anxiety

Eight Hygge Ideas for Your Mental Health

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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.

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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

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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? 

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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.

An Attitude of Gratitude

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A regular practice of gratitude has been shown to inspire health benefits including increased exercise, optimism, and reduced physical pain.  Gratitude has a multitude of mental health benefits as well, such as better sleep, reduced depression, and reduced stress.  Studies by the National Institute of Health indicate that gratitude can increase dopamine in your brain, which serves as a “reward” hormone to make you feel good.

Gratitude also has spiritual benefits.  When we thank God for the gifts He has given us, we are then better able to receive those gifts with gratitude rather than continuing to demand more.  Psalm 23:1 says, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I have all that I need.”  Meditating on this verse helps me to be aware of all the needs I have that are being met, rather than comparing my current status with what I wish I had.

Oftentimes, if we struggle with depression or anxiety, gratitude isn’t our first response.  Instead, we face hopelessness about our life circumstances.  We can have a thought pattern of only seeing the negative in our lives, without taking the time or energy to appreciate the good things we experience.  I personally can tend to default to a more “glass half empty” frame of mind.

But what if, instead of only looking at the bad, we chose to see all the good in our lives?  Have you heard of the difference between the “scarcity mentality” and the “abundance mentality”? The scarcity mentality says, “I’ll never have enough/what I want,” while the abundance mentality comes from the perspective of “I have all that I need.”  How might it feel if you chose gratitude for the abundance in your life rather than focusing on things you lack? 

Here are some ways you can practice gratitude in your daily life. 

Keep a gratitude journal.

Each night before bed, or each morning when you wake up, take some time to write out a list of things you are grateful for in a journal designated for just that purpose.  You could take Ann Voskamp’s approach and write a list of three different things you’re grateful for on a daily basis, culminating in over 1000 different things to be grateful for in one year.  In the past, I’ve combined this practice with the practice of an examen to reflect on my day and the good and bad that happened throughout.  Looking back over this journal, it is easy to see how full our lives are of good things, and to experience joy at the gifts we have. 

Practice gratitude in your relationships.

We often become so accustomed to loved ones in our lives that we begin to lose sight of the ways they love or serve us.  This is a particular problem in marriages, where the praise and appreciation that are so prevalent at first tend to taper as you spend more and more time together.  Sit down with your partner or with a close friend today and share with them ways that you are grateful for who they are and what influence they’ve had on your life.

Sit in nature and write lists of all the things you see around you for which you are thankful.

Have you ever watched the TV show Planet Earth?  Whenever I flip on an episode of this or any other nature show, I'm fascinated by the creatures and landscapes that exist in this world and their beauty.  When we take the time to sit outside and look at the world around us (even in the winter!), we can connect with a world that is much bigger than we are.  We can also experience more peace and calm as a result.

Pray.

At times in the past, my gratitude journal has taken the form of a prayer journal, where I spend time thanking God for the blessings in my life.  Whether this takes the form of a nightly ritual or an extended conversation with God, it can be a refreshing and renewing practice for my faith and to remind myself that God has provided all that I need.  Sometimes combining prayer with a walk can be helpful, as it allows space to be in nature as well.  Another area we can practice gratitude in prayer is paying attention to answered prayers: what have you been praying for where God has provided an answer? 

Write a thank-you note!

We’re taught as children to write thank you notes for the gifts we get at parties, and we often continue that practice with other special events in our lives, like weddings and baby showers.  While this custom tied to formal events can feel rote and like a chore, what would it feel like for you to write a thank you note to a friend…just because?  Try sending a thank-you card to a friend or family member for no reason other than to practice gratitude for the ways they’ve been present in your life.

Stop comparing yourself to others!

This is a big one, and I can often be the #1 culprit.  When we compare ourselves to others, even if we do so in order to view ourselves more favorably, that is not gratitude.  In fact, when we do it, it often leaves us with kind of an icky feeling.  Gratitude is about finding the things that are positive in your own life, without comparing to anyone else.

What step will you take this week to practice gratitude in your life?

This article was originally posted on March 25, 2017.

