stress

Take a Deep Breath: Five Mindful Strategies for Dealing with Anxiety

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During my first year of my master’s program, I saw how anxiety, stress, and lack of time would hit me with intense experiences of overwhelm.  I was working close to full time hours at a nanny job, attending class 4 nights a week, and serving in my church in my “free time.”  Any extra time I had was filled with studying and attempting to navigate my way through our massive textbooks.   With a temperament that errs on the side of anxiety and perfectionism, it was easy to talk myself into a state of stress that would make it difficult for me to function.

My school was a commuter school about 30 minutes away from where I lived, so I began listening to podcasts in my car.  (Cue the beginning of my obsession with podcasts).  One of those podcasts interviewed a life coach and therapist who gave tips on dealing with anxiety.  She taught a technique involving deep breathing, which I’d never tried before.  I decided to give it a go in the 10 minutes I sat in my car before class.  Let me tell you: it was like magic.  I felt like I could enter into the classroom in a completely different and relaxed state of mind.

Everyday anxiety is something many people experience, especially during stressful seasons in their lives.  Anxiety engages our internal fight-and-flight response, which pumps up our body with adrenaline and cortisol, a stress hormone.  By practicing deep breathing and other techniques below, you can take control over your body’s instinctual reaction.  As you slow down your breathing and your thoughts, you’re essentially reminding your body that you aren’t in danger.  This calms your fight-or-flight response.

Here are some tips on how you can respond with mindfulness when you feel yourself becoming anxious, nervous, and overwhelmed.

Daily Meditation

As the foundation of all the exercises that follow, daily meditation helps you become attuned to your body.  Spend time in a quiet room in silence for a few minutes to start.  Gradually increase to more time as you become more comfortable.  Pay attention to the way your body feels, noticing each part of your body, any emotions that arise, or any physical sensations. 

Oftentimes meditation is associated with “clearing your mind,” which can discourage you if you feel as though you can’t turn your thoughts off.   Instead, accept the likelihood that thoughts will cross your mind, and allow yourself to notice them, but not shame yourself for having them.

There are several apps that offer guided meditations, if you’re someone like me and are too easily distracted to sit quietly.  I’m a particular fan of Happify and Headspace, but there are many out there you can try and find the best fit for you.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is the practice of mentally becoming aware of each part of your body by isolating one muscle group at a time, tensing and flexing the muscles.  Pay attention to the feeling of holding tightness in your muscles as you tense them, and notice how it feels to release and relax them afterwards.

This practice can also help you fall asleep at night or re-energize yourself during the day.   In the morning or throughout your day, start by tensing and releasing your toes and work your way upward through different muscle group such as your legs, knees, stomach, chest, arms, shoulders, neck, jaw, and forehead.  At night, do the opposite - start with the muscles in your forehead and work your way down through your body. 

Deep Breathing Exercises

Deep breathing was the technique that I heard Dr. Jennifer Degler speak about on that podcast all those years ago.  She introduced four-square breathing: a technique where you breathe in for 4 counts, hold the breath for 4 counts, breathe out for 4 counts, and hold for 4 counts.  Completing about 10 cycles of these deep breaths allows you to begin to feel the anxiety melt away.

As you’re practicing these breathing exercises, you’ll want to breathe from your diaphragm or abdomen.  In order to do that, it can be helpful to imagine that there is a balloon in your stomach, just behind your belly button.  Breathe in through your nose, trying to make that balloon expand.  As you breathe out through your mouth, imagining the balloon deflating.  Another helpful strategy involves laying on the ground or on a sofa, placing your hands on your stomach, and feeling your stomach rise and fall as you breathe.

5-4-3-2-1 Senses Grounding Exercise

This is a personal favorite of mine, especially when I’m feeling particularly triggered by thoughts or emotions.  Begin taking a few deep breaths, noticing the rise and fall of your abdomen.  Next, take a look around you and notice 5 things that you see.  Notice the colors, textures, and other characteristics of those objects.  Next, move on to identifying 4 things you can hear, noticing the quality of the sound, whether it is loud or soft, repeating or one-time.  Continue down through this pattern by noticing 3 things you can touch/feel, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.  You’ll feel yourself becoming grounded in the present reality around you, and emotions will likely become less distracting and more manageable.

