There are no known mental health experts in pandemics right now – because all of the people alive at this moment have never lived through one. In one sense, we are all grappling through this together and figuring it out one day at a time.

However, there are some genius experts in the field of trauma. A pandemic is categorized as a trauma, and there things that we can do proactively right now to maintain our mental health during this unprecedented time.

On Thursday, I attended a webcast put on by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, author of “The Body Keeps the Score” and one of the leading trauma experts in the world. This post is a summary of what I learned in this training, and 99% of these ideas are credited to Dr. van der Kolk. I hope this offers you a sense of validation about things you have been thinking about, while also providing you with practical tools that can help you to remain active, empowered, and hopeful.

Disclaimer: Doctors, nurses, others on the front lines, and people whose families or businesses have been directly touched by Coronovirus are experiencing something that far surpasses the what I’m writing about today. While these tips can still be helpful, I think it’s worth noting that there are varying levels of how this pandemic is impacting people. For the heroes who are out there on the front lines, your experience is going to be vastly different from those of us at home, playing the waiting game. There are supports available to you tailored to your unique experience, and I would recommend looking into EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy). You can search for therapists on psychologytoday.com that specialize in this- there are plenty out there.

Bessel explained that much of the world is in a pretraumatic state; that is, a state of “holding our breath.” We know what’s coming, we know social distancing and isolation is taking a toll on us, but we are in the eye of the storm right now and don’t know exactly what is on the other side. It’s actually quite unusual to have the complete cognitive awareness that you are in the midst of something that could traumatize you. This pandemic is a drawn-out process. While this is undoubtedly a disorienting experience, it’s also positive that we are afforded the ability to have this awareness and proactively do things to buffer the impact of this event on our mental health.

A friend of mine talked to me yesterday about anticipatory anxiety: “I’m okay right now, but will I be so obsessed with germs that it creates distance between me and other people when this is all over? Is this experience going to have long-term consequences such that we don’t want to shake hands with new colleagues or hug old friends anymore?” She has never had anxiety and this has never been a thought for her. The uncertainty and not knowing is a really uncomfortable place to be right now.

Not knowing exactly how this will fully impact us yet is hard to wrap our minds around. Especially when our day-to-day is usually planned with such meticulous attention to detail. Google calendar runs our lives, and the calendar has gone blank. We force our lives to be just so, and then in an event like this, we realize that much of the control we think we have is illusory.

Whew, so that’s a lot to digest.

But stay with me: here’s where hope comes in. There are things we can be doing every single day to maintain resilience, strength, connection, and health that will help us all to recover from this, mentally and physically, when this is all over. And it will eventually be over.


First, we must develop awareness of what is happening.

Then, we must put it into words.

Lastly, we make intentional choices.

Dr. van der Kolk identifies seven preconditions for trauma that we are experiencing right now. Below, you’ll see a brief summary of each condition, and then some specific tools that Bessel recommends to empower you and protect your emotional, physical, and social well-being.

New Year, Same You: Tips on Being You with Better Habits

A new year (or even better, new decade) promises a fresh start, a blank page, and a chance to do things better this time around the sun. From a mindfulness perspective. January 1st could be considered just another day. While I can get on board with that idea in some aspects, I personally am gung-ho about joining in on the collective goal-setting energy that exists this time of year. I love the idea that other people are sitting home with their journal right now and sipping their coffee while they, too, reflect on their hopes for the coming year.

It can be both exciting and overwhelming when you sit down to set your intentions for the new year.

As you scroll through Pinterest and self-help blogs, you might end up feeling like you have to overhaul your entire life. What started out as hopeful intention-setting can quickly deflate into self-doubt, comparison, and maybe even “why bother.”

You know you have a desire to do things differently this year. Maybe you want to be healthier, or kinder, or find a job that makes you happier. You have an idea about the direction you want to go, but how to take the first step to get there feels really daunting.

“Do I have to start over completely? Do I have to change who I am to get the things I want this year? What if I’m doing it all wrong?”

It’s a tall order to examine every aspect of your life and make long-term goals. When we make lofty goals, like “get healthy” or “get the dream job,” we can start to trend toward “all or nothing” or “black and white” thinking, which generally isn’t very helpful. It sets us up to feel like we have failed when we don’t achieve what we set out to do. More often than not, we really haven’t failed; we just need to take a step back and start with simple steps first.