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Are you having a hard time finding anything to feel grateful about?  Maybe you relate to the idea of the scarcity mentality, where you feel hopeless and unhappy with your current life circumstances.  Here at Restored Hope, we’d love to help you on your journey to change your circumstances and your outlook  to live a happy and fulfilled life.  Contact us at our Ann Arbor and Novi therapy offices to hear more about how you can find support and help to live more wholeheartedly.  Call us at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to reach us

Seven Signs You Might Have Clinical Anxiety

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Your heart is racing, your hands are shaky, and your palms are sweating.  Your pupils dilate, and you feel panic rising in your chest.  You start to feel nausea growing in the pit of your stomach, and you feel slightly dizzy and off balance.

Maybe you’ve had this experience when you were about to give a speech, run a race, or play a sport.   This is an example of what happens when our bodies go through the fight-or-flight response that characterizes anxiety. It’s our body’s response to any perceived threat: our adrenaline kicks in to give us that extra boost of energy to push through.

However, when you struggle with clinical anxiety, that fight-or-flight response never truly turns off.  You’re responding to all of life’s daily worries with an adrenaline surge, and your body and mind get worn out as a result.

Occasional anxiety can be helpful, because it keeps us motivated.  But when it becomes problematic and interferes with our lives, it becomes more harmful than good.

You may be asking: what is the difference between just feeling worried or anxious occasionally, and actually struggling with an anxiety disorder?  Here’s some common signs of clinical anxiety:

You notice physical symptoms, like feeling restless and worked up all the time, or your muscles feel tense and tight.

Physical symptoms of anxiety can often be one of the early indicators that you may struggle with this particular disorder.  Have you ever noticed you’re feeling nervous by holding up a hand and watching it shake?  Pay attention to how your body feels: if you notice shaking, trembling, twitching, exaggerated startle response, or feeling shaky, these might be indicators that you’re feeling some anxiety.  It can also show up in common stress responses, like headaches or stomach issues.

I’ve recently noticed anxiety shows up in me in the form of an internal shakiness: when I’m feeling fear or anxiety about an upcoming event, I shiver as though I were outside in the cold, even if I’m in a warm room.  While I may not be feeling the emotion of fear or anxiety, I am aware that I am anxious because of my body’s response.

Your negative thoughts and fears feel like they’re on a constant loop that you can’t turn off, and you feel worried about most areas of your life.

It is common to experience anxiety about a particular area of your life from time to time.  Clinical anxiety, however, is characterized by worrying so much about all different areas of your life such that you can’t shut the worry off, even when you may need to for an important reason.  This anxiety is excessive, interfering with daily life and the tasks at hand.  It is a general rule that the more areas over which you are feeling anxious, the more likely it is that you are struggling with an anxiety disorder.

The worst-case scenario is the first option that pops into your mind.

Everyday worries can usually be explained or rationalized away, and they typically don’t jump to the worse possible option.  On the other hand, clinical anxiety cannot be rationalized: even when you know your fears are unfounded, the experience of the emotion of anxiety won’t stop.  Even if your fears aren’t realistic or logical, they can feel overwhelming.  This is often one of the most frustrating parts of experiencing an anxiety disorder!

You’re at a loss to figure out what made you anxious in the first place.

“I know I’m nervous because I have a big test tomorrow.” Understandable, right? Feeling anxious about a definable problem like a big exam can be expected.  But when the exam is over and the worry doesn’t stop, or you wake up one morning and feel on edge without any particular reason, that might be an indicator of a more severe form of anxiety.

You have hard time focusing, or you forget what you were doing right after you begin.

Have you ever had the experience of sitting down to focus on a task, and immediately thinking of five other things you need to do?  The constant stream of anxious thoughts running through your head can be too much for your brain to hold.  Trying to keep track of multiple different threads of worries at once can distract you from the task at hand, which leads to forgetfulness and difficulty maintaining attention.  This can have an impact on your ability to be productive, which then feeds right back into anxiety you feel about being unproductive.

You’re short-tempered and easily irritated.

Having so many things on your mind can detract from your empathy and understanding of others.  You can feel overstimulated and overwhelmed by the stress response you’re experiencing.  For that reason, you may notice yourself becoming more annoyed or frustrated with people or circumstances around you that increase your worry.

