and you’re tired all of the time.

Another common symptom of depression is sleeping longer than normal, taking a lot of naps during the day, or having a hard time getting out of bed in the morning.  You might feel lazy or tired all of the time.  You may have lethargic movements and speech, in a way that is noticeable to others as well.  Has anyone pointed these things out to you? You could also notice fatigue without any apparent cause.  You might find normal daily tasks, like getting up, showering, or cooking a meal, to be too exhausting to complete. 

Insomnia feels like a familiar friend.

If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night, waking up early without being able to fall back to sleep, or having trouble falling asleep at night, depression could potentially be the culprit. 

Others tell you that you seem jumpy, and you feel restless.

Your restlessness could show up as fidgeting, pacing, or being unable to stand still.  Likely, people around you may have noticed some of these things and mentioned something to you before.  

A core belief you hold about yourself is that you’re worthless, or you’re consumed by feelings of guilt.

You might notice constant feelings that you have no worth or value, which can feel true even if they aren’t based in any facts.  Guilt over past mistakes or wrongs could be haunting your day-to-day thoughts.

You have a hard time focusing, remembering things, or making decisions.

You might walk into a room and forget what you’re looking for.  Or you can’t read a book or keep your mind on a task for more than 5 minutes at a time.  A simple decision, like what to make for dinner, can sometimes send you into such a tizzy that you feel unable to do anything. 

You have thoughts about death, and sometimes even suicidal thoughts.

There can be a wide range of suicidal thoughts: it can start with wishing not to not be alive any longer and worsen to seriously considering or planning a suicide attempt.   If you are experiencing thoughts or plans of suicide, please call 911 immediately or drive to your nearest ER facility.

Do any of these symptoms sound familiar to you?  If four or five of them sound true, it may be time for you to consider seeing your primary care physician or a therapist to help you decide if you’re experiencing clinical depression.  Your healthcare provider can support you and help you make decisions to take care of yourself.  You are worth receiving care and relief from your pain.

This article was originally posted on March 9, 2017.

Are you dealing with feelings of worthlessness and feeling like a failure to yourself and to people around you?  Are you constantly lacking energy and motivation?  Do you get hit with bouts of sadness or crying without an obvious cause?  At Restored Hope, I know the pain and loneliness that come from experiencing depression. My goal is to support you on your journey of overcoming depression through counseling at my Ann Arbor and Novi therapy offices.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out my form here to schedule your first appointment today.

How to Brighten Cloudy Days: Dealing with Depression

title_repost_how_to_brighten_cloudy_days_dealing_with_depression_restored_hope_novi_ann_arbor_counseling_therapy_christian.png

Have you ever had those days where nothing seems to go right?  I had one recently.  I woke up early one morning with full intention to do some work-related writing.  Instead of starting work right away, I spent an hour on my iPhone playing games and reading articles on Pinterest.  When I finally did get up to start my day, I sat down at my computer and got distracted by more articles on Pinterest and in blogs.  Once I finally forced myself to write, I was only able to finish an outline for an article before I felt discouraged and “needed a break.”

I felt disappointed in myself that morning, as I couldn’t check much off my to-do list.  As I moved on to the rest of my day, I thought to myself – how in the world do I cheer up after this?

Here’s a few thoughts that came to mind for ways to boost my mood.

Listen to Upbeat Music

True confession: I love boy bands.  One Direction and N’Sync are my pop idols of choice.  For me, putting on a 1D album will almost instantly change my mood.  In fact, a 2012 study in the Journal of Positive Psychology indicated that listening to upbeat music with the intention to boost your mood can cause you to feel happier.  Find whatever music is your favorite and put on a CD or radio station that plays it!  If you’re in search of ideas, I like flipping through Spotify’s mood playlists, like Mood Booster or Confidence Boost – even without a self-made playlist, you can still find some positive tunes.

Give Yourself Credit for the Good

When I reflected on my morning, my first instinct was to see all the things I did wrong, ways I procrastinated, or work I didn’t accomplish.  But, in reality, I did plenty of positive things.  I had time for meditation and Scripture reading in the morning.  I prioritized my to-do list and completed my top 3 tasks for the day.  I showered (that counts, right?)  David Burns, in his book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy*, identifies a distorted thought pattern he names “disqualifying the positive,” in which people can tend to believe negative thoughts or assumptions about themselves, but discredit any positive beliefs.  If I look at my day through the lens of everything I did wrong, of course I’ll feel discouraged.  But giving myself credit for those things I did will give that lift to my self-confidence.