The solution to these problems can be summed up in a few simple words: New Year, Same You, Better Habits.

YOU have gotten yourself through 100% of your bad days up until this point. You have learned from experience and heartbreak. You have cried (hard), and also probably laughed a lot. You’ve celebrated amazing victories and grieved losses. You’ve made mistakes but have also learned immensely from those mistakes. You’ve taken risks and given life your all. You’ve done your best with what you have in every moment.

You need the “same you” to continue to be the backbone of the hard work you are doing to grow and evolve, day after day, year after year.

So now that we are clear on the fact that you don’t need to be an entirely “new you” this year, you might be thinking, “okay, but if I’m the ‘same me,’ how will I do things differently this year? How will I progress?”

Fair question, and it’s a simple answer. It starts with your daily habits.

Writer Annie Dillard says, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Whoa. How true is that though?! It’s not about the workout you’ll do tomorrow, or the book you’ll read next month, or the phone call you’ll make to someone you love when there’s “enough time.” It’s about what you’re doing now- like, right this moment.

Look around you- what’s in your environment? Are the things and people around you supporting the life you want to live? What’s your plan for tonight? Is it to do something that nourishes you, relaxes you and makes you feel connected and alive?

Again: How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.

If your goal this year is to “be healthier,” think about how you can take small steps every single hour of the day to be healthier. A bit more water to drink, a piece of fruit in between meetings, stretching after getting out of the car at the end of the day, a larger portion of veggies at dinner, or going to bed 15 minutes earlier.

If your goal is to “be kinder,” think about how many opportunities you have to be kind during the day: smiling and chatting with the barista at your coffee spot instead of scrolling through your phone and ignoring them, giving your coworker a compliment, writing thank you cards, or taking out the garbage when you get home to help lighten your significant other’s load (even though you really just want to lay down).

In summary:

Start small- AND continue with small.

Small steps end up achieving big goals.

Allow small steps in the right direction, to be the direction.

I’ve spent a lot of 2019 doing research on how to develop (and stick to) good habits that support the lives we desire- and I can’t wait to share it with you! Stay tuned for another post coming soon with some great resources to build better habits, which include books, apps, and tips about your morning routine.

Happy New Year!

You’ve raided Bed Bath and Beyond, the car is packed up, and you’re ready to take the first step toward your future and adult life. Going away to college can bring on a mix of emotions. It can be one of the most exciting times as you step into a world full of adventure, freedom, new experiences, and self-discovery- and it can also be extremely stressful and make you feel like your world has turned upside down.

You are now living in a tiny room with someone you don’t know very well. That’s on top of figuring out how to navigate your class schedule; meeting new friends; figuring out where and when and what to eat; oh yeah, and fighting back tears 24/7. There’s a lot of intense stuff happening as a college freshman, and it can leaving you feeling totally overwhelmed.

What you’re feeling is not only TOTALLY normal, but it will get better- and there are some things you can do for yourself during your first few weeks to help you feel more calm, in control, and confident.

