coping

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 office in Ann Arbor, where you can schedule your first appointment at 734.656.8191 or via email.

How to Brighten Cloudy Days: Dealing with Depression

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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.

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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 an 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.

Am I Going Crazy? Seven Signs of Trauma and Post Traumatic Stress

Here you are again.  It’s 2am, and you’ve woken up in the middle of the night after disturbing nightmares.  You don't really remember what happened, but you're still feeling deep and intense fear.  You can’t fall asleep again, and your mind is racing with anxious thoughts.  Why am I up in the middle of the night again?  What happened to me wasn’t even that bad, people have had much worse things happen to them.  I mean, it probably was partially my fault anyway.  There must be something wrong with me.

You hear the sound of a siren or a car alarm on the street outside your house and you jump back, startled.  Suddenly, an image flashes into your head of discovering your husband’s betrayal.  Your emotions do a complete 180, and you’re furious.  Adrenaline is coursing through your veins, your heart starts to pound, and you feel wide awake, like you could jump out of bed and run a marathon.  Seriously?  I am sick of everyone trying to blame me for the things he’s done.  You would yell and scream and throw things too if you found out your husband was cheating on you with multiple women. You feel sick to your stomach.

Finally, exhausted by this burst of adrenaline, you curl under the covers of your bed and the tears begin to fall.  What is happening to me?  Eventually your sobs slow down and lull you back into fitful sleep.

Experiencing the effects of trauma can be disorienting, distressing, and lonely.  You might look at your reactions and feel as though you are crazy.  In the dictionary, trauma is defined as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.  As psychologists, we define trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster,” which is accompanied by several short and long term effects.

But this definition limits our understanding of trauma.  Yes, events such as abuse, violence (sexual or otherwise), tragic accidents, and serious injuries are major traumas that cause lasting effects, and are what would be explained by counselors as “big T” traumas.  Yet oftentimes people experience smaller-scale traumas that accumulate over time, or what we would call “small t” traumas.  These include such events as effects of divorce, emotional abuse, complicated grief, betrayal in the form of an affair or sexual addiction, or various other events.  These events can have similar traumatic effects and symptoms of a major trauma. 

What are some indicators that you might be having a response to trauma?

You witnessed and were impacted by one or more distressing events.

It may be clear to you that you have experienced a traumatic event.  "Big T" traumas are often easy to discern and connect to your symptoms.  However, you may have a tendency to minimize the impacts of "small t" traumas as you compare them to the pain of more major traumas.  I’ve often heard minimization of emotional abuse in families or the impact of divorce simply because it was considered to be “normal” in your family.  If you experience symptoms of trauma but aren’t sure why, spend some time with a counselor or trusted friend talking through your past experiences to get a reality check on how normal they actually were.

Vivid imagery of the traumatic event pops into your mind at the least convenient moments.

When you’re out driving in your car, spending time with friends or family, or even in the middle of the night in the form of a nightmare, you can be tormented by vivid memories of the traumatic event.  Not only do the images arise, but they often leave an emotional mark on you as you experience intensity of emotion similar to when you were experiencing the trauma.  Often trying to push away the images or stop thinking about it doesn’t work: attempts to ignore the thoughts only serve to intensify them.

Your emotions are intense and shift rapidly between anger, fear, sadness, numb, and everything in-between.

Mood swings are incredibly common in trauma, as the traumatic re-experiencing can trigger a storm of negative emotions.  One second everything is fine, and the next, you're a puddle of tears on the floor.  You could become easily irritated or annoyed, being harsh with your loved ones.  At times, it can feel like you’re completely disconnected and cannot access emotion at all.  This intense fluctuation of emotions can be bewildering and seem to prove the mistaken belief that you're crazy.

You’re more suspicious and startle easily.

Prior to the traumatic experience, you may have never thought twice about walking down the street alone in the dark, sleeping in your house by yourself, or your husband’s late nights at work.  Now that the trauma has happened, however, these events take on a new component of fear and worry.  You might notice yourself becoming jumpy or on edge, reacting strongly to unexpected loud noises or events. 

You’re isolated and withdrawn from your friends and activities you used to enjoy.

Often the painful emotions that accompany traumatic events lead you to withdraw from relationships.  You might avoid friends or loved ones because you worry they won’t be able to understand what you went through.  They might ask about how you’re doing, but you don’t want to talk about it anymore.  Your energy levels are likely much lower, so you may lack motivation or energy to do the things you used to love to do.

While you were once confident, now your self-esteem is crushed.

Shame is often a major component of trauma, either in the form of blaming yourself for the event or experience, or receiving messages about yourself from the event that have left you questioning who you are.  According to Bréne Brown, shame is the intensely painful experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.  Experiencing shame in connection to a traumatic event can be confusing, especially if you’ve had a strong sense of self prior to the experience.

All you want to do is stop thinking about what happened, so you avoid reminders.

You might stop going to a certain restaurant or area of town where you experienced the traumatic event.  You may have discovered your husband’s betrayal by viewing his browsing history, so even opening your computer may trigger that twinge of fear.  Being in your childhood home can bring to mind memories of emotional abuse, so you avoid even visiting your hometown.  If you notice yourself going out of your way to avoid certain situations or people, you might still be reeling from a trauma you experienced.

Do any of the above statements describe you?  If so, be kind and caring toward yourself and get the help you need.  Seek out a counselor who works with trauma to help you on your path toward healing. 

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Are you tired of feeling triggered by reminders of the trauma you experienced?  Are you exhausted from sleepless nights filled with flashbacks of painful memories?  Do you feel like your mood swings make you feel crazy?  At Restored Hope, I want to help you experience rest and peace from the anxiety and depression that often accompany trauma.  At my Ann Arbor office, I focus on creating space for you to process and heal from your experiences of pain and distress.  Give me a call today at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to talk with me today.

The Curious Difficulty of Letting Go

This past summer, 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 early mornings with small children 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. 

This makes me think about how we cling not just to these 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 things like 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’m in a season where I drink coffee once every few days, 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 typically 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 season I’m in right now.

Maybe you’re in a season where letting go of these thoughts and behaviors feels unattainable.  Or maybe you’re ready to let those patterns go, but you are unsure about how to get started.  It could be that you’ve tried different positive coping behaviors in the past, but it hasn’t felt like any of them have worked.  At Restored Hope, I want to help you on your journey of learning new ways of coping so that you can lead a more vibrant and wholehearted life.  I offer therapy in the Ann Arbor area of Michigan, and you can call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to hear more about my services and how I can best help you.