Get Outside in Nature

There’s something about looking at beauty that makes it hard to focus on the negative.  I spent some time that afternoon sitting out in the backyard with my niece, basking in the sun and watching birds and squirrels.  We even saw a baby deer!  One evening earlier in the week a friend and I watched a giant cloud pass to the south of us, heat lightning flashing in the outline of the cloud.  It was absolutely beautiful.  Research shows that spending time in nature (or even viewing it from a window!) can have positive effects on mood, focus, and health.  Use the beauty you see to connect you back with a sense of awe and gratitude for the world around you.

Talk it Out 

A conversation with a friend can be an instant pick-me-up after a rough day.  There’s something powerful about knowing you’re not alone in the world.  Everyone has bad days, and having someone to sit with you in the middle of yours can make a huge difference.  Having a close network of friends has been shown to help people recover from depression. Give your friend a call, send a text, or even send a quick email to ask for encouraging words.

Give Yourself Permission to Take a Break

So you had a terrible morning trying to accomplish something that you couldn’t finish.  So the dishes are piling up in your kitchen, the crumbs have formed a layer on the kitchen floor, and you can’t remember the last time you wiped down the stove.  So your to-do list is a mile long and just keeps getting longer.  When you’re exhausted and overwhelmed to a point where everything feels like too much, it is okay for you to take a break.  Sit down, sip a cup of coffee, read a book, watch a quick YouTube video or TV show – whatever you love doing that refreshes you rather than drains you, give yourself a half-hour to do just that.  By giving yourself a short break with intention to return to your work afterwards, you’ll come back refreshed and ready to go.

On that day, did I remember to do these things?  Maybe not as much as I would’ve liked.  But when I have another discouraging day in the future, I’ll remind myself to return to some of these ideas and make them happen.

This article was originally posted on January 12, 2017.

pinterest_repost_how_to_brighten_cloudy_days_dealing_with_depression_restored_hope_novi_ann_arbor_counseling_therapy_christian.png

Have you found yourself feeling down or depressed more often?  Do you keep trying to help yourself feel better, but nothing seems to work?  Are you tired of feeling tired?  Restored Hope is a Novi and Ann Arbor based therapy office offering counseling to help you if you’re facing the clouds of lethargy, lack of motivation, and sadness that just won’t go away.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me to get more information about changing your pattern of depression. 

 

 

 

*This is an Amazon affiliate link.  Click here to read more about Restored Hope’s Amazon local  associates policy.

Six Simple Ways to Cut Through the Social Media Funk

It’s Saturday night, and you’re home alone again watching Netflix.  Cuddled up in your blanket, you open the Facebook app on your phone.  Before you know it, you’re scrolling through your newsfeed, checking out all the latest engagements and baby announcements of your friends.  You see a group of former high school classmates taking a beach vacation together, a group of friends posting a picture out at the bar, and your ex posting a photo with his new girlfriend.  Suddenly you’re swimming in a sea of depression, self-loathing, and comparison.

Whether you’re a mom of young children bogged down by the demands of a Pinterest perfect lifestyle or you’re obsessed with the number of likes on your perfectly filtered and retouched Instagram selfie, use of social media has infiltrated our culture to such a degree that our lives feel defined by our status updates.

A study completed at University of Pittsburg a few years ago indicated that heavy use of social media was correlated with depression.  Connections were also found between time spent using social media and the severity of depression symptoms, number of social networking platforms used and levels of depression, and a decline in happiness with use of Facebook.

A major factor in the link between social media and depression is what University of Houston researchers termed “social comparison”.  This refers to the tendency we have to flip through our newsfeeds and compare our lives to those of our “friends.”  People present their best, most polished selves on social media, and we spend time comparing those highlights to our worst moments.  We can feel jealous of what others have and give in to the mistaken belief that being perfect is what will make us happy.  Even comparing ourselves as better than someone else can have a negative impact on our moods.

Bullying plays a significant role in negative moods associated with social media.  Research shows that negative experiences are common on Facebook – in fact, as many as 1 in 4 adolescents reported being bullied through text or social media.  These negative experiences can not only contribute to depression in the short-term, but they can cause long-term traumatic effects.

What are some ways we can alleviate the effects of this social media funk?