  1. Take control of your routine. Get a planner and chart out your weekly schedule, including the following: class schedule, work schedule, wake up times, and lunch times. It also might be helpful to scan your emails and write down any events going on on campus the first week that you would like to attend. To make things more fun, use gel pens, bright colored highlighters, or even chose an inspirational quote or two to write along the edges. Make two copies: one to hang up in your dorm, and one to keep with you in a planner or notebook.
  2. Explore the resources you have available to you on campus. What’s awesome about a college campus is that there is always someone available to help you with whatever you need. It’s a good idea to make a list of all of these key people, including where to find them, their emails, and phone numbers. That way if you’re in a bind, you can easily access them. Everyone knows that it’s hard being a freshman, and they are totally familiar with students in tears showing up to their door. They are here to help you and will honestly make your life a lot easier if you reach out to them. Here a few people you should include on your list: your adviser, the health center, the counseling center, and financial aid.
  3. Keep your door open. One of the best ways to meet people is in your dorm. Don’t be shy about stopping in other people’s rooms on your floor and leave your door open too so that people can pop in. Chances are, everyone on your floor is also feeling stressed out and scared, and one of the best ways to work through this is to make connections and figure things out together. Say yes to the movie nights, homework dates at the library, and getting lunch. Remember that everyone feels the same way that you do, and that you’re in it together.
  4. Let yourself feel your feels, and write about it. Journaling is a good way to center yourself and let emotions drain off. Traditional pen to paper has some evidence that supports the physical act of writing as being cathartic. If you’re more into using your phone for this, there is a really cool app called Sanvello that allows you to chart your mood every day, journal, do guided meditations, read inspirational quotes, and practice gratitude. This can be a great way to tune into your feelings rather than pushing them down.
  5. Take care of your body. It can be easy to lose sight of simple things when you’re stressed and trying to stay afloat. Getting in the habit of eating three healthy meals a day and hydrating can put your body and mind in a better position to handle stress. Get a big water bottle that you bring to class with you and refill a few times a day. Don’t skip breakfast- even just eating a bowl of oatmeal or banana can set your day off on the right foot. There might be a lot that feels like it’s out of your control right now, but you can control taking care of yourself.
  6. Get familiar with the fitness center. Exercise is a great way to combat stress. It releases endorphins, reduces stress hormones, and clears your mind. Even just going for a walk on the tread mill for 30 minutes a few times per week can be a great gift to yourself. Or, if you prefer, grab your headphones and throw on your sneakers as you take a big loop around campus and blast your favorite music while you do it.
  7. Establish a nighttime ritual. Sleep can be really evasive when you are sleeping in a new place. Try to get in the habit of going to bed at the same time. One really helpful way to wind down is to listen to one of the increasingly popular “Sleep Stories” on the “Calm App.” You can choose from hundreds of stories that can help you drift off to sleep. You might also like to invest in a pair of earplugs and an eye mask if you dorm is particularly loud or bright.
  8. Talk to someone. Visit the college counseling center or research therapists in your area on Psychology Today. There are a lot of counselors who specialize in working with college students who are going through exactly what you are. Not having your parents with you is hard, and having the support of a therapist can be a huge relief. Even if you just need to go and have a good cry once a week, that’s what your therapist is there for- and it can make you feel a whole lot better. If you don’t have a car, many therapists also offer video sessions so you can chat with them in the comfort of your dorm.
  9. Remember how strong and resilient you really are. Make a list of other times you did something really hard that you didn’t think you could do. It could be another time that you went through a difficult experience in high school or within your family. Or it might be sports related, like that impossible goal you made. You’ve done hard things before, and you can do it again.
  10. Trust that it’s all going to be okay. It is NORMAL to be scared to death. Some days you might feel really excited, and other days you might just want to sob into your pillow. What you’re going through is a massive change, and it’s hard. Remember that this is to be expected- and the good news is, if you take care of yourself, make connections, and reach out for help, it will all get easier over time. You’ve got this!

If you do find yourself needing some extra support and someone to talk to, email me at barbshepard@cousnelingsecure.com to talk about setting up a therapy appointment (in person or video, if you’re in NYS).

Believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle.

Christian Larson

What to do about the Winter Blues

If you live in Upstate New York like me (or any part of the country facing shorter days, less sunlight, and colder weather), your body and mind may be rebelling against these seasonal changes with mood shifts and decreased energy levels. Some people experience this in a pattern that occurs every winter and lifts in the spring. If this pattern impacts your day-to-day functioning, you may be experiencing a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).


What is SAD?

SAD is a condition affecting millions of people across the United States each year. This condition occurs more commonly in women; people living in dark, cold climates; and people who have a predisposition to mental health struggles. Someone who has a mood disorder already is more likely to experience extra sensitivity to the changes that come with the seasons.

People with SAD can experience the following symptoms during the winter months:

  • increased depression
  • desire to sleep more
  • increase in appetite
  • low energy
  • loss of interest in activities you enjoy
  • feelings of agitation
  • social withdrawal

Disclaimer: MOST people struggle with some of these symptoms at some point or another. If you live in a wintry climate, it’s not uncommon to have a touch of SAD going on. This is due to what happens in our body when we have less sunlight. The symptoms listed above can be your body’s normal response to a change in season. However, if you find yourself feeling so depressed that it is hard to get out of bed in the morning, you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, or your functioning to be significantly impacted on a day-to-day basis, it is advisable to seek out a mental health counselor and/or your doctor to talk about this.