Some symptoms of anxiety can mask themselves as depression: feeling tired all the time, lack of energy, and/or insomnia due to racing thoughts or fitful sleep.

You might think, “I worry a lot, but I don’t always get keyed up.  Mostly I shut down, and feel sad, exhausted, and unmotivated.”  Anxiety and depression play off of one another, so much so that what feels like depression might actually be anxiety.  They are two sides of the same coin: you may be depressed and your body needs to create anxiety in order to get you energized to complete the task at hand, or you may have anxiety followed by depression when your body decides it is too much and slows you down.

With anxiety, the constant stream of worry and anxious thoughts that you’re experiencing wears your body down.  As a result of your body functioning mostly on the adrenaline produced by the fight-or-flight response, you are more easily tired out.

This article was originally posted on April 6, 2017.

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If some of the above characteristics feel true to you, it may be time to seek out a mental health professional to see if you’re experiencing clinical anxiety.  Restored Hope is an Ann Arbor- and Novi-based therapy office where I work with you to identify if what you’re struggling with is understandable worry or a more clinical issue.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to contact me and hear how I can help.

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

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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.

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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.

A Toddler’s Guide to Mindfulness

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Have you ever watched what toddlers do or listened to what they talk about?  There’s something special about the way children interact with the world.  As adults, we can become consumed by timelines and schedules and priorities.  But those things don’t matter to kids – they see things through different eyes.

Before I became a therapist, I worked for a few years as a childcare provider for young children.  One 2-year-old I watched was notorious for getting easily distracted – a simple walk along the sidewalk could take what felt like ages, as he would stop every few feet to point out an insect, pick up a rock, or comment on the leaves scattered around the neighbor’s yard.

One day, I followed him up the stairs so he could get dressed, chatting about what we were going to do that morning.  In my mind, I was planning each step for our entire day, almost by the minute.  To be honest, I was rushing him a bit too.  (We were going upstairs, which is always a several minute production for a toddler learning to climb...and always having to do everything without my help.)

I started listing off our plans for the day.  "Okay, after we get dressed we're going to get ready to drive in the car, and then we're going to go to Target to get something and look at the Christmas trees, and then we'll have our playdate, and then..."  The little one suddenly stopped on the stairs and said, "NO."  I assumed he meant he didn't want to leave the house, so I started reminding him of all the fun things we were going to do and how he would have to leave in order to do those things.  He stopped me again, and said:

"No.  Getting dressed upstairs."

And it hit me.

While I was fluttering around thinking about all the things we were going to do that day, this little one was focused on the one thing right in front of him.

Which was, evidently, going upstairs to get dressed.  Honestly, I was probably overwhelming him by hitting him with all these plans and ideas when he could only handle thinking about one thing at a time.

How often do we do this in our lives?  We mentally jump so far ahead into the future and end up trying to juggle thinking about 27 things at once.  For me, it can start simply, where I'm thinking about whatever's coming next in my day.  Or it can happen on a long-term level, where I analyze my career or my relationships.  Or deeper still than that: I can feel such concern over my dreams and ambitions, or my fears of failure, or not measuring up to a professional or spiritual standard.  These worries can cripple me in a place of discouragement and hopelessness at my lack of progress.

And just like this 2-year-old, if I let all those worries flood into my mind, I get overstimulated, overwhelmed, and I shut down.

This moment spoke a truth to me that I needed to embrace at that point in my life: just stop.  Stop trying to figure out every detail.  Stop trying to think about the next big thing, the next stage I want to enter in life, or all those questions that I feel the need to have answered.  Let go of the obsessive anxiety and attempts at gaining control over my circumstances, which I think will keep me safe and protect me from harm.  The pride I had in believing I could control my life was being shaken by the wisdom of a toddler.

The truth reinforced in me that day was this: when we become caught up in negative thoughts about the past, or worries about the future, we lose sight of the beauty of the present moment.  We miss all that is happening right in front of us when we’re caught up in those stresses.  While planning and creating a vision for the future has a time and place, on a day-to-day basis, it is important to take things just one step at a time.  When we choose to be mindful of the present moment, we experience fewer negative emotions, less stress, increased focus and memory, less emotional reactivity, happier relationships, and plenty of other health benefits.