Remove the apps from your phone.

Sometimes when I’m bored, I suddenly find myself mindlessly scrolling through Instagram.  The easy accessibility of apps on our phone makes the choice to look at social media almost unconscious. Deleting certain apps has made that decision more of a conscious choice.  I have to choose to type the website for Facebook into my browser before I can look at it.  This deters me from looking at social media more often.

Turn off your devices or charge them in a separate room an hour before bedtime.

In addiction treatment, “HALT” is an acronym used to describe situations in which addicts are more likely to be triggered: when they’re hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.  These emotions can come up late at night, particularly tired and lonely.  In other words, nighttime is the perfect setup for you to be sucked into a social-media-fueled depression.  If you place your devices in a separate room and make a point not to use them before bed, this takes the temptation away.

Take a social media break.

There have been times in my life when social media feels like it’s consuming my life.  This has prompted me to take a social media break over a few days, intentionally not looking at my Facebook or Instagram.  Enforcing this break might involve deleting apps from your phone or using a software application such as RescueTime to limit your ability to access social media.

Purpose to check at certain times of the day.

It’s fairly simple to click over to Facebook or Twitter multiple times a day without thinking, and we can feel the wasted time slipping through our fingers.  Instead, choose two or three specific times during the day that you know you’ll have time and plan to look at your social media accounts then.  Sticking to this plan allows you to look forward to your scheduled time to check.

Figure out your purpose for social media.

Have you ever stopped to think why social media is so important to you?  Is it to maintain friends?  To feel connected to people who are far away?  To receive support or encouragement from others?  Or even just to distract you when you’re feeling bored?  Ask yourself why you are using it.  Studies have shown that those who use social media for positive interactions, social support, and social connectedness actually have positive outcomes for depression and anxiety.  How can you use your social media as a means through which you can decrease loneliness?  Remind yourself of what purpose it serves for you every time you log in.

Take an active role.

Use your Facebook or Twitter accounts as a tool to post honestly about your life, to give encouragement to your loved ones, or to connect with your friends.  Studies show that “surveillance use,” or seeking to use social media to observe others’ lives rather than express your own (or what I think of as mindless scrolling) increases depression.  Use these accounts to share your authentic self and embrace your imperfections, combating the mistaken belief that perfection is the goal for happiness.

 

Do you feel sad or depressed after scrolling through Facebook?  Do you worry about missing out when you see your friends post on Instagram?  Are you tired of feeling lonely after using social media?  At Restored Hope, we would love to support you in stopping the comparison trap and experiencing joy in the life you have.  We offer counseling services at our Novi and Ann Arbor locations – give us a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to talk with us about how we can help.

What To Do If Your Spouse Has Depression

title_what_to_do_if_your_spouse_has_depression_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor_novi_michigan_couples_christian_marriage.png

You’ve been noticing some changes in your partner.  She has a hard time getting out of bed in the morning.  He’s lost interest in the friends and outings he used to love.  She bursts into tears at the slightest provocation.  He talks about feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, and tired.

When your loved one is going through a season of depression, it can be difficult to know how to respond, especially if you’ve never experienced depression yourself.  When depression is not addressed in relationships, it can create emotional and relational problems that lead to divorce.  Depression affects communication between spouses, creates isolation from friends, and can lead to feelings of depression in the healthy spouse.  Conflict can escalate as your partner experiences irritability and shifts in mood.

How can you actively respond to your spouse’s depression in a way that doesn’t drive you apart, but that draws you closer together?

First, learn about depression.

Understanding the way depression works is the first step to supporting your spouse.  Read books and articles to learn more about depression symptoms.  Identify which symptoms are common for your spouse, and get to know the types of negative thoughts that characterize depression.  Learn about differences in severity and what to do if your spouse struggles with thoughts of suicide.  If you’ve just had children, learn about the symptoms of post-partum depression.  Identify if the depression is related to a situation like a death in the family, or if it’s a more chronic problem.

Reduce the stigma.

You might find that your spouse denies struggling with depression or feels ashamed at having to admit they need help. People with depression can dislike putting that fact about them on display.  They can feel stereotyped and marginalized as others minimize their concerns, saying words like, “It’s no big deal, you’ll cheer up soon.”  Encourage your spouse that what they’re experiencing is normal for depression, they don’t need to feel shame, and help is available.

Build your marital friendship.