What causes SAD?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the exact causes of SAD are unknown. There are, however, some biological changes that have been measured in people exhibiting SAD symptoms that give us some clues.

  • People with SAD have trouble regulating one of the main chemicals in the brain responsible for regulating mood: serotonin. When serotonin is out of whack, this can lead to mood shifts.
  • People with SAD may produce less Vitamin D. Vitamin D is believed to play a role in serotonin activity. Vitamin D insufficiency may be associated with depression.
  • People with SAD may overproduce melatonin. Melatonin is responsible for regulating sleep. Increased darkness = increased melatonin. This can lead to lower energy levels and increased desire for sleep.

Holistic approaches to combatting SAD symptoms:

I am a strong believer that the best place to start when coping with this condition is to keep it simple. When it comes to determining the best way to manage any mental health symptoms, including those associated with SAD, the last thing you want to do is throw your body in a whirlwind by making any drastic changes. Don’t turn your world upside down in an attempt to find an answer. What is most effective in combatting any mental health symptoms is to start by paying attention to the basics about how you are treating your body and mind.

Here are some questions you may want to think about if you are experiencing the winter blues:

What are you eating? 

  • A balanced diet is key to all aspects of your health, including mental and physical. If you are eating like crap, you will feel like crap. You cannot expect to feel good emotionally if you are not taking care of your physical body. Eating processed food leads to inflammation in your body. Inflammation leads to overall malaise and mental health symptoms.
  • Mindful indulgence in a warm and healthy soup or roasted root vegetables can be good for both your body and your mind. There are so many healthy and delicious options that can satisfy cravings for comfort food (including vegan and gluten-free). A few of my favorite Instagramers to check out for healthy and amazing looking recipes are Deliciously Ella and Lee from America.
  • Vitamin deficiency can seriously impact your mood, especially if you are lacking Vitamin D or B vitamins. I would highly recommended seeing a trained nutritionist and getting some blood work done to check out your vitamin levels. Based on what comes up, a nutritionist can recommend a vitamin regime to help. Be wary of taking too many supplements without the guidance of a professional (it can damage your kidneys). Vitamins are not regulated by the FDA and it is important to know exactly what you are taking (the brand matters) and how much to take. I take the Metagenics brand. Each day, I take a probiotic that supports respiratory health, a fish oil, and a multivitamin.

What does your daily routine consist of?

  • Our. bodies. love. routine. I have personally struggled a lot with this one. I eventually found myself running at least 15 minutes late to work EVERY morning because I did not have a good morning ritual to help me get out there door. Something that helped me a lot was writing out my morning schedule in ten minute increments. This included ten minutes of meditation and excluded any time spent on my phone. Physically writing out a plan that I can look at every day has helped me tremendously. Being on time for work is such a simple thing that helps start your day off on a much better note than rushing in late.
  • There are so many other additional benefits of having a solid routine. Routine can help reduce stress by eliminating the number of choices that we have to make throughout the day. Less choices = less stress. If you know what you are having for breakfast every morning, what time you plan to go to the gym, and what time you start winding down for bed at night, you are doing your body and mind a huge favor. Your body will adapt to consistent routines, even busy ones, which will ultimately help you feel more in control throughout your day.

Are you doing things to increase your daily feelings of joy?

  • What makes you feel good? And are you doing enough of this? I have really been challenging myself with examining the use of my phone. I have noticed that when I spend 30 minutes scrolling on my phone, I feel unaccomplished and guilty after. I feel like I have lost 30 minutes of my day for nothing. When I spend 30 minutes doing something that involves creativity, I feel so much better and relaxed.

Is there an underlying problem you are ignoring that just happens to creep up around the winter months?

  • Different seasons can be reminiscent of times in our life that may have been hard for us. Holidays can be difficult for some and bring challenging family dynamics to the forefront.
  • Pay attention to the patterns of how you feel during each season. Write about what hurts, or talk to someone about what hurts. Addressing these patterns head on can help you reclaim power over your mood states.