Breath Prayer

Often when we talk about Christian meditation practice, it is accompanied by reading or memorizing Scripture and seeking to understand truth about that passage.  While that can be helpful to engage your mind, when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, this isn’t always the quickest way to address that anxiety.  Instead, integrate some of the earlier mentions of breathing exercises and Biblical truth through breath prayer.  Breath prayer involves identifying a short phrase or sentence of truth about God or prayer to God.  Examples might be phrases such as, “Lord, have mercy,” “God, I need you,” or “Holy Spirit, come.”  You could also use short Bible verses that are meaningful to you, such as “I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13 ESV).  Repeat those words to yourself out loud or in your mind while you are practicing deep breathing.  Breathe in on the first part of the phrase, and release your breath on the second half of the phrase.

While these mindfulness strategies didn’t immediately fix my stress levels or perfectionism, they did provide a way for me to calm my body down and remind myself of truth.  Test out some of these strategies for yourself when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, and see which ones help you to lower those levels of stress.

This article was originally posted on May 4, 2017.

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As you begin to address your worry or stress, you may find that you feel better for a short period of time, but then the anxiety floods back in.  Or maybe even the thought of making time to complete these exercises gives you more anxiety.  At Restored Hope, I’d love to hear your story of anxiety, perfectionism, or stress and help you navigate to a place of calm and peace in your life.  Restored Hope is an Ann Arbor based therapy office where my goal is to support you on your journey to healing and wholeness.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out my form here to schedule your first appointment today.

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.

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 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.

How to Take Back Your Time And Live a Life You Love

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“I’m too busy.”

“I don’t have any time.”

“I wish there were more hours in the day.”

How many times have you said this?  Have you ever felt like you’ve had way too much on your plate?  Overwhelmed by your schedule and the to-do list each day?

I’ve certainly had these moments in my own life.  As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve found plenty of ways to fill my time with tasks, attempts at living the perfect life, or simply being busy.

Sadly, I believe that being “busy” is a hallmark of status in our world. I have a tendency to answer the question of “how are you?” with “busy,” with a hint of pride in my voice.  If I’m busy, that means I’m productive, I’m doing something worthwhile.  If I’m busy, it means that I have value and worth.

See how insidious that distorted belief is?

Laura Vanderkam is a researcher on time management who has written several books, including I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time.*  For this book, she tracked the lives of busy women who kept week-long time diaries.  She shares some of her interesting findings in this TED talk.

In listening to this talk and reading her book, I had a few different reactions.  First, I felt empowerment to make the most of my days.  It feels freeing to know that I have 72 hours of “free time” each week even if I sleep 8 hours a night and work 40 hours a week.  I like having permission to say no to something that doesn’t fit within my priorities list.

At the same time, I also felt shame surrounding how I currently spend my time.  I know I like to decompress by watching TV or playing a game on my phone.  I keep a clean house, which takes up more time than I’d like.  I enjoy unhurried mornings that involve staying in bed a little longer with a book.  Could I cut back on these activities to make more time?  Sure.  But I’ve also fallen into the trap of feeling as though I always have to be doing something productive with my time, which is exhausting.  Not enough time for rest and refreshment affects my well-being.  I’ve had to learn the importance of prioritizing rest.

Here’s some realistic takeaways I had from this talk that matter in my personal approach toward time management, and I hope will resonate with your personal struggle with time.

I have more time than I think.

When I look at the 168 hours I have in a week and the percentage of that contributed to free time, I am shocked at how much time I have.  I might not be aware that those hours are going by, but if I intentionally sit down to plan out my schedule, it’s clear how much time I actually have.  When I think about priorities or skills I want to be developing, setting aside an hour a week to focus on them suddenly seems doable.

I need to move from the victim mentality (“I’m too busy”) to the attitude of a responsible adult (“It’s not a priority”).

It feels really good to put myself as the victim.  If stress or anxiety in my life is due to circumstances or is someone else’s fault, then I don’t have to take a serious, hard look at what I’m doing to contribute to my own problems.  But if I truly want to make a change, I need to shift my mentality to look at ways I can take responsibility.  I need to acknowledge the reality, as Vanderkam mentions, that how I spend my time is my choice.  Framing time management as a choice helps me to stop making excuses and start implementing the change I desire in my life.

Thinking of the long game is more effective than focusing on the urgent.