When I walk in the present moment of life, I feel so much more gratitude for the things around me.  I experience the grace that comes with knowing I don't have to have it all together, and I don't have to be perfect or achieve all the things I desire to achieve in my life.   And I can rest in the simplicity of life where I'm not always rushing ahead to the next thing and trying my hardest to control every outcome.

"So don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries.  Today's trouble is enough for today." Matthew 6:34 (NLT)

Who knew a 2-year-old would have a wiser outlook on life than I would.

One step at a time.

This article was originally posted on February 9, 2017.

If you’re in a place where the world around you seems to be moving too quickly, your mind is racing with thoughts and worries about what’s in the future, and you have a hard time slowing down enough to focus on the present moment, I’m here to help you. Restored Hope Counseling is an Ann Arbor and Novi therapy office where I focus on helping you navigate through anxiety and depression, giving you the support and tools you need to slow down your anxious thoughts and move toward a happier, more wholehearted life.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to hear more about how I can be a support to you.

Self-Care Saturdays: Take a Mindful Moment

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Welcome to Self-Care Saturdays!.  In a world where we are constantly faced with demands on our time and energy, it can feel impossible to slow down enough to pay attention to our own needs and take steps to care for them.  These articles are meant to get you thinking about one small step you can take today to practice kindness and care for yourself. 

Mindfulness is a trendy topic mentioned often by psychologists these days.  Over the past few years my curiosity about mindfulness has been peaked, and I’ve tried out meditation, yoga, and other stress-relieving activities to see what all the buzz is about.

And I’ve found that the reason mindfulness is so popular is that it works.

As I’ve been growing my counseling private practice and seeking to achieve balance between my business schedule and personal commitments, I’ve realized that stress is a common factor in my daily life.  Since research has shown that mindfulness benefits healthcare professionals, I thought I’d give it a go.

I picked up a month-long yoga practice this past month on Yoga with Adriene, and I truly believe it has changed my life.  Doing yoga daily creates space for me to intentionally slow down, practice breathing deeply, and grow in conscious awareness of my body and how I hold myself throughout my day.  My goal for the month was to feel better, and I certainly did.

What is mindfulness?  How does it benefit me?

If your concept of mindfulness includes the image of a Buddhist monk sitting cross-legged and letting out a few “om”s, you’re likely not alone.  Mindfulness, however, is a much broader reaching practice than just these examples.  Mindfulness is defined as a state of conscious awareness in the present moment without judgment.  You can practice mindfulness while you’re walking down the street, driving in your car, or playing with your children.

A multitude of studies completed in recent years show all the health benefits of mindfulness.  It reduces stress and improves mood, likely due to slowing down the fight-or-flight stress response.  Mindfulness increases focus and attention, which then links to an improvement in job performance.  It leads to a reduction in symptoms of chronic pain and has shown positive benefits with cancer patients’ recovery.  For recovering addicts, doing mindful practices actually encourage change in the brain structures that have been formed through addiction.  It also offers benefits to those who suffer from depression or overly intense emotions.

What about the benefits of yoga?

Yoga is one major way to target those benefits of mindfulness, but it also carries its own positive effects.  Yoga can be a form of exercise to increase your flexibility, muscle strength, and tone.  It can provide cross training for running or other cardio exercise.  It also can help you to become a more mindful eater as you grow in awareness of your body and how it feels.

Psychologically, yoga targets stress and provides relief through relaxation, reducing anxiety, and improving your mood.  Yoga can help you to build a positive sense of self, which is often threatened by the shame or negative self-talk characteristic of depression.  If you are a survivor of trauma and struggle with dissociation, yoga can help you become more in touch with your body and help you to ground into the present moment.

One of the most beneficial concepts for me in my yoga practice was the beginner’s mind.  As a former dancer, I believed that in order to prove my flexibility and be the “best” at yoga, I had to do all the intense pretzel-like postures the instructor was doing.  As a recovering perfectionist, I still felt pressure to do every move “perfectly.”  Luckily, the instructor encouraged me to listen to my body and not push myself beyond my limits.  Being able to slow down on the mat and give myself permission to be imperfect allowed me to approach other areas of my life with the same calm and willingness to learn.