Final tips:

  • Exercise! Do some hot yoga, skiing, snowshoeing, or even just a few minutes of a workout on You Tube before you go to work in the morning. Exercise boosts endorphins, which can improve your mood.
  • Try aromatherapy (I use Young Living). There are tons of essential oils that can help boost mood and improve health in general. If you are looking for guidance with Young Living, I know some great reps so feel free to email me and I can set you up with them!
  • Get a light therapy energy lamp for your office. One of my office spaces does not have a window, so I recently ordered the Verilux Happy Light (Full-Size) off Amazon.
  • Be patient. Figuring out a way to manage your SAD symptoms effectively may take some experimentation and time.

 

 

 

 

dig·it·al de·tox

[digital detox]

NOUN

informal
  1. a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers, regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in the physical world.

    “break free of your devices and go on a digital detox”

    (Urban Dictionary)


Last weekend, I decided to see what the buzz was all about and try out a digital detox. This decision was made as a result of several factors, the first being the fact that my thumb had been physically aching as a result of all of the time spent on my phone lately. I actually felt somewhat pathetic about this. Granted, I did had some “good reasons” as to why this happened: job demands, business emails, texting family, etc. etc. etc. Despite these rationalizations of why it was acceptable that my thumb was throbbing, I decided that this just simply was not okay when I Googled “texting thumb pain” and was greeted by pictures of several strange looking hand braces. I realized that perhaps the ache in my thumb was a sign of something bigger that I should take a look at.

What baffled me about this is that I consider myself to be a pretty present person. I keep my phone in my purse at dinner. I’m usually a slacker when it comes to responses on group texts. So how was this happening?! My own lack of awareness of what was going on with my relationship with technology brought me to the point where I felt a digital detox was necessary to unpack this situation.

As I packed my things for a trip up to the Adirondacks, I shot off a few texts to friends, family, and anyone important who might panic if I didn’t respond to them over the weekend. I let them know I would be off the grid until Sunday. Some irrational fears came to the surface right before sending these texts: will people think that I’m “too good” because I’m not going to be responding for the weekend? Will this seem pretentious? Will people get it? To my relief, I received a lot of immediate responses that were positive and encouraging. The positive feedback empowered me to turn my phone off, and put it at the very bottom of a drawer to provide some finality to the situation.

I experienced a lot of really surprising moments during my detox, with the biggest being that I did not miss my phone. Prior to leaving my device behind, I thought that I was going to experience some kind of withdrawal. I was prepared for this weekend to feel more painful than enjoyable as a result. However, as soon as I got driving, I didn’t think twice about it. I think the biggest factor that allowed me to truly let go was letting people know what I was doing. I had no guilt, no loose ends, and had given myself total permission to let go.

Although I did not miss my phone, mornings did feel very really strange without it. I realized upon waking that the first thing I do (and have done for years) is check email and social media. It felt really odd to wake up and not immediately engage in this habit that has developed such deep roots in my life. Having this separation from social media during my first waking moments led me to have a somewhat “aha” moment: why would I want to spend my first few moments of the day looking at pictures of what other people are doing? This is essentially opening the floodgates to comparison, FOMO, and curated realities before we have even had a chance to check-in with ourselves. I was really struck by what a disservice I do to myself by checking my phone first thing every morning and how this takes away from my ability to be mindful in my life.

The coolest and most enjoyable part of my digital detox was my experience of time. I felt like I had all the time in the world. I felt like the day stretched on forever (in a good way). In less than 48 hours, I read a 300-page book, went for a half-day hike, watched a football game, and went out for dinner at one of my favorite spots on the water. I realized how much of my panicked “there’s not enough time!!” thoughts are really a result of how much time I waste scrolling through social media and email.

I was able to enjoy the present moment so much more. I realized how much my phone can feel like a ball and chain. Even when it is tucked away in my purse, I feel its presence and feel the need to tend to it. Without my phone being physically on me, I felt free of this. There was nothing else to do but actively pay attention to and embrace the world around me. I enjoyed the “little things” more: my first sip of morning coffee; the way the fall air and campfire smell wafted through the open window; the beauty of an incredible sunset over the water; the crunch of the leaves under my feet on my hike; and the complete silence of the forest that just makes you feel like you are wrapped in a warm blanket at the center of the universe.