I love the exercises Vanderkam mentions in her TED talk that involve looking at longer-term goals for your career and personal life.  As a sensing personality type on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I tend to lose the forest for the trees.  I focus more on the details or what’s right in front of me, which leads me to be distracted by tasks that seem urgent.  It’s a helpful reminder for me to focus on long-term goals as a way of re-centering on the change I want to make.

I have permission to prioritize what’s important to me, not anyone else.

Just because my friend or coworker is focused on climbing the career ladder doesn’t mean that I need to share that same ambition.  Maybe I’m really passionate about spending time with my family, weight-training, or cooking.  My desires of how to spend my time are not better or worse than anyone else’s, and I don’t need to compare myself as a way of minimizing my desires or puffing up with pride.  Instead, I need own my personal priorities and value them as important.

How I spend my time does not reflect on my value or worth.

The fact that we have an entire subculture of books, podcasts, and other media dedicated to productivity means that we have a tendency to value productivity to the point where it becomes an identity.  I notice myself slipping into this mentality if I go down the rabbit hole of productivity media.  I start to feel valuable or worthwhile when I’m being productive, but if I take time to rest and recharge, I feel worthless and lazy.  I heap shame on myself when I’m not being productive enough, and therefore I undervalue my need for rest.  In those moments, I need to step back and remind myself of the truth that my value comes from my relationship with God and who I am, not from my career success or productivity.

Making a weekly schedule with priorities in mind is important.

When in college, I started a habit of keeping a weekly schedule.  I’d write down what classes and activities I had, made a to-do list of tasks I wanted to complete each day, and tried to plan in downtime or rest.  While I’ve had varying degrees of success with this practice over the past several years, I remember how good it felt to have my day planned out for me, rather than having to make little decisions all day about what was important.

In the context of setting priorities, I appreciate Vanderkam’s suggestion to sit down on Fridays and write out your schedule each week, putting your priorities in first.  This empowers me to say that my priorities are the most important part of my planning, and it makes sure that they’re included in the schedule.  It puts things that are a lower priority on the back burner.

How might you implement some of these skills for time management this week?  What are the takeaways you have from Vanderkam's TED talk?

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Do you constantly feel like you don’t have time for the things you love?  Are you tired of feeling stressed because there aren’t enough  hours in the day, or hopeless about ever having enough time to rest or recharge?  I understand the pain of constant busy-ness, and I’d love the chance to help you begin prioritizing what you need and creating space for the things you love. At Restored Hope, I offer counseling services in Ann Arbor to help you break through stress, anxiety, addiction, and depression to live a fulfilling life that you love.  Call me at 734.656.8191 or email me to set up your first appointment.

 

 

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

Surviving the Holidays With Your Spouse

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Christmas trees are going up, holiday lights are twinkling, and peace and love are filling the air everywhere…well, everywhere except in your home.  The holidays are notorious for being fraught with conflict and stress, which can wreak havoc on our relationships.  Marriages are particularly under fire.  You’ve likely experienced arguments about which family traditions to uphold, where the holidays will be spent, and stress that comes with in-laws and shopping.  Research shows that divorces are shown to increase in the months following the holidays. I believe that relates to the conflict and strife that arises out of this season of the year.

How can you actively work to combat the potential devastation the holidays can bring to your marriage?

Discuss and plan traditions in your family.

As John Gottman likes to say, regardless of where we were born, we each bring our own cultures into the marriage: the culture of our family growing up.  We raised with traditions around the holidays, and you have likely tried to implement some of these within your current marriage.  However, some of these rituals can clash.

Talk with your spouse and ask about their favorite holiday traditions.  Pay attention to traditions they love now, favorite traditions of childhood, and what they wish you’d do together.  Talk about your best and worst experiences of the holidays growing up as a way of identifying common factors to implement and avoid.  Talk about your favorite holiday memories together as a couple and seek to put into practice similar moments.

If you come from families that didn’t have a lot of traditions, it might be helpful to implement some new practices, or rituals of connection, with your family.  Rituals of connection are practices infused with meaning that family members do in order to create connection, intimacy, and security in who you are as a family unit.  These rituals are an important factor in creating a new sense of family within your marriage.

Identify your own triggers and those of your spouse during the holidays.

While the holidays often carry special and joyful memories, they can also be overshadowed by trauma or pain.  If a loved one who has recently passed away played a major role in holiday festivities, the signs of the season may bring on fresh waves of grief.  Sit down with your spouse and children and talk about ways to honor the memory of those who won’t be celebrating with you this year.