John Gottman shares that a top prevention strategy for post-partum depression is building and maintaining friendship in your marriage.  You can foster this friendship in many ways.  Spend time asking each other questions to learn about one another’s worlds.  Go for a walk or exercise together, as exercise offers health benefits for depression and can be a great activity for connection.  Choose a sitcom on Netflix to watch and laugh together.

Talk about how you’re feeling.

Processing and understanding emotions in one another can be a great way to build intimacy and cope with feelings of depression.  Check in every day to find out how each of you are feeling, using a structure like Gottman’s stress reducing conversation.  Seek to understand your spouse, not to fix them. Take time to name the different emotions you experienced today.  Discuss a high and low moment from the day, identify things for which you are grateful, and affirm what you achieved throughout the day.

Create a game plan with your spouse for bad days.

In the ups and downs of depression, there will be days that are worse than others.  On bad days, it can be helpful to have a plan of activities to do to care for your spouse.  Pay attention to the triggers.  Explore ideas on what helps your spouse to feel better on bad days and encourage him or her to do them.  Offer a massage.  Practice gratitude together.  Encourage your spouse to take care of him or herself without pushing.

Be patient.

It can be easy to become angry with a spouse whose actions affect you.  If they have difficulty at work due to their depression, aren’t motivated to do fun things together, or have a hard time caring for children, it can feel like you’re taking on more responsibility.  In this case, share how you feel (gently) and seek to find a compromise or solution.  Be aware that talking about their struggles with depression or making suggestions on what to do might be met with defensiveness, so be mindful of taking a gentle approach. 

Respect and support their work in therapy.

Ultimately, if your spouse is struggling with depression, he or she needs to seek professional help. One way to support this process is to drive them to sessions with their therapist or psychiatrist.  When your spouse is in therapy, expect them to set boundaries and make changes in their life that may affect you, including cutting back on some responsibilities. If their therapist requests you come in for sessions or begin couples therapy, do so.  Request to come in for a session to learn about how you can support your spouse’s work with the therapist.

Prioritize your own self-care, friendships, and therapy.

As depression impacts your partner, you may tend to isolate from others as a couple.  It may be more difficult to have fun together.  It is important for you to cultivate your own relationships with friends and family to help.  Identify safe family members or same-sex friends who can be a support.  Be wary of depending too much on friends of the opposite sex, as that could lead to infidelity.  If needed, pursue your own therapy to learn about how to cope with the emotions and stress you’re experiencing.

Most importantly, if your spouse talks about thoughts of suicide or a plan to harm themselves, seek immediate medical help.  Drive your partner to the nearest ER facility or call 911.

It is important not to minimize this last point: if your spouse is talking about suicide, take action.  If you are unsure about the symptoms of suicidal ideation, call the suicide prevention lifeline (1-800-273-8255) and ask about warning signs.

 

As the spouse of someone struggling with depression, you have the power to make an impact in their healing.  My hope is that as you learn to care better for both yourself and your spouse, you’ll be able to experience greater intimacy as you fight back against depression together.

 

pinterest_what_to_do_if_your_spouse_has_depression_restored_hope_counseling_therapy_ann_arbor_novi_michigan_couples_christian_marriage.png

Do you feel distant from your partner because of their struggles with depression?  Are you becoming irritated by your spouse’s struggles to function on a daily basis?  Or are you currently struggling with depression and troubled by the effects it’s having on your marriage?  At Restored Hope, we support couples who are going through painful seasons of life.  We offer couples counseling at our Novi and Ann Arbor locations, using Gottman Method interventions that help to foster healthy marriages.  Give us a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here today to hear more about how we can help.

Are You Living Like The Walking Dead?

title_are_you_living_like_the_walking_dead_restored_hope_ann_arbor_novi_therapy_counseling_christian.png

This Sunday, AMC premiered the 8th season of The Walking Dead with the series’ 100th episode.  It’s fascinating to see how much this show has maintained its popularity through the past 8 years.  Part of the draw in our culture toward TV and movies that focus on zombies is that on some level, we can relate.

Have you ever heard yourself or someone else utter the phrase, “I feel like a zombie”?  Whether it’s because we’re exhausted, stressed, or overwhelmed, we can find ourselves having a hard time functioning.  While feeling exhausted might be remedied by a good night’s sleep, sometimes we feel like zombies caught in the day-to-day of our lives.  We can be emotionless and struggle to make it through each day.  We lose sight of our hopes and dreams for the future, as the fog of everyday stress fills our mind.