I also found myself talking to people more. I had a great conversation with a few fellow hikers at the top of a mountain. I talked to the cashier at the grocery store. I was more in tune with others and felt more connected. This may seem like a simple thing, but there is something quite magical about feeling a true connection with other people, even strangers, without the distraction of your phone in your hand. I realized that even holding my phone in my hand is a sign that screams: “Don’t talk to me!!” How sad is this to walk around engrossed in the world on a screen, rather than engaged with others? How many missed opportunities do we have when we are responding to that text or checking our Instagram to have some authentic conversations with people? Our perspective and lives can truly change in an instant; how many opportunities are we missing to learn something new, to gain a friend, or to have a shift in perspective through conversations with the people around us?

I had a totally refreshing mental reset. While I felt great about the results I experienced this weekend, I realized it would be important to set some boundaries in place in my life to keep this momentum going. It is easy to unplug when you are in a beautiful place without Wifi. It was important to figure out how this could translate back into my day-to-day life.

I have developed some strategies outlined below that so far have been really helpful to me!

  1. Get real about your screen time. There is an app you can download called “Moment” that offers some awesome features that track how often you are on your phone; how many times you unlock your phone throughout the day, and what apps you are spending the most time on. This can be a great first step if you are unsure if you really need to work on your relationship with your phone.
  2. Do not check social media, email, or anything else on your phone for the first 30 minutes you are up in the morning. This is such a critical time to slowly ease into your intentions for the day and get into a positive mindset. Scrolling on social media while in bed turns into a rabbit hole that can leave you feeling emotionally hungover afterwards, and this can ultimately affect the energy that you bring to your day.
  3. Find mindful activities to replace your screen time in the morning. I often use the Calm app to do a 10-minute meditation in the morning while I am having my coffee. I cuddle up in a blanket, light a candle, and focus on the positive intentions that the app has to offer. I love this app because you can chose what type of meditation you need for that day. I recently completed the “seven days of stress” series and it was really helpful. The beginning of the meditations usually offer some practical tips before getting into the more peaceful part of things.On days that I am looking for something a bit more active, I have been doing ten minutes of journaling. I often read one passage out of “Journey to the Heart: Daily Meditations on the Path to Freeing Your Soul” by Melody Beattie and then write for a few minutes. There are ultimately a million different ways to start your day with something positive and grounding other than screen time, so I encourage you to experiment a bit and find something that works for you.
  4. Delete social media apps off of your phone. This is something that I did a while ago, and I have found it to be incredibly helpful. You can still access your social media through the browser, but it takes a lot more effort that way. I have found myself thinking twice before getting on social media because frankly, it is a pain to type it all into Safari, and human nature is to want things to be easy.
  5. Put your phone in the other room. If you are reading a book, spending time with your significant other, or just want some time to chill, physically remove your phone from your space. Check it every hour if you are worried about missing something, but then come back to what you were doing without getting sucked into everything on your phone.
  6. Don’t feel like you owe people something. In the world we live in now, it can be tempting to think we owe people an immediate response, and we get anxious when we don’t give that to them. We really don’t owe anyone this. In the business world, it’s polite to give someone a response within 24 hours- why can’t this apply to our phones, as well? It’s important to get out of the habit of thinking that we are responsible for someone else’s immediate desire to hear back from us. Of course, if you are expecting an important call or are trying to make plans with a friend, it makes sense to be more in touch, but I have found that any effort to develop a bit more consciousness around this is a good step in the right direction.
  7. Talk to people about your efforts to reduce screen time and be more mindful. If people know about your efforts, they will be more understanding if you aren’t responding to their texts immediately. It can also be helpful to share about your experiences with others so that everyone can learn and grow together.

I hope you all can learn a bit from my experience with digital detox- I would love for you to email me at barbshepard@counselingsecure.com with any questions or thoughts that you have about this topic! You can also find me at @counselorvibes on Instagram.

 

“If you aren’t in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”

This quote, credit to Brené Brown, just makes me want to applaud.

In the spirit of Brené’s philosophy on vulnerability, I want to let you know that I debated saving this blog post for a later time. I found myself so inspired by this quote and knew that I would enjoy writing about it; however, the inner critic in me thought that it might be better for you to have a chance to read a few warm and fuzzy posts before starting off a post with profanity. The inner critic told me to water myself down a bit in order to be well-received.