Holidays also often involve time with family, which can sometimes be distressing.  Family dynamics can be their worst at the holidays, as stress makes our negative qualities more prominent.  Have a plan ahead of time for how to navigate those triggers together as a couple.

Sometimes even just lowering your expectations for the holidays can help.  It’s often the moments when you’re most trying to make the holiday perfect for someone else that you end up steamrolling over your spouse’s emotions.

Practice damage control when (not if) you fight.

If you know you and your spouse have the same argument every holiday season, take some time to plan ahead and talk through the potential fight earlier.  Use Gottman’s Aftermath of a Fight discussion as a tool to process past fights, identify sensitivities or triggers you may have, and plan for how to approach those arguments in the future.

And when you inevitably find yourself in the argument, try to understand your spouse’s perspective and practice empathy.  Look for an opportunity to come to a place of compromise so that you can have a win-win situation, rather than trying to come out on top.

Inject some fun into your holiday celebrations.

Holidays are stressful.  (Have I said that enough?)  There are a multitude of events and schedules to juggle, between children’s schooling, work parties, and travel to visit family.  Take some time aside with your spouse to slow down and just have fun together.

Go see the Christmas lights at Greenfield Village.  Spend a day cuddled up under the blankets with hot cocoa having a Christmas movie marathon.  Drive around your neighborhood to see the lights and choose a favorite house.  If you have a hard time thinking of something, or you worry about having fun on a budget, Google some ideas and pick one or two that sound fun or inexpensive!

Budget together for Christmas shopping.

Finances are one of the top areas that couples tend to fight over, and the holidays are the season when it's easiest to overspend.  Buying gifts for friends and family, shopping the hot Black Friday deals, or going out for celebratory holiday meals can lead to greater spending than anticipated.

As a couple, set some limits on spending for the holidays.  Talk through how much you’d like to spend on your children, family members, and friends.  If this means you have to have hard conversations with your children or your extended family about your financial limits, seek to do so united as a couple.

Volunteer together.

The old adage about Christmas says that we ought to be more cheerful about giving than receiving.  However, that sentiment can easily get lost in all of the hustle and bustle.  Slowing down to notice opportunities to give back this time of year can help your family to connect to gratitude for the blessings you have and a larger purpose for the season.

Find an activity you can do with just your spouse, or bring your children into it as well.  Donate your time at a food kitchen.  Hand out blankets, food, and hygiene kits to the homeless.  Help out at a children’s Christmas party in an impoverished part of the city.  Ring a bell for the Salvation Army.

 

I believe taking one of the items above and putting in into practice could radically transform your marriage this holiday season.  Give it a try – you never know how one little shift could change your Christmas.

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Are you looking forward to the holiday season with a sense of dread rather than joy?  Do you promise to scale back during next year’s holidays every year, just to forget that promise?  Are you tired of always fighting about money during the Christmas season?  At Restored Hope, I know this time of year can take a major toll on marriages, family, and stress levels.  I’d love to support you through one-on-one or marriage counseling services at my Ann Arbor location.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 today or fill out my form here to find out more about how I can help you thrive during the holidays.

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, I desire to walk alongside you as you cope with the pain of waiting.  I offer counseling services at my Ann Arbor location to give you the resources to cope with the pain.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to hear more about how I can support you.

The Many Faces of Trauma

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We’ve talked on this blog before about the various signs and symptoms of trauma you might experience.  In that article, I referenced the difference between what I called “big T” traumas and “small t” traumas.  But how do we categorize those different events?  Maybe you’ve had the experience where something you thought was “normal” ended up having a greater negative impact on you.  What types of events can be defined as traumatic? How do different stressful life events affect how we process and deal with trauma?

“Big T” traumas

A “big T” trauma is a uniquely identifiable and significant distressing event.   You might immediately associate these type of events with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  PTSD involves a cluster of symptoms that interfere with daily life, including: exposure to a traumatic event, re-experiencing through flashbacks or intrusive thoughts, avoidance of reminders of the traumatic event, negative thoughts about self or others, and heightened reactivity.  Significant traumas such as these can lead to feelings of isolation, due to the distinctive nature of these events.  The individual who experienced this trauma may also feel a greater pull to avoid reminders of the trauma and experience a sense of helplessness over circumstances.