One potential roadblock for Christians who are hoping to try yoga is the potential struggle with its Buddhist roots.  As a Christian myself, I wrestle with this concept too.  I’ve chosen to use poses that involve a prayer posture or my intention for my practice as a way to connect with the Lord in prayer and surrender, seeking to set my mind on Him.  In yoga classes, you may come across language that feels uncomfortable or doesn’t fit with your Christian beliefs, and that’s fine! If it’s too difficult for you, you can try a different instructor or seek out Christian yoga classes.

How can I practice mindfulness in my life? 

Try a breathing exercise.

Taking a few moments to enjoy some deep breaths helps to slow down your nervous system and decrease anxiety.  Practicing breathing can be a task that takes as short as 10 minutes or less – it doesn’t have to be a huge chunk of your day.  It can be helpful to use a guided meditation in which to do this.  I really like the Headspace app, which gives you fun animations to help you start and 10-minute meditations to walk through.  For my Christian friends, I’d also recommend Everyday Prayer, a short podcast series with meditative prayers to increase a sense of mindfulness.

Test out mindful eating.

As you eat your next meal, pay attention to the flavors and textures of the foods you are eating.  Notice the smell of the spices in the food.  Pay attention to how your stomach feels, if you notice yourself feeling full or stuffed as a signal to stop.

Go for a mindful walk.

Take a walk outside.  Pay attention to the feel of your feet pressing against the ground, the temperature of the air, and the feeling of wind on your skin.  Look around at the sights around you, whether they involve nature, other people, or buildings.  Smell the fresh air outside.

Yoga.

As talked about before, I’ve become a big proponent of yoga after I’ve seen how I’ve felt as a result of doing it daily.  I love Yoga with Adriene.  She offers hundreds of free yoga videos on her YouTube channel, and if you subscribe to her newsletter you receive a monthly calendar with a practice she’s chosen for each day of the month.  Check out YouTube for other free yoga channels, or join a class in your area.

Practice consistently.

As you likely know if you’ve tried and failed to start a new exercise regimen, you don’t begin to see the benefit to your fitness levels until you’ve made the practice a habit.  Practicing mindfulness daily is an important step to experience its health benefits.  You can choose a time and place that works best for you – I like doing my yoga first thing in the morning (and I go to sleep in my yoga clothes so I’m ready to go when I wake up!)  It doesn’t have to be a huge commitment either: even just taking 10 minutes a day can show a marked difference.

How will you practice mindfulness this week?

 

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Do you feel like you’re constantly juggling a million tasks and struggling to find space to breathe?  Do you love the idea of taking a yoga class, but just can’t figure out how to fit it into your busy schedule?  Are you burned out and tired with the loads of stress you’re carrying?  My hope is to offer you a fresh breath of air through counseling.  At Restored Hope, I offer therapy sessions focusing on self-care and creating space in your schedule and your life for rest.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to chat more about how I can help.

The Unbearable Tension of Waiting

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In American culture, we aren’t very patient.  We’ve become spoiled by easy access to entertainment and diversion through our smartphones and Netflix and technology within easy reach of us at all times.  We don’t like to be bored, and it’s quite easy to go through each day without having one second of downtime.  (I know this from experience).  Waiting for something seems like a foreign concept to us because we choose to numb out or not engage or feel when we’re faced with having to wait.  We can distract and consume more media to keep our minds off of what we feel.

And it makes sense that we’d want to avoid waiting.  Waiting is hard.

Waiting for the depression to lift.

Waiting as a single woman desperate to be noticed.

Waiting for our spouse to change, to love us more, to connect.

Waiting to feel joy.

Waiting for the anxiety to calm.

Waiting for God to speak, to comfort, to come through.

Waiting for the grief to subside.

Waiting for healing to come.

Waiting is heartbreaking.  We are desperate for the waiting to be over.  And that would feel good.  For a moment.  But what then?  Would we actually be satisfied?  Or would we rush so quickly past the receiving of the goodness that we miss the blessing of accepting the gift of the good thing we desire?  Are we constantly wanting more?