One hallmark trait of zombies is their insatiable hunger.  That hunger is what makes them so dangerous.

At the same time, we can relate to the sense of being hungry for something more.

We desire for our lives to have meaning and purpose, to feel content and whole, but we often settle for filling our hunger with things that don’t satisfy.  We can become addicted to alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, food, or gambling.  We can become entangled in dysfunctional or codependent relationships.  We might fill our lives with things that make us busy so we don’t have time to feel longing for more.  We might spend our money on bigger and better things as an attempt to make us feel happy.  But sadly, none of these satisfy us.

What are you hungry for?

What are the things that you desire?  If you’ve numbed out in any of the above ways, it’s likely that question hasn’t crossed your mind in some time.  Nothing may come to mind for you.  Here are a few questions that might help spark your curiosity:

  • If you could change one area in your life that would make it infinitely better, what would it be?
  • If you could wave a magic wand and have the life you want, what would it look like?
  • What do you daydream about?  Why?  What will that give you?
  • What were the things you loved to do as a child?  What did you want to be when you grew up?

As you answer these questions, you may come across desires that aren’t practical or helpful.  For example, if you daydream about having an affair or quitting work to play video games all day, that likely isn’t a desire that will serve you well in life.  However, these daydreams provide clues to your desire.  For example, if you daydream about an affair because your marriage feels like you’re living parallel lives, it can point out a desire for more intimacy in your marriage.  If you desire to play video games all day because you hate your job, that’s a clue that you want something more out of your career.

Keep in mind that this may be a painful process.  Identifying desires breaks the pattern of numbing out and opens us up to feeling longing, sadness, loneliness, anger, and a whole host of other emotions.  But in order for you to feel joy and contentment with your life, you need to be able to move through these negative emotions as well.  I love the book Desire by John Eldredge that outlines how desire is both crucially important and so difficult to engage with.

How do I come back to life?

You’ve identified your desires: now what?  Just identifying desires can lead us back into numbing out if we don’t have a concrete idea on how to move forward into those desires. 

To start, choose one desire you’re feeling in your life.  Typically it’s best to identify the desire that has the most energy or emotion tied to it.   It could be related to your career, your relationships, your spiritual life, or your hobbies.  Next, what is one step you can take to move yourself closer to that desire?  Start with the end goal and trace each step back until you get to a manageable first step.

An example from my own life: I want to be a skilled home baker.  I’m obsessed with watching the Great British Baking Show and Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship, and I dream about crafting beautiful and delicious desserts.  But the amount of knowledge these bakers have is beyond my competence.  How do I trace it back?.  In order to be a skilled home baker, I need to learn different recipes and methods of baking desserts.  I need understand the chemistry of baking.  I need to practice.  A next step might be to check out a book at the library about baking to read, to sample a new recipe, or to watch a YouTube video about cake decorating.

But what if I don’t know what to do?

Like the CDC developing a cure for the plague, or The Walking Dead’s Rick Grimes forging a new community, you need a guide who can give you direction on where to go and how to get there.  Often, the process of coming back to life is long and arduous.  Like a trek through a mountain, it can be easy to become discouraged when looking at the summit instead of the next step in front of you.  You might slip back into old patterns in that discouragement.

As a therapist, I function as a guide in areas of your life where you feel stuck.  My role is to help you identify and engage with your desires, break down desire into manageable goals, and walk with you as you make progress on your climb up the mountain.  When I see you slipping back into numbing out through addictive behaviors, it is my role to lead you back to the path to your desire.  In the process, I believe that you’ll see areas of your life slowly become more vibrant and in alignment with what you desire.  Hope will grow and flourish as you begin to see these dreams becoming a reality.

pinterest_are_you_living_like_the_walking_dead_restored_hope_ann_arbor_novi_therapy_counseling_christian.png

Do you feel like you’re shuffling through your life instead of thriving in it?  Do you hunger for something more, but have a hard time figuring out what that is?  Maybe you know what you desire, but the path to getting there feels overwhelming and exhausting.  At Restored Hope, we want to guide you along the path to embodying a vibrant and full life, rather than just surviving.  We offer counseling sessions at our therapy offices in Novi and Ann Arbor to help you along the path to a more fulfilling life.  Give us a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here today to hear more about how we can help.