Recently, we’ve been faced with horrendous scenes of destruction in the wake of two major hurricanes that ripped through the southern states of our country.  It is easy to see the effects of these major events as trauma that affects the individuals whose homes were damaged or destroyed and who are now displaced.

Examples of “big T” traumas include:

  • Physical or sexual abuse in childhood or adulthood

  • Sexual assault

  • Natural disasters

  • Sudden and unexpected death of a loved one

  • Witnessing the death or injury of someone else, particularly a loved one

  • Domestic violence

  • Robbery

  • War

  • Military service/combat

  • Acts of terrorism

  • Car or airplane accidents

“Small t” traumas

“Small t” traumas are distressing events that are smaller in scale than “big T” traumas, but often occur over a more prolonged period of time. These traumas are more persistent and subtle than the “big T” traumas, and can be just as painful as a result.  They are especially impactful for those who experience them in childhood. While typically those who have faced these types of trauma do not have enough criteria to be diagnosed with PTSD, they may experience symptoms of trauma that mimic the characteristics of this disorder.

I imagine this type of trauma like a series of waves in the ocean.  The first time the waves sweep your feet out from under you, it’s relatively easy to recover.  Once you’ve regained your footing and tried to stand, however, you find you've been knocked off your feet again as the current pushes another wave toward you.  Before long, you become exhausted by the process of trying to stand up to the current.  "Small t" traumas are often minimized by the individuals who are facing them because they do not carry the label of a significant trauma, but this persistent nature is just as impactful as the “big T” traumas.

examples of “small t” traumas include:

  • Betrayal/infidelity by a spouse

  • Emotional abuse in childhood or adulthood

  • Non life-threatening injuries

  • Family or work conflict

  • Bullying or harassment

  • Divorce

  • Loss of a significant relationship

  • Sudden relocation/moving

  • Legal issues

  • Loss of a job

  • Financial distress/poverty

  • Being the child/spouse of an addict or individual with mental illness

  • Ongoing parental criticism

  • Parental disconnection and disengagement

Life Stressors

Sometimes even positive life experiences can create increased stress levels that lead to distress or anxiety and compound the symptoms associated with a more major trauma.  The Holmes and Rahe stress inventory is a measurement used to identify how some stressors (which can be either “small t” traumas or positive events that created a pattern of stress) may be affecting you today.  The interactive survey here helps you to identify how stressful life events have impacted you this past year.

Examples of significant life stressors include:

  • Planning a wedding/getting married

  • Starting a new job

  • Moving across the country

  • Having/adopting a child

  • Holidays

Each of these traumatic or stressful situations is handled uniquely by different people.  How you respond to trauma is related to your predisposition and personality.  However, one factor that has been shown to affect the experience of traumatic symptoms is avoidance.  The more a person avoids the traumatic experience, the more likely they are to integrate that trauma into their psyche and have a harder time recovering.  Instead of choosing to avoid the pain , allow yourself to feel impacted by it and seek the help you need.  These traumatic events can be painful, and they deserve care and compassion.

What are some of the experiences listed above that have caused trauma in your own life?  How are you coping with that trauma?

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Have you been experiencing the symptoms of trauma but haven’t been able to put a finger on why?  Have you experienced an event in the “small t” trauma or stressor category that you are still being impacted by today?  Whether you’ve experienced a large-scale or small-scale traumatic event, you deserve attention and care.  At Restored Hope, I offer trauma counseling at my Ann Arbor location, and I’d love to help you on your journey to process rather than avoid the pain and experience greater healing.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to hear more about how I can help.

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.

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, I believe you can experience freedom from perfectionism and impostor syndrome, which are made even worse by anxiety and depression.  Contact me at my Ann Arbor counseling office today to hear more about how we can support you.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to find out more. 

Self-Care Saturdays: How a Journaling Practice Can Change Your Life

Welcome to Self-Care Saturdays, a series of bonus blog posts that will be released on the last Saturday of each month.  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. 

Journals often evoke memories of the “dear diary” days of elementary and middle school where we would write down (what felt like) the most important parts of our lives.  As we became adults, many of us may have left that practice behind, deeming it as childish.  Or the time we normally would have spent writing is taken up by the demands of daily life.

But I’m here to tell you to bring this practice back!  Keeping up a habit of writing the day's events or another way of recording life has positive psychological benefits.  For individuals who struggle with anxiety or depression, journaling can be a great way to process emotions and cope.  It also provides self-care for anyone looking to understand themselves better.