This heartbreak is a picture that our world is not what it was meant to be.  So why does God allow it to happen?  Pain is a necessary part of growth.  I have experienced the most significant periods of growth in my life when I have been the most frustrated by waiting.  I have had to learn patience, contentment, and joy in the present moment.

What would it look like to be content where we are, knowing it is nowhere near where we want to be?

How would it feel to find the joy and blessing in everyday moments without the expectation of receiving something different, something we judge to be better?

What does the Lord have to teach us in this waiting?  In the dry season?  In the winter of our lives?  When we suffer?

Every good story is driven by the tension of the waiting, of the pain, of the not yet getting the thing we desire.  Every film you’ve seen, every book you’ve read, each compelling plot is driven by the tension of the not-yet.  In some stories, even when the not-yet is reached, it is dissatisfying and disappointing.  Or perhaps it is not fully reached at all.

And the agony and beauty of the moment in that story when all seems lost, when the desired outcome seems so out of reach.  The exquisite pain of longing for the desire that we grasp for and yet it slips through our fingers.  This is the most poignant moment of the story, the pinnacle point where our emotions thrum at their highest note, where we connect most intimately with the pain.

It is the moment at which we feel most alive.

As you wrestle with the waiting, don’t become so consumed with the having of the thing that you miss the moments in the present that are passing by swiftly, such that we will never get them back.

Stop.

Look outside.  Not just outside in nature, but outside of yourself.

See the beauty.

Pause.

Drink it in.

Let it be slow.

Let yourself be unfinished and imperfect.

Don’t distract yourself or numb out from the pain.

Embrace the feeling of being fully human and in the middle of your story.

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Perhaps you felt connected to the above words.  Are you in a season of waiting that feels interminable?  Are you struggling to deal with the corresponding pain?  Or perhaps you’ve shut down emotionally to avoid the pain of the wait.  At Restored Hope, we desire to walk alongside you as you cope with the pain of waiting.  We offer counseling services at our Ann Arbor and Novi locations to give you the resources to cope with the pain.  Give us a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to hear more about how we can support you.

What Skydiving Teaches Us About Surviving Anxiety

Imagine yourself strapped into a small plane, ascending into the clouds en route to your first skydiving jump.  As the plane tilts its nose upward, your stomach drops, and you can’t quite tell if it’s an effect of the lift or your nerves.  You talk to your tandem skydiving instructor, hoping for reassurance, but then you notice your palms and forehead begin to sweat.  The thud-thud-thud of your heartbeat is echoing in your ears, and you’re certain everyone around you can hear it. 

As you reach altitude and prepare for the jump, you start to panic.  Your anxiety is higher than anything you’ve ever experienced.  It takes all your strength to just look out the plane at the ground below.  Your instructor informs you that this is the last chance you have to back out.  You have one of two choices – you can retreat back into the plane, giving up on this experience you were so excited about when your feet were flat on the ground.  Or you can jump.

What do you do next?  

Paralysis that hinders the decision to move forward or retreat is a common phenomenon for those who struggle with anxiety.  Often, we learn to retreat back into what is safe, avoiding the situations that make us feel anxious or worried.  In particular, if you struggle with phobias, an anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or even compulsive thoughts associated with sex and love addiction, you may have seen yourself retreat into destructive patterns that work in the short-term to relieve anxiety.  But these do not solve the problem, and in choosing them, we miss opportunities for growth.

How do we overcome it?

Have you ever bought a goldfish at a pet shop or store?  The seller hands you your fish in a plastic bag filled with water and instructs you to place the tied bag into the fishbowl or aquarium before releasing the fish into the water.  Why do they do this?  It is meant to help the fish get used to the temperature of the water – or habituate.

Just like that goldfish in the tank, we need to learn to habituate to our anxiety.  Habituation involves walking through an experience of anxiety without avoiding or running away from the feared event.  In essence, it is proving to yourself that you can survive the anxiety without turning to the ways you’ve coped in the past that only serve to increase your anxiety next time you face the same situation.