The braver part of me realized that starting off with warm and fuzzies would simply not be authentic; this would not give you an accurate depiction of who I am as a person or therapist. I sincerely believe that good work in therapy takes place between two people who have an energetic compatibility, and part of my purpose in keeping a blog is so you can get to know whether we would work well together.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the importance of kindness, warmth, and living life with grace and compassion. These things naturally become woven into the fabric of who you are when you are a therapist or healer. But I also have an edge. We all do. We all have that part of us that wants to keep it real, that wants to show up authentically and be seen. This edge is the difference between who you really are and the person you think people want you to be.

Most people spend a lot of time and energy teetering this edge. We all have something important to say, something unique to offer, or something creative to share — and we often end up diluting it or muting it. Because we are afraid that it won’t be quite enough. We are afraid that what we have to offer will be greeted with criticism — or even worse, silence.

So we learn to be a certain way, and our true selves end up getting buried. If you have seen the episode of Friends where Joey is wearing several layers of clothing (“could I BE wearing anymore clothes?!”), this is what I want you to picture. Each time that we hold back what we really feel, we cast on another layer that covers up what’s inside. Add a layer of disconnection. Then a layer of self-doubt. Then a layer of perfectionism. And before we know it, we feel like we are in a blazing sauna because of all the layers and we aren’t sure how to escape. So we self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, shopping, eating, and all these other things that distract us from the pain of actual problem, which is that we are wearing 30 layers of clothing and that the only way to stop sweating is to start taking the layers off. The numbing helps us feel better for a short-time, but it doesn’t get to the root of things.

It’s really hard to shed the layers, because these layers now feel like the real you. You’ve been wearing them as a suit of armor for so long that you don’t even know what’s under there anymore. You may think, “What if what’s inside is scary? What if I don’t like what’s in there? What will everyone else think?”

To go back to Brené Brown’s quote, shedding the layers is like going to battle in an arena. You are suited up and ready to go with Joey’s clothing as your armor. The layers protect you from fear, uncertainty, and self-doubt. But… these layers also diminish your ability to feel all the good stuff, like compassion, joy, and creativity. The thing with numbing is that you can’t selectivity numb. If you numb the negative emotions, you numb all the positive emotions too.

What is it worth to you to feel the positive things? Are you willing to go into the arena, shed those layers, and feel vulnerable in order to experience true joy and fulfillment?

You will undoubtedly feel like everyone is watching. It may feel like complete hell to shed that first layer because you know that some people are going to criticize you. Acknowledge that, and also acknowledge that there is nothing that you can do about the it. The critics will always be there. So it’s important to recognize them (“hey guys, I see you, welcome”) followed up with Brene’s words of wisdom: “If you aren’t in the arena also getting you ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.” Anyone can sit on the sidelines and judge your efforts to do something brave. It’s a cheap shot. But getting sucked into feeling bitter about the critics or hateful toward them doesn’t serve you. It takes up space and dims the light of your bravery and courage. So rather than wasting your energy on them, just simply give them a nod and take pride in the fact that you are getting your ass kicked, getting dirty, fumbling, and ultimately working toward something amazing.

I’ll leave you with a final thought. No matter what it is you are working toward, whether it be going back to school, trying for that promotion, or working on bettering yourself as a human being through counseling, it’s not about the end result. This may sound cliché, but it is so. true. The process and the journey that unfolds as you work toward what you think your goal is ends up taking you down roads you never expected. Each time you take an act of bravery or courage, you change a bit. And you may end up forgetting what the original destination was as you begin to experience infinite possibilities you create for yourself by being brave. Being brave does not have to be some big thing that everyone sees. It can be accepting a compliment; trying something new; or doing something that makes you feel even slightly uncomfortable.

Bravery is like strengthening a muscle- each time you take a brave step, it gets a bit easier. For a while, you may feel like an imposter each time you do something brave. But this imposter syndrome won’t last. Over time, repeatedly doing brave things will become an inextricable part of who you are.


Resources:

Daring Greatly, By Brene Brown
Brené Brown: Why Your Critics Aren’t the Ones Who Count