Here are a few of the benefits for journaling:

Journaling provides stress relief.

When dealing with stress and anxiety, and feeling overwhelmed by the thought that it is all too much, writing down the anxious thoughts your having can be a good way to release them from the hold they may have on your mind.  Keeping track of thoughts that pop into your mind and the level of anxiety that you feel while thinking them can be a great strategy for reducing your stress.

Journaling nurses your creativity.

Journaling leads you to look at your own life through a creative lens by expressing yourself using words and descriptions for your own experiences and emotions.   If you are someone who enjoys writing, a journaling practice can help you break past some of the fears you may have surrounding your writing.

Journaling leads you to slow down and give yourself space to reflect on your emotions and experiences.

For many of us, life tends to go at a pretty frenetic pace, and in the midst of the crazy, we get caught in a loop of reacting impulsively to daily events rather than considering our options.  Slowing down and identifying the emotions you are feeling and the ways they affect your decisions can help you to pay more attention to them and thoughtfully respond to your circumstances.  Reflecting on emotions and cognitions can also help to have a more positive outlook in your life.

Journaling provides an outlet for negative emotions and gives you space to grieve.

If you are feeling angry, we would probably all agree that it’s not the best idea to punch a fist through the wall.  Writing can help you to take a break from the heated situation, slow down, and look at what might be lying behind that negative emotion.  Similarly, when you experience a major loss, grieving can feel like a foreign concept, and you can be left without a clue of how to help yourself process and feel better.  Journaling can be a tool to help move through the grieving process.

Journaling has physical health benefits. 

Writing has been shown to help those who suffer from terminal or life threatening diseases.  Part of this is the effect that writing has on our immune systems.  One theory for this is that writing helps us to keep from bottling up emotions, and suppressed emotions can lead to undue stress.

 

Hopefully I've succeeded in convincing you that journaling is a helpful practice you can take up, but then comes the question: how do I do it?  There are lots of different options out there for journaling, and I’ve used several at different times in my life for different purposes.  Pick one or two of the options below that sounds appealing to you, and get started!

Stream-of-Consciousness Journal

This is often a good place to start.  Write down whatever comes to mind.  This doesn’t have to be an hours-long process, but even if you jump in with 5 minutes or so of writing, you’ll be surprised at how quickly it starts to come.  Many people do this practice as “morning pages”, described as three pages daily of stream-of-consciousness writing.

Gratitude Journal

Taking time to list things for which you are grateful has many positive benefits psychologically.  One particular benefit that feels most impactful to me personally is the effect gratitude can have on your view of your circumstances: rather than feeling worried about the things you don’t have, it can help you to see all the positive aspects that already exist in your life.

Prayer Journal

This is one of my favorite journaling strategies: write out your prayers in a journal as if you have having a conversation with God.  For those of us who are extroverts, this feels more relational than a stream-of-consciousness journal, and it can provide a way for you to connect spiritually and experience emotions with God.

Examen 

Examen (or examen of consciousness) is an Ignatian spiritual practice done at the end of each day to review the day’s events for the presence or absence of God.  I’ve also heard it simplified as listing the positive and negative aspects of the previous day.  You can choose what feels comfortable to you, but this nightly practice can be a good way for you to reflect back on the day and identify patterns of positive experiences to increase or negative patterns to avoid.

Emotions Journal

As mentioned earlier, emotions are often hard to define, or they can be tricky to discern between.  Take some time to use a Feelings Wheel like this one to identify what feeling you’re having, and then answer these questions: “What am I feeling?  How do I know I’m feeling that way?  How intensely do I feel that way?  What do I want to do as a result?  What happened just before I started feeling that way?  How do I wish I were feeling instead?”

Art Journal

You may be someone who expresses themselves not so much in words, but in pictures.  If you’re someone who loves to draw or create pieces of art, do so in a way that expresses your emotions and experiences and allows you the space to process your daily experience.  There are plenty of ideas available with a quick Google search – choose one that feels right to you!

How will you take a step to try journaling this week? 

 

At Restored Hope, I place a priority on self-care and treating your body and mind with kindness.  If you’re struggling to find time or space to practice self-care, or if you find yourself in overwhelmed by struggles of depression or anxiety that make it difficult to be kind to yourself, I want to help you!  Contact me at my Ann Arbor therapy office at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to hear more about how I can help you.