In the goldfish example, habituation occurs as the temperature of the water in the bag slowly adjusts, degree by degree, to the temperature of the water in the aquarium.  With anxiety, the process is similar.  Let’s say you feel anxious about public speaking.  The first time you have to speak in public, your anxiety might be off the charts.  But when you survive that event, the second time you’re asked to speak in public you’ll likely feel slightly less nervous.  Once you’ve spoken in public five, ten, or fifty times, it won’t even faze you to do it again.  Your anxiety levels have adjusted, degree by degree, to allow you to feel more at ease.

Katie d’Ath, a psychologist who works with obsessive-compulsive disorders, illustrates this visually in a helpful format in the video below.  (I would highly recommend other videos in her series on obsessive-compulsive disorder.)

Typically our first response to anxiety is to do whatever it takes to make the anxiety go away.  And it works in the short-term: otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it.  But the short-term fix of distraction or avoidance won’t satisfy the long-term desire to release the anxiety.

How can we begin the process of habituation?

Before starting this process, build up additional coping strategies for anxiety where you can calm your body’s response enough to approach the process in a grounded and rational place.  Techniques such as breathing exercises, mindfulness, and positive self-talk can be a great first line of defense against anxiety.

Once you’re in a place where you’re ready to work through anxiety, it is time to practice sitting in your anxiety.  First, this involves listening to what your body is saying.  Pay attention to the sensations of anxiety in your body.  What do they feel like?  Where does your anxiety feel most present?  What quality does that anxiety have in your body?

Next, notice the thoughts that are running through your mind.  What are the fears you’re having?  What’s the worst-case scenario playing out in your mind?  What are the beliefs about yourself or others that are contributing to the anxiety?

Pay attention to what other emotions are present besides anxiety.  Often fear is linked with anxiety, but other emotions, such as hurt, anger, or sadness can influence the course your anxiety takes.  Read through an emotions chart and identify what you’re feeling.

Then begin to question the racing thoughts in your mind: where are they coming from?  Do they come from a past fear or experience of embarrassment you had?  Are they about the future and what could happen if you take a risk?  How valid are they?  Is this something that is possible, or is it an irrational thought based on a cognitive distortion?

Finally, there comes a decision point – how will I choose to deal with my anxiety?  I can choose to run away and avoid in order to experience that immediate relief.  Or I can choose to run to the things I know that are good for me – greater awareness, support from my loved ones, and self-care.  Ultimately, the foundational way we can conquer anxiety is to believe that we can survive it and act on that belief.

I hope you choose to jump into the anxiety and fear and find that you will make it out on the other side.

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Are you exhausted by your constant sense of anxiety?  Do you feel tied down by the paralysis and avoidance that work in tandem with anxiety?  Do you feel hopeless about making it out? At Restored Hope, we would love to help you experience freedom from your struggles with anxiety and depression.  Our Novi and Ann Arbor counseling offices are currently taking clients, and we’d love to talk with you about setting up your first appointment.  Give us a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to talk with someone today.

I Am Not God: Reflections on Perfectionism and Impostor Syndrome

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I am a recovering perfectionist.  If I'm honest, “recovering” is a bit of an optimistic term.  In reality, perfectionism is an ongoing struggle.  Every time I put out a new blog post or article, I spend way too much time reading and re-reading every line to make sure I don’t have any errors.  (News flash: there are always a few that slip through the cracks.)  I obsess over word choice and the nuance of certain phrases.  (News flash: I’m not a trained journalist or anywhere near writing the next great American novel.)

Sadly, these same perfectionistic tendencies apply to my work as a counselor.  A few months ago I wrote a blog post about the importance of being instead of doing, largely because it is a message that I need to remind myself of often.  The self-imposed pressure to be perfect started in my academic years and has extended into my personal and professional life.

Perfectionism builds its foundation on the fear that who I am is not enough and never will be.    I feel terrified that what I do will fall short, someone will always be better than me, and I will fail.   

Perfectionism builds its foundation on the fear that who I am is not enough and never will be. 

