I Need Help NOW

Several of my clients are suffering with destructive moods, relationships, jobs or unemployment at the moment.


I understand what that vortex feels like: overwhelming physical tension, unclear thinking, rushed or confused decision making, hair-trigger temper, uneasy sleep. During times like this in life, it’s very hard to trust that you can find a way to hang on. The present is so unpleasant it seems endless.

When times like this come to us (and believe me, they will come to us all, at one time or another), I like to focus on two aspects of help: making the NOW better each day, and focusing on the small decisions we make so that we can create a more hopeful FUTURE.

The Now: There is a great deal we all can do every day to soothe our bodies and minds for optimum wellness even when in an emotional storm. They are aspects of daily self care, but few of us practice them with enough patience that they make a difference. Here are the basics I talk to all my clients about. What are you willing to work on each day to improve your own functioning?

1. Exercise. Absolutely, the most important addition to the self care tool box. The benefits of moving our bodies regularly, at a moderate level, for 30 minutes a day include lower blood pressure and blood sugar, a lowering of muscle tension, clearer thinking, better sleep. If ever there was a “magic potion” for wellness, daily exercise is it.

2. Nutrition. Along with exercise, what we eat has an immediate and lasting impact on our body’s ability to get through the day with less stress. Less processed foods, less alcohol, and more real foods like vegetables, fruits, dairy, whole grains, lean meats, beans and fish will better nourish the body and brain.

3. Meditation/relaxation/guided imagery/breathing/prayer/ritual. A stressed mind and body needs to practice being relaxed. At times of high stress, the nervous system doesn’t easily recover from tension. 20-30 minutes, every day, of quiet time that helps the mind quiet, slow, and focus will create a relaxation response in the body that promotes healing. Many people complain to me that they have tried meditation, breathing, or imagery and “it doesn’t work.” These are skills that take time to practice and learn. If you are patient, these skills can change your life.

4. Core relationships. When we are stressed by terrible strife at work, home or community, we can turn inward and neglect the other relationships that support us. We don’t want to burden others with our struggles, yet it’s exactly at this point we need the love and support of friends, extended family, pets, neighbors and healthy colleagues. Make time for these happier relationships, and don’t spend every minute talking about yourself. Listen, laugh, relax with others. Relationships need to be balanced, even in stress.

Taking time to focus on what can be done TODAY will help lift the weight of life’s struggles off your mind. Commit yourself to helping your body, mind and relationships be healthy, flexible and strong. It makes the now so much less destructive. In my next post, I’ll talk about the mental skill of hopefulness that can draw us forward.

In the meantime, be well.

 
 

What’s So Bad About Excellence?

I had another conversation with my professional mentor last week, and she said something about me and my good friend, K, as we finished the conversation:

… “it’s because you (both) over-function.”

Now, if you have been part of my training in psychotherapy, you would know that over-functioning is not a great thing. It’s not even a good thing. It implies that I regularly do more in my relationships than is necessary or even helpful. I felt the power of her comment today in a session with a couple in which I was working hard, being helpful, resourceful, and empathetic all at once. I was working, but I was working very hard.

But here’s the rub: what’s the difference between doing more than necessary and striving for excellence? Because that’s what I see myself doing. Pursuing professional and personal excellence. My clients count on me to bring a centered self into their time with me, a professional who has done her homework, reflected on their lives with them in session and on my own time, and who is prepared for their questions.

If I don’t bring my best efforts to my sessions, isn’t that the same as me under-performing? In the context of the primary models of family therapy, doing too much in the room doesn’t allow the space or energy for the client to lead their own therapy.  I want my clients to lead their own work. I just find, however, that that is only possible when I model what that means in the context of self reflection and critical thinking.

I know one thing for sure: I don’t want to be an under-functioner just to show how flexible I can be. Like most things in the therapy room, I will be looking for the sweet spot of the middle way, doing my best and then, helping my clients succeed, to get out of their way and walk beside them. 

Asking Permission

One of the most irksome things I’ve heard people say in conversation lately is this little quip: “After all, it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.”

What this says to me is that most people are so convinced of the entrenchment of power in their various workplaces, families and organizations that they would rather move ahead on their own initiative, knowing they will have to repent and grovel for a moment or two when confronted instead of go through the rigamarole and nonsense of trying to get something done the expected or defined way.

I love initiative. I really (REALLY) hate power plays. But just doing something, knowing you will have to apologize later for it, smacks of manipulation to me. It’s much more honest to try to accomplish things by the accepted process, get stopped in one’s tracks, and then decide to act anyway, knowing the consequences, than to act anyway without announcing your intention.

Those whose behavior constantly calls for (planned) apologies are as much to blame for sucky organizational systems as those who hold their power and won’t bend or think outside their boxes. You’re in the dance together when you play these games. You’re just in different corners of the same dance floor.

Empathy First

I recently had a conversation with a mentor, in which I was the subject. Sharing as I was, I was surprised to find myself feeling increasingly confused and annoyed. I kept talking, and continued to listen to the detailed feedback, but I felt increasingly alone, misunderstood and distressed. Why?

Because the first thing I needed, and expected, I think, was some empathy. It wasn’t therapy, but it was still very personal conversation. I expected more support and companionable sensitivity. Emotional affinity. That wasn’t what I experienced.

So I was reminded – in a very personal way – that the very first thing that I must bring to the therapy or supervision conversation, the first thing I offer to the one who sits, vulnerable, across from me in my office, is compassion. Understanding.

Empathy first. It’s the necessary start of healing.

Fear and What’s Possible

Today is 9/11. The bells toll, and the wars continue.

In an email from our school district, we have been informed that the H1N1 virus is up and running. Several children have tested positive, and we are all encouraged to be alert and aware. NPR reported this morning that a single vaccination (instead of two) may be all that is needed to immunize adults, allowing more vaccinations to go to more people this fall.

In listening to the media coverage of this story, I’ve learned that in an average year, fully 36,000 people die from the seasonal flu virus. That’s an average of 720 people per state. Do you know any of them? The predictions for this winter imagine up to 90,000 deaths from H1N1. That would be an average of 1800 deaths per state. The primary difference being many of those deaths are predicted to be our healthy, robust children.

I want to be ready. I will get my family immunized. But in the meanwhile, in the midst of the preparations, I have been wondering: what’s the difference between fear and vigilance?

We are washing our hands. We are covering our sneezes. We have a strategy for taking time from work. But I worry that all our worry makes us feel less strong, and more vulnerable. Less confident, and more anxious. Some preparation is the soul of wisdom. Thinking ahead is what keeps us resilient.

But too much hand wringing about what we cannot ultimately control just hurts the hands and stalls the mind. It puts our life on hold, waiting for the worst. A worst that may not come, and if it comes, is still never far from the grace of God.