In general, perfectionism is characterized by impossibly high standards.  It can lead to procrastination, either because of the length of time it takes a perfectionist to feel like a project is complete, or due to the desire to avoid feelings of anxiety and fear of failure.  Beliefs of inferiority (“I’m not good enough”) and hopelessness (“why even try”) can be familiar friends to the perfectionist.

Also , the recent popularization of the term “impostor syndrome” adds another layer to perfectionism.   A recent article in Psychology Today about impostor syndrome describes it as the irrational fear of being found out as a “fake,” with a tendency to believe any achievement is due to luck or good fortune, even when the individual’s skill and talents say something to the contrary.

The article also talks about how those with impostor syndrome can fall into two different camps: overworking or procrastinating, both of which sound a lot like perfectionism.  All the hard work put in to try to prove oneself can lead to becoming drained emotionally and physically, and eventually to burnout.

The truth is this: there is nothing wrong with doing something well and to the best of our abilities.  What makes perfectionism a problem is when it is driven by anxiety and stress that are birthed out of our core shame that tells us our worth is tied to our achievements.  Both perfectionism and impostor syndrome are linked to an underlying sense of shame.  This might be brought about by a culture of high expectations of achievement and criticism in your family or school environment, or it could relate to societal pressures and comparison facilitated by the internet and social media.

What makes perfectionism a problem is when it is driven by anxiety and stress that are birthed out of our core shame that tells us our worth is tied to our achievements.

I can see this reality play out in my life in the beliefs like, “I don’t belong because I am not good enough.  I am tricking people into believing that I know what I’m doing when I really have no idea.”  When I’m living in impostor syndrome, I believe that my master’s degree, my years of specialized training, my experience with clients, and my enthusiasm for pursuing the best treatment for my clients is not enough.

How can we cope with this toxic mix of perfectionism and feeling like a fake?

  • Talk to someone – If you struggle with perfectionism and impostor syndrome, my guess is that you are not the only one in your circle of connections that has these feelings.  Talk about your struggles with others and seek to encourage one another.
  • Practice mindfulness – When you feel a bout of perfectionism coming on, slow down and practice some mindfulness breathing.  Give yourself credit for the skills and abilities you do have.  Remind yourself of successes you’ve experienced, and instead of attributing them to luck, associate them with your hard work and abilities.
  • Embrace imperfection and failure – If you view failure as the worst thing that can happen, you miss an opportunity to learn and grow.  Expect yourself to fail as part of the learning process.  Choose to be okay with the “good enough” on a project you’re working on instead of working incessantly to make it perfect.

The strongest way that I am able to cope with these struggles is through prayer and re-centering on God.  It has been crucial for me to remind myself that I am not God.  News flash: I’m human. There are times when I feel insecure in sessions with my clients.  I compare myself to other therapists who have been practicing therapy longer than I’ve been alive, or that have personality differences from me that make them seem better suited to the work than I do.  I worry that I don’t have enough knowledge or understanding of the issues I’m treating, and so I read books and attend trainings and plan for clients until I don’t have any spare moments left in my day to rest.

It has been crucial for me to remind myself that I am not God.

All of this striving and working and trying to be enough puts all the responsibility for my life and the lives of my clients into my hands.  News flash: I am not God.  I will never be enough for my clients, because I am not made to be enough for them.  Only He is.  If I try to be God, I truly am being an impostor.

I believe that God is the One who heals.  He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3).  He is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).  He refreshes our souls and leads us along right paths (Psalm 23:3).  He gives us rest when we are weary and burdened (Matthew 11:28).  By His wounds, we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

God has invited me to be a partner in His work of healing, but it is not ultimately my responsibility to heal.  That’s His territory.  I am called to offer what I have to the best of my ability, knowing that as I trust in Him to do the work of healing, what I offer will be enough.

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Are you tired of the burden of perfectionism that is weighing you down and making you feel overwhelmed and depressed?  Do you constantly live in fear that others will find out that you’re an impostor, even when you are skilled in what you do?  Do you struggle to trust God and allow Him to do the work?  Here at Restored Hope, we believe you can experience freedom from perfectionism and impostor syndrome, which are made even worse by anxiety and depression.  Contact us at our Novi and Ann Arbor counseling offices today to hear more about how we can support you.  Give us a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